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These days, people are using the word gospel in lots of different ways -- usually in
the form of some hyphenated adjective. I've seen churches who claimed to offer a
"gospel-centered" kids ministry or "gospel-focused" discipleship. There's a Gospel
Coalition and a Gospel Music Association. And pastors and authors all over the
world love to toss the word gospel left and right when they are really referring to
Christianity or the Christian life.
You can probably tell I feel a bit uncomfortable with the recent proliferation of
"gospel" as an adjective and marketing super-category. That's because words that
are overused often lose their meaning and poignancy. (If you don't miss seeing
the word missional all over the place, you know what I mean.)

No, in my book the gospel has a single, powerful, life-changing definition. The
gospel is the story of Jesus' incarnation in this world -- a story that includes His
birth, His life, His teachings, His death on the cross, and His resurrection from
the grace. We find that story in the Bible, and we find it in four volumes:
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We refer to these books as "the Gospels"
because they tell the gospel story.

Why Four?
One of the questions people often ask regarding the Gospels is: "Why are there
four of them?" And that's a pretty good question. Each of the Gospels -- Mathew,
Mark, Luke, and John -- essentially tells the same story as the others. There are a
few variations, of course, but there's a lot of overlap because many of the major
stories are the same.
So why four Gospels? Why not just one book that tells the full, unabridged story
of Jesus Christ?
One of the answers to this question is that Jesus' story is too important for a
single record. When journalists cover a news story today, for example, they seek

input from several sources in order to paint a full picture of the events being
described. Having more direct witnesses creates greater credibility and more
reliable coverage.
Like it says in the Book of Deuteronomy:
One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense
they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two
or three witnesses.
Deuteronomy 19:15
So, the presence of four Gospels written by four distinct individuals is a benefit to
anyone desiring to know Jesus' story. Having multiple perspectives provides
clarity and credibility.
Now, it's important to remember that each of those authors -- Matthew, Mark,
Luke, and John -- was inspired by the Holy Spirit while writing his Gospel. The
doctrine of inspiration states that the Spirit actively breathed the words of
Scripture through the biblical authors. The Spirit is the ultimate author of the
Bible, but He worked through the unique experiences, personalities, and writing
styles of the human authors connected with each book.
Therefore, not only do the four Gospel writers provide clarity and credibility to
the story of Jesus, they also give us the benefit of four distinct narrators and four
unique points of emphasis -- all of which work together to paint a powerful and
detailed picture of who Jesus is and what He has done.

The Gospels
Without further ado, here's a brief look at each of the four Gospels in the Bible's
New Testament.
The Gospel of Matthew: One of the interesting aspects of the Gospels is that they
were each written with a different audience in mind. For example, Mathew wrote
his record of Jesus' life primarily for Jewish readers. Therefore, Matthew's Gospel
highlights Jesus as the longed-for Messiah and King of the Jewish people.

Originally known as Levi, Matthew received a new name from Jesus after
accepting His invitation to become a disciple (see Matthew 9:9-13). Levi was a
corrupt and hated tax-collector -- an enemy to his own people. But Matthew
became a respected source of truth and hope for Jews in search of the Messiah
and salvation.
The Gospel of Mark: Mark's Gospel was written first among the four, which
means it served as a source for the other three records. While Mark was not one
of Jesus' original 12 disciples (or apostles), scholars believe he used the apostle
Peter as the primary source for his work. While Matthew's Gospel was written
primarily for a Jewish audience, Mark wrote primarily to the Gentiles in Rome.
Thus, he took pains to emphasize Jesus' role as a suffering Servant who gave
Himself for us.
The Gospel of Luke: Like Mark, Luke was not an original disciple of Jesus
during His life and ministry on Earth. However, Luke was probably the most
"journalistic" of the four Gospel writers in that he provides a thoroughly
historical, thoroughly researched description of Jesus' life in the context of the
ancient world. Luke includes specific rulers, specific historical events, specific
names and places -- all of which connect Jesus' status as the perfect Savior with
the surrounding landscape of history and culture.
The Gospel of John: Matthew, Mark, and Luke are sometimes referred to as
the "synoptic gospels" because they paint a generally similar picture of Jesus' life.
The Gospel of John is a bit different, however. Written decades after the other
three, John's Gospel takes a different approach and covers different ground than
the author writers -- which makes sense, since their Gospels had been on record
for decades. As an eyewitness to the events of Jesus' life, John's Gospel is
distinctively personal in its focus on Jesus as Savior.
In addition, John wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70) and during a
time when people were arguing back and forth about the nature of Jesus. Was He
God? Was He just a man? Was He both, as the other Gospels seemed to claim?
Therefore, John's Gospel specifically highlights Jesus' status as fully God and
fully man -- the Divine Savior come to earth on our behalf.

Gospel of Mark:
The Gospel of Mark was written to prove that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. In a
dramatic and action-packed sequence of events, Mark paints a striking image of
Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Mark illustrates who Jesus is as a person. The
ministry of Jesus is revealed with vivid detail and the messages of his teaching
are presented more through what he did than what he said. The Gospel of Mark
reveals Jesus the Servant.

Author of the Gospel of Mark:

John Mark is the author of this Gospel. It is believed that he was the attendant
and writer for the Apostle Peter. This is the same John Mark who traveled as a
helper with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 13). John
Mark is not one of the 12 disciples.

Date Written:
Circa 55-65 A.D. This was probably the first Gospel to be written since all but 31
verses of Mark are found in the other three Gospels.

Written To:
The Gospel of Mark was written to encourage the Christians in Rome as well as
the wider church.

Landscape of the Gospel of Mark:

John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark in Rome. Settings in the book include
Jerusalem, Bethany, the Mount of Olives , Golgotha , Jericho,
Nazareth,Capernaum and Caesarea Philippi.

Themes in the Gospel of Mark:

Mark records more miracles of Christ than any of the other Gospels. Jesus proves
his divinity in Mark by the demonstration of miracles. There are more miracles
than messages in this Gospel. Jesus shows that he means what he says and he is
who he says.
In Mark we see Jesus, the Messiah, coming as a servant. He reveals who he is
through what he does. He explains his mission and message through his actions.
John Mark captures Jesus on the move. He skips the birth of Jesus and dives
quickly into presenting his public ministry.

Gospel of Luke:
The book of Luke was written to give a reliable and precise record of the history
of Jesus Christ's life. Luke spelled out his purpose for writing in the first four
verses of chapter one. Not only as an historian, but also as a medical doctor, Luke
paid great attention to detail, including dates and events that happened
throughout the life of Christ. A theme that is emphasized in the Gospel of Luke is
the humanity of Jesus Christ and his perfection as a human. Jesus was the perfect
man who gave the perfect sacrifice for sin, therefore, providing the perfect Savior
for humankind.

Author of the Gospel of Luke:

Luke is the author of this Gospel. He is a Greek and the only Gentile Christian
writer of the New Testament. The language of Luke reveals that he is an educated
man. We learn in Colossians4:14 that he is a physician. In this book Luke refers
many times to sicknesses and diagnoses. Being a Greek and a doctor would
explain his scientific and orderly approach to the book, giving great attention to
detail in his accounts.
Luke was a faithful friend and travel companion of Paul. He wrote the book of
Acts as a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. Some discredit Luke's Gospel because he
was not one of the 12 disciples. However, Luke had access to historical records.
He carefully researched and interviewed the disciples and others who were
eyewitnesses to the life of Christ.

Date Written:
Circa 60 A.D.

Written To:
The Gospel of Luke was written to Theophilus, meaning "the one who loves God."
Historians are not sure who this Theophilus (mentioned in Luke 1:3) was,
although most likely, he was a Roman with an intense interest in the newly
forming Christian religion. Luke may also have been writing in general to those

who loved God. The book is written to the Gentiles as well, and all people

Landscape of the Gospel of Luke:

Luke wrote the Gospel in Rome or possibly in Caesarea. Settings in the book
include Bethlehem , Jerusalem, Judea and Galilee.

Themes in the Gospel of Luke:

The predominant theme in the book of Luke is the perfect humanity of Jesus
Christ. The Savior entered human history as the perfect man. He himself offered
the perfect sacrifice for sin, therefore, providing the perfect Savior for
Luke is careful to give a detailed and accurate record of his investigation so that
readers can trust with certainty that Jesus is God. Luke also portrays Jesus'
profound interest in people and relationships. He was compassionate to the poor,
the sick, the hurting and the sinful. He loved and embraced everyone. Our God
became flesh to identify with us, and to show us his genuine love. Only this
perfect love can satisfy our deepest need.
Luke's Gospel gives special emphasis to prayer, miracles and angels as well.
Interesting to note, women are given an important place in Luke's writings.

Key Characters in the Gospel of Luke:

Jesus , Zechariah , Elizabeth, John the Baptist , Mary , the disciples, Herod the
Great , Pilate and Mary Magdalene .

Key Verses:
Luke 9:23-25
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life

will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a
man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? (NIV)
Luke 19:9-10
Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man,
too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was

Outline of the Gospel of Luke:

The Birth and Preparation of Jesus the Savior - Luke 1:1-4:13

The Message and Ministry of Jesus the Savior - Luke 4:14-21:38

The Death and Resurrection of Jesus the Savior - Luke 22:1-24:53

The overriding theme of the Gospel of Mark is to show that Jesus came to serve.
He gave his life in service to mankind. He lived out his message through service,
therefore, we can follow his actions and learn by his example. The ultimate
purpose of the book is to reveal Jesus' call to personal fellowship with him
through daily discipleship.

Key Characters in the Gospel of Mark:

Jesus , the disciples , the Pharisees and religious leaders, Pilate .

Key Verses:
Mark 10:44-45
...and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man
did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for
Mark 9:35
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he
must be the very last, and the servant of all." (NIV)

Outline of the Gospel of Mark:

The Preparation of Jesus the Servant - Mark 1:1-13

The Message and Ministry of Jesus the Servant - Mark 1:14-13:37

The Death and Resurrection of Jesus the Servant - Mark 14:1-16:20

Gospel of John:
The Gospel of John was written to prove that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. As
an eyewitness to the love and power displayed in the miracles of Jesus , John
gives us an up-close and personal look at Christ's identity. He shows us that
Jesus, though fully God, came in the flesh to distinctly and accurately reveal God,
and that Christ is the source of eternal life to all who believe in him.

