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Why are there 4 Gospels?

By: Scott Morton

This is a question that is asked by many people when they start reading the Bible. They want to know why there are these four different accounts of the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. To most people, it would make more sense for there to be just one book and for it to be called the Life of Christ. Their thinking is that they are trying to apply the teachings contained in these four books and that it would be easier if there were just one book that they could then try to follow.

This study will show there is a purpose for there being four gospels. God does not make mistakes or do things without a purpose. There is a clear reason for there to be the four different accounts here.

It is also important to note that traditional thinking has also crept in and influenced a lot of people. There are warnings in the Bible about what tradition will do for people (Mark 7:1-13, Colossians 2:8). Tradition causes the Word of God to become of no effect. It is why we need to make sure we are using the principles the Word of God has for study:

2 Timothy 2:15

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

The Bible talks about the principle of right division. This is where an individual (thyself) studies the Word of God for themselves in order to see what it says. When things line up the way the Bible clearly lies out, the believer then starts to experience the spiritual growth that comes from the study of God's Word.

These four gospels are given for a particular purpose. Each of the four gospels is going to show the life of the Lord Jesus Christ portrayed in a certain manner. These books all flow from the prophecy of the Old Testament and seem to read as if they are Old Testament books because they are. Hebrews 9:16-18 states there can be no testament without the death of the testator. Since the majority of the four gospels record the life of the Lord Jesus Christ before His death, they all are considered to be Old Testament books.

The first thing to look at is the reference to the coming Messiah. This individual is referred to in a particular manner:

Isaiah 11:1

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

The Messiah is referred to as the branch that was going to come. The name "the Branch" is something that will be used by several of the prophets in reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jeremiah 23:5

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.

This passage here describes the Branch as being the King of Israel. This is a direct reference to the prophecies given of the King coming to rule over them, as would be seen in the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:5-16). One of the four gospel accounts will make a presentation of the Lord Jesus Christ as the King.

Zechariah 3:8

Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH.

The second reference to the Branch is of a servant. This servant is referred to with the same name and is clearly the Lord Jesus Christ. Some struggle with the fact that He was ever called a servant. In Isaiah 42:1, the servant, who is called mine elect, is clearly the Lord Jesus Christ. He is a servant in the manner that the Lord Jesus Christ is going to carry out the work of the Godhead and present the kingdom to the nation of Israel. This is going to be seen in one of the gospel accounts.

Zechariah 6:12

And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD:

This third reference to the issue of the Branch involves speaking of someone being called the man. For some individuals this is a struggle to consider when speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, as they do not understand how God could become a man, which is viewed as being too low for God to do. This is why they struggle with passages such as:

John 1:1-13, 14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] The same was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. [14] And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

John here makes reference to something known as the Word. He begins his gospel by identifying that the Word was there in the beginning, all things were created by Him, and that the Word is God. This can also be seen in 1 John 5:7, where the three parts of the Godhead are listed out and all are identified as God. One of these is the Word, which is being made reference to here.

John also states that the Word has been made flesh. This is the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ here on planet earth. This had been prophesied about several times, going all the way back to Genesis 3:15, the very first prophesy that is given in Scripture. This is what makes Him unique, as He was fully God and fully man during the time of the earthly ministry (for more information on this topic, see the article Jesus Christ, Fully God and Fully Man on our website).

One of the four gospels will discuss the Lord Jesus Christ as a man. It will show the frailties of the Lord Jesus Christ as man. It will also focus on other details related to His humanity that the other gospel writers would not focus on.

Isaiah 4:2

In that day shall the branch of the LORD be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.

The last of these branch descriptions refers to the future event known as the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is when the kingdom will be established with the nation of Israel and all of the prophecy that had been given to them will fully be established. This is the time when He is known by all that see Him and they all understand that He is God. This is something that was never seen during any point in the four gospel accounts, as this was not the time for it to happen. They rejected what was going on at this time.

In order to get a good understanding of this from Scripture, we will need to go back to the calling out of Egypt to see an example of what is being made reference to:

Exodus 4:8

And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign.

Exodus 19:1-4

In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai. [2] For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount. [3] And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; [4] Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.

In these passages, we see the problem Israel had. They had the sign gifts, because it was necessary for them to have the signs in order to believe (1 Corinthians 1:22). They were told in Exodus 19 that they should remember the salvation that had come when they were brought out of Egypt. This was a sign to them that they were doing things that were part of the program of God.

However, a study of the book of Exodus, along with the rest of the Old Testament books, shows that the nation of Israel did not heed the things spoken of. They rejected what God had done and would complain about the circumstances they were in, or would outright reject what God was doing. This was because it was said even before they left the land of Egypt that they would reject the first sign given to them and would only believe when they saw the second sign.

This type of thinking goes all the way to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to establish the kingdom upon the earth. The nation as a whole, would reject the first coming and would not see Him as the rightful King and Messiah until He comes back to the planet in the second coming. It does not take much study of the four gospel accounts to see this is how the nation of Israel was functioning at this time.

Before defining these four presentations as has been seen by the Branch statements, we will look at one more piece of evidence for these four presentations. There are four statements in the prophetic books speaking about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. These are known as the Behold statements:

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

The first of these statements is Behold thy King. Since the name King is capitalized here, we know this is speaking about the Godhead here. This is Lord Jesus Christ here being made reference to. This event occurs when he enters the city of Jerusalem prior to the crucifixion, setting up these events. This is the cutting off of the Messiah, which is the sign of the end of the 69th week of Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27), which should have been a clear sign to the nation of what was going on here.

