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

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.

 MarkMatthewLukeJohn

Writer

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

Rome

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

Questions & Answers

Question: Among the four gospel, which gospel is different?

Answer: 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.

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

Answer: 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.

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

Answer: You can take an indepth look at the four gospel accounts of the Resurrection here: https://owlcation.com/humanities/Comparing-the-Gos...

It will show the similarities and differences in great detail.

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

Answer: 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. https://owlcation.com/humanities/The-Synoptic-Gosp...

Question: Did Jesus only preach to the Jews?

Answer: 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.

Question: What are the characteristic features of the Gospel of Mark?

Answer: Mark's gospel is unique in that it's very brief and to the point. His gospel is by far the shortest with only 16 chapters. There are a few other intriguing characteristics as well.

Nowhere in his accounts does he mention the genealogy of Jesus or talk about stories of His birth. It is also believed that he does not talk about the events that occurred after the Resurrection. Most translations of the Bible will contain verses 9-20 however, it is believed by most scholars that those verses are not authentic and not originally in Mark's manuscripts. My bible, like many others, contains this note "The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20".

Despite being the shortest gospel, Mark focuses roughly 40% of his gospel on the Passion and the events surrounding Jesus' death.

Mark puts more emphasis on the miracles of Jesus rather than His teachings compared to the other three gospels. You will also notice that the stories of Jesus' deeds (miracles) are told in greater detail than the parts of the gospel that record Jesus' words (teachings).

Finally, he presents Jesus as a suffering servant as well as the Son of God. He portrays Jesus as having all human emotions (Jesus becomes angry 3:5, amazed 6:6, and hungry 11:12) and limited power, despite saying several times that he knows Jesus is the Son of God. He is by no means the only one to humanize Jesus, but he offers the most human depiction of Jesus.

Question: What are the differences between the endings of the four gospels?

Answer: The endings of all four gospels are basically the same. They describe the accounts of the Resurrection and Jesus' words to his disciples after he rose from the grave. The accounts of Jesus' words are what vary between them, as each account focuses on different interactions between Jesus and his different disciples.

The biggest difference between the endings, in my opinion, is the fact that Mark and Luke go a bit further into detail and describe the Ascension of Jesus back into heaven. Matthew and John do not do this at the end of their gospels.

Matthew and Mark also talk about The Great Commission (basically this means Jesus told the disciples to spread his teachings across the world). Luke and John have variations of Jesus telling his disciples to follow him, but they do not speak of Jesus telling his disciples to spread the good news.

John's gospel ends with multiple accounts of Jesus talking to his disciples and performing miracles. His gospel is the only one that mentions miracles of any kind after Jesus has risen.

Question: Are there any Bible verses that are exactly the same in all four Gospels...ex: Chapter 4, verse 5 or Chapt. 22, v 17?

Answer: I have done extensive research into this question, and I cannot find any verses that are exactly the same in all four gospels. This is likely do to the fact that no one gospel tells all the same stories. They also vary greatly in length and how they tell their gospels accounts. No two gospels tell the series of events in the same order, which would make it very difficult to have all four accounts line up with the exact same verse. I've tried finding an exact verse for just the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke), but again I did not find anything.

Question: What is your analysis on the verse Luke 17 : 27? I do not understand the verse, because Jesus can never be harsh like this.

Answer: You cannot take a single verse out of context like that. Luke 17:27 "People were eating, drinking, marrying, and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood destroyed them all." Jesus is referring to an event that happened very early on in the bible. This one verse is referring to Genesis where God's wrath destroyed the world and He started the world over. The old testament is full of God's wrath as that was his only way of atonement before Jesus. This single verse is not about Jesus at all, but about God's works before the time of Jesus. To understand this one verse you need to read multiple passages before and after it. To get a full understanding, I suggest reading Luke 17:20-33.

"20 Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” 22 Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. 23 People will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. 24 For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. 25 But first, he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26 “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it."

This whole part of the passage is about the coming of the Son of Man. He is foretelling the future, per se to His disciples. Jesus is saying that most people will not realize who the Son of Man is until it is too late. Just like in the days of Noah and Lot, there will be death and destruction and only those who know God and give their life to Him will be saved.

This verse and whole passage has nothing to do with Jesus' character, but rather, what will happen on the day the Son of Man is revealed. I hope this clarification is helpful for you!

Question: What is the difference between Mark 1:9-11 and Luke 3:21-22?

Answer: There is no difference between the two. The wording is different sure, it's written by two different authors so that is to be expected. However, the story is still the same. Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan. It's common knowledge where John was preaching and baptizing others, so it's not necessary for Luke to include that information. The stories are still the same, even if Luke doesn't specifically state the location of the baptism or who performed it.

Mark 1:9-11 "At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'"

Luke 3:21-22 "When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'"

Question: What are the similarities and differences between the Resurrection stories in Matthew and John?

Answer: John's account is longer than Matthew's and he focuses on Mary Magdalene and a select few of the disciples, where Matthew focuses on the conversations that happen at the tomb and with Jesus.

You can find an indepth discussion about the Resurrection and how each gospel describes the series of events on my other article here. https://owlcation.com/humanities/Comparing-the-Gos...

Question: Which gospel is the longest?

Answer: The longest gospel is the gospel of Matthew.

Matthew has 28 chapters, Luke has 24, John has 21, and Mark is the shortest gospel by far with only 16 chapters.

© 2012 Cholee Clay

Comments

Fredricia Cunegin on July 01, 2020:

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

Debra Seiling on February 28, 2020:

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

Johan Smulders from East London, South Africa on January 23, 2020:

Well researched and written! Thanks

Emma on March 05, 2019:

thank you this helped me so much in religion class

Kim Hamilton on February 26, 2019:

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!

Wendy Odulana on February 20, 2019:

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.

Jisun on January 28, 2019:

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

Rachel on November 23, 2018:

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

Christian Writings on October 18, 2018:

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 from U.S.A. on April 29, 2018:

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.

Sincerely,

Tim

Njobvu Aaron on March 27, 2018:

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

Nasreen on January 02, 2018:

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

jay on April 30, 2014:

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

Yves on January 25, 2014:

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.

Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on January 25, 2014:

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 :)

Yves on January 24, 2014:

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.

Frank Slovenec from San Francisco, CA on October 25, 2012:

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

Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on April 19, 2012:

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

KJhusak on April 19, 2012:

Very informative!(: Definitely learned something new!

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