Comparing the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Updated on October 2, 2018
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Cholee took several theology classes during college and enjoys partaking in bible studies and diving deep into scripture.


The word gospel means good news, and is a term used to define the written accounts of Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament. The four widely known gospels are the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. However the term can also refer to the apocryphal, non-canonical, the Jewish, and the gnostic gospels. There are several accounts of Jesus that are not recognized or accepted by orthodox Christians, however the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are going to be my primary focus.

Despite the gospel of Matthew being the first book in the new testament the majority view today, is that Mark was actually the first gospel followed by Matthew and then Luke. It is believed that Matthew and Luke borrowed passages from Mark's gospel and one other source lost to history. This view is known as the two-source hypothesis. The two-source hypothesis came out around the 19th centruy.

Due to Matthew and Luke borrowing passages from Mark these three gospels are known as the synoptic gospels. Synoptic means having the same view, and if you read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke you will understand why they are considered the synoptic gospels. John was the only author who actually knew Jesus and his gospel takes a different view than the first three. John's gospel follows a very different time line and does not share much content with the other gospels in general. The gospel of John uses different verbiage, and style of writing and was actually rejected by the orthodox Christians for a long time. Today, it is widely accepted and is the favorite gospel by most conservative Christians.

Below you will find a comparison table that helps to better visualize the differences and similarities between the four gospels.

A second generation Christian, possibly a follower of Peter
An unknown Jewish Christian, traditionally the Apostle Matthew
A Gentile Christian, traditionally Luke the physician and Paul's traveling companion
The "beloved disciple" the Apostle John
Date Written
65-70 CE
75-80 CE
80-85 CE
90-110 CE
Who is Jesus?
Healer, Miracle Worker, Teacher, Misunderstood by those closest to Him
Promised Messiah of Jewish people, greatest prophet, teacher of the "new law" calling people to be faithful of the Old Testament covenant with God
Merciful, Compassionate, Prayerful teacher with special concern for women, the poor, and non-Jews (Gentiles)
Noble, Powerful divine--fully in control of His destiny
The Author's Community
A Gentile Christian community in Rome undergoing persecution
A Jewish Christian community
Written to "Theophilus"
Jews, Gentiles, and Samaritans
Hisotrical Situation
The Romans subdue armed Jewish rebellions. Christians experiencing persecution in Rome
Written after Romans had destroyed all of Jerusalem
Written when the persecution of Jews and Christians was intensifying
Jewish leaders banned Christians from the synagogues
Where the books were written
Most likely Antioch of Syria
Possibly Rome or Caesarea
Probably written in Ephesus

This table is a great way to see the similarities between the three synoptic gospel authors, as well as see how they differ from each other and the apostle John. Learning about the authors can greatly help us understand how and why they wrote their gospels the way they did.

The Gospel of John:

The gospel of John was the only gospel written by a follower of Jesus. The other three writers were followers of Jesus's apostles, and likely never met Jesus for themselves. John's message was a personal account of his following closely with Jesus. Therefore, John's message is for all ethnic groups and his whole purpose for writting is to bring evidence to prove that Jesus is Christ and truly the Son of God.

Throughout John's work one will find that John's focus is on emphasizing the divine status of Jesus. This can be seen through Jesus' statements of "I am" that will be found in John's gospel. From the very first verse to the end of the book John's message of divinity is clear. In John 1:1 he lays the foundation for the entire gospel, and one will find that he continues to show how Jesus is the word made flesh; " In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God". In John 20:31 the message of his entire book is layed out in black in white; "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name".

The Gospel of Matthew:

Matthew was writting to and for the Jews and focuses his work around the idea that Jesus is the King of the Jews; "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." (Matthew 2:2). There were two main reasons Matthew wrote his book. The gospel of Matthew was written as a message of encouragement and strength for Jewish Christians. Despite Jesus being killed by Jews, Matthew's first message is to strengthen Jewish Christian's faith in the knowledge that Jesus was the Messiah. To prove that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, Matthew quotes the Old Testament more than any other synoptic writer.

