The Old Testament was filled with promises of a coming Redeemer. This Promised One was much anticipated by the Jews as they believed God’s multiple prophecies of the coming Messiah. The New Testament, and particularly the Gospels, tells about the fulfillment of those promises. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are written from different perspectives and together give a complete picture of the Lord Jesus Christ and how He was the fulfillment of those Old Testament promises.
The four Gospels we have in our Bible today are called Canonical Gospels. That means that they are included in the canon of scriptures. The early church fathers considered these four books to be inspired by God. There are other historical books (some accurate, some fictitious) about the life of Christ which are not in most Bibles. These other books are called the Apocryphal Gospels. The word “apocrypha” means “put away” or “hidden.” They may have been historically accurate, but were not included in the canon of scripture and are mostly lost to us today as they were not preserved through the centuries.
Three of the Gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels. These are Matthew, Mark and Luke. The word “synoptic” has its roots in Greek and means “seen together.” This title is given because these three books are similar in content. The vast majority of the stories and the chronology in them is similar. Mark was probably written first. Matthew and Luke apparently used Mark as the basis for their accounts. John, not one of the synoptic Gospels, varies greatly on the stories told and somewhat on the chronology of events.
The books themselves do not claim who their author was. Yet, early church fathers seemed confident in who wrote each book.
Matthew is the first book of the New Testament and was written by the Apostle Matthew (also known as Levi). He was a tax collector who followed Jesus as one of His disciples. As with many books in the Bible, an exact date of writing is hard to figure out. Scholars put the date as early as AD 37 (just a few years after the death of Christ), to as late as the year 100. Those who believe Matthew’s account was based on Mark’s Gospel place the date of writing between AD 68 and 80.
Matthew was written primarily for a Jewish audience. The book emphasizes Christ as King and as the promised Messiah. There are more than 60 Old Testament references in the book of Matthew. Even though Jesus is presented as King in the book, Matthew also shows how Jesus was rejected by the Jews. They were looking for an earthly king to deliver them from the Romans, not a heavenly king. The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is used 32 times and is only found in the book of Matthew.
Christ proclaimed in Matthew that the purpose of His coming was to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17, 18).
The author of this book is Mark (also called John Mark in the book of Acts). He was a relative of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10). John Mark was a companion of Paul and Barnabas on Paul’s early missionary journey, but later left due to the difficulty of traveling. He was not one of Christ’s disciples. He may have been a convert of Peter since Peter is mentioned by name so many times in the book (23 times). The date of writing may have been sometime between AD 60 and 70.
The book of Mark is written with a Roman audience in mind. Many Jewish words and traditions are explained with the assumption that the readers would not be Jews. It contains very few Old Testament references.
This book presents Christ as the suffering Servant; yet, as a powerful Savior. Though He is presented as a servant, He is a faithful one. This would appeal to a Roman reader. Mark is a fast-paced book which uses the word that is translated “immediately” or “straightway” more than 40 times in its 16 chapters. The emphasis is more on events than on teaching.
Christ proclaimed in Mark that the purpose of His coming was to minister to others and give His life for them (Mark 10:45).
Paul met the physician named Luke when he was in Troas. Luke joined Paul and Silas in their missionary journeys and chronicled the early church and travels of Paul in the book of Acts. He was not one of the Apostles of Christ, but a Gentile Christian from Macedonia. The book was written around AD 60.
The book of Luke is written to a Greek readership and specifically addressed to a man named Theophilus. Luke calls this man “most excellent” in chapter 1 and in the later chapters of the book. Theophilus, whoever he was, was probably a Greek official or nobleman. This book presents Christ as the perfect Man—something the Greeks passionately pursued. Jesus is called “the Son of Man” 26 times in this book.
Christ proclaimed in Luke that the purpose of His coming was to save the lost (Luke 19:10).
The writer of this book is presumed to be John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee and brother of James. There are several evidences that John was the author. The author was Jewish (John 1:38; 4:9; etc.) and an eyewitness to the events (John 1:14, 29, 35-36; etc.). He is never called by name when directly referred to in the book.
John writes to an audience made up of the peoples of the world. This book presents Christ as the Son of God who sacrificed Himself for the whole of mankind because of the love of God. Jesus was a perfect Savior. To accomplish this goal of presenting Christ as the Savior of the world, John says that he intentionally did not try to write about all the things Jesus did (John 20:30; 21:25). The book of John was written sometime between AD 80 and 90.
Christ proclaimed in John that the purpose of His coming was to give life (John 10:10).
The various perspectives of the writers, their personal history, family background, and their intended audiences help make each one of these books unique even though they all give their accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. What a beautiful, and complete, picture we have of our Lord through the various writings of these men.
I trust that the next time you read through the first four books of the New Testament that you will see them with fresh eyes. Look for how Christ is presented to the different audiences: Jewish, Roman, Greek, and the world. This is done by showing a different aspect of our Savior: the Messiah, the Servant, the Son of Man, and the Son of God. See anew the purpose of Christ in each of the books: to fulfill prophecies, to minister to others, to save the lost, and to give life.
May God bless you as you study His Word and fall more in love with the Lord Jesus Christ through the reading of the Gospels of the New Testament.
Take a look at this related article, also about the books of the Bible: