The New Testament begins with four books collectively called “the gospels”. Each gospel, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, tell the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The first three gospels are so similar in content that they are often lumped together in one bunch called “The Synoptic Gospels.” Since all four gospels tell of the same person, and since they cover similar events, why do we need four of them? Why couldn’t one gospel have told us everything we need to know about Jesus?
The question fails to take into consideration one very important fact. The gospels were first written to a specific audience of people. The gospel of John is the only one that may have been written with a more worldwide scope. The gospel of Matthew was written to the Jewish people. The gospel of Mark was written to Gentiles. The gospel of Luke was written to a single person, probably a Roman and possibly as part of a prepared defense of Paul’s ministry. Matthew, Mark and Luke were probably written within 5-10 years of each other. The gospel of John was written 20-30 years after the other three gospels and was probably written for distribution among a group of churches in modern day Turkey.
Though all four gospels share a similar purpose, to show Jesus as God and Savior, they each have different emphases because of the audience to which they were written. For example, Matthew was written to show the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. This different purpose means Matthew, while giving very similar information as Mark and Luke, emphasized certain things and communicated some things in a different fashion. Mark’s gospel is a brief gospel presentation intended to confront the readers with Jesus and call them to faith in Him.
We also have four different gospels that the testimony of one man will be confirmed by the others. The Bible provides two or three witnesses as the standard for verification of a claim. The four gospels verify the testimony of the others, especially the synoptic gospels. Some have speculated that Matthew, Mark and Luke look so much alike because they all borrowed from one another or they borrowed from another gospel that has since been lost to us. Matthew, Mark and Luke look so much alike because they are factual accounts of the same events. Accurate eye witnesses are going to agree together. Collusion and conspiracy is not necessary, just honesty. The gospels confirm the truth of one another, assuring us anew that the facts recorded are historical and reliable.
We have four different gospels because God used four men to reach four specific groups of people with the truths of His Son. The entire church today benefits from having all four gospels. We cannot look back and speculate that one gospel to everyone would have been better than four gospels tailored to the education, religion and needs of four different audiences.