Reading plan for Days 8 to 14:
Sunday, 1/15: Matthew 17-18
Monday, 1/16: Matt. 19-20
Tuesday, 1/17: Matt. 21-23
Wednesday, 1/18: Matt. 24-25
Thursday, 1/19: Matt. 26-28
Friday, 1/20: Mark 1-2
Saturday, 1/21: Mk. 3-4
Some introductory comments:
The “Synoptic” Gospels
As promised last week, let me share a few comments about the first three books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and why they are called the “synoptic” gospels.
Based on two root Greek words (syn – together and optic – appearance), synoptic refers to the fact that these three gospels are extremely alike, and can be compared with one another in columns. (I have such a book entitled “Synoptic Gospels in Parallel,” which has the content of the gospels aligned in columns.) These three gospels are so similar to one another that they were given this term. (The fourth gospel in our New Testament is different in form, structure, and content from these three; and the many non-canonical gospels are even more different.)
Note that the content of these three gospels is not always in the same order. In many editions that organize the gospels into columns, one gospel is used to determine the correct order of material (usually Mark). Nor is the content of the three gospels 100% the same. Matthew and Luke tend to include most, if not all, of what is included in Mark; but they also have some material common only to the two of them (not found in Mark) and each has content unique to itself. (Again, remember that each gospel was written for particular audiences, and with the intent to persuade; so the content chosen and shared would vary with intent as well as with the experience and memory of the author.)
The Two “Greats” of Matthean Christianity
The Gospel of Matthew gives us two “greats” that are familiar to most Christians. One is found in all the synoptic gospels, while one is found only in Matthew. They are:
- The “Great” Commandment, found in Matthew 22:37-40, to love God and love neighbor. (This is also found in Luke 10 and Mark 12.)
- The “Great” Commission, found only in Matthew 28:16-20, where Jesus commissions and sends the disciples out to “make disciples.”
Although common to all Christians and emphasized by many, the linkage of these two “great” statements can only be made because Matthew first recorded and shared them with us. Many, myself included, agree that the core of Christian discipleship, not to mention the life of the Church, is best found when we seek to fulfill both of these “Greats.”
Mark – The Action Film Gospel
In the classic 1980s film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the eponymous teenager Ferris tells the audience, at the very end of the film, that “life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” The Gospel According to Mark might very well be considered one disciple’s taking a few moments to stop and record what he has seen in the fast paced life of Jesus. Throughout the Gospel Greek words translated into English terms such as “immediately” are used, indicating the fast-paced action of the story. Mark, the shortest of the Gospels (it can actually be read aloud in its entirety in about one hour!), is very much like an action film, giving us the details and major plot points of the life of Jesus, but not as much of the teaching content recorded in Matthew or Luke or the theological interpretation found in John.
Mark was most likely written by a Greek speaking Christian (it is attributed to Mark, the follower and interpreter of Peter in Rome) for a Greek-speaking audience (often identified as the Church in Rome). Some elements of Mark – such as inaccurate geographical statements – suggest that the author was not a direct witness to Jesus and the disciples.
However, Mark was likely the first of the Gospels written! It was probably written around 68 AD (which I should note is later than Paul’s letters, which are the oldest books of the New Testament, having been written as early as the late 40s).
Blessed reading to you this week! Be sure to post questions, comments, or insights in the comments section below.