Why Four Gospels?
When reading Mark you may have noticed that there are some incredible similarities with Matthew. In the same light, you will notice that there are some incredible differences as well. Some of the similarities are that Mark and Matthew tend to follow the same outline for Jesus’ life. Most of His ministry took place in Galilee. It was there that He healed people, found His disciples, sent the 12 to preach the good news, taught the people, and experienced great popularity. Once Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus then started moving towards Jerusalem and His teaching focused on His death and the coming of the Kingdom.
While these similarities show great unity between Mark and Matthew, it is difficult to ignore some of the differences between the two. First of all, their language is very different. Mark refers to the Kingdom of God, whereas Matthew refers to the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew’s Gospel is riddled with Old Testament prophecies. His accounts of the sending of the 12 are directed specifically at Israel. Matthew includes the genealogy and birth of Jesus, whereas Mark begins with His ministry.
Why these differences? At this point it would be beneficial to speak about the nature of the Gospels. Each Gospel is written by a particular man who has a particular perspective on the world and on the purpose and scope of Jesus’ ministry. Also, each author has a particular audience in mind when writing his gospel. It is easy to see this when comparing Matthew and Mark. Mark’s account seems to be much more utilitarian. Very little commentary is given as to the meaning behind Jesus’ actions. Mark simply tells the reader what Jesus did and how the people reacted. Mark’s Jesus was a man who was hounded by large crowds all His life; crowds that He was constantly trying to get away from, but was overtaken by His compassion for their blind, sick and lost condition. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus did more healing than teaching. He was a man of action who served the crowds. Then, in the end, the crowds that He had served turned on Him and killed Him. Matthew’s Jesus, on the other hand, was more of a teacher. It seems as if Matthew took Mark’s story and interpreted it through the Old Testament. It’s as if Matthew said, “Mark told you that Jesus did this, now let me tell you WHY Jesus did this and show you how this action fulfilled the Old Testament Prophets.” Matthew’s goal was to prove to his reader that Jesus was actually the Messiah that had been predicted by the prophets. While Mark had Jesus going toe to toe with the teachers of the Law, and condemning them as bad leaders, Matthew seems to relish in this process.
Many skeptics have pointed to the discrepancies between the four gospels as evidence of their unreliability. This is not the case. It is important to keep some key points in mind when reading the Gospels.
- Ancient Historians were not concerned as much with chronology as they were with themes. To have events out of sequence did not inauthenticate the validity of the historian in the ancient mind. You will see that Matthew and Mark don’t have Jesus even getting near Jerusalem until the end of his ministry. Yet, John has Jesus in and out of Jerusalem throughout His ministry. Matthew and Mark were using geography as a teaching tool in their arrangement of Jesus’ life.
- As with any biographical writing, it is impossible to include every event that happens in a person’s life. Each event, or story, of a person’s life is called a pericopes and can be thought of like a piece of cloth in a patchwork quilt. When the Gospel writer sits down to write the story of Jesus’ life, he has before him boxes full of pericopes from which to choose. Based upon his thematic objective, the author chooses just the right pieces that will prove his point. He then lays them out in a thematically organized fashion and sews them together with his own commentary and interpretation.
- The Gospels were written anywhere from 20-60 years after the actual events. When people are recounting events from the past, it is quite normal for incidental details to be forgotten or blurred. Therefore, you may have one angel at the tomb or two. The number of angels is not the point. The point is that Jesus arose and that He conquered death. We cannot get hung up on details, they didn’t matter that much back then.
- Each author was speaking to a particular audience, thus tailoring their language to communicate most effectively. The target audience also influenced the manner in which events were communicated and interpreted.