The Four Gospels
The first question that confronts us before commencing the study of the Gospels is, Why four Gospels? Why not two, three, or just one? This can best be answered by stating the fact that, in apostolic times, there were four representative classes of people - the Jews, the Romans, the Greeks, and that body taken from all three classes - the Church.
Each one of the evangelists wrote for these respective classes, and adapted himself to their character, needs, and ideals.
- Matthew, knowing that the Jews were eagerly looking forward to the coming of the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, presents JESUS as that Messiah.
- Luke, writing to a cultured people - the Greeks, whose ideal was the perfect Man, makes his Gospel center around CHRIST as the expression of that ideal.
- Mark writes to the Romans, a people whose ideal was power and service, so he pictures CHRIST to them as the Mighty Conqueror. - John has in mind the needs of Christians of all nations, so he presents the deeper truths of the Gospel, among which we may mention the teachings concerning the deity of CHRIST and the Holy Spirit.
The principle of adaptation referred to here was mentioned by Paul in I Corinthians 9:19-21, and was illustrated in his ministry among Jew and Gentile. (Compare his message to the Jews in Acts 13:14-41, and that to the Greeks in 17:22-31). This adaptation is a fine indication of a Divine design in the four Gospels.
In this connection we must remember that since humanity is just the same in one age as in another the message of the Gospels is addressed to mankind in general.
The foregoing facts reveal another reason for the writing of four Gospels; namely, that one gospel would not have been sufficient to present the many-sidedness of CHRIST's person. Each of the evangelists views Him from a different aspect.
- Matthew presents Him as King,
- Mark as Conqueror (and Servant),
- Luke as Son of Man,
- John as Son of God.
This viewing of CHRIST is like the viewing of a huge building - only one side can be taken in at one time.
The fact that the evangelists wrote their records from different viewpoints will explain the differences between them, their omissions and additions, the occasional seeming contradiction, and their lack of chronological order. The writers did not attempt to produce a complete biography of CHRIST, but taking into consideration the needs and character of the people to whom they were writing, they selected just those incidents and discourses which would emphasize their particular message.
For example, Matthew writing for the Jew, makes everything in his Gospel - the selection of discourses and incidents, the omissions and additions, the grouping of events - serve to stress the fact of JESUS' Messiahship.
As an illustration of the way each evangelist emphasizes some particular aspect of CHRIST's person, let us take the following:
Four authors undertake to write a biography of a person who has acquired fame as a statesman, soldier and Author. One might wish to emphasize his political career, so he would gather together records of his campaigns and speeches to incorporate in the biography. Another would lay stress on his literary successes, and would describe his different writings. The third, with the thought in view of emphasizing his prowess in the military world, would describe his promotions, his decorations, and the battles in which he distinguished himself. The fourth might wish to enhance his virtues as manifested in home life, so he would relate those incidents that would tend to set him forth as the ideal parent, husband, or friend.
The first three Gospels are called synoptical, because they give us a synopsis (common view) of the same events and have a common plan. The Gospel of John is written on an entirely different plan from the other three.
The following are the points of difference between the Synoptics and the Gospel of John:
(1) The Synoptics contain an evangelistic message for unspiritual men; John contains a spiritual message for Christians.
(2) In the three, we are taken over the ground of His Galilean ministry; but in the fourth, over the ground of His Judean ministry mainly.
(3) In the three, His more public life is displayed; but in the fourth, we are shown His private life.
(4) In the three, we are impressed with His real and perfect humanity; in the fourth, with His true and awful deity.