The four Gospel accounts have some of the most known Bible stories and give some of the earliest accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching. However, questions arise such as: “What is the Gospel?”“Why do we have four accounts?”“Why does each account include different and unique information?”“How should we read and understand them?”These are all great questions. This article will help to answer questions like these as we consider the literary artistry that the authors created in the Gospel accounts.
The Gospel is The Good News that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world. At the beginning of the New Testament, we have four accounts of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection - One message from four different people. These accounts are ancient BIOs that are intentionally designed to show their readers that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. The Gospel comes from the Greek word “euangelion” (εὐαγγελίαν) and from the Hebrew word “basar” ( בּשׂר ). Both mean “Good News.” This is what the angels said to the shepherds in Luke 2:10-11:“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” The background of this comes from the Old Testament. OT passages like Isaiah 52:7 and 61:1-2 give us the biblical picture of the Gospel.
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."” - Isaiah 52:7”The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn…” - Isaiah 61:1-2
We can see in these passages that the one who is the bringer of good news brings happiness, salvation, and peace. Isaiah 61 is talking about the year of Jubilee which was to bring full restoration for the people. In Luke 4, Jesus states that in Him this is fulfilled, as He is bringing restoration for all humanity“And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." - Luke 4:21It is truly God Himself that brings peace, by taking on humanity and giving Himself as a sacrifice for us. The New Testament definition of the Gospel is the announcement that Jesus has brought the Kingdom of God to our world through His life, death, and resurrection. "Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." - Mark 1:14-15 (See also Rom. 1:2-4, 1 Cor. 15:1-8).
First, the accounts are strategically designed, ancient BIOs that focus on the Gospel message. Each writer is writing from a unique perspective, based on eyewitness testimony, to a specific people group. But they are not merely recounting history; the information they include is very intentional. There are two primary goals of each account. First, to accurately represent the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who is the Messiah and King of the world. Second, to convince the readers that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior pictured in the Old Testament. John states this clearly in his Gospel account: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but 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.”The Authors want readers to connect the dots of who Jesus is, and they do this through various ways. Each book has a unique style and focus, including and not including select material so that their audiences can see Jesus and come to faith.
Although these four accounts are somewhat unique in style and content, they all have four main features: First, the use of the Old Testament: The OT is the background for each Gospel account. Through the OT, the reader is supposed to gather information about the Messiah, like collecting files in a file cabinet. These files form a full description on who the Messiah will be. The writers of the Gospels are then taking out the files and connecting the dots for the readers using the OT. Here is what Paul tells Timothy regarding the Old Testament and Jesus:“...and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” - 2 Timothy 3:15-17Paul is stating that the ancient writings, or the Old Testament, gives “wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Second: They make both direct and indirect claims about Jesus. They do this through various means including explicit claims like Mark 1:1, or through his teaching and miraculous ministry where he forgives sins (Mark 2:7, 12). They do this also through the testimony of others. Who responds and how they respond are important as the authors are trying to get their readers to see not only how people react (believe, reject, or question), but who the reactions come from. Here are a few:
God the Father: “This is my Son.” (Matt. 3:17)
Disciples: “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Torah and also the prophets wrote; Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. What good can come out of Nazareth? Come and see!” (John 1:45-46)
Religious leaders: “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7)
Demons: “What do you want with us, Son of God?” (Matt. 8:29)
Samaritan woman: “Come see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29)
Pilate: “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matt 27:11)
Jesus: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15, Mark 8:29, Luke 9:20)
Peter: “You are the Christ the son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16)
Roman soldier:” Surely this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)
Third: The Climax of the Story. Regardless of the different perspectives, sayings, or events that are unique in each Gospel account, they all build up to the same thing. They want their readers to see that Jesus’ life and ministry led to His final week, His crucifixion, death, and resurrection. This is the key event, the main point of the Gospels, and the entire Biblical message. Fourth: Each Gospel account is arranged to emphasize something unique.
Mark: Shortest of the Gospels, and probably the first. Emphasizes the mystery and misunderstanding of Jesus’ announcement of the Kingdom of God. He highlights through action and responses how Jesus who was crucified is the exalted Savior.
Matthew: Emphasizes Jesus as the new Moses, the prophet who has yet to come. He is the King from David and God with us. It is highly focused on fulfillment of the OT.
John: Jesus as Yahweh, the God of the OT who has become human. John has seven Signs and seven “I AM” statements of Jesus. John is clear with his mission: “..so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that by believing you may have life in His name…”- John 20:31
Luke and Acts: Work together in two parts emphasizing the Jesus is the Savior of the entire world. The story of Jesus fulfills the story of God, Israel and the whole world: Jesus.
Once we read the Gospel accounts and accept Jesus as the Messiah, then we go back through and see what Jesus says about how to live in His Kingdom. This is another key element of interpreting the Gospel accounts: The “Kingdom of God.” Jesus taught His disciples that He was inaugurating the Kingdom now and what it means to live in it in the world today, while we await His second coming and the restoration of the world. He talked about the characteristics of His followers (Matthew 5:2-12) and spoke of things like rest (Matt. 11:28-30), peace (John 14:27), and not worrying (Matt. 6:31-34, Luke 12:22).Conclusion: Many stories in the Gospels are familiar, but learning how to read these accounts is very important. Once you see how each account is strategically structured to show that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Savior of the world, then they come alive. Once we put our faith in Jesus, we learn from Jesus what it means to be in His kingdom. Hopefully, this article will help you as you journey through the Gospel accounts! Resources:
Watch: How To Read the Gospel Video | BibleProject™2369 Jesus Christ, responses to - Dictionary of Bible Themes
Husband and father. “The Professor” and teacher of Sun Valley University, and in my DMIN program. Love to read, listen to podcasts, and watch movies. I am also an associate at Rayhons Financial Solutions.