Chapter 5.

The Relation of the Gospels to Each Other

In our introductory chapter, we sought to point out the position of the four Gospels in relation to the rest of the word of God: first, the Old Testament with its different groups of the Law, the Prophets, and Psalms and next, the New with its apostolic history, the Epistles and the Revelation. Having now examined, to a certain extent, the contents and character of the Gospels, it remains for us to endeavor to learn, as far as we may, something of their relation to each other.

The fact that there are four Gospels, all upon one theme, would suggest at once that these four not merely present Christ and the truth in four different aspects, but that they have a relation one to another, not merely of a complementary or supplementary character, but after the manner of the entire word of God, an organic relationship of the several parts each to each.

We have already seen that the four Gospels fall naturally into two main divisions, in which the Synoptists, Matthew, Mark and Luke, from their contents are taken together, because they resemble each other far more closely than any of them does the fourth Gospel. We have, therefore, two main divisions of the Gospels: first, the Synoptists; second, John.*

{*The writer would acknowledge his indebtedness for most of what is found in this chapter, to the exceedingly helpful and illuminating treatment of the subject in the Introduction to the Four Gospels in the Numerical Bible, by F. W. Grant.}

The number "four" is the first prime number capable of true division, dividing into factors 2 x 2, which also, by addition, form the same number. Readiness of cleavage is not suggestive of strength, and the cleavage in the middle suggests rather imperfection, as though the entire mass were not absolute unity, but rather composed of halves.

When we come to apply the significance of the number "four" as divided into its factors 2 x 2 we find just such a cleavage, which in itself suggests inherent weakness. "Four" is the number of the creature, of the earth, and, as has been frequently pointed out, of the testing which goes with the earthly position of the creature and the failure which, invariably accompanies that test. The material creation has this divided character — the earth beneath and heavens above. The earth itself again divides into land and water. Organic creation divides into animal and vegetable. Man himself is material and spiritual. These divisions, while they do not necessarily speak of creature imperfection, suggest that lack of all-pervasive unity, the absence of which characterizes the creation, and which calls for a bond to hold it fast in One outside itself. This division therefore, of the creature into halves, implies this inherent weakness which, when fully tested, apart from the Creator's controlling power, brings out its failure.

It is therefore most suggestive that the four narratives of the perfect, unfailing Life should not yield to such a cleavage; but its divisions, if such they may be called, are 3 + 1, rather than 2 x 2. Here indeed we have two numbers, each with special significance: the "three" suggesting a trinity of divine fulness, and the "one" emphasizing the divine all-sufficiency and unity; the combined thought presented in both giving us in the incarnation of the Son of God the fullest presentation we could have.

In this division the Synoptists come first and the Gospel of John second.

"Two," in the divine Circle, is the number of the Son. With reference to His relation to man, it suggests salvation through the Son. The Gospel of John, while presenting as we have already seen the essential deity of the Son of God, unfolds in a most blessed way the perfection of that salvation which as eternal life He has given to His people. The Synoptists present our Lord less subjectively than John (who presents Him to us as the bestower of eternal life now possessed by the believer) but rather as we see Him, — external to ourselves. The two numbers here, (3 + 1), therefore would be:
The Synoptists — Christ objectively presented.
John — the Son of God, the giver of eternal life.

The three Synoptists

In the Synoptists, therefore, we may expect to find our Lord presented objectively to our view; and although the main teaching of these three is not so profound and does not present our Lord so fully in His divine personality as the fourth Gospel, they have this characteristic which we have noted.

Our next question is, What relation do these three Synoptists bear to each other? Is there any significance in the order of their presentation?

Without appearing to be dogmatic, let us, in the simplest way, applying the theme of each, see in how far it suggests such an order.

Matthew occupies a special place in relation to the Old Testament, differing from either of the other Synoptists, which in itself suggests its having the first place in the order here. This connection with the Old Testament prophecies, as indicated in the numerous quotations from them and the declaration of the fulfilment of these predictions, shows this. Further, the genealogy from Abraham and David is after the manner of the Old Testament, and suggests this continuity. In addition to this, the theme of Matthew, presenting Christ as King and the announcement of the kingdom of heaven in its constitution, works and fruit, indicates that priority.

