Gospel Distinctives

By Matt Proctor


1. His Gospel is primarily (though not exclusively) a Jewish Gospel. There are 65 Old Testament references—21 direct quotations from Isaiah alone. Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy from Adam, the father of the human race, but Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy going back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation.

2. He does show some interest in Gentiles. Wise men worship Jesus (2:1-12). Many from east and west will feast with Abraham in the kingdom of Heaven (8:11, 12). Christ proclaims justice to the Gentiles (12:18). The Gentiles hope is in Christ (12:21). Christ commissions the disciples to teach Gentiles (28:19).

3. His Gospel betrays his occupation. The old tax collector includes money stuff. See texts like 2:1ff; 4:1ff; 6:1ff; 6:19ff; 6:25ff; 9:9ff; 10-12; 17:24; 18:21; 19:1ff; 20:1-16; 22:15-22; 23:23, 24; 25:1ff; 26:6, 7; 26:14, 15; 27:4, 5; 28:11, 12.

4. He pictures Jesus as King. The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is used some 33 times.

The phrase “kingdom of God” is used 4 times. The genealogy in chapter 1 begins with and is grouped around King David. One scholar notes: “In line with his royal status throughout the Gospel, Jesus is repeatedly portrayed as sitting, that is, taking the position of authority and rest (5:1; 13:2; 15:29; 21:7; 24:3; 25:31).”

5. Again, Matthew as a numbers guy—a bookkeeper who likes order and organization. The book is grouped around 5 major teaching/discourse sections:

Chapters 5-7: Citizenship in the kingdom

Chapter 10: Proclamation of the kingdom

Chapter 13: Growth of the kingdom

Chapter 18: Fellowship in the kingdom

Chapters 23-25: Consummation of the kingdom.

Each discourse is followed with the refrain: “And when Jesus had finished saying these things . . .”

6. Patterns of 3 appear in Matthew 1:1-17; 4:1-11; 6:1-18; 7:7; 8:1-15 (three miracles of healing); 8:23—9:8 (three miracles of power); 9:14-17; 10:26, 28, 31; 10:37-38; 13:1-32 (three parables of sowing); 18:6, 10, 14; 21:18—22:14 (three parables of warning); 22:15-40 (three questions by adversaries); 26:39-44; 26:69-75; and 27:11-17.

7. Matthew is a “just the facts” kind of guy. He omits the irrelevant and, compared with Mark, writes a concise Gospel. Matthew tells the story of John the Baptist in 120 verses, Mark in 240 verses. Matthew tells about Jairus’s daughter in 8 verses, Mark in 22 verses. At times he will omit proper names, leave out graphic details, and ignore minor characters. He maintained an economy of words.

8. Some of the themes Matthew emphasizes: compassion (9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34), eschatology, fellowship (he’s the only Gospel writer to use the word church—16:18 and 18:17), and righteousness (the words righteous/righteousness occur more than in the other three Gospels).



1. Mark’s Gospel may have been written primarily for a Roman audience. He uses Latinisms, is often focused on Gentiles, and directly quotes the Old Testament only once.

2. Mark’s Gospel is brimming with energy and majors in action, not talk. If you have a red-letter edition, you won’t find as much red in Mark. His use of the Greek “historic present” tense lends a sense of urgency to the story. The narrative cuts from one scene to the next to the next. Like a “verbal metronome,” Mark keeps it moving with words like immediately (42 times), again (28 times), and began (27 times).

3. Jesus is pictured as the strong servant. Mark is like a stack of Polaroid pictures showing Jesus with his sleeves rolled up, at work. There is no birth narrative. Jesus simply bursts onto the scene, full-grown and on the move. Jesus “casts out” or “drives out” 16 times in Mark. He “rebukes” 10 times in Mark. Seized is a key word for Mark.

4. Some believe that Mark, whom Peter called “my son” (1 Peter 5:13), may have written the Gospel as he traveled with Peter and heard him preach. The vigorous narrative certainly would fit Peter’s style, and Peter is mentioned most often.

5. Whenever Jesus blows into town in Mark, people are left “amazed.” In fact, Jesus often strikes fear in the hearts of both friend and foe (4:41; 5:15, 33, 36; 6:50; 9:32; 10:32; 11:18). People are left with mouths wide-open, wondering, “Who was that man anyway?”

6. In light of this, it is not so strange Mark ended his Gospel at 16:8 with the women running away in amazed fear. Verses 9-20 were apparently a later scribal addition to smooth out an abrupt ending.

7. Mark’s is the shortest Gospel, but it has the most detail. It records things like the animals and angels with Jesus after the temptation (1:13), the green grass at the feeding of the 5,000 (6:39), and Jesus asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat (4:38).

8. One-third of Mark’s Gospel is devoted to the last week of Jesus’ life.

9. The two major literary movements of Mark seem to be 1:2—9:29 and 9:30—16:8.

10. Mark (perhaps under the influence of Peter?) paints the disciples as clueless wonders. They fail to understand the identity and mission of Jesus time and time again, until the hint in 16:7 where Jesus promises to meet “his disciples and Peter,” apparently to restore and commission them.

11. Mark has Jesus retreating/withdrawing more than the other writers.



1. Luke’s Gospel seems to be Greek in nature. He is the only Gentile writer in the New Testament. He records Simeon’s song with its focus on “all nations” and “the Gentiles.” He traces Jesus’ lineage past Abraham all the way back to Adam to include the entire human race (chapter 3). His Great Commission mentions “all nations” (24:47)

2. Luke highlights the birth and childhood of Jesus. (He says he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning”—did he interview Mary?)

