Question: Why are there four gospels? It seems like God could have chosen to write one book explaining in detail the life of Christ rather than having four that seem to contain much of the same information.
What is the Purpose of the Four Gospels?
The four gospels are written on the same subject. They are biographies of the life of Jesus Christ, and even though they contain much of the same material they are different because they were written for different purposes and different audiences.
When one looks at the gospel of Matthew, it is apparent that he was writing for a Jewish audience who was familiar with the Jewish scriptures. Matthew begins with Jesus’ pedigree, his ancestry, tracing it all the way back to Abraham. On his human side, Jesus could trace his ancestry through all of the Jewish heroes. Matthew often quotes Old Testament scriptures and points out that specific events in Christ’s life were the fulfillment of the prophecies made when these were written. Matthew groups specific teachings of Jesus together so that one has a good understanding of a given subject. For instance, Matthew chapters 5-7 summarize many of Jesus’ teachings, Matthew 13 summarizes Jesus’ parables and Matthew 24-25 summarizes Jesus’ teachings on the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of time. Matthew was written so that the Jews could plainly see that Jesus was The One promised by the Old Testament prophets.
The gospel of Mark was written to the Gentiles and specifically the Roman world. Jesus is presented as a man on the move with the word “immediately” being used often. Jesus is portrayed as the Son of God and is confirmed by miracles and powerful teachings. The first half of the book emphasizes his ministry and the last half tells about the events leading up to and his crucifixion. The crucifixion ends with the Roman soldier declaring, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). Mark’s gospel served the purpose of helping the Gentile world understand that Jesus was truly the Son of God!
Luke is clear about what he was attempting to do in his gospel since he begins by declaring, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4). Luke wanted his biography to be an orderly account of the events in the life of Christ and therefore one will find events much closer to a “first this happened, then this happened, then this happened” approach than the others. If one wants to read an orderly account of the life of Christ, Luke is the place to go.
While Luke begins his book by telling its purpose, John waits until the end of his book to do the same. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). As one reads the gospel of John he is struck by the fact that John begins with the proposition that Jesus is God and that he came in the flesh to give grace and truth to mankind (see John 1:1-18, especially John 1:1, 14 and 16-17). Seven specific signs follow – things Jesus did – to show why we know this is true. Interspersed throughout the book are seven “I Am” statements from Jesus to let us know who he claimed to be.
Each gospel is written for a different purpose and the four of them together give us an accurate picture of who Jesus Christ was. By reading them and understanding their purpose one can better understand Jesus, his life, purpose and teachings. The four gospels offer a complete picture of who the Son of God really was.
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