Why are there four gospels?

puddleglum

Active member
The Bible contains four accounts of the life of Jesus which are very different from each other and each one contains some information that isn’t in the others. Some of the differences are so great that the gospels almost seem to contradict each other. Why would God inspire men to write four different accounts rather than just one?

One thing to keep in mind when comparing the gospels is that they are called gospels, not biographies.None of them is intended to give a complete account of Jesus’ life as a modern biography does. The gospel is that Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead. All of the gospels give more detail about these events and the circumstances immediately leading up to them than they do to any other part of Jesus’ life. Each author has selected from the previous life of Jesus only those events which he considered necessary to provide the necessary background for the actual gospel. Each of the writers apparently had a specific audience in mind when he wrote his gospel and this influenced his choice of what to include.

Matthew’s gospel was written for a Jewish audience and often quoted from the Old Testament to show that Jesus fulfilled its prophecies. Luke was written in Rome to a believer named Theophilus who was probably a gentile. Both told of the birth of Jesus but they emphasized different aspects of it.
Matthew began by showing that Joseph was a descendant of Abraham and David. He wasn’t the biological father of Jesus but his marriage to Mary made him the legal father so his genealogy became that of Jesus. As a descendant of Abraham Jesus was the recipient of the many promises God had made to him. He was also in the line of the kings who succeeded David. Apparently Joseph would have been king if the monarchy had continued and so he passed on the Jesus the right to the throne of Israel.

Because of his emphasis on the kingship of Jesus Matthew is the only one who records the visit of the Wise Men who were looking for the king of the Jews. (They are often depicted visiting Jesus while he lay in the manger after his birth but this isn’t Biblically accurate. Matthew 2:16 shows that two years could have elapsed between the time they saw the star and their arrival in Bethlehem.)

Since Luke was writing for a gentile audience his readers probably wouldn’t have been interested in Jesus’ kingship over Israel. His emphasis is more on the humanity of Jesus. He tells the story of the birth from Mary’s point of view and the genealogy he includes is hers. When it says that Joseph was the son of Heli it obviously means that he was considered a son because he was married to Heli’s daughter because according to Matthew his father’s name was Jacob. This genealogy shows that Mary was a descendant of David through Nathan rather that Solomon. It also traces his ancestry all the way back to Adam. He does record some information not found in the other gospels, such as the visit to the temple when Jesus was forty days old and the fact that John the Baptist was a relative of Jesus.

Mark’s gospel doesn’t say anything about the birth or background of Jesus but begins with his baptism by John. This gospel emphasizes what Jesus did more that what he said. It records more miracles in proportion to its length than any other gospel and has less of his teaching that the others. The fact that he explains the meaning of Jewish customs shows that he was writing for gentiles who were unfamiliar with them.

John’s gospel is different from the other three. There are some events and a great deal of teaching that are found only here and he leaves out much that the other gospels include. There are three reasons for these differences.

1. John’s gospel was the last one to be written. By the time John wrote it the other gospels were in wide circulation and most Christians were familiar with them. He probably didn’t think there was any need to repeat what was already widely known so he selected events and teaching that the other writers had omitted.

2. Jesus had both a human and a divine nature. The first three gospels focussed mainly on his human nature although they also mentioned his deity. John’s emphasis was on the fact that Jesus was God, although he also wrote about his humanity.

3. John stated the purpose of his book in John 20:31, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” His purpose was evangelistic, to bring others to faith in Christ. Luke’s purpose for writing given in Luke 1:4, “That you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” He was writing to instruct someone who was already a believer.

God sent Jesus to die for the whole world and he wants everyone to hear and believe the gospel. Because people are different there is no single way to present the gospel which will be effective for all of them. Paul said,

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.
1 Corinthians 9:20-22 ESV

When he said this he was reflecting the same attitude that God showed when he gave us four gospels so that each of us can find in them what he needs to bring him closer to God.
 

