Why are there four Gospel accounts in the Bible? Aren’t they all telling the same story? The answer may surprise you. Learn more in this video.
Jon: There are four books in the Bible that are ancient biographies of Jesus, the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Tim: And while individual stories about Jesus and his teachings are familiar to many people, these books have way more to offer if we read them from beginning to end and see how they connect Jesus’ story into the overall biblical storyline.
Jon: So let’s talk about how to read the Gospel.
Jon: First of all, this word “gospel.” What does it mean?
Tim: Well, it means “good news.”
Jon: Which raises the question—good news about what?
Tim: Well, in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus enters the story announcing that, “the time is fulfilled, God’s Kingdom has come near, so turn around and trust this good news!”1
Jon: So the good news is about God’s Kingdom arriving. But what does that mean?
Tim: Well, it’s Jesus’ way of summarizing the whole biblical story that leads up to himself.
Jon: The whole story. Okay. Give me the short version!
Tim: Well, the story begins with God creating a good world and then appointing humanity as his representatives to rule it2. But then the humans rebel over and over, leading to a world of violence and death3.
Jon: That’s a problem.
Tim: But God is committed to making it work. So he chooses Abraham and his family to restart the project4. Then through Moses, God brings the family into a garden land of abundance, so that he can restore all of the nations through them5.
Tim: But Israel’s prophets said that God wasn’t giving up. He was going to personally come and restore Israel, so that his justice and peace could spread to all nations and to all creation8. This hope was called the Kingdom of God.
Jon: And that’s what Jesus said he was bringing to Israel9.
Tim: Yes. Jesus’ good news is about God’s Kingdom, the new creation that was arriving to restore humanity to their role as God’s partners in ruling the world. This is why the Gospel has so many stories about Jesus liberating people from death and disease, along with all of his teachings about generosity to the poor, or forgiveness and loving your enemies10.
Jon: He was inviting people to live in God’s new world.
Tim: Exactly. And so this is one of the main goals of the Gospel, to show how Jesus is bringing the whole biblical story to its fulfillment.
Jon: So that’s why the Gospel authors are constantly appealing to the Hebrew Scriptures while telling the story of Jesus11.
Tim: Yeah. Like when Jesus is born in Bethlehem, Matthew reminds us that this was anticipated by the prophet Micah12.
Jon: And he directly quotes from Micah13.
Tim: Yeah. These direct quotes are really common. But more often, the Gospel authors weave biblical phrases into the story without telling you, so you can discover it for yourself. Like when Jesus is baptized and God announces from the skies.
Jon: “You are my Son, my beloved; with you I am well pleased.”14
Tim: Now, if you do some digging, you’ll find that God’s statement blends together phrases from three biblical texts to identify Jesus as the royal son of David15, the seed of Abraham16, and the servant who’s going to suffer for the sins of his people17.
Jon: Woah. That is subtle.
Tim: Yes! And the Gospel accounts do this on every page. Every book is constantly showing how all of the biblical stories about Abraham, Moses, and David, and all the prophets—all of it points forward to Jesus18.
Jon: Now why are there four different accounts? Wouldn’t one be enough?
Tim: Well, the diversity is on purpose. Each of the four Gospel authors has shaped and arranged their stories about Jesus differently, so they can emphasize different things about him.
Matthew presents Jesus as a greater Moses, and so he’s grouped Jesus’ teachings into five large blocks, just like the five books of the Torah.
Luke highlights how Jesus is God’s royal servant from the book of Isaiah, who brings God’s light to the nations.
Mark presents Jesus as a new start for humanity, bringing the mystery of God’s new creation crashing into the present.
And John focuses on Jesus’ claim to be Yahweh the God of Israel become human, to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.
Jon: Those are really different from each other, but they all tell the same basic story: a man from the region of Galilee teaching this good news, but who is ultimately crucified as a criminal.
Tim: Yes. All four books of the Gospel are showing how the arrival of God’s Kingdom through Jesus led him up to the cross, where he was enthroned as the King of God’s new world19.
Jon: He’s given a robe, a crown, and a scepter20.
Tim: Right. As Jesus suffers the consequences of humanity’s rebellion, he is showing that the power of God’s Kingdom comes through his love and self-sacrifice21. And when he’s raised from the dead, we’re watching the dawn of the new creation22.
Jon: So the Gospel authors don’t just want their readers to know about the good news of God’s kingdom. They want them to become a part of it.
Tim: Yes. The Gospel is designed to persuade us to trust and follow Jesus, so that we can participate in the new creation that he began.