Audiences of the Synoptic Gospels

The Gospel of Matthew has traditionally been viewed as a form of Jewish Christianity. Due to the Jewish-Christian character of the book, Jewish readers appear to be the original audience of the Gospel of Matthew. During the early stages of the Christian church, there was tension and conflict between Christians and Jews which led Jewish-Christians to separate with the Jewish synagogues. The Jewish-Christians faced the challenge of defending their faith before those in the Jewish tradition who criticized them for leaving the faith of Israel. They were part of something new that included the Gentiles, and so their task was to use the Hebrew Scriptures in order to explain the Christ fulfilled continuity of their new faith and the meaning of the inclusion of the Gentiles (Hagner 262).

Christian tradition has pointed to a Gentile Christian audience for the Gospel of Mark. Many have suggested that the Gospel of Mark was written in Rome which is connected to the view that John Mark recorded the preaching of Peter for those who heard him in Rome; therefore, Roman Christians are viewed as the specific audience. The internal evidence of a Gentile audience consists of Mark’s translation of Aramaic expressions, his explanation of Jewish rituals and customs and his cessation details of elements of the Mosaic Law (see Mark 7:1-23; 12:32-34) (Carson et al. 99).

The primary recipient of the Gospel of Luke is revealed in the opening dedication to “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3). Theophilus most likely was a real person and may have been a close friend of Luke. Luke’s use of the adjective “most excellent” may imply that Theophilus was a person of rank. The title was normally reserved for Roman political officials; therefore, he may have been a wealthy individual who had the ability to financially support Luke in the investigation and writing of his account. Furthermore, the Greek style of the preface and the strong Hellenistic Greek throughout reveals that the writing was primarily intended for a gentile audience. The name Theophilus means “lover of God,” and so some have argued that Luke is using symbolism, meaning that he is dedicating his account to godly people throughout the world. This assertion is thought provoking and deserves consideration especially in view of the immense amount of information and emphasis on salvation of those outside Israel (Carson et al. 117-118).   

Works Cited

Carson, Donald A., et al. An Introduction to the New Testament. Zondervan, 1992.

Hagner, D.A. “Matthew.” New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by T. Desmond Alexander, and Brian S. Rosner, Inter-Varsity Press, 2000, pp. 262-267.

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