Academic Programs 

Matthew, Mark and Luke: The Synoptic Gospels (SC-540)  
Summer 2006

This course is an in-depth study of the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith in light of current biblical scholarship with special attention to the theological perspectives of Matthew, Mark and Luke as reflected in their varying presentations of the Good News in these three "synoptic" Gospels.


Meeting Day, Time and Dates:
Monday, June 19 – Friday, June 23 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Wayne Rollins
Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies

Contact Information:
(860) 509-9500

Course Syllabus

Letter to class participants

“Rembrandt did many self-portraits; no two of them were exactly alike.”
                                              -An Assumption College student on an exam (1985)

There was a great teacher, and gathered around him was a small group of faithful followers.  They listened to his message and were transformed by it.  But the message alienated the power structure of his time, which finally put him to death but did not succeed in eradicating his message, which is stronger now than ever.  . . . That description would apply equally to Jesus and Socrates. But nobody’s ever built a cathedral in honor of Socrates.”
                                                                        -Jaroslav Pelikan

"Whoever seems to himself to have understood the divine scriptures in such a way that he does not build up that double love of God and neighbor has not yet understood."
                                                                        -St. Augustine of Hippo

“Who do you say that I am?”                         - Jesus of Nazareth  (Mark 8:29)

Hymeis este to phōs tou kosmou… houtos lampsato to phōs hymōn emprosthen tōn anthrōpōn hopōs idōsin hymōn ta kala erga kai doxasōsin ton patera hymōn ton en tois ouranois.  (Transcription of original Greek text; for the class to help translate more easily than you think)
                                                          - Matthew 5:14, 16

Books for Purchase (Required reading):

Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S. J., A Christological Catechism (new rev. & expanded edition;
New York: Paulist, 1991) pb [= Fitz in the syllabus]

Burton Throckmorton, Jr., ed. Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels     (5th ed.; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992) [= GP in syllabus]

Donald Senior, C.P., Jesus: A Gospel Portrait (2nd rev. ed.; New York: Paulist, 1992) pb       [= Senior in the syllabus]


1. To appreciate the historical, literary, social, cultural, religious, and psycho-spiritual soil out of which the Gospels spring and in which it continues to grow.
2. Chronology: to be able to identify the key events and persons relating to the emergence of the Gospels in the Greco-Roman world from 63 B.C. to 150 A.D.
3. Geography: to be able to locate key biblical sites.
4. To develop the art of Synoptic criticism (“criticism” = appreciation of the finer details) through an extensive use of the Gospel Parallels.
5. To appreciate the contribution of each of the evangelists to the gospel tradition and to begin to sense their special literary, theological, thematic, spiritual and editorial input.
6. To be able to identify recent insights and trends in Synoptic research, with special emphasis on the “third wave” of historical Jesus research in the last two decades of the twentieth century, with critical assessment of the “Jesus Seminar.”
7. To deepen awareness of the meaning of the “gospel” for its readers, for those they live with and serve, for the Church, and for the world in an age of pluralism.


1. Daily attendance at all sessions. Classroom exchange is as important as the reading. (For credit and CEU students, each hour of absence = reduction of one third of the  letter attendance grade; consistent tardiness also reduces the grade. See the instructor for “makeup” in case of an emergency). (1/6 of the grade)

2. Book Review*:  Credit/CEU participants will make one book review 
presentation (a ten-minute class presentation, plus a written version to the instructor for grading; maximum 7 pages). Select a title from the attached list of books on Reserve in the library and register your choice with Reserve librarian, Marie Rovero. (If someone has already selected the title you must choose another.)  Be prepared to present your book review any time on Tuesday through Friday (a definite time for your report will be set at our first session on Monday). The review is to include the following: (a) a clear précis or overview of the book in relation to this course, (b) a brief discussion of five to ten ideas you have found helpful, informative, or problematic, explaining why, and (c) the presentation of one important issue for class discussion..  The reviewer is asked to prepare some “visuals” (hand-outs, chalk-board outlines, overhead projector transparencies, etc.) to enhance communication with the group. (2/6 of the grade).