The second reason he writes his book is to show that Jesus was truly the Messiah. He shows this by recording Jesus' geneology and quoting the old testament. "A record of the geneology of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:" (Matthew 1:1). This verse fulfills the prophecy from 2 Samuel 7:12-14 "When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.".

The Gospel of Mark:

Mark focuses on the idea that Jesus was a servant. This can be seen by his lack of geneology of Jesus throughout his gospel. Mark's work is meant to encourage Christians throughout Rome, despite being persecuted for their faith. He goes on to say that persecution is the price that Christian's must pay for following Jesus. In the book of Mark, Jesus says exactly that "Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.'" (Mark 8:34-35).

The Gospel of Luke:

Luke was known to be an accurate historian, and as a result he carefully researched everything. Luke approaches his work by making Jesus the Son of man. He shows how Jesus was a real person and how He showed a genuine interest in people from all walks of life. Luke spends ample time focusing on Jesus' birth and childhood as well as His human traits. The first two chapters are dedicated to the history and geneology of Jesus.

Many of Luke's other versus portray a Jesus who was able to feel human emotions as well as express other human traits. "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry" (Luke 4:1-2). Jesus is portrayed to have feelings such as pain and sorrow. "He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 'Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.' An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." (Luke 22:41-44).

Definitions to Remember:

  • Covenant: Agreement between God and His people
  • Testament: Bears witness to
  • Canonical: Official 27 books of the New Testament
  • Non-Canonical: Books deemed unnecessary for the New Testament; separate from the apocalypse
  • Apocrypha: Anonymous Jewish or Christian texts containing prophetic or symbolic visions that did not make it into the bible
  • Theophilus: Lover of God

Despite each gospel being written in different time periods and in completely different historical situations and locations, they have similar story lines and ideas of Jesus' life. Jesus' character and history is portrayed different in these works, yet they do not contradict each other. The different works compliment each other and provide a harmonious detailed description of Jesus' life.

Below is a map that shows where each of the gospels was most likely written. Despite the time frame between each gospel and distance between each location the gospels are uniquely similar yet tell their own portrayal of Jesus and His story.

Locations where the gospels were written

Antioch of Syria:
Lake Amik, Turkey

get directions

Location where the gospel of Matthew was written.

Via Giovanni Amendola, 18-30, 00185 Rome, Italy

get directions

Location where the gospel of Mark was written

6511, Caesarea Maritima, Israel

get directions

Possibly the location where Luke wrote his gospel

Efes Harabeleri, 35920 Izmir Province, Turkey

get directions

Location believed to be where the gospel of John was written.

Questions & Answers

  • Among the four gospel, which gospel is different?

    If you are referring to which three are the synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke are the three that have almost identical information down to the order of the stories and the words they use. John is not a part of the synoptic gospels as his gospel varies not only in wordage, but also story line, and contains material that you will not find anywhere else within the synoptic gospels.

  • If the Gospel of John was written around 90-110CE how was it written by a direct disciple?

    CE stands for Common Era and is equivalent to AD. Jesus died somewhere between 30-36 AD.

    It is believed that the Gospel of John was edited several times and his earliest works could have started around 70 CE/AD, however it is more commonly believed that the final copy of John (the one we read in bible's today) was completed around 90-110CE. Since we do not have a solid start/end date for the gospel of John, most scholars agree that 90-110 is the most accurate as that is when the full gospel was believed to be finished.

  • What are the similarities and differences between the four Resurrection stories in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?

    You can take an indepth look at the four gospel accounts of the Resurrection here:

    It will show the similarities and differences in great detail.

  • Are the gospels of Matthew and Luke copied from the gospel of Mark?

