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Comparing the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke

Article by Garine Allonce

Student of CCA Advanced Biblical Studies and Ministry School

Comparing the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke

“Meditation on God’s Word opens doors to more understanding, His wisdom and an earnest desire to know God’s perfect will”.

This exposé  should help the reader get a clear perspective on how the Gospels were written. It will focus on their composition and the purpose of their authors. In the process, this article will contrast two synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke.

The simple definition of the term Gospel is: good news (Evangel) and the meaning of the term Synoptic is: seeing together or share a common view. In this article, we will compare the four Gospels in regard to their themes, audience, number of chapters and the unique materials covered.

There are four Gospels in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. All four Gospels are recognized as Holy Spirit inspired and are integral parts of the Christian Canon, be it Catholic or Protestant.  They constitute four different viewpoints of the life, ministry and of the person of Jesus Christ.  Though historically authentic and accurate, they are thematic presentations of the Lord Jesus Christ. The fact is each writer developed a thematic presentation of Christ by selecting what he considered to be important facts and events to illustrate and demonstrate the veracity of his viewpoint about Christ. Therefore, certain information, events, teachings, miracles or ministry works in Christ’s life might not be mentioned by all the writers and some events will only be recorded in just one Gospel.  Now, it should be understood that the Gospels are not biographies, that is to say, they are not memoirs or the story of the life of Jesus.  They are not even simple historical compilation of events of the Savior’s life, but they are presenting Christ according to a main theme or topic to a specific audience.

The first Gospel book: Matthew covers all together 28 chapters and was written to convince the Jews that Christ was the real King of the Jews, the true heir of David’s throne, the true branch, thus the true Messiah.  Mathew makes use of 53 quotes from the Old Testament to back up his viewpoint.

The second Gospel book: Mark, which covers 16 chapters, had in mind the Romans as audience and presented Christ as the servant of the Lord. Mark, in his narrative style, makes use of very little unique or new material.

The third Gospel book: the Gospel of Luke covers 24 chapters and views Christ as the Son of man. This book was addressed to the Greeks and depicts Jesus as a perfect man.  Luke gave great importance to the Christ-man suffering as a true man, for as God, he could not have suffered such humiliation and death nor be a substitute for sinful man.

The fourth book:  John’s Gospel, with 92% unique material, is completely different than the other three Gospels’ accounts.  John viewed Jesus as the Son of God and had in mind the Church as his audience, composed at this time of Jews and Gentiles.  John’s Gospel is so unique that his writings cannot be viewed as synoptic. Out of the four Gospels, three books are viewed as synoptic. Those three books, Matthew, Mark and Luke, share a common chronological and historical perspective of the life and ministry of the person of Jesus Christ. John does not observe this pattern; he starts his Gospel by affirming Christ as God and Creator of all things, pre-existing in the heavens.

The Gospel according to Matthew

General Considerations on the Gospel of Matthew, the first written Gospel.

Author: Matthew, also known as Levi, was a Jew from Galilee.  He was a tax collector.  Tax collectors were detested at that time, they were considered as ill reputed Publicans and traitors to the nation of Israel.

Possible date: No precision can be given about the date or the place but a date range of AD 45-55 seems reasonable to most scholars.

Language written: Greek (There is an unlike possibility that Matthew’s Gospel was written in Hebrew and translated into Greek, but up to now, no Hebrew version has been ever found)

Political environment: Israel is under Roman Rule.

Theme: Kingship of Christ and the righteous branch.

The scope and purpose of the book indicate the important lineage of Jesus, the Son of David and Son of Abraham. This connects Christ with the most important Old Testament covenants: the Davidic covenant of Kingship and the Abrahamic covenant of Promise.