In Mark we see our Lord as the Prophet of God and Servant of man's need. Divested, as the narrative is, of an introduction such as we have in either of the other Synoptists, or indeed in John, the prominence of service is manifested. Its similarity to the Gospel of Matthew associates it in the mind directly with that Gospel. We naturally think of it as a parallel narrative, and its theme bears out this thought. Thus, all points to Mark as keeping the second place in the Synoptists. If Matthew shows us the King, Mark gives us the Prophet, the Servant of God and of man; and "two," as we have seen, signifies testimony and service.

Luke. No other place is left for the Gospel of Luke except the third; but we are not compelled by this alone. The theme and contents of the book confirm this numerical place. In the presentation of Christ as the Son of Man, the bringer of the gospel and the manifester of grace to sinners, we have a wideness and fulness going beyond the other two Synoptists. The Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is also, we think, more prominent here than in Matthew or Mark. His place in the ineffable mystery of the incarnation, the enduement of John the Baptist, the prominence given to the Spirit in connection with prayer (Luke 11) and the Promise of the Father spoken of after the resurrection, stamp this Gospel with the character of the third person of the Trinity, outpouring divine fulness of grace into the lips of our Lord, poured upon sinners, and poured back upon Himself in worship as by the woman in Luke 7. We conclude, therefore, that the order in which we find the three Synoptists in our Bibles is their true one. Summarizing, we would give thus:

Matthew — Christ as King, with all authority, presenting His kingdom, whether in principle, or to find it rejected, or to proclaim it in its mystery form, or to declare its final consummation.

Mark — Christ as God's Prophet, bearing witness to His will, and in tireless activity serving Him in ministering to the need of man.

Luke — Christ the Son of Man, in the power of the Holy Spirit, manifesting and ministering God's grace.

We add to this brief summary the aspect of our Lord's death, which we find in each of the Synoptists. This will occupy us in greater detail later on, as we have already devoted considerable space to the comparison of the narrative of that death in each of the Evangelists.

In Matthew, appropriately to his theme as the governmental Gospel, we see our Lord's atoning death as a governmental satisfaction for sin. This is what is presented in the trespass-offering.

In Mark, the Prophet who denounces sin, and the Servant who ministers to the sinner, is justified in this apparently contradictory attitude by the amazing fact that His death was the sin-offering, which was the most absolute prophetic declaration of man's guilt and the most perfect ministry to the need which that guilt manifested.

Luke, with its gracious unfolding of the heart of God in the gospel and the calling of sinners into His presence and making them at home there, fittingly gives us the peace-offering aspect of the atoning death of our Lord, in which God and man unite to enjoy the fulness of that which divine grace has accomplished in His sacrifice.

The Gospel of John

From the fact that it stands alone, the Gospel of John need not long detain us in this brief characterization. As we have before said, it being so unique, to point out its characteristics would almost necessitate an examination of the entire Gospel. Indeed, we have already sought to justify its place as second with reference to the Synoptists.

In itself, as to unity, it emphasizes the number "one" — the Godhead of our Lord, His supremacy, the paramount authority of the will of God. In relation to the Synoptists, it speaks of the nearness in which our Lord has come to us and the salvation which He has made possible — the fellowship into which He has brought us. These all stand out in bold relief on every page of our Evangelist.

In the third chapter the sovereignty of God in new birth (number "one") is linked with the Cross by which everlasting life is given to the believer (number "two").

In chapter 4 the sovereignty of grace which seeks the sinner is no more manifest than the communication of the water of life given to the thirsty soul.

As we shall find when we come to analyze the Gospel, the bulk of the entire book is in its second division, the eternal life as communicated to the believer.

Summing up these thoughts, we have, as characterizing this Gospel, Christ the Son of God communicating life and salvation.