Isaiah 42:1

Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.

This second statement here is speaking of the servant to come. He is identified as mine elect, which is one of the five things identified as elect or chosen of God (these being, the Lord Jesus Christ, the nation of Israel, the 12 apostles, the Body of Christ, and the Apostle Paul). This passage reinforces the fact that the nation of Israel should not have been surprised by how the Lord Jesus Christ came, as it was prophesied that He would come as the servant.

Zechariah 6:12

And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD:

The third of these Behold statements is one that had been looked at before related to the branch. It refers to the man who is going to come, which is something that was not fully expected by them. They struggled with the fact that God could come in the form of man, even though the prophetic program was filled with references to this being the case (i.e., Isaiah 7:14, Genesis 3:15).

Isaiah 40:9

O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!

The last of these Behold statements shows that they were to behold their God. They were to be looking for God to come among them. All of this shows the stumbling block the nation of Israel had, as they could not accept the Lord Jesus Christ as God, because He did not fit what they thought God should be.

These four different presentations of the Lord Jesus Christ occur in the four gospel accounts. They are broken down in the following manner:

Matthew: The Righteous King

Mark: The Faithful Servant

Luke: The Lord Jesus Christ as a man (Humanity)

John: The Lord Jesus Christ as God (Deity)

This is the break down of how the four gospel accounts present the Lord Jesus Christ and why we have four different accounts presented. There are other pieces of information that help show this breakdown. One of the things that can be seen from the texts is how the gospel accounts record information related to the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Matthew 1:1

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Matthew starts the account related to David. This would show the faithful reader of this account who the Lord Jesus Christ was. The issue of David is the throne and the kingdom that had been promised (2 Samuel 7). It had been promised that there would be the seed of David sitting on the throne for all of eternity. This is what they were looking for, the King to come to free them and establish this Kingdom. Matthew 1:6 further clarifies this by mentioning David as the king, in case they did not understand what the significance of this was to be for them.

The gospel written by Mark does not record information about the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not surprising, considering the presentation of this gospel. Since mark, is presenting the Lord Jesus Christ as the servant, He is being seen from this point of view. When someone considers a servant, there is no consideration given to where this person comes from, according to a genealogy. The only thing that is important is if the person has the capability to the job required, which the Lord Jesus Christ was clearly able to do.

Luke also provides a genealogy related to the Lord Jesus Christ. We see how far this goes back:

Luke 3:23

And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,

Luke 3:38

Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.

Luke goes all the way back to Adam, showing that the Lord Jesus Christ would be considered a man. This was important, because He needed to be linked with Adam. Where Adam failed in the temptations that were presented, the Lord Jesus Christ is going to succeed, which makes Him perfect to be the sacrifice for sin. The Bible links these two in many different passages because of this.

1 Corinthians 15:22

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

This passage here is an example of this. The Apostle Paul gives an important piece of information for those who are reading this epistle. He is pointing out to people what their eternal destiny is going to be. If a person is identified in Adam, the only thing that can result is death. If a person is identified with the lord Jesus Christ (the second Adam), they receive the gift of eternal life. This is why it is so important for us to put our trust in the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), so that we can be made partakers of this gift of eternal life being offered to us.

John takes a different approach when looking at the Lord Jesus Christ, which is appropriate considering the purpose of this gospel:

John 1:1-3

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] The same was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

John starts looking at the beginning, which would be before Genesis 1:1 and the creation of the universe. He states that the Word was there from the beginning, identifying the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no beginning of God, but He is the Creator of the entire universe. It is easy to say that before everything was, there was God. John starts off here pointing out who God is, and removes any doubt with the following verse:

John 1:14

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

There are many different things that show the differences among these four gospel accounts. The following chart will help point out the unique characteristics, summarizing the ones listed above and also providing some new ones:

 

Gospel

Matthew

Mark

Luke

John

Presentation

King

Servant

Man

Deity

Face of the Cherub

Lion

Ox

Man

Eagle

Behold statement

Zechariah 9:9

Isaiah 42:1

Zechariah 6:12

Isaiah 40:9

Branch

Jeremiah 23:5

Zechariah 3:8

Zechariah 6:12

Isaiah 4:2

Genealogy

Abraham to Christ (Joseph)

None needed as a servant

Adam to Christ (Mary)

John 1:1

First miracle

Matthew 8:1-3- cleansing of the diseased nation

Mark 1- several miracles recorded in this chapter, showing the servant carrying out the work

Luke 4:33-35- casting out of devils because man is wicked before God.

John 2- the turning of water into wine ties in with the 7 I am statements in the gospel, showing He is God

Offering represented

Sin offering (ELI, ELI LAMA SABACHTHANI)

Trespass Offering (ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHANI)

Peace offering (FATHER FORGIVE THEM)

Burnt offering (IT IS FINISHED)

Viewpoint of Gospel

The Jewish hope (the kingdom)

The suffering remnant (the Little Flock)

Gentile viewpoint

Viewpoint of the believing remnant

 

All of this information shows there is a reason there are four gospels. It all goes along with the plans of the Godhead. Even though there are individuals who claim there were other gospel accounts that were not included in the Bible for various reasons, such as the Gospel of Thomas, there is a clear reason. These false accounts do not line up with what the Bible says. The only accounts are the four given us to in Scripture: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are the accounts that actually show the nation of Israel their Messiah was there and give them the information they will need as they are going to enter into the kingdom.



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