Why Four Gospels?

The question is often asked, why does the Bible include four different Gospels? Forming the first books of the New Testament; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tell the story of the life and ministry of Jesus, with many similar details and more than a few differences. The first three are often referred to as the Synoptic Gospels (literally meaning to see together) because of the abundance of parallel details recorded in each one. Some scholars have even become convinced that the first three evangelists must have all copied copiously from an as-yet-undiscovered common source which they have labeled “Q.” The Gospel According to John, agreed almost universally to be the last one to be written, diverges in so many instances from the Synoptics and contains so many unique characteristics that, apparently, either the aged apostle did not know about this “Q” document or he chose not to use it.

In my opinion, I do not believe that similarities in detail and structure of narrative necessitate a common source but rather reflect the recounting of events that were well known and established within the minds of the Gospel writers. Matthew was an eyewitness to most of the account he records (which is why it has always puzzled me that some scholars would think that he needed to read somebody else’s book to know what happened!) while Luke and Mark were both traveling companions of the Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4:11), who was in close contact with many eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus, with tradition maintaining that Mark was not only present during much of Jesus’ ministry, but was also a protege of the Apostle Peter after the Resurrection. Why would Mark need to consult some now lost, anonymous record of the Lord’s ministry when he doubtlessly had many times heard the reports of Simon Peter himself in rich and vivid detail?

The reason that we have four accounts of the Gospel which are often parallel but at times variant is that they are telling the same story from four different perspectives. The focus of each Gospel is slightly different, the original audience for each one is different, and even the purpose of each account is a little different. The metaphor has been given that one Gospel record would provide us with a beautiful portrait of Jesus Christ, like a two-dimensional painting, filled with color and texture. But when we take all the Gospel accounts together, we have something more like a three-dimensional sculpture showing us a much deeper image bursting to life with vividness.

Matthew, Writer to the Jew

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)

As far as chronological order goes, the Gospel came first to the Jews before the Gentiles. It is fitting that the first Gospel to appear in the New Testament would be addressed to a primarily Jewish audience. Matthew’s Gospel bridges the New Testament to the Old as he establishes that Jesus is the long-awaited, promised Jewish Messiah. Matthew is quick to point out that the events he writes about happened to “fulfill what was spoken by the Lord” (e.g., Matt. 1:22). Fulfilled prophecy is a non-negotiable credential of the Messiah and any Gospel to be believed by the Jewish mind must contain it. Matthew opens his book with a genealogy linking Jesus back to Abraham, establishing His identity as a Jew. He also links the Lord to King David, establishing the Lord’s earthly right to reign as King of Israel as a Descendant of the king. Many scholars believe that Matthew originally wrote his Gospel account in Hebrew (as I believe also) because it was a Jewish audience he was primarily addressing.

Mark, Writer to the Romans

If the Jew was rooted in the past as one interested in tradition, the Roman was a man of the present. Stretching across most of the known world, the Empire of Rome ruled today, in the now. Carpe Diem was the philosophy and a strong focus on the present was the mindset of Rome’s citizens. Scattered throughout Mark’s Gospel are words like immediately which denote the fast-pace with which he is unfolding his message. This is the Gospel of action and is consequently the shortest of the four. Additionally, Mark focuses less on Jewish religious politics and makes sure to explain the Hebrew customs that he does mention. No genealogies are given because the Roman audience would not be interested in such details.

Luke, Writer to the Greeks 

“It seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;” (Luke 1:3)

Although Luke specifically addresses his Gospel (as well as the Book of Acts) to what seems to be one person, he clearly had a Greek-minded audience in mind when he wrote it. While the other Gospels often followed themes rather than a chronological order (Matthew would record miracles close together even when they may have taken place at very different times), Luke’s Gospel is more systematic, reflecting the observational skills of a physician and scholar. Luke presents Jesus Christ as the “Son of Man”, belonging not only to Israel but to anyone, Jew or Gentile, who would come to faith in Him. This is the Gospel which gives us insights, few as they may be, into the childhood of the Lord and focuses more on those on the fringe of Jewish society than the other Evangelists.

John, Writer to the Believer

Though the Apostle John explicitly states his purpose for writing his Gospel in John 20:31, that is, so that the reader might believe in Jesus Christ and have eternal life in His name, this last Gospel written seems aimed at giving a more in-depth revelation of exactly who Jesus is. John reveals Jesus as not only the “Son of God”, but as God the Son. John’s is a more spiritual Gospel that goes into areas that the other writers did not divulge in their accounts. By the time the fourth Gospel is set down on paper, Christianity had been around some sixty years or so and had already suffered heretical attacks from many sides. Whether it was the sophistry of the Greeks or the twisted reasoning of the Gnostics, John’s Gospel serves almost as an apologetic refutation of errors that had already begun to invade the infant Church. It is fitting that “the Disciple whom Jesus loved” would be the final voice to vindicate His Master’s Words at the close of the First Century, leaving a foundation of Gospel Truth upon which the Body of Christ could rest firmly before the curtain closed on the Age of the Apostles.

