Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Four Gospels

Good morning, yesterday I heard someone say, “The Gospels who describe the life of Christ were all written 60 to 150 years after the fact. Not one of them (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) ever knew Jesus personally.” So today I am here to hopefully clarify some misinformation.

First, I must address the statement, “after the fact”. I am not sure which “fact” is meant here. But I’m offering this information because I think it may be helpful. The way we number our years can be confusing. The term BC refers to “before Christ” and so a lot of folks think that AD refers to “after death”. If that were true, the 33 years in between would have no designation! But the term AD is actually from the Latin “Anno Domini” and can be translated as “in the year of the Lord”. So the year of Jesus’ birth is AD 1, there is no year 0.

Now let’s talk about the gospels. I am surprised to learn that someone thinks that the gospel writers did NOT know Jesus. But until a couple years ago, I thought all four of the gospel writers DID know Jesus. Surprise – we are both wrong! The truth is that two did know Jesus and two didn’t.

Matthew – he is sometimes referred to as Levi, he was a tax collector and 3 of the gospels tell of Jesus personally asking him to “follow Me” and he became one of the 12 Apostles. The gospel according to Matthew was written in about AD 60 – or about 25-30 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Mark – also known as John Mark in the book of Acts. Why? Because there were a lot of “johns” running around! My daughter had the same problem in Jr. High and went by her middle name for 2 years. Mark, as far as we know, did NOT know Jesus personally. So how does he come to write this story of Jesus’ life? Well, he was a traveling companion of the Apostle Peter (one of the 12 who DID know Jesus). He went with Peter as he preached about Jesus and wrote down what Peter said. Basically, you can think of Mark as Peter’s biographer / secretary. Justin Martyr (in AD 150) even referred to Mark’s gospel as “the memoirs of Peter”. The gospel according to Mark was written in about AD 50 – about 15-20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Luke – also never met Jesus. He became a Christian listening to the Apostle Paul preach about Jesus and decided to become his traveling companion. Paul, as you might know, made 3 very extensive and lengthy missionary trips. These are detailed in the book of Acts. As Paul and Luke traveled, Luke interviewed eye-witnesses who did know Jesus; Luke tells us that in the opening verses of his gospel. Think of Luke as the imbedded investigative reporter of our day. The gospel according to Luke was written about the same time as Matthew’s, around AD 60.

John – this is one interesting fellow! He definitely knew Jesus – and he was nicknamed “Son of Thunder” by the Lord. He and his brother James were both personally called by Jesus to be Apostles. These are the sons of Zebedee who left their fishing boats when Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19). He and James were young men, teenagers really, when the call came to them. They had heard the teaching of John the Baptist and were baptized followers of him. So when they had the chance to follow the Messiah – whose coming John the Baptist had preached about – well they both jumped at the opportunity. Now John’s gospel is very different from the other three. John knew of the other gospels and had even read them. He felt there were too many things left out of the life of Jesus so he wrote this fourth gospel around AD 80-90, making him about 60-70 years old! What’s so interesting about his gospel is that almost 80% of the material is completely different from the other 3 gospels.

So that is who these 4 gospel writers are. Should we toss them all out because this writer said this event happened before that one? Not in my mind; these 4 writers all had different reasons for writing their gospel. Matthew puts all the teaching of Jesus together right up front, then goes on about the miracles and travels later. Mark, the shortest gospel, sprints from event to event so quick that you get whiplash from just reading it! He doesn’t stop to give us any commentary – just the facts. Luke says his purpose was to give a detailed accounting from all the eye-witnesses he interviewed, and that is pretty much what he did. And with John, again, his stated purpose was to fill in gaps from the other 3 gospels and that is what he did.

The four gospels combine to create a powerful narration of the Lord Jesus’ time on earth. Christianity is based on the idea that these four books are Truth.


  1. Well written answer.

    Would you provide some references?

  2. Sorry, I think it is getting late and I may have been hitting the buttons wrong -- but my reply is: Thank you and certainly! The dates used for the 4 Gospels essay came from the John MacArthur Whole Bible Commentary and Henry Halley’s Bible Handbook. As for the rest, I could provide you with the Bible verses for things like, "Levi is also called Matthew". Would that be helpful to you?

  3. It would be a start, but what I am really interested in is the documentation that shows at least two of them knew Jesus.

  4. Mmm. I guess what you're asking for here is a secular source that would say this person knew that person. I'm not at all sure such a thing exists for folks who lived 2000 years ago. Today we might use security camera footage or canceled checks, or even emails and blogs! Ha ha :-o

    Does anyone out there have an idea where to find this? I'll dig around a little later and get back to you on what I find. I've written down your question to remind me, but now I need some lunch!

  5. By the Way, while we are asking for evidence, I'm ever so curious where you learned, “The Gospels who describe the life of Christ were all written 60 to 150 years after the fact. Not one of them (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) ever knew Jesus personally.”? This is one of the strangest things I've ever heard - well, that and the size of our national debt!

  6. I'll have to do a little digging myself. I read it at one point but it was a long time ago and I honestly don't remember where. If I find it again, I will let you know.