There is a sense in which the question ought to be, “Why are there only four Gospels?” The life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ have had the greatest impact on humanity of any event in history! How can these short accounts do justice to something so important? As John the apostle said at the close of his Gospel, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
Therefore, even four accounts are not enough, but these do give us a four-dimensional portrait of Jesus. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written by eyewitness apostles or their associates. They were evangelists and desired to present whatever part of Jesus’ ministry and teaching which would appeal to the particular audience they were trying to reach. They are not repetitious chronological biographies of Jesus’ life. Each Gospel has a distinct purpose, an identifiable audience, and individual characteristics which are evident in their contents. Each contributes a significant, supplemental, true dimension to our understanding of Jesus.
The first three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, are called the synoptics—coming from a Greek word meaning “viewed together.” They present the life of Christ in similar ways with a lot of parallel content.
In Matthew, Jesus is the royal Jewish Messiah and eternal King, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. It was probably written to present Jesus to the Jews and teach them in the faith after their commitment to follow Him.
Mark’s Gospel presents Jesus as the divine Servant-Worker and Redeemer. The action-packed ministry of Jesus, which was characterized by His powerful but humble service, would be appealing to the Gentiles, particularly Romans.
Finally, the portrait of Jesus in the third synoptic Gospel, Luke, is that of the universal, ideal and perfect man—the cosmopolitan and sympathetic Savior of all mankind. Jesus’ inclusion in His Kingdom of the Gentiles, social outcasts, women and children would be particularly appealing to the Greeks of that day.
The Gospel of John distinctly states that it was written to lead the reader to saving faith in Jesus the Messiah, God’s Son (20:30-31). Over ninety percent of its content is not found in the three synoptic Gospels. John’s narrative includes seven miracles, over twenty testimonies of people who met Jesus, numerous titles and claims of Jesus—all supporting the significant truth of the deity of Jesus as the unique and preexistent Son of God.
The uniqueness of each Gospel was symbolized early in Church history when the four were identified with the images of a lion, ox, human being and eagle, respectively. Therefore, we are not limited to one perspective on Jesus, but have the richness of four.