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What Makes Each of the Gospel Accounts Unique?

2022
6 Sep
What Makes Each of the Gospel Accounts Unique?

When the Holy Spirit began to move among the early church to record their experiences with Jesus Christ, He did not move one person to create the one definitive story of Jesus’ life and ministry. Instead, four different people were divinely inspired to record important details about the Messiah. These men were the Apostles Matthew (formerly Levi), a young disciple named Mark, a Gentile partner of Paul’s named Luke, and the Apostle John.

Each Gospel focuses on different aspects of Jesus’ personhood, but emphasizes that He is Messiah, the Son of God, and the rightful king. Understanding the relationships between the four Gospels, who wrote them, and their unique themes can illuminate the truth of the Gospel, explain why they focus on different details, and enrich someone’s experience reading them.

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What Makes Each of the Gospel Accounts Unique?

Matthew

The Writer

Born Levi, Matthew, was called by Jesus out of tax collection to a life of service. Church tradition holds this Apostle wrote this text. Jesus called him out to a life of service from behind a publican’s booth, actively serving the Roman conquerors by collecting taxes on their behalf. Tax collectors had a terrible reputation among the Jewish people, seen as traitors and cheats. Many publicans would overcharge so they could take a larger cut for themselves.

The Bible records, “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” (Matthew 9:9). He witnessed the resurrected Christ, and ministered in Judea, Persia, and Ethiopia after the Ascension.

Tradition does not agree on how he died, though generally it is believed he was martyred in Ethiopia or an area that is in modern day Turkey.

Unique Features

Matthew is unique for featuring some of the most complete versions of five of Jesus’ sermons, known as the Five Discourses. Those five sermons are the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse where He commissioned the disciples, the Parabolic Discourse about the Kingdom of Heaven, the Discourse on the Church discussing the character of people who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Olivet Discourse discussing the Kingdom of Heaven.

Emphasis on Jesus

The Gospel of Matthew focuses on Jesus as the King of the Jews, and the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies. It opens with a genealogy of Jesus Christ going back to Abraham - father of the Jewish people - following the line of David. There is an emphasis on how Jesus fulfills the Law of Moses, rather than destroying it. People identify Him as a Son of David, and there is a particular criticism of the Jewish leaders.

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What Makes Each of the Gospel Accounts Unique?

Mark

The Writer

Theologians believe Mark was a young disciple who followed Jesus, one of about 70 who were regularly travelling with Jesus, and sent out to evangelize during His earthly ministry. There are disagreements as to whether this Mark is the same as John Mark who was the cousin of Barnabas, though traditionally it is believed they are probably the same person.

It is also believed Mark was the young man who had an embarrassing moment when Jesus was being arrested, “And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked” (Mark 14:51-52).

Because this moment is not in any of the other Gospels, it is believed the moment only stuck out in Mark’s mind, because he experienced it. According to tradition, he was martyred in Egypt. Most scholars believed this Gospel was the first one written.

Unique Features

Generally, Mark is a straightforward account of the major events in Jesus’ ministry, but does emphasize certain ideas. Jesus did not come out and declare Himself the Messiah, rather revealed Himself over time through the faith of others and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. It takes care to defend Jesus from the accusation of being a magician or using evil spirits to perform miracles. It also does not shy away from pointing out where the apostles and disciples failed or sinned, highlighting the perfection of Jesus.

Who Is Jesus?

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is the perfect Messiah, come to save the world from its transgressions, but He is also the submissive and suffering servant. One of the primary themes that Jesus emphasizes in His parables and preaching is suffering for God. Mark also highlights how Jesus foretold His suffering on the cross, but submitted to it in obedience to the Father.

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What Makes Each of the Gospel Accounts Unique?

Luke

The Writer

Luke was a Gentile who had many acquaintances in the early church including Paul, who identifies him as, “Luke the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14a). He travelled extensively with Paul, including spending time with him in Rome during his imprisonment. His journeys were extensive, and it is believed part of why he wrote the letter to Theophilus, which became the Gospel of Luke, was to verify the facts of Jesus for other gentiles.

Based on language in the early chapters in Luke, it is also believed he spoke to Mary the mother of Jesus personally with lines like, “....And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51b). Tradition holds he died a martyr, though some accounts indicate he died of old age.

Unique Features

Luke is the most formal of the Gospels, addressing the person to whom he is writing. He connects John’s prophetic ministry with Jesus’ arrival, God’s confirmation of who Jesus is, as well as the journey to Jerusalem. He also details post-Ascension events. This Gospel also provides the most detail about who Jesus was as a child, and how He grew up.

Who Is Jesus?

Luke is a companion to Matthew in many ways, as the Gospel of Matthew focuses on Jesus as King of the Jews, but Luke focuses on Jesus as the Savior of all people. Luke’s genealogy goes all the way back to Adam, showing how all people were condemned through Adam, but redeemed through the New Adam - a Messiah not just for one people, but for all. His is the Son of God and the Son of Man.

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What Makes Each of the Gospel Accounts Unique?

John

The Writer

John was the Apostle whom Jesus loved, and it is generally believed He was the last of the Apostles to die. He was the Son of Zebedee, and had a brother named James; together they were called the Sons of Thunder. They worked as fishermen before they were called by Jesus to follow Him. His mother also followed Jesus, as she recognized He would come into the kingdom of David.

“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom’” (Matthew 20:20-21).

John would go on to take responsibility for Mary the mother of Jesus. He also wrote three epistles and the Book of Revelation. Where and how he died is unknown.

Unique Features

This Gospel stands out structurally, as it lays out its thesis in the first chapter. It also emphasizes the signs and wonders performed by Jesus during His ministry on earth, rather than just outlining the totality of it. Seven of these signs are changing water into wine, healing the royal official’s son, healing the paralytic, feeding the 5,000, Jesus walking on water, healing the man blind from birth, and raising Lazarus from the dead. Each of these signs either fulfills a prophecy, demonstrates Jesus’ authority, or demonstrates His deity.

Who Is Jesus?

John focuses on Jesus as the Son of God, the Word at the beginning, and the right ruler of all things. Jesus makes seven I AM statements, invoking the name God gave to Moses and to the Hebrew people centuries before.

John outlines the divinity and significance of Jesus as the first priority:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-5&14).

All four Gospels contribute to a complete picture of who Jesus is, and draw the believer closer to their Savior. God wants to be real to the world, and wants multiple people to show how everyone can have a unique relationship with Him, in part through the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were guided by the Holy Spirit to record the truth of who Jesus is, to make Him real for the centuries of people who would come later who believe by faith, not by sight.

Sources

Bloomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2007.

Walvoord, John F. and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Old Testament and New Testament. United States of America: Victor Books, 1987.

Wilmington, H.L. Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1981.

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Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer and editor. She maintains a faith and lifestyle blog graceandgrowing.com, where she muses about the Lord, life, culture, and ministry.

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