3. Final Project*: Due approximately four to six weeks following the conclusion of the course but not later than August 15 (with extensions possible using the Hartford Seminary forms). Approximate length: 15 pages. Start thinking of a topic to present for discussion at the first class session. You will get ideas from the reading for that day. The topic proposal is due the last day of class for approval by instructor. List the title of your proposed paper/project with a descriptive paragraph of your objectives. We request that Final Project papers be mailed/delivered to the instructor’s address in hard copy with a SASE for return. Students electing an “incomplete” are responsible to submit the incomplete form to the instructor prior to the end of the last class. (3/6 of the grade)

4. Advanced Introductory Assignment to be Completed for First Session . . . to help get us up to speed for this intensive week of study and exchange. See attached “Letter to Participants”  on the last page of this syllabus.  
* Required of credit and CEU participants only. All academic papers are to conform to conventional technical, grammatical, and stylistic standards referred to in the General Guidelines for a Research Paper. The Hartford Seminary Grading Guidelines will be the standard of evaluation for the course.

Class Meeting Schedule and Assignments (including “optional readings” for further enrichment)

MondayDigging In: The Times, the Territory, and the Text

Read: Senior:  Foreword and Introduction, pp. 1-5; Chapter I. “Knowing Jesus,” pp. 7-25; Chapter II, “The World of Jesus,” pp. 26-46.
Fitz: #1, “Do the Gospel Stories Present an Accurate Factual Account of the Teaching and Deeds of Jesus of Nazareth?” pp. 7-11; and #2, “How Much, in Fact, Can We Claim to Know About the Historical Jesus?” pp. 11-18.
GP: Sections (pericopes) 1-4, pp. 11-13 = Matt. 3:1-12 and Luke 3:10-14 and //s.
Optional: Fitz #3, pp. 18-21, “Do the Apocryphal Gospels Tell Us Anything Important About Jesus of Nazareth?”

See attached letter on last page of syllabus for instructions on the above assignment.

Tuesday: The Life and Teaching of Jesus. Part One: Birth Narratives, the Wilderness and John the Baptist, the Family of Jesus, and Teaching in Parables

a. Birth Narratives:  Read Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2; compare the list of stories units in each and reflect on the meaning of each.  Fitz #6, pp. 32-36, “Does the Virgin Birth Record Simple Historical Facts or are there Other Possible Ways of Understanding It?”
b. The Wilderness: Read GP section 8, pp. 16-17 (Matt. 4:1-11 and //s) “The Temptation,” reflecting on the point the Gospel writers seem to make with this story.
c. John the Baptist: Read GP sections 1-6, pp. 11-14 (Matt. 3:1-17 and //s), following the Luke version. Also, read Matthew 11:2-19 and John 1:19-34.  For reflection: how did Jesus and John see one another and what was the nature of their relationship? How did the Gospel writers see it?
d. Family of Jesus: Read Mark 3:31-35; 6:1-6, reflecting on Mark’s view of the family of Jesus.  Optional reading: Fitz #7, pp. 36-38, “How Are We to Understand the References to the Brothers and Sisters of Jesus in the New Testament?”
e. Teaching in Parables: Senior pp. 74-99, “Jesus Speaks;” reflect on questions on p. 99. Read the collection of Jesus’ parables in Mark 4:1-34. Note 4:26-29, a parable found only in Mark. What is the “kingdom of God” according to this parable?  List five qualities of the “kingdom” implied in this parable. Optional readings: Fitz # 10, pp. 45-48, “ What Themes in the Gospels Are Accepted as Representing the Teachings of Jesus Himself?” Fitz #11, pp. 48-51, “What did Jesus Teach About the Kingdom of God?”

