Why Four Gospels?

by | Dec 17, 2010 | New Testament

Be prepared, I hold to the compositional priority of Matthew, thanks to David Alan Black and various early fathers of the church. 🙂

Each Gospel served a practical, evangelistic need connected to an Apostle at the time in which it was written. As the message of the Gospel went from Jerusalem finally to Europe, practical needs arose that necessitated authoritative, apostolic commentary. Here’s a theory about how and why each gospel came about.

1. Consider Acts 1:8 and the subsequent account given to us by Luke in Acts: The story-line in the Book of Acts goes from Jerusalem (1-7) to Judea and Samaria (8-12), to Gentile lands or “the remotest part of the earth” (13-28; Paul’s missionary journeys to Asia Minor and Europe). So needs arose as the Gospel went forth.

2. Consider the needs of the early church:

1)      Jerusalem and its surrounding areas at the time of Acts 1-12. The audience was mainly Jewish and in need of knowing for sure the facts about Jesus life, death, and resurrection. Matthew, who was a Jewish Apostle, writes his Gospel to serve the needs of Jewish evangelism some time in the 40s.

2)      In Acts 13-28, we are told that the Gospel spreads to Gentile lands.

a)      We know from 1 Peter that Peter was in Rome with Mark just prior to his death (1 Peter 5:13). Mark writes his Gospel on behalf of Peter, around the time of his death, in Rome.

b)      We know from the Book of Acts that Luke traveled with Paul (Acts 16:10ff.). Luke writes his Gospel for Pauline, Gentile ministry while traveling with Paul.

3)      By all accounts, the Gospel of John was written last.

a)      It was written by the Apostle John to combat heretical teaching about the Person of Christ, thus it starts out very different than the other Gospels.

b)      Whereas the other Gospels start with the birth and early ministry of Christ, John starts with one of the grandest statements of the pre-existence of Jesus in the entire Bible – the Word who was with God before the creation of all things (Jn. 1:1ff.) was God, the creator of all things!

3. Consider the testimony of the early church: There is evidence in the writings of early Christians that seem to support the theory above.

1)      Whenever the Gospels are mentioned by early church writers, Matthew always heads up the list.[1]

2)      Second century prologue to Luke: “There were already gospels in existence, that according to Matthew, written down in Judea, and that according to Mark in Italy.”[2]

3)      Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 150-215): “Mark, the follower of Peter, while Peter was publically preaching the gospel at Rome in the presence of some of Caesar’s knights and uttering many testimonies about Christ, on their asking him to let them have a record of the things that had been said, wrote the Gospel that is called the Gospel of Mark from the things said by Peter,…”[3]

4)      Origen (c. A.D. 185-254) says, “The first written was that according to the one-time tax collector but later apostle of Jesus Christ, Matthew, who published it for the believers from Judaism…”[4]

5)      Augustine (c. A.D. 354-430) says, “Therefore these four evangelists, well known to the whole world, four in number, …are said to have been written in this order: first Matthew, then Mark, third Luke, last John…”[5]

Conclusion: Each Gospel served a practical, evangelistic need connected to an Apostle at the time in which it was written. That’s why we have four Gospels. And the reason they are in the order they occur in our Bibles is probably due to the order in which they were written.

[1] David Alan Black, Why Four Gospels?, 43.

[2] Black, Why Four Gospels?, 39.

[3] Black, Why Four Gospels?, 38.

[4] Black, Why Four Gospels?, 41.

[5] Black, Why Four Gospels?, 42.

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