Index/Table of Contents
Old Testament and New Testament  
Credits and Copyright





  1. To present the distinguishing features and unique aspects of each Gospel.
  2. To present a brief overview of the languages and written form of the Gospels.
  3. To acquaint the student with the intended audience of each Gospel.
  4. To identify the traditional authors of these books.


I. Background Definitions

A. The New Testament can be defined as,

"the authoritative record and interpretation of God's revelation of Himself through Jesus Christ" ((Gundry, p. 58) .

The word gospel comes from the Anglo-Saxon godspel which means god-message. The Greek word translated gospel is euanggelion which means good news.

B. Languages - The original language of the New Testament was Greek, the common language of the day. Besides Greek, "Palestinians spoke Aramaic and Hebrew; so Jesus and the first disciples were probably trilingual" ((Gundry, p. 21).

C. Form - The original documents (autographs or manuscripts) of the New Testament were probably written on a material known as papyrus. This material was made from the pulp of a tall water plant, woven together and beaten until smooth. Most manuscripts probably used the scroll form rather than separate pages bound together, known as codex form. Eventually, manuscripts were written on vellum made of calf skin or parchment made of sheepskin. (DQ1)

D. Purpose - The four Gospels each give a particular view of Christ's life and ministry. They were not intended to serve as a chronological biography of his life, but rather have theological and evangelistic motives.

II. Content

A. Matthew

1. Authorship - Traditionally it is held that this Gospel was written by Matthew, known as Levi, who was one of the twelve disciples. Levi made his living as a tax collector prior to joining Jesus. The authorship of this Gospel has been often debated However, (Gundry, stated, "The skillful organization of the Gospel agrees with the probable interests and abilities of a tax collector such as the apostle Matthew...his is the only Gospel to convey the story of Jesus paying the Temple tax" (pp. 82-83).

2. Theme - The Gospel of Matthew presents Jesus as the Jewish Messiah or King and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. It was probably written with the purpose of evangelizing Jews and confining them in their faith alter their conversion (Gundry, p. 84). Despite its intrinsically Jewish flavor, there are some elements in Matthew's Gospel that show a broader understanding of Christ's mission. Matthew is the only

Gospel that includes the story of the Gentile worshipers known as the Magi or Wise men. The Great Commission found in Matthew 28:19-20 constrains believers to disciple all nations, another indication of the universality of Matthew.(DQ2)

B. Mark

1. Authorship - Mark is generally held as the oldest of the four Gospels and is traditionally attributed to John Mark, the young companion of Paul and Peter, and the cousin of Barnabas. Since Mark was not one of the original twelve disciples, it is believed that he received his information from Peter.

2. Style - This Gospel presents a brief, quickly-paced view of Christ, the man of action. This emphasis is intensified by the use of the words immediately and straightway, which occur more than forty times in the King James Version.

3. Audience - This sense of action and movement was probably intended to attract a Roman audience. Thus it is commonly maintained that Mark was writing to Gentiles in Rome.

4. Theme - Christ's humanity is also emphasized by the repeated use of the title Son of Man, probably taken from Daniel 7.

5. Problems - We do not know exactly how the Gospel of Mark ends.

Some of the oldest manuscripts end with Chapter 16, verse 8.

A longer ending is offered in the King James Version but many feel that this was simply an attempt by a scribe to provide a conclusion by summarizing the story of the resurrection presented in the other Gospels.

A third ending which is contained in some manuscripts is probably not part of the onginal document.

Scholarship is divided as to whether 16:8 ends the Gospel or if the true ending has somehow been lost. (3)

C. Luke

1. Authorship - The third Gospel of the New Testament was traditionally written by the Gentile companion of Paul known as Luke. A physician by vocation, Luke traveled with Paul on several of his missionary journeys.

2. Theme - Luke presents Jesus as the universal Savior who came to redeem both Jew and Gentile. The universality of Luke is extended to social outcasts such as Zacchaeus (Luke 19), women (Luke 7:36-50; 21:14), end people of other races (Luke 2:32). Luke alone records the "Parable of the Good Samaritan" (Luke 10). "Luke thus portrays Jesus as a cosmopolitan Savior with broad sympathies, one who mingles with all sorts of people, socializes with Pharisees and publicans, and concerns himself with victims of personal calamity" (Luke 7:11-17) (Gundry, p. 93). The Gospel of Luke is the longest book in the New Testament and contains a highly-refined Greek style of writing. This no doubt appealed to his non-Jewish audience.

D. John

1. Authorship - The book of John is the most unique of the four Gospels. Many believe it was written by John, beloved disciple, brother of James, son of Zebedee. It was probably penned toward the close of the first century.

2. Audience -John's Gospel was probably written for the general population of Asia Minor which surrounded the city of Ephesus where John ministered.

3. Unique Aspects - It includes information not found in the other three Gospels such as Jesus' miracle of turning of water into wine, the encounter with Nicodemus, and the story of the woman at the well. Most scholars see this Gospel as highly symbolic with several layers of meaning The first half of the book (chapters 1-12) by and large deals with the miracles of Jesus, the second half (chapters 13-21) with his teaching ministry shortly before his death.

4. Theme -John presents Jesus as the divine Word of God. Rather than dealing with the genealogy of Christ such as Matthew and Luke, John goes back to the very beginning using words reminiscent of Genesis 1:1. Here, the beloved disciple describes Christ as the pre-incarnate divine instrument of God's creation. Therefore, one cannot read the first chapter of John and doubt that the New Testament claims Jesus to be divine. In accentuating Christ's deity, the author of John provides the "I am" statements and the dramatic confession of Thomas John 20:28).(4)

The word incarnation can be defined as:

"The Union of divinity with humanity in Jesus Christ" Webster. Unger defines the incarnation as, "the gracious voluntary act of the Son of God in assuming a human body and human nature". In Philippians 2:5-8, Paul explained the incarnation as the eternal Christ humbling or emptying himself to become a man. However, Christ did not cease being divine.


The Nature of Christ

Read the following In your Bible and in one or two sentences paraphrase each verse.

Christ's Humanity

Christ's Divinity

Define "Divinity"

Read Isaiah 53 and Psalms 22:1, 14-18.

Though these verses were written many hundreds of years before Christ's birth, do you see any parallels between them and the story of Jesus?

Please explain. Basing your answer on the above references, who is Jesus Christ?


DQ1 Why do some of the Gospels include certain  bits of information which are not mentioned by the other Gospel writers?

DQ2 Since Matthew was written to a Jewish audience, should Gentile Christian attempt to study it?

DQ3 Does the uncertainty of the ending of Mark cause problems in your understanding of the Bible?

What is your opinion as to whether Mark 16:9-20 should be used to establish doctrine?



Information about the synoptic problem has not been provided in this lesson plan. A long, time-consuming discussion of this subject is ill-advised for an introductory course. Sufficient information about the synoptic problem is provided in Gundry's text (pp. 65-68). A helpful chart which includes date, themes and other information about the gospels is provided by (Gundry, (p. 107).

TN4 Included with this lesson is a Worksheet which can be given to students to help them see what the Scriptures reveal about the incarnation.


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