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Why Do We Need Four Gospels?

At the heart of Christianity is the person and work

of Jesus Christ. So we would expect the Christian
Scriptures to include an account of Jesus' life. But
why do we have four - the Gospels according to
atthew! ark! "uke and John# $sn't this
redundant# Surely one would %e enough#
&n the contrary! our knowledge of Jesus Christ
would %e inco'plete if we had only one Gospel. &r
even if we had three Gospels %ut were 'issing one.
atthew! ark! "uke and John each told the story
fro' a different perspective! %ecause each had a
different audience in 'ind. (e tend to %lur these
four distinctive portraits of Jesus together. But
knowing how an act or saying of Jesus fits in with
each author's perspective can greatly enhance our
understanding of its 'eaning.
)ere is a %rief introduction to the particular
'essage and the'e of each of the four Gospels.
Because of space li'itations! we will usually cite
locations rather than *uote verses in full. But if you
look up so'e of these verses in the +ew
,esta'ent! you will %egin to see how each Gospel
has a uni*ue 'essage. -ou will also see how all
four work together to %uild a co'plete picture of
the life and work of Jesus Christ.
Matthew the bridge
MATTHEW'S readers were mainly Jewish Christians,
and he emphasized Christianity's continuity with the
Hebrew Scriptures what we call the !ld Testament"
and traditions# Throu$h Matthew we are told the
relationship o% Jesus to the law and the !ld
Testament prophets# This &ospel, placed %irst in the
'ew Testament, is li(e a brid$e %rom !ld to 'ew#
Matthew )uotes %rom the !ld Testament more
%re)uently than any other 'ew Testament writer#
The most sacred part o% the Hebrew *ible was the
Torah, the %i+e boo(s containin$ the law o% Moses#
Matthew li(ewise concentrates most o% Jesus'
teachin$ in %i+e lon$ discourses as the new co+enant
counterpart to Mosaic law#
,# -.,/0.12" 3n the 'Sermon on the Mount', Jesus
e4panded his disciples' understandin$ o% three
central topics. the law, worship and $ood deeds#
1# ,5.,/61" Jesus called the apostles and
commissioned them to spea( %or him, 7ust as &od
had commissioned Moses and the prophets#
8# ,8.,/-1" 3n se+en parables, Jesus added a new
dimension to the understandin$ o% the (in$dom o%
6# ,9.,/8-" Jesus outlined a code o% conduct that
would enable his %ollowers to establish and
maintain their new/%ound spiritual relationships#
-# chapters 18/1-" Jesus showed how and why
the old order, with its hypocrisy, must $i+e way to
a new a$e o% peace and 7ustice, in which
ri$hteousness would be rewarded and e+il
Matthew encoura$ed Jewish con+erts to see their
herita$e in the conte4t o% a $reater law, and their
history in the li$ht o% the spiritual (in$dom o% &od#
:or Matthew, Jesus' %ul%illment o% the Scriptures did
not mean that those Scriptures had lost their
si$ni%icance and could there%ore be discarded#
;ather, %or Matthew the Hebrew Scriptures $ained
si$ni%icance throu$h Jesus and continue to be part
o% the <treasure< o% the scribe trained %or the
(in$dom o% hea+en see Matthew ,8.-1" =aniel J#
Harrin$ton, ,he Gospel of atthew, Sacra >a$ina
Series, pa$e 11"#
Mark 'This is what happened'
MA;?'S &ospel is %ast/mo+in$ and dramatic# 3t reads
li(e a series o% eye/witness accounts# *ecause o% this
action/pac(ed style, Mar('s &ospel is an ideal
startin$ point %or disco+erin$ who Jesus Christ is and
what he is all about#
Mar( is more concerned about tellin$ us what