Their Order and United Testimony*

The foregoing brief examination will suffice to point out the relation which the four Gospels bear to each other — a significant relation. The recognition of this, and further study here suggested, will serve to confirm our knowledge of the contents of each individual Gospel and its ordered place in relation to the others. The rays of light which beam from each, all blend together to give us God's thought of Him who is "the image of the invisible God," who is Light, and who is Love.

{*The remainder of this chapter will also be found in "How to Study the Bible" p. 117, etc.}

Before leaving this part of our subject, it may not be out of place to offer a few practical suggestions as to the method of study to be adopted in seeking a fuller knowledge of the contents and mutual order of the four Evangelists. Of course, there are numbers of books which give these, but it will be found that what the student gathers for himself is often of greater and more lasting profit than the most admirably predigested analysis.

Our suggestion is very simple. In an ordinary blank-book, let four columns be drawn on the opened page, two columns to a page, headed with the names of the four Gospels. In the column under "Matthew" enter each section of his narrative, making these so minute that they cover only one topic. Thus, the temptation would be divided into three parts. For convenience, consecutive numbers could be given to these sections, which would reach perhaps to more than a hundred in the entire Gospel. Each section would have its number, title, and chapter. Thus:
1. Title of book. Matt. 1:1.
2. Genealogy from Abraham to Joseph (3 parts). Matt. 1:2-17.
3. Testimony to Joseph. Vers. 18-25.
4. Visit of wise men. Matt. 2:1-12.
5. The flight into Egypt. Matt. 2:13-15.
6. The slaughter of the babes at Bethlehem. Vers. 6-18.
7. The return from Egypt to Nazareth. Vers. 19-23.
8. The preaching of John. Matt. 3:1-12.

Thus, let the entire Gospel be dissected with no special reference to the relation of each of the parts to the other, nor to their relative prominence, care only being taken, as we have said, to make the divisions sufficiently small for comparison with the other Evangelists.

Next, in the column of "Mark," let the same course be pursued, each entry numbered with no reference to Matthew. In like manner, the columns of "Luke" and "John" are to be filled. There will thus be before the eye, in four parallel columns, the contents of each of the four Gospels dissected and catalogued in consecutive order. This will form a basis for comparison.

Let the entry in each Gospel be compared with those in the others, and in red ink let their corresponding numbers be put over — thus:

We take The Preaching of John (No. 8 in Matthew) as an illustration.
Mk. (2); L. (13); J.(2) (4) (6)
8. The Preaching of John

Mt. (8); L (13); J. (2) (4) (6)
2. The Preaching of John

Mt. (8); M. (2); J. (2) (4) (6)
13. The Preaching of John

Mt. (8); M. (2); L. (13)
6. The Preaching of John

When this work is completed the student will have the material before him, not only for the study of each Gospel separately, but for purposes of comparison with the others, in which at a glance he can tell what is peculiar to each and what is common to two or more Evangelists. This is probably as far as most students will care to go. If any desire to construct a "harmony," the above catalogue of subjects will be of help in arranging the parallel passages in their order.

Let another book be prepared with four columns similar to the first, and let "Matthew" be entered in the first column exactly as it was before, only with an interval of, say, three lines between each entry. Next, let the parallel passages in Mark be entered directly opposite those in Matthew, using the spaces left vacant for the insertion of those portions peculiar to the second Evangelist.

In like manner, Luke and John are to be entered. Let the original numbers of the sections of each Gospel be also inserted. The result will be that at a glance we will be able to see the contents of the four Gospels arranged with reference to the order given in Matthew. This will form a basis for comparison, and much careful study will be required to see whether that order is always to be followed. As a matter of fact, the Gospel of John furnishes certain great prominent occurrences, the interval between which must be filled in more or less definitely with the events recorded in the other Gospels.

As has been said elsewhere, a certain order of subjects, which we have called "a moral order," is observable in Luke. Only the most patient and careful study will put each narrative in its chronological place. While Matthew is as consecutive as any in the form of his narrative, exceptions will be noted.

In concluding our subject, we would reiterate our conviction that God has intended special instruction in the four narratives, and that our efforts at "harmonizing" the four must not obscure what is manifestly His purpose.