While most Christians know that there are four Gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ that open the New Testament of every Bible, few people ever wonder why there are four similar but different records of His life and teachings.
Shortly after the death of Jesus Christ, many accounts of His life and teachings began to be compiled and circulated within the early church. More than 100 years after His death, there were as many as 30 such different accounts, and while this was enlightening, it also led to confusion, as to which of these many accounts were authentic records of His saying and deeds, and which were not.
In about the year 160 CE, a Christian scholar named Tatian, who had been a student of the great teacher Justin Martyr, produced a compilation of four of these Gospel records in a single account, which he named, “Diatessaron”, meaning “from four” in Greek. For his work Tatian used the Gospel of John as a backbone, and added to it the stories and details from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, to produce a more complete record of all that Jesus Christ said and did.
Containing more detail than any single account “Diatessaron” became very popular, and it was read in the early churches throughout the Roman Empire, all the way from Rome in the west to Byzantium (Constantinople) in the east, for a period of about 250 years.
Eventually, because the church disagreed with some of Tatian’s other writings, he was branded as a heretic by the Catholic Church, who ordered that all of his books and writings be burned, including all copies of “Diatessaron”. Later, when the New Testament of the Latin Vulgate Bible was released by the Catholic Church in 405 CE, it did not use Diatessaron as the Gospel story but rather presented the same four Gospels that Tatian had used, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but in their full and original forms, and it has been like that ever since.
Picking up where Tatian left off more than 1,800 years ago, a truly unified Gospel has again been created from these same four familiar Gospel accounts, known as “The Synoptic Gospel”. The Greek compound word “synoptic” means seeing together, or seeing as one.
Going beyond the simple cut and paste of Tatian’s “Diatessaron”, “The Synoptic Gospel” combines the texts of the four Gospel accounts on a word-for-word basis, by placing the texts in four parallel columns, side-by-side, which is known as a “harmony”. So that the entire Gospel story flowed logically, the sayings of Jesus Christ and the events from His ministry were ordered and aligned according to a chronological timeline for His life.
To produce one single version of each of the events, which is known as a merger or synopsis, all of the words from the four Gospel accounts were combined and reconciled on a word-for-word basis using a sixteen-step process. This also eliminated the repetition and duplication between the parallel sections of verses, much the way the statements of four witnesses are combined and unified to produce one clear statement of what happened. Where the witness testimonies agree only one version of the event is mentioned, and where there is not agreement, each differing word of those statements was carefully examined.
The result of this process is a single, complete account that presents all of the sayings of Jesus Christ, and the events from His life and ministry, in chronological order. With the repetition and duplication between the overlapping and parallel passages removed, the unified text of “The Synoptic Gospel” is more than 22% shorter to read, compared to reading the four Gospel accounts back-to-back. Understanding the full sequence of the Gospel story is further enhanced with a date and location that is provided for each scene, along with maps of Israel and Jerusalem, and more than 300 references to the Old Testament Scriptures and historical figures.
Reading “The Synoptic Gospel” shows the reader not only what happened, but also when and where it happened, which is very useful indeed.
For more information about “The Synoptic Gospel”, or to purchase a copy of the book, ebook or audiobook, visit their website: synopticgospel.com.