happened, rather than when it happened# He writes
more li(e a 7ournalist than a historian# He cuts to the
)uic(, introducin$ Jesus to people who ha+e perhaps
heard o% him but don't (now him +ery well yet#
@erbs li(e 'run', 'shout' and 'amaze' abound in this
boo(# Mar('s %a+orite ad+erb is euthus, meanin$
'immediately' or 'at once' it occurs ten times in
chapter , alone"#
Mar( does not delay the action by tellin$ us about
Jesus' $enealo$y, or e+en his birth# ;ather, Mar(
be$ins with the brie%est sur+ey o% the ministry o%
John the *aptist, the baptism o% Jesus and his
testin$ in the wilderness by Satan ,.,/,8"# Then
the action be$ins, and continues nonstop %or ,A
chapters# E+ent )uic(ly %ollows e+ent# !n occasion,
one story is interrupted to be$in another, and the
%irst story %inished later#
Mar('s account o% the e+ents leadin$ up to Jesus'
trial and cruci%i4ion is especially detailed and +i+id#
Mar('s purpose is to show that Jesus is the Son o%
&od ,.,"# When Jesus is baptized, a hea+enly +oice
proclaims, '###Bou are my Son' ,.,,"#
Jesus has the authority to %or$i+e sin, a prero$ati+e
o% &od alone 1.-/,1"# E+il spirits reco$nize Jesus as
the Holy !ne o% &od ,.16", the Son o% &od 8.,,"
and Son o% the Most Hi$h &od -.0/9"#
3n Mar('s &ospel, the authority o% Jesus is stressed
by the manner o% his teachin$ ,.11" and by the
numerous miracles# *ut Mar( also warns his
audience that miracles could be ambi$uous# A%ter
all, they lead >harisees and Herodians to oppose
Jesus 8.A"C cause scribes to thin( o% Jesus as
possessed 8.11"C lea+e people %rom his home/
town unimpressed A.,/8"C cause Herod to ima$ine
that Jesus is John the *aptist redi+i+us
DresurrectedE A.,6/,A"C and do not eliminate the
disciples' misunderstandin$ A.-1C 9.,0/1," *en
Witherin$ton 333, ,he Christology of Jesus, pa$e
The point was, nobody in the human realm %ully
understands this truth# E+en >eter, who ri$htly
pro%esses Jesus as the Christ, %ails to realize Jesus'
purpose. to die and a%ter three days rise a$ain
9.8,C c%# 2.,1, 8,C ,5.88, 6-"# The only human
ac(nowled$ment that Jesus is the Son o% &od, comes
%rom a centurion loo(in$ at Jesus on the cross#
This, then, is the messa$e o% the &ospel o% Mar( /
that we can %ully understand who Jesus is only
throu$h his su%%erin$, death and resurrection#
Luke for people like us
FG?E, li(e all the e+an$elists, ac(nowled$es that
Jesus was &od, but he also stresses his humanity#
Fu(e shows us that, in Jesus, &od became a part o%
his own story, 7ust as some producers will $i+e
themsel+es a small role in their own %ilms# E4cept
that there was nothin$ small about Jesus' role when
he stepped into historyH
Fu(e shows us that Jesus was a real/li%e person who
li+ed in &alilee and Judea durin$ the rei$ns o% the
;oman Emperors Au$ustus and Tiberius#
Fi(e Matthew, he $i+es us Jesus' $enealo$y and an
account o% his birth# *ut only Fu(e records Jesus'
circumcision 1.1,", his presentation at the temple
1.11/89", his $rowth as a child 1.65", his meetin$
at a$e ,1 with the reli$ious teachers in the temple
1.6,/-," and his continued de+elopment '###in
wisdom and stature, and in %a+or with &od and men'
1.-1"# These details establish Jesus as a historical
At the be$innin$ o% his ministry, Jesus proclaimed
what his mission was all about. to brin$ $ood news
to the poor, release to the capti+es, si$ht to the blind
and %reedom to the oppressed 6.,9"#
Fu(e shows Jesus as e4tremely concerned about the
wel%are o% all people, but ha+in$ special empathy %or
those who were despised or under+alued by society.
