The Four Gospels present four distinct accounts of the life of Yeshua based on the writer’s experience and his audience. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels based on their similarities though as we see there is distinctiveness of each book. The Gospel of John stands alone as a unique gospel account as a later account that according to Eusebius, “John set out to write a spiritual Gospel focusing on Yeshua’ transcendence as Lord and the very Word of God made manifest in the world” (Schaff & Wace (Eds.), 1890, Eusebius XIV:7). The Four Gospels show us four distinct ways of presenting the gospel message based on different audiences with differing cultures, Biblical knowledge, and relation to the Jewish People that can be instructive to us as we present the Gospel today to like the Gospel writers to present a message that is culturally relevant to our hearers.
Distinctives of the Synoptics
Though having much in common and, therefore, called the Synoptic Gospels they also have their distinctive character and presentation.
Matthew is distinctive in his Gospel is being the most Jewish-oriented of the Gospels using the most references from the Old Testament than any other of the Gospels (Cox and Easley, 2007, p. 11), including forty-nine references to prophecies of the Old Testament in one listing compiled by Philips (2009). Though with a focus on Yeshua being the Jewish Messiah that came in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, Matthew also presents a universal role for Yeshua’ life and mission being the only Gospel to use the word “church” and the conclusion of the book with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), where the Jewish Messiah is calling his disciples to make disciples of all the Nations (Cox and Easley, 2007, p. 11).
Mark is distinctive in his Gospel as being “the least Jewish and most Roman in perspective” focusing on Yeshua’ relationship to authority, both under the Roman authority and also having His own authority (Cox and Easley, 2007, p. 11). In being focused on a Roman audience, Mark seeks to show that though Yeshua as a Jew was under Roman authority which even included His execution by the Romans yet Yeshua was more than just a Jewish man but was also the Jewish Messiah. It is the connection of Yeshua as the Messiah of the Jews that Mark seeks to establish Yeshua’ authority as the Son of God and his authority over the Gentile world too as Savior and Sovereign (Cox and Easley, 2007, p. 11).
Luke is distinctive in his Gospel in that he presents Yeshua as the perfect human, though born as a Jew and to fulfill Jewish expectations of the Messiah, Yeshua as the Messiah, who was to be the Perfect Jew is also the Perfect Human and the good news about Him is applicable to all people of the world (Cox and Easley, 2007, p. 12). Luke is also distinctive in it being the first of a two-book set, The Gospel of Luke on the life of Yeshua and Acts of the Apostles on the beginnings of the early Church.
Theology of The Gospel of John
The focal point of John’s theology is to demonstrate that Yeshua is both the Jewish Messiah and the Son of God as we can see in his own words:
In the presence of the disciples, Yeshua performed many other miracles which have not been recorded in this book. But these which have been recorded are here so that you may trust that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of God and that by this trust you may have life because of who he is (John 20:30-31 CJB).
Kysar (2002), has put forward that Christology is the core of John’s theology, every other issue of theology all rest on the foundation of Yeshua being both Jewish Messiah and Son of God. He further asserts:
“Even the understanding of God is Christocentric since everything John says about God entails God’s relationship with Messiah. God is Messiah’s Father. God is the sending One, who sends Messiah. You know God through knowing Messiah. As a hub of the wheel, all the theological spokes reach into Christology and find their center there” (p. 47).
On the deep focus on Christology and specifically John’s focus on Yeshua as the Son of God, Lincoln (2005), wrote that it becomes immediately clear in John’s Gospel that Yeshua is “so closely related to the God of Israel that the focus on Yeshua of Nazareth also becomes a focus on this God” (p. 59). Lincoln also sees a deep connection to John’s use of logos in chapter 1:1-4, 14, as a connection to Jewish Wisdom literature that saw the Logos as God’s immanent presence in the world and John, makes clear that Yeshua is this immanent presence of God that came into the world in flesh (p. 60).
Using Theological Perspectives from The Gospels in the 21st Century
As has been seen in reviewing the theological perspectives of the writers of the Four Gospels we can see the importance of knowing your audience for effective Gospel presentation.
