The leaders of my life group at Gateway Church gave me the honor of teaching a series. As I loved studying the Gospels and knowing it is rare that churches study the Gospels individually, I recommended that we go through the Gospels, one week each. The leaders approved, and the series has been a joy so far. As I have been preparing for the series, I started to wonder, why are the 4 Gospels instead of one? One Gospel, will often repeat what was already said in another one. Certainly, it would be much easier if God combined all 4 into one Gospel.
God certainly could have inspired just one Gospel if he chose. There are many people in scripture where there is only one account of him or her. For example, there is only one account of the life of Joseph (Genesis 37-50), there is only one version in the cannon about the birth of the church (the book of Acts), and none of the OT prophets have multiple books covering their prophetic ministry (there is a little bit in the Kings of Isaiah but not to the extent of what is covered in the book of Isaiah).
I think the answer to this question can be found by looking at the Gospels individually. The Gospel of Mark, depicts Jesus as a suffering servant who has come to serve others and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Matthew sets out to show that Jesus is the new Moses, the King, and the Messiah who fulfills Old Testament prophecies (Matthew 5:17-20). Luke, on the other hand, depicts Jesus as the great physician who is compassionate and who’s goal is to save the world, not just Jews (Luke 4:18-19, 3:23-38). Finally, John depicts Jesus as the incarnate God, who became flesh so that man could have eternal life with him (John 1:1, 14, 3:16).
All of these depictions from the 4 Gospels are complementary, not contradictory, but why not put them all in one book? While I would never claim to know exactly why God decided to inspire 4 Gospels, I will bring to mind a possible reason. I think that God knew that if he put all 4 of those emphases in one Gospel, we would not notice the themes as well. All 4 images of Jesus would be jumbled in the text as well as in our minds. By inspiring 4 Gospels, and by having each author talk about different sides of Jesus, it insures that each aspect of who Jesus is will stand out. If all 4 points of view were put into one book, we would not be able to notice them as much. And since we are dealing with Jesus who is the central figure of the Christian faith, it is essential that we understand who Jesus is as best we can so we can follow him better. By reading just Mark, we can see the suffering servant depiction clearly, and in Matthew the Messianic Kingship and so on.
Another related question is, why only 4? There were at least 20 Gospels floating around that could have been included in the canon. The answer to this question is a little easier and there are 5 reasons; 1: the other 16 gospels are Gnostic in origin and have many heretical teachings that were inconsistent with what the church already knew about Jesus, 2: these other gospels also written much latter, the earliest of which was written in the middle of the second century, 3: The 4 canonical Gospels are based on eyewitness testimony. Matthew and John were written by the apostle Matthew and the apostles John and Mark and Luke were mentored under the apostles. 4: The 4 canonical Gospels are much more consistent with what the early church already knew about Jesus and with each other. 5: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, were written in the same century that Jesus lived and thus much earlier and closer to the events than the other gospels.
Knowing this, and having read the 4 Gospels myself, I am confident that God intended for 4 and only 4 Gospels to be in the canon. The message is the same in all 4, he is the hope and savior of the world, and we must turn to him to be saved. For those who come to him, he gives eternal life so that we can have a relationship with him and serve him (John 1:12, 3:16, Mark 10:43). There is no higher calling and no more undeserved privilege then to serve and be in relationship with the creator of the universe.