Author of the Gospel of John:

John, the son of Zebedee, is the author of this Gospel. He and his brother James
are called the "Sons of Thunder," most likely for their lively, zealous personalities.
Of the 12 disciples, John, James, and Peter formed the inner circle, chosen by
Jesus to become his closest companions. They had the exclusive privilege of
witnessing and testifying about events in the life of Jesus that no others were
invited to see. John was present at the resurrection of Jarius' daughter (Luke
8:51), the transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9:2), and in Gethsemane (Mark 14:33).
John is also the only recorded disciple to be present at the crucifixion of Jesus.
John refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." He writes with
simplicity in the original Greek, which makes this Gospel a good book for new
believers. However, below the surface of John's writing are layers of rich and
profound theology.

Date Written:
Circa 85-90 A.D.

Written To:
The Gospel of John was written primarily to new believers and seekers.

Landscape of the Gospel of John:

John wrote the Gospel sometime after 70 A.D. and the destruction of Jerusalem,
but prior to his exile on the island of Patmos. It was most likely written from
Ephesus. Settings in the book include Bethany, Galilee, Capernaum, Jerusalem,
Judea, and Samaria.

Themes in the Gospel of John:

The predominant theme in the book of John is the revelation of God to man
through his living illustrationJesus Christ, the Word made flesh. The opening
verses beautifully describe Jesus as the Word. He is God revealed to manthe
expression of Godso that we might see him and believe. Through this Gospel we
witness the everlasting power and nature of the Creator God, offering eternal life
to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. In every chapter, Christ's deity is unveiled.
The eight miracles recorded by John reveal his divine power and love. They are
signs that inspire us to trust and believe in him.

The Holy Spirit is a theme in John's Gospel as well. We are drawn to faith in
Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit; our belief is established through the indwelling,
guiding, counseling, comforting presence of the Holy Spirit; and through the
power of the Holy Spirit in us, the life of Christ is multiplied to others who

Key Characters in the Gospel of John:

Jesus , John the Baptist , Mary, the mother of Jesus , Mary, Martha
and Lazarus ,the disciples , Pilate and Mary Magdalene .

Key Verses:
John 1:14
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his
glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace
and truth.(NIV)
John 20:30-31
Jesus did many other miraculous 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 Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his

Outline of the Gospel of John:

The Birth and Preparation of Jesus the Son of God - John 1:1-2:11

The Message and Ministry of Jesus the Son of God - John 2:12-12:50

The Death and Resurrection of Jesus the Son of God - John 13:1-21:25

Gospel of Matthew:
The Gospel of Matthew was written to prove that Jesus Christ is the promised
Messiah, the King of all the earth, and to make plain the Kingdom of God. It is
the joining link between Old and New Testament, focusing on the fulfillment of

Author of the Gospel of Matthew:

Matthew , also known as Levi, one of the 12 disciples.

Date Written:
Circa 60-65 A.D.

Written To:
Matthew wrote to his fellow Jews.

Landscape of the Gospel of Matthew:

Matthew opens in the town of Bethlehem

Themes in the Gospel of Matthew:

Matthew was not written to chronicle the events of Jesus' life, but rather to
present the undeniable evidence that Jesus Christ is the promised Savior, the
Messiah, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It begins by accounting the
genealogy of Jesus , then his birth ,baptism and public ministry. The
miracles recorded in Matthew reveal Jesus' authority and true identity.

Key Characters in the Gospel of Matthew:

Jesus , Mary and Joseph , John the Baptist , the 12 disciples, the Jewish religious
leaders, Caiaphas , Pilate , Mary Magdalene .

Key Verses:
Matthew 4:4
Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every
word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (NIV)
Matthew 5:17
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not
come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (NIV)
Matthew 10:39
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find
it. (NIV)

Outline of the Gospel of Matthew:

The Birth of the King and Preparing to Receive Him - Matthew 1:1-4:11

The Message and Ministry of the King - Matthew 4:12-25:46

The Death and Resurrection of the King - Matthew 26:1-28:20


If you grew up watching Sesame Street, as I did, you probably saw one of
the many iterations of the song that says, "One of these things is not like the
other; one of these things just doesn't belong." The idea is to compare 4 or 5
different objects, then pick out the one that is noticeably different from the rest.
Strangely enough, that's a game you could play with the four Gospels of the New
For centuries, Bible scholars and general readers have noticed a major division
present within the four Gospels of the New Testament. Specifically, the Gospel of
John stands apart in many ways from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
This division is so strong and noticeable that Mathew, Mark, and Luke have their
own special name: the Synoptic Gospels.
There are good explanations for why the Gospel of John is so different from the
other three Gospels, but I'll need another article to make those clear. For now,
let's wrap our minds around both the similarities and differences between the
Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John.

Let's get something straight: I don't want to make it seem like the Gospel of John
is inferior to the other Gospels, or that it contradicts any other books of the New
Testament. That's not the case at all. Indeed, on a broad level, the Gospel of John
has a lot in common with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
For example, the Gospel of John is similar to the Synoptic Gospels in that all four
of the Gospel books tell the story of Jesus Christ. Each Gospel proclaims that
story through a narrative lens (through stories, in other words), and both the
Synoptic Gospels and John include the major categories of Jesus' lifeHis birth,
His public ministry, His death on the cross, and His resurrection from the grave.

Moving deeper, it's also clear that both John and the Synoptic Gospels express a
similar movement when telling the story of Jesus' public ministry and the major
events leading up to His crucifixion and resurrection. Both John and the Synoptic
Gospels highlight the connection between John the Baptist and Jesus (Mark 1:48; John 1:19-36). They both highlight Jesus' lengthy public ministry in Galilee
(Mark 1:14-15; John 4:3), and they both transition into a deeper look at Jesus'
final week spent in Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11; John 12:12-15).
In a similar way, the Synoptic Gospels and John reference several of the same
individual events that occurred during Jesus public ministry. Examples include
the feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 6:34-44; John 6:1-15), Jesus walking on water
(Mark 6:45-54; John 6:16-21), and many of the events recorded within the
Passion Week (e.g. Luke 22:47-53; John 18:2-12).
More importantly, the narrative themes of Jesus story remain consistent
throughout the four Gospels. Each of the Gospels records Jesus in regular conflict
with the religious leaders of the day, including the Pharisees and other teachers
of the law. Similarly, each of the Gospels records the slow and sometimes
painstaking journey of Jesus disciples from willing-but-foolhardy initiates to
men desiring to sit at the right hand of Jesus in the kingdom of heavenand,
later, to the men who responded with joy and skepticism at Jesus resurrection
from the dead. Finally, each of the Gospels centers on Jesus core teachings
regarding the call for all people to repent, the reality of a new covenant, Jesus
own divine nature, the elevated nature of Gods kingdom, and so on.
In other words, it's important to remember that in no place and in no way does
the Gospel of John contradict the narrative or theological message of the
Synoptic Gospels in a major way. The core elements of Jesus story and the key
themes of His teaching ministry remain the same in all four Gospels.

That being said, there are a number of conspicuous differences between the
Gospel of John and those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Indeed, one of the major
differences involves the flow of the different events in Jesus life and ministry.

Barring a few variations and differences in style, the Synoptic Gospels generally
cover the same events throughout the course of Jesus life and ministry. They give
ample attention to the period of Jesus public ministry throughout the regions of
Galilee, Jerusalem, and several locations in betweenincluding many of the same
miracles, discourses, major proclamations, and confrontations. True, the
different writers of the Synoptic Gospels often arranged these events in different
orders due to their own unique preferences and goals; however, the books of
Mathew, Mark, and Luke can be said to follow the same broader script.
The Gospel of John doesn't follow that script. Rather, it marches to the beat of its
own drum in terms of the events it describes. Specifically, the Gospel of John can
be divided into four major units or sub-books:

An introduction or prologue (1:1-18).


The Book of Signs, which focuses on Jesus messianic signs or miracles

performed for the benefit of the Jews (1:1912:50).


The Book of Exaltation, which anticipates Jesus exaltation with the Father
subsequent to His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection (13:120:31).

An epilogue, which unfolds the future ministries of Peter and John (21).
The end result is that, while the Synoptic Gospels share a large percentage of
content between each other in terms of the events described, the Gospel of John
contains a large percentage of material that is unique to itself. In fact, around 90
percent of the material written in the Gospel of John can only be found in the
Gospel of John. It's not recorded in the other Gospels.
So, how can we explain the fact that John's Gospel doesn't cover the same events
as Matthew, Mark, and Luke? Does that mean John remembered something
different about Jesus' life -- or even that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were wrong
about what Jesus said and did?
Not at all. The simple truth is that John wrote his Gospel about 20 years after
Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote theirs. For that reasons, John chose to skim and
skip over much of the ground that had already been covered in the Synoptic
Gospels. He wanted to fill in some of the gaps and provide new material. He also

dedicated a great deal of time to describing the various events surrounding the
Passion week before Jesus crucifixion -- which was a very important week, as we
now understand.
In addition to the flow of events, the style of John differs greatly from that of the
Synoptic Gospels. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are largely narrative
in their approach. They feature geographical settings, large numbers of
characters, and a proliferation of dialogue. The Synoptics also record Jesus as
teaching primarily through parables and short bursts of proclamation.
Johns Gospel, however, is much more drawn out and introspective. The text is
packed with long discourses, primarily from the mouth of Jesus. There are
significantly fewer events that would qualify as moving along the plot, and there
are significantly more theological explorations.
As an example, the birth of Jesus offers readers a great chance to observe the
stylistic differences between the Synoptic Gospels and John. Matthew and Luke
tell the story of Jesus birth in a way that can be reproduced through a nativity
play -- complete with characters, costumes, sets, and so on (see Matthew 1:18
2:12;Luke 2:1-21). They describe specific events in a chronological way.
On the other hand, Johns Gospel contains no characters whatsoever. Instead,
John offers a theological proclamation of Jesus as the divine Word -- the Light
that shines in the darkness of our world even though many refuse to recognize
Him (John 1:1-14). John's words are powerful and poetic. The writing style is
completely different.
In the end, while the Gospel of John ultimately tells the same story as the
Synoptic Gospels, major differences do exist between the two approaches. Why is
that? How can we explain those differences?
Read on to find those answers.


