Why the four gospels of Jesus Christ, and why do we not have only one single book opening the New Testament and telling the story of Jesus Christ?
At the starting point, the word “Gospel” etymologically means “good news” (in Greek euangelion).
The four complementary stories of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John will be called “gospels” because they will relate this Good News, this Gospel proclaimed by Jesus himself.
The New Testament begins with the four gospels of Jesus Christ (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). These four gospels are the first and main source of information about the life and ministry of Jesus.
When we look at the dates of writing the gospels, we note that they were not written just after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Their writing began as the witnesses of Jesus’ life began to die and as the first Christian communities developed. The gospels are there to preserve these testimonies.
The authors of the Gospels give us indications of their reasons for writing. Luke specifies that he wishes to present to his reader a most complete account of the life of Jesus (Luke 1: 3). John states that his wish in writing this gospel is to develop the faith of his readers (John 20:31).
When we read a biography, what we are looking for is a presentation as complete as possible of a person’s life, a presentation that allows us to know everything as far as possible. In this, the gospels are not like our biographies because none presents a complete account including all the aspects of the life of Jesus. However, Luke claims that his story is trustworthy and that he interviewed as many witnesses as possible before writing his gospel (Luke 1: 1-4).
Thus, the different gospels that we possess respond to objectives that are different and are addressed to different people.
*** Authors of the four Gospels of Jesus Christ
The four Gospels of Jesus Christ are named after their authors. When we start reading (Matthew 1: 1 or Mark 1: 1 for example), the name of the author is not mentioned.
How did the names appear? Two types of arguments led to the association of names with the authors of the gospels.
Sometimes elements of the text of the Gospels bring clues as to the author (as for example in John 21: 20-25).
Another type of argument is the fact that the early Christians and in particular the church fathers of the first and second centuries AD already associated the texts of the Gospels with their authors.
Let’s see the peculiarity of each gospel in connection with Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
I – The Gospel According to Matthew: A Bridge Between the Old and the New
Thus, Matthew (also called Levi) was one of Jesus’ disciples and is considered the author of the first gospel. It is thought that he wrote this book around the 50s and 60s of our era. What is striking when reading this gospel is the many quotations from the Old Testament, which tends to show that the first readers were Jewish converts to whom Matthew wanted to show that Jesus is the Messiah.
The book of Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus. Why start with a list of names?
For four hundred years nothing new has been added to the Bible. The prophets had become silent. During its centuries, empires rose and fell in the East; and the little nation of Israel has suffered at the hands of great powers like Greece and Rome.
Then a capital event occurred. A child is born – a child different from everyone who came before him. In introducing this baby named Jesus, the book of Matthew opens a new part of the Bible: the New Testament.
Matthew reveals his intentions from the first sentence: he relates the advent of Jesus to the whole of the history of the Old Testament. He claims that Jesus is a Jew, the son of Abraham, but also a king: the son of David. Matthew then seeks to prove a bold statement: this Jesus, from the modest city of Nazareth, is exactly the “Messiah”, the promised liberator in the Old Testament. (Christ is the Greek translation of the word Messiah.)
1 – The Family Tree of Jesus
Throughout the world, all peoples, especially the Jews, were waiting impatiently for the Messiah. His coming, they believed, would change the course of the history of the whole world. Could this carpenter’s son be the long-awaited king? To answer this question, Matthew begins with a genealogy.
Genealogies – long lists of names – rarely interest those who are not directly involved. However, for these people, these lists can only be boring.
A contemporary author describes the feelings one experiences when reading an ancient genealogy in these terms: “There is a term, bliss, which is a unique moment of strong emotions in life. day of my visit to the village of Juffure, West Africa … I got goosebumps. ” It is in these terms that Alex Haley, author of Roots, remembers the day he heard for the first time, from the mouth of an old storyteller, the story of the young Kunta Kinte, taken captive by the slavers in 1752.
2 – The Importance of Roots
The book of Matthew does not begin with the birth of Jesus but goes back to its roots. If Jesus is truly the messiah, his ancestors must be like his title. As all history students know, kings do not simply affirm their kingship; they must belong to a royal lineage. Matthew traces the lineage of Jesus to the father of the Jewish nation, Abraham who was the first to receive the promise of the Messiah and David, the powerful Jewish king.
3 – Links to the Old Testament
After reporting the strain of Jesus, Matthew tells the story of his life on earth. He relies heavily on the Old Testament, citing it more often than any other New Testament writer. (Note the sentences as “that which the Lord hath spoken by the prophet be fulfilled.”)
