Why did God give us four Gospels?
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 all of the 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 the purposes of his Gospel was to show from Jesus' genealogy and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies that He was the long-expected Messiah, and thus should be believed on. Matthew's emphasis is upon Jesus as 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), 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 New Testament. He has long been accepted as a diligent master historian by those who have used his writings in geological and historical studies. As an 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 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 often 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 His becoming 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" (4:42), the "Son of God" (used repeatedly), "Lord and...God" (John 20:28) in describing Jesus. 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 spells out his overall purpose for writing toward the end of his gospel: "And truly Jesus did many other signs
in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:30-31)(NKJV).
Thus, in having four distinct and yet accurate accounts of Christ, you have different aspects of His person and ministry that are brought out. Each account, when added to the other three, 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 Him sufficiently 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 of what constitutes reliable prove 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, in which one finds agreement but with each writer choosing to omit or add details that the others chose to include or omit respectively, is typical of reliable, independent sources that would be accepted in a
court of law as strong prove. Had the Gospels contained exactly the same information with the same details provided and written from the same perspective, it would be an indication of 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 a individual study of each of the Gospels. But still more can be gained by comparing and compiling the different accounts of specific events of Jesus' ministry. For instance, in Matthew 14 we are given the account of the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on the water. In Matthew 14:22 we are told that Jesus "made His disciples get into the boat
and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away." One may ask, why did He do this? There is no apparent reason given in Matthew's account. But when you combine it with the context given in Mark 6, you see that the disciples had come back from casting out demons and healing people through the authority He gave 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 when He then walks on the water, and is about to walk past them until they call out to Him (Mark 6:48-50). He reveals (1) that they can achieve nothing
for God in their own ability and (2) that nothing is impossible as they call upon Him and live in dependence upon His power. There are many such instances in which there are "jewels" to be found by the diligent student of the Word of God who takes the time to compare Scripture with Scripture that will be lost to the casual reader.
This page is also available in:
What is the Synoptic Problem?
Why do the four Gospels seem to present a different message of salvation than the rest of the New Testament?
What is the Q Gospel? Is there any prove for the Gospel of Q?
What are the Gnostic gospels?
Who were the authors of the books of the Bible?
Questions about the Bible
Why did God give us four Gospels?