Four Perspectives on One Gospel

Thus the Gospel, though told from four different perspectives, is really one Gospel. It is the “Good News” not only for Israel but for the entire world. Jews and Gentiles, Romans and barbarians, slaves and free people, and men and women all could come to Jesus Christ for Salvation. None would be excluded on any basis other than their own decision to reject the only One sent by God the Father to save sinners. And regardless of a person’s background, there is a Gospel written that speaks directly to them. The sign which Pontius Pilate placed on Jesus’ Cross was written in three languages, to address the three main types of people present at the Crucifixion (John 19:20). This is reflected in the original target audience of each of the first three Gospels: Hebrew (Matthew), Latin (Mark), and Greek (Luke).

” Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” (Acts 10:34-35)

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission

Corn In Egypt

“And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die.” (Genesis 42:2)
Chapter 41 of Genesis ends by telling us how severe the famine affecting Egypt, Canaan, and all the surrounding nations became. “All countries came into Egypt to Joseph“, Verse 57 says, “…because that the famine was so sore in all lands.” Chapter 42 opens with Jacob’s response upon learning that there is food available in Egypt. In his response, we see four factors which mirror the steps a person takes in coming to Christ:

Recognizing Our Need

The first, and possibly the most crucial step, is recognizing our need for Christ. Before anything else, Jacob needed to be aware of his hunger or he would never make any effort to fill it. Before a sinner can repent and come to the Lord Jesus Christ, he must realize that what he has called his spiritual food is unsatisfying and emaciating. As a small child is tempted to fill their bellies with nothing but candy and sweets, so are many people contented to try to meet their spiritual nutritional needs by consuming whatever pleases their own tastes, starving all the while. Jesus said that He is the “Bread of Life” (John 6:35), but until a person knows that they have need of this Bread in order to live, they will not come to Him. If Jacob and his sons had remained satisfied eating the old and rotting scraps and fragments of leftovers they had at home, they would never have gone to where the food was.

Knowing Where The Food Is Not

“Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another?” (Genesis 42:1)
It is amazing the places people will look in an effort to find the answers to their problems. Rather than looking to God, most people are busy looking to one another for the answers. Every couple of years a new spiritual “guru” will emerge and write a bestselling book that promises to enlighten anyone who reads it. There is no God, is their repeated mantra, the answers lie within yourself. But looking to another human being for spiritual food is about as productive as the starving sons of Jacob looking to one another for something to eat.

Knowing Where the Food Is

“And [Jacob] said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt…” (Genesis 42:2a)
Jacob heard where to find food. Sri Lankan evangelist D.T. Niles is quoted as having said, “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread”; and that is exactly what we are doing when we share the Gospel Message. For apart from Christ we are all starving to death, the only difference is when we know where to go to find food.

Going To Where the Food Is

“And Joseph’s ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt.” (Genesis 42:3)
The key word in this verse is “went.” The sons of Jacob responded by going. This is a picture of life-saving faith in action. We can hear from another beggar where to find food, but suppose we do not believe them? And even if we do, what if we do not take action and go to where they have told us? If Jacob’s sons had decided to just stay at home, if Jacob had doubts about whether or not there really was any food in Egypt and had waited for “proof” or “evidence” that the corn in Egypt was real, this whole family would have still starved to death. Hearing alone will not fill an empty stomach, only by going to the One Who has the Bread will we “live and not die” (Gen. 42:2).To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published October 15, 2010]

All Scripture quotations in this post are taken from the King James Version (KJV) of the Holy Bible

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

Is Faith Required?

I would like to share an interesting comment I received recently to a post I wrote a few years back called: “What Must We Believe? – 10 Components Of The Gospel Message.” One of the components I mentioned was that “Salvation is Voluntary and Contingent on if we Believe.” Under that heading, I wrote the following:

Salvation is not an automatic provision for anybody. It occurs only if we believe. There are some who teach that you need to do absolutely nothing in order to be saved. There are others who teach that everyone (or almost everyone) will be saved. Neither of these teachings are supported by the Bible.

Granted, our part in the process of Salvation is vastly lesser than God’s part. In fact, He has done EVERYTHING else in order for you to be saved. The ONLY thing that you have to do is believe on Him. But you do have to do that.