Matthew’s audience was a Jewish audience that would have had a familiarity with the Old Testament and the Jewish Messianic hope so using the Old Testament as his authority to demonstrate Yeshua as the one to fulfill the words of the Prophets. Yeshua was given credibility to the readers of Matthew as the Jewish Messiah. “Matthew writes as a Jew, who has found in Yeshua the fulfillment of all that is precious in his Jewish heritage. ‘Fulfillment’ is a central theme of the gospel” (Carson, France, Motyer & Wenham (Eds,), 1994, Matthew: Yeshua the Messiah). It is Yeshua’ fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies that commends Him to Matthew’s audience for them to believe in Him. Though we live in a less Biblically literate world today than in Matthew’s time, the connection between the Old Testament prophecies and fulfillment in Yeshua can be used to demonstrate the uniqueness of Yeshua and can help some people look anew at Yeshua.
In Mark, we see a theological and practical need to translate the good news about the Jewish Messiah to a Roman world. In doing this Mark becomes the first cross-cultural Gospel as it seeks to take a Roman worldview and present Yeshua a Jew from Nazareth as the Savior of the whole world. Mark in his presentation of Yeshua did not quote as much from the Old Testament which his readers would be unfamiliar or use many Jewish words or concepts so as to make the Gospel easier to read for a Gentile Roman reader (Carson, France, Motyer & Wenham (Eds,), 1994, Mark: Purpose of the Gospel). Mark focused on Yeshua’ words and teachings and his dual role of being a Jew under the Roman authority and also as the One with the authority who sits at the right hand of God (Mark 16:20). In our world now the communication of the Gospel cross- culturally is vital and Mark shows us that we can translate the Gospel message into another culture if we are knowledgeable of the Gospel message and the culture you are seeking to reach.
In Luke as a more biographical version of Yeshua’ life, we see the theological importance of God’s sovereign rule over history. This included “the crucifixion of Yeshua, the rejection of the gospel by the majority of Jews, and the extension of the divine promises to the Gentile world followed the divine plan exactly” (Stein, 1992, p. 45). Luke’s focus on all of history being under God’s sovereign rule can be helpful to us in showing that Yeshua came into the world to fulfill God’s plan for the world and that by accepting the Gospel message that we proclaim we are accepting the plan that God has for us, and our hearers are given the opportunity to join in God’s plan by accepting Yeshua as Savior and Lord.
In John, we see a strong focus on Messiah as God from the opening words in John 1:1, that connect Yeshua as the logos to God and makes the connection even clearer in verse 14 where John says the logos was God. John’s central focus on that Yeshua is God should be central to our proclamation of the Gospel. Yeshua is not just one teacher or religious leader we can follow He is the One True and Living God that came into our world. Yeshua then is not a spiritual option but the only choice for true life now and for eternity.
In this paper we have seen that the Four Gospels have shown us four distinct ways of presenting the gospel message based on different audiences with differing cultures, Biblical knowledge, and relation to the Jewish People that can be instructive to us as we present the Gospel today to like the Gospel writers to present a message that is culturally relevant to our hearers. Each of the Gospel writers theological perspectives can be instructive to us today as we seek to bring a 2,000-year-old story to relevance in our world today that is, for the most part, post-faith and Biblically illiterate. But we can take comfort from Luke’s focus on God’s sovereignty and know that we present the Gospel not in our own strength but in God’s strength and according to his sovereign plan for history.
Carson, D. A., France, R. T., Motyer, J. A., & Wenham, G. J. (Eds.). (1994). New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed.). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
Cox, S. L., & Easley, K. H. (2007). Holman Christian Standard Bible: Harmony of the Gospels. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
Kysar, R. (2002). Preaching John. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
Lincoln, A. T. (2005). The Gospel according to Saint John. London: Continuum.
Philipps, H. D. (2009). Old Testament Quotes in the New Testament. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
Schaff, P., & Wace, H. (Eds.). (1890). Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine (Vol. 1). New York: Christian Literature Company.
Stein, R. H. (1992). Luke (Vol. 24). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers