An Overview of the 4 Gospels

An Overview of the 4 Gospels

Do you sometimes wonder why the New Testament contains four different gospels of the one authentic gospel? Isn’t one gospel account of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ enough? How should we understand the Gospels as works of literature? And what do the Gospels tell us about Jesus?

Any one of these Gospels alone would not do justice to Jesus’ life and ministry. Each Gospel writer wrote about Jesus to a different audience for a different purpose to give a unique perspective on His life. Together, the four Gospels give us a more complete picture of who Jesus was and what He accomplished during His ministry.

Different symbols for the Gospels are often used to communicate the distinctive of each account. A lion, symbolizing Matthew, represents strength and royal authority, a bull, representing Mark, portrays service and power, the figure of a man, for Luke, stands for wisdom and character; and eagle, John’s symbol, represents the deity.

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The Four: A Survey of the Gospels by Peter J. Leithart

The following capsule summaries of the Gospels will help you understand the distinctive of each Gospel.


The Gospel of Matthew is written to a Jewish audience to show that Jesus was the promised Messiah of Old Testament prophecy. The key expression is “that it might be fulfilled” (Matthew 1:22; 8:17; 12:17; 21:4) and it quotes more from the Old Testament than any other Gospel.

It uses alienating sections of teaching and narrative material to emphasize Jesus as a Teacher. A major theme in Matthew’s Gospel is the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God – God’s rule in the world and human hearts.

Other dominant themes are the church (Matthew 16:18; 18:19), the Second Coming of Jesus (Matthew 25), and the ethical teachings of Jesus (Matthew 5–7).

Overview of the 4 Gospels


The Gospel of Mark is probably the first Gospel written, and Matthew and Luke may have used Mark as a source. It focuses on Jesus as a servant who ministers to the physical and spiritual needs of others.

Mark’s Gospel is the shortest; it is written to a Gentile audience, particularly Roman citizens. It uses brevity in accounts, with rapid movement, to give a sense of urgency to the Gospel message. The key expression is “immediately” (Mark 1:10, 12, 18, 20, 21, 28, 31, 42).

Mark’s purpose was to show that Jesus was the Son of God; a Roman soldier’s words at Jesus’ death were, “Truly this man was the Son of God (Mark 15:39).

Mark 1:10 (NKJV)


This was written by a Gentile writer for Gentiles, to give the full story of Jesus’ life, from His birth to the birth of the church. It records many of Jesus’ parables not found in the other three Gospels.

It is universal in outlook, portraying Jesus as the compassionate Savior of the world, with love for all people, whether rich or poor, Jew or Gentile; He reaches out, especially to women and the poor and the outcast of society.

Luke’s Gospel emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit and the central place for prayer. The key expression is “it happened” or “it came to pass” (Luke 2:15; 5:17; 17:11, KJV).

Overview of the Four Gospels


The Gospel of John focuses on the theological meaning of Jesus’ actions, rather than on the actions themselves, and emphasizes who Jesus is, rather than what He did.

It includes many lengthy discourses of Jesus around which narrative is woven, and uses many keywords, such as “life, light, love, witness, glory, water, and truth,” to portray Jesus as God’s eternal Son.

It also presents Jesus as God incarnate through seven miraculous signs. The key expression is “believe” (John 1:7, 12, 20:31).

John’s clear purpose in writing is “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

An Overview of the Four Gospels

Final Thoughts

The first three Gospels were first labeled the Synoptic Gospels by J. J. Griesbach, a German biblical scholar, at the end of the eighteenth century. The English adjective “synoptic” comes from the Greek “sunovyi” (synopsis), which means “seeing together,” and Griesbach chose the word because of the high degree of similarity found among Matthew, Mark, and Luke in their presentations of the ministry of Jesus.

These similarities, which involve structure, content, and tone, are evident even to the casual reader. They serve not only to bind the first three gospels together but to separate them from the gospel of John.

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