Gary Mac

Well-known member
The Bible contains four accounts of the life of Jesus which are very different from each other and each one contains some information that isn’t in the others. Some of the differences are so great that the gospels almost seem to contradict each other. Why would God inspire men to write four different accounts rather than just one?

One thing to keep in mind when comparing the gospels is that they are called gospels, not biographies.None of them is intended to give a complete account of Jesus’ life as a modern biography does. The gospel is that Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead. All of the gospels give more detail about these events and the circumstances immediately leading up to them than they do to any other part of Jesus’ life. Each author has selected from the previous life of Jesus only those events which he considered necessary to provide the necessary background for the actual gospel. Each of the writers apparently had a specific audience in mind when he wrote his gospel and this influenced his choice of what to include.

Matthew’s gospel was written for a Jewish audience and often quoted from the Old Testament to show that Jesus fulfilled its prophecies. Luke was written in Rome to a believer named Theophilus who was probably a gentile. Both told of the birth of Jesus but they emphasized different aspects of it.
Matthew began by showing that Joseph was a descendant of Abraham and David. He wasn’t the biological father of Jesus but his marriage to Mary made him the legal father so his genealogy became that of Jesus. As a descendant of Abraham Jesus was the recipient of the many promises God had made to him. He was also in the line of the kings who succeeded David. Apparently Joseph would have been king if the monarchy had continued and so he passed on the Jesus the right to the throne of Israel.

Because of his emphasis on the kingship of Jesus Matthew is the only one who records the visit of the Wise Men who were looking for the king of the Jews. (They are often depicted visiting Jesus while he lay in the manger after his birth but this isn’t Biblically accurate. Matthew 2:16 shows that two years could have elapsed between the time they saw the star and their arrival in Bethlehem.)

Since Luke was writing for a gentile audience his readers probably wouldn’t have been interested in Jesus’ kingship over Israel. His emphasis is more on the humanity of Jesus. He tells the story of the birth from Mary’s point of view and the genealogy he includes is hers. When it says that Joseph was the son of Heli it obviously means that he was considered a son because he was married to Heli’s daughter because according to Matthew his father’s name was Jacob. This genealogy shows that Mary was a descendant of David through Nathan rather that Solomon. It also traces his ancestry all the way back to Adam. He does record some information not found in the other gospels, such as the visit to the temple when Jesus was forty days old and the fact that John the Baptist was a relative of Jesus.

Mark’s gospel doesn’t say anything about the birth or background of Jesus but begins with his baptism by John. This gospel emphasizes what Jesus did more that what he said. It records more miracles in proportion to its length than any other gospel and has less of his teaching that the others. The fact that he explains the meaning of Jewish customs shows that he was writing for gentiles who were unfamiliar with them.

John’s gospel is different from the other three. There are some events and a great deal of teaching that are found only here and he leaves out much that the other gospels include. There are three reasons for these differences.

1. John’s gospel was the last one to be written. By the time John wrote it the other gospels were in wide circulation and most Christians were familiar with them. He probably didn’t think there was any need to repeat what was already widely known so he selected events and teaching that the other writers had omitted.

2. Jesus had both a human and a divine nature. The first three gospels focussed mainly on his human nature although they also mentioned his deity. John’s emphasis was on the fact that Jesus was God, although he also wrote about his humanity.

3. John stated the purpose of his book in John 20:31, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” His purpose was evangelistic, to bring others to faith in Christ. Luke’s purpose for writing given in Luke 1:4, “That you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” He was writing to instruct someone who was already a believer.

God sent Jesus to die for the whole world and he wants everyone to hear and believe the gospel. Because people are different there is no single way to present the gospel which will be effective for all of them. Paul said,



When he said this he was reflecting the same attitude that God showed when he gave us four gospels so that each of us can find in them what he needs to bring him closer to God.
Everyone see things differently. As with you' you see that John said Jesus was God, but he didnt at all, for if one has the same God in you Jesus had in him one would know God is a SPirit and not a man at all. Matt 3:16, Jesus didnt even know God or His SPirit until God came to him and opened up who He is in him. That is very clear in Matt. Most as yourself because you see a man as a god Matt 3:16 doesnt apply to your doctrine.

