What Are the Gospels, and Why Are There Four of Them?
When people talk about “the gospel,” there’s only one thing they mean: the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the four books of the Bible that record almost everything we know about Jesus. If we want to learn about the things Jesus said and did, we have to turn to these ancient texts, believed to have been written by eyewitnesses or people who spoke with them during the first century.
So why are there four separate versions of the story of Jesus? Or maybe you’re wondering, why are there only four, if he was such an influential figure?
Those are valid questions, but before we can answer them we have to know what constitutes a “gospel” and how they differ from other written works.
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The 3 “Quests” for the Historical Jesus
The gospels give us the most detailed descriptions of Jesus’ life and ministry we have. They’re believed to have been written by eyewitnesses (or at least based on eyewitness accounts), and they all clearly claim that Jesus Christ is the son of God.
If you believe the gospels are historically accurate accounts of the things Jesus said and did, there’s little room for interpretation about who he really was. C.S. Lewis made famous the Lord, liar, lunatic trilemma to explain the challenge of dismissing Jesus’ divinity.
But those aren’t the only three options. The fourth option is much more appealing to skeptics: the gospels are unreliable, non-historical representations of a man known as Jesus.
The quests for the “historical Jesus”
Over the centuries, numerous Bible scholars have suggested that the gospel accounts can’t be trusted. These scholars argue…
Who Wrote the Gospels, and How Do We Know for Sure?
The Bible gives us four accounts of Christ’s life. Each records a unique perspective of the most significant event in history—the crucifixion and resurrection. All four gospels are named after men who lived during or shortly after Christ’s early ministry. Tradition considers these men the authors, but there’s one problem: not one of these books names its author.
The gospels are anonymous—so how do we know who wrote them?
None of the gospels came with an “about the author” section. The closest we get to a claim of authorship is at the very end of the Book of John, where the author implies that the book was written by “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:24 NIV).
Are there other context clues we can use to determine the authors? Can we trust tradition’s assumptions about who wrote the gospels? Did…
Bible Contradictions Explained: 4 Reasons the Gospels “Disagree”
The story of Jesus stands or falls on the trustworthiness of the Gospels. That’s why skeptics pay so much attention to the Gospels’ apparent contradictions. Christianity’s critics cast doubt on the New Testament’s reliability by pointing out disparities in the Gospels. This puts well-meaning—but often unprepared—Christians in a difficult position of trying to reconcile these potential inconsistencies.
So how do we account for the apparent discrepancies in the Gospel accounts? A lot of the problem stems from our expectations. If we expect a level of historical precision that the Gospels didn’t intend to provide, we’re going to run into problems. The truth is that it’s completely normal for ancient (and modern) historical accounts to summarize, paraphrase, omit details, and explain events in a way that highlights their specific points and perspectives.
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What Are the Synoptic Gospels, and Where Do They Come From?
The Bible’s four gospels paint four portraits of Jesus. While each gospel follows him on the same journey, they recount it a little differently. They had their own methods, styles, purposes, audiences, and (probably) sources—making each portrait of Jesus uniquely valuable.
Despite their unique qualities, the first three gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—share many of the same accounts of Christ, often shared in the same order and with the same wording. Because of their similar perspectives on Jesus’ ministry, together they’re known as the synoptic gospels. (The word “synoptic” comes from the Greek word synoptikos, meaning “able to be seen together.”)
While the differences between the gospels can be a challenge for us, these similarities can be problematic, too. The parallel passages between the synoptic gospels have left scholars with pressing questions about their origins. If Matthew, Mark, and Luke…
Responding to David Hume’s Argument Against Jesus’ Miracles
Understanding Hume’s objections
Perhaps the most well-articulated argument against Jesus’ miracles comes from David Hume, the great eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher.
You’re probably already familiar with it, but in case you need a refresher…
Here is his argument, in a nutshell:
Human experience confirms the certainty of the laws of nature. Since miracles violate the laws of nature, it would take an enormous amount of evidence to confirm any miracle.
How much evidence? An impossibly large amount.
Because such evidence does not exist, belief in miracles is therefore irrational.
