The Synoptic Problem is the problem of the literary relationships among the first three “Synoptic” Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called “Synoptic Gospels” because they can be “seen together” (syn-optic) and displayed in three parallel columns. The three gospels contain many of the same stories and sayings, often related in the same relative sequence.
However, there are also important differences in the wording of individual stories and sayings, in the ordering of some materials, and in the overall extent of each gospel. In some instances, the degree of verbatim agreement or the sequential agreement in the arrangement of episodes and sayings is so strong that one must posit some kind of literary relationship among the gospels.
By contrast, there are often marked differences in wording between any two gospels, and sometimes among all three. This raises several questions: (1) Is the relationship among the three gospels a matter of direct literary dependence, indirect dependence mediated through oral performances of written texts, or common dependence on oral information? (2) Can the direction of dependence be established? (3) Can a genealogy of the development of the Synoptic Gospels be constructed?