In this very forum everyone gives account for how and what they understand and believe just as Matt Mark, Luke and John did. And Paul came up with his own religion about Jesus and God and a lot more follow the ways of Paul to be like him than they do Jesus to be like him. Which is God purpose for us all, so obvious in the things Jesus taught that we should be in the Father as he was in the Father.
 

En Hakkore

Well-known member
The Bible contains four accounts of the life of Jesus which are very different from each other and each one contains some information that isn’t in the others. Some of the differences are so great that the gospels almost seem to contradict each other.
Not almost, they do contradict each other in places (see below for one example).

One thing to keep in mind when comparing the gospels is that they are called gospels, not biographies.None of them is intended to give a complete account of Jesus’ life as a modern biography does.
We cannot analyze ancient texts using contemporary genres... they all conform to the ancient form of bios.

Matthew’s gospel was written for a Jewish audience...
No, it was written for insiders (ie. Christians) who were Torah observant.

Luke was written in Rome to a believer named Theophilus who was probably a gentile.
No one knows where this gospel was written... I happen to think Ephesus, but I wouldn't be dogmatic about it. I agree with you that Theophilus is a believer and almost certainly a Gentile convert, whether this was from paganism or he was a Godfearer is less certain though I suspect the latter.

He tells the story of the birth from Mary’s point of view and the genealogy he includes is hers.
No, Luke specifically identifies the genealogy as being that of Joseph... it contradicts the one found in Matthew.

This genealogy shows that Mary was a descendant of David through Nathan rather that Solomon.
No, the only background information we are given about Mary in Luke is that she is a blood relative of Elizabeth, who is said to be a descendant of Aaron, hence Mary is also... Jesus' claim to the Davidic throne in Luke is through his mother's marriage to Joseph --- the author gives Jesus both royal and priestly lineages.

The fact that he explains the meaning of Jewish customs shows that he was writing for gentiles who were unfamiliar with them.
Agreed.

John’s gospel was the last one to be written.
That's debatable... I happen to think, based on the internal evidence, that Luke wrote last and knew the other three.

Kind regards,
Jonathan
 

puddleglum

Active member
Matt 3:16, Jesus didnt even know God or His SPirit until God came to him and opened up who He is in him. That is very clear in Matt. Most as yourself because you see a man as a god Matt 3:16 doesnt apply to your doctrine.

Luke 2:41-51 describes a visit to the temple when Jesus was twelve years old. Joseph and Mary started home and discovered that Jesus was not with them. After three days they found him in the temple with the teachers, who were impressed with his knowledge. When asked why he had done this, he replied, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” His answer shows that even at the age of twelve he knew that his relationship with God was different from that of other people.

Matthew's gospel also records the visit from the wise men. They had come to worship the newborn King of the Jews, which shows that they knew that he was God in human form.

No, Luke specifically identifies the genealogy as being that of Joseph... it contradicts the one found in Matthew.

Here is an explanation of the two genealogies: https://carm.org/bible-difficulties...enealogies-for-jesus-in-matthew-1-and-luke-3/

No, the only background information we are given about Mary in Luke is that she is a blood relative of Elizabeth, who is said to be a descendant of Aaron, hence Mary is also.

In Israel tribal identity was determined by the father. Either Mary's mother was of the tribe of Levi or Elizabeth's mother was of the tribe of Judah.

No one knows where this gospel was written... I happen to think Ephesus, but I wouldn't be dogmatic about it. I agree with you that Theophilus is a believer and almost certainly a Gentile convert, whether this was from paganism or he was a Godfearer is less certain though I suspect the latter.

