As most evangelical Christians know, there are four gospels included in the New Testament. These are the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. So if there were 13 disciples (including Judas Iscariot) that were part of Jesus’ inner circle, why are there only four gospel included in the New Testament? On the surface it seems very reasonable that each of the disciples would have their own gospel included in the New Testament.
The difference of the gospels to other books
To answer this, I want to briefly state what differentiates the gospels from the other books (Acts, Epistles and Revelation) in the New Testament. First, this is not a difference in value. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
The difference lies in that the gospels are accounts of the life of Jesus, written by those who were close to Jesus. They were either one of the original 12 disciples, like Matthew and John, or students of one of the apostles, like Mark and Luke. The Epistles are the teachings from the apostles concerning how to live out the truth of the gospel.
Why just four of them?
So why were not more eyewitness accounts included? For the purpose of this article, I do not want to focus on the debate but want to focus on what the Bible has to say to us. Ephesians 4:11-13 reads: “And He (God) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
What does the Bible state about it?
There are three things in this passage that I want to point out.
- God gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelist, the shepherds, and teachers. As evangelical Christians we believe that the authority that lies in the apostles, is because God gave it to them. Therefore the books written by them, found in our Bibles, have the same authority. I believe we can confidently ascertain that not all the apostles were assigned the task of writing gospels.
- God gave them for the building up of the church, so that we would be effective in ministry. This goes back to the passage in 2 Timothy 3:16 where Paul writes that all Scripture is profitable for equipping us for every good work.
- The goal is that we may grow in our understanding of who Christ is, become like Him, and ultimately bring Him glory.
What we have in our Bibles is exactly what God has desired to speak to us. God has spoken and we can have confidence that the Bible we have today is for our benefit, to His glory. The four Gospels handed down to us contain all the information we need about Jesus’ earthly life and teachings.