The four Gospels form the first writings in our New Testament. The word Testament means ‘covenant’. That there is a New Covenant implies that there was something before, namely the Old Covenant. There are two different words which are translated in our Authorised Version ‘new’. The first of these is the word neos, which means new as to time; for example, Hebrews 12. 24, ‘and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant’. The other word is kainos stressing that which is new as to quality; for example, Hebrews 9. 15: ‘for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament’. The New Testament therefore is ‘new’ as to time because it follows the Old Testament; it is ‘new’ as to quality because it is better than the former covenant, Heb. 8. 6.
No one can read any of the Gospels without realising that their story has its beginning somewhere else.
Evidently, then, something has gone before to which the Gospels are related, and without some knowledge of this they cannot be understood. They are vitally linked with the O.T.
The Gospels also form the basis of the N.T. Apart from the Gospels, the Acts, Epistles and Revelation would have no meaning. They would be a lock without a key, a structure without a foundation. They are foundational to all that follows.
Thus we see that the Gospels rest on the O.T. whilst the Acts, Epistles and Revelation develop out of them.
Thus the Bible is an organism. Every part of it is related to every other part, the subject of the whole being Christ, cf. Luke 24. 27.
The books of the N.T. are in a logical rather than a chronological order. First ‘the Christ’ is presented, then ‘the Church’ and finally ‘the Consummation’. The Christ of prophecy becomes the Christ of history in the Gospels, the Christ of experience in the Epistles and the Christ of glory in Revelation.
The truths found in germ in the Gospels are historically illustrated in the Acts, doctrinally unfolded and applied in the Epistles and symbolically presented in the Revelation.
What are called the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are really four records of the one gospel. The word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’. All of the biblical writings give news, but they do not all give ‘good news’. The good news is that God has manifested Himself in time and in flesh for the redemption of mankind. The first three of the four records dealing with ‘the days of his flesh’ are called the Synoptic Gospels, so named because they give the same general view or outline of His life. The fourth record, John’s Gospel, is Autoptic, i.e., quite distinct in viewpoint and time.
There is no reason to doubt that these records come from the men whose names they bear; Matthew the tax gatherer, Mark the son of Mary, Luke the beloved physician, and John the fisherman. Behind the human authors and sources, however, was a divine superintending providence. These men were unconscious artists, guided by the Spirit of God to portray a Character that neither they nor any other could have created.
It is not possible to fix with certainty the dates of these records, but we can state that they were written during the second half of the first century, between A.D. 50 and A.D. 100. The first three Gospels were written before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, John’s considerably later, probably about A.D. 95. John was providentially preserved to a great age. It was toward the end of the first century that this aged living eye-witness wrote the words ‘we beheld his glory’. Most students are satisfied that Mark was written first and John last, whilst of the other two, Matthew most probably precedes Luke.
We cannot speak with certainty as to where the Gospels were written either. It is generally accepted that Mark wrote in Rome and for the Romans, Matthew in Jerusalem for the Jews, Luke in Caesarea for the Greeks and mankind generally whilst John wrote in Ephesus, his Gospel being for the Church rather than the world.
Although each Gospel portrays its own specific characteristics and view of Christ, yet the aspect of Him presented in the other three records is by no means excluded. Mark opens by referring to Christ as the Son of God which is the main theme of John’s Gospel; Matthew introduces a quotation from the O.T. establishing Christ as the Servant of God which is the truth mainly emphasised by Mark, Mark 1. 1; Matt. 12. 18. Nonetheless each record has its own dominating characteristics. Generalising we may say that
The Gospels are the most precious writings in the whole world. They are the
being the record of the manifestation of God on earth in the Person of His Son for the purpose of redemption. Excluding the Passion Week, the four Gospels have at most three incidents in common, though the majority of harmonists find only one such incident, namely the miraculous feeding of the five thousand.
There are many small differences in the narration of the incidents in the four Gospels. These are not discrepancies, and only by the use of a Harmony of the Gospels can all these differences be seen. It is only by noting them that we come to appreciate the divinely guided design of these records.
The Gospels do not present anything approaching a complete biography of Christ’s earthly career. There are great gaps in the records which none of the Evangelists attempts to fill in. After the record of Christ’s Infancy, nothing is told us about Him until He reached the age of twelve. We are then given a brief account of His visit to the temple at Jerusalem, Luke 2. 41-52. He sat then in the midst of doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions. Subsequently He went to Nazareth with His mother and Joseph and was subject unto them. This delightful example given to all young people should be imitated, for the N.T. exhorts the young to be subject to parents and to elders, Eph. 6. 1-3; 1 Pet. 5. 5. Nothing further is told us about the Lord until He had reached the age of thirty years; He then embarked upon His public ministry. Concerning all that was packed into that wonderful and marvellous life on earth, John gives us some idea at the close of his Gospel when he writes, ‘there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written’, 21. 25.
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