— the Catholic University of Eastern Africa
School of Theology
Krzysztof (Christopher) Owczarek, SDB
Class notes for the private use of the students
INTRODUCTION to synoptic gospels
1.1 The Importance of the Course
The modern biblical studies have seen a fundamental change in their approach to the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke (the latter considered together with its second volume = the Acts of the Apostles). For many centuries, the Synoptic Gospels were considered as the principal source for the knowledge of the history of Jesus. The scholars have discovered that each of the Gospels has its own theology, just like John and Paul. These two were always read with the understanding that they offered important theological insights, while the Synoptic Gospels were read just as a kind of biography of Jesus. This explains the importance they enjoyed in Christian devotion and, on the other hand, the fact that they mainly served as a window on the historical Jesus. Today we are well aware that the Synoptic Gospels do give us the information on what Jesus said and did, but they do not do it in a neutral and detached way. In short, the modern scholarship demonstrated that the first three evangelists are also true theologians. Apart from preserving the historical memory of Jesus, they have interpreted his person and his ministry in the light of the resurrection “with that clearer understanding” that they received from the Holy Spirit. Having in view the situation of their respective communities, they wrote “selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things […] and preserving the form of proclamation but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus” (Dei Verbum 19). Without a doubt, the topic that we about to study is of great importance. We read in the Dei Verbum 18:
It is common knowledge that among all the Scriptures, even those of the New Testament, the Gospels have a special pre-eminence, and rightly so, for they are the principal witness for the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our Saviour.
The Council Fathers have underlined the primary importance of the Gospels in the life of the Church (see Dei Verbum 21) and they expressed a desire that the study of the Scripture become the soul of the theology:
Sacred theology rests on the written word of God, together with sacred tradition, as its primary and perpetual foundation. By scrutinising in the light of faith all truth stored up in the mystery of Christ, theology is most powerfully strengthened and constantly rejuvenated by that word. For the Sacred Scriptures contain the word of God and since they are inspired really are the word of God; and so the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology.
A similar idea is espressed in the decree on priestly training Optatam Totius 16:
The students are to be formed with particular care in the study of the Bible, which ought to be, as it were, the soul of all theology.
— After a suitable introduction they are to be initiated carefully into the method of exegesis;
— they are to see the great themes of divine revelation
— and to receive from their daily reading of and meditating on the sacred books inspiration and nourishment.
– R.E. Brown – J.A. Fitzmyer – R.E. Murphy, ed., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Englewood Cliffs NJ 1990. – C.C. Coosen, Studing the Gospels: An Introduction, Newtown NSW (Australia): E.J. Dwyer 1994. – E. P. Sanders – M. Davies, Studing the Synoptic Gospels, SCM & PTI Press, London...