As we approach the New Testament, the first hermeneutical task is to learn how to study the Gospels.  The Gospels are the accounts written to portray the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The four Gospels all tell the same story but from different perspectives and to different audiences.  

How Were the Gospels Composed?

  1. The Gospels are books about Jesus but not by Jesus.
  2. The Gospels contain narrative portions as well as large portions of teaching.
  3. While parts are biographical, the Gospels never intended to record every detail of Jesus’ life.

How Should We Study the Gospels?

  1. Immerse yourself in the first-century Judaism in which Jesus lived.
  2. Discover who Jesus’ audience was in a given situation (close disciples, larger crowds, religious opponents).
  3. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels (describe events from similar point of view).
  4. Think horizontally – be aware of the parallels in other Gospels.
  5. Think vertically – be aware of the contexts of the event and the writing.
  6. Be careful with parables.
    • Don’t allegorize parables.
      • An allegory is a story that is interpreted to have a secret meaning.
      • Augustine interpreted the Good Samaritan as an allegory and missed the plain teaching of the text (Luke 10:29).
        • Man went down – Adam
        • Jerusalem – heavenly city of peace
        • Jericho – moon, signifying Adam’s mortality
        • Thieves – the devil and his demons
        • Stripped him – of his immortality
        • Beat him – by persuading him to sin
        • Left him half-dead – he died spiritually, therefore, he is half-dead
        • The priest and Levite – priesthood of the Old Testament
        • The Samaritan – means Guardian which represents Christ
        • Bound his wounds – binding the restraint of sin
        • Oil – comfort of good hope
        • Wine – exhortation to work with a fervent spirit
        • Beast – the flesh of Christ’s incarnation
        • Inn – the Church
        • The morrow – after the Resurrection
        • Two-pence – promise of this life and the life to come
        • Innkeeper – Paul
    • Digest the parables by identifying points of reference to which the original hearers would have connected.
    • Discover to whom the parable is addressed.

Why Are Four Gospels Necessary?

  1. Different Christian communities needed a specific book about Jesus.
  2. As individual accounts, they each tell a complete story to a particular people.
  3. As a whole, they fill in details and provide more perspective of one period from different perspectives.

What Makes Each Gospel Unique?

  1. Matthew
    • Intention – Presents Jesus as Israel’s Messiah
    • Primary Audience – Jews
    • Author’s Source – First-hand witness as one of the Twelve
    • Occupation – Tax collector
    • Date – 50s-60s
    • Author’s Perspective – Matt. 9:9-13; 10:1-4
  2. Mark
    • Intention – Emphasizes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God
    • Primary Audience – Roman Empire
    • Author’s Source – Disciple of Jesus (not one of the Twelve); got most of his information as a colleague of Peter
    • Occupation – ?
    • Date – 50s-60s
    • Author’s Perspective – Mark 14:51-52; 66-72 (cf. John 18:15-18, 25-27)
  3. Luke
    • Intention – Written to a Gentile man named Theophilus as a presentation of a careful investigation of all the facts about Christ
    • Primary Audience – Gentiles
    • Author’s Source – Colleague of Paul; interviewed many sources
    • Occupation – Physician
    • Date – Early 60s
    • Author’s Perspective – Luke 1:1-4; 2:19
  4. John
    • Intention – Attempts to persuade theologically for people to believe in Jesus
    • Primary Audience – Non-Christians (John calls for a response)
    • Author’s Source – First-hand witness as one of the Twelve and inner Three
    • Occupation – Fisherman
    • Date – Around A.D. 85
    • Author’s Perspective – John 14:23-25; 18:15-16; 19:26-27; 35; 20:2-9; 30-31; 21:20-25

Which Is the Most-Likely Gospel?

Understanding that each Gospel author wrote to a specific audience mentioned above, look at the following statements and think of which Gospel it is most likely found.  The answers are at the bottom of this post.

  1. Large number of healings
  2. More parables on money
  3. Less amount of teaching material
  4. Prefers to say “Kingdom of Heaven” rather than “Kingdom of God”
  5. Starts Jesus’ family tree with Adam
  6. Roughest on Peter’s character
  7. “I AM” statements
  8. Starts Jesus’ family tree with Abraham
  9. Most descriptive of the virgin birth
  10. Plenty of fishing stories
  11. Most OT quotations
  12. Very detailed in retelling facts
  13. Uses the word “immediately” 41 times
  14. “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  And the angel departed from her.
  15. So he gave them permission.  And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.
  16. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
  17. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

The better you understand the context of each author, the fuller you will understand the passage and identify where it belongs.

Answers to Gospel Quiz

  1. Large number of healings – Luke
  2. More parables on money – Matthew
  3. Less amount of teaching material – Mark
  4. Prefers to say “Kingdom of Heaven” rather than “Kingdom of God” – Matthew
  5. Starts Jesus’ family tree with Adam – Luke
  6. Roughest on Peter’s character – Mark
  7. “I AM” statements – John
  8. Starts Jesus’ family tree with Abraham – Matthew
  9. Most descriptive of the virgin birth – Luke
  10. Plenty of fishing stories – John
  11. Most OT quotations – Matthew
  12. Very detailed in retelling facts – Luke
  13. Uses the word “immediately” 41 times – Mark
  14. “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  And the angel departed from her. – Luke
  15. So he gave them permission.  And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea. – Mark
  16. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John
  17. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” – Matthew
Travis Agnew is a Christian, husband, father, pastor, author, blogger, and religion instructor.