The term synoptic, from the Greek for “seeing together,” refers to the fact that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke share so much material that when printed side by side in three parallel columns their correspondences can be “seen together” at a glance.


For more on these differences, see John Dominic Crossan, “Why Christians Must Search for the Historical Jesus,” BR 12:02.


It will become clear that I do not accept this reconstruction.



Within modern scholarship, the question was first raised in 1847 by the great theologian Ferdinand-Christian Baur of Tübingen, who denied that John’s Jesus could responsibly be described as “human” at all.


Or “angered,” as in the Codex Bezae, a fifth-century gospel manuscript.


Clement of Alexandria in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.7.


Origen, Commentary on John 32:20 (at John 13:23).


We need not restrict the case to esoteric truths about Jesus. Aileen Guilding (The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960]) has argued that the discourse of John 6:35–50 draws on texts that would have been familiar from the Jewish lectionaries of the time.

Behind this discourse, then, may lie a homily expounding such texts. Must we assume that such a “homily” found in the gospel was a later Christian composition? No, claims Raymond E. Brown (The Gospel According to John, [New York: Doubleday, 1966], vol. 1, pp. 278–280). Why should it not have been a homily of Jesus himself?

In 1985 John A.T. Robinson (The Priority of John, [London: SCM, 1985]) explored the possibility of giving John “procedural” priority over the other gospels: Instead of fitting John into the Synoptic framework, he proposed to fit the Synoptic Gospels into John’s. The result, he claimed, was utterly compelling.


James Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 2 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985), pp. 725–771. The hymns were once thought to have been reworkings of pre-Christian hymns.


James M. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library in English (New York: Harper Collins, 1988), pp. 38–51.


The Community Rule XI.11, Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (New York: The Penguin Press, 1997), p. 116.


Odes of Solomon 41.11–15.


Classically J. Louis Martyn, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel (New York: Harper & Row; 1968, 1979).


Wayne A. Meeks, “The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism,” Journal of Biblical Literature 91 (1972), pp. 44–72.