The Distinctiveness of Each Gospel: What Do You Think?

I am revisiting Eddie Adams’ Parallel Lives’ of Jesus (WJK, 2011) – a nice little introduction to the Gospels. Here is his very basic statement on the distinctiveness of each Gospel:

Matthew’s Gospel is the most Jewish of the four and the one that is most clearly oriented toward the Old Testament…

Mark’s Gospel is the most action packed of the four Gospels, with much more space given to the deeds of Jesus rather than his words…

Luke’s Gospel is the most social oriented of the four, laying special emphasis on Jesus’ concern for the poor, the disadvantaged, and those on the edges of society…

John’s Gospel is simultaneously the simplest and most profound Gospel…Its plainness and clarity make it accessible to new readers, and its depth continually challenges and stimulates those who know it well…

I think Adams does a fine enough job giving this broad brushstroke of uniqueness for each Gospel. What do you think?

10 thoughts on “The Distinctiveness of Each Gospel: What Do You Think?

    1. I have done more work on John than on any other Gospel and I think more could be said. As I am reading Francis Watson’s “big book” on the Gospels, I am driven to thinking more and more about how the four gospels are separate and together… Look forward to your thoughts…

  1. Nijay, I find these descriptions to be insufficient and borderline troubling. When I have taught the Gospels in the past I have preferred, when offering “broad brush strokes” to present each Gospel in terms of its distinctive presentation of Jesus, its distinctive Christology. Jesus is, after all, the central focus in all four Gospels and is the only figure to receive any substantial character development. He is, to take a line from Ben Witherington, “the alpha and omega of NT thought.” I usually begin the synopsis of each gospel by looking at the distinctive titles used by each and then building a description from there.

    So, I tend to say something like, “Mark is concerned to present Jesus as the Christ and Son of God. These titles say something distinctive about Mark’s understanding of Jesus and what he accomplished. They also stand as a somewhat ironic testimony to the inbreaking of God’s Kingdom in the world. After all, how does one reckon with a cruficifed Christ and Son of God……Matthew presents Jesus as the Son of David, Son of Abraham, and the New Moses–the three major figures in the OT. In Jesus, the history of Israel is, in a manner of speaking, recapitulated en route to Israel finding a new and better representative…..etc. etc. etc.” I continue on in this way for several paragraphs each. It seems to me this is a better way to provide a broad overview – focus on the Jesus each Gospel gives us.

    Not sure if all of this is coherent…just a few thoughts off the top of my head.

  2. I always find the “Matthew is the most Jewish” an interesting and unhelpful statement. Of course, he uses Kingdom of Heaven and has some direct fulfillment statements, but Luke’s Gospel is striking, to me at least, in its presentation of events as typologically (?) fulfilling the OT. Thus, rather than individual proof texts, the whole narrative attempts to show coherence with the OT, and so partially toungue-in-cheek I argue to students it is the most “Jewish” of the four. At any rate, to be the most “Jewish” means there is an implicit standard of Judaism, which begs the question of which Judaism.

  3. For what it’s worth, I always tell my students that the gospels are fundamentally about two things: Christology and discipleship/mission. I also find all four gospels thoroughly Jewish, not least Luke the so-called Gentile.

    1. Thanks, Mike. Great minds think alike! I teach the same. I think by “Jewish” Adams (and others) seem to be referring to direct quotation of OT. And that is true for Matthew. However, one could easily prove John being more deeply invested in Jewish symbols, ideas, typology (etc…) without as many citations. The same, obviously, goes for the book of Revelation which has no quotations but is clearly “Jewish.”

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