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EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and acclaimed biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW

It had been four hundred years of silence, and the people of God were, once again, weary in waiting. Rome was a powerhouse that oppressed the Jewish way of life. Roman Imperialism, the stronghold that established the wonderful Pax Romana (the “peace of Rome”), both promoted the worship of pagan gods upon the inhabitants of Rome and attempted to inaugurate its emperors and their families as gods, themselves (an element of the Roman state religion called the Imperial Cult).

There was no time like the present for the long-awaited Messiah to come on the scene, and the Gospels detail that arrival.

The Reason There Are Four

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the “Synoptic Gospels” because they present one unified narrative, while John is more theological in his approach. “Synoptic” derives from a Greek word meaning “to see with” or “to see together.” “Gospel” means “good news.” So the term “Synoptic Gospels” refers to these three books that “see the Good News together.” Christians who are young in the faith often ask the question: Why are there four Gospels? Why not just one longer book that puts all this information together? We will answer this question before we continue, as the answer helps readers more efficiently understand the next four books of the Bible (five, including Acts, which was written by Gospel author Luke).

We know that it’s a controversial idea at first, but we need to always remember that, although we do benefit tremendously from these writings today, the books were not written “to us today.” All four Gospels were penned by men who were responding to audiences of their day who were confused about the Messiah for various reasons rooted in their vastly different cultures. Therefore, though each of the Gospels may address the same historical events, each is packaged in ways that best answer the questions of diverse people groups.

Matthew’s Audience: The Jews

Matthew wrote to the Jews, primarily. He understood more than the other Gospel authors what the Jews expected from their Messiah, and why they couldn’t believe in Him after He appeared in a way that was so different than what anyone had anticipated. Matthew’s book is included first in the canon for this reason; it serves as a sort of “bridge” between what was written in the Old Testament and the fulfillments of it in the New.

Matthew’s intent was not to simply tell the story, but to show, with dramatic illustrations that referred to Old Testament Scripture more than any other Gospel writer, how Jesus was the “Benefits” that the former “Old Contract” outlined for its “beneficiaries.” Although we can’t say whether Matthew personally spent years of his life ministering to, say, the Romans, his Gospel account was specifically written to answer questions that were Jewish in nature. This is why He didn’t go out of his way to explain Jewish customs or religious rituals and practice, because his audience already had great familiarity with these concepts. Likewise, this explains why Jesus, in Matthew, is viewed as the One who came to fulfill the Mosaic Law, not to abolish it (a subject that neither the Romans nor Gentiles would have cared as much about). Further, Matthew boldly calls out religious leaders whose activities were evil and impure in their intent (again, outside of the Jews, nobody would have held any innate anxiety about this). More heavily than the other Gospel writers, Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ teaching and compares it with traditional Jewish teachings ripe out of the synagogue. Such examples include the Sermon on the Mount (5–7).

Mark’s Audience: The Romans

Mark’s writing style is more intense (just read how many times he uses the word “immediately” in his narrative!). History shows that his was actually the first of the Gospels to be completed, and it’s the one considered most accurate in its chronology. (That’s not to say the book of Mark is the most accurate Gospel, as all are in agreement about what happened. The other Gospel writers sometimes explain events out of order, to be organized in the way that’s most effective. Lots of Bible study books today begin with the New Testament and reflect back on the Old so readers can start by learning about who Jesus is and was as a human before looking back on what the Old Testament Scriptures said of His Coming. This is out of chronological order, but to new Christians, it might be the best order so they aren’t bogged down by trying to understand prophecies of the Christ they haven’t yet learned about. Instead, they get right into reading about who and what He was, and then when dig into the Old Testament studies, they can read and interpret the prophecies in light of what they already know. (This is merely one example of why the Gospel writers, other than Mark, might have felt compelled to tweak the order of their narratives. Matthew tended to group the miracles together to make a strong statement of Christ’s divinity, whereas he addressed Jesus’ teachings in another lump so his readers could view these two aspects of Jesus—His miracles and His teaching—in a relative and structured way.

The reason Mark is sometimes called “John Mark” is because of the effect Hellenism had on the Jews’ naming of their children. “John” was his Jewish name, but his parents, like just about all others of his day, would have also given him a Greek/Roman name, which was “Mark.” His Gospel was not for the Jews as Matthew’s was, but it was for an audience made up of, most specifically, Romans. We can conclude this for a long list of reasons, but to simplify: Mark didn’t start with genealogy or lineage that would link Jesus to the Davidic line; he didn’t focus as much on what the Old Testament predicted; the overall writing style doesn’t appeal to issues that were important to the Jews, such as religious customs or prophecy; and his “Gospel of action” (with words like “immediately,” “as soon as,” “at once,” and “quickly”) reflect the Roman appreciation for a fast-moving story filled with a central Character who embodies power and action.