    Matthew and Luke did not copy word for word Mark's gospel, but rather they used his gospel as a reference. It is believed that Matthew and Luke borrowed passages from Mark and one other source. The other source is termed as source Q and is thought to contain sayings of Jesus. Matthew and Mark copied source Q almost to the word, and their content is in the same order. This makes scholars believe that Q was a written source that both Matthew and Luke could read and reference to while writing their gospels.

    If you are looking for more information on how the gospels of Matthew and Luke compare to Mark and each other, you can read this article on the synoptic gospels. It goes into further detail on how much shared content is within these three gospels.

  • Did Jesus only preach to the Jews?

    No, I do not believe he did. You can read about the account of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:7-26. Not much is known about this women, but from my understanding, she was not a Jew. Later in John (10:16), Jesus says " I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." This verse makes me believe that He indeed did preach to non-Jews. If you are looking for more examples, you can check out Matthew 15:21-28.

    John and the other gospels will be your best resources for looking for more references, as these are the only books that walk with Jesus through his lifetime. I recommend reading John first, as his gospel will have the most references to Jesus' personal life.

© 2012 Cholee Clay


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    • profile image

      Fredricia Cunegin 

      6 weeks ago

      Your research provides relevant and detailed content. It offers clarity and pertinent references of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

    • profile image

      Debra Seiling 

      5 months ago

      I am very impressed with all the Biblical research you have included in your posts. I find it very beneficial. Thanks!

    • Johan Smulders profile image

      Johan Smulders 

      6 months ago from East London, South Africa

      Well researched and written! Thanks

    • profile image


      17 months ago

      thank you this helped me so much in religion class

    • profile image

      Kim Hamilton 

      17 months ago

      Thank you so much for explaining the gospels. I started reading psalms then proverbs and went to John and was trying to figure out where to go next in the bible and read. Your information helped me a lot. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Wendy Odulana 

      18 months ago

      Hi Cholee, i just started a course in theology level 1, and my research led me to you. I was glued to the information on synoptic gospels and other suff i found. Well written, clearly understood, well answered questions. I have learned a lot , thank you.

    • profile image


      18 months ago

      Nice. This is so well-written and easy to understand!

    • profile image


      20 months ago

      Thank you! Very informative and just the right information I was looking for.

    • ChristianWritings profile image

      Christian Writings 

      22 months ago

      Thank you for such an informative, easy to understand article. I have been trying to learn more about the gospel of John and this was really helpful!

    • Tim Truzy info4u profile image

      Tim Truzy 

      2 years ago from U.S.A.

      Excellent article. I like the way you went into depth about the Gospels and the men who wrote them. It was interesting to learn John was the only writer of the Gospel who knew Our Lord. Thanks for a lot of useful information on a very interesting topic.



    • profile image

      Njobvu Aaron 

      2 years ago

      I have benefited from this article as well as my studies/ministry. Thank you

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I am very encouraged by seeing your hard work may God bless you and give you wisdom to know Him more.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      your sight helped me with my studies about the Bible and also helped me learn a lot more about the gosples… thank you!!!!

    • savvydating profile image


      6 years ago

      You should, Sheabutterfly. But, I know it's a lot of work because the subject matter carries a lot of information, and it's sort of hard to pare it all down. Well, I should say... it's hard for me. You might find it easier.

    • Shesabutterfly profile imageAUTHOR

      Cholee Clay 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin

      savvydating-Thanks for the comment and vote, they are greatly appreciated. I've been considering writing another hub about the gospel's, and connecting the thoughts and ideas to this hub :)

    • savvydating profile image


      6 years ago

      Nicely done. I would have liked for your article to have been a bit longer... simply because it was truly interesting. Nonetheless, your hub gives us a good overview of all gospels; it piques the attention so that we want to know more. I loved your graph! Voting Interesting.

    • FSlovenec profile image

      Frank Slovenec 

      7 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Well done..this gives a good view of the Gospels...thank you

    • Shesabutterfly profile imageAUTHOR

      Cholee Clay 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Glad you found new information KJhusak. I think the background of each gospel is a great way to help put the events in place.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very informative!(: Definitely learned something new!


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