Most people with a general understanding of the Bible know that the first four
books of the New Testament are called the Gospels. Most people also understand
on a broad level that the Gospels each tell the story of Jesus Christ -- His birth,
ministry, teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection.
What many people don't know, however, is that there's a striking difference
between the first three Gospels -- Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which are known
together as the Synoptic Gospels -- and the Gospel of John. In fact, the Gospel of
John is so unique that 90 percent of the material it contains regarding Jesus' life
cannot be found in the other Gospels.
In a previous article, I explored the major similarities and differences between
the Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels. All four Gospels are
complementary, and all four tell the same basic story about Jesus Christ. But
there's no denying that John's Gospel is quite different from the other three in
both tone and content.
The big question for this article is: Why?Why would John have written a record
of Jesus' life that is so different from the other three Gospels? I'd like to provide
three important answers to those questions -- starting with the dates each Gospel
was written.

Timing Is Everything
There are several legitimate explanations for the large differences in content and
style between Johns Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels. The first (and by far the
simplest) explanation centers on the dates in which each Gospel was recorded.
Most contemporary Bible scholars believe that Mark was the first to write his
Gospel -- probably between A.D. 55 and 59. For this reason, the Gospel of Mark is
a relatively fast-paced portrayal of Jesus' life and ministry. Written primarily for

a Gentile audience (likely Gentile Christians living in Rome), the book offers a
brief but powerful introduction to Jesus' story and its staggering implications.
Modern scholars aren't certain Mark was followed next by Matthew or Luke, but
they are certain that both of those Gospels used Mark's work as a foundational
source. Indeed, about 95 percent of the content in Mark's Gospel is paralleled in
the combined content of Matthew and Luke. Regardless of which came first, it's
likely that both Matthew and Luke were written at some point between the late
50's and early 60's A.D.
What this tells us is that the Synoptic Gospels were likely written within a similar
time period during the 1st Century A.D. If you do the math, you'll notice that the
Synoptic Gospels were written about 20-30 years after Jesus' death and
resurrection -- which is about a generation. What that tells us is that Mark,
Matthew, and Luke felt pressure to record the major events of Jesus' life because
a full generation had passed since those events had occurred, which meant
eyewitness accounts and sources would soon be growing scarce. (Luke states
these realities openly at the beginning of his Gospelsee Luke 1:1-4.)
For these reasons, it makes sense for Matthew, Mark, and Luke to follow a similar
pattern, style, and approach. They were all written with the idea of intentionally
publishing the life of Jesus for a specific audience before it was too late.
The circumstances surrounding the Fourth Gospel were different, however. John
wrote his account of Jesus' life a full generation after the Synoptic authors had
recorded their worksperhaps even as late as the early 90's A.D. Therefore, John
sat down to write his Gospel in a culture in which detailed accounts of Jesus' life
and ministry had already existed for decades, had been copied for decades, and
had been studied and debated for decades.
In other words, because Matthew, Mark, and Luke succeeded in officially
codifying Jesus' story, John did not feel their pressure to preserve a full historical
record of Jesus' life -- that had already been accomplished. Instead, John was free
to construct his own Gospel in a way that reflected the different needs of his own
time and culture. (More on those needs below.)

Purpose Is Important
The second explanation for John's uniqueness among the Gospels has to do with
the major purposes for which each Gospel was written, and with the major
themes explored by each Gospel writer.
For example, the Gospel of Mark was written primarily for the purpose of
communicating Jesus' story to a generation of Gentile Christians who had not
been eyewitnesses to the events of Jesus' life. For that reason, one of the main
themes of the Gospel is the identification of Jesus as the "Son of God" (1:1; 15:39).
Mark wanted to show a new generation of Christians that Jesus really was the
Lord and Savior of all, despite the fact that He was no longer physically on the
The Gospel of Mathew was written with both a different purpose and a different
audience in mind. Specifically, Matthew's Gospel was addressed primarily to a
Jewish audience in the 1st century -- a fact that makes perfect sense given that a
large percentage of the early converts to Christianity were Jewish. One of the
major themes of Matthew's Gospel is the connection between Jesus and the Old
Testament prophecies and predictions regarding the Messiah. Essentially,
Matthew was writing to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, and that the Jewish
authorities of Jesus' day had rejected Him.
Like Mark, the Gospel of Luke was originally intended primarily for a Gentile
audience -- in large part, perhaps, because the author himself was a Gentile.
Whereas Mark's Gospel had already explained the major events of Jesus' story to
a Gentile audience, Luke wrote his Gospel with the purpose of providing a
historically accurate and reliable account of Jesus' birth, life, ministry, death, and
resurrection (Luke 1:1-4). In many ways, while Mark and Matthew sought to
codify Jesus' story for a specific audience (Gentile and Jew, respectively), Luke's
purposes were more apologetic in nature. He wanted to prove that Jesus' story
was true.

In summary, the writers of the Synoptic Gospels sought to solidify Jesus' story in
a historical and apologetic sense. The generation that had witnessed Jesus' story
was dying off, and the writers wanted to lend credibility and staying power to the
foundation of the fledgling church -- especially since, prior to the fall of
Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the church still existed largely in the shadow of Jerusalem
and the Jewish faith.
The major purposes and themes of John's Gospel were different, which helps to
explain the uniqueness of John's text. Specifically, John wrote his Gospel after
the fall of Jerusalem. That means he wrote to a culture in which Christians
experienced severe persecution not only at the hands of Jewish authorities, but
the might of the Roman Empire, as well.
The fall of Jerusalem and the scattering of the church was likely one of the spurs
that caused John to finally record his Gospel. Because the Jews had become
scattered and disillusioned after the destruction of the temple, John saw an
evangelistic opportunity to help many see that Jesus was the Messiah -- and
therefore the fulfillment of both the temple and the sacrificial system (John 2:1822; 4:21-24). In a similar way, the rise of Gnosticism and other false teachings
connected to Christianity presented an opportunity for John to clarify a number
of theological points and doctrines using the story of Jesus' life, death, and
These differences in purpose go a long way to explaining the differences in style
and emphasis between John's Gospel and the Synoptics.

Jesus Is the Key

The third explanation for the uniqueness of John's Gospel concerns the different
ways each Gospel writer focused specifically on the person and work of Jesus
Christ. In Mark's Gospel, for example, Jesus is portrayed primarily as the
authoritative, miracle-working Son of God. Mark wanted to establish Jesus'
identity within the framework of a new generation of disciples.
In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as the fulfillment of the Old Testament
Law and prophecies. Matthew takes great pains to express Jesus not simply as

the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament (see Matthew 1:21), but also as the
new Moses (chapters 57), the new Abraham (1:1-2), and the descendant of
David's royal line (1:1,6).
While Matthew focused on Jesus' role as the long-expected salvation of the
Jewish people, Luke's Gospel emphasized Jesus role as Savior of all peoples.
Therefore, Luke intentionally connects Jesus with a number of outcasts in the
society of His day, including women, the poor, the sick, the demon-possessed,
and more. Luke portrays Jesus not only as the powerful Messiah, but also as a
divine friend of sinners who came expressly to "seek and save the lost" (Luke
In summary, the Synoptic writers were generally concerned with demographics
in their portrayals of Jesus -- they wanted to show that Jesus the Messiah was
connected with Jews, Gentiles, outcasts, and other groups of people.
In contrast, John's portrayal of Jesus is concerned with theology more than
demographics. John lived in a time where theological debates and heresies were
becoming rampant -- including Gnosticism and other ideologies that denied
either Jesus' divine nature or human standing. These controversies were the tip
of the spear leading to the great debates and councils of the 3 rd and 4th centuries
(the Council of Nicaea, the Council of Constantinople, and so on) -- many of
which revolved around the mystery of Jesus' nature as both fully God and fully
Essentially, many people of John's day were asking themselves, "Who exactly was
Jesus? What was He like?" The earliest misconceptions of Jesus portrayed Him
as a very good man, but not actually God.
In the midst of these debates, John's Gospel is a thorough exploration of Jesus
Himself. Indeed, it's interesting to note that while the term "kingdom" is spoken
by Jesus 47 times in Matthew, 18 times in Mark, and 37 times in Luke -- it is only
mentioned 5 times by Jesus in the Gospel of John. At the same time, while Jesus
utters the pronoun "I" only 17 times in Matthew, 9 times in Mark, and 10 times in
Luke -- He says "I" 118 times in John. The Book of John is all about Jesus
explaining His own nature and purpose in the world.

One of John's major purposes and themes was to correctly portray Jesus as the
divine Word (or Logos) -- the pre-existent Son who is One with God (John 10:30)
and yet took on flesh in order to "tabernacle" Himself among us (1:14). In other
words, John took a lot of pains to make it crystal clear that Jesus was indeed God
in human form.

The four Gospels of the New Testament function perfectly as four sections of the
same story. And while it's true that the Synoptic Gospels are similar in many
ways, the uniqueness of John's Gospel only benefits the larger story by bringing
additional content, new ideas, and a more thoroughly clarified explanation of
Jesus Himself.

Major Differences Between John and the Synoptic Gospels

Introduction: The Relationship of John's Gospel to the Synoptics.

Two basic positions on the relationship of Johns Gospel to the Synoptics are

If John knew of the synoptics, then he wrote to supplement them. (To say John
knew of one or more of the synoptics is not to say, however, that he wrote his
gospel with copies of Matthew, Mark, and/or Luke in front of him. John may have
been aware of the existence of other written accounts of Jesus life and ministry
without actually having seen them.)

