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Sacred Scripture 525 – Synoptic Gospels

Graduate Fall 2013;  Wednesdays, 6:30–9:30 pm (3 credits)


Oswald Sobrino, M.A. (Theology/Biblical Studies), M.A. (Econ.), J.D.; Graduate student in Latin.

Tel: Given in class.

Email: Given in class.

Consultation: Just before or after class or during class breaks or by phone or email.

Course Description

An introduction to the Synoptic Tradition throughout the Church's history with attention to the various theories regarding the so-called Synoptic Problem. The use of various methods such as form, redaction and literary criticism will be discussed and evaluated for their value to Gospel study and for an understanding of the theologies of Mark, Matthew and Luke. Attention will be given to Synoptic Christology, Eschatology, Miracle stories, Infancy Narratives, and the Passion and Resurrection Narratives. (Prerequisite: SS 521) Source: SHMS Bulletin.

Instructor Comment: To develop the art of informed, disciplined analysis of parallel and other passages in the Synoptic Gospels. In pursuit of this goal, we will study the context, background, and characteristics of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and be exposed to various methods of biblical analysis (such as form, redaction, source, historical, and literary criticism).  We will also consider the so-called “Synoptic Problem” and so-called “historical Jesus” issues.

Required Texts

  1. Bible: either the Revised Standard Version (Second Catholic Edition) or New American Bible. I recommend the New American Bible (NAB) because it is used in the Lectionary. I will read from the NAB in class.  There is a new edition of the New American Bible, but you can use whichever edition you already own. In addition, the Catholic Study Bible is based on the NAB and has copious notes to help you. You are also free to use the New Revised Standard Version, if you wish, since it is widely used among scholars and in the Throckmorton Gospel Parallels (see below). Two good “back-up” translations: 1.) The New Jerusalem Bible (Catholic) is  a very good resource because of its cross-reference system and its notes, especially in the study edition; 2.) The English Standard Version, available free online, also has a good reputation but does not include the full canon of the Old Testament.

  1. Perkins, Pheme. Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. Eerdmans Publishing (2009; 336 pages). She is a professor at Boston College. The book is available at Amazon.com. Hereafter refered to as “Perkins.”

  1. Throckmorton, Burton H., ed. Gospel Parallels. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992 (based on NRSV; some older editions used the RSV). You are free to use any edition. This book is also available at Amazon.com. Hereafter referred to as “Parallels.”

Suggested Texts:

  1. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth. New York: Doubleday, 2007. Good example of pastoral exegesis. All three volumes have now been published.

  2. Stein, Robert H . Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation. 2nd ed. Baker Academic (2001).

  3. Nickles, Keith F. The Synoptic Gospels: An Introduction. Rev. and expanded ed. Westiminster John Knox Press (2001).

  4. Fr. Raymond E. Brown (deceased), An Introduction to the New Testament (Doubleday, 1997). Part of the prestigious Anchor Bible Reference Library. This is a great reference work with easy access to basic, historical critical information about each N.T. book: date, author, locale, basic structure. Anyone pursuing a graduate degree in Biblical Studies should have it in their library. Hereafter “Raymond Brown.”

  5. Fr. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol. 1 (Doubleday, 1991). Hereafter “Meier.” A good source on the so-called “historical Jesus” issue.

  6. Joel B Green, Scot McKnight, I Howard Marshall (eds.). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. IVP Bible Dictionary Series. InterVarsity, 1992. The one-volume IVP Dictionary of the New Testament collects the most important articles from the entire IVP dictionary series, including articles from the aforementioned Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels above. This is a scholarly reference work that respects the Bible as the inspired Word of God.

M.A. and M.Div. students may wish to consult No. 2 and No. 3 above, especially if they anticipate further graduate study focusing on more technical issues.

Student Outcomes

The diligent and industrious student will be able to:

  1. Explain the overall structure, main themes, literary characteristics, and purposes of the Synoptic Gospels. Tested primarily by examination.

  2. Demonstrate skill in analyzing and applying texts from the Synoptic Gospels. Tested primarily by class participation and/or examination.

  3. Demonstrate skill in explaining the relation of Synoptic texts to Catholic doctrine. Tested primarily by class participation and/or examination.

  4. Discuss some of the key scholarly issues concerning the Synoptic Gospels, including the historicity of the Gospels, the quest for the historical Jesus, the Synoptic Problem, and the use of various critical methods. Tested primarily by examination.

