God On The Net
"Gospel" means "Good News". A gospel presents the Good News that Jesus Christ has made salvation available to all people, not just Jews.
As Paul makes clear, there is actually only one gospel:
1 Corinthians 15:1-8,11  Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,  and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.  Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Immanuel means "God with us." It is important to remember that Israelite names were descriptive phrases. It was not unusal for a person to have several names, e.g. (1) Saul and Paul, (2) Peter, Simon and Cephas.
Isaiah 9:6-7 [NIV]  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. [New American Bible: upon his shoulder dominion rests] And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Isaiah 52:13 through 53:12 is called the "suffering servant" passage.
Isaiah 52:13-15  See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.  Just as there were many who were appalled at him – his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness –  so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.
Isaiah 53:1-12  Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.  He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.  Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.  After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.  Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Friend, that is the gospel, just as clear and certain as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!
Want more proof it's divinely inspired? See Bible Codes about Jesus in the 'suffering servant' passage of Isaiah 52:13-53:12
"Does the gospel need to be defended?"
Philippians 1:16 [Persons who preach Christ out of goodwill] do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.
If Paul thought the Gospel needed defending, who are we to disagree? But understand that God told us what defenses to present: (1) Eyewitness testimony of Peter, Paul, James and Jude; (2) Luke researched it; (3) fulfilled prophecy.
Galatians 1:6-9  I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel –  which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
Jesus voluntarily underwent a horrible, torturous, humiliating death for our sake. He wants to be remembered and honored for His loving sacrifice, and justly so. Hence, through Paul He has warned that He will not ignore those who teach a different gospel, such as salvation by good works or that we can become gods ourselves (e.g., Mormonism), and He will punish those who distort the truth.
"Why are there four Gospels?"
Actually, there are at least six Gospels which have been accepted by Christianity as divinely inspired: Isaiah Chap. 9, 53, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 11, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Actually, there are two answers as to why there are four Gospel books. They aren't offered as competing answers, they are both correct. They answer the question from different perspectives.
"Which Gospel was written first and which last?"
Isaiah was written about 700 B.C., 1 Corinthians was written before 68 A.D. and before the "four" gospels. Scholars generally agree that Mark was written first, around 66 A.D., then Matthew, then Luke, and finally John around 96 A.D.
This point is a bit confusing. The Gospels are actually compilations of short anecdotes, called pericopes. ("puh-rick-oh-peez") For instance, the guy down the street might have a note he wrote down when Jesus came through town and healed a blind man and a leper. The blacksmith might have a letter from his cousin in Jerusalem and the letter has a paragraph about Jesus casting out a demon. The tentmaker may have heard Peter preach a sermon telling how Peter and Jesus walked on the water and the tentmaker wrote it down. The pericopes were not written down thirty to sixty years after the fact. They were written down much closer to the events described. Hence, although the final form of the Gospels was written down thirty-six to sixty-six years after the events, the main content was written much earlier. Luke begins his Gospel saying Luke 1:1 "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, ...."
This was the primary reason the biblical Gospels were not written almost immediately. It is clear from the Epistles that Christians expected Christ to return in just a few years. If your friend has all sorts of wise sayings you want to remember and he goes out of town on a temporary job for six months, do you start writing everything down?
1 Thessalonians was the very first New Testament book written and it was written around 54 A.D. Chapter 4 was written specifically because Christians were worried about what would happen to other Christians who died before Jesus' return – would they "sleep" forever? Were they lost? (James may have been written before 1 Thessalonians, shortly before 50 A.D.)
Until Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press, books, scrolls, etc. were rare and expensive. It just wasn't common for people to read and put things in written form. Understand that there is a difference between non-literary and illiterate. Archaeologists have found that literacy was much more common in ancient times than was previously thought. But consider our own society – we leave voice mail, answering machine or pager messages, or use Post-Its, or we call cell phones. How often does the average person write a long document explaining something in detail?
One problem with written materials is that you only have whatever the author wrote down. If you have additional questions or don't fully understand, you're stuck. The attitude of many was, "I would prefer to learn from a disciple of Jesus or a disciple of a disciple than from a scroll."
As long as there were many people who knew Jesus or knew someone who knew Jesus and people believed Jesus would return soon, there wasn't a big concern about writing an organized presentation. But as time went on, more and more of the original participants were dying off, and Christians realized that if they didn't write down what the participants were teaching the teachings would become distorted and unreliable.
"Why don't the four Gospels agree with each other?"
To answer this, we must first understand what a gospel is not.
A watch that gains one second per day is only accurate about once every 118 years. A watch that is stopped is accurate twice a day. Which would you prefer to use?
Each of the Four Gospels was written for a particular audience and to emphasize particular theological points. It is generally agreed that Mark was the first Gospel written and that either (a) both Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source or (b) Mark, Matthew and Luke all used a common set of source materials, with Matthew and Luke using additional materials. The three are so similar that they are referred to collectively as the Synoptic Gospels, "synoptic" meaning "same eye", or same viewpoint.
Despite the fact that Matthew
and Luke probably had direct access to copies
of Mark, there still are some
discrepancies. This indicates that the various authors intentionally
arranged things in different orders to suit their particular themes.
