Question: "Why did God give us four Gospels?"
Answer: Here are some reasons why God gave four Gospels instead of just one:
1) To give a more complete picture of Christ. While the entire Bible is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), He used human authors with different backgrounds and personalities to accomplish His purposes through their writing. Each of the gospel authors had a distinct purpose behind his gospel and in carrying out those purposes, each emphasized different aspects of the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Matthew was writing to a Hebrew audience, and one of his purposes was to show from Jesus' genealogy and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies that He was the long-expected Messiah, and thus should be believed in. Matthew's emphasis is that Jesus is the promised King, the “Son of David,” who would forever sit upon the throne of Israel (Matthew 9:27; 21:9).
Mark, a cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), was an eyewitness to the events in the life of Christ as well as being a friend of the apostle Peter. Mark wrote for a Gentile audience, as is brought out by his not including things important to Jewish readers (genealogies, Christ's controversies with Jewish leaders of His day, frequent references to the Old Testament, etc.). Mark emphasizes Christ as the suffering Servant, the One who came not to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
Luke, the “beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14 KJV), evangelist, and companion of the apostle Paul, wrote both the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the apostles. Luke is the only Gentile author of the New Testament. He has long been accepted as a diligent master historian by those who have used his writings in genealogical and historical studies. As a historian, he states that it is his intent to write down an orderly account of the life of Christ based on the reports of those who were eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4). Because he specifically wrote for the benefit of Theophilus, apparently a Gentile of some stature, his gospel was composed with a Gentile audience in mind, and his intent is to show that a Christian's faith is based upon historically reliable and verifiable events. Luke often refers to Christ as the “Son of Man,” emphasizing His humanity, and he shares many details that are not found in the other gospel accounts.
The gospel of John, written by John the apostle, is distinct from the other three Gospels and contains much theological content in regard to the person of Christ and the meaning of faith. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the “Synoptic Gospels” because of their similar styles and content and because they give a synopsis of the life of Christ. The gospel of John begins not with Jesus' birth or earthly ministry but with the activity and characteristics of the Son of God before He became man (John 1:14). The gospel of John emphasizes the deity of Christ, as is seen in his use of such phrases as “the Word was God” (John 1:1), “the Savior of the World” (John 4:42), the “Son of God” (used repeatedly), and “Lord and...God” (John 20:28). In John's gospel, Jesus also affirms His deity with several “I Am” statements; most notable among them is John 8:58, in which He states that “...before Abraham was, I Am” (compare to Exodus 3:13-14). But John also emphasizes the fact of Jesus' humanity, desiring to show the error of a religious sect of his day, the Gnostics, who did not believe in Christ’s humanity. John's gospel spells out his overall purpose for writing: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded 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).
Thus, in having four distinct and yet equally accurate accounts of Christ, different aspects of His person and ministry are revealed. Each account becomes like a different-colored thread in a tapestry woven together to form a more complete picture of this One who is beyond description. And while we will never fully understand everything about Jesus Christ (John 20:30), through the four Gospels we can know enough of Him to appreciate who He is and what He has done for us so that we may have life through faith in Him.
2) To enable us to objectively verify the truthfulness of their accounts. The Bible, from earliest times, states that judgment in a court of law was not to be made against a person based on the testimony of a single eyewitness but that two or three as a minimum number were required (Deuteronomy 19:15). Even so, having different accounts of the person and earthly ministry of Jesus Christ enables us to assess the accuracy of the information we have concerning Him.
Simon Greenleaf, a well-known and accepted authority on what constitutes reliable evidence in a court of law, examined the four Gospels from a legal perspective. He noted that the type of eyewitness accounts given in the four Gospels—accounts which agree, but with each writer choosing to omit or add details different from the others—is typical of reliable, independent sources that would be accepted in a court of law as strong evidence. Had the Gospels contained exactly the same information with the same details written from the same perspective, it would indicate collusion, i.e., of there having been a time when the writers got together beforehand to “get their stories straight” in order to make their writings seem credible. The differences between the Gospels, even the apparent contradictions of details upon first examination, speak to the independent nature of the writings. Thus, the independent nature of the four Gospel accounts, agreeing in their information but differing in perspective, amount of detail, and which events were recorded, indicate that the record that we have of Christ's life and ministry as presented in the Gospels is factual and reliable.
