Some people are confused why there are 4 gospels. Are these gospels different and do they contradict one another?
Four witnesses were divinely chosen by god to become the writers of the four gospels.
God gave them this purpose of writing, so that each of them would present a specific portrait of Jesus.
Each gospel was meant to be a complete document/book. When you read a book, do you jump to page 154 and read the 46th line and then close the book and think you have understood the book? Of course not. You start from page one. In the same way, if you want to understand any gospel, you need to read from the first chapter to the last.
The 4 portraits of Jesus presented in the gospels blends into a perfect harmony like a four-part choir, to help us to see and know and understand who Jesus really is. I like to think of it as a 4-D portrait of Jesus!
When you understand the purpose of each Gospel, you will be amazed at the beauty and the power of the gospels and how they all fit in harmony.
Although all the Gospels are for everyone, each gospel writer had a specific focus in mind.
I urge you to please read on. Whether you’re Christian or Muslim, I am pretty sure you will be amazed if you have never known about these truths.
Matthew presents Jesus as the MESSIAH / KING. He was writing primarily to the Jews. That is why you’ll find many references in Matthew’s book to the Old Testament writings and practices which the Jews were very familiar with.
Since Matthew was portraying Jesus as Messiah, he records Jesus’ legal genealogy right in Chapter 1; beginning from Abraham, to show Jesus was the one who was promised that would come as Messiah from the direct line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.
The first miracle recorded by Matthew is of a leper being cleansed. Why? Because to the Jews, leprosy was symbolic of sin. And when Jesus healed the leper, it was not just a miraculous physical healing but it symbolic of Jesus the Messiah saving us from our sins.
Matthew focuses on what Jesus, the Messiah, SAID. That is why you’ll find chapter after chapter of Jesus teachings’ like the famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6, 7 and so on. (By the way, Matthew used to be a tax collector, so he was very meticulous in record keeping and he knew short-hand, so he was well-prepared to write this gospel that contains so much of what Jesus spoke.
This gospel ends with the account of Jesus’ resurrection as He Himself prophesied.
Mark presents Jesus as a SERVANT of God. The FOCUS is on what Jesus DID. That is why in this gospel you will find the most number of miracles recorded, more than the others. Mark does not write as much as Matthew did in quoting the words of Jesus. His focus was on what Jesus worked as a servant of God.
Can you understand why Mark does not place a genealogy in his account like Matthew did? Because a servant’s genealogy does not matter!
Mark was writing primarily to the Romans. Mark was multi-lingual, fluent in Latin (the language of the Romans), Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. (In fact, in this gospel, you will come across a number of “foreign” words which Mark uses but clearly explains to make sure his readers understand.)
Mark was the perfect writer for this gospel that presents Jesus as a servant because he himself was a servant and assistant to Paul and then later to Peter. He was also a helper for a brief period to Luke as well. Basically, this gospel was the eyewitness account of Peter. Mark was Peter’s scribe. This gospel is summarized perfectly in 10:45. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to SERVE, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” There you have it, the story of the servant.
Luke was a doctor. He presents Jesus as a human, SON OF MAN. He was writing primarily to the Greeks. This gospel focuses on how Jesus FELT as a human being. As a doctor, he was perfect to write about Jesus’ humanity.
Luke’s focus was Jesus as a man. So it should come as no surprise that Luke records Jesus’ genealogy and his record goes back to the first man, Adam. Unlike Matthew, who traced Jesus’ legal kingly line as proof of being the Messiah, Luke traces Jesus’ human blood line through Mary (since he had no human father) and shows His humanity. Can you see why Matthew and Luke had differing genealogies and the reasons for them?
Luke ends the gospel with Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit, to set up his sequel, the Book of Acts where he picks up from where he left off with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, 40 days after the ascension of Jesus.
John’s gospel was the last to be written, probably around 90 AD. The 3 earlier gospels were written around 50-60 AD.
In this gospel, John presents Jesus as the divine SON OF GOD. He focuses on WHO Jesus was. You will find in this gospel glimpses of His divinity. Just like the other gospels, this gospel is for everyone but John’s primary audience he had in mind were Christians.