The first book of the New Testament is considered the gospel that puts things together, the link between the old and the new. Matthew begins with the origins of Jesus, but he also compares it to the traditional Jewish image of the Messiah. Jesus is the one who puts an end to thousands of years of waiting, so he came to establish a new type of kingdom – a realm different from the one that was expected.
II – The Gospel According to Mark: A Gospel at High Speed
Mark is the author of the second gospel. He was one of the closest to the Apostle Peter (which gives him an idea of his sources for the editorial staff). Mark is also known as John Mark and appears in other New Testament texts (Acts 12:12, 1 Peter 5:13). It seems that his book was written later around 63-68 AD and that the readers were non-Jewish Christians.
Marc’s stories are full of actions. A lonely character appears; a strange man wearing a garment of camel hair and proclaiming a message in the heat of a small desert. This is how the Gospel of Mark opens.
These indications make it possible to consider Marc’s book as a precisely written document. Unlike other Gospels, this gives very little room for dialogue and personal reflection. Indeed, the author writes for a readership in a hurry, impatient.
Marc handles with finesse the thread of the action, alternating large crowds with individuals. It leaves no doubt about the main character. After the opening verses of John the Baptist, he focuses on Jesus and follows him wherever he goes.
1 – Focus on the Action
Those who seek the organization of ideas in Marc will be very surprised. Matthew and Luke dedicate each of the four chapters to the historical context before reporting any miracle of Jesus. In the first chapter only, Mark covers three miracles and a number of events.
Unlike all these action scenes, this book contains only an excerpt from the parables of Jesus. It focuses on events, not speeches or comments. Mark shows many crowds press Jesus to the point where he is forced to get on a boat to escape them. Wherever he went, crowds accompanied him, buzzing around this remarkable man. “Is he the Holy of God?“, “Is he mad?”, “Is not he the carpenter’s son?”
2 – Incredible Speed
By focusing only on the essence of the story, Marc manages to create a dramatic effect more than any other biblical author. The action captures the attention of the readership and Marc aligns sequences breathtaking.
The heavens open immediately, the spirit immediately leads Jesus into the desert. He immediately calls the disciples.
The author uses this adverb to express readiness in Greek 42 times.
The characters rush from one place to another, jostling each other in crowds, marveling at the great miracles. Mark is an expressive Gospel full of astonished, astonishing words. A phenomenon occurs on the earth and the author is determined to understand its impact on future generations.
III – The Gospel According to Luke: Like a Song of Joy – Something Was Preparing on the Earth!
The Gospel of Luke is the first volume written by Luke, a companion of the apostle Paul, the second being the Acts of the Apostles. This gospel was written between 60 and 80 AD. A characteristic feature of this gospel is the fact that Jesus is presented as the Savior of all men. To this end, Luke mentions many instances in which Jesus ministered among people on the margins of first-century society.
Although Luke practically opens the same territory as Matthew and Mark, he gives his point of view in the very first chapters. Matthew begins with a formal family tree. Marc, for his part, opens on a scene in the desert. Luke, on the other hand, describes a big party.
According to Luke’s narrative, the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus are like a song of joy. The characters follow one another on the stage: a white-haired uncle, an astonishing virgin, and an old, shaky prophetess. They were all happy, and most likely let out songs of joy.
As soon as Mary recovered from the shock of her encounter with the angel, she chanted a beautiful hymn. The old priest Zacharias recited a poem, thus setting nine months of silence, and even John the Baptist jumped for joy into his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44). When Jesus was finally born, in a discreet stable, the angels filled the sky with songs of joy. Without a doubt, something was preparing on earth.
*** The Story Is Divided into Two
Reading Luke’s story, one feels that he wanted to describe with words the spirit of the “great joy” that the angels had announced (Luke 2:10). Amongst the standard and discouraged villagers living in an isolated corner of the Roman Empire, a momentous event was about to happen.
The author tells us that he has done a lot of research on the life of Jesus. The precise details of these first two chapters show that he relied mainly on eyewitnesses because no other gospel author has presented so many facts. Particular attention to detail and a note of joy characterize Luke’s book.
The birth of Jesus literally divided history into two eras; we immortalize this event every time we write a date. The book of Luke brings us back to the world before division in AD early in the early days of Jesus’ life.
IV – The Gospel According to John: God Breaks the Silence – the Only Way to Be Well Understood.