The fact that Luke's gospel and the book of Acts were dedicated to the same person shows that they were probably written at the same time. The book of Acts ends with Paul awaiting trial in Rome. The fact that it doesn't have a definite conclusion indicates that this must have been the time Luke wrote the books.
 

Gary Mac

Well-known member
Luke 2:41-51 describes a visit to the temple when Jesus was twelve years old. Joseph and Mary started home and discovered that Jesus was not with them. After three days they found him in the temple with the teachers, who were impressed with his knowledge. When asked why he had done this, he replied, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” His answer shows that even at the age of twelve he knew that his relationship with God was different from that of other people
Matthew's gospel also records the visit from the wise men. They had come to worship the newborn King of the Jews, which shows that they knew that he was God in human form.



Here is an explanation of the two genealogies: https://carm.org/bible-difficulties...enealogies-for-jesus-in-matthew-1-and-luke-3/



In Israel tribal identity was determined by the father. Either Mary's mother was of the tribe of Levi or Elizabeth's mother was of the tribe of Judah.



The fact that Luke's gospel and the book of Acts were dedicated to the same person shows that they were probably written at the same time. The book of Acts ends with Paul awaiting trial in Rome. The fact that it doesn't have a definite conclusion indicates that this must have been the time Luke wrote the books.
Many years ago I had youth 12 years old who could teach the law as well as any seasoned preacher or teacher. That isn't anything extraordinary.

Take a look at when God did come to Jesus and presented Himself and opened up to Jesus a knowledge that he didnt have prior, for prior he only knew the law and taught it in the temple. After God came and exposed Himself in Jesus, the very ones who once revered his teachings are the very ones who has him crucified for blaspheme.

How can you read that and say he always knew God and all of His heaven when the temple had him put to death for blaspheme AFTER God revealed Himself in Jesus?

And in Luke 17:20-21, Jesus was very clear the kingdom of God doesnt come with observation, it is within you. How did he know this? By identification with it in Matt 3:16. And we are no different from the same at all. You can teach the law in the temple from the age of six, but until God comes to you and opens His way by Spirit then law is all that you know. Jesus was perfect example of having been in both. We are to have the same identification with God he had with God. John 17 He in you and you in Him as one as Jesus was one in Him.

And Jesus as God came to his mother Mary and impregnated her seems a little far fetched, for I have received from god the same as Jesus did and by identification with the same, God is not a man at all.
 
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En Hakkore

Well-known member
Here is an explanation of the two genealogies...
Thanks, but it was not persuasive. Your own source notes that "{s}ome critics may not accept" the Marian genealogy explanation and he acknowledges that "it is not without its problems". Evangelical scholar Robin Nettelhorst is more blunt, referring to it as "wishful thinking" and that "{i}t is clear from the text that both genealogies claims to be genealogies of Christ through Joseph" (170). To his credit, your source admits "we cannot ascertain at this time a precise explanation," but unfortunately his commitment to inerrancy prevents him from even considering the possibility the two genealogies genuinely conflict.

In Israel tribal identity was determined by the father.
Which is precisely why neither gospel author traces Jesus' matrilineal line. In first-century Jewish Palestine there were expectations of a royal messiah and a priestly messiah (Tuckett 18); Luke, as a synthesizer of early Christian traditions, merges both ideas in the person of Jesus, but subordinates the latter to the former by establishing Jesus' claim to the Davidic throne through his father Joseph and his connection to the priestly line through his mother.