Matthew had strictly in mind the Jews, so he presents Jesus as the prominent character of the covenanted King of Israel, who came to offer his Kingdom to the Jews. As history records, Herod the king, who ruled at that time, was not even of Jewish ancestry. So, Matthew details Jesus’ genealogy, his birth in Bethlehem, the city of David.  He also points out the ministry of his forerunner (John the Baptist, as prophesied by Malachi).  Only Matthew makes mention of the wise men from the East, who guided by the star of Bethlehem, came to worship the new born king (Matthew2:1-18). He further reveals the ministry of the King himself, who proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

In addition, Matthew describes at length the rejection of the true and righteous branch by the nation of Israel (Matthew 11), though he was certified by God’s most popular prophet of the day, John the Baptiste, and by God Himself, speaking at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3) and at the Mont of transfiguration (Matthew 17). Matthew as well points out how Jesus was called “Son of David” which is a Messianic title to which Jesus responded and never denied when applied to his person. Matthew even gives an account of the Lord himself questioning the Pharisees about their understanding of the expression “Son of David” in order to stop their incessant insincere inquiries (Matthew1:1; Matthew 20:29-34, Matthew 22:41-42; 2 Samuel 7:12; Psalms 89:3-4; Psalms 132:11; Romans 1:3). He also portrayed the king predicting the building of His Church and his second coming in power and great glory (Matthew16).  In his final picture, Matthews shows the resurrected Lord, endowed with all authority and power giving the Great Commission to his followers.

Matthew connects with the Abrahamic covenant of promise through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of Abraham (Seed, Posterity). As Isaac was offered by Abraham as a sacrifice to God, prefiguring Christ the true Lamb of God, God offered his Son on the cross as redemption payment for man’s sin, thus fulfilling His promise to Abraham that in “him shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis12:3). The Good News must be spread in all the earth, as Jesus commissioned the Church by His power to “go and make disciples of all nations” by establishing His kingdom (rulership) in the heart of men. Now, every time a person receives the Gospel, he is blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3); thus God’s promise to Abraham is being fulfilled!

Special considerations on Matthew’s Gospel

Matthew selected materials fit for a Jewish audience.  There are 53 direct quotes of the Old Testament in his Gospel.  Matthew presents Jesus as King and emphasizes on the following aspects of his Kingdom:

1st, Ruler with authority and power;

2nd, Subjects to be ruled; and

3rd, The exercise of the function of rulership.

In addition this Kingdom is featured in three aspects:

The first one being a Spiritual Kingdom: offered to all with the new birth.

The second one deals with the Earthly Kingdom or Messianic reign in the millennium to fulfill God’s promise.

Finally the third one is the Mystery or hidden aspects of the Kingdom of God, as described in a series of parables in chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel. These aspects of the Kingdom have not been revealed to the Gentiles until Israel rejected Jesus as their messianic King (Matt.8:5-13; Matt.11).

Certain facts and events in the Gospel of Matthew are not found elsewhere, such as the genealogy of Christ (Davidic genealogy) (Chapter 1); the wise man story (Chapter 2); the slaughter of the newborn of Bethlehem under King Herod who feared a rival to his throne (Chapter 2:13-18). Joseph had to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt (chapter 2:13-15); the parables of the Kingdom (Chapter 13); the prophetic sermon recorded in the Gospel, known as the Olivet discourse (Chapters 24 – 25).  There, Jesus answered questions about the future and His coming rule.  Only Matthew described the resurrection of the old testament saints at the time of Jesus’ death and their coming out of the grave at the time of Jesus resurrection (Chapter 27:51-53). Chapter 28 recounts the bribing of the soldiers at the tomb to cover up Jesus’ resurrection.  They were to say that the body was stolen by Christ’s followers as they (the soldiers) slept.

The great proof of Jesus’ right to be King is His resurrection through which God the Father validated Christ’s work and right to rule as King of kings and Lord of lords. Finally, Matthew shows the glorified resurrected Lord, ascending to heaven, after extending the Great Commission to his disciples to go out in his power and authority to proclaim the Good News everywhere.

The Gospel of Matthew is written particularly for the Jews. But, as Israel rejected the King, his death became inevitable. As a result, the Gospel was to be preached to the whole world and the Church was to be established as God’s instrument to carry on Christ’s mandate.  –  Matthew closes his writing by telling his audience that the work was carried out by the disciples who went everywhere, him being among them, as a bonified apostle of Jesus Christ; and as promised, the Lord was working with them confirming their (words) preaching by signs and wonders.