3) To reward those who are diligent seekers. Much can be gained by an individual study of each of the Gospels. But still more can be gained by comparing and contrasting the different accounts of specific events of Jesus' ministry. For instance, in Matthew 14 we are given the account of the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on the water. In Matthew 14:22 we are told that “Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.” One may ask, why did He do this? There is no apparent reason given in Matthew's account. But when we combine it with the account in Mark 6, we see that the disciples had come back from casting out demons and healing people through the authority He had given them when He sent them out two-by-two. But they returned with “big heads,” forgetting their place and ready now to instruct Him (Matthew 14:15). So, in sending them off in the evening to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus reveals two things to them. As they struggle against the wind and waves in their own self-reliance until the early hours of the morning (Mark 6:48-50), they begin to see that 1) they can achieve nothing for God in their own ability and 2) nothing is impossible if they call upon Him and live in dependence upon His power. There are many passages containing similar “jewels” to be found by the diligent student of the Word of God who takes the time to compare Scripture with Scripture.
United in intent, but unique in perspective, each Gospel writer presents a different picture of the life and work of Jesus. Here is how the four Evangelists announce the good news of Jesus and call people to believe in Him.
Who is Jesus?
Matthew presents Jesus as the heir of David and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham (1:1–17). He is the true King and the new Moses. He has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets and usher in God’s kingdom.
Mark shows Jesus as the Son of God, come with authority to teach, heal and cast out demons. He is also the Son of Man, the true representation of what it means to be human. Jesus’ rejection and suffering are raw and pronounced in Mark.
Luke presents Jesus as the prophet who has come to suffer for His people (7:16; 13:33). He is a healer and a friend to tax collectors. He has come to save the lost and the outcast. He is the Servant from Isaiah, who brings comfort to the suffering and oppressed.
For John, Jesus is the Word made flesh—God present since the beginning of time. He is the Son of God and the one who reveals the Father. Jesus makes bold claims about Himself that require bold faith from His listeners.
How do the Gospel writers tell their stories?
Matthew intersperses five major blocks of Jesus’ teaching throughout his narrative, emphasizing that Jesus is the true teacher of the Torah.
Mark intentionally groups events and teachings according to theme. He sandwiches these events so they lend meaning to one another. For example, he places Jesus’ commissioning of the Twelve near John the Baptist’s death, emphasizing the cost of discipleship (6:7–30).
Luke emphasizes Jesus’ ministry to the outcast. His travel narrative—Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem—is often called the “Gospel for the Outcast” (9:51–19:27). Jesus tells parables like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan as He travels to fulfill His messianic role.
Jesus’ miracles or “signs,” many of which are not recorded in the other Gospels, feature prominently in John’s narrative and bring attention to His identity as the Son of God (1:19–12:50).
What literary techniques does each writer use?
Matthew draws on Old Testament passages to show how Jesus’ life fulfilled ancient prophecies (e.g., Matt 1:22–23 and Isa 7:14; Matt 2:15 and Hos 11:1). He also begins with a genealogy to emphasize that Jesus is the heir of David and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham (1:1–17).
Mark relies on the secrecy motif to build suspense and highlight Jesus’ mission. Numerous times Jesus commands demons, the people He heals, and even His disciples to keep quiet about His identity.
Luke has the largest vocabulary and uses fine literary Greek. His extended preface is modeled after prologues of Hellenistic Greek histories and Graeco-Roman literature and displays great artistic skill (1:1–4).
John’s simple prose is infused with symbolism and profound theological significance. Jesus is the Word (1:1), the Bread of Life (6:35), the Light of the World (8:12), and the Good Shepherd (10:11). John also wields dramatic irony. Nathanael asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (1:46).
What are the themes of each Gospel?
The kingdom; the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets (5:17)
The kingdom of God, which has arrived but has not fully manifested itself (1:15; 4:30–32; 14:25)
The kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven; condemnation of wealth used inappropriately (16:1–31; 19:8)
Belief in Jesus for eternal life (5:21–25)
Why do the Gospel writers tell their stories?
Matthew presents Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s expectation of a coming messianic king (e.g., 1:22–23; 2:5–6; 3:3).
Mark proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God and that the kingdom of God is here: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (1:15).
Luke writes, “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” (1:3–4).
John says, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).
As you closely read each Gospel, consider how individual events fit within each Gospel narrative. When you compare events across the Gospels, consider how each telling highlights different concerns about Jesus’ life and ministry