Class Format

We will begin class with student-led prayer. You will read aloud a brief Synoptic gospel passage of your choice and then give a brief midrash or commentary on that passage. In most class sessions, I will devote one hour to selected Synoptic topics and two hours to the study of individual passages, with reference to parallels in the other Synoptics. The order of presentation may vary (e.g., I may do passage analysis first, then general lecture). Themes and methods will be explained in the course of explaining texts. Class sessions will include both lecture and discussion. Bring a Bible, the Perkins introduction, and Gospel Parallels.

Course Expectations

Students are asked to prepare for each class in the following three ways:

  1. Study the individual passage to be discussed (“Text to study”), reading it in at least two different English translations and comparing parallel Synoptic accounts where relevant (use the Throckmorton Parallels book). If you do not own more than one English translation, try the internet. The English Standard Version (ESV) is one good translation available free online. It is a good idea to pray at some point during this process. Note down what was striking to you in your comparative readings. Learn to use the Parallels book through frequent practice.

  1. Read any other assigned readings thoughtfully. Underline as you read so that you can ask questions or make comments about what you have read. Underlining will also help you review important points for the exams and help you get something concrete out of your first reading.

  1. As far as you are able, read one or more commentaries and other reference works on the passage to be discussed. See bibliography below for such works. I may mention others in class that you can follow up on later. I encourage you to explore the resources in the library. You can share your interesting discoveries in class, as time permits; but remember to write down an exact citation so that I and others can verify your comments.

Evaluation: Please immediately enter relevant exam and due dates on your calendar!

  1. Class participation (35%). If you need to miss a class, please notify me in advance and make arrangements with a classmate for notes and handouts. My lectures are on the class website. More than two unexplained absences will result in a half-grade deduction.

  1. Midterm exam on Oct. 23, 2013 (25%).

  1. Final comprehensive exam on Dec. 11, 2013 (40%). If the class size is small enough, I reserve the right to require an oral presentation in lieu of a written final exam.

Course Schedule



Text to study

Work Due on This Date


Introduction and course overview;

O.T. parallels to Mark 2:23-28

In Class: Mk 2:23-28

In Class Exercise: What is a “parallel”?


What is a Gospel?

Basics on Mark

Mk 1:1-2:28

Perkins, Intro. and Ch. 1

Suggested “Term Long” Reading: Brown, Ch. 7, pp. 127-67


Books & Believers in Early Christianity

Mk 3-4

Perkins, Ch.2, Ch. 3


Quest for Sources (“Synoptic Problem”)

Reading Mark Part I

Mk 5-6

Perkins, Half of Ch. 4


Reading Mark Part II

Mk 7-8

Perkins, Finish Ch. 4


Reading Matthew Part I;

Sermon on the Mount

MATT. 5-8

Perkins, Half of Ch. 5


Reading Matthew Part II

Mk 9-10

Perkins, Finish Ch. 5



Peter in Matthew

MATT. 16

Perkins, Half of Ch. 6


Search for the historical


Mk 11-12

Suggested Background Reading: Meier, Ch. 1, pp. 21-31; Chs. 6, 7 (pp. 167-200)


Reading Luke Part I

Lk 1-2

Perkins, Finish Ch. 6


Reading Luke Part II

Parables of Good Samaritan & Lazarus

Lk 10; Lk 16

OT: Book of Job


Synoptic eschatology;

Last Supper

Mk 13:1–14:26

OT: Ex 12; 24:4-10


Passion accounts

Mk 14:27-15

OT: Is 52:13–53:12; Ps 22; Ps 69; Wis 2:12-20;

Zech 12:10-13:2

Resurrection accounts

Mk 16

Perkins, Review Ch. 4 section on the ending of Mark



Synoptics Bibliography

Commentary Series

AB Anchor Bible (Doubleday)

ACCS Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (InterVarsity) – quotations from the Fathers

BST Bible Speaks Today (InterVarsity)

Interp Interpretation (John Knox Westminster)

IVPNTC IVP New Testament Commentary (InterVarsity)

Navarre Navarre Bible

NIBC New International Biblical Commentary (Hendrickson)

NICNT New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans)

NIGTC New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans)

PNTC Pillar New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans)

SP Sacra Pagina (Liturgical)

TNTC Tyndale New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans)

WBC Word Biblical Commentaries (Word)

Dictionaries and Reference Works

Brown, Colin, ed. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NIDNTT). 3 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975.

Léon-Dufour, Xavier. Dictionary of Biblical Theology. 2nd ed. New York: Seabury, 1973.

Finegan, Jack. Handbook of Biblical Chronology. Rev. ed. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998.

Balz, Horst, and Gerhard Schneider. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. 3 vols. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1993.

Freedman, David Noel, ed. Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Green, Joel B., Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1992.

Kittel, Gerhard, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. 9 vols. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964.