The fact that Luke's gospel and the book of Acts were dedicated to the same person shows that they were probably written at the same time. The book of Acts ends with Paul awaiting trial in Rome. The fact that it doesn't have a definite conclusion indicates that this must have been the time Luke wrote the books.
Authors can end their stories wherever they please, there is nothing that demands Luke must have written prior to the outcome of Paul's house arrest in Rome... he ends on the positive note of the apostle preaching and teaching boldly and without hindrance for rhetorical reasons. Indeed, in the speech to the Ephesian elders at Miletus that is attributed to Paul, a turn of phrase from 2 Tim 4:7 that refers to the author's impending death is deployed (Acts 20:24). Paul in the end turns over pastoral duties over all believers -- the church (singular) of God -- to the Ephesian elders (20:28) and, as Loveday Alexander points out, "it is hard to read v. 25 as anything other than a prediction of his own death, written at a time when Luke and his readers knew precisely what fate awaited Paul in Jerusalem and Rome" (1054).

Kind regards,
Jonathan


Works cited:
Alexander, Loveday. "Acts" in The Oxford Bible Commentary, edited by John Barton and John Muddiman. Oxford University Press, 2001.
Nettelhorst, R.P. "The Genealogy of Jesus." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 31.2 (1988) 169-72.
Tuckett, Christopher. Christology and the New Testament: Jesus and His Earliest Followers. WJK Press, 2001.
 
The Bible contains four accounts of the life of Jesus which are very different from each other and each one contains some information that isn’t in the others. Some of the differences are so great that the gospels almost seem to contradict each other. Why would God inspire men to write four different accounts rather than just one?
Many of the earliest Christians were writing Gospels, and as a result there were far more Gospels at that time than the four Gospels that made it into the canon. The competition to have one's favorite "life of Jesus" be accepted as divinely inspired by the church was fierce, and at times fighting broke out over that competition. The early church selected whatever Gospels and other works it felt were appropriate. One guideline they used to choose Gospels for the canon was that the work had to be consistent with what the church already believed! In other words the "Gospel truth" was whatever the church said that it was without any necessary appeal to reason or evidence.

So we ended up with four Gospels that have confused believer and skeptic alike for many centuries.
 
OK. Other Christians have maintained their faith despite this and similar conflicts within the biblical texts.
I'm well aware that Christian faith is very unyielding and tenacious. For many people it is very important that cherished claims be true, and therefore reason and evidence may be discarded if they conflict with that important "truth." I prefer to go wherever the evidence and reason take me even if they conflict with what I might want to believe. That's why I could no longer maintain faith in a God who supposedly authored a book with apparent errors in it.
 

En Hakkore

Well-known member
I'm well aware that Christian faith is very unyielding and tenacious. For many people it is very important that cherished claims be true, and therefore reason and evidence may be discarded if they conflict with that important "truth." I prefer to go wherever the evidence and reason take me even if they conflict with what I might want to believe. That's why I could no longer maintain faith in a God who supposedly authored a book with apparent errors in it.
Christian faith need not be understood in such monolithic terms and it is understandable that if one's faith is in an error-free book, it would evaporate in the wake of contradictions such as you mention. The faith to which I was referring is not some unreasonable one in which conflicts like this are simply ignored... there are viable options in between the obstinately faithful and reactionary faithless extremes juxtaposed in your post if you are willing to explore them.

Kind regards,
Jonathan
 

Dizerner

Well-known member
Yes I did have some experiences that I thought were supernatural. In time I found naturalistic explanations for those experiences.

I don't just mean experiencing the supernatural. The supernatural could be anything, it could be aliens, it could be unknown scientific laws, it could be all kinds of various deities.

Did you ever feel like Jesus was a real mystical being you had contact with and could feel his character?
 