Luke’s Audience: The Gentiles

Luke was a physician who traveled quite a bit. Unbeknownst to some, he was also a Gentile (see Paul’s words in Colossians 4:10–14). Whereas a Christian likely doesn’t balk at this, the idea that a Gentile’s writing would ever be included in the Holy Word of God would have been a scandal to the Jews. His audience, unlike Matthew’s, was not for the Jews. However, in contrast to Mark, it was not for only the Romans. Luke was therefore a Gentile who wrote to all Gentiles in general, especially the Greeks.

As the Gentiles were about to be included in the promises of God, and the Greeks were an enormous population of Gentiles, then a Gospel explanation of who Jesus was and what He accomplished was needed not just for the Jews and Romans, but for all those new in the faith coming from the Greek, Gentile world at the time. This explains why Luke’s book emphasizes salvation for all. As Matthew’s Gospel bridged the gap between the two Testaments, Luke’s bridged the gap between the rumors of the Jewish Messiah and the first worldwide ecclesiastical assembly (the early Church). As the longest and most history-centered of all the Gospels, Luke (called the “careful historian” by scholars) also covers events that happened before the other Gospel narratives begin (like the full account of John the Baptist and Jesus’ teaching in the Temple at age twelve). No doubt this instruction about Jesus’ background and personality would appeal to the Gentiles and to the Greeks, whose former theology was well accustomed to the idea of “god-men” (like Hercules).

Today, we’re blessed that there is such a three-way overlap between the “Synoptics” (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). This is so for a number of reasons, but we will state two: 1) the more witnesses tell the same story but from different angles, the more solid the argument for the authenticity of the account (our justice system in the United States relies on this truth); 2) though the Gospels do tell the same story, their unique approach sometimes results in a certain detail being addressed in one or two, but not all, Gospels, collectively giving us a wider coverage of what happened historically than we would receive if we had fewer documents.

John’s Gospel: A Theological Manual for the Early Church

As for the Gospel of John, it’s clear that the unique language connects to a trainload of Jewish theology, making many in the academic world believe John’s audience was principally Jewish. However, his language and purpose differ from Matthew’s.

Whereas Matthew showed fulfillment of long-standing, Jewish beliefs, John explained what those Jewish beliefs and customs were.



His frequent clarification of certain Jewish customs and traditions illustrates that he was writing to people who needed such clarification in the first place, so it’s far more logical to believe his audience was of a Gentile nature—unfamiliar with rabbinical teaching. But his emphasis on theology also makes his Gospel different from the Synoptics. The writers of the Synoptics used their narrative of Jesus’ actions, signs, miracles, and prophetic fulfillments along the way as a means of establishing Jesus’ authority and divinity. John flipped this order, using theology to prove the narrative’s legitimacy in history. His audience was therefore most likely Gentiles who were entirely unfamiliar with the messianic teaching of the rabbinical world, but it goes beyond that as well. The early Church did not have the New Testament that would equip them to witness to the world, but they were, as people of God, included in the command to fulfill the Great Commission, and witnessing will always be part of that. How would one go about spreading “Good News” in an efficient manner if they didn’t know the roots of their belief system?

The well-developed Gospel message as it’s preached from the pulpit today is a product of hard-working men and women over thousands of years who compiled historic notes and poured into the Scriptures to rebuke heresy and produce the kinds of study materials we have available to us now. Today, if a person wishes to witness to a friend who is on the verge of believing but has a specific issue that is causing them to hesitate, a quick jaunt to the local bookstore or library, or an online book-shopping session offers volumes of books that can provide immediate answers. In John’s day, so much closer to the time of Christ (and before our secularized world started treating Jesus’ story as if it’s irrelevant), Jesus’ work on the cross was brand new. Believers were popping up everywhere because of this “man who gives salvation to all,” and they felt inspired to tell everyone as much as they could. But teaching materials were slim in that day, and fewer people knew the term “Son of God” was not simply another reference to one of the Greek “god-men.”

John’s Gospel was, therefore, a sort of training manual for the early Church that explained not only what happened to a historical Man-God named Jesus, but also who He was and is in His eternality—before His birth, and after the cross. The Gospel of John’s true audience was anyone who believed in Him and wanted to tell others about Him responsibly. Since that also includes modern Christians, it’s safe to say that, in God’s miraculous providence, John’s Gospel was written for all people and all times.



We plan to tackle the beginning of the story of Christ mostly in chronological order, using all four Gospels simultaneously along the way. Then we will shift gears to focus on the miracles, teachings, and actions of Jesus in relative groups.