If Johns Gospel is totally independent from the synoptics, he had enough

material to choose from that much of it does not overlap with the synoptics (cf. Jn
20:30 and 21:25). This point is strengthened considerably if one accepts the Fourth
Gospels claim to reflect eyewitness testimony about the life and ministry of Jesus
(John 21:23-24).
Major Differences:


Johns Gospel omits a large amount of material found in the synoptic

Gospels, including some surprisingly important episodes: the temptation of
Jesus, Jesus transfiguration, and the institution of the Lords supper are not
mentioned by John. John mentions no examples of Jesus casting out demons.
The sermon on the mount and the Lords prayer are not found in the Fourth
Gospel. There are no narrative parables in Johns Gospel (most scholars do
not regard John 15:1-8 [the Vine and the Branches] as a parable in the
strict sense).


John also includes a considerable amount of material not found in the

synoptics. All the material in John 24, Jesus early Galilean ministry, is not
found in the synoptics. Prior visits of Jesus to Jerusalem before the passion
week are mentioned in John but not found in the synoptics. The seventh signmiracle, the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11) is not mentioned in the
synoptics. The extended Farewell Discourse (John 1317) is not found in the
synoptic Gospels.


According to John, Jesus public ministry extended over a period of at least

three and possibly four years. During this time Jesus goes several times from
Galilee to Jerusalem. The synoptics appear to describe only one journey of
Jesus to Jerusalem (the final one), with most of Jesus ministry taking place
within one year.


The Prologue to Johns Gospel (1:1-18) presents Jesus as the Lovgo" become
flesh (1:14). John begins his Gospel with an affirmation of Jesus preexistence
and full deity, which climaxes in John 20:28 with Thomas confession My
Lord and my God! The non-predicated ejgw eijmisayings in the Fourth
Gospel as allusions to Exod 3:14 also point to Jesus deity (John 8:24, 28, 58).
Compare Mark who begins his Gospel with Jesus baptism and Matthew and
Luke who begin theirs with Jesus birth. John begins with eternity past (In
the beginning the Word already was).


The synoptics are written from a third person point of view, describing the
events as if the authors had personally observed all of them and were
reporting what they saw at the time. Thus they are basically descriptive in

their approach. Johns Gospel, on the other hand, although also written from
a third person point of view, is more reflective, clearly later than the events
he describes. The author of the Fourth Gospel very carefully separates
himself from the events he describes (cf. the role of the Beloved Disciple in
the Fourth Gospel). However clear it is that he was an eyewitness of the life
of Jesus, it is no less clear that he looks back upon it from a temporal
distance. While we see the events through his eyes, we are carefully guided
to see the events of Jesus life not as John saw them when they happened
but as he now sees them. We understand more of the significance of the
events described from the position the writer now holds than an eyewitness
could have understood at the time the events took place. In this sense Johns
Gospel is much more reflective.
There are numerous passages in Johns Gospel which could serve as an
example of this later perspective. Four will serve as examples:
(a) John 2:17ejmnhvsqhsan oiJ maqhtaiV aujtou' o{ti gegrammevnon
(b) John 2:22o{te ou hjgevrqh ejk nekrw'n
(c) John 12:16tau'ta oujk e[gnwsan aujtou' oiJ maqhtaiV toV prw'ton
(d) John 20:9oujdevpw gaVr h[/deisan thVn grafhVn
In each of these passages it may be easily seen that John has adopted the
post-resurrection point of view. He looks back on the events and
emphasizes the inability of the apostles to understand the things that were
happening in their true perspective at the time they occurred. It is only
possible for us to understand these things when we consider the resurrection
of Jesus and its significance in Gods plan.


John presents his material in the form of extended dialogues or discourses

rather than the proverbial or pithy sayings found often in the

synoptics: John 3 (with Nicodemus); John 4(with the Samaritan woman); John
6 (the Bread of Life Discourse); John 1317 (the Farewell Discourse with the
disciples). As L. Goppelt observed:
The Gospel of John passed on the words of Jesus predominantly in another
genre than the synoptics; it did not do so in sayings, parables, and
controversy dialogues, but in connected or dialogical discourses.25


John makes more frequent use of these literary techniques than the
synoptics. Examples: John 2:25 (temple/body); John 7:3738 (water/Spirit); John 12:32 (lifted up/exalted).
Much of this symbolism takes the form of dualistic antitheses: light/darkness
(1:4; 3:19; 8:12; 11:9; 12:35, 46); truth/falsehood (8:44); life/death (5:24;
11:25); above/below (8:23); freedom/slavery (8:33, 36). Much of this
antithetical dualism is also found in the Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) texts. See
J. H. Charlesworth, A Critical Comparison of the Dualism in 1QS 3:13-4:26
and the Dualism Contained in the Gospel of John, in John and the Dead Sea
Scrolls, ed. J. H. Charlesworth (New York: Crossroad, 1990).


John makes frequent use of the misunderstood statement as a literary

technique. Jesus says something to someone which is misunderstood, thus
giving Jesus a further opportunity to clarify what he really meant.
Examples: John 3 (Nicodemus misunderstanding of the new birth as a
second physical birth; John 4 (the Samaritan womans misunderstanding of
the living water as drinkable water).


The long discourses in Johns Gospel do not necessarily represent Jesus

exact words (ipsissima verba) as long as they give a faithful summary and

interpretive paraphrase (ipsissima vox) of what he actually said. Jesus

teaching in the Fourth Gospel may be couched in distinctively Johannine
style. On the other hand, some of Johns style may have been either directly
or indirectly inspired by Jesus own manner of speaking: in Mt 11:25-27 + Lk
10:21-22 Jesus uses language almost identical to that which characterizes his
speeches in Johns Gospel all things have been given to me by my Father,
and no one knows the Son except the Father, nor the Father except the Son
and the one to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.


The emphasis on the Kingdom of God found in the synoptics is largely

missing in John (the phrase basileiva tou' qeou' occurs only twice in Johns
Gospel (3:3, 5) and the noun basileiva only three times (all in 18:36). Instead
we find Johns emphasis on eternal life as a present reality (John 5:24 etc.).
The emphasis on eternal life in Johns Gospel is closer to the letters of Paul
than to the synoptic gospels, as the following chart shows:


The problem of so-called realized eschatology in the Gospel of John (the

term was popularized by C. H. Dodd) can be seen in microcosm in John
5:20b-30. On the one hand there are statements that speak of the parousia
(second advent) as a future event in the traditional sense: for an hour is
coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth,
those who have done good to a resurrection of life, and those who have done
evil to a resurrection of judgment (John 5:28-29 NASB). Alongside these on
the other hand are statements that seem to speak of the full realization for
believers of salvation in the present (5:20-27): Truly, truly, I say to you he
who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does
not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5:24NASB).
There is an obvious tension between these statements that must be
reconciled; judgment cannot be both present and future at the same time.
Related to Johns emphasis on eternal life as a present reality is the stress
on judgment as realized in a persons response to Jesus (John 3:19). In
addition Johns Gospel does not emphasize the second advent of Christ as a
future eschatological event (John 14:3 is about the only clear reference).


The Gospel of John is written in a style of Greek quite different from the
synoptics. The range of vocabulary is smaller. There is frequent parataxis
(use of coordinate clauses rather than subordinate clauses). Asyndeton
frequently occurs. Related to paragraph (7) above, there is little difference
between the words that are ascribed to Jesus and the words of the
Evangelist. Example: try to determine in John 3:1-21 where the words of
Jesus to Nicodemus end and the interpretive comments of the Evangelist

Similarities among John's Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels

Gospels for the World, Unite!

Is there any historical worth to the Gospel of John? Does it stray so far from
the actual life of Jesus that we can hope only for a pious but mostly fictional
story of him?
In the last four articles on the four Gospels, we discovered that they all share
the same storyline, particularly in the context of mission. We should
therefore be able to find this storyline in a comparison between John on the
one hand and the Synoptics on the other.
The list is built on the Gospel of John. If John and one other Synoptic share
one similarity, then it is listed. Needless to say, if John and two other
Synoptics share a common feature, then it is listed, too. I have not counted
how many similarities there are among John and one or two other Synoptics.
But a reader is invited to compile these totals.
What is surprising about this list is how many times all four Gospels share
similarities (see Q & A Two, below, for the totals).
If readers see an omission, then email me with the Gospel references and the
name or place or teaching, and so on. My email is available through my
author page by clicking on "Bio" at the top of the page.
Hovering over the references below will bring up the NET Bible version on
each of these. If readers spot a reference error, then email me, please.
1. So what are the similarities among John and the Synoptics?

The items are derived from a wide range of similarities, from large themes,
all the way to specific verbal agreements. The categories follow the life of
Christ, since that is the strategy of the four Gospels. The order of each item
under the categories follows Johns references, as often as possible. Many

items in this list have more than one Biblical reference, but they are
sometimes omitted for brevity.
Jesus ministers while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea from AD 26-36

(Matt. 27:2; Mark 15:1;Lk. 3:1; Jn. 18:29).

Caiaphas is the high priest (Matt. 26:3, 26:57; Lk. 3:2; Jn. 11:49; 18:13-14, 24,


Annas was high priest (Lk. 3:2; Jn. 18:13, 24).


Joseph is the father of Jesus (Matt. 1:18-24; Lk. 1:27; 2:4, 16, 22, 39; 4:22; Jn.
1:45; 6:42).

Jesus mother is mentioned (Matt. 12:46-47; Mark 3:31-32; Lk. 8:19-20; Jn.
2:1-3; 19:26-27).

He temporarily distances himself from his mother early in his ministry (Matt.
12:46-50; Mark 3:20-21, 34-35; Lk. 8:19-21; Jn. 2:4).

He has brothers (or half brothers), and they do not believe until later (Matt.
12:46-47; Mark 3:31-32; Lk. 8:19-20; Jn. 7:3-5).

He comes (is supposed to come) from Davids lineage (Matt. 1:1; Mark 12:3536; Lk. 1:27; 2:4; Jn. 7:42).

Jesus first ministers in Galilee (Matt. 4:12-18; Mark 1:14-16, 28, 39; Lk.
4:14; Jn. 1:43; 2:1-11).

He ministers in Bethsaida or to its citizens (Matt. 11:21; Mark 6:45; 8:22; Lk.
9:10; 10:13; Jn. 1:44; 12:21).