Here is the comment that I received:

“You have one major mistake in your outline that is not supported by scripture.
You say,”Salvation is Voluntary (1st mistake, How is it voluntary and dependent on us if it is all of God? Even Nicodemus recognize he could not do what Jesus was saying, Because Salvation is a Spiritual Birth, According to Paul Eph 2 out side of Christ men are dead, Can dead men bring themselves back to life? Was Lazarus coming out of the grave his doings or jesus? Paul also says Men are blind. Can a blind man restore his own sight if He wants to? So How can salvation be voluntary? Aren’t men in the same postion as Nicodemus? Jesus did not Preach you can be saved if you want to. He said ye must be born again. In John 3 he states this twice and give the consequence if one is not born again.”

I suspect that this gentleman’s comment came as a knee-jerk reaction to the idea that anything is required in order to receive Salvation. I suspect this because I myself often have a very similar reaction when people begin to talk about needing to do this or that in order to be saved. But I remember reading something else a while back that I found very disturbing also. It seems that many in the Church have begun to teach that absolutely nothing is required for Salvation, including faith. They contend that since faith and believing are works on our part, then they have no place in the process of Salvation. Yet the Bible teaches otherwise. Jesus Himself, when asked what “works” needed to be done by man to please God, He responded:

“…This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:29)

No other work is required, but we do have to believe. Even so, our ability to believe is actually a gift of God so we can’t even take credit for that! I don’t suggest that this is necessarily the position of the one who wrote the comment, like I said, I think this was a just a reaction to how I chose to word my post. I did, however, feel that it was important enough for me to clarify what I meant and I would like to share my response:

“Perhaps to head this section of the outline with the words, “Salvation is voluntary…”, is a mistake which leaves open wide the door for misunderstanding. My intent in writing this article was to keep the matter as succinct as possible without digressing into an involved theological argument. However, I assure you, that my statement was in no way an endorsement of a works-based Salvation. I wrote under the heading:

“Granted, our part in the process of Salvation is vastly lesser than God’s part. In fact, He has done EVERYTHING else in order for you to be saved. The ONLY thing that you have to do is believe on Him. But you do have to do that.”

This is not to imply a work of Salvation on the part of man, but rather a reception of God’s grace for Salvation. I have given the analogy before of the plight of a beggar. The benefactor decides to give money to the beggar, it is his choice. The benefactor has earned the money he will give, it is his work which provides it, not the beggar’s. The benefactor extends the money in his hand and freely offers it to him. The beggar then…what?…places his hands in his pocket and turns his back on the benefactor while the benefactor tackles him and forces him to take it? No. The beggar reaches out his hand to receive that which is being freely offered to him.

So, who is then responsible for the meal that the beggar will now enjoy with the money? Was it the gift of the benefactor or the reaching out of the beggar which secured it? I maintain that it is entirely the work and graciousness of the benefactor (Christ) without which the beggar (the sinner) would go away hungry. Yet the beggar did have to hold his hand out and take (faith) what was being offered.

I recognize that this whole subject matter is a very theologically complex one that has been parsed ad infinitum and has drawn battle lines in the Church for centuries. I staunchly support the vindication of Salvation Sola Gratia and the refutation of any works-based approach. Yet to hold that faith has no place in Salvation is to deny a crucial component of the Gospel.

You mentioned Ephesians 2, but remember, this is where Paul wrote:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;” (Eph. 2:8, emphasis added)

It is by the Grace of God, it is the gift of God, but it is received through faith (the beggar holding out his hand). Therefore, it is no contradiction for Paul to say it is not “of yourselves” even though you are receiving it through faith. It is God’s work, not ours. Nevertheless, the beggar who refuses to accept what he is given is in no better state than he was before.

Maybe the best illustration from Scripture is found in Romans 10:13-15:

“For “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved (you have to call on His name, i.e., accept Him through faith, right?). But how can you do that except you hear the Gospel (the work that God has done, i.e., Salvation by Grace alone). And how will you hear the Gospel except it is preached by someone whom God has sent (Calvinism, pre-destination, Divine election, and whatever else we wish to label it!). God has done the work, sent the Message, and even chosen to whom it will be preached. All we have to do is hold out our hand and receive it.

Men are blind and a blind man certainly cannot restore his own sight. But what would have happened to the blind man if he did not accept the words of the Lord by faith and go and wash his eyes at the Pool of Siloam (John 9:1-11)? Was it the waters of Siloam that gave him sight? No, it was the touch of Jesus Christ that gave him his vision. But the Lord decided that he was to receive the healing through faith and had he not done so he would have remained blind.

The Bible makes it clear that Salvation will not be forced upon anyone (if you don’t believe me, consider Judas Iscariot). It must be received. Jesus knocks at the door, but we must open it (Rev. 3:20). He simply is not going to break it down. Salvation is not voluntary as in it is our decision for it to happen. But it is received voluntarily and is contingent on whether we accept the Gospel by faith.

Loren”