Portraits of Jesus According to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Give three elements for each evangelist. Briefly explain why each element fits each gospel.

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a huge question that cannot be addressed adequately in a few hundred words, but some general points can be made. A caveat if you look at websites is to try to determine the source of the website so as to be able to gain some understanding of the agenda of the writer. We actually know very little about the writing of these texts, so what websites say authoritatively, especially on dating, is very probably conjectural. Why the gospel writers emphasize what they do is also open to debate; they didn't leave us outside explanations. Be leery of those websites that assert too much assurance about what and why—we are guessing about so much!

With that in mind, most scholars agree Mark's is the earliest and shortest gospel and focuses on Jesus as prophet, miracle worker, and suffering servant. It is generally understood to have been written in Greek to explain Jesus to a Gentile audience unfamiliar with Jewish tradition. It focuses more on Jesus as human rather than divine.

Matthew, which derives heavily from Mark—or from a lost "Q" document which is the source for both—is aimed at explaining Jesus to a Jewish audience. It contains an account of Jesus's birth, which is not in Mark, and, not surprisingly, given its audience, it makes reference to Jewish scripture about twice as often as Mark. It refers to Jesus as a teacher and wise man, and is at great pains to show him as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. It is also more concerned than Mark with the downward spiral of Jesus's relationship with the Jewish leaders.

Luke is often referred to as the social ministry gospel because of its emphasis on the physical as well as the spiritual needs of people. For example, the beatitudes in Matthew and Luke differ: in Matthew it is "blessed are the poor in spirit," while in Luke is it "blessed are the poor." In Luke, it is "blessed are those who hunger," whereas in Matthew it is "blessed are those who hunger after righteousness." This suggests that the same author may have written Luke and Acts. Acts reflects a period of the early church in which there was a strong emphasis on meeting people's physical as well as spiritual needs. Whether or not Luke was a physician, as traditionally believed, or a writer who was not an original eyewitness to Jesus but a traveling companion of Paul, Luke, like Mark, was explaining Jesus to a Gentile audience and making a bid for being inclusive of all people, which accounts for the emphasis on Jesus's social ministry rather than his ties to Jewish tradition (though those are there too).

John is so different from the other three gospels that they are often referred to together as the synoptic gospels. Synoptic means, roughly, "same sight" in Greek, so this refers to them having a similar perspective on Jesus. John was written probably a generation later than the first three and definitely after the fall of Rome, and it is written to groups of early Christian believers. Though it tells Jesus's life story, its emphasis is theological, on Jesus as the "logos" or word of God, and on Jesus as God incarnate in human form.

larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Matthew's Gospel was said to be written for the Jews. Matthew's gospel portrays Jesus as the Messiah, the promised one of Israel. He is the "lion of Judah." This is evidenced by the fact that his gospel makes frequent references to Old Testament passages which are seen to correspond to Jesus' ministry. One often sees the phrase, "that the scripture might be fulfilled" in describing elements of Jesus ministry. For instance, when Jesus entered Jerusalem the week before his arrest and crucifixion, Matthew states:

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Mark's gospel was written for the Romans, and is accordingly the briefest of the Gospels. It is designed to describe the entire ministry and message of Jesus in almost newspaper-like form.

Luke's Gospel is to show Jesus as the healer, and contains more illustrations of miracles than most of the other gospels. One often reads that Jesus was "moved with compassion" before he healed. Luke himself was a physician, therefore he portrays Jesus as the "Great Physician." Perhaps the most famous story here is of the raising of Jarius' daughter, who had been pronounced dead:

And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth.  And they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead.  And he put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise.  And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat.

John portrays Jesus as the Son of God who came to save the world. It does not contain the same emphasis on the stories of miracles by Jesus as much as it stresses in elaborate detail the message of Jesus. This is illustrated by Jesus comment that

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many