The Gospel according to Luke

General Considerations of the Gospel of Luke

The author: Luke is the third Gospel and is accredited to Luke himself.  Luke was a physician.  He was of Jewish ancestry, but his skilful Greek penmanship marks him as a Jew of the dispersion from Antioch of Syria.  He traveled with Paul as a missionary and is also the author of the book of Acts, which recounts the birth of the Church and the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Possible date: The date of the writing of the Gospel of Luke possibly falls between AD 58 and AD 65.

Contents and Audience: Luke’s Gospel presents a historically and chronologically accurate account of the life and ministry of Christ to the Greeks.

Political environment: Israel is still under Roman rule and occupation

Theme: Luke is the Gospel of the human-divine one, referred to as the Son of man (Luke 19:10).  Luke relates facts concerning Jesus, which demonstrates how entirely human he was, an ordinary man yet sinless and perfect like Adam was when he was created.

Special Considerations about the Gospel of Luke

The special events that are unique to Luke:

Luke starts his Gospel by tracing Jesus’ genealogy from Adam to Jesus’ mother, Mary.  He continues with Jesus’ infancy and boyhood in order to emphasize His human conditions and relationships.  Luke accounts of the births of John the Baptist and of Jesus are very detailed and miraculous.  Jesus’ presentation to God in the temple (Chapter 2: 21-38) was also recorded.  He follows up with the story of Jesus at the age 12 (Chapter 2: 39-52).  Luke also records the impact of John’s ministry. Concerning the ministry of John the Baptist, it was necessary for Jesus, the ideal man to be pointed out as the Messiah, by the prophet of the day.

As for the earthly ministry of the Son of man, Luke’s account started one year after the events of Jesus’ baptism and temptation. The author cites two major elements of Jesus’ ministry, which are His teachings and His miracle works.

Luke was a researcher, not just an eyewitness.  He interviewed many people and studied many written documents by people who heard Christ’s teachings and had seen his miracles.  Many parables and teachings such as the prodigal son and the Good Samaritan are found no where else but in his Gospel (Luke 15: 11; Luke 10: 30).

Luke accentuates strongly on Christ’s final days of ministry in a chronological pattern. The first two chapters cover about 30 years of Christ’s life.  From Chapter 3 to 9, Luke covers Christ’s three years of ministry.  From the end of Chapter 9 to 19, Luke’s emphasis is on the final last 3 to 4 month period of his life, the final journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, where Christ will instruct his followers and prepare them in view of his rejection.  From the end of Chapter 19 – 24, the period of Christ’s sufferings and sacrifice is highlighted.  Luke did cover in depth Jesus’ last eight days.  He further singles out Jesus’ betrayals, His arrest, His trials (Chapters 22 and 23), His death (Chapter 23), His resurrection. He also recalls His appearances to many people after His resurrection, and His ascension unto heaven (Chapter 24).

Conclusion

While Matthew wrote to the Jews with plenty of references to the Old Testament, Luke’s Gospel was designed to ultimately appeal to the Gentiles, particularly to the Greeks. Matthew was an eyewitness with Jewish eyes, while Luke was more of an historian. Being a tax collector, Matthew mentioned the miracle of the piece of money in the fish’s mouth to pay Jesus and Peter’s taxes, but Luke and the other Gospels do not even allude to such a miracle. Moreover Luke was certainly influenced by Paul, the apostle to the Gentile, so his message understandably would be more universal.  For instance, Matthew reported the restrictions under which the disciples were to operate, as they were sent by Jesus with the formal recommendation not to go to the pagans, however Luke reporting the same event does not mention such restrictions (Matthew10:5-7, Luke 9:1-11). Finally, Matthew and Luke make it clear that the message of salvation is not only offered to the Jews, but to all who desire to partake in God’s great hope through the new covenant in Christ Jesus.

Mrs. Garine Allonce is married with Pastor Rollin Allonce.  Together, they are raising three lovely boys: Rollin Jeremy, Josh and Thadd.

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