Wednesday: The Life and Teaching of Jesus. Part Two: “Signs and Wonders” (“Miracles”), The Sermon on the Mount, and the Question of Jesus’ Identity in the Gospels

a. “Signs and Wonders” (“Miracles”): Read the following “miracle” stories: Luke 7:1-10; Mark 4:35-41;  Mark 6:45-52; Mark 10:46-52.  In each story identify the word, phrase, or sentence that you think captures the point of the story from the Gospel writer’s perspective?  Read Senior, pp. 100-116, “Jesus Heals,” reflecting on questions on p. 116.  Optional reading:  Fitz # 13,  pp. 56-62, “How Are the Gospel Accounts of Jesus’ Miracles to Be Understood?”
b. The Sermon on the Mount: Read Matthew, chapters 5 through 7, and the parallel “Sermon on the Plain” in Luke 6:17-49.  Special assignment sheet will be distributed. As you read, select that one verse worth “tattooing” on the human mind. Also, compare Matthew and Luke on three points: GP  section 19, p. 25 (Matt. 5:3-12 //s), “The Beatitudes;” GP section 24, p. 28  (Matt. 5: 31-32 //s), “On Divorce;” GP section 30, p. 31 (Matt. 6: 9-15 //s), “The Lord’s Prayer.” What interesting differences do you notice?   Read: Senior pp. 47-73, “Jesus and His Own,” reflecting on questions on p. 73. Optional Reading: Fitz #12, pp. 55-56, “How . . . is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to Be Understood?”
c. The Question of Jesus’ Identity in the Gospels: “Who Do You Say That I Am?”:  Read GP  sections 122 and 123, pp. 99-100 (Matt. 16:13-23, 24-28, //s), “The Confession at Caesarea Philippi . . . “ This is the keystone passage in Mark’s Gospel.  Compare the three gospels. Read Fitz #14, pp. 62-66, “How Are Jesus’ Words to Simon Peter at Caesarea Philippi To Be Understood?”  Also, Fitz # 20, 97-100, “Did Jesus Claim To Be God?”  Optional reading:  Fitz #17, pp. 81-86, “Are There Different Interpretations of Jesus as the Christ (or Different Christologies) in the New Testament?”, also, Fitz #22, pp. 102-108, “What is to Be Said of the Titles Messiah or Christ, Son of Man, Son of God, Lord, etc.”

Thursday: The Life and Teaching of Jesus, Part III. The Passion Story and Resurrection Narratives

a. The Passion Story: Read Mark’s version of the Passion story in chapters 14 and 15. Then go to GP, sections 231-50, pp. 181-202 (Matt. 26:1 to 27:56 and //s), and note in passing where Matthew and Luke provide new materials or emphases.  Note especially the various versions of the Lord’s Supper in GP 236, pp. 184-5 (Matt. 26:26-29 and //s), taking note of the versions reported in the footnotes.  Compare also the accounts of the crucifixion in GP  249 and 250, pp. 199-202 (Matt. 27:33-56 //s). Bring your observations on Matthew’s, Luke’s , or Mark’s editorial activity.
Read: Senior, 117-138, “ Death . . . .”  Read Fitz #15, pp. 66-76,"How Are Jesus' Words and Actions at the Last Supper To Be Understood?"  Optional Reading: Fitz #16, 76-81, "Who was Responsible for the Death of Jesus?"
b. Resurrection Narratives. Read: GP, section 253, pp. 204-206 (Matt. 28:1-10 and //s). Make Sherlock Holmes-ian observations on the differences in the story of the empty tomb.  Do the same in reading pp. 206-210 (Matt. 28:11-20; Lk. 24:13-53; Mk. 16:9-20), making a list of the story units in Matthew and in Luke, reflecting on the “point” the evangelist seems to be highlighting with each story.
Read: Senior, 139-142, “ . . . Victory,” reflecting on questions on p. 142. Fitz #18, 86-93,  "How are References to the Resurrection of Jesus in the New Testament To Be Interpreted?”

