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As Christians, we’re thankful to have four books in the Bible that were authored by four different individuals who were either privy to information about Jesus’ ministry, or witnessed it firsthand. These four documents of course are the Gospels. The word ‘gospel’ means “good news”. In a world filled with much bad news, the gospels give us hope that there’s indeed good news—in fact, great news, in that God is still on the throne and still in control, and that Jesus still saves sinners and will return once again very soon. The gospels were written just decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus in response to the persecution that believers were facing at the hands of the Romans as well as the unbelieving Jews.
We would know much less about Jesus if these writings did not exist. Other extra-biblical accounts do exist, but only these four (from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were deemed reliable and accurate enough to be added to the canon of Scripture that we have included in the Bible. If Jesus ever journalled about His ministry experiences, no one has been able to find such documents. The only time we read in the gospels of Jesus writing anything it was when he stooped down to write something in the sand when a few people brought a woman who was caught in adultery before Him. So Jesus didn’t appear to record anything we know of in terms of His life and times as the Saviour. Yet praise God that we do have documents that preserve so many of the wonderful things that our Lord said and did in the three short years of His public ministry.
Why There are Four Gospels
Many people wonder why there are four gospels when some of the accounts are repeated by the authors in their respective gospels. Even more, some people have wondered how accurate the writings in the gospels could be if these same accounts are recorded somewhat differently by each author. And why did some of the authors leave some things out that others included in their gospel?
For instance when we read the gospel of John we see that characteristically, it is very different from the other four. If you know anything about the original Greek that Luke wrote his gospel in, you’ll know that his writing style is very detailed and articulate when compared to the others. Perhaps the fact that he was a physician had something to do with that. Then there’s Mark who wrote the shortest gospel and who seemed to not stay on one account or topic for too long. His gospel contains a lot of action. This is why he so often employed the word “Immediately” as he began a new section. And when it comes to Matthew, his gospel contains more references to the Old Testament than any other; it’s also the longest gospel and gives us the most background on the content Jesus discussed in the famous Sermon on the Mount. So Matthew’s gospel has a whole other feel of its own as well.
As an added side note: there’s also a hypothetical source called “Q” that contained material pertaining to Jesus’ ministry that are common in both Matthew and Luke’s gospels, but not Mark’s or John’s. All these characteristics aside, the question remains as to why each gospel writer was so concerned with being different from the other three? Did they each want to stand out amongst the others? Was there some sort of competition thing going on? Hardly!
Before we answer the question as to why each gospel is so different, yet similar in some way, I want to tell you about a little exercise I used in my youth ministry days to illustrate the point. During one youth meeting (before the youth arrived), I preplanned for a few people to act out three different short stories, using actions and speech. I also had different props set up around the room. When everything was ready I had the youth enter the room and observe each story being acted out and then to witness in writing what they saw and heard. The results were amazing. In short, each young person basically wrote something different about what they experienced and what impressions it made on them. They learned a little bit more that evening how it’s possible to see and hear the same thing as everyone else, but record differing and varying details about their experience.
The Gospels Paint Different Pictures of Jesus
Matthew wanted his readers to realize that Jesus is the messiah—the King of the Jews, and being very familiar with the Old Testament writings He set out to accomplish that very goal. After all, remember how Matthew started His gospel: by outlining the family tree and lineage of Jesus. Mark on the other hand was writing to an audience that were more a part of the empire in Rome; people who were not as familiar with the religion of the Jews. Yet he wrote to highlight that aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry that accentuated His servant qualities. That is also why Mark contains more accounts of miracles than the other four.
Luke as we said was written to a more intellectual audience. He was concerned that his accounts of Jesus’ ministry were orderly. Luke likely didn’t witness the accounts himself but sought to painstakingly pursue information from those who did. Luke’s focus was also on shedding light on Jesus’ humanity. Or, as is taught in systematic theology: “Jesus from the ground up!” The Greeks were always on the lookout for the perfect man and Luke presented that Man in Jesus Christ.
Then there’s John who was certainly an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry. He referred to himself in his gospel as the one whom the Lord loved. It’s obvious that Jesus and John enjoyed close fellowship. John’s focus was on displaying Jesus as the eternal, Word of God who became human “flesh” and lived among us. John, both in his gospel and three NT letters, desired to bring his readers to a deeper faith in Christ.
So there we have it. The gospels we have in our Bibles are just the way the Holy Spirit wanted them to be: each is truth, each is accurate, each is helpful and complete because each gospel and author shows us a different aspect of our Lord and His ministry among us. What is challenging for us to consider, however, is allowing each of these aspects or facets of Jesus’ person and ministry to manifest in our faith and everyday lives.
That is, do we see Jesus as not only our suffering Saviour and as the king of the Jews, but as our ultimate King, the King of kings…and what does that mean and look like in our daily lives when it comes to His Lordship? Does it make us anymore Kingdom-minded? Like Mark, do we consider Jesus as the Servant of God who made time for people and helped people? How does that aspect of Jesus’ ministry translate in our lives and ministries as God’s people? Do we consider Jesus in His humanity, like Luke did—that earthly part of the Son of God who could eat and sleep and feel pain and joy and laugh and cry? How does that aspect of Jesus manifest in our faith every day? Do we see Him as being more relatable to us in our finitude? And finally, like John, do we ponder Jesus as the unique, eternal Word of God made flesh and are we able to communicate that truth to people outside of the faith or with people of different religious backgrounds and beliefs? Understanding the Gospels and what their well-rounded depiction of Jesus teaches us is integral to our spiritual growth and maturity.
Can you disciple this?
More About Jesus and the Gospels
Ron Mahler has pastored in various churches and ministries throughout Ontario for over twenty years. In addition to his current roles as a chaplain and speaker/preacher at-large, Ron is an award-winning author; his fourth book—The Banquet, will be published in 2018. As a man of many talents and interests, he’s worked as a graphic artist and is also a multi-instrumentalist. Like many, Ron juggles the demands of family, work and ministry, with trying to get in a little “play” and “me” time. You can read his blogs, check out reviews of his books and find out news and information about events he’s hosting by going to: myfanaticalbook.wordpress.com
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