Most Bible studies separate John from the other three books and tackle his work by itself, citing its complicated, deep nature as the reason. If this study was only on the New Testament, we would likely agree and give it the same treatment. However, our readers have been, from the beginning of this book, studying the entire Bible along with us, including the complicated bits about Davidic lines, kinsman redeemers, prophetic pictures, and the unfathomably dense concept of the protevangelium in Genesis. We have no doubt that, although John’s Gospel is not as “storybook-like” as the others, our readers will be able to appreciate and fully comprehend his work alongside the others. That said, chronological order does, in fact, take us back to the very, very beginning, prior to the creation of the world.

The “Word”

In the very first verse of John’s Gospel, we read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Later in the same chapter, John states: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (1:14a).

From this, the earliest chronological event in any of the New Testament narratives, we already have our first radically fulfilled prophecy. The Word, which “was God,” was “made flesh, and dwelt among us.” In short, John is telling his readers that God became a human in the Man of Jesus. Recall what Isaiah said in our discussions of the prophets: “and they will call him Immanuel.” As stated earlier, “Immanuel” is Hebrew for “God with us” (also see Matthew 1:23, where Matthew translates the name for Jewish readers).

But what does it mean that Jesus is a “Word”?



In the early stages of Greek Stoic philosophy, as influenced by Aristotle and later Heraclitus, the word logos described the existence of rationality and reasoning, or one’s ability to accumulate and retain knowledge. Because this is the quality that separates humanity from animals—and that’s proven in the fact that humans can speak but animals cannot—the word logos quickly became associated with the act of speaking. Since speech requires saying words, the Greek logos translates into the English “word.”

In the Hellenistic world, debating philosophy was seen as the very purpose of one’s existence. Nothing else in the entire universe matters for individuals if they cannot take in information, use their capability of reasoning to rationalize and organize that information into coherent thoughts, process a philosophical conclusion, and then share that finding with others through the vehicle of speech. It was the act of profound thinking that civilization was built upon.

In fact, studies of New Testament culture and background explain that a public social game called “challenge and riposte” was played among those who fancied themselves to be great orators and philosophers. Winning this challenge meant establishing one’s self with the highest attainable honor in Christ’s day, and this is precisely what the Pharisees were doing when they publicly went against Jesus. One Ashland Theological Seminary professor of New Testament and Greek studies, a theologian named Dr. David deSilva, reiterates:

The challenge-riposte is essentially an attempt to gain honor at someone else’s expense by publicly posing a challenge that cannot be answered. When a challenge has been posed, the challenged must make some sort of response (and no response is also considered a response [or a “failure” of the challenge]). It falls to the bystanders to decide whether or not the challenged person successfully defended his…own honor. The Gospels are full of these exchanges, mainly posed by Pharisees, Sadducees or other religious officials at Jesus, whom they regarded as an upstart threatening to steal their place in the esteem of the people.[i]



It’s crucial to understand that the cohesive process of the human mind, and the ability to respond to that process with words, is what the Greek word logos embodied. But as this process is the basis of human intelligence, simply stringing together intelligible vocabulary in a native language wasn’t enough to really exemplify the depth of this term. For example, walking into a marketplace and asking someone, “Where’s the bread?” most certainly does exercise one’s ability to communicate that he wants bread and process the speech that is required to find it. But this simplistic use of language would not satisfy what the Greek philosophers demanded in the exchange of rhetorical persuasion that would be worthy of the word logos. A better picture of logos as a philosophical term is represented by such a question as, “What is the meaning of life?” or “Why are we here?”

In the natural world, there is order: Grass grows, the sun rises, the wind blows, and rain falls. There is also a natural order instilled within humanity: Lies hurt feelings, treason gets you killed, smiles spread happiness, and so on. All of this is observable, and it all takes reasoning to comprehend. To the Hellenistic philosophers of Christ’s time, logos came to take on new, cosmic-origins meaning as the “order of the natural world,” and this concept was taught in schools and universities of that day: “[Logos is] a universal principle of order: Logos orders the world; it is the design that directs everything; it is the foundation for human wisdom.… For the Stoics, god, nature, and logos were one and the same.”[ii] The Greek gods, it was believed, would use logos to utter something aloud, and that thing would come into being or begin to exist in that moment, a “divine command” process known as logos spermatikos.

John’s Gentile and/or Hellenistic readers would have instantly known what it meant to call Jesus, or the Father, or both, the term logos. The teaching John gives us here is as true today as it was when he wrote it: For those of us who believe in the Bible and its claims of the Creation event, God didn’t just “use” logos (reasoning and logic) to create the world; He was Logos (Reasoning and Logic) when He created the world. With that in mind, read these verses again: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (1:1, 14a).

