The Gospels: Authors & Emphases (#2)

The Gospels: Authors & Emphases (#2)

Today we’re going to continue our look at the Gospels by discussing the different authors and their emphases/audiences for these four books. (If you missed the first post in this series, you may want to go back over it.)
Those who base their skepticism of Christianity based upon inconsistencies in the testimony of the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are right to argue for a cohesive, valid witness, in general, but the various incidents they present as evidence of inconsistencies are most often the result of the different emphases of these writers.
That being said, let’s look at each of the Gospel writers.

Matthew: Tax Collector Turned Disciple

Bio/Background: Matthew (also called “Levi” in some accounts) was a tax collector until he Jesus called him to become a disciple.
Emphasis: The Gospel of Matthew is often called the “Teaching Gospel” because so much of Jesus’ teachings are presented here. Furthermore, Matthew’s organizational structure is more thematic than chronological. He presents Jesus’ teachings and miracles in large separate chunks, which is one of the biggest sources of supposed “contradictions” in the Bible.
Audience: Matthew’s audience is likely his fellow Jews, a popular theory drawn from the fact that Matthew clearly presents Jesus as the Messiah promised to the Jews by God. To this end, the opening genealogy connects Jesus with David, through whom God promised the Messiah would come.

Mark: Tag-Along to Leader

Bio/Background: Mark has often been thought to have been the young man following Jesus and the disciples in the Garden of Gethsamane who fled when the soldiers arrested Jesus (Mark 14:51-52), but we can be sure that he was the “John Mark” who worked with and then abandoned Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:5, 13; 15:37-39). Mark was a tag-along who lacked courage and committment at first. And then, Jesus changed him. He became a dedicated servant, working as Peter’s note-taker—his gospel may actually have been partially compiled from Peter’s recollections—and then a valued leader and ministry partner of Paul’s. (2 Tim 4:11)
Emphasis: The Gospel of Mark is often referred to as the “action gospel” because of his use of rapid transition phrases like “suddenly” or “immediately” and his focus on Jesus’ actions over teacherings.
Audience: Mark was writing for Gentiles in general, most likely Romans in particular, which connects with his focus on action. The Roman culture was one of action, and Mark didn’t want the power of Jesus’ actions be lost in His teaching. He didn’t hide Jesus’ teaching; he merely presented the truth of Jesus’ actions in a framework that would activate their bias against teaching, which they associated negatively with the Greeks.

Luke: The Doctor Is In…the Bible

Bio/Background: Luke was a physician, likely from a Gentile or Helenistic Jewish background. He wasn’t an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry, but he wrote his gospel based upon his discussions with eyewitnesses. Furthermore, Luke was so dedicated to recording what God was doing that he also wrote the book of Acts, which tells the story of the early church. In fact, it seems that the only reasons that the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are separate is that they are each about as long as could fit on a scroll.
Emphasis: Luke’s emphasis was on Jesus’ human qualities. Not to counter His claims of divinity, of course, but to emphasize His love for regular, everyday people. Thus, Luke wrote about Jesus showing love—and power!—to the needy, the sick, the young.
Audience: Luke’s gospel was written, most likely, for the Gentiles and Greeks in particular. This is probably why we see so many of Jesus’ parables, which would appeal to the Greeks’ love of wisdom and philosophy. Furthermore, Luke’s emphasis on Jesus’ human love was almost a direct contradiction to the cold, capricious, and careless actions and attitudes of the gods of Greek culture.

John: A Writer’s Writer

Bio/Background: John was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. I refer to him as a “writer’s writer” because John’s gospel, the last one written, reads like a suspense novel, with the religious leaders, the crowds, and even John the Baptist were all asking, “Are you the Messiah?” Add to that, this amazing dichotomy of the seven great miracles recorded by John and the seven great “I AM” statements made by Jesus, which all goes to bear our John’s thesis: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Emphasis: John’s emphasis was on the divinity of Jesus. He wanted his readers to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, yes, but also that He was the Son of God, equal in divinity with the Father. It sounds crazy to us now, but it is conceivable that some might have accepted Jesus as completely human Messiah. Thus, John sought to present Jesus as both the Jewish Messiah and, yet, the Son of God come to save all of humanity.
Audience: John was mostly likely writing for Gentiles, but because his gospel was written last and one of his explicit purposes was to demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah, it’s possible that John was writing not only to outsider Gentiles but to Jews and Gentiles already in the Church in order to supplement, support, and extend what they’d already read/learned about Jesus. To support the idea that John was writing primarily to Greeks, we see in the opening of the book that John presents this very philosophical idea of Jesus as the “Word,” which in Greek is the “logos,” a word used by an ancient Greek philosopher to represent the controlling force/power that keeps the world in order. Since John was, according to tradition, stationed in Ephesus for some time, it’s very possible that John wrote this for his congregation, many of whom would be very familiar with Greek thinking. Furthermore, it’s also tradition that John brought Mary, the mother of Jesus, with him to Ephesus. Perhaps, with her presence in the city, there was no need for John to write about Jesus’ birth and earlier life.
Now, if you’ve made it this far, you deserve a break. I was going to include some information here about some of the supposed contradictions in the gospels, but I think it’s clear here that the biggest difference between these books is that they weren’t written to match. They were written to tell a story from four different perspectives, for four different reasons, to four different audiences. Thus, contradictions will appear as these authors didn’t compare notes to make sure that they were writing was exactly the same. For that matter, if you were to ask my wife and I a question about the day our daughter was born, you’d likely get slightly different versions of the same story. If you asked my sister-in-law, who was there the whole day, in the delivery room, you’d get a different emphasis, and if you asked my brother, who was there most of the day but in the waiting room, you’d get an even more distinct emphasis. However, the core details of the story—the birth of Emma!—would be the same.
If you’d like more information about how to harmonize the gospel accounts and reconcile some of the suppose contradictions, I’d suggest reading this article.