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What's in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark?

Updated on June 6, 2013

Ancient Tradition


Versions of the Story of Jesus

Reliable surveys indicate that most people in the world are placing faith in religion one way or the other. A general faith in God is held by the majority of people. But how much weight should be given biblical writings?

In the end, it's a personal call each person has the right to make. There are people clearly biased against certain religions, who are very vocal. Disqualifying all such criticism, and attempting to be objective, we seek but do not find very much non-religious corroboration of some biblical statements.

But despite the absence of absolute proof, people still believe in their faiths for personal reasons often based on their own experiences in praying and receiving comfort. Are religious people sure because their faith is broader than the specifics of ancient manuscripts, or are they relying on scholars to show the accuracy of the written words? Let's examine, for example, the first two gospels published in the New Testament to see, if taken at their word, what information these stories contained.


Although a tax collector today is a person holding down a very legitimate civil service job, two thousand years ago the apostle Matthew, who worked as a tax collector, was regarded as a mafia enforcer. Jesus was asked once why he hung around with such low life. He came for the sinners, not the saints, was the gist of his answer.

The first of four gospels in the New Testament proclaiming the roots of the Christian religion was written by Matthew. It starts with a description of Jesus' ancestors, all the way back through King David to the descendants of Adam and Eve. Then Matthew tells of the virgin birth of Jesus. Immediately, we as readers may become skeptical. But so much follows this that we must conclude that if the gospel is fact not fiction, then we have abundant cause for happiness.

After his birth, Jesus' parents fled the country to go to Egypt in order to escape the Herod (the Jewish leader used by the Romans to govern the Jews) because Herod sent orders to kill all newborn boys based on Herod's premonition that the christened (anointed) one for whom the religious waited was to be born and would rule the Jews instead of Herod.

Matthew tells us that after Herod's death, the family felt safe to return to Nazareth, and that as Jesus grew to manhood, he was baptized by John the Baptist, after which God's miraculous voice from on high told everyone nearby that Jesus was the son of God.

The devil tempted Jesus with fortune and fame, but Jesus rejected this and lived simply by the Sea of Galilee where he recruited his first apostles from the ranks of fishermen.

Matthew describes the preachings of Jesus, which assured people that by being kind, good, and humble, and having faith in God, that they would have their reward in heaven. With faith, serious bodily and mental diseases were cured by Jesus, and tragedy averted in emergencies.

Matthew shows that good deeds and not ritualistic traditions were the important things to Jesus, who warned his apostles of strong resistance from society to new teachings. Always, Jesus was contrasting the urban sophisticates against the innocent country people whom He favored. He was forever ridiculing the senseless rigid customs of official religion.

Jesus warned of distractions and difficulties that would arise to try to prevent people from attaining heaven. He showed that miraculous things occurred through faith. His teachings were aimed specifically at his fellow Hebrews, rather than any other society.

He rejected worldly values and perceived pompous ecclesiastics as people who lacked faith in God. Although He knew of his own death and suffering, as would be the will of God, Jesus advocated the complete denial of worldly ambitions and advised everyone to live only for God in heaven and not for any other reason.

Matthew shows us the purity of Jesus' faith and the tremendous demands he placed on people. Jesus wanted us always to suppress our own egos and senses of indignity and anger.

In Jerusalem, Jesus debated with and utterly dominated the high leaders of society, destroying them intellectually as they watched him in action convincing the masses. He dominated everyone intellectually and became a hero. Jesus made it clear that He despised many typical religious leaders because they lacked faith in God.

Jesus told people to live as if they were about to go to God, about to perish. He preached kindness and consideration for others. But Matthew tells of how even the apostles lost faith at times, despite Jesus' telling them He was sent from God.

Matthew's gospel closes by describing how even knowing the future, Jesus didn't resist his death sentence, but that He reappeared again to his disciples, after dying, commanding them to preach.

Biblical scholars disagree as to whether the first gospel might not have been written by some unknown person or persons. But Christian belief is that it was Matthew who wrote the first gospel. Even atheists and non-Christians will recognize a certain distinct style to this gospel as compared to the other three. Therefore, it could be said universally that this gospel was written in the style denoted by the name Matthew and characterized just as if the stories were related by the person Matthew, the tax collector.

It is thought that the gospel of Matthew was written most likely in the Greek language, which was common at the time, being a language known to most people regardless of their backgrounds.

At first, Christianity belonged to the Jews. It was a Jewish faith. Later adopted and spread throughout what is now Europe by the Roman Empire, Christianity then was accepted also by Mohammed and the Islamic faith that spread eastward over Asia, then the Christian faith finally moved from Europe across the Atlantic Ocean into the Americas, and was spread everywhere along with European imperialism.