He is called Jesus of Nazareth (Matt. 26:71; Mark 10:47; Lk. 24:19; Jn. 1:45).

Israel is the name of his country -- not Palestine, which the Greeks and
Romans called it, but it is never called "Palestine" anywhere in the New Testament
(Matt. 2:6, 20, 21; 8:10; 9:33; 10:6, 23; 15:24, 31; 19:28; 27:9, 42; Mark 12:29;
15:32; Lk. 1:16, 54, 68, 80; 2:25, 32, 34; 4:25, 27; 7:9; 22:30; 24:21; Jn. 1:31, 47,
49; 12:31).

He ministers in the town of Capernaum, by the Lake of Galilee (Matt. 4:13;

8:5; 17:24; Mark 1:21; 2:1; 9:33; Lk. 4:23, 31; 7:1; Jn. 2:12; 4:46; 6:17, 24, 59).
He ministers to entire towns and regions that come out to see him (Matt.

14:34-36; Mark 1:33; 6:53-56; Jn. 3:22; 4:1-3; 4:39; 10:40-42).

He ministers in Judea or to Judeans (Matt. 4:25; 12:15; 14:13; 19:1; Mark 3:7;

10:1; 13:34; Lk. 4:44; 5:17; 6:17; 7:17; 23:5; Jn. 3:22; 4:47, 54; 7:10).
He often ministers in Galilee and around its Lake (Matt. 4:18, 23, 25; 11:1;

15:29; 17:22; 28:7; Mark 1:28, 39; 3:7; 7:31; 9:30; 14:28; 16:7; Lk. 4:31; 8:26;
17:11; 24:6; Jn. 4:3, 43-47, 54; 6:1; 7:1, 9; 12:21; 21:2).
He is willing to minister to Samaritans, even though the relationship between

them and Jews is tense (Lk. 17:11-19; Jn. 4:4-26, 39-42). Restrictions are contextspecific (Matt. 10:5-6; 15:24).
He is rejected in his home country (Matt. 15:54-58; Mark 6:1-6; Lk. 4:16-

30; Jn. 4:44).


He teaches in the synagogue in Capernaum (Mark 1:21; Lk. 4:31, Jn. 6:59).

He teaches in synagogues, stated retrospectively in John (Matt. 4:23; 12:9;

13:54; Mark 1:39; 3:1; 6:2; Lk. 4:15-16; 4:44; 13:10; Jn. 18:20).
Jerusalem is the capital, the holy city (about 18 times in Mt.; 11 times in Mk.;

34 times in Lk; 14 times in John).

He teaches in the temple in Jerusalem (Matt. 21:23; Mark 12:35; Lk. 21:37; Jn.


Christ comes from Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1-8; Lk. 2:4, 15; Jn. 7:42).

While in the temple, he teaches near the place where the offering were put
(Mark 12:41; Lk. 21:1;Jn. 8:20).

The Jordan River and eastward is important in his life (Matt. 4:15, 25;
19:1; Mark 3:8; 10:1; Lk. 4:1;Jn. 10:40).

Bethany, a village just outside Jerusalem, plays a key role at the end of his
life (Matt. 21:17; 26:5;Mark 11:1, 11-12; Lk. 19:29; 24:50; Jn. 11:1, 18; 12:1). This is
not Bethany beyond the Jordan (John 1:28; 10:40).

John is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way
(Matt. 3:3; Mark 3:3; Lk. 3:4; Jn. 1:23).

Religious leaders (Pharisees, priests and Levites) question John (Matt. 3:7; Jn.


John baptizes with water (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:26).

You dont know who (Jesus) stands among you (Lk. 3:15; Jn. 1:26).

John is not worthy to loosen a strap of Jesus sandals or to carry them (Matt.
3:11; Mark 3:11; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:27).
Crowds go out to be baptized by John, who baptizes in the Jordan River (Matt.

3:5-6; Mark 1:5; Lk. 3:3; Jn. 1:28).


Jesus will baptize with the Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33).

The Spirit, in the form of a dove, is present on Jesus (Matt. 3:16; Mark
1:10; Lk. 3:22; Jn. 1:32-33).

John gathers disciples around him (Matt. 14:12; Mark 6:29; Lk. 7:18; Jn. 1:35).

John is put in prison (Matt. 4:12; Mark 1:14; Lk. 3:20; Jn. 3:24).

The image of a bridegroom appears in the context of John (Matt. 9:15; Mark
2:19; Lk. 5:34; Jn. 3:29).
Jesus must become greater, John lesser (Matt. 11:11; Lk. 7:28; Jn. 3:30).

The theme and reality of glory in Jesus' ministry is stated (Matt. 17:1-8; Mark

9:2-8; Lk. 2:32; 9:31-32; Jn. 1:14; 2:11; 11:4, 40; 12:28, 41; 17:24).
There is the right time or hour in his life (Matt. 9:15; 26:18; Mark 1:15; 14:35,

41; Lk. 19:44; 22:14; Jn. 2:4; 7:6; 8:20; 12:23).

He enjoys the company of wine drinkers (Lk. 5:29-30; 7:34; 15:1-2; Jn. 2:1-


He has authority and power, which opponents sometimes question (Matt.

7:29; 8:9; 21:23-27; 28:18; Mark 1:22, 27; 11:28-33; Lk. 4:32; 5:24; 20:1-8; Jn 2:18;
5:27; 10:18; 13:3; 17:2).

He will go up or be taken up into heaven (Lk. 9:51; Jn. 3:14; 8:28; 12:32).

He came to save people (Matt. 1:21; 10:22; 16:25; 19:25-26; Mark 8:35-36;
10:26-27; 13:13; Lk. 2:11, 30; 9:24; 18:26-27; 19:9; Jn. 3:17; 4:42; 5:34; 10:9;

He has come or been sent by God (Matt. 9:13; 10:34; Mark 1:38; 2:17; Lk.
5:32; 7:16-20; 12:49; Jn. 3:19; 5:43; 6:38).

Salvation is from the Jews (Matt. 1:1-17, 21; Lk. 2:30; Jn. 3:23-38; 4:22).

Jesus came not to do his own will, but the will of the one who sent him (Matt.
26:39-42; Mark 14:36; Lk. 22:42; Jn. 4:34; 6:38).

He is greater than Old Testament prophets (Abraham, Solomon, and Jonah)

and the temple (Matt. 12:6, 39-42; Lk. 11:29-32; Jn. 8:52-58).

He lays down his life (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45; Jn. 10:11, 15, 17-18).

He predicts his own death (Matt. 12:39-41; 16:21-28; 20:17-19; Mark 8:31;
9:44; 10:32-34; Lk. 9:22-27; 11:29:30; 18:31-33; Jn. 12:20-26).

He successfully resists Satan during Jesus' lifetime (Matt. 4:11; Lk. 4:13; Jn.
12:31; 14:30).

Jesus teaches and acts as if he has a unique relationship with his Father
(Matt. 6:9; 10:32-33; 11:26-27; Mark 14:36; Lk. 10:21-22; 11:2; Jn. 1:14; 3:35;

To honor the Father is to honor the Son, and to honor the Son is to honor the
Father (Matt. 10:40; 18:5; Mark 9:37; Jn. 5:23).

He accepts worship or prostration (Matt. 14:33; 28:9; 28:17; Lk. 24:52; Jn.
9:38; 20:28).

A voice from heaven supports Jesus (Matt. 3:17; 15:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7; Lk.
3:22; 9:35; Jn. 12:28-30).

Jesus says receiving him means receiving the one who sent him (Matt.
10:40; Mark 9:36-37; Lk. 9:48; 10:16; Jn. 13:20).

Jesus refers to himself as and accepts the title of the Son of God (Matt.
3:17; Mark 1:11; Lk. 1:32; 3:22; Jn. 1:34; 3:16).

He refers to himself as or accepts the titles Rabbi / Teacher (Matt. 23:7-8;

26:25, 49; Mark 9:5; 10:51; 11:51; Lk. 9:38; Jn. 1:38, 49; 6:25).

He refers to himself as or accepts the title of the Christ (Matt. 1:16; Mark
8:29; Lk. 9:20; Jn. 1:41).

He accepts the title of king (Matt. 27:11; Mark 11:10; 15:2; Lk. 22:3; Jn. 1:49;
12:13; 18:33, 37).

He refers to himself as or accepts the title of the Son of Man (Matt. 8:20; Mark
2:10; Lk. 5:24; Jn. 1:51); in a clearly apocalyptic sense (Mark 8:38; Lk. 12:8-9; Jn.

5:27). In the vast majority of the 80-plus references to the Son of Man in verses in
the four Gospels, Jesus alone uses this title and only about himself
He refers to himself as or accepts the title of Prophet (Matt. 13:57; Mark

6:4; Lk. 4:24; Jn. 4:44).

He uses the clause I am (egeimi) in a special, divine way, also according

to some contexts in the Synoptics (see Brown, vol. 1, Appendix IV, pp. 532-38)
(Matt. 14:27; Mark 6:50; [cf. 13:6]; 14:62; Lk. [cf. 21:8]; 22:70; 24:36; Jn. 6:20; 8:24,
28, 58; 13:9; 18:5).
He refers to himself as or accepts the title of Lord (Matt. 7:21; Mark 2:28; Lk.

6:5; Jn. 6:23).

Jesus calls disciples early in his ministry (Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Lk. 5:2-

11; Jn. 1:35-42).

Simons brother is Andrew (Matt. 4:18; 10:2; Mark 1:16, 29; 3:18; 13:3; Lk.

6:14; Jn. 1:40, 44; 6:8; 12:22).


Simons second name is Peter (Matt. 16:18; Mark 3:16; Lk. 6:14; Jn. 1:42).

Philip is named (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Lk. 6:14; Jn. 1:43-48; 6:5, 7; 12:21-22;
Jesus chooses twelve main disciples (Matt. 10:1; Mark 3:13; Lk. 6:13; Jn. 6:67-

71; 15:16).
Peter is mentioned the most often of all the disciples (over 90 times in all four

Thomas is named (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:8; Lk. 6:15; Jn. 11:16; 14:5; 20:24-28;

Jesus knows the Bethany sisters Martha and Mary (Lk. 10:38-42; Jn. 11:1-


Martha is more active, Mary less so (Lk. 10:40-42; Jn. 11:20).

