The four gospels
The gospels capture what
people saw and heard.
Anyone who’s climbed the north face of the Eiger wouldn’t recognise a description of the same mountain by someone who’d climbed the west flank. Depending on your perspective, it could seem like four different mountains.
This is what we see with the four gospels, the accounts of Jesus’ ministry given by the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which make up the first four books of the New Testament.
They each recorded the same thing, but from different perspectives.
All of them record the good news of Jesus Christ, and it’s interesting to note that if all four were combined, a full quarter of their material would concentrate on the last week of Jesus’ life. This is how important they believed that week to be.
The first great Christian missionary, Paul, asserted that there was only one gospel, and to preach a different gospel would lead to eternal condemnation. Those are strong words, but show the absolute importance of conveying the good news about Jesus accurately. (So how can there be four gospels, but only one gospel? Because they mean different things; the one ‘gospel’ is the message of salvation through Jesus; the ‘four gospels’ are the first four books of the NT—each recounting that one gospel).
At the beginning of his ministry in Galilee, Jesus preached that ‘the time has come… the kingdom of God is near… repent and believe the good news’. His message supported the Old Testament prophets, who foretold a time when the reign of God would come into this world with power. Justice and peace would be established, wars and destruction would cease, and poverty and famine would be abolished.
We see the coming of this kingdom, but as yet it has not been universally established. We all know, to our sorrow, about the continuing conditions of violence and need throughout he world.
Jesus spoke publicly to the crowds, and he also gave special instructions to his disciples. He promised that he would send his Holy Spirit to take his place and ‘teach them all things and remind them of everything he had said to them’. This is one of the reasons Christians feel assured that what is written in the gospels is true.
Before the witnesses to Jesus’ life died, they recorded the events of his birth, life, teaching, miracles, suffering, death and resurrection. All four gospels are dated between 60 and 100 AD. They are subject to intense theological scrutiny, so if you want to research them, there’s plenty of material! All of which will confirm that there is a common body of truth in all four gospels—all four bearing witness to the One who brings us into eternal life.
John concludes his own gospel with these words: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”
Pray: Lord God, thank you for the gospel of Christ. I’m able to read your own words today even though they were spoken two thousand years ago. Give me a hunger for your truth, give me the wisdom to understand it, and give me the strength to live by it. Amen.
Download free copies of the gospels
Look up gospels in Wikipedia
Read about the four evangelists and their symbols
Read about how the four gospels were chosen from the many different accounts of Jesus’ life
Read the book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham
Read the book The Four Witnesses: The Rebel, the Rabbi, the Chronicler, and the Mystic by Robin Griffith-Jones
Smile: read The Gospel According to Peanuts (Snoopy et al) by Robert Short
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