Many people think there is no genealogy in John. Look carefully at verse one onwards. It is speaking of Jesus pre-existence, with and as God! That’s His origin. Etenity!
Right from chapter one, John makes it clear that Jesus is divine and stepped into His own creation (John 1:14). In chapter 3, you will find that Jesus says He came from heaven. In John 5, 8, 10 and other places you will see evidences that Jesus is God.
In fact, there is no way you can miss John’s purpose in writing this gospel because he states in clearly towards the end of the book in 20:31, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” If you read a verse in John and come to any other conclusion different from what John stated, then you have missed the message of this book. YOu contradict the author and you are wrong.
John ends this gospel with the promise of Jesus’ return, thus setting up John’s sequel book, Revelation, where he picks up again on the second coming of Jesus and what will happen then.
As you can see, the gospels are not just random verses or chapters thrown together. It is a book to be read and understood as a whole. Not picking a verse here and a verse there to create your own opinion or false theology.
Now when you read the gospel, you will have a clarity you never had before of what it all actually means. You will understand why certain things are in one gospel but not in another. And most important of all, you will see Jesus for who He truly is, Messiah, Servant, Man, God.
This diagram below summarizes these points.
adapted from the lectures of Chuck Missler.
from Exploring The Gospels on LIfeOfChrist.com
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are collectively known as the gospels. The word “gospel” comes from an Old English word that meant “good news.”
Today the word “gospel” is used to describe the 4 New Testament books that present the life of Christ. In a general sense, gospel is also used to describe the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the story of Jesus is good news!
Gospel of Matthew
Matthew presents Jesus as the promised Messiah, the King of the Jews. Matthew contains five great collections of Jesus’ teachings.
- Key Verse: Matthew 27:37
- Key Words: Kingdom, Fulfill
- Key Dates: Written between 37-68 A.D.
- Time Period: From 5-4 B.C to 30 A.D. (early) or 33 A.D. (late).
Matthew was a Jew, hired by Rome to collect taxes in Capernaum. He was also known as Levi. Jesus called him to be an apostle.
Matthew was probably wealthy. He hosted a great feast for Jesus. See Luke 5:27-32 and Matthew 9:9-13.
Matthew was written to Jews who were familiar with Old Testament prophecy. Jewish customs were not explained in this gospel. Matthew often mentioned the Law of Moses.
King of the Jews
Matthew was written to convince Jews that Jesus was the promised Messiah. The book opens with a genealogy to prove that Jesus was an heir to King David.
Matthew’s birth narrative contains five prophecies that were fulfilled.
Arranged for Memorization
When Matthew was written, people often memorized scripture. Matthew arranged his material so that it was easy to remember.
Groups of threes and of sevens are often used in Matthew. For example, there were 3 gifts, 3 temptations, 7 parables, and 7 woes. See chapters 2, 4, 13, and 23.
Handbook of Teachings
Matthew is a handbook on the teachings of Jesus. It contains five collections of teachings concerning the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Kingdom’s law, mission, mysteries, greatness, and future can be respectively found in chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 24-25.
Did You Know?
Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem nearly 40 years before the Romans attacked the city. He advised followers to leave Jerusalem when they saw signs that it would be destroyed. See Matthew 24:15-22 and Luke 21:20-24.
The Romans destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, following a 3-year campaign. While Jerusalem was under siege, a Roman general named Cestius Gallus unexpectedly “recalled his soldiers”1 in 68 A.D., enabling those familiar with Christ’s prophecy to flee Jerusalem.2
Gospel of Mark
Mark is a fast-paced gospel that portrays Jesus as the powerful, suffering servant of God.
Mark shows that Jesus taught with authority, as affirmed by the miracles He performed. Jesus’ life of service was completed when He sacrificed Himself on the cross.
- Key Verse: Mark 10:45
- Key Words: Immediately, Authority
- Key Dates: Written between 40-65 A.D.
- Time Period: From 28-30 A.D. (early) or 30-33 A.D. (late).
Mark traveled with his cousin Barnabus and with Paul. Peter and Paul favorably mentioned him. He was known as Mark (Latin) and John (Hebrew).
