S is for . . .


My recollection from long-ago seminary days is that synoptic is a Greek word meaning “one eye.” One view. It’s a fancy word, concocted by scholars, to emphasize the difference between Matthew, Mark and Luke sharing the (almost, sort of, generally) same story (thus with “one eye”) versus the very different (cross-eyed?!) John. One example I always remember is John’s Gospel placed Jesus in Jerusalem for three Passover celebrations. Matthew, Mark and Luke recall only one dangerous visit.

I could share other examples, reasons or meanings. But right now I’m just intrigued by the fancy word itself. I feel like such the Biblical expert when I say . . . synoptic. I’m the insider! And then the moment I muse about the word’s distinctive meaning, I realize I’ve become the outsider. Faith that matters most to me, within others and myself, is never about special or secret language, but about seeking and sharing understanding.

None of us see from “one eye.” But we all see (even the blind) and can learn from each other.

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  1. Dear Larry,
    I suspect the more accurate sense of the Greek “syn-” is “same”. That is according to the SOED, and my current instructor on the Gospels and Acts. The primary meaning of sigma upsilon nu in my very expensive ancient Greek lexicon is “marker of accompanyment and association”. It also means “marker of assistance” or “marker of association”. Altogether, a sense of “marching in step with one another”. “Synoptic” itself does not appear in that lexicon, so it was probably made up by those old 19th century German biblical scholars who were so used to compounding new words from old (although the SOED does say that synoptic came to us through Latin, so maybe the graft was done earlier. Oh how I must get an OED!)
    Best regards…

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