I actually can’t remember when I learned that synoptic gospels was the umbrella term for the books Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I don’t know if I was taught what the word synoptic actually meant. I guessed it had something to do with those three gospels being chronological accounts of the life of Jesus while John, the fourth gospel, is a different genre of literature.
Fortunately, I chose The Jerusalem Bible for the task I set for myself, to read the synoptic gospels. Of the bibles I have sitting around at home, it was the only version I hadn’t read these three books in. It has a definition and explanation in an introduction:
The first three gospels are called synoptic (“with the same eye”) because their narratives are all built on the same events in the life of Jesus and indeed many passages from all three of them can be placed side by side as evident parallels.
I checked the Oxford English Dictionary Online, through my library’s website, to see if the word synoptic is used in any other context. It turns out that it can be used as an adjective form of synopsis, which is kind of cool. And, in particular, synoptic is used in weather analysis when studying conditions at the same time, over a large area. Here’s one of the given example sentences, from Weather by Ralph Abercromby published in 1887:
Such a chart is called a ‘synoptic chart’, because it enables the meteorologist to take a general view, as it were, over a large area.
Thanks for asking, Anne! I know more than I did when I started to write this post.