The book of Mark was probably written for Romans. Mark often explained Jewish words, customs, and places. He used Roman time rather than Hebrew time. And he translated some words into Latin.
Mark is a compact, action-oriented gospel. Mark omits the birth and genealogy of Jesus, and moves straight into His baptism and ministry.
The teaching passages in Mark seem condensed when compared to other gospels
The Visual Gospel
Mark has a modern, factual reporting style. He writes in the present tense, and often uses the word “immediately.”
Mark is a visual gospel, full of colorful descriptions. For example, when Jesus fed the 5000, the people sat on “green grass” (Mark 6:39).
Gospel of Emotion
Along with visual details, Mark recorded emotions and gestures.
For example, Jesus was “moved with compassion” and “touched” a leper (Mark 1:41). The rich young ruler “ran” and “knelt” before Jesus who “loved” him (Mark 10:17-22).
Did You Know?
Early Christian scholars believed that Peter influenced Mark’s account. In scripture, Peter referred to Mark as “my son” (1st Peter 5:13).
According to Papias, “Mark, who became Peter’s interpreter, wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said or done by the Lord.”3
And Irenaeus wrote, “Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself also handed down to us in writing the things preached by Peter.”4
Gospel of Luke
Luke presents Jesus to the Gentiles as the savior of all mankind. Luke contains numerous references to the activity of the Holy Spirit. Women are given special attention in Luke.
- Key Verse: Luke 19:10
- Key Words: Son of Man
- Key Dates: Written between 59-61 A.D.
- Time Period: From 6-5 B.C to 30 A.D. (early) or 33 A.D. (late).
Luke was a Greek doctor. He was the friend of the Apostle Paul, who referred to Luke as the “beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). As befits a doctor, medical details are often introduced in this gospel (Luke 4:38, 5:12, 6:6, 9:39-42, 18:25, 22:44).
Luke wrote the third gospel and the book of Acts. Both were addressed to a man whose name meant “one who loves God.” Jewish customs and places in Palestine are often explained in Luke.
Luke was an educated physician and an inspired historian.
Luke is often considered to have the best literary writing style of all New Testament authors. His account was compiled from eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus (see Luke 1:2).
Luke’s careful narrative was written “in consecutive order” so that his reader would know the “exact truth” about the life and teachings of Jesus (Luke 1:1-4, Acts 1:1-2).
Chronology was important to Luke. Events in Luke were often accompanied by datable references to historic figures (Luke 1:5, 2:1-2, 3:1-2).
Women in Luke
Luke paid special attention to women. The birth narrative was written from Mary’s perspective.
Women contributed monetarily to Christ’s ministry (Luke 8:1-3). Women observed the crucifixion (Luke 23:49). Jesus first appeared to women when he was resurrected (Luke 24:1-10).
Gospel of Prayer
Luke revealed the prayer life of Jesus. Jesus prayed at His baptism (Luke 3:21). He often prayed in secret (Luke 5:16, 6:12, 9:18, 9:28-29). He gave thanks before eating (Luke 9:16, 22:17-19).
Significant prayers in Luke include the “Lord’s Prayer” and the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 11:1-4, 22:39-46). Two parables found only in Luke highlight the importance of persistent prayer (Luke 11:5-13, 18:1-8).
Did You Know?
Luke was probably a Greek. He was the only non-Jewish New Testament writer.
Luke is the only gospel with a sequel – the book of Acts. Luke wrote the longest gospel account. Luke’s writings account for more than 25% of the New Testament.
Luke has 18 parables that are found in no other gospel. For example, the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep, and the Prodigal Son are only found in the book of Luke (See Luke 10:25-37, 15:4-7, 15:11-32).
Gospel of John
John is the gospel of belief, and was written to show the world that Jesus was the Christ, the “Son of God.” Jesus was sent by the Father to give eternal life to believers.
- Key Verse: John 3:16
- Key Words: Believe, Life, World, Father, Son
- Key Dates: Written between 80-98 A.D.
- Time Period: From 27-30 A.D. (early) or 29-33 A.D. (late).
