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The 4 Gospels
List of Books of the Bible

Old Testament

New Testament

Gospel means "good news" - the term refers to the good news of salvation through Jesus. The "gospels" refer to the four accounts of the life of Jesus found in the New Testament; each account is named after the traditional author - Gospel of Matthew, Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Luke and Gospel of John.

Synoptic Gospels

Q hypothesis

4 Gospels

Of the many accounts of the life of Jesus written in antiquity, only four gospels came to be accepted as part of the New Testament, or canonical. An insistence upon there being a canon of canonical four, and no others, was a central theme of Irenaeus of Lyons.

Benefits of 4 gospels

The fact that there are 4 gospels brings particular benefits, and difficulties. Some of the benefits of having 4 gospels instead of 1 are recorded below

4 Gospels means more information

Not every bit of information about Jesus is contained within a single Gospel - the writers have chosen to recount certain events or words

Hence 4 Gospels means more information is known about Jesus

For example:

  • The woman at the well occurs only in John (John 4)
  • The parable of the Prodigal Son occurs only in Luke (Lrke 15)
  • The record of soldiers guarding Jesus' tomb after his death occurs only in Matthew (Matthew 28)
  • The healing of the blind man at Bethsaida occurs only in Mark (Mark 8)
Each Gospel gives a different perspective on specific events in Jesus' life

Each Gospel writer paints a picture of events in Jesus' life and so recounts the stories slightly differently giving a particular perspective thus enhancing our understanding of Jesus

For example:

  • The account of Jesus walking on water (Mark 6 and Matthew 14)
    • In Mark 6, Mark comments that the disciples were amazed because they did not understand and their hearts were hardened
    • Matthew only comments that the disciples were afraid
  • The record of children being brought to Jesus (Mark 10, Matthew 19, Luke 18
    • In Mark, Jesus is indignant and upset at his disciples
    • This indignation is not noted in Matthew or Luke
Each Gospel has its own unique major focus

Each Gospel is written with a particular overall focus that affects the overall structure helping us better understand Jesus' life and ministry

For example:

  • Mark focuses on a Messianic Secret theme
  • Matthew has a strong teaching focus for the church
4 Gospels means increased historical credibility=

4 Gospels with general agreement in the main events of Jesus' life increases the historical reliability of the gospels

Main stories of the gospels

Birth of Jesus

Death of Jesus

Resurrection of Jesus

Main themes of the gospels


Irenaeus Against Heresies, book 3: ch 1: para 1. Page 414 in ANF1, that is, Roberts A, Donaldson J and Coxe AC (1885) Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol 1, at Christian Classics Ethereal Library. [c 185 AD.]

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.

Greenleaf S (1847), "Examination of the testimony of the four evangelists, by the rules of evidence administered in courts of justice", London, England, A Maxwell. The author, Simon Greenleaf, LL.D., was Royall Professor and then Dane Professor of Law in Harvard University. An article in the North American Review described him as "the honoured head of the most distinguished and prosperous school of English law in the world" (page v).

  • These copies of the Holy Scriptures ... it is quite erroneous to suppose that the Christian is bound to offer any further proof of their genuineness or authenticity. It is for the objector to show them spurious; for on him, by the plainest rules of law, lies the burden of proof. (Section 10, page 9.)
  • [T]he Four Evangelists should be admitted in corroboration of each other, as readily as Josephus and Tacitus, or Polybius and Livy. (Section 28.)
  • Far greater discrepancies can be found in the different reports of the same case, given by the reporters of legal judgments than are shown among the evangelists; and yet we do not consider them as detracting from the credit of the reporters, to whom we still resort with confidence, as to good authority. (Section 36.)
  • The connexion of the word or the act of Jesus with the restoration of the blind, lame and dead, to sight, and health, and life, as cause and effect, is a conclusion which, our reason is compelled to admit, from the uniformity of their concurrence, in such a multitude of instances, as well as from the universal conviction of all, whether friends or foes, who beheld the miracles which he wrought. (Section 38.)
  • Either the men of Galilee were men of superlative wisdom, of extensive knowledge and experience, and of deeper skill in the arts of deception, than any and all others, before or after them, or they have truly stated the astonishing things which they saw and heard. (Section 48, page 47.)


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