the ta4 collectors, Samaritans, the poor, &entiles# 'o
class or $roup was e4cludedC Christ's messa$e o%
sal+ation was %or e+eryone# Fu(e seems to ma(e a
special point o% hi$hli$htin$ Jesus' concern %or
Fu(e %eatures the responsi+eness o% women 0.8A/
-5C 9.,/8C 9.69C ,5.89/61C ,8.,5/,0C 16.,/,1"#
!%ten it is not 7ust a woman but a widow who is
cited, since she represented the most +ulnerable
status within society 1.80C 6.1-/1AC 0.,1C ,9.8,
-C 15.60C 1,.1/8"# Whether in parable or by
e4ample, these women show that they are
sensiti+e to the messa$e o% Jesus# Thou$h on the
%rin$es o% %irst/century society, they are in the
middle o% Fu(e's story# !%ten they are paired with
men 1.1-/19C 6.1-/10C 9.65/-AC ,,.8,/81C
,8.,9/1,C ,-.6/,5C ,0.86/8-C Acts 1,.2/,5", a
%eature su$$estin$ that the &ospel is %or both
$enders =aniel *oc(, in the .ictionary of Jesus
and the Gospels, pa$e -5A"#
Many o% the most poi$nant parables that show
repentance and %or$i+eness o% sin bein$ o%%ered to
e+eryone are %ound only in Fu(e# :or e4ample, the
$ood Samaritan ,5.85/80", the $reat %east ,6.,-/
16", the prodi$al son ,-.,,/8," and the >harisee
and the ta4 collector ,9.2/,6"#
Fu(e shows us that &od's concern e4tends to
e+eryone, not 7ust those who are '$ood' or naturally
inclined to reli$ion# 3n Jesus Christ, &od became one
o% us, so that he could sa+e all o% us#
John 'And now for something
ompletely different'
J!H''S was the last &ospel to be written, perhaps
A5 or more years a%ter the cruci%i4ion# ;ather than
tell the whole story, he selects incidents %rom only
about three wee(s o% Jesus' li%e# *ut these he
e4plores in $reat detail#
John wants to let us (now in pro%ound detail who
Jesus Christ was, where he came %rom and what he
came to do 9.,6"# He summed it up in what is
perhaps the most o%ten )uoted o% all *ible +erses.
<:or &od so lo+ed the world that he $a+e his one and
only Son, that whoe+er belie+es in him shall not
perish but ha+e eternal li%e< John 8.,A"#
This &ospel e4plains &od's lo+e and his $i%t o% eternal
li%e, in simple, e+eryday lan$ua$e that can be
understood by anyone# *ut don't be misled by the
apparent simplicity# John's messa$e o% Jesus Christ
is a deep mine, with many le+els o% understandin$# 3t
will repay a li%etime o% study#
:or e4ample, John de+otes se+eral chapters to Jesus'
last tal( with his disciples John ,6/,0"# He e4plores
the relationship between the :ather, Son and Holy
Spirit# John dwells at len$th on what may at %irst
seem to be a minor incident# :or e4ample, the
healin$ o% a blind man chapter 2", or the chance
meetin$ o% Jesus and a Samaritan woman at a well
*ut these +i$nettes were chosen because they
illustrated +ital lessons %or all who would become
disciples, not only in his time, but throu$h the a$es#
John helps the non/belie+er to belie+e and the
belie+er to come to a deeper le+el o% understandin$#
Whereas Matthew, Mar( and Fu(e show us how
Jesus tau$ht in parables, there are no parables in
John# 3nstead, he %ocuses on the symbols that Jesus
used to describe and e4plain his role as our Sa+ior,
each be$innin$ with <3 am<.
###the bread o% li%e A.8-"C
###the true li$ht 9.,1"C
###the door to li%e ,5.0"C
###the $ood shepherd ,5.,,"C
###the resurrection ,,.1-"C
###the way, the truth and the li%e ,6.A"C
###the true +ine ,-.,"#
Fi(e the other e+an$elists, John
tells us o% Jesus' miracles. he
trans%orms water into wine 1.,/
,,", heals a nobleman's son
6.68/-6", and a cripple -.,/,A",
%eeds the %i+e thousand A.,/,6",
wal(s on water A.,-/1,", restores
a blind man 2.,/6," and raises
Fazarus %rom the dead ,,.,/6A"#
*ut he doesn't call them miracles#
To John, they are si$ns, and he
shows they ha+e a purpose that
$oes beyond the wonder o% the act
itsel%# Each si$n tells us more
about the o+erall reason why Jesus
Christ came to earth# He came not
so that a %ew could be healed, but
so that all could ha+e li%e John
So, while the other &ospels
present Jesus' messa$e in terms o%
'the (in$dom o% &od', John pre%ers
the term 'eternal li%e'# Eternal li%e,
althou$h ha+in$ ma$ni%icent %uture
implications, also becomes a
present reality %or the belie+er.
'Whoe+er hears my word and
belie+es in him who sent me has
eternal li%e' -.16"#