As indicated above, a gospel is not intended as a historical report. The
question is not "Do the gospels differ in any way?"
The question is "Do the gospels contradict each other in any significant
way either theologically or in describing events?" The answer to
that question is "NO!"
I suggest you examine the facts. Biblical scholars agree that there are numerous inconsequential contradictions in the sequence of events among the four Gospels, as well as some other minor discrepancies:
Also see Principles of Textual Interpretation
Many people become confused when they find out there are contradictions – despite what they were told by parents or preachers. If you study the Bible prayerfully it's easy to overcome this confusion. You will see that the Bible is unique.
It is important to understand that you can't really
understand the Bible just by reading the Bible.
If that were true, preachers would never give sermons and Bible-study groups
would never discuss passages – they would just read the
Bible aloud to the congregation or the group. The Holy Spirit gives people
insight into particular passages. People who get such insight
often write articles or books about particular topics. How are you
ever going to get to share that God-given insight if you only read the Bible
itself? Get a good Study Bible, i.e., a Bible with
extensive footnotes, outlines, and comments. Also consider getting a study
The Bible, including the Gospels, is the only book where a
group of 15 people can all read the same passage and each get a different valid
message from it. (If you don't believe this, try discussing the parable
of the Prodigal Son or Moses' first meeting with God in Chapter 3 of Exodus
sometime, after having several people read it to themselves. Don't ask
"What is the main point of this passage?" ask "What
important point do you see that can apply to your life?")
The chronological contradictions among the Four Gospels
have been known to Bible scholars for centuries. The most important
thing to understand is that there are no theological contradictions.
(THE REST OF THIS ANSWER DEALS SPECIFICALLY WITH THE GOSPELS)
The authors were not concerned with getting the sequence of events entirely accurate, since they never intended to write chronological accounts!
The Four Gospels were actually constructed mainly of pericopes. A pericope is a short anecdote. Each of the Four Gospels is mainly a "string of pearls." The author collected a number of anecdotes, sorted them by concept (baptism, miracles, teachings about heaven, the Passion (Crucifixion)), and arranged them in a sequence that is a mixture of chronological and topical. In other words, parts of each Gospel are chronological and parts are by subject.
This is the same format used throughout the Bible – historical
parts are put in chronological sequence, but other parts, such as the Minor
Prophets (Zechariah, Zephaniah, Joel, Amos,
etc.) are grouped together. Contrary to common belief, Paul's epistles
were written before the Four Gospels (except possibly Mark),
not after. In the accepted biblical order, Paul's epistles
are basically ordered by length, not topic or chronology.
A common mistake in interpreting any literature is to try to understand the work by viewing it through the reader's cultural values. If we viewed the Bible by modern American values, we would have to say "The Old Testament is about a bunch of guys who were bigamists and had mistresses. This is totally immoral literature."
To determine the validity of the gospel messages we must put ourselves in the authors' position:
If you wanted to write a book telling the world
there is a God, that God became a man in order to save mankind, that death is
simply a transformation and that God will judge each man after death, and
you were poor, traveling around, risking persecution to death and had only fragmentary
information to work with, would you mainly be interested in the
theology or the chronology?
Let's say you go to a McDonalds with a friend for lunch. He says "How much money do you have on you?" You respond "Twenty dollars." Does it really matter that you have twenty-one dollars and sixteen cents? The purpose of his question is to get an idea whether you have enough for lunch, and your approximate answer is fine.
The purpose of the gospels was to explain about the Messiah
to people who were mainly illiterate Those people really didn't care about minutia
such as the exact sequence of events.
Luke is the only author who says Luke 1:3 "I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning ...." Remember: the Four Gospels were not written until about 66 A.D. to 96 A.D., i.e., the earliest of the Four Gospels was written about thirty-six years after Jesus' death. (Due to errors in how calendars used to be calculated, Jesus was actually born around 4 B.C. and crucified around 30 A.D.) At that point, think of what would be needed to write a chronology of events.
Imagine being an American writer in Tennessee around 1870 trying
to put together a magazine article about a murder by several prominent
families that had occurred in 1820 and had largely been "hushed up."
You could probably find a few people who had some recollections about
it, and maybe several people would have some diary entries or notes. But
the chances are nobody would have a completely accurate chronology
of the events. Also, because of persecution by the families, you would
not be able to travel freely and ask questions freely.
Consider the information available to the writers of the Four
Gospels and the persecution that existed when they were writing. If the
Four Gospels did completely agree
it would make all of them highly
suspect! It would be impossible to have four
accounts completely agree without massive collusion.
If there were massive collusion, it would be difficult to
accept any account as true – if news of the Messiah was considered
so important, why would four separate authors take the considerable
time, effort and expense to obtain and review each other's works and make
sure their accounts matched exactly?
The Gospels were written to let the world know the Good News that Jesus Christ, God, took on a flesh body, died for our sins, and made salvation available to all mankind. Jesus specifically criticized the Pharisees who dissected the Old Testament scriptures, complaining that they had gotten so involved in the details that they had completely lost sight of the message.
(c) 1998 by Rick Reinckens