Friday: Three Responses: The Genius of Mark, of Matthew, and of Luke

Read: Senior: 143-158. “Jesus and His Church,” reflecting on questions on p. 158.  Fitz #23, 108-110, "After the Resurrection Was Jesus Proclaimed Unambiguously from the Start as Son of God, Equal to the Father?" Fitz #25, 112-115, “Did Jesus Found the Church?” Fitz #19, 93-96 "What do contemporary NT Interpreters Say of the Ascension?"
Optional reading: Fitz #20, 110-112, "In What Sense Can It Be Said That Jesus Was the Redeemer of the World?
Come to class prepared to share your observations on the unique interests and approaches of Mark, Matthew, and Luke as they have surfaced in our reading and work this week.  If you had to choose a favorite among the three Synoptic Gospels, which would it be? .


(Books are on library reserve for students to sign up and take out for book reports. Alternate titles might be considered. Contact Prof. Rollins by e-mail, noted on page 1).
Anderson, Janice and Stephen Moore, Mark and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies (Fortress, 1992).

Aron, Robert, Jesus of Nazareth (Wm. Morrow, 1962)

Borg, Marcus J., Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (HarperSanFrancisco, 1994)

Brown, Raymond E., The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus  (Paulist, 19973)

Carter, Wilson (2003). Pontius Pilate: Portraits of a Roman Governor. Collegeville, Minn.,  Liturgical Press/Michael Glazier.*

Charlesworth, James H., and Loren L. Johns, eds., Hillel and Jesus (Fortress, 1997)

Coffey, Kathy. Hidden Women of the Gospels (Crossroads, 1996)

Corley, Kathleen E. a. Robert L. W., editors (2004). Jesus and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ: The Film, The Gospels, and the Claims of History. London, Continuum.*

Crosby, Michael, Thy Will Be Done: Praying the Our Father as Subversive Activity (Orbis, 1977)

Crossan, John Dominic, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (Harper, 1994)

Elliott, J. K., ed. The Apocryphal Jesus: Legends of the Early Church. (Oxford University Press, 1996).

Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schüssler, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (Crossroad, 1984)

Fitzmyer, Joseph, Responses to 101 Questions on the Dead Sea Scrolls (Paulist, 1992)

Fredricksen, Paula. Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity. (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999)

Gench, Frances T. (2004). Back to the Well: Women's Encounters with Jesus in the Gospels. Louisville, Westminster John Knox. *

Harrington, Daniel J. Who is Jesus: Why is He Important? (Sheed and Ward, 1999).

Horsley, Richard A., and Neil Asher Silberman. The Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World. (Fortress, 2002)

Johnson, Elizabeth A., Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal in Christology (Crossroad, 1992)

Kee, Howard C., Medicine, Miracle and Magic in New Testament Times (publ?, 1986)

Klassen, William, Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? (Fortress, 1996)

Leslie, Robert C., Jesus and Logotherapy ( Abingdon, 1965)

Miller, John W., Jesus at Thirty: A Psychological and Historical Portrait (Fortress, 1997)

Newheart, Michael W. (2004). My Name is Legion: The Story and Soul of the Gerasene Demoniac. Collegeville, MN, Liturgical Press.*

Nolan, Albert, O.P. Jesus Before Christianity (Orbis, 1976)

Paffenroth, Kim. Judas: Images of the Lost Disciple. ( Westminster John Knox, 2002)

Patterson, Stephen J., the Gospel of Thomas and Jesus (Polebridge, 1993)

Pelikan, Jaroslav, Jesus Through the Centuries (Yale University Press, 1985)

Perkins, Pheme, Hearing the Parables of Jesus (Paulist, 1981)

Phipps, William E. The Wisdom and Wit of Rabbi Jesus (Westminster/ John Knox, 1993)

Platt, Elizabeth E. (2004). Four Portraits of Jesus: Studies in the Gospels and Their Old Testament Background. Mahwah, NJ, Paulist.*

