Why Four Gospels?

by David Alan Black

Why does the church have four separate accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus? And in what order were they written? In my book Why Four Gospels: The Historical Origins of the Gospels, I voice a theory first espoused by New Testament scholar Bernard Orchard in the mid-twentieth century called the Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis.

Four Stages in the Writing of the Four Gospels

In preparing this book, I produced my own fresh translations of the church fathers from the original Greek and Latin. My view, based largely on the statements of these fathers, is that the Holy Spirit guided first Matthew, then Paul and his companion Luke, then Peter and his companion Mark, and finally John the apostle to hand on to the church during their own lifetimes the gospel given them by Jesus. This Spirit-directed process of inscripturating the fourfold gospel involved four main phases – four turning points at each of which a suitable gospel account was found to be necessary for its proper growth. These stages were the following:

1) The Jerusalem phase (Acts 1-12) under the leadership of Peter.

2) The Gentile mission phase (Acts 13-28) under the leadership of Paul.

3) The Roman phase requiring joint action by Peter and Paul.

4) The Johannine phase.

Matthew is the fundamental gospel, but each was written and published in response to a particular need of the church in a particular historical situation. Matthew was composed to meet the urgent needs of the primitive church of Jerusalem (the church established by Peter and the original apostles), which needed a manifesto defending its integrity and its right to exist in the earliest days of the church. Indeed, in the earliest canonical lists, Matthew always heads the list…

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Why Four Gospels?