Why We Have Four Gospels

The Big Idea of Four Gospels

In Four Portraits of Jesus, Strauss writes “having four gospels gives us a deeper, more profound understanding of Christology" (pg. 24). I think this is a strong argument that reminds us of the central issue of the gospels.

It is not an issue of mere information that makes the gospels significant. If that were the case, the apostles would have enough material to fill the earth itself (John 21:25). That is to say, the gospels are not first and foremost chronological or biographical, but rather they are Christological: "these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God" (ESV, John 20:31a).

When we understand this, the focus shifts away from a competition between the four gospels, as to which has the best information, structure, healings, etc... And then that focus is shifted towards helpful questions such as, what does this gospel uniquely teach me about the person and work of Christ?

Further Considerations of Multiple Gospels

Along with this first reason, the Bible contains four gospels because God wants us to understand the unique element of divine inspiration and a dual divine/human authorship. If indeed the Bible was written in a sort of divine dictation, totally removing the human element, then it would seem rather strange that there should be four distinct gospel accounts.

This would be rather redundant since the importance of gospels would have to strictly be the subject matter alone, not the writing style. However, if God inspired the words and led men to write while still maintaining their personalities, writing style, and emphasis, then it seems perfectly reasonable to allow for the possibility of multiple gospel accounts.

Unique Features of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

This actually strengthens the first position as well, because we learn that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are writing from their personal experiences, as well as their own exposure to Christianity.

Matthew is redeemed from his vocational betrayal of Israel to Roman statism as a tax collector, so he focuses much on Jesus' redemptive motif to the Jews while simultaneously rebuking the hypocritical self-righteous.

Mark is a sidekick of the apostle Peter and so Peter is regularly present in the events of his gospel, yet the emphasis is placed on Peter's failures rather than his victories.

Luke is a sidekick of the apostle Paul's missionary efforts, so the global redemption of Jesus as the savior of the world is true to Luke's own experience of the gospel.

And John is exposed to the exalted Christ, the great I AM in the book of Revelation. Is it any wonder why John is so interested in teaching us about the divine Son of God behind the veil of flesh?

The Gospels are Supplemental

So, in both reasons for having four gospels, we should be glad that God desires to teach us so much of Himself with rich, unique angles to understand his revelation to us. More than that, our trust in the Bible should be sharpened, not weakened.

I'm struck by the fact that we do have a majority of the New Testament content percentage comprised of the gospels themselves. This is a fascinating detail!

Closing Questions we Should Ask About the Gospels

If you had to recommend just one of the four gospels to someone who is unfamiliar with them, which one would you pick with your rationale of the gospels in mind? And why would you select that particular gospel instead of the others?

With that in mind, how important do you think it is to participate in the critical approaches to the gospels in order to defend the validity and content of the gospels?

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