Have you ever wondered what is unique about each of the Gospels in the New Testament?
The four Gospels in the Bible are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Gospels provide a comprehensive portrait of Jesus, allowing the readers to see his central place in the scheme of redemption. The climactic death, burial, and resurrection is the destination of each Gospel while narrating different snapshots of his life and teachings to arrive at this target.
Before we look at the content of each of the four biblical Gospels, it will be helpful to ask what a Gospel is in the first place.
What is a Gospel?
The Greek word translated “gospel” (euangelion) originally meant “good news.” The word became an appropriate word for the long-awaited message Jesus came to bring because he came with a message of hope for the hopeless and freedom for the oppressed. The Gospels were ancient biographies written to teach us about the life and ministry of Jesus.
For example, the first words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Mark are: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15, NASB). Then, when four narrations of the life of Jesus were written by his apostles or by close friends of the apostles, it also made sense to call these four documents “Gospels.”
“When four narrations of the life of Jesus were written by his apostles or by close friends of the apostles, it also made sense to call these four documents ‘Gospels.'”
The four Gospels taught the life of Jesus from four vantage points to four unique audiences. Because of their similar narrative order, as well as some shared content, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are considered the “Synoptic Gospels” (“synoptic” meaning “to see together”). John’s Gospel is not considered a Synoptic Gospel because of its significant number of unparalleled information from the other three Gospels. Even so, each Gospel has its own unique fingerprint.
What are the Gospels? Summary of the Gospel of Matthew.
The Gospel According to Matthew was written with a Jewish audience in mind. This is evident because Matthew’s Gospel quotes a good deal of Old Testament passages with the intent of showing their fulfillment with the coming of Jesus as the predicted Messiah.
A significant word found throughout the fabric of Matthew is “fulfill” or “fulfilled.” After narrating an event in Jesus’ life, Matthew often connects it to the Old Testament: for example, “This took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet” (Matthew 1:22), and, “This has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Matthew 26:56). “Fulfill” or “fulfilled” is used sixteen times in the book of Matthew, and the majority of the references draw a connection between Jesus and an Old Testament foreshadowing.
“After narrating an event in Jesus’ life, Matthew often connects it to the Old Testament.”
Additionally, the theme of the “kingdom of heaven” runs throughout the Gospel of Matthew. In the days of Jesus, there was a clear expectation of the coming of the kingdom of God, which had been predicted by the Old Testament writers. Many of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day had anticipated a militaristic kingdom, but there was often a mismatch between expectations and Jesus’ message. Yet through his many parables in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus painted an inviting, even if surprising, picture of a kingdom that would conquer far more than a physical army could ever do.
This kingdom of righteousness—described so comprehensively in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount—was a limitless treasure (Matthew 13:44) that would outlast the powers of darkness. In it, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43).
What are the Gospels? Summary of the Gospel of Mark.
The Gospel According to Mark was written to a predominantly Gentile audience. We see this in how Mark describes Jewish customs (Mark 7:1–5) and phrases (Mark 5:41; 7:34; 10:46; 15:22, 34) as though his audience was unfamiliar with these things.
The Gospel of Mark invites the Christian to embrace humble service as exemplified in Jesus Christ, as he explains: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant….For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43, 45).
“The Gospel of Mark invites the Christian to embrace humble service as exemplified in Jesus Christ.”
Mark’s Gospel also concerns itself with the coming of the kingdom of God. Mark uses the phrase the “kingdom of God” in parallel with the “kingdom of heaven” language in the Gospel of Matthew. Then, whereas Matthew’s Gospel intersperses Jesus’ miraculous deeds with sermons, Mark’s Gospel tends to focus more on Jesus’ miracles in a fast-paced narrative that spends the final third of the book on Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem before his resurrection.
What are the Gospels? Summary of the Gospel of Luke.
The Gospel According to Luke was written to the “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3). His title suggested he was a Roman official. This Gospel was an investigated account, in which Luke carefully and accurately researched the testimony of witnesses. Through a meticulous process of documenting historical detail, Luke provides a detailed sketch of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. His stated purpose was that Theophilus would know the “certainty” of the gospel (Luke 1:4)
The Gospel of Luke uniquely emphasizes Jesus’ mission to all of humanity, from hopeless sinners to historic outcasts. This is not surprising, given that Luke seems to be the only Gentile author in the New Testament (with the possible exception of Hebrews).
“The Gospel of Luke uniquely emphasizes Jesus’ mission to all of humanity.”
Jesus’ intention to reach outside of conventional molds for making disciples can be seen in some of the parables unique to Luke’s Gospel, such as the parable of the prodigal son, the parable of the good Samaritan, and the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector. Luke, a close friend of the apostle Paul, wrote his Gospel as the first in a two-part series ending with the book of Acts.
What are the Gospels? Summary of the Gospel of John.
The Gospel According to John is considered the last of the four Gospels to be written. Written by Jesus’ disciple John in his old age, this document combines a simple style with theological reflections on the events that happened when John was a young man.
While the Synoptic Gospels displayed Jesus’ divine nature, for example, in instances such as being incarnated and born of a virgin (Luke 1:35), forgiving sins (Matthew 9:4–6), receiving worship (Matthew 14:33), and calling himself divine names (Matthew 27:43), the Gospel of John makes Jesus’ divinity a point of emphasis. John’s opening prologue places an accent on the theological truth that God became flesh: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1, 14).
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The author strategically chooses a set of seven miracles as manifestations of Jesus’ divine glory. The author explains that many signs were done among the disciples, yet the ones written were so the reader would believe that Jesus is the Son of God (John 20:31–31).
The Gospel of John also includes seven “I am” statements in which Jesus fleshes out his character in a manner that matches God’s way of referring to himself. In Exodus 3:14, God told Moses, “I am who I am,” when Moses asked his name. In the same way, Jesus uses language that accents his divinity so the reader can clearly see the uniqueness of his sonship. For example, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35), “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), and “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). At one point, Jesus even told a shocked audience, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58).
This Gospel was written during the rise of what became known as “Gnostic” teachings, which rejected the importance of physical substance; thus, John wrote in part to remind people of the truth that God indeed came in the flesh.
The Gospels provide a comprehensive portrait of Jesus, allowing the readers to see his central place in the scheme of redemption. The climactic death, burial, and resurrection is the destination of each Gospel while narrating different snapshots of his life and teachings to arrive at this target.
 Craig S. Keener, Christobiography: Memory, History, and Reliability of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2019), 1.