Christian faith need not be understood in such monolithic terms...
What Christian does not find the supposed truth of her or his beliefs to be important? Do any Christians find Biblical claims to be unimportant?
...and it is understandable that if one's faith is in an error-free book, it would evaporate in the wake of contradictions such as you mention.
What errors do Christians admit are in the Bible? I realize that liberal Christians recognize some Biblical errors. In any event, it seems much more logical to me to assume that a perfect God would only author a perfect book if he authored any book. Those Christians who avow Biblical errors are not being consistent with their theology, and it appears to me that they've insulated their beliefs from falsifiability. In other words as they see it errors in the Bible cannot be God's errors.
The faith to which I was referring is not some unreasonable one in which conflicts like this are simply ignored... there are viable options in between the obstinately faithful and reactionary faithless extremes juxtaposed in your post if you are willing to explore them.
You can post whatever rationalizations you want for apparent errors in the Bible, but there's not much you might say that I'm not already familiar with and have found unconvincing. Why even try to smooth over problematical Bible passages? The danger of such an effort is to arrive at a conclusion that while possibly correct is not probably correct. I say keep things simple, and just take the Bible for what it says whether you're comfortable with it or not.
 
I don't just mean experiencing the supernatural. The supernatural could be anything, it could be aliens, it could be unknown scientific laws, it could be all kinds of various deities.
It could be fraud or delusion too.
Did you ever feel like Jesus was a real mystical being you had contact with and could feel his character?
I believed Jesus was a real magical being that I communed with, but I'm not sure what you mean by "feel his character." Anyway, I got over it realizing I had been deluded. The lesson to be learned here is that just because a person has some kind of religious experience, it does not follow that that experience went beyond her or his head. We know our brains can create mystical experiences, but we have no evidence for objectively real mystical phenomena that can be measured or scientifically detected.
 

En Hakkore

Well-known member
What Christian does not find the supposed truth of her or his beliefs to be important? Do any Christians find Biblical claims to be unimportant?

What errors do Christians admit are in the Bible? I realize that liberal Christians recognize some Biblical errors. In any event, it seems much more logical to me to assume that a perfect God would only author a perfect book if he authored any book. Those Christians who avow Biblical errors are not being consistent with their theology, and it appears to me that they've insulated their beliefs from falsifiability. In other words as they see it errors in the Bible cannot be God's errors.

You can post whatever rationalizations you want for apparent errors in the Bible, but there's not much you might say that I'm not already familiar with and have found unconvincing. Why even try to smooth over problematical Bible passages? The danger of such an effort is to arrive at a conclusion that while possibly correct is not probably correct. I say keep things simple, and just take the Bible for what it says whether you're comfortable with it or not.
Your response continues to conceptualize two extremes, only this time with the addition of "liberal Christianity" somewhere between them that you decry as inconsistent... this is a narrow field of vision, reflecting your penchant for the aforementioned extremes and belief that Christian theology can only be that which you have thus far experienced of it. You surmise that I would post "rationalizations ... for apparent errors in the Bible" and that "there's not much {I} might say that {you're} not already familiar with". First off, there is nothing apparent about errors in the Bible, they are very real, which was obvious from comments in my post to which you responded where I was critiquing another poster for offering a rationalization such as you expect from me --- none will be forthcoming as I have no use whatsoever for such things. Second, if the content of your posts thus far is any indication, you're familiar only with facile attempts by apologists to explain (away) difficulties and the equally naïve criticisms of their skeptics... neither of which have anything to do with my position or a reasoned Christian faith focused on bringing justice to a hurting world.

Kind regards,
Jonathan
 

puddleglum

Active member
That's why I could no longer maintain faith in a God who supposedly authored a book with apparent errors in it.

The important word is this sentence is apparent. God wants us to desire the truth enough to be willing to search for it. When you find something that appears to be an error are you willing to investigate to see whether that is really the case?

The CARM site discusses some of these alleged errors. If you want to know more about them here is a good place to start:

Here is another site which explains 150 of these contradictions:

If you care about your future I urge you to check out both of these links. Your eternal destiny depends on your being right about the Bible.
 

Pipiripi

Active member
I discovered that contradiction when I was still a Christian. It eventually led to my loss of faith.
Unknown Soldier, I want you to take a look in my threads, and not only that.
I can answered all your questions BIBLICAL without sending you here and there.
I'm going to open a BIBLICAL debate ask questions!!
 
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