“WHY FOUR GOSPELS?”
I. Two Important Questions to Consider:
A. Since there is only one gospel, why are there four gospel accounts?
B. Since there is only one life of Christ, why are there differences in form and content of the different gospel accounts?
II. Why are there four different gospel accounts?
A. The writers wrote to different audiences.
1. Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience who were sticklers for the legal and genealogical rights of God’s people, emphatic about whether a claim were in harmony with their Scriptures or not, and concerned with who meets the qualifications of the promised Messiah.
2. Mark wrote to Romans who liked fast moving and action packed stories, and who were looking for someone who cared, was able, and would act to help them with life’s struggles.
3. Luke wrote to the Greeks who had an affinity for details, philosophical sayings, and great philosophers. They were looking for a philosopher who was not a rabble-rouser or troubler of the people.
4. John wrote to a general audience who needed a savior to give them a better quality of life and hope for this life and the life to come.
B. They wrote for different purpose.
1. Mathew wrote to show the legal right of Jesus as the king over God’s kingdom, that Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures and predictions of their prophets, and that Jesus meets the qualifications of the Messiah as set forth in their Scriptures, even though he didn’t fulfill their national expectations that sprang from their national pride and traditions (cf. 1:1).
2. Mark wrote to meet the felt needs and expectations of a Roman audience and to present Christ as one who came to serve–the Servant of Servants (cf. 10:45).
3. Luke wrote to present Jesus as a divine teacher who was worthy as a great philosopher who is innocent of all the false accusations that he was a troublemaker.
4. John wrote to tell select things that Jesus did for the purpose of causing people to believe so that they may have life (cf. 1:1-5; 10:10; 20:30, 31).
C. They wrote to present different theological emphases.
1. Matthew wrote to present a theology of Jesus as both legal and spiritual king over God’s spiritual kingdom, and as the Messiah of the Scriptures–the King of Kings.
2. Mark wrote to support a theology of Jesus as a servant who is able and active to meet all of man’s needs.
3. Luke wrote to support a theology that Jesus is most certainly one who did good and taught his disciples to do good–He is the divine Philosopher [teacher] (cf. 1:1-4; 6:9,27-35; 18:18,19; Acts 1:1; 10:38).
4. John wrote to support the theology that Jesus is the life-giving Christ, the Son of God (Jn.20:30, 31).
III. Why there are differences in the gospel accounts and some observations concerning how to view them.
A. They are different in style, form, and content for the following reasons:
1. They were written by different authors who would naturally write with different styles and different emphases.
2. They were written to different audiences with whom successful communication would require different style, form, and content.
3. They were written for different purposes that would require different form, style, and content.
4. They were written to support different theological emphases that required the selection and inclusion of different information so that the supporting information would provide strong proof, relate to the theme, and maintain literary unity.
B. Although the gospel accounts differ in some of the details included regarding some events, they do not contradict each other.
C. Differences in quotations may exist because of the following reasons:
1. The writers may be quoting from two similar but not identical sayings.
2. The writers may be quoting from two different versions–the Hebrew Scriptures and the Septuagint (Greek Version).
3. The writers may be quoting different portions of a saying as it serves their purposes.
4. The writers may not even intend to quote verbatim, but to quote indirectly, to paraphrase, or to summarize.
D. We may look at the gospels synoptically (i.e., in a parallel form) or in a harmonized form.
1. Through the synopsis of the gospels, we are made aware of their different themes, different selection of content, and different forms. Thus, we can see the theme and purpose served by each.
2. But, when we look at them in a harmonized form (i.e., narrative form), we are exposed to a mixture of the information supporting all of the themes and purposes and additionally enjoy a thorough account of the life of Jesus Christ in story form.
IV. Ways of studying the four gospels
A. Look at each gospel account as a separate and unique literary work and see that what it includes serves its purpose and theme and fits only its own characteristics. In this case one does not expect what he/she reads to be the same as or to fit the characteristics of the contents of other accounts (although it will not contradict it).
B. Look at each gospel account as a theological presentation with only content, which supports the theological point, it sets out to establish. Also recognize that it would be illogical and unconvincing if it included the same material selected by other writers to support other theological emphases.
C. Look at a composite harmony of the gospels so that each part of each gospel account will serve to give insights and illuminate our minds concerning the glorious life and teachings of Christ.
Conclusion: Although we may not have answers to every apparent problem, the overall weight of the evidence for the trustworthiness of the Gospels should cause us to continue to have unshakable faith in the gospels and the Christ of the gospels. Although our finite minds may not be able to see the perfect harmony between the different accounts of a few items, our faith in the inspiration of the Bible and in the God who gave it should compel us to have confidence that his infinite mind, knowing facts that we do not know, sees that harmony.