THE PULSE of Prince of Peace
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church newsletter.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
by Walt Hasbach
Is it any wonder that the gospel letters are different? Note the word different not in any way saying contradictory. You must consider that the audiences they addressed could be different. And, the elementary rule in speaking is you always talk to the audience in a way they can understand. Before I get into that lets take a quick look at the gospels.
The Gospel of John is quite different from the other three. The three, Matthew, Mark, and Luke agree to a great extent. The sequential order is not rigidly followed in any of the Gospels. They do take one basic point of view of Jesus' life and teachings. There are certainly differences among them, but nothing like the difference between John and those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John was the son of Zebedee, he and his brother James are called the "Sons of Thunder," most likely for their lively personalities. In Acts 12:2 it is written that Harod had John’s brother James put to death with the sword.” Of the 12 disciples, Peter, James, and John formed the inner circle, chosen by Jesus, to become his closest companions.
In fact, the Gospel of John is so unique that a large percent of the material it contains regarding Jesus' life cannot be found in the other Gospels. All four Gospels are matching, and all four tell the same basic story about Jesus Christ. When we study John, he seems to be from a different culture. It is probably a combination of motivation and audience that makes this gospel so different.
Consider this. If you were asked to tell the story of Jesus to, three different audiences, One, is a group of Jewish youth, the second a class of seminary students, or third, a group of senior citizens who had been church member for a long time. You would instantly recognize the different concerns of each group and use a different vocabulary to hold their interest in new ideas that would be appropriate for each. That raises the question of John's audience at the time of his writing. I will hazard a guess based on my experience.
I have had to face audiences of different backgrounds from time to time. Keeping my topic of presentation technically correct yet at a level that kept the nontechnical attendees interested; and, at the same time not to bore the technically savvy attendees interested in knowing more.
This is an example of what I am writing about. While I was working at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) I was asked to present a paper at Redlands University on Solar Energy (year 1975), since this was a local presentation, I asked Janice if she would like to attend. When making the presentation I used the word “Photovoltaic” expecting everyone to understand the meaning of the word. During the presentation a lady in front of Janice turned around and said, “is that your husband” Janice said “yes” and the lady then said, “what is Photovoltaic” Janice said, “I don’t know.” Later that day Janice told me of the question, and I was shocked. Photovoltaic was so integral to my vocabulary I took it for granted that everyone would understand it.
One more illustration to support my theses that John was talking to a different audience than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I have two books one written by Bill Harrison, title “Six Days on a Raft.” The second by Ken Birks title “Sea of Sharks.” These two books were written independent of the other. The authors were on the same ship that sunk during a typhoon in the Pacific Ocean at the end of WWII. Both authors were on the same raft for the entire time, but that is where the similarity ends. And the mind set of each of author takes over. Each person writes from a different perspective; one was a Junior officer the other a sea man, and I am sure that each author had a different audience in mind. Neither book indicates that these two ever met after their rescue from the sea.
So, I believe that John was writing to an audience much different than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. All four books were God inspired each directed to serve a different audience for a specific purpose.
I used “Eusebius” The Church History by Paul L. Maier and other books as reference material to determine the sequence in which the Gospels were written. Right or wrong, I tried, and I make no claim as to accuracy.
The date of Matthew’s Gospel is far from certain. Three pieces of evidence have usually been advanced to demonstrate that Matthew wrote after 70 A.D. First, Matthew is dependent upon the Gospel of Mark and Mark is normally dated to the late 60s or early 70s.
Luke’s Gospel is clearly written for Gentile converts: it traces Christ’s genealogy, for example, back to Adam, the “father” of humanity rather than to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. The date and place of composition are uncertain, but many dates the Gospel to 63–70 A.D., others somewhat later.
It is possible that Mark’s Gospel was written in stages (either because Mark himself wrote the Gospel over several years or because he incorporated passages that were written by someone else at an earlier time, or both). There is a high degree of scholarly consensus that the Gospel of Mark was written in the 60s.
Most scholars believe that John wrote his gospel sometime in the 80's or early 90's A.D., and so he most likely knew about the other gospels and did not feel the need to duplicate what they had written. John begins by identifying Jesus as God and Creator (1:1-3). He omits many important things that the other gospels contain.