This week we will take a look at some things to remember when reading the four Gospel accounts. Last week we took a look at Parables. Moving into the topic of the four Gospel accounts by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John you will find a whole collection of different forms and types of stories stitched together by these inspired authors with the soul purpose of presenting the reader with a picture of who Jesus was (is), what he did (is doing) all the while demanding a response from the reader.

We call the first four books of the New Testament Gospels because the word Gospel means “good news”. The good news is shorthand for the story of the person and work of Jesus Christ. In their own way each Gospel is unique like a camera angle at a football game each one seeks to show the person and work of Jesus from a different angle. One major difference that should be noted before one begins to read the Gospels has to do with the difference between the Gospel according to John and the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark and Luke. Synoptic is a funny word that basically means seeing all together. Matthew, Mark and Luke give an account of the person and work of Jesus from generally the same aspect with important differences pertaining to the nature of their intended original audience. Matthew , Mark and Luke are commonly referred to as the Synoptic Gospel accounts. The reader can find many similarities between Matthew, Mark, and Luke but John comes at Jesus from a much more “stylized” or colorful perspective. John really focuses on the battle between light and dark, good and evil, belief and unbelief while unfolding the story of Jesus identity. This style separates John from the other Gospels in unique ways.

Before getting into some reading tips lets take a very simple outline of each Gospel and how they portray the phases of Jesus life.il_fullxfull.167242917

    • The Person and Work of Jesus according to Matthew: 1.Jesus is born and his ministry begins (Chapters 1-7) 2.Jesus life as a public traveling teacher and miracle worker (Chapters 8-20) 3.The end of Jesus earthly ministry. (Chapters 21-28). Matthew tells the story of Jesus evenly mixing a Narrator style that also breaks into Jesus public and personal sermons, and conversations.
    • The person and work of Jesus according to Mark: 1. Jesus’ ministry begins as a public traveling teacher and miracle worker. (Chapters 1-10:52) 2. Jesus presented as a sacrifice (Chapters 11-16). Unlike Matthew, Mark is fast moving and is predominantly in a Narrator mode while telling of Jesus life with much less of Jesus’ discourse.
    • The person and work of Jesus according to Luke: 1.The expectation and anticipation of the arrival of Jesus in Israel (Chapters 1-4:13). 2.Jesus’ applied and rejected ministry as a public traveling teacher and miracle worker seeking the lost around galilee. (Chapters 4:14-19:27) 3.The saving of the lost through Jesus’ death and triumph. (Chapters 19:28-24). Remember Luke is actually the beginning of the book of Acts! The author Luke (as a physician) is focusing on a Narrator approach to historical accuracy, and thorough verifiable research, as a result Luke’s account of the person and work of Jesus is very carefully organized to convince and make the investigative mind sure that Jesus is who he said he was.
    • The person and work of Christ according to John: 1. God became a man did signs and wonders, walked and spoke among us and ran into conflicts with the Jewish religious leaders during the three years of his public ministry (Chapters 1:-12:50). 2. This is the last few weeks of Jesus life with his disciples and alone as he makes his way toward his atoning, sacrificial crucifixion, burial and victorious resurrection (Chapters 13:1-21). John’s presence is very obvious in the picture he is painting of Jesus in his Gospel account. It’s loaded with imagery, numerology, and double meanings. This makes any dialogue in the book interesting because it will usually play on themes of light and darkness, blindness and sight, evil and good, as well as the divinity of Jesus and depravity of man.

Now when reading the Gospels you need to be ready for a style of reading that is like a Swiss army knife or Leather-man there is a ton of content in a little package.  There are all kinds of writing styles, types and techniques packed into Matthew, Mark, Luke and Johns portraits of the Person and work of Christ. Here are five tips for interpreting these beautiful and often complex stories.

  1. All four of the Gospel perspectives hinge on answering the questions of “Who is Jesus?”, “What did Jesus do?” and “Why did Jesus do it?”. You cannot read the Gospel accounts without Jesus at the center.
  2. Like a drop of water hitting a mud puddle Jesus we find rings of people important to the story. The closer to the center the more important the group of people to the understanding the story. Of first importance are the disciples. Next come the religious gatekeepers and religious police known as the scribes and Pharisees. Then finally the common everyday folk surrounding Jesus.
  3. Not everything happens in a chronological sequence. Often the stories can move around setting wise and time wise based on topic.
  4. All four Gospel accounts use most of their time focusing on the kangaroo court of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and resurrection.
  5. There are roughly 12 tools the Gospel writers all use to tell the story of Jesus. Or it can be helpful to think of these stories like pieces of a quilt. All four of the Gospel stories have these pieces that make up the quilt of the story. They will use these in different ways depending on whom they are writing to and for what purpose.

One: Stories of young Jesus before his public ministry. Two: Follow me stories of the folks that seek to follow him and believe in him. Three: The “I get it you’re the messiah” stories where a person understands Jesus to be messiah or savior. Four: Problem stories in which Jesus encounters a controversy or conflict (most often against the sin cops and religious gatekeepers of tradition) Five: Proverbs and sayings of Jesus stories. Six: Conversations and sermons stories of Jesus. Seven: Encounter stories where Jesus comes into the life of a person like the women at the well. Eight: Pairing stories where a very memorable proverbial like saying of Jesus is applied to the context of a person, place and time (Mark 2:15-17). Nine: Miracle stories contain five of what scholars Leland Ryken, James Wilholt and Philip Ryken call “ingredients”. A need is clearly presented; Jesus is sought for help; The person in need displays faith, obedience or humility; Jesus works a miracle; Those who observe or hear of the miracle respond. Ten: Witness stories where a person testifies to the identity of Jesus or an act of Jesus. Eleven: Parables or folk type stories that Jesus uses to make a true point. Twelve: Passion Stories from the end of Jesus life. His arrival to Jerusalem; Passover and upper room stories; suffereing; arrest; trial; crucifixion; resurrection and post resurrection visitation stories.

So when you read a Gospel account by either Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Be aware that any differences between them have to do with the intent, purpose reason of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John in telling the story of Jesus. Pay attention to how they put his story together because they are trying to say something to us about the Jesus event. If you want to know what Jesus said, taught, did and what others did in response to him look no farther than these beautiful gifts God used Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to give us.