When I first read the first four books of the New Testament … the Four Gospels… I wondered about their backstory. You know… who Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were behind the scenes, how they came to know Jesus, and how their experiences with Jesus influenced their point of view. I also wondered how their individual works compared and contrasted with one another. So this past week, I did a bit of research on each of their backgrounds to shed some light on what they witnessed and the aspects of Jesus’ life they chose to focus on.
For starters, I learned that three of the four gospels (that of Matthew, Mark, and Luke ) are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels. With synoptic coming from the Greek word, synoptikós meaning seeing all together, these three gospels include many of the same stories, are often similar in sequence, and at times use identical wording in their accounts of events Jesus’ life and his teaching. Meanwhile, only the Gospel of John stands out as being distinctively different in its focus.
The following is a beautiful graphical depiction I found on Wikipedia that highlights the relationship among the three synoptic gospels.
As you can see, over three-quarters of Mark’s content is found in Matthew, and much of Mark is similarly found in Luke. Additionally, Matthew and Luke have material in common that is not found in Mark. So it is that I begin with Mark.
Mark was a disciple of Peter. Well educated, some sources say Mark served as Peter’s scribe. What most sources agree on is that the Gospel of Mark was likely the first Gospel (40 to 55 AD). His work targeted a Gentile audience, primarily Roman and Greek, and explained Jewish terms, customs, and Aramaic terms to a non-Jewish audience. The focus of this gospel was on Jesus’ works rather on His words, highlighting Jesus’ miracles and actions. The frequent use of “immediately” and “then” keeps his narrative moving rapidly, portraying Jesus as a Servant who came to suffer for the sins of many.
While many Greek and Roman authors would freely re-write their source material in their own way much like today’s authors, Mark did not. In fact, he took the utmost of care as he knew his sources were precious traditions, carefully passed on in memorized form or in written notes. He respected their contents and even, whenever possible, their formulation. It is with this mindset that Mark arranged and linked all this existing material into a chronological sequence to formulate a compelling narrative. In fact, during my research, some compared Mark to an artist who painstakingly fit existing pieces into a beautiful mosaic or to a composer who arranged existing melodies into a new symphony. Viewing his work not as his own, Mark saw himself as an arranger rather than a writer who compiled and presented Jesus’ work into a simple geographical structure:
|Mark 1,1-13||Introducing Jesus and His baptism|
|Mark 1,14 – 6,6a||Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee|
|Mark 6,6b – 9,50||Jesus’ apostolic journeys|
|Mark 10,1 – 52||Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem|
|Mark 11,1 – 16,20||Jesus’ ministry and passion in Jerusalem.|
Once arranged, Mark bound all this material together into a compelling story that focuses on the mystery surrounding Jesus’ personality. Beginning with His baptism, Mark cites Jesus’ calling as a servant to humanity. Both a teacher and a healer, the common thread woven throughout His ministry is the question: ‘Who is this man they call Jesus?’ This mystery only intensifies when Jesus tells demons, disciples, and converts alike not to reveal His identity. The turning point though is when Peter cites Jesus’ profession as “You are the Christ!”. It is in this powerful statement that prepares us as the reader for Jesus’ declaration in Jerusalem before the High Priest: “You will see the Son of Man Jesus) sitting at the right hand of Power God)” and the centurion’s admission after His death: “Truly, this man was the Son of God!.”
Why do you think Jesus did not want those who were healed not to tell anyone?
What is clear is that the Holy Spirit served as the driving force for these four men and for these four gospels to show us in very real ways the truth about Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior from different vantage points. With each writer emphasizing different themes of Jesus’ life, these four historical testimonies provide a powerful, incredibly beautiful portrait of Jesus as servant and teacher, and as Son of God and Son of Man to convey God’s love for humanity.