“And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Eccl. 4:12)
I don’t know if this verse was ever in the minds of the early Church when they were considering the four gospels, but the logic of Solomon’s wisdom was certainly in play. Have you ever wondered why we have four gospels? This was a question in the early church. The church encountered detractors from the outside and from within.
Some who were hostile to the church made fun of the four gospels because of the apparent differences in the details of their accounts. Some inside the Church tried to establish the priority of one of the accounts over the others. Still others tried to write a single gospel account based on the four. In the end, all of these attacks on the legitimacy of four distinct gospel accounts were rejected in favor of four witnesses in all of their glorious diversity.
The argument of the early church is still as valid today as it was then. These four gospel witnesses, Matthew, Mark, Luke/Acts, and John each bring their own individual emphases to bear on their reader. Matthew focuses on Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophetic witness of the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus is not a disruption of prophetic fulfillment but its culmination. Mark focuses on what it means for Jesus to be Son of God and how his atonement is offered freely to any who will put their trust in him, even traitors like Peter. Luke wants his readers to understand how the gospel orients them on the stage of world history so that they are rooted in their new community, the people of God. John focuses on the cosmic realities of Jesus being one with the Great I Am.
Each gospel writer focuses on other things as well, and each of them make much of Jesus in their own way. Through their diverse accounts of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection they paint a more complete and genuine picture of our Lord.
As you read your Bible this year, try to notice the differences as well as the similarities. Make note of how Luke frames his account. How is he unique? How is he similar? Do the same for Mark, Matthew, and John. There are gems to mine in these observations that will feed your soul and sustain you through whatever dark valleys that are to come.