Hume supported his primary argument with four supporting claims:
No miracle has been attested by a sufficient number of educated and rational witnesses. There is a human tendency to believe the spectacular. Most reports of miracles occur among ignorant and barbarous people. Claims…
20 Questions You Never Thought to Ask about the Gospels… But Need to
Have you ever wondered…
1. Why isn’t there just one account of Jesus in the Bible? Why four?
2. Why not more than four? Other gospels were written, such as the famous Gospel of Thomas. Why aren’t they included in the Bible?
3. Who were the Gospels written for? Not just us. We as twenty-first century readers aren’t the only audience. How did the first readers experience the message?
Get the Newest Online Course on Jesus and the Gospels: Four Portraits, One Jesus
Today we are announcing a brand new online course about Jesus and the Gospels, taught by Mark Strauss.
If you’re like most Christians, you probably grew up learning about Jesus, but you’ve never devoted yourself to serious, sustained study of the life of Jesus as found in the four Gospels.
You might know the Sunday school version of Jesus, but there’s so much more to his life and story.
Perhaps you’ve wondered how to defend your faith—to others, to your family, or even to yourself:
Did Jesus really perform miracles? Was Jesus who he said he was—the Son of God? How can we know? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? What kind of evidence exists, and what’s at stake?
Or perhaps you’ve wondered what Jesus says about today’s most pressing issues. What would he say about the…
Mark, the Neglected Gospel (From Mark Strauss’ Commentary on ZECNT: Mark)
The following is adapted from Mark Strauss’ Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Mark.
Though the most dramatic and fast-paced of the four Gospels, Mark’s was also the most neglected in the early church. This was due primarily to the fact that it was the shortest, with approximately 90 percent of its stories appearing in either Matthew or Luke. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354 – 430), the first of the church fathers to comment on the relationship of the three Synoptic Gospels, viewed Mark as little more than an abbreviation of Matthew. He wrote, “Mark follows him [Matthew] closely, and looks like his attendant and epitomizer.”  No commentary was written on Mark until the sixth century. At that time, Victor of Antioch, who…
Strauss Believes Mark’s Structure Isn’t What You Think it Is
(Can’t see the video? Watch it here)
Mark Strauss, author of a new Mark commentary (ZECNT) believes Mark’s gospel is a powerful one, not only theologically but literarily.
“Mark isn’t just a collection of sayings and events of Jesus’ life—kind of patched together.” Instead, “from beginning to end it draws the reader in, creates a mystery picture of who Jesus is, and the drives home key answers along the way.”
Mark’s gospel is so compelling because of its structure. Yet Strauss explains the thematic structure many of us have come to know—where Mark 8 is a turning point in Jesus’ journey—isn’t what we think it is.
He insists “we need to think of Mark’s gospel as structured theologically, rather than geographically.” This is one of Strauss’s unique contributions to Markan studies.
Mark’s Gospel is Jesus’s Story on Steroids! — An Excerpt from Mark Strauss’s “Mark (ZECNT)” Commentary
In recent decades there has been a number of new approaches to the gospel, one of which is so-called narrative criticism. Considering how story-driven we are as a culture—and as people—this seems to be a good development within gospel studies and exegesis.
On Tuesday we explored how Mark Strauss engages the Gospel of Mark using this approach in his new Mark (ZECNT) commentary. Today we extend that exploration with an excerpt giving more insight into Mark’s story of Jesus.
Like any narrative, Mark’s also balances a number of literary devices, complete with point of view, narrators, plot points, characters, climax, setting, denouement, and everything else that makes a story sparkle.
Read Strauss’s thoughts on Mark’s story of Jesus, and why he calls it “a gospel narrative on steroids!”…
Narrative Criticism and Mark: Approaching the Gospel as Story
I am a novelist as well as a theologian. (In fact, after writing this I’m off to fulfill today’s word count goal for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month). And as a former pastor I grew accustomed to preaching the text, particularly the Gospels, in a way that blended these two loves: reading, interpreting, and then preaching the Story of God as just that, story.
So it was with great interest that I came to Mark Strauss’s new Mark commentary (ZECNT). While he approaches Mark’s retelling of the Jesus Story through an eclectic mix of methodologies, drawing from historical-critical and social-scientific approaches, he does so in large measure from narrative critical grounds. It seems to me Strauss assumes what C.S. Lewis himself observed: “the story of Christ is simply a true myth…”
Like any story, this Gospel–the entirety…