Skeptic Bible Study: The Four Gospels Part I

I’ve recently been listening to several podcasts that have been talking about the four gospels. It’s been interesting to learn about the differences and contradictions in these books of “good news”. I know that most skeptics and unbelievers have heard these contrasts several times over. I know I have. But it is always compelling to hear the facts as a refresher.

Scholars agree that Matthew, Mark and Luke are noticeably similar, and are thus known as the “Synoptic Gospels“, while John is quite different. Mathematical comparisons show that Matthew contains 91% of Mark’s gospel, whereas Luke contains 53% of Mark. So it is also highly agreed among scholars that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. However, Matthew and Luke contain identical stories that are not found in Mark. This leads many scholars to theorize that Matthew and Luke made use of an additional source called Quelle or “Q”. (All of this information is from my very own copy of the NIV study bible.)

So now that I have the basics set up for us, on to the discrepancies.

Well…the first thing I’ll mention isn’t a discrepancy so much, but the differences are interesting. Marks account begins with the baptism of Jesus. Matthew starts with the genealogy and birth story and Luke begins with even more detail in the birth narrative. Nothing to damning, its just interesting to note the progression of information from Mark to Matt to Luke. Luke lets us know in 1 verse 3, that he’s investigated “everything”, so it seems he has to have the best account.

1. Baptism Account: Let’s take a look at the accounts of Jesus’ baptism. Mark 1:10-11 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, HE saw heaven being torn open and the spirit descending like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “YOU are my son, with YOU I am well pleased.” (Emphasis added)

Notice how personal these two verses are. Its as if Jesus is the only one seeing and hearing god. God it would seem, is revealing himself only to Jesus in this account.

Matthew 3:17 “And a voice from heaven said, THIS is my son, whom I love; with HIM I am well pleased.”

Small differences in the use of words “you are my son/ this is my son” and “with You I am well pleased/ with Him I am well pleased?” Maybe so. I can see just looking at these two passages how a believer could interpret these and say the person who recorded them meant the same thing. But it could also be said that the passage in Matthew seems to be more of a public declaration. Words from god that everyone around could hear.

There is a reason I start this study out with the wording differences in the baptism narrative. With the interpretations of one account being private and the other more public. This actually sets up one of the themes of differences in the gospels. On one hand there is a pattern coming from Mark called the “messianic secret.” We will see that people don’t seem to understand who Jesus is (not even his own disciples) and that Jesus tends to want to keep his identity and “godliness” a secret. The Jesus in Mark is more human and suffers in his humanity much more.

On the other hand coming from Matthew and Luke, Jesus is more of a bad ass that wants everyone to know who he is. Everyone does tend to know who he is. This leaves the Jews, (who have him crucified) much more accountable for their actions. Jesus also seems to suffer far less while being crucified.

In a future blog, I will go into more detail concerning the “messianic secret” vs. Jesus, the popular kick ass messiah.


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