Christianity is arguably one of the largest if not the largest religion in the world. At the center of this faith is its founder Jesus Christ of Nazareth. But Jesus did not leave any written documents behind. There is no single book discovered by archaeologist having the signature of Jesus Christ. Yet according to the adherents of Christianity, Jesus’ teachings are made available through various documents made by eyewitnesses who saw Jesus and fellowshipped with him.
The bulk of these accounts can be seen in the four gospels in the Christian Bible and bears the title Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Comparing Matthew and Mark will reveal that although the gospels are somewhat similar there are also differences. In the case of Matthew and Mark the differences led many to make the following conclusions:
Reading through the two gospels there are obvious similarities and differences.
It does not take a seasoned theologian to understand that the gospel of Mark is shorter in length compared to the gospel of Matthew. On the other hand the similarities are also very much evident that for the uninitiated, a casual reading will result in the conclusion that Mark is simply a summary of Matthew. According to a more in-depth analysis, almost all of Mark can be found within Matthew and in fact, “…Matthew contains all of Mark except for 40 verses ( Miguet, ).
Aside from the length there are more differences particularly when it comes to the style of the writing and the content.
At first glance Mark seems to be disorganized while Matthew is easier to read. There is bluntness in the style of Mark, getting directly to the point, while there is sophistication in Matthew (Van den Brink, 1997). Moreover, Matthew serves not only to show the basic history of Christianity but also to fill in the blanks and answer questions that can be expected if there is no other gospel narrative besides Mark.
For instance Matthew’s detailed description of the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus is very helpful when it comes to defending the position that Jesus was not illegitimate but was conceived by the Holy Spirit and that Mary was just the vessel that was used to bring him into this world (Van den Brink, 1997). Aside from writing style and content there are other significant differences between the two gospels. Mark did not beat around the bush. There was urgency in his writing.
The author seemed to think that all the information prior to the launching of Jesus’ ministry had very little importance in the greater scheme of things. If Mark was forced to make a short account of the gospel narrative then he figured that it is best to start with the part where Jesus made his public appearance and declared to the whole world that he is no ordinary person but the Son of God. There is no better way to do it than to let John the Baptist the most controversial and most important religious figure in that era to announce his arrival. Matthew did not see it that way.
Matthew began his version with the genealogy of Jesus. It is clear that Matthew is trying to prove something. According to Ray Stedman the gospel of Matthew was written to present Christ as King (Stedman, ). It is easy to believe in Stedman because in tracing the genealogy of Jesus, Matthew pointed out that he descended from the royal bloodline and was the great-great grandson of King David, Israel’s most popular King. Matthew did not end his presentation in the use of genealogy he went on to narrate that on the day of Jesus’ birth of Israel, bearing presents for the King of the Jews.
In the first few chapters of Mark there was nothing to indicate that Jesus was the rightful heir to the throne of Israel. There were plenty of references to Jesus being a religious teacher with extraordinary capabilities in healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons, and walking on water. Jesus was depicted as the Son of God in Mark chapter 3. Jesus made an indirect claim that he was a prophet in Mark chapter 6 but that was it; as far as kingship is concern the gospel of Mark was silent about it.
Stedman explained that while the gospel of Matthew was written to present Jesus as King, the gospel of Mark was written to present Jesus as a servant (Stedman, ). There are a great number of passages in Mark that support this view. Although Jesus was the Son of God, he came to serve and his stature as the only begotten of the Father made it more remarkable that someone like him can serve. He did it in his own great way by healing the sick, giving relief to those who for years were tormented by evil spirits and by miraculously feeding the hungry.
From beginning to end of Mark’s gospel, Jesus can be seen as a tireless worker serving others. In fact, in Mark 6:3 the author pointed out that Jesus was a carpenter before he started his ministry. Mark presented Jesus as humble, not kingly. Yet this is not a contradiction to Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as King and what it does is enhance that image of Jesus as servant-king. It is an oxymoron perhaps but this partially explains why Jesus was such a controversial and yet very influential man during his time and even thousands of years later.
In the gospel of Mark seldom can one see Jesus staying put in one place. It was like watching a marathon healing session. Jesus was moving from city to city and everywhere he went crowds would gather. There is a passage in Mark that captured what happened during times when the healing ministry of Jesus was operating at maximum capacity and Mark wrote: Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’ (Mk. 3:20-21).
It is easy to imagine this scene. Jesus surrounded by desperate people looking for healing and deliverance and he was working so hard that his family thought he was going crazy. There is constant action, constant movement. In Mark the times when Jesus was healing people easily outnumbered the times when he was teaching them about the kingdom. In the gospel of Matthew on the other hand Jesus can be seen teaching the multitudes and his disciples far more often than in the gospel of Mark. Conclusion
Since Mark is significantly shorter than Matthew and written in a very simple style many were led to believe that the gospel of Mark is the source used by the author of the gospel of Matthew (Miguet, ). As mentioned earlier all the passages in Mark can be found in Matthew except for 40 verses. But aside from the length of the two gospel narratives the most striking difference is the difference in emphasis. Mark depicted Jesus as a very hard working religious teacher with the capability to heal the sick and cast out demons.
Matthew on the other hand portrayed Jesus as a miracle worker but added another interesting facet and that Jesus was the legitimate heir to the throne for he was the son of David. It is hard t prove that the author of Matthew used information found in Mark to expand on the history of the life and works of Christ but one thing is for sure these two gospels were written by two different authors with different perspectives and end-goals when they wrote about Jesus of Nazareth.
If one will assume that the two authors were both eyewitnesses to the ministry of Christ on earth then it can be argued that both authors were writing from two different perspectives. Mark saw Jesus as the humble servant willing to help anyone asking for help, while Matthew on the other hand saw that Jesus was King of the Jews. Both gospel narratives are needed in painting a clear picture of what really happened in Palestine two millenniums ago.
Just, Felix. (2008). “The Birth of Jesus: Comparing the Gospel Infancy Narratives.” http://catholic-resources. org/Bible/Jesus-Birth. htm Maniguet, M. (2006).
Synoptic Comparison. Retrieved 12 December 2008 from faculty. bbc. edu/rdecker/documents/students/miche_syn. pdf
Stedman, R. (1966). “The Gospel of Mark: He came to Serve. ” Discovery Publishing, Peninsula Bible Church. http://www. pbc. org/files/messages/3177/0242.html
Van den Brink, Gijs. (1997). “Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Retrieved 12 December 2008 from http://www. elim. nl/en/theologymatthew. html