Synopsis of the Four Gospels Hardcover – 1 Jan 1985
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Kurt Aland, the editor of this text, is also one of the major editors of note of the Greek New Testament - most authoritative versions of the Greek New Testament have Aland's work in it somewhere, if not as the chief editor, then certainly as an influence. Aland used the Greek New Testament (Nestle-Aland 26th Edition) as the basis for revising the text here, although the bulk of the text comes from the RSV. This text is an English-only version - there is an edition that couples the English version with the Greek.
One of the most useful features of this text, as opposed to other synopses, is that it includes all four gospels, rather than just the three synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Synoptic is a word that can be readily understood by taking it apart into pieces - syn-, as in synonym, meaning roughly 'the same', and optic, as in the optic nerve, meaning roughly 'to see' or even 'eye' - synoptic can mean 'seeing with the same eye.' Yet, those who read the three synoptics know that, even though they parallel, they are far from exact matches. The gospel of John has a different eye on the gospel topic altogether - including it in a text such as this shows where parallels can be drawn, and highlights the unique quality of John, as well as the unique attributes of the synoptics.
Throughout the text, just as in any good study bible, Aland marks the references and possible attributions to Hebrew scripture texts. There are indexes to the gospels and the complete New Testament at the end.
One of the uses of this kind of text for the 'average' user (as opposed to the scholar or student, who might be more interested in minor textual variants) is examining the gospels side-by-side to see what is included and omitted from the different books. For example, we are using this text at my retirement centre as part of the Advent Bible Study, looking at the Christmas stories in the gospels. One can see immediately the variations in the text are significant. Mark has no Christmas story at all - the first appearance of Jesus is as a full-grown man, from Galilee (not Bethlehem), being baptised by John. Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus (via Joseph) going back to Abraham, paralleled a few chapters later in Luke, who has a genealogy going back to Adam (with different names scattered throughout). Matthew lacks the travel from Galilee to Bethlehem - the family is already there; Matthew also lacks the manger scene and the shepherds. Luke lacks the wise men, but includes extensive and poetic monologue/dialogue from Mary, who is silent in the early portion of Matthew. Smaller differences also appear - in Matthew, angels always speak to people in dreams; in Luke, they seem to make 'real life' appearances.
The variations can go on and on; rather like taking down the stories of different people who witness the same event, or recording the impressions of people who read the same book, the records might be different but each valid and possessing integrity in its own right.
This is a very practical and handy text to have, examining the four gospels in a way that encourages further study and reflection.
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If one wants to gain the best possible understanding of the gospels as a whole and of the uniqueness of each individual gospel, a tool such as this is invaluable. One could search out parallel passages in each gospel in one's own Bible, but it is much easier to use a tool such as this. Sometimes the differences are minor, sometimes more substantial. Reading through the gospels in this edition will also highlight how different Luke, with its emphasis on the poor and constant critique of the wealthy, is from Matthew and Mark, or John from the other three.
The translation used is the Revised Standard Version, which is widely acknowledged to be one of the most accurate. Many fundamentalists dislike it because of the way it translates some portions of the Old Testament that in the KJV had been translated in a way to prefigure the New Testament, but even fundamentalists have not questioned the accuracy of the NT translation. Footnotes allude to some variants among the Greek manuscripts, while end material includes a helpful outline of the contents of the four gospels and an index of gospel passages.
A word about the English only versus the Greek-English. If you are a very serious student of the NT with facility in Greek, you should get the twin language version. My own Greek is very rusty and I found the very large Greek-English edition to be unwieldy and hard to use. Even if you own the Greek-English edition, I would recommend the English only edition. It is comparatively inexpensive and I find it far easier to use in every way. But like I said, my Greek at this point of my life is pretty weak. I retain enough to follow a discussion of Greek terms in commentaries, but not enough to read on my own.
After a couple of good translations of the Bible, a good Bible dictionary, and a Bible atlas, this is the New Testament tool that I most frequently use and most highly recommend.
I needed to do a comparative Gospel
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