Robinson, James M., Ed. (2004). The Sayings of Jesus: The Sayings of Gospel Q in English. Minneapolis, Fortress.*

Sanford, John, The Kingdom Within (Paulist, 1970)

Sloyan, Gerard, Jesus in Focus (XXIIIrd Publications, 1983)

Spencer, F. Scott (2003). What Did Jesus Do?  Gospel Portrayals of Jesus' Personal Conduct, Trinity Press International.*

Swidler, Leonard and Paul Mojzes, eds., The Uniqueness of Jesus: A Dialogue with Paul F. Knitter (Orbis, 1997)

Twelftree, Graham, Jesus the Exorcist (Hendrickson, 1993)

Voorst, Robert E. Van. Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence Studying the Historical Jesus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

Wink, Walter The Powers That Be: Theology for  a New Millennium (Doubleday, 1999) paperback version

Witherington, Ben, III, The Christology of Jesus (Fortress, 1997)


April 19, 2006

To:       Participants in SC 540. “Matthew, Mark, and Luke: The Synoptic Gospels”
From:  Dr. Wayne G. Rollins
Re:       Preparing For the First Session

Dear Friends,

            I look forward to our week together on the Synoptic Gospels. I’d like to make most of the first session by asking you to prepare three readings, one apiece from each of the three required texts.  Please note that these assignments are NOT to be handed in. Just bring your ideas.

            The first is Donald Senior’s Jesus: A Gospel Portrait (Paulist, 1995), a readable, informed, and wise overview of the life and teaching of Jesus.  If possible, try to read the entire book ahead of time. For our first session, focus on three sections:  pages 1-5, for a taste of the author’s approach, plus Chapter One, “Knowing Jesus” (on the history of the gospel text), and Chapter Two, “The World of Jesus” (on the cultural and historical setting).  Bring your responses to the end-of-the-chapter questions. In addition, do the following:
            (a) construct your own chronology of key events and dates on the background and history of Jesus’ life, based on your reading in chapter two;
            (b) be able to share what interested you about the Jewish, Roman, and Greek background;
            (c) study the map on page 30, and be able to identify at least four familiar sites and one unfamiliar site (of your choice) on a blank map drawn on the board. Do a little extra research --- either on the web, in the library, or in your Bible, to identify the bodies of water and calculate the mileage dimensions of  Palestine. We will top it off with a slide presentation in class.
Second, I’d like you to dip into Joseph Fitzmyer’s A Christological Catechism: New Testament Answers. Fitzmyer’s argument is tightly woven, but insightful, focusing on 25 probing  questions. Read two of the “questions”:  #1, “Do the Gospel Stories Present an Accurate Factual Account of the Teaching and Deeds of Jesus of Nazareth?”  (pp. 7-10)  and #2, “How Much, in Fact, Can We Claim to Know About the Historical Jesus?”(pp. 11-18).  Don’t get hung up on detail. Read without stopping and come to class prepared to share what you were able to piece together of Fitzmyer’s “answers.”

Third, do an exercise in Gospel Parallels, a classic tool for New Testament scholars. It lists the Matthew, Mark, and Luke versions of gospel accounts side-by-side.  Read stories (sections)  § 1, 2, 3, and  4  (on pages 11-13), all having to do with Jesus and John the Baptist. Do a Sherlock Holmes comparison of the three accounts, noting what is omitted, added, or changed from one Gospel to the other, speculating “why?”

Needless to say, any additional preparation you can do will spare the midnight oil during the week of the course.   It will be a busy and lively time together, which I hope will provide you with a fresh understanding of the Gospels, Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy, and ourselves.

Wayne G. Rollins

P.S. Credit students: please note the Book Review Assignment in the attached syllabus.

P.P.S. All students. Try reading Mark’s Gospel in one sitting (it’s short) in preparation for the course. Read it as if you had never read it before. It will stir new questions and insights.


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