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Exploring the Gospels
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Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are collectively known as the gospels. The word "gospel" comes from an Old English word that meant "good tale" or "good news."
     Today the word "gospel" is used to describe the 4 New Testament books that present the life of Christ.
     In a general sense, gospel is also used to describe the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the story of Jesus is good news!

Gospel of Matthew
Matthew presents Jesus as the promised Messiah, the King of the Jews. Matthew contains five great collections of Jesus' teachings.

  • Key Verse: Matthew 27:37
  • Key Words: Kingdom, Fulfill
  • Key Dates: Written between 37-68 A.D.
  • Time Period: From 5-4 B.C to 30 A.D. (early) or 33 A.D. (late).

    Matthew was a Jew, hired by Rome to collect taxes in Capernaum. He was also known as Levi. Jesus called him to be an apostle.
         Matthew was probably wealthy. He hosted a great feast for Jesus. See Luke 5:27-32 and Matthew 9:9-13.

    Matthew was written to Jews who were familiar with Old Testament prophecy. Jewish customs were not explained in this gospel. Matthew often mentioned the Law of Moses.

    King of the Jews
    Matthew was written to convince Jews that Jesus was the promised Messiah. The book opens with a genealogy to prove that Jesus was an heir to King David.
         Matthew's birth narrative contains five prophecies that were fulfilled.

    Arranged for Memorization
    When Matthew was written, people often memorized scripture. Matthew arranged his material so that it was easy to remember.
         Groups of threes and of sevens are often used in Matthew. For example, there were 3 gifts, 3 temptations, 7 parables, and 7 woes. See chapters 2, 4, 13, and 23.

    Handbook of Teachings
    Matthew is a handbook on the teachings of Jesus. It contains five collections of teachings concerning the Kingdom of Heaven.
         The Kingdom's law, mission, mysteries, greatness, and future can be respectively found in chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 24-25.

    Did You Know?
    Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem nearly 40 years before the Romans attacked the city. He advised followers to leave Jerusalem when they saw signs that it would be destroyed. See Matthew 24:15-22 and Luke 21:20-24.
         The Romans destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, following a 3-year campaign. While Jerusalem was under siege, a Roman general named Cestius Gallus unexpectedly "recalled his soldiers"1 in 68 A.D., enabling those familiar with Christ's prophecy to flee Jerusalem.2

    Gospel of Mark
    Mark is a fast-paced gospel that portrays Jesus as the powerful, suffering servant of God.
         Mark shows that Jesus taught with authority, as affirmed by the miracles He performed. Jesus' life of service was completed when He sacrificed Himself on the cross.

  • Key Verse: Mark 10:45
  • Key Words: Immediately, Authority
  • Key Dates: Written between 40-65 A.D.
  • Time Period: From 28-30 A.D. (early) or 30-33 A.D. (late).

    Mark traveled with his cousin Barnabus and with Paul. Peter and Paul favorably mentioned him. He was known as Mark (Latin) and John (Hebrew).

    The book of Mark was probably written for Romans. Mark often explained Jewish words, customs, and places. He used Roman time rather than Hebrew time. And he translated some words into Latin.

    Fast-Paced Gospel
    Mark is a compact, action-oriented gospel. Mark omits the birth and genealogy of Jesus, and moves straight into His baptism and ministry.
         The teaching passages in Mark seem condensed when compared to other gospels

    The Visual Gospel
    Mark has a modern, factual reporting style. He writes in the present tense, and often uses the word "immediately."
         Mark is a visual gospel, full of colorful descriptions. For example, when Jesus fed the 5000, the people sat on "green grass" (Mark 6:39).

    Gospel of Emotion
    Along with visual details, Mark recorded emotions and gestures.
         For example, Jesus was "moved with compassion" and "touched" a leper (Mark 1:41). The rich young ruler "ran" and "knelt" before Jesus who "loved" him (Mark 10:17-22).

