How Should We Interpret the Gospels?

The four Gospels all tell the story of Jesus but are delivered to different audiences from different perspectives. To understand the truth contained fully within them, we must understand the context in which they were written.

How Were the Gospels Composed?

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

What Sections Are in the Gospels?

  • Narrative – These sections tell what Jesus did.
  • Teaching – These sections record what Jesus taught.
  • Parables – These sections portray a singular truth in memorable stories.

How Should We Study the Gospels?

  • Immerse yourself in the first-century Judaism in which Jesus lived.
  • Discover who Jesus’ audience was in a given situation (close disciples, large crowds, religious opponents).
  • Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels (describe events from a similar point of view).
  • Think horizontally – be aware of the parallels in other Gospels.
  • Think vertically – be aware of the historical and literary contexts.

How Should We Interpret the Parables?

  • Be careful not to allegorize the parables.
  • Digest the parables by identifying points of reference to which the original hearers would have connected.
  • Discover to whom Jesus addressed the parable.

Why Are Four Gospels Necessary?

  • Different Christian communities needed a specific book about Jesus.
  • As individual accounts, they each tell a complete story to a particular people.
  • As a whole, they fill in details and provide a more comprehensive perspective.

What Makes Each Gospel Unique?

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


  • 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


  • 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)


  • 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


  • Intention – Teaches theological truth to persuade 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