For centuries the world has searched for scientific proof of the facts related in the gospels but to no avail. It is truly an act of faith to believe, but absent any religious meanings at all, the Christian teachings contained in Matthew's gospel were respected for thousands of years for their accuracy and wisdom concerning relationships we experience with our fellow humans.


According to the Christian faith, Mark was not an apostle, but the apostles and Jesus often met at Mark's home in Jerusalem. There is evidence that the Romans commanded Mark to write down the story and teachings of Jesus, which Saint Peter was advocating. Mark's gospel, usually published after Matthew's, seems based on Matthew's. No one knows for sure, but modern analysis now concludes that Mark's gospel was the first written of the four.

Mark's gospel does repeat most of the stories contained in Matthew's, but with a slightly different twist. Mark is terse and to the point. This was the style generally of historian authors who lived at the same time as Mark. His gospel is about two-thirds the length of Matthew's.

After telling how John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, and the voice of God told those gathered there that Jesus was the son of God, Mark begins to relate the preaching, miracles, and recruiting of apostles by Jesus, who was constantly doing amazing things and responding brilliantly to the questions posed to him by the high moral leaders of society.

Much of Mark's gospel seems to be a quick summary of the exact things told in Matthew. But if Mark wrote before Matthew, then Mark's gospel was greatly expanded by Matthew.

Jesus advised everyone many times on how to live. He did not write this down, but rather spoke it.

Mark relates the psychological and physical healing and the miracles Jesus kept performing in the towns surrounding the Sea of Galilee.

Herod feared Jesus, imagining that He really was John the Baptist, brought back to life.

Jesus made the point that what's within the mind and heart matters, not outside showings that often are ritualistic. He told people to love God even more than their own lives, reputations, and possessions. All things are possible through faith, Jesus encouraged, emphasizing that humility is often a manifestation of faith in God.

Mark relates how Jesus was very demanding regarding such important issues as divorce and the need to sacrifice one's wealth.

According to Mark, Jesus knew the future. Although Jesus believed in redemption, as in the case of sinners who later turned to God for help, He knew whether certain people were open to belief in God, or not. Also, He cautioned that no one knows when the world will end, but it will.

Mark tells of apostle Judas' betrayal of Jesus, the last supper, and the high priest's finding that Jesus had committed blasphemy by claiming to be the son of God. The chief priests, through political manipulation, caused Jesus to be sentenced to death. And yet, Mark writes that Jesus arose from the dead and instructed the apostles to preach to all the world.

Similar to Matthew's gospel, authorities taking an objective view still believe that the gospel of Mark, the second in the traditional order in which the four gospels are published, probably was written by an unknown person or persons shortly after the death of Jesus. Scholars believe it was written in the Greek language by someone in Syria about forty years after Jesus lived.

Because the gospel of Mark sometimes stops to explain the elementary Jewish traditions and beliefs, it seems that this gospel was meant for "gentiles" (the word Jews used for everyone except them). Since most of the Roman Empire were gentiles by definition, Mark must have attempted to convert them to the new faith called Christianity, which Romans and Greeks viewed as a new fad within the Jewish faith. In hindsight over the past two thousand years, it's fair to say the Empire was converted and with them, began a domino effect that ultimately spread through successor empires across half of Asia and Africa and all of North and South America and the Australian continent.

Although Mark's gospel is published second, it is believed by most scholars now to have been written before Matthew's and Luke's.

All of the gospels, plus the Old Testament accounts of happenings prior to the dawn of Christianity, have been questioned by many men and women. A lot of the scholars believe the names Moses, Matthew and Mark, for example, were just made up. But someone did write the ancient books of the Bible plus the Christian gospels, which scholars agree were composed within twenty or more years after Jesus was executed.

We are all free to decide whether these or any ancient writings are fact or fiction. But it would seem strange that the early Christians, or any sane people for that matter, would allow themselves to be tortured and executed for believing a story someone just made up. Similarly, the followers of other faiths have suffered persecutions but adhered to their religions despite it all odds.

While it is not perfectly logical to prove conclusively the truth of writings such as the gospels by such historical accounts of torture and adversity, these factors favor the theory the gospels are truthful rather than fictitious.

One explanation for the reality of widespread religious faith is that the words written into books often are unknown or irrelevant to religious people, and that the real reason someone has faith is that it's based on his or her internal, subjective decision, not a book such as the Bible or any gospel.


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