Peter is the one who asks for clarification (Matt. 15:15; Lk. 12:1; Jn. 13:36-38).

Jesus is anointed in Bethany (by Mary) (Matt. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Jn. 12:18).

Someone (Judas) complains that the perfume or ointment could have been
sold and given to the poor (Matt. 26:9; Mark 14:5; Jn. 12:5).

Women follow Jesus (Matt. 27:55; Mark 15:41; Lk. 8:2-3; 23:49; Jn. 19:25-27).

Mary Magdalene is named as a close follower (Matt. 27:56-28:1; Mark 15:40,

47; 16:1, 9; Lk. 8:2; 24:10; Jn. 19:25; 20:1, 18).

James and John are brothers, or the sons of Zebedee are mentioned (Matt.
4:21; Mark 1:19; Lk. 5:10;Jn. 21:2).

Peter and the sons of Zebedee are called or described as fishermen (Matt.
4:21; Mark 4:19; Lk. 5:6-10; Jn. 21:3-8).

Jesus says to follow him (Matt. 4:19; 10:38; Mark 8:34; Lk. 9:23; Jn. 1:43;
12:26; 21:19, 22).

The disciples do not understand many things before the ascension (Matt.
13:36; 16:9, 11, 22-23;Mark 4:13, 33; 6:52; 8:7; Lk. 9:45; 18:34; Jn. 2:22; 12:16;
13:7, 28; 16:18; 20:9).

The harvest is ripe and plentiful (Matt. 9:38; Lk. 10:2; Jn. 4:35).

Workers for the Lord may get different wages that seem unfair (Matt. 20:116; Jn. 4:36-38).

The disciples spiritually (or non-literally) partake of his blood and body or
flesh (Matt. 26:27-29;Mark 14:22-25; Lk. 22:17-20; Jn. 6:53-59).

He is aware of his disciples discussion or grumbling (Mt.16:8; 26:10; Mark

8:17; Jn. 6:61).

Disciples must judge aright (Matt. 7:1-7; Lk. 6:41-42; Jn. 7:24).

His followers are like sheep among wolves (Matt. 10:16; Lk. 10:3; Jn. 10:12).

Greeks or Greek speakers need ministry (Mark 7:26; Jn. 12:20).

Jesus teaches on loving ones life and losing it, and by losing it one will find it
(Matt. 10:39; 16:25;Mark 8:35; Lk. 9:24; 17:33; Jn. 12:25).

Synagogues will reject his disciples (Matt. 10:17-18; Mark 13:9; Lk. 12:11;
21:12; Jn. 12:42; 16:1-4).

He says to serve, and in John he washes the disciples feet (Matt. 20:2028; Mark 10:35-45; Lk. 22:24-30; Jn. 13:17).

The disciples through the Spirit (will) speak the right words and do the
ministry (Matt. 10:20;Mark 13:11; Lk. 12:12; Jn. 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13-15).

Jesus has been hated, and his disciples will be hated (Matt. 10:22; 24:910; Mark 13:13; Lk. 6:22, 27; 21:17; Jn. 15:18-19).

If people persecuted him, they will persecute his disciples (Matt. 5:10, 44; Lk.

21:12; Jn. 15:20).


The disciples are witnesses (Matt. 10:18; Mark 13:9; Lk. 24:48; Jn. 15:27).

The disciples faith may be shaken (Matt. 24:10; Jn. 16:1).

Some disciples will be put to death (Matt. 24:9; Lk. 21:16; Jn. 16:2).

The disciples are commissioned after his resurrection (Matt. 28:16-20; Lk.
24:47; Jn. 20:21; cf. 17:18).
The disciples (will) receive the Spirit in their mission (Lk. 24:49; Jn. 20:22).


Jesus quotes or honors the law of Moses (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10; 5:17-19; 19:8, 16-

18; 22:29-32, 34-40; Mark 10:5-9; 12:26, 29-31; Lk. 4:4, 8, 12, 18-19; 16:17; 18:20;
20:37; Jn. 3:14; 5:45-47; 6:32; 7:19, 22-23; 19:36).
He fulfills Isaiahs prophecies (Matt. 4:14-16; 8:17; 12:17-21; 13:14-15; 15:7-

9; Mark 4:11-12; 7:6-7; 11:17; 13:25; Lk. 4:17; 8:10; 22:37; Jn. 6:45; 12:38-41).
He honors, quotes, or is prophesied in the Prophets (Matt. 10:35-36; 11:10;

13:13; 21:4-5; 24:15, 29; 26:31; Mark 1:2-3; 11:9-10; 11:17; 13:14, 24; 14:27; Lk.
7:27; 23:30; 24:25-27; Jn. 10:12; 12:15; 15:25; 19:37).
He honors, quotes, or is prophesied in the Psalms (Matt. 13:35; 21:9; 21:16;

21:42; 23:43-44; 27:46;Mark 12:10-11, 36; 15:37; Lk. 20:42; Jn. 10:34; 12:13; 19:24;
He fulfillsprophecy in many ways (Matt. 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 3:15; 4:14; 5:17;

8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:24; 26:54, Mark 13:4; 14:49; Lk. 1:1; 4:21; 8:31; 9:31;
21:22, 24; 22:16, 37; 24:44; Jn. 12:38; 13:18; 15:25; 17:12; 18:9; 18:32; 19:24, 28,

Jesus heals crowds of the sick (Matt. 4:23-25; Mark 3:7-12; Lk. 6:17-19; Jn.
3:23; 6:2).

The miracles of Jesus point to a higher truth about himself and God than the
miracles per se (Matt. 9:1-8; Mark 2:3-12; Lk. 5:18-26; Jn. 5:19-30).

The lame, the blind, the crippled, and the paralyzed are listed as a collective
(Matt. 11:5; 15:30-31; 21:14; Lk. 7:22; 14:13; 14:21; Jn. 5:3).

On different occasions, Jesus says, Pick up your mat and walk and go home

(Matt. 9:6; Mark 2:11; Lk. 5:24; Jn. 5:8).

He feeds thousands (Matt. 14:13-21; 15:29-31; Mark 6:32-44; 8:1-10; Lk.

5:16; 9:10-17; Jn. 6:1-17; 11:54).


On occasion, he healed in unusual ways (Mark 7:33; 8:23; Jn. 9:6).

He heals blind persons (Matt. 9:27-28; 11:5; 12:22; 20:29-34; Mark 8:22-23;
10:46-52; Lk. 7:21-22; 14:13-21; 18:35-43; Jn. 5:3; 9:1-34).
He raises the dead (Matt. 9:18-19, 23-26; Mark 5:21-24, 35-43; Lk. 7:11-15;

8:40-42, 49-56; Jn. 11:1-44).

Peters miraculous catches of fish (Lk. 5:1-11; Jn. 21:1-15). I believe these are

two different events, but some dont, so the catches are included in this list.

Jesus is the light of the world (Matt. 4:16; Lk. 2:32; Jn. 1:4-7; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5).

Angels minister (Matt. 1:20, 24; 28:2-5; Mark 1:13; 8:38; Lk. 2:15; 9:26; 12:89; Jn. 1:51; 20:12).
Jesus says to believe in him and his message and works (Matt. 9:28; 17:20;

21:22; Mark 1:15; 5:36; 11:24; Lk. 8:50; 17:5-6; Jn. 2:11; 3:18; 5:38; 6:29; 7:31;
10:38; 14:11).
Beware of all men speaking well of you or of accepting their praise (Lk.

6:26; Jn. 2:24-25; 5:41).

Jesus frequently uses the Hebrew word amen (verily or truly) in his

teaching (Matt. 5:18;Mark 3:28; Lk. 4:24; Jn. 3:3).

The kingdom of God is a theme (Matt. 4:17, 23; Mark 1:15; Lk. 4:43; 8:1; Jn.

3:3-5; 18:36).
Being born again or becoming like a child to get into the kingdom of God is a

theme; the kingdom of God in the Synoptics and eternal life" in John are used
interchangeably (Matt. 18:3;Mark 9:45, 47; 10:15, 17, 23, 24, 30; Lk. 10:17; Jn. 3:3,

The spirit / flesh dichotomy is used (Matt. 26:41; Mark 14:38; Jn. 3:6).

People are amazed and astonished at Jesus words and ministry (Matt. 7:28;
8:27; 15:31; 21:20; 22:22; 27:14; Mark 1:27; 5:20; 15:5, 44; Lk. 4:22, 36; 8:25; 9:43;
11:14, 38; 20:26; 24:41; Jn. 3:7; 4:27; 5:20, 28; 7:15, 21).

Eternal life is a theme (Matt. 19:16, 29; 25:46; Mark 10:17, 30; Lk. 10:25;

16:9; 18:18, 30; Jn. 3:15-16, 36; 4:14; 5:24; 6:27, 40; 6:54; 10:28).
Humans have the capacity for evil (Matt. 12:35; Mark 7:21; Lk. 6:45; Jn. 3:19-

20; 5:29).
Jesus redefines the will of the Father (Matt. 12:50; Mark 3:35; Lk. 8:21; Jn.


Jesus uses the image of bread positively (Matt. 13:33; Lk. 13:20-21; Jn. 6:3233, 35, 41, 48, 50-51, 58).

Satan or the devil exists and opposes Gods people and plan (Matt.
4:10; Mark 1:13; Lk. 10:18; Jn. 6:70; 8:44; 12:31; 13:27; 14:30; 16:11; 17:15).

Jesus teaching may harden hearts (Matt. 13:13-15; Mark 4:11-12; Lk.
8:10; Jn. 9:39; 12:39-40).

He teaches in parables or figures of speech (Matt. 13:10-15; Mark 4:2, 1112; Lk. 8:10; Jn. 10:6; 16:25-29).

The image of a gate and gatekeeper is used (Matt. 7:13-14; Mark 13:24; Jn.

God or Jesus is like a shepherd, and the people are like sheep (Matt. 9:36;
25:32; 26:31; 10:6; 14:27;Mark 6:34; 14:27; Lk. 15:4-6; 17:7; Jn. 10:11-16).

