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Synopsis of the Four Gospels

by Kurt Aland

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2,13787,663 (4.39)5
Based on the text of the Novum Testamentum Graece, 26th edition, this scholarly tool incorporates the variants found in papyri 101--111. Featuring parallels from apocryphal gospels and patristic works, Aland's resource includes the Gospel of Thomas in Coptic and new translations in German and English.… (more)

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This synopsis lists the text of all four gospels in parallel columns of varying width, with gaps or blank columns where an episode is not recounted in a given gospel. The Nestle-Aland 27th Edition Greek text (equivalent to the 4th Revised Edition of the Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament) is printed on each left-hand page, with the English text of the RSV printed with a similar layout on the facing page on the right. Facing Greek and RSV pages have the same page number, so all page numbers are used twice, without any distinguishing symbol to differentiate between them.

The Greek text contains the full critical apparatus from NA27, i.e., the wide range of symbols and references to footnotes that give further details on the rationale behind the textual decisions made. Similarly, the RSV text has detailed textual footnotes produced by the translators of that version. These footnotes may save some time for some researchers but are likely to be ignored by most people who just wish to read the text and compare the accounts in the four gospels.

There are lists of the signs and symbols used in the text and in the apparatus that is printed at the end of each section, as well as a list of the church “fathers”, a key to Latin terms and lists of Greek and Latin manuscripts consulted. At the end of the book, there is an index of the gospel parallels, followed by an index of New Testament passages.

However, this volume lacks an introduction explaining the rationale behind the selection of Greek passages. Parallel passages are obviously listed beside each other. However, beyond this, there is also a massive amount of repetition of passages that may in some way be related to a passage in another gospel, or that at least deal with a similar theme. For instance, after the resurrection, the account of the catch of fish in John 21 has beside it the incident in Luke 5 (which had of course been printed earlier at the appropriate place). The presence of such passages may direct the reader to other passages on similar themes. Still, it is not really justified by the criteria for producing a synopsis of parallel passages in the gospels. Because of this practice of printing similar passages beside verses from other gospels, sometimes the same passage is printed multiple times on the same page. This synopsis is clearly designed for consultation rather than to be read through sequentially from beginning to end, although that is what I have done in the first instance.

As a further example of repetition. Peter’s denial in John 18:25-27 is printed on page 305 in a tiny font, with nothing in the columns for the other three gospels. It is then printed again, in normal-sized font, on page 306, alongside the parallels from the other three gospels. However, these passages had already all been printed in full on pages 301-302.

We note that three passages that are not from the gospels are also listed as parallels: Acts 1:13b (the list of the apostles), 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 (Paul’s account of the Last Supper) and 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (Paul’s account of the resurrection appearances of the Lord). In line with the policy of repeating passages where there are parallels, the verse from Acts is printed on two separate pages.

The default language for titles is Latin. A German title is added on the left-hand side of each Greek page and the RSV English title is printed on the right-hand side of each Greek page. The German and English titles are not translations of the Latin and the German titles are not a translation of the RSV English titles, so the meanings of the titles in each of the languages are often quite different. In a book in which the text is in Greek and English and the preface and the introduction to the English part are in English, the presence of Latin and German titles seems unjustified and out of place.

Print quality is just about acceptable. The font size for the main text is small but legible and generally clear, although there are a few marks on pages and every few pages there are letters that are incompletely printed but legible. On page 298 of Matthew 26:40, there is a σ printed in bold type in error.

There seems to have been a decision to print quotations from the Old Testament in the same font size as the main text but with letters widely spaced, although if this is explained, I have missed it. The distance in letter spacing is, however, sometimes so subtle that it is not clear whether it is intentional or not. The same spacing is not applied to the RSV text. What Aland presumably considers to be secondary references (those endlessly reprinted passages) are reproduced in a minute font in which it is impossible to distinguish breathings or even acute and grave accents.

I have not on this occasion read the RSV text, which I am very familiar with from decades ago. However, occasional glances at it do reveal a text that has not aged well. It was no doubt a logical choice for the first edition in 1972, but it is not helpful in 2021. It was, of course, not based on the NA27 text, having been translated in 1947. It is sometimes not close enough to the Greek text. For instance, in Luke 8:26 κατέπλευσαν, “they sailed down” is “they arrived” in the RSV (pages 123).

This is a worthwhile reference text for those who wish to compare carefully the accounts in each gospel.
  Rawderson_Rangel | Feb 10, 2024 |
Standard reference work which breaks down the four New Testament Gospels into their similar narrative components. This book is used primarily by seminary or scripture study students. This version has large font textual displays and some footnotes. ( )
  sacredheart25 | Sep 18, 2011 |
An invaluable resource for bible study and sermon preparation. Having both Greek and English is excellent. ( )
  aepmc | Jul 6, 2009 |
A helpful book showing the similarities and differences between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The most current editions include the Gospel of Thomas in an appendix, back-translated into Greek. (Only a few fragments of Thomas survive in Greek, so any translation can only be guesswork.) Since Thomas contains the strongest parallels to the New Testament gospels (and the reasons for this are loudly debated) this appendix allows for comparative research (no matter what theory one holds to.)

An essential tool for New Testament research; use Throckmorton's volume if you do not yet know Greek.

-Kushana ( )
  Kushana | Jan 30, 2009 |
This version includes the Gospel of John - not all parallel Gospels do. ( )
  churchgeek | Dec 14, 2005 |
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Based on the text of the Novum Testamentum Graece, 26th edition, this scholarly tool incorporates the variants found in papyri 101--111. Featuring parallels from apocryphal gospels and patristic works, Aland's resource includes the Gospel of Thomas in Coptic and new translations in German and English.

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