    Did You Know?
    Early Christian scholars believed that Peter influenced Mark's account. In scripture, Peter referred to Mark as "my son" (1st Peter 5:13).
         According to Papias, "Mark, who became Peter's interpreter, wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said or done by the Lord."3
         And Irenaeus wrote, "Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself also handed down to us in writing the things preached by Peter."4

    Gospel of Luke
    Luke presents Jesus to the Gentiles as the savior of all mankind. Luke contains numerous references to the activity of the Holy Spirit. Women are given special attention in Luke.

  • Key Verse: Luke 19:10
  • Key Words: Son of Man
  • Key Dates: Written between 59-61 A.D.
  • Time Period: From 6-5 B.C to 30 A.D. (early) or 33 A.D. (late).

    Luke was a Greek doctor. He was the friend of the Apostle Paul, who referred to Luke as the "beloved physician" (Colossians 4:14). As befits a doctor, medical details are often introduced in this gospel (Luke 4:38, 5:12, 6:6, 9:39-42, 18:25, 22:44).

    Luke wrote the third gospel and the book of Acts. Both were addressed to a man whose name meant "one who loves God." Jewish customs and places in Palestine are often explained in Luke.

    Educated Historian
    Luke was an educated physician and an inspired historian.
         Luke is often considered to have the best literary writing style of all New Testament authors. His account was compiled from eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus (see Luke 1:2).

    Chronological Gospel
    Luke's careful narrative was written "in consecutive order" so that his reader would know the "exact truth" about the life and teachings of Jesus (Luke 1:1-4, Acts 1:1-2).
         Chronology was important to Luke. Events in Luke were often accompanied by datable references to historic figures (Luke 1:5, 2:1-2, 3:1-2).

    Women in Luke
    Luke paid special attention to women. The birth narrative was written from Maryís perspective.
         Women contributed monetarily to Christís ministry (Luke 8:1-3). Women observed the crucifixion (Luke 23:49). Jesus first appeared to women when he was resurrected (Luke 24:1-10).

    Gospel of Prayer
    Luke revealed the prayer life of Jesus. Jesus prayed at His baptism (Luke 3:21). He often prayed in secret (Luke 5:16, 6:12, 9:18, 9:28-29). He gave thanks before eating (Luke 9:16, 22:17-19).
         Significant prayers in Luke include the "Lord's Prayer" and the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 11:1-4, 22:39-46). Two parables found only in Luke highlight the importance of persistent prayer (Luke 11:5-13, 18:1-8).

    Did You Know?
    Luke was probably a Greek. He was the only non-Jewish New Testament writer.
         Luke is the only gospel with a sequel Ė the book of Acts. Luke wrote the longest gospel account. Luke's writings account for more than 25% of the New Testament.
         Luke has 18 parables that are found in no other gospel. For example, the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep, and the Prodigal Son are only found in the book of Luke (See Luke 10:25-37, 15:4-7, 15:11-32).

    Gospel of John
    John is the gospel of belief, and was written to show the world that Jesus was the Christ, the "Son of God." Jesus was sent by the Father to give eternal life to believers.

  • Key Verse: John 3:16
  • Key Words: Believe, Life, World, Father, Son
  • Key Dates: Written between 80-98 A.D.
  • Time Period: From 27-30 A.D. (early) or 29-33 A.D. (late).

    James and John were the sons of Zebedee and Salome. They were fishermen who were business partners with Peter and Andrew (Luke 5:10).
         John was one of the three who were selected to be with Jesus at the raising of Jairus' daughter, the transfiguration, and in the Garden of Gethsemane.
         In addition to the fourth gospel, John also wrote 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John, as well as the Revelation.

    This gospel was directed toward a Gentile, Christian audience. John frequently explained Jewish customs and often described places in Palestine.

    John's Purpose
    Johnís purpose for writing this gospel was expressly stated in John 20:31, "these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name."

