Have you ever wondered why there are four gospels instead of just one? I mean, setting the historical reasoning aside, have you ever wondered why God, in His wisdom, decided the Bible would contain these four accounts of the same events?
Tons of ink has been spilled over bringing these four accounts together, reconciling the different timelines, and discovering the harmony that exists in them. Despite that good work, the question remains: Wouldn’t it have been simpler if there was just one? Just one account, laid out in a systematic and organized way, that recorded everything? And while I’m not trying in this post to reinvent the wheel of the valuable work of others, I do want to propose that maybe one of the reasons why there are four instead of one has to do with the nature of the Bible itself.
When we say that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, it doesn’t mean that Moses or David or Matthew or John lapsed into a state of spiritual meditation and when they woke up there was ink all over their hands and a book was written. Neither does it mean that they lost control of their faculties and their hand started writing all on its own. Rather, it means that the Spirit of God worked through these writers to pen the message God intended. In other words, Scripture is truth mediated through personality. Not in spite of personality.
Luke was a doctor by profession. Likely, he had an orderly and logical mind. So when he wrote his account, he wrote it as he would have processed it. An orderly and accurate account—what’s important here is the facts. Getting them down in an accurate way. But John was different.
Most scholars say that when he started following Jesus, John was just a teenager. A youngish guy on the road with a bunch of hardened and grizzled fisherman. But what would it have been like for John to see the things he saw? A teenager, so full of life and passion and imagination? You see it in his words—a focus on the miracles of Jesus. Powerful imagery that paints a picture of the beauty of the Lord.
See it? It’s the same truth mediated through different personalities. When we come to the gospels today, they still speak to different people. Different people with different personalities. The artist? Well, they’ll likely identify with the youthful exuberance of John. The accountant? Perhaps they’ll identify with the tax collector Matthew. The businessman or woman? Maybe they gravitate to the orderly account of Luke. The beauty is in the variety. And what we have before us is the diamond of the gospel.
A diamond, which when polished, shows different sparkle and shine when viewed from different directions. And in the hands of a jeweler, it can be rotated in the middle of a crowd so that its full brilliance can be seen.
Now comes the next question—what does that have to do with me?
Of course, there is the obvious, which is that you likely resonate with one gospel account more than the others. And it’s also likely that that preference has changed over time and during different events in your life. So that’s one personal implication—that God, in His wisdom, has given us a Word that speaks to each of us through the Spirit’s power in an individual way.
But there is another implication to consider, and that is that the fact that there are four gospels, each one truth mediated through the personality of its author, means God can—and will—use you for His purposes. You specifically. You, with your body type. You, with your personality quirks. You, with your communication style. God can use you in all your individuality.
I’m reminded of one of the classic, concise articulations of the gospel we find in Ephesians 2:
“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do” (Eph. 2:8-10).
In these verses, we find the three components all of us have in common if we are in Christ. That is, that we are saved:
- By grace
- Through faith
- For good works.
But as we look at these verses, we see the personal nature of that salvation. The image here is of an artist—a craftsman—and we are what God has created in Christ specifically for good works. These are not random, general good works, but planned and orchestrated good works just for us so that we can, literally, “walk in them.” Oh, certainly, there is a general element to this good. We know this from God’s revealed will that all of us are to do good to the widow and the orphan. That we are to share the gospel liberally. That we are to be contributing and praying members of our communities. This is what living as a discipleship looks like. But the manner those things take place? Well, that’s very individualized.
My good works, then, will not look the same as your good works. And the manner in which I follow Jesus’ command to make disciples will also look different. Such is our testimony to the magnificent creativity of God who has planned them for each of us ahead of time. Much in the same way that God used these four men to communicate the same story in four different ways, so also will God use us to accomplish His good will and purposes in different ways.
God can use you, friend. He has planned good works—for you. Now walk in them like you. Not like me.
Michael Kelley is the Executive Director of the Nashville Baptist Association. He has degrees from West Texas A&M University, Beeson Divinity School, and is currently pursuing a PhD from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books and lives in Brentwood, TN, with his wife and three children.