Have you ever wondered why God inspired four different gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, earthly ministry, death and resurrection? As a young Christian I remember thinking to myself “Isn’t this kind of repetitive, especially the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) which are so very similar to each other?" What’s the point? Well it may interest you to know (and hopefully you were already aware) that God is smarter than you and I and He had great purpose in the writing and preservation of the four gospels in our Bible.
Do you like court room dramas? Whether it be a TV show or movies, we have all seen them. We have seen the lawyer call up his next witness and she gives her take upon the events in question. One witness is good, but multiple witnesses are better. The more witnesses we have of an event, the more evidence we can collect as to what really happened. However, multiple witnesses alone don’t equal an airtight case because sometimes not all witnesses are honest.
Let’s say for example that you have four witnesses in a murder trial. The prosecuting attorney calls one up and he gives his testimony about what happened: “I saw the defendant shoot that woman, he was wearing a green Abercrombie and Fitch polo shirt, he had blue eyes, dark hair, the gun was a Glock 45, and he had this creepy smile on his face, with a mole on his right cheek, it was that man sitting right there, I saw him with my own eyes.” Then the next witness is called up and she says the exact same thing that the first witness did, word for word, verbatim. Then the third takes the stand and says the exact same thing, verbatim, and the fourth witness does likewise. Does this make for a solid case against the defendant?
Actually, no, it doesn’t. Because the four witnesses said the exact same thing, as if they had the exact same vantage point and the exact same knowledge of what kind of gun it was, etc., it sounds like they collaborated together to get their stories straight so they would all say the exact same thing. So four absolutely identical accounts would be worthless because they would obviously be little more than a copy of one person's testimony or a collaboration to make up a story.
What are some other problems that you have seen those lawyers have with witnesses on the stand? How about if one witness takes the stand, gives his testimony and says “I saw the murderer, he was a white man about 6’3” with blonde hair, and a muscular build”; but then the next witness gets up on the stand and says she also saw the murderer with her own eyes but describes the murderer as “a black woman about 5’4” and heavy-set,” then something is wrong here. The law of non-contradiction tells us that it is impossible for both of these witnesses to be right, and therefore one of them (or both of them) is lying. So these kind of witnesses are not reliable either (unless other evidence confirms one is telling the truth and the liar is exposed).
So what is the best that a prosecuting attorney can hope for in his case against the defendant? Let’s say you have four witnesses and this time it goes something like this:
Witness 1: “I saw the man shoot the woman, but I was kind of far away and only saw him from the back side. I do know that he had brown hair and was wearing a green shirt. I would say he was somewhere around 6 feet tall. The gun appeared to be a revolver. The man sitting right there looks like he could be the man I saw.”
Witness 2: “I saw that man, sitting right there, carrying a gun into the mall, I didn’t see him shoot anyone, but when I saw the gun I ran because I was scared. It was a silver revolver with a pearl grip and he was wearing a green polo.”
Witness 3: “I was with my friend, Tina, when he shot her. I saw him do it, he shot her at point-blank. He was her old boyfriend and he was jealous because she dumped him for someone else. He bought that stupid revolver last year at a gun show. I know him personally and I saw him do this.”
Witness 4: “I am a police officer who often patrols the mall. We’ve had a number of incidents lately and so the chief has assigned me and another officer to the task of walking the mall now and then. I heard the gun shots but got there too late. I was only in time to see the man running away but I was able to determine that he was wearing a green shirt and had dark brown hair and was about 6’2”. I know that because as he ran out the door it had one of those height charts on it. He was carrying a silver revolver and the bullets we recovered were 45 caliber slugs and a match to the gun we found in the suspects house.”
Now these four testimonies equal to an airtight case against the defendant. The details and perspectives vary, some give more specific information than others (green shirt/green polo, revolver, 45 caliber revolver, pearl grip revolver, approximate height of 6 foot, about 6’2”, etc.), but all of the information, although varied, is actually complimentary and not contradictory. These testimonies are solid, they reflect reality and the experience that various people had as they encountered the situation.
The gospels are very much like this last example. They are four different re-tellings from four different perspectives. Now granted, there are some differences. For instance, we might liken the account of Matthew and John to eye-witness accounts whereas Mark was the second-hand telling of the story (there is strong indication that Mark probably wrote his gospel based off the teaching of Peter), and Luke would perhaps be better likened to a reporter who interviewed numerous people who had witnessed the crime and then compiled the data to give an accurate account. But the point remains the same, we have four testimonies that supply information about the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. They provide varied details, much commonality, they never contradict, and they stand as a very reliable set of witnesses to the person of Jesus.
In God’s wisdom, he inspired four gospels to be written by men with different vantage points and with knowledge of specific information that sometimes varied, so that when the life of Jesus would be put on trial, as it so often is these days, we could show just how strong these testimonies really are about Jesus of Nazareth.