    The Different Gospel
    The gospel of John is very different from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the synoptics). Events recorded in the synoptic gospels were set principally in Galilee. By contrast, most of John's gospel was set in Judea.
         While the teachings of Jesus in the synoptics came primarily in the form of sermons and parables; John presented His teachings within the context of conversations that Jesus had with others.

    Seven "I am" Claims
    Jesus made seven great "I am" claims in John. These are reminiscent of God's "I am" statement in Exodus 3:14. See John 6:35, 8:12, 10:9, 10:11, 11:25, 14:6, and 15:1.

    "Signs" in John
    Miracles in John are referred to as "signs." The signs are given to confirm the deity of Jesus. The seven principal signs from this gospel are in John 2:1-11, 4:46-51, 5:1-9, 6:1-14, 6:16-21, 9:1-7, and 11:1-46.

    Deity of Jesus
    John emphasized the eternal nature and deity of Christ. This gospel reveals a great deal about the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Some of the deepest truths about God can be found in within the four chapters of the upper room discourse (John 14, 15, 16, and 17).

    Did You Know?
    The public ministry of Jesus lasted for approximately 3 Ĺ years. We know this because John recorded 3 Passovers during Christís ministry (John 2:13, 6:4, and 11:55).5
         The mothers of John and Jesus may have been sisters (John 19:25).
         Some of the most memorable events in the life of Jesus are presented only in John. For example, only John recorded the wedding feast at Cana, the woman at the well, and the raising of Lazarus (John 2:1-11, 4:1-42, 11:1-12:11).

    1 Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews 2.19.7 (circa 75-80 A.D.).
    2 Eusebius. Church History 3.5 (circa 315 A.D.).
    3 Papias. Exegesis of the Lord's Oracles via Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15 (circa 140 A.D.).
    4 Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses 3.1.1 (circa 180-199 A.D.).
    5 Hoehner, Harold W. Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977.

    Gospels at a Glance
    This chart shows some of the unique characteristics and key differences between the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

    Writing Matthew Mark Luke John
    Audience Jews Romans Greeks Gentile Christians
    Author Tax collector and apostle. Also known as "Levi." Missionary with Barnabus and Paul. Called a son by Peter. Greek doctor who travelled with Paul. Wrote Acts as sequel. Fisherman, apostle, and elder. Wrote 5 NT books. Died at an old age.
    Date Written 37-68 A.D.
    Probably written after Mark.
    40-65 A.D.
    Probably the 1st gospel written.
    59-61 A.D.
    Probably written after Mark and Matthew. (Luke 1:1-3)
    80-98 A.D.
    The last gospel written.

    Content Matthew Mark Luke John
    Depiction of Jesus King of the Jews Powerful Servant of God Perfect Savior of Man Son of God
    Key Words Kingdom, Fulfill Immediately, Authority Son of Man Believe, Life, World, Father, Son
    Key Verse Matthew 27:37 Mark 10:45 Luke 19:10 John 3:16
    Characteristics Evidence to prove Jesus was the promised Messiah. Fast paced and visual. Careful and historical. The gospel of belief.

    Fast Facts Matthew Mark Luke John
    Miracles 29 23 23 10
    Parables 31 13 37 3
    Sermons 10 5 13 8
    Times the OT is Quoted 45 23 23 14
    Notes Handbook of teachings about the Kingdom. All but 4 chapters present at least 1 miracle. Has more parables than any other gospel. Teachings are presented as conversations.

    Size Matthew Mark Luke John
    Chapters 28 16 24 21
    Verses 1,071 678 1,151 879
    Words Over 23,000 Almost 15,000 Over 25,000 Over 18,000
    Size Notes 3rd largest NT book 5th largest NT book 1st largest NT book. Acts is 2nd with over 24,000 words. 4th largest NT book.

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    Updated 1/24/2004 © 1998-2017 Ken Palmer