Jesus, our Savior of Salvation, was there in the beginning, already present with God, and He was God, and then He was made flesh and dwelt among us, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy: “God with us,” Immanuel. To bring it down to the simplest of terms: Jesus is the personification of reasoning, and, before the earth even existed, this God named Reason came and dwelt among us. This brings clarity to the following verses 3–4: “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” These first four verses again from Brian Simmons’ Passion Translation are somewhat enlightening after considering all of this:

In the very beginning God was already there. And before his face Was his Living Expression. And this “Living Expression” Was with God, yet fully God. They were together—face to face, In the very beginning. And through his creative inspiration This “Living Expression” made all things, For nothing has existence Apart from him! Life came into being Because of him, For his life is light for all humanity.[iii]

Before assuming that this is just a poetic rephrasing, it’s worth noting that Simmons produced this translation by taking the Aramaic into consideration, and this is an etymologically responsible move. We can see this in Isaiah 48:13a, which, in the KJV, says, “Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth,” but in Aramaic, it said, “By my word, I have founded the earth.”[iv] Simmons, in footnote “c” regarding “Living Expression” in John 1:1, states:

As translated from the Aramaic, which can also mean “Manifestation.” The Greek is Logos, or “Word,” or “Message,” or “Blueprint.” Jesus Christ is…the Living Expression of all that God is, contains, and reveals. Just as we express ourselves in words, God has perfectly expressed Himself in Christ.[v]

To John’s audience, calling Jesus this term meant that by His very existence, He outperformed the greatest philosophers in all of human history, and all of creation—humans, animals, plants, weather—owes itself to Him and bows to His authority. The rest of John’s opening statement relies on understanding the mystery of the Trinity or Godhead. And whereas that topic is supremely complicated (don’t worry, we won’t go into it at length here), it’s a plain teaching of Scripture that Jesus is the Creator alongside the Father. Though this boggles the minds of many Westerners who have been brought up hearing  the Father was “the Creator,” implying that He was the only member of the Trinity who could create, other verses in the New Testament attest to the fact that Jesus is, also, the Creator (Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:1–2). Furthermore, if Jesus is not the Creator, then He is a created being, and thus does not share eternality with the Father. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” How can we put faith in a spiritual recreation—a literal “new creature” theology when we become a follower of Christ like this verse states—if Jesus wasn’t the Creator?



Now, is there some theological response that suggests these Creators of the Trinity would have functioned in different areas? Meaning that by some divine prerogative, the Father created the world “through” Jesus, as equal Partner in the formation of the cosmos? That is what Scripture suggests, yes. Hebrews 1:2 says the universe was created through Christ, while the following verse says both Trinity Members share the same nature; Deuteronomy 6:4 says that God is “one”; 1 Corinthians 8:6 says, “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” The Holy Spirit was involved in Creation as well (Genesis 1:2). As the Hebrew word for “spirit” means “breath,” we read in Psalm 33:6, “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” We should understand that God is “One,” and God is three Persons, so as a united front, all three Persons were involved in Creation.

If Jesus is the “Word,” and the Father “spoke” things into existence and those things “were so” (Genesis 1), then the Father created the world through the Son as an active agent in carrying it out. The proof John was showing Jesus as eclipsing the Greek gods is also shown in his next verse: “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). The Greeks believed the gods lived in a realm unknown to us, a realm made of light. Our light on this planet only reflects the perfect light of that realm, they thought. Therefore, in Jesus, John said, was the superior light over all gods, and from Him, the life of mankind sprang. He wasn’t just “like the other gods” who each represented light and created one or two things that they were thus known for (like Athena/Minerva “the goddess of reason” or Poseidon/Neptune “the god of the sea” and so on). Jesus created all things as an active agent alongside the Father, and mankind—the most intelligent and logos-capable creation in existence—came from Him who originated both light (Genesis 1:3) and the life of men that held within them a reflection of that holy and pure light.

Another prophecy is fulfilled in this connection: Isaiah said that the One who came to save would be this Light, “a light of the Gentiles” (42:6), and it is to Gentiles everywhere that John the Baptist “came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe” (1:6–9).

Let’s continue by considering our famous forerunner (and likely Essene), John the Baptist (unrelated to the writer of John’s Gospel), whose story is outlined in Luke 1:5–25, 57–80.

UP NEXT: Jesus and The Forerunners

[i] DeSilva, David A., Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL; 2000), 29.

[ii] Gamel, B. K., as quoted in: The Lexham Bible Dictionary, “Logos, Greek Background.”

[iii] Simmons, Brian, John: Eternal Love (The Passion Translation) (BroadStreet Publishing Group LLC; Kindle Edition; 2014), John 1:1–4.

[iv] Barnes, Albert, Barnes’ Notes, Kindle location 216298.

[v] Ibid., footnote “c” regarding “Living Expression” in John 1:1.

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