Why are there four Gospels?

Have you ever wondered why there are four Gospels in the bible? I have heard many people come up with reasons why the four versions of the life of Jesus are there. The most reasonable answer is that people see things different ways and therefore, they would naturally tell the stories differently, from their perspective.

In truth, I can find nothing wrong with this reasoning and it is, in fact, wholly true. However, there is more to this than just how people see things and tell their stories. The best place to begin to understand this is found in 2 Timothy 3:16 which says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”

When you read this scripture, it must surely cause you to start to wonder if the Gospels are there because that is what people wanted to say about Jesus. If you accept that very plausible reason for the presence of the four Gospels in the bible, you must also deny the very truth of Timothy's scripture, that it is inspired by God.

In answering the question, why are there four Gospels, we need to look at the people who wrote them and why they were written. Let's look at this in the order that we find them in the bible.

The Gospel of Matthew

Matthew (a tax collector for the Roman government) was a Jew writing to the Jews. His Gospel begins with something very fundamental to the Jewish race, their genealogy. In this Gospel, you will notice that he starts with the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Placing Him firmly in the lineage that enabled people to see the fulfilment of the prophecy about their Messiah.

To put this another way, Matthew was explaining to the Jewish people who had studied their religious writings that Jesus was the Messiah they had been expecting. The focus of this entire Gospel is to bring meaning to the Jewish religion after they had cried out for their Savior's crucifixion. This is why Matthew refers to Jesus nine times as the Son of David. This is also why he refers over thirty times to the kingdom of heaven which is not found in any other Gospel.

The main theme of this Gospel is Christ the King.

The Gospel of Mark

John Mark (the son of Mary, a wealthy woman of position in Jerusalem [Acts 12:12] ) was a Jew writing to the Gentiles, specifically those living in Rome. The Gospel of Mark begins with John the Baptist preparing the way. The genealogy that Matthew started with meant little or nothing to the gentiles, therefore Mark begins by explaining the reasons why Jesus was needed to cover the sins of the people and to show that there is a hope for the Gentiles. In many parts of this Gospel, he is expressing the Jewish religion to non-Jewish people.

Possibly because of his intended readers, Mark refers to the Old Testament far less than any other Gospel writer. Perhaps for this same reason, Mark describes more of what Jesus did rather than what He said.

The main theme of this Gospel is Christ the servant.

The Gospel of Luke

Luke (the physician [Colossians 4:14]) was a Gentile writing to the Gentiles. The Gospel of Luke begins with a dedication to Theophilus, explaining the reason for it being written. Leaving Jewish religion out of the picture, as far as possible, Luke presents the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles making clear the historical reliability of the faith.

Much of what Luke writes about in this Gospel shows and demonstrates the humanity of The Christ.

The main theme of this Gospel is Christ the Son of Man.

The Gospel of John

John (the son of Zebedee and Salome [Matthew 4:21] one of the sons of thunder [Mark 3:17]) was a Jew writing about the life of Jesus at a very different level than the writers of the other Gospels.  In essence, he is writing as a son of God to the sons of God about how to be Christian.

The Gospel of John begins with something that would confuse most people when they read it for the first time. John was the closest of the disciples to Jesus and in his Gospel he covers things at a theological level, covering the very nature and the person of The Christ together with the meaning of faith in Him.

The main theme of this Gospel is the person and the purpose of The Christ.

The four Gospels

I believe that God put everything He wanted into the Gospels of these writers and He even had a hand in the ordering of them in our bible today. If you look at the main themes of these Gospels, there is a pathway for us to follow in our own lives. It doesn’t matter where you come from, Jewish or Gentile, the path is the same.

Christ the King

Here we can see that He was, He is and He always will be our King. Whether we expected Him (as the Jews did) or not (like the Gentiles) makes no difference to the fact that He is our King. If we will accept Him as our King, we also accept that we are adopted into His family as joint-heirs with Him and therefore, we have a kingly role to play in our lives.

Christ the Servant

Here we can see Him as a different type of King that we might otherwise have understood. A King who rules not by power and might, but rather who rules through example as a true leader of men, showing the way that we should live our lives by serving rather than demanding.

Christ the Son of Man

Here we can see His humanity on earth. He was not separated from the people other than by his righteousness, showing us our ability to follow as He led.

The Person and the Purpose

Here we see the frailty of the Christ aligned with the purpose of the Christ giving us clarity and direction in our lives as we follow Him.

In truth, I believe the four Gospels are exactly as God wanted them to be. We can read them individually and have a good understanding of Christ, His life and His works. However, when we read the four of them together, we have far more than just the stories, we also have a blueprint for our own lives set out for us to follow. I believe that as we begin to understand how these four Gospels form that perfect plan for our lives, we can start to understand the person that God has called us to be and the purpose that He has destined for us in our lives.

