Q: Why are there four Gospels in the New Testament instead of one?
Answer: We know from research that after the death and resurrection of Jesus many stories about him were in circulation, and more than the four Gospels were written.
The known ones not placed in the New Testament include Gospel of Judas, Gospel of Mary Magdalene and Gospel of Thomas. The church selected Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as representative, and they became a part of the New Testament. The estimated time of the writings is between AD 62-95. The question remains, ”Why not one instead four?” Each gospel adds a different point of view and a depth to the understanding of the life and mission of Jesus. Reading all the gospels would easily reveal the importance of each one.
To understand the canon, it is helpful to start with the word and a definition. Canon comes from a Greek word defined in English as “a measuring stick.” The definition for a canon of any faith is “the written words of scripture for a religion which is considered to be authoritative by the people of that faith.
The acceptance of a book into the Christian canon depended on the adherence to stated requirements. The author had to be an apostle or a person close to an apostle. The book had to be accepted by the body of Christ at large. The book had to have a consistent doctrine and teachings with supportive moral and spiritual values. It should be designated as a work of the Holy Spirit which meant that men were inspired by God in the writings and the book selections. The Council of Hippo in AD 393 and the Council of Carthage in AD 397 affirmed that the selected 27 books were authoritative.
Matthew, Mark and Luke are similar and are referred to as the Synoptic Gospel. They describe the miracles and the teaching lessons of the parables, and other events in Jesus’ life. I will give a general overview to encourage a reading of the gospels. Matthew addressed the Jewish people to highlight Jesus as the Messiah of the Old Testament. From Matthew, we gain information about Jesus’ remarkable lineage. Mark is the shortest Gospel, and he wrote about Jesus’ adult life, ministry and death. He presented a dramatic account of Jesus’ human life. He wrote about the Apostle Peter’s teachings. Luke was a Gentile who expressed the importance of spreading the message of Jesus and the importance of discipleship for the followers of Jesus. Luke used eyewitness accounts to broaden the scope of Jesus’ life and teachings. He provided a solid foundation for the Christian faith for Gentiles.
I have written about the differences of the Synoptic Gospels and the book of John, but I would like to elaborate on the Book of John. John placed emphasis on the spiritual nature of Jesus. John affirmed Jesus’ preexistence in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” He revealed Jesus’ deity in John1:1-5, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John added 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John presented few miracles and did not include parables. The conversations recorded in John revealed different views of Jesus. John used descriptive language about Jesus. “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep,” found in John 10:11. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” John 14:16
Recently, I wrote about hunger in North Carolina, and I applauded the work of many local churches and religious groups for their support of those with needs. The article in the Winston Salem Journal about the Maple Springs Food Pantry was uplifting because local people are helping. Yet, the situation is heartbreaking because the need is so great. In John 21:17, Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”