I know how people break down the Gospels saying Matthew is for the Jew and Luke is for the Greek, and so forth. That’s all fine and good but the Jew and the Greek and whoever else is encountering the Bible is going to need all four Gospels because they are all inspired and they all have valuable information for learning the full teaching by Jesus.
An example of this is what the Gospels tell us about the identify of John the Baptist as the prophet Elijah. Was he or was he not the prophet Elijah? One Gospel isn’t enough to get the full picture.
John says he was not Elijah. In John 1:21 the people asked John if he was ‘the prophet’ and if he was Elijah? John flatly said, “No”, to both questions. But it tells the truth that John the Baptist has his own personhood. Elijah was a different man than John and the two can’t be the same. This isn’t the complete story.
Jesus says John was the prophet Elijah. At the end of John’s life when he was imprisoned, Jesus took to defending John the Baptist and telling how John is the prophet prophesied of in Malachi chapters 3 and 4. And then Jesus says, “And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.” Mt 11:14. This sounds like a bona fide contradiction in the Scriptures. But it most certainly is not a contradiction. But it illustrates why we need to read what all of the Gospels say so that we fully understand.
John came in the “spirit and power of Elijah”. The angel is speaking to Zacharias, John’s father, and said to him that, “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Lk 1:17. This passage helps us to understand how John the Baptist could be Elijah, without literally being Elijah, as we see that he was “like” Elijah in both “spirit and power”.
“The likeness of John the Baptist to Elijah strikes us not only in his outward appearance, his clothing and way of living, but in his spirit and character as a preacher of repentance.” – Peoples New Testament Commentary, Lk 1:17
These three passages in John, Matthew and Luke are all necessary to understand the identity of John the Baptist. One Gospel account isn’t sufficient to learn that John was not the Old Testament prophet, and yet he was the prophet in the sense of being very much like that old prophet.
Seeing that all of the Gospels are inspired and necessary for seeing the whole picture, imagine how important all of the accounts are when seeking to understand weighty matters of the coming kingdom and righteous living in the new dispensation!
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage (MDR). To learn what the Lord says on MDR, one needs to look at what Jesus says in Matthew 5:31,32 and 19:1-12; Luke 16:18; Mark 10:1-12. One Gospel reading would not be sufficient to learn the full teaching of Christ on the matter. Only in Matthew do we see the exception to the general rule that divorcing and remarrying always leads to living in adultery. The exception allows for the reality that in the marriage covenant one spouse might fornicate and Jesus says this leaves the innocent party in the marriage an additional option to marry another if the divorce happens. I say “additional” option because Paul shows in 1 Corinthians 7:10 and 11 that the consequence to the general principle – which we would read of in Mark 10 and Luke 16 (see references cited above) – is that there are only two options after a divorce which is to “remain unmarried or be reconciled”. Paul indicated this is what the Lord taught. And in most cases, these two options are the only options meaning that the one marriage is all you get and remaining single will be a very real requirement if the marriage cannot be mended. But what Paul doesn’t mention in 1 Corinthians is the exception that Jesus allows in Matthew 19 and Matthew 5. This additional information given by Jesus illustrates why all of the Gospels are needed to ascertain the fully teaching of Christ.
In the four Gospels, called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we learn about the Good News of Jesus Christ. These books are the only place man can turn to get the definitive truth on the identity and teaching of Jesus. To have the story of Jesus told from four individuals is the wisdom of God which should be appreciated.
Humbly yours, Dan Mayfield