“Making Sense of the New Testament”: Matthew – John

Jesus' Crucifixion

Matthew – John are the Gospels of the New Testament. A “Gospel” is an inspired record of Jesus’ life and ministry. Each author gives us their unique perspective on His teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection.

The Gospels are supremely important. They provided the early church with a standard against which to measure false teaching. They are also our most reliable and complete source about Jesus.

But their importance does not make them easier to understand. They can be difficult to read for a couple of reasons:

First, they are not modern biographies. They tell us almost nothing about Jesus’ childhood, show us only selected episodes from His ministry, and arrange their stories by theme rather than chronological order.

Second, their relationship with each other is complicated. It’s hard to determine which was written first and in what ways they depended on each other. They sometimes seem to contradict and can be tough to reconcile.

Third, some try to separate Jesus of Nazareth from the Christ of Christianity. They try to remove any supernatural elements in order to discover the “historical Jesus.” These claims can be unsettling if you are unprepared for them.

Although they can be hard to read, the Gospels greatly strengthen our faith. They teach us about the Lord who saved us and whom we serve. They shape us into useful, obedient citizens of His kingdom.

Synoptic Gospels
“Synoptic” is a compound of two Greeks words that means “seen together.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the “Synoptic Gospels” because there are many similarities between them.

These Gospels tell many of the same stories. Most of the material in Mark is also used in Matthew and Luke. Matthew and Luke also use similar material that isn’t found in Mark. All three focus primarily on Jesus’ travels in Galilee.

The Gospel of John is distinct from the Synoptics. He leaves out several of their stories and tells many of his own. He focuses primarily on Jesus’ travels in Judea and Jerusalem. And he takes a more interpretive approach to his writing.

Synopsis of Gospels
Matthew was a tax collector who became Jesus’ disciple. He presents Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. He focuses on Jesus’ teachings and conflicts with religious leaders.

Mark was not Jesus’ disciple. He traveled first with Paul and then with Peter. He wrote his Gospel from material that he heard in Peter’s sermons. He focuses on Jesus’ sufferings and moves quickly from one event to another.

Luke was not Jesus’ disciple. He was a doctor who traveled with Paul. He wrote his Gospel from material he heard in Paul’s sermons and collected from eyewitnesses and written sources. He focuses on Jesus’ concern for the needy and gives the most chronological account of His ministry.

John was a fisherman who became Jesus’ disciple. He presents Jesus as the divine Son of God. He focuses on Jesus’ signs and claims of deity, as well as the spiritual and theological significance of His ministry.

How do you most benefit from reading the Gospels? Share your thoughts with a comment below!

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