Metzger, Bruce M., and Michael D. Coogan, eds. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. New York / Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

McRay, John. Archaeology and the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991.

Vanhoozer, Kevin, et al. Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005.

General Works

Balás, David L., and D. Jeffrey Bingham. “Patristic Exegesis of the Books of the Bible.” In International Bible Commentary, 64-115.

Blomberg, Craig L. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1987.

Bonneau, Normand. “The Bible and Liturgy.” In IBCom, 138-146, 1998a.

_______. The Sunday Lectionary: Ritual Word, Paschal Shape. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1998b.

Brown, Raymond E. Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997).

Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (NJBC). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Bruce, F.F. New Testament History. New York: Doubleday, 1969.

Carson, D. A. and G. K. Beale. Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007.

Farmer, William R., Sean McEvenue, Armando J. Levoratti, et al., eds. The International Bible Commentary. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1998.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. Rev. ed. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999.

Matera, Frank J. New Testament Theology: Exploring Unity and Diversity. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007.

Richard J. Neuhaus, ed. Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The Ratzinger Conference on the Bible and the Church, Encounter Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989.

Newman, Carey C., ed. Jesus and the Restoration of Israel. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999. (A critical appraisal of N.T. Wright’s analysis.)

Williamson, Peter S. “Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 65, no. 3 (2003), 327-349.

Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 1. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992.

_______. Jesus and the Victory of God. Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 2. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1996.

_______. The Resurrection and the Son of God. Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol 3. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003.

Works on the Gospels

Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006.

Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. New York: Doubleday, 2007.

Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. New updated ed. The Anchor Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

_______. The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave: A Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels. 1st ed. The Anchor Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Dungan, David. A History of the Synoptic Problem. New York: Doubleday, 1999.

Dunn, James D.G. A New Perspective on Jesus. What the Quest for the Historical Jesus Missed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005.

Evans, Craig A. “The Third Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Bibliographical Essay.” Christian Scholar’s Review 28, no. 4 (1999): 532-543.

Goodacre, Mark. The Case Against Q. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002.

Green, Joel B. “In Quest of the Historical Jesus, the Gospels, and Historicisms Old and New.” Christian Scholar’s Review 28, no. 4 (1999): 544-560.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.

Thomas Aquinas. Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers. Available online at www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/catena1.html.

Witherington, Ben, III. The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1997.

Wright, Stephen I. Tales Jesus Told: An Introduction to the Narrative Parables of Jesus. 2004.

Works on Matthew

France, R.T. Matthew. TNTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985.

Hahn, Scott, and Curtis Mitch. The Gospel of Matthew. Ignatius Study Bible. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000.

Harrington, Daniel J. The Gospel of Matthew. Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1991.

Leiva-Merikakis, Erasmo. Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word. Meditations on the Gospel according to St. Matthew. 2 vols. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1996 and 2003.

Martin, George A. Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life: Insight and Inspiration. Ijamsville, MD: The Word Among Us, 2008.

Senior, Donald. What Are They Saying About Matthew? Rev. ed. New York: Paulist, 1995.

Simonetti, Manlio, ed. Matthew 1-13. ACCS. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2001.

_______, ed. Matthew 14-28. ACCS. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2002.

Works on Mark

Donahue, John R., and Daniel J. Harrington. The Gospel of Mark. Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2002.

France, R.T. The Gospel of Mark. NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Hahn, Scott, and Curtis Mitch. The Gospel of Mark. Ignatius Study Bible. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2001.

Harrington, Daniel. What Are They Saying About Mark? New York: Paulist, 2005.

Lane, William. The Gospel of Mark. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974.

Martin, George A. Bringing the Gospel of Mark to Life: Insight and Inspiration. Ijamsville, MD: The Word Among Us, 2007.

Moloney, Francis J. The Gospel of Mark. A Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002.

Oden, Thomas C., and Christopher A. Hall, eds. Mark. ACCS. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1998.

Works on Luke

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. Luke. 2 vols. ABC. New York: Doubleday, 1981 and 1985.

_______. Luke the Theologian. New York: Paulist, 1989.

Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. NICNT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

Hahn, Scott, and Curtis Mitch. The Gospel of Luke. Ignatius Study Bible. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2001.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Gospel of Luke. Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1990.

Just, Arthur A., Jr., ed. Luke. ACCS. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2003.

Marshall, I. Howard. The Gospel of Luke. NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.

Nolland, John. Luke. 3 vols. WBC. Dallas: Word, 1989-1993.

O’Toole, Robert F. The Unity of Luke’s Theology: An Analysis of Luke-Acts. Wilmington: Glazier, 1984.

Powell, Mark Allan. What Are They Saying About Luke? New York: Paulist, 1990.


Subpages (1): Books on Library Reserve