Jesus says, If I tell you, you wont believe me (Lk. 22:67; Jn. 10:25).

He uses the verb sleep for die (Matt. 9:24; Mark 5:39-40; Lk. 8:52; Jn.

Blessed are those who hear and keep and do the Word (Matt. 7:24-26; Lk.
6:47-49; 11:28; 12:43; Jn. 12:47; 13:17).

There will be a day of judgment (Matt. 12:36; Lk. 17:24-31; Jn. 12:48).

A servant or disciple is not greater than his master or teacher (Matt. 10:2425; Lk. 6:40; Jn. 13:16; 15:20).

He pronounces that a variety of persons and actions are blessed (Matt. 5:311; 11:6; 16:17; 25:34; Lk. 6:20-22; 7:23; 11:28; 14:14, 16; 24:50; Jn. 13:17; 20:29).

He teaches on asking and receiving in prayer (Matt. 7:8; 18:19-20; Mark

11:10; Lk.11:24; Jn. 14:13-14; 16:24).

He says his name has power (Matt. 7:22; 12:21; 18:20; Mark 9:38-39; Lk.
9:49; 10:17; Jn. 14:13-14, 26; 15:16; 16:23-24; 17:11-12).

Dont be afraid (Lk. 12:32; Jn. 14:27).

Unproductive works will be thrown into the fire (Matt. 3:10-12; 7:19; 13:40;

18:809; Lk. 3:9, Jn. 15:6).

Love and commandments are themes (Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Lk.

10:27-28; Jn. 15:9-11).

Men disbelieve in Jesus despite the miracles he did, so these disbelievers are

judged (Matt. 11:20-23; Lk. 10:13; Jn. 15:24).

The Fathers name is holy; may he give us bread and deliver us from the evil

one or evil (Matt. 6:9-13; Jn. 6:33; 17:11, 15).

The disciples have authority to release sins (Matt. 18:18; Jn. 20:23).


Jesus clears out part of the temple courts (Matt. 21:18-22; Mark 11:15-19; Lk.

19:45-47; Jn. 2:13-16).

He refuses to perform miraculous signs to satisfy his opponents (Matt.

12:38; Mark 8:11; Lk. 11:16;Jn. 2:18; 4:48; 6:30).

He leaves a region due to opposition (Matt. 12:15; Mark 3:7; Lk. 6:11-12; Jn.

Defying religious oral traditions, he does unnecessary healings on the

Sabbath (Matt. 12:9-13;Mark 3:1-6; Lk. 6:6-11; 13:10-17; Jn. 5:1-18; 7:21-24; 9:116).

If the leaders believed Moses, they would believe in Jesus, but they dont
believe Moses (Lk. 16:31;Jn. 5:46-47).

Jesus is popular with the masses (Matt. 8:21; Mark 10:1; Lk. 5:15; Jn. 6:2).

But he sometimes withdraws from them for solitude (Matt. 8:18; 12:15;
14:13-14; Mark 3:7-9; 6:32-34; Lk. 6:12, 17-19; 9:10; Jn. 6:3, 15).

He is accused of deceiving people (Matt. 27:63; Jn. 7:12, 47).

The crowds guess at who he is (Matt. 16:13-14; Mark 8:27-28; Lk. 9:18-19; Jn.

Do Jews really have Abraham as their father (Matt. 3:9; Lk. 3:8; Jn. 8:33-39;

Those who prevent him from fulfilling his mission to die at the right time are
called children of the devil or are said to be motivated by Satan (Matt. 16:24; Mark
8:33; Jn. 8:37, 40).

Opponents accuse him of being demon possessed (Matt. 9:34; Mark 3:22; Lk.

11:15; Jn. 8:48-52; 10:20).

There are aborted attempts to kill him (Lk. 4:28-30; 13:31; Jn. 8:59; 10:31-32;


He calls the religious establishment spiritually blind (Matt. 15:12-14; 23:1626; Jn. 9:39-41).

The disciples fear to go up to Jerusalem (Mark 10:32; Jn. 11:7-8).

The Sanhedrin (the high court) and other religious leaders seek a way to get
rid of Jesus and to trump up evidence (Matt. 26:59; 27:12; Mark 3:2; 14:55; Lk. 6:7;
15:1; 22:66; 23:2; Jn. 8:6; 10:36; 11:47).

He challenges the Jerusalem religious establishment, particularly Pharisees

and chief priests (Matt. 21:45; Mark 11:27-33; Lk. 20:9-19; Jn. 11:47, 57).

Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly to conclude his ministry and life (Matt.
21:1-9; Mark 11:1-10;Lk. 19:29-38; Jn. 12:12-15).

The people use branches to usher him in (Matt. 21:8; Mark 11:8; Jn.12:13)

During the entry, the crowds shout that he is blessed who comes in the name
of the Lord (Matt. 21:9; Mark 11:9; Lk. 13:35; 19:38; Jn. 12:13).

King or kingdom is used (Mark 11:10; Lk. 19:38; Jn. 12:13).

He rides a beast of burden (Matt. 21:5; Mark 11:7; Lk. 19:33-35; Jn. 12:14).

Zechariah 9:9 is quoted (Matt. 21:5; Jn. 12:15).


Jesus celebrates Passover and eats the Last Supper with his disciples (Matt.
26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Lk. 22:7-13; Jn. 13:1-17:26).

The image of the vine and its fruit is used metaphorically (Matt. 26:29; Mark
14:25; Lk. 22:18; Jn. 15:1-8).

Judas is named as the betrayer, sometimes early in a Gospel for the readers /
listeners sake (Matt. 26:14-16, 25, 49: Mark 3:19; 14:10-11, 43-45; Lk. 6:16; 22:3-6,
47-48; Jn. 12:4; 13:2, 26-30; 18:2-5).

Satan prompts and / or enters Judas (Lk. 22:3; Jn. 6:70-71; 13:2, 27).

At the Last Supper, Jesus states that someone will betray him (Matt.
26:21; Mark 14:18; Lk. 22:21-22; Jn. 13:21).

The disciples ask who the betrayer is (Matt. 26:22; Mark 14:19; Lk. 22:23; Jn.

Whoever dips into a bowl will betray Jesus (Luke says the hand of the
betrayer is at the table) (Matt. 26:23-25; Mark 18-21; Jn. 13:26-27).

Judas Iscariot leads an armed mob to arrest Jesus (Matt. 26:14, 47-49; Mark
14:43-45; Lk. 22:47-49;Jn. 18:2-5).

Jesus agonizes in his spirit over his impending death (Matt. 20:22;
26:38; Mark 10:38; 14:36; Lk. 22:42-44; Jn. 12:27-28).

On the night he is arrested, he faces and resists temptation to avoid the cross
(Matt. 26:37-46;Mark 14:35-36; Lk. 22:46; Jn. 12:27).

He and his disciples retire to the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley
(Matt. 24:3; 26:30; Mark 11:1; 13:3; 14:26; Lk. 19:29, 37; 21:37-39; Jn. 18:1; cf. 8:1).

A disciple (Peter) cuts off the ear of the high priests servant (Malchus) (Matt.
26:51; Mark 14:47;Lk. 22:50; Jn. 18:10).

Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him three times (Matt. 26:34, 75; Mark
14:30, 72; Lk. 22:34, 61;Jn. 13:38).

Peter goes to the courtyard of the high priest (Matt. 26:58; Mark 14:54,
66; Lk. 22:55; Jn. 18:15).

A servant girl spots Peter and questions him, and he denies Jesus (Matt.
26:69-70; Mark 14:66-68;Lk. 22:56-57; Jn. 18:16-17).

A second time, a similar question and denial (Matt. 26:71-72; Mark 14:6970; Lk. 22:58; Jn. 18:25).

Yet another challenge and Peter denies Jesus a third time (Matt. 26:7374; Mark 14:70-71; Lk. 22:59-60; Jn. 18:26-27).

A crowing rooster reminds Peter of Jesus prediction (Matt. 26:74; Mark

14:72; Lk. 22:60; Jn. 18:26).

He also predicts that Peter will be restored, and Jesus makes sure that Peter is
restored (Lk. 22:32b;Jn. 21:15-19).

The chief priests of Jerusalem try Jesus and press for his execution (Matt.

26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65;Lk. 22:66-71; Jn. 18:12-14, 19-24; 19:6).

He is accused of saying that he will destroy the temple and rebuild it in

three days (Matt. 26:61; 27:40; Mark 14:57-58; 15:29; cf. Jn. 2:19).
Pontius Pilate tries Jesus, hesitates to press the matter, but hands Jesus over

to be executed (Matt. 27:14-24; Mark 14:6-10; Lk. 23:4-6, 14-16, 20-22, 24; Jn.
18:18-40; 19:1-16).
Pilate tries Jesus in Pilates palace or Praetorium (Matt. 27:27; Mark 15:16; Jn.

18:28, 33; 19:9).

Pilate asks him, Are you the king of the Jews? and Jesus answers in the

affirmative with a qualification in John (Matt. 27:11; Mark 15:2; Lk. 22:3; Jn. 18:33,

Pilate declares Jesus innocence three times (Lk. 23:4, 14-15, 22; Jn. 18:38;
19:4, 6).

Releasing a prisoner is a custom (Matt. 27:15; Mark 15:6; Jn. 18:39).

Crowds and authorities clamor for the release of Barabbas (Matt. 27:20; Mark
15:11; Lk. 23:13, 18;Jn. 18:38, 40).

Barabbas is a rebel or insurrectionist (Mark 15:6; Lk. 23:19; Jn. 18:39-40).

Barabbas is released instead of Jesus (Matt. 27:15-21; Mark 15:7, 15; Lk.
22:18-25; Jn. 18:40).

A crowd clamors for his crucifixion: verdict by volume (Matt. 27:20-25; Mark
15:12-15; Lk. 23:18-24; Jn. 19:6, 12, 15).

The Sonship of Jesus is one of the accusations leveled at him (Matt. 26:6364; Mark 14:61-62; Lk. 22:70; Jn. 19:7).

Pilates Roman soldiers are present (Matt. 27:27; Mark 15:16; Jn. 19:2).