3. He fills his Gospel with music—emphasizing praise, singing, and thanksgiving. Fred Craddock says there are so many songs in the birth narrative that he has his students hum the first two chapters!

4. Luke is the Gospel of forgotten people—those on the social fringes. He zooms his camera in on the outcasts, the poor, prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners, foreigners, women, and children. Christ is pictured as the compassionate Savior with arms opened wide to all.

5. The focus on women includes compassion for the widow of Nain (chapter 7), the anointing by the sinful woman (chapter 7), the note that women traveled with Christ and supported him (chapter 8), the time spent at Mary and Martha’s house (chapter 10), the parable with the persistent widow as the hero (chapter 18), the widow’s offering (chapter 21), the women as last to leave the cross (chapter 23), first to visit the tomb (chapter 24), and Jesus’ appearance first to Mary (chapter 24). Jesus is not a male chauvinist; he treats women with respect and tenderness.

6. Luke writes much about prayer and the Holy Spirit—themes he revisits in

his second book.

7. This may be the most literary and beautiful of the Gospels. It is certainly the longest and contains a huge chunk not found in the other three (see 9:51—19:27).

8. Luke, the doctor, shows tremendous interest in medicine and healing in his account. For example, only Luke mentions that Jesus healed Malchus’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane.

9. There are 18 parables peculiar to Luke. Consider how often they tie in with Luke’s focus on the forgotten—the good Samaritan, the lost coin, the prodigal son, etc.

10. Luke focuses on Jesus’ practice of table fellowship. A central image is the banquet or the meal. Luke has 10 scenes with Jesus at the table, and is the only Gospel writer to record the Pharisees and scribes accusing Jesus of “eating with sinners, ” which he recounts three times (5:29-32; 15:1, 2; 19:7).

11. Another central image is walking/traveling. In Luke, Jesus is “on the road again.”  Notice the primary transitions in 4:31; 6:1; 7:1; 9:51; 14:1; 19:1. Some have even suggested that Luke is structured as a quest. Jesus is journeying toward a goal, traveling with purpose from Galilee toward Jerusalem and the cross. (Contrast this with Acts, where the movement begins in Jerusalem and moves out to the world.)



1. John flat-out tells us his purpose (20:30, 31)—his Gospel is highly evangelistic.

2. John’s is a different Gospel by far than the other three (which are called the Synoptics—meaning “same view”). Think of the omissions: no birth of John the Baptist, no birth of Jesus or genealogy, no stories of Jesus’ youth, no baptism or temptation accounts. There are no parables in this Gospel.

3. However, Jesus himself is a parable in this Gospel. Notice the titles ascribed to Jesus: the Word, Lamb of God, True Bread, Light, Life, Resurrection, Vine, Shepherd, Gate, etc.

4. These titles underscore Christ’s deity—which apparently is one of John’s major purposes. The “I am” formula is spread throughout the Gospel: 4:26; 6:35; 8:23; 8:58; 9:5; 10:7; 10:36; 11:25; 13:13; 14:6; and 15:1. John makes sure we catch Christ’s claims to be God himself.

5. Miracles in the other Gospels are called wonders, but in John the miracles are called signs. So in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the miracles are meant to make us say, “Wow!” But in John, they’re meant to make us say, “Hmmmm.” These signs point to deeper spiritual realities.

6. John often portrays Jesus pushing people to understand his deeper meaning. In John 3, Nicodemus thinks of “born again” in physical terms, but Jesus means it in a spiritual way. In John 4, the woman at the well is thinking about liquid water, but Jesus is talking about spiritual water. In John 6, the crowd is thinking about literal bread, but Jesus is pointing them to spiritual bread. That’s why Jeff Walling calls John “the ’60s Gospel”—as you read, you can almost hear some hippie saying, “Whoa, man, that’s deep.”

7. John alone gives us Christ’s extended teaching on the Holy Spirit (16:5ff).

8. “There are two groups of people in the world: people who divide the world into two groups and those who don’t.” John is one who does. This is a Gospel of contrasts, no middle ground: truth/falsehood, light/darkness, life/death, love/hate.

9. The longest upper-room narrative is in John (13:1—17:26).

10. The two major movements in John appear to be chapters 1–12 (the revelation of Christ) and chapters 13–21 (the glorification of Christ).

Matt Proctor is president of Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri, and a CHRISTIAN STANDARD contributing editor.


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  1. Avatar
    September 14, 2011 at 12:11 am

    Support for Mark 16:9-20 is significantly more ancient (being supported by Justin, Tatian, and Irenaeus in the 100’s) and widespread (being supported by over 30 patristic writings composed in the days of the Roman Empire, and by every intact minuscule Greek copy of Mark) than the support for the abrupt ending which brother Matt apparently considers a later scribal addition. Mark 16 stops at the end of verse 8 followed by the closing-title of the book in only *two* Greek manuscripts, both from the 300’s, both from the same place. It is attested in over 1,500 Greek manuscripts, from all over; these manuscripts include Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Bezae, Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, and Codex Washingtoniensis — ancient and diverse testimony.

    I encourage the readers of “Christian Standard” to be aware of this small but very serious flaw in this article.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.
    Minister, Curtisville Christian Church

  2. Avatar
    Timothy T Pungsar
    September 14, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Thank you very much for the blessings you share for all of us. I am so happy for this. This saves my time in studying the word of God as I share the word of God to others too. God bless you.

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