Reading the Gospels

To an extent, it doesn’t matter which Gospel you choose to read first, its all a matter of your personal choice ( However, you should read them all, of course ). If you are just gathering information, all four Gospels will give you a very good read and will give you a good understanding of the events of that age. The real question you should ask yourself is, “What do I want to get out of this reading?” If you are looking for reasons why Jesus came on this earth, probably Matthew Mark and Luke are the best depending upon your background. However, if you are looking for something far more personal than that; if you are looking to understand who you are in Christ Jesus, then you should start with John.

There are no parables recorded in his Gospel, which means that in reading it is easy to follow and understand. However, there are seven miracles, five of which appear in no other Gospel, that need to be understood fully by the sons of God. As always, with God, there are many things to be learnt from each miracle; and I am sure you will appreciate that each of these is a full preach in its own right.

However, to attempt to bring this into clarity, I have set out for you below a simple outline that covers just one thing throughout these miracles, the character of The Christ. As we look at His character, we become aware of where our character falls far short of that demonstrated by the Son of God.

The turning of water into wine 2:1-12

In this passage, we are presented with Jesus demonstrating one of the most important things to a Christian that we need to know.  This story is all about a simple principle of Christian life.  The miracle that He performed is almost a side issue to this story.  The real issue is why Jesus acted when it was not His time to do so.

Jesus performed the miracle because Mary asked Him to.  That is so simple that it almost makes us miss the point.  We can ask God and He will answer us if we ask believing.

The man’s son is healed 4:46-54

In this passage, we are presented with Jesus demonstrating authority over physical things. The physical things like sickness and diseases, whatever form they present themselves, all come under the authority of Jesus Christ

When it comes to dealing with the physical things, there is again a question of faith. There are many Christians around the world who believe that they can pray against sickness, and they are right. But why is it that so many Christians fail to see success when they pray? Jesus didn’t pray for this man’s son. He gave far more important teaching - we all want to see signs and wonders before we believe. But the power that brought healing to this man’s son was in His spoken word. He did not doubt that when He said the child was healed, it was so because the power of healing was in Him. Do you know the power that is in you?

The paralyzed man by the pool 5:1-15

In this passage, we are presented with Jesus confronting the traditions of religion. The poolside etiquette seemed to demand that only the first person who entered the water could be healed but here we see Jesus cutting through that tradition and healing a man who had not even got to the water.

When questioned by Jesus, this man said that he “had no man to put him in the pool” to receive his healing. He was relying on someone else to get him there. One of the problems that we face is that religion often creates traditions for itself that it religiously maintains. These are often things that are started for the right reason, but over some time, the reasoning has been forgotten and all that remains is the rule that people follow. All he needed was the connection with Jesus. Do you have a connection with Jesus?

Feeding the five thousand 6:5-13

(This also appears in Matthew, Mark & Luke)

In this passage, we are presented with Jesus demonstrating the Father’s heart. In its simplest terms, Jesus is demonstrating the compassion that the Father has for His people. Rather than let them go hungry, He is willing to feed them.

When asked the question here, Andrew gave Jesus the answer that just about everyone would give. To man, caring for a crowd like this would normally be seen as part of an equation. On one side is the benefit of the action and on the other side is the cost. Jesus knew that cost was never an issue and not part of the equation. All that was needed was compassion and faith. Are you ready to let God’s compassion work in you?

Walking on water 6:15-21

(This also appears in Matthew & Mark)

In this passage, we are presented with Jesus overcoming the barriers, or obstacles, that man would easily fall at. The sea rose because a great wind was blowing but that did not stop Jesus from venturing out on it. For some reason, we tend to think of Him walking on water as smooth as glass. However, this was not the case. The barriers that the waves presented to Him were no problem at all.

I have heard many times that there are two types of people. Given a glass half-filled with water, some would see it as half full and others would see it as half empty. Many times this is the case, you can either see something as a problem or as an opportunity to conquer. Jesus was a conquerer, are you?

Giving sight to the blind 9:1-12

In this passage, we are presented with Jesus demonstrating the principles of the restoration of spiritual sight. Whilst Jesus healed this man from his physical disability, He also gave teaching that He is the light of the world. Many of us are in darkness until we receive spiritual sight.

This man was blind from birth in just the same way that you and I were spiritually blind from birth. It is only when we receive Jesus Christ into our lives that we receive the true spiritual light for the first time. Part of this man’s healing was that he had to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. In that very same way, when we receive the restoration of our spiritual sight, we have to act upon our healing. Are you seeing with clarity yet?

Raising Lazarus 11:1-45

Finally, in this passage, we are presented with Jesus demonstrating the ultimate power; the power over life and death.

We will all face death one day unless our Lord returns first, but that is nothing to fear. Jesus gave us clear instruction in this miracle. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live.” He also said, “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”

For that power over life and death to live in us, more is required than simple belief. He said whoever lives and believes. By this, he didn’t mean live in the sense of simply existing, rather live as He lived, with the same character that He had which He has demonstrated to us in these miracles. Are you ready to live yet?