They weave or twist and put a crown of thorns on Jesus (Matt. 27:29; Mark
15:17; Jn. 19:2).

They throw a robe on him (Matt. 27:28; Mark 15:17; Jn. 19:2).

They mock him (Matt. 27:29; Mark 15:19-20; Jn. 19:3).

The say, Hail king of the Jews! (Matt. 27:29; Mark 15:18; Jn. 19:3).

They hit him (Matt. 27:30; Mark 15:19; Jn. 19:3).

They lead him away to crucify him (Matt. 27:31; Mark 15:20; Jn. 19:16).

Soldiers cast lots for his clothing (Matt. 27:35; Mark 15:24; Lk. 23:34; Jn.
Jesus crucifixion has a higher purpose than an unfortunate martyrdom (Matt.

20:19, 28; Mark 10:45; Lk. 22:28-30; Jn. 10:10-18).

He is crucified on a cross at the Place of the Skull (Matt. 27:33; Mark

15:22; Lk. 23:33; Jn. 19:17).

Two others (criminals) are crucified alongside him (Matt. 27:38; Mark

15:27; Lk. 23:33, 40-43; Jn. 19:18).

A notice on the cross reads, King of the Jews (Matt. 27:37; Mark 15:26; Lk.

23:38; Jn. 19:19).

Mary Magdalene and other women watch him on the cross (Matt. 25:55-

56; Mark 15:40-41; Lk. 23:49; Jn. 19:25-27).

He is offered gall (Matt. 27:34, 48; Mark 15:36; Lk. 23:36; Jn. 19:28-30).

Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for Jesus body and wraps it in linen cloth

(Matt. 27:57; Mark 15:43-46; Lk. 23:50-53; Jn. 19:38-42).

The tomb is new and / or has been cut out of rock (Matt. 27:60; Mark

15:46; Lk. 23:53; Jn. 19:41).

The body is laid in a tomb before the start of Sabbath (Matt. 27:57-60; Mark

15:42; Lk. 23:54; Jn. 19:42).

Jesus is resurrected on the first day of the week before dawn or early in the

morning (Matt. 28:1;Mark 16:2; Lk. 24:1: Jn. 20:1).

Mary Magdalene is the first at the empty tomb (Matt. 27:61; Mark 15:47-

16:1; Lk. 24:1-10; Jn. 20:1, 10-18).

The stone is discovered to be rolled away (Matt. 28:2; Mark 16:4; Lk. 24:2; Jn.


Mary Magdalene is named as being blessed with the first divine appearances
(Matt. 28:5-10; Mark 16:5-8; Lk. 24:4-10; Jn. 20:10-18).

Jesus says, Peace be with you (Lk. 24:36; Jn. 20:19, 21, 26).

He appears to men disciples (Matt. 28:16-20; Lk. 24:13-35, 36-49; Jn. 20:1929; 21:4-23).

After the resurrection, he shares bread and fish with his disciples (Lk. 24:30,
42-43; Jn. 21:10-15).

Luke and John emphatically insist on a bodily resurrection (Lk. 24:38-43; Jn.
20:27; 21:10-15).
2. So whats the bottom line for the historical reliability of the four Gospels?

For me, the most surprising feature of this list is how often the four Gospels
share similarities: about 149 out of a grand total of 226 items, which makes
The four Gospels cohere together in a unified storyline and present the same
characters in the life of Jesus, though, of course, an author like John omits
some and highlights others. But Peters life, for example, remains the same,
in broad outline.
3. Why do the four Gospels share the same storyline?

Jesus ministry and death are rooted in a life story, in history, in time and
place, in Israelabout four decades before the destruction of the temple in AD
70 by the Roman General Titus (in that link see an image on the Arch of Titus
of the Menorah [and more] triumphantly being carried through Rome).
Broadly speaking, the chronology in this list follows the ministry of Jesus
because he lived one day at a time chronologically, historically, as we all
do. So it is only natural that his life storywould be recounted in the Biblical
Gospels from his spiritual encounter with John at the Jordan River to Jesus
4. But what about all the variations between the Gospels?

If a Gospel author varies the order of the story or omits characters

variations and omissions that all Greco-Roman authors used then these
decisions do not take away from the bigger chronology in the Gospels.

Sometimes the authors emphasized theology and literary techniques,

instead of a strict chronology or sequence. But this does not mean that they
did not anchor their stories in historical events and a broad sequence. It is
inconceivable, to cite absurd examples, that the death and resurrection
would be placed before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem or before Judas
betrayal. But within the chronology of Christs life, it is possible, for instance,
to alternate the scenes of Peters denials with the scenes of Jesus trial, as
John brilliantly and touchingly does (18:12-27).
This long list demonstrates how stable the traditions were. To cite an
example, when the author of John wrote his Gospel (probably) in the 90's, the
Baptist's name was still known as John, not Simon or Jacob. We should not
take these facts or this stability for granted.
Bottom line: coherence of the same storyline in four accounts implies
stability. Stability means historical reliability. It's that simple.
5. So does the huge number of agreements between the four Gospels indicate a common "pool"
of traditions about the life of Christ, or do they indicate eyewitness testimony?

The answer is both. In John's case, I have reached the decision that it was
written by an eyewitness. But he also had a stable "pool" of traditions from
which to draw. The life of Christ presented in a broad, outlined story provides
easy access to the common pool of traditions and remembrances and
repetition by the tradition transmitters. This pool explains, in part, why
Matthew, Mark, and Luke agree, even if we assume that Matthew and Luke
borrow from Mark. There had to be a starting point. We already learned in the
article on Mark's Gospel that Peter was the main eyewitness in this Gospel.
Undoubtedly, he wisely decided that the best way to preach the gospel is to
follow Jesus' life story, though of course he may have told short anecdotes in
a context, and Mark put things in a broad storyline.
Another important feature of this long list is the category Geography and
Locations near the beginning of the article. Even John, the so-called spiritual
Gospel, anchors Christs life in geography, as we observed in the article
about Archaeology and Johns Gospel. Jesus really did teach, for example, in
the synagogue in Capernaum, which is confirmed in the Synoptics.

Back to the issue of storytelling and a storyline -- in my view, stories are

easier to remember and repeat than is a list of facts or disconnected or
barely connected pile of sayings. Stories provide a context and natural order
that accurately jar the memory.
Years ago I attended the performance of a memory expert. He asked the
audience to give him a list of digits or numbers, from zero to nine, one digit
at a time. The audience randomly shouted out about thirty of them. He wrote
them across the chalkboard, in the order (or disorder) we gave him. He
turned his back on the board, faced us, and repeated the string of digits in
the exact order on the board. How? Long before this performance, he had
developed and assigned a comical character to each digit from zero to nine.
As he wrote them on the board, he developed a story in his mind, from one
random digit to the next in our string. He told himself the story according to
the sequence and narrative interaction of the digits that were
characterized. So the randomness of the series received order by story.
All analogies are flawed if they are pushed too far. This true anecdote is not
to say that the Gospel tradition transmitters and the Gospel authors were
modern memory experts (though they may have come close). Nor does the
anecdote say that the Gospel authors always follow
astrict and detailed chronology. Nor especially does it say that the Gospel
traditions were randomly thrown onto the chalkboard of a transmitters
memory. Sometimes sayings alone have value.
But the anecdote is to say that a story is very helpful in remembering
accurately, and a story also helps the storyteller's memory of the main
characters the exact requirements and layout of both the above list and the
memory experts technique. To cite the ultimate illustration, the Grand
Narrative or Story of the Iliad surely helped Homer, an oral poet, in keeping
track of the main plot and subplots and the many characters.
6. How does this list apply to the Gnostic gospels?

The Gnostic gospels in the latest edition of the Nag Hammadi collection do
not come anywhere near this detailed, unified storyline in the four Biblical
Gospels. These heretical texts seem glad to engage in nothing but dialogues

and discussions with very few references to historical facts. Gnostic

teachings are disembodied and cut off from the real-life story of Jesus; no
one can be confident that he or his disciples actually said or did those things
in the Gnostic texts, except a few passages that obviously derive from the
earlier Biblical Gospels. Thus, this long list provides us with hard evidence for
our intuition that the Gnostic texts stray far from the life and teaching and
works of Jesus, as they really happened. Therefore, the early church fathers
were right to distance themselves and their churches from the Gnostic
On a much smaller scale than the early churchs orthodox struggle with
heresies, it is misguided to place the words orthodoxy or heresy in quotation
marks as the heavy promoters of the Gnostic texts do nowadays. There really
was a heresy and an orthodoxy back then; we can see the distinctions when
we compare the teachings of the Biblical Gospels and the teaching of the
Gnostic texts.
7. So what does all of this mean to the Church of all denominations?

The Church needs to have confidence in this age of mass media mud slinging
on the Biblical Gospels. Boosting the confidence of the Church has been the
main goal of the entire series.
These things in this list were really done and spoken. They are reality. We
need to tell the story of the unified, essential Gospel to whoever will listen to
References and Further Reading

Paul N. Anderson. Aspects of Historicity in the Gospel of John: Implications

for Investigations of Jesus and Archaeology. In James H. Charlesworth. Jesus
and Archaeology. Eerdmans, 2006. Pp. 587-618.
Richard Bauckham. The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative,
History, and Theology in the Gospel of John. Baker Academic, 2007.

Raymond E. Brown. The Gospel According to John. Vols. 1 and 2. The Anchor
Bible. Double Day, 1966-1970.
Craig Blomberg. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. 2nd ed. Intervarsity,
2007. See Chapter Five.
---. The Historical Reliability of Johns Gospel. Intervarsity, 2001. Very helpful
for this article.
C. H. Dodd. Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel. Cambridge UP, 1963.
Leon Morris. Studies in the Fourth Gospel. Eerdmans, 1969.
D. Moody Smith. John among the Gospels. 2nd ed. South Carolina UP, 2001.
What really helped me the most was an exhaustive concordance. I look at
each entry, each word, Matthew through John, one page at a time. I am so
grateful that we have very many details about our Lord's life and ministry.
They are not myths. We can confidently know what he said and did.