The Gospel of John is associated with John, one of the sons of Zebedee, who was one of the twelve disciples. The writing of this gospel is later and would have been made between the 80s and 100s that is to say at the end of the first century.
Unless a person communicates with you through words, gestures, or facial expressions, you cannot know them. Everything that happens behind a mask will always remain a mystery.
Until he broke the silence, God was also a mystery. He spoke for the first time, and all creation came to life: oceans, whales, giraffes, orchids, beetles, etc. He spoke a second time, says Jean, and this time the Word has the shape of a man, Jesus Christ. The book of John tells the story of this Word became Flesh.
1 – A Gospel Different from the Others
It is clear from the very first paragraphs of John’s style that it is completely different from that of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Indeed, the authors of the other Gospels focus on events around Jesus, through marketplaces and overheated villages.
Unlike the other three, John assumed that his readers had a basic knowledge of Jesus. So instead of focusing on the facts, he examined the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words and deeds. The Gospel of John looks like a book written under a large tree-shaded by an author who had plenty of time to reflect …
In his first sentence, John highlights the nature of Jesus. John says nothing about the birth and youth of Jesus. He presents him as the Son of God in adulthood. After an eloquent prologue, this book shows John (the Baptist who humbly presents Jesus as the one he is not worthy of untying the strap of the shoes (John 1: 27).
2 – Jesus Sent on Mission
John chose scenes of less than twenty days of Jesus’ life and arranged them to present a Messiah who knows where he is coming from and where he is going (John 8:14). Jesus was not simply a man from heaven for the earth, but the Son of God sent to do the work of the father. His many allusions to the One who sent him give rhythm to this book.
According to John, Christ participated in the creation of the world. But later, he was sent to earth as the word, the sum of all that God meant. Indeed, God has used the only way to make himself understood: by becoming one of us.
As a Conclusion on the Four Gospels of Jesus Christ
When reading the gospels it appears that the Gospel of John is different from the other three (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). The latter has indeed many similarities that suggest that the authors had common sources. In particular, we find many episodes common to these three books. 601 of the 661 verses of the Gospel of Mark are found in the Gospel of Matthew and/or in the Gospel of Luke.
Many theories have been proposed to explain this. Without detailing them all, it seems that the first gospel was written (Matthew) was the basis for writing the other two. The other authors also used other sources to complete their stories. It is important to remember that the gospels are not biographies but have the function of preserving the teaching of Jesus and encouraging the first Christian communities.
If there are many similarities between them, these three Synoptic Gospels have different central themes:
– The Gospel of Matthew seeks to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah and it also serves to encourage believers of Jewish origin to follow the teaching of Christ.
– The Gospel of Mark emphasizes the acts of Jesus (miracles, exorcisms) rather than speeches. We also note that the formation and teaching of the disciples takes an important place.
– The Gospel of Luke first intended for Theophilus insists on the universality of the message of Jesus and shows the ministry of Jesus among the people on the margins of the society of the time.
– The Gospel of John presents several differences compared to the other Gospels:
There is no account of the nativity or genealogy of Christ.
There is no record of Jesus’ temptation or baptism.
The story seems to be built around seven important words (the seven “I am”) and seven miracles, and fewer elements of the ministry of Christ are reported to us.
On the other hand, John seems much more interested in showing the identity of Jesus and in particular the fact that he is the Son of God. For some, the fact that the questions of the identity and divinity of Jesus are central to the text reflects later writing and shows the concern of Christians at the end of the first century.
To conclude, we retain that We have four gospels because several authors have done the work of questioning the witnesses of the life of Jesus, they did so for several reasons and because they wanted to encourage different Christian communities.
Diversity in the four gospels makes it possible to speak differently to different communities. It also allows us to discover many facets of Jesus. One way to illustrate this is to consider the symbolic representations of the gospels that were made centuries ago.
The so-called tetramorph is the fact that four figures have been chosen to represent the Gospels: the man for the gospel of Matthew, the lion for the gospel of Mark, the bull for the gospel of Luke, and the eagle for John’s gospel. These figures also represent central aspects of Jesus’ life: his birth and incarnation (the man), the temptation in the desert (lion), his death (the bull), and his ascension (the eagle)
Finally, if there are differences between the four Gospels and sometimes difficulties in harmonizing them, there is also a central message common to these four books: the Gospels tell us about the birth of Jesus the Son of God, his life, and his ministry among men, his death and resurrection. This is the message of the Gospel.