James and John were the sons of Zebedee and Salome. They were fishermen who were business partners with Peter and Andrew (Luke 5:10).
John was one of the three who were selected to be with Jesus at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the transfiguration, and in the Garden of Gethsemane.
In addition to the fourth gospel, John also wrote 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John, as well as the Revelation.
This gospel was directed toward a Gentile, Christian audience. John frequently explained Jewish customs and often described places in Palestine.
John’s purpose for writing this gospel was expressly stated in John 20:31, “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
The Different Gospel
The gospel of John is very different from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the synoptics). Events recorded in the synoptic gospels were set principally in Galilee. By contrast, most of John’s gospel was set in Judea.
While the teachings of Jesus in the synoptics came primarily in the form of sermons and parables; John presented His teachings within the context of conversations that Jesus had with others.
Seven “I am” Claims
Jesus made seven great “I am” claims in John. These are reminiscent of God’s “I am” statement in Exodus 3:14. See John 6:35, 8:12, 10:9, 10:11, 11:25, 14:6, and 15:1.
“Signs” in John
Miracles in John are referred to as “signs.” The signs are given to confirm the deity of Jesus. The seven principal signs from this gospel are in John 2:1-11, 4:46-51, 5:1-9, 6:1-14, 6:16-21, 9:1-7, and 11:1-46.
Deity of Jesus
John emphasized the eternal nature and deity of Christ. This gospel reveals a great deal about the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Some of the deepest truths about God can be found in within the four chapters of the upper room discourse (John 14, 15, 16, and 17).
Did You Know?
The public ministry of Jesus lasted for approximately 3 ½ years. We know this because John recorded 3 Passovers during Christ’s ministry (John 2:13, 6:4, and 11:55).5
The mothers of John and Jesus may have been sisters (John 19:25).
Some of the most memorable events in the life of Jesus are presented only in John. For example, only John recorded the wedding feast at Cana, the woman at the well, and the raising of Lazarus (John 2:1-11, 4:1-42, 11:1-12:11).
1 Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews 2.19.7 (circa 75-80 A.D.).
2 Eusebius. Church History 3.5 (circa 315 A.D.).
3 Papias. Exegesis of the Lord’s Oracles via Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15 (circa 140 A.D.).
4 Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses 3.1.1 (circa 180-199 A.D.).
5 Hoehner, Harold W. Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977.
Gospels at a Glance
This chart shows some of the unique characteristics and key differences between the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Writing Matthew Mark Luke John Audience Jews Romans Greeks Gentile Christians Author Tax collector and apostle. Also known as “Levi.” Missionary with Barnabus and Paul. Called a son by Peter. Greek doctor who travelled with Paul. Wrote Acts as sequel. Fisherman, apostle, and elder. Wrote 5 NT books. Died at an old age. Date Written 37-68 A.D.
Probably written after Mark.
Probably the 1st gospel written.
Probably written after Mark and Matthew. (Luke 1:1-3)
The last gospel written.
Content Matthew Mark Luke John Depiction of Jesus King of the Jews Powerful Servant of God Perfect Savior of Man Son of God Key Words Kingdom, Fulfill Immediately, Authority Son of Man Believe, Life, World, Father, Son Key Verse Matthew 27:37 Mark 10:45 Luke 19:10 John 3:16 Characteristics Evidence to prove Jesus was the promised Messiah. Fast paced and visual. Careful and historical. The gospel of belief.
Fast Facts Matthew Mark Luke John Miracles 29 23 23 10 Parables 31 13 37 3 Sermons 10 5 13 8 Times the OT is Quoted 45 23 23 14 Notes Handbook of teachings about the Kingdom. All but 4 chapters present at least 1 miracle. Has more parables than any other gospel. Teachings are presented as conversations.
Size Matthew Mark Luke John Chapters 28 16 24 21 Verses 1,071 678 1,151 879 Words Over 23,000 Almost 15,000 Over 25,000 Over 18,000 Size Notes 3rd largest NT book 5th largest NT book 1st largest NT book. Acts is 2nd with over 24,000 words. 4th largest NT book.