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Comparative Study of the Gospels of Matthew and John

by Bobby Bruno  
4/12/2014 / Bible Studies

In this paper, I will accomplish to do two things. First, I will compare the different audiences that the Apostles John and Matthew wrote to in their respective Gospels, and will show how their audiences helped to influence and shape the way they wrote them. Second, I will attempt to discuss how some of the events John chose to record that were not recorded by Matthew gives one a better understanding about Jesus Christ.

Matthew wrote his Gospel for his fellow Jewish believers. We know this because according to the Life in the Spirit Study Bible (1995, 2003) "The Jewish background of this Gospel is evident in many ways, including: (1) it relies on the OT revelation, promises, and prophecy to prove that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah; (2) it traces Jesus' lineage, starting from Abraham: (3) it repeatedly declares that Jesus is the "Son of David"; (4) it uses preferred Jewish terminology such as "kingdom of heaven" (a synonym for "kingdom of God") because of the Jews reverential reluctance to say the name of God directly; and (5) it refers to Jewish customs without any explanation (unlike the other Gospels)" (p. 1416).

Matthew's purpose for writing his book according to Wendel Elwell and Robert Yarbrough in their textbook, Encountering the New Testament (1998, 2005), "Fundamentally, Matthew wrote this Gospel to preserve what he knew about Jesus' life and words. He wanted to make sure that that truth about Jesus would never be lost, in order to accomplish this he focused on certain specific thinks that to him were the essence of what they meant" (p. 80). Matthew was writing to show his audience that Jesus was the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel, coming as Israel's Messiah and Redeemer. And because the original promise to Abraham included the promise that Abraham's descendants (Israel) would be a blessing to the nations, or Gentiles. Matthew also pointed out that Jesus came to be the Savior of the world, as well as the Savior of Israel. As the fulfillment of God's ultimate intention for all who trust him, Jesus is depicted as the sole supreme authority, teacher, preacher, and healer. The Old Testament Scriptures prophesied it; Jesus fulfilled it. But Matthew lives after Jesus' saving death and resurrection in the time of the church, so he pointed out that this, too, was part of God's intentions" (p. 84-85).

John, on the other hand, wrote his Gospel to show all nations and peoples that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, and that if you just believe that He is, then you may have eternal life in Him. According to the Life in the Spirit Study Bible, John "states his purpose in 20:31 "that you may believe." Ancient Greek manuscripts of John have one of two tenses for the word translated "believe (20:31): that aorist subjunctive ("that you may begin believing") and the present subjunctive ("that you may go on believing"). If John intended the former, he wrote to convince unbelievers to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. If the latter, John wrote to strengthen the foundations of faith so that believers might go on believing in spite of false teaching, and to enter fully into fellowship with the Father and Sin. While both of these purposes find support in John, the content of the Gospel as a whole favors the latter emphasis as the overriding purpose" (p. 1597). The Study Bible goes on to say why John wrote this Gospel: "According to several ancient sources, the elderly apostle John, while residing at Ephesus, was requested by the elders of Asia to write this "spiritual Gospel" in order to counteract and refute a dangerous heresy about the nature, person and deity of Jesus led by a persuasive Jew named Cerinthus" (p. 1597).

The NIV Application Commentary on the Book of John agrees that "the Christians of John's church may have needed encouragement because of persecution and hostilities. John buttresses Christian claims against Jewish unbelief. The historic fact of Jewish unbelief in Jesus' day is joined with Jewish opposition in John's day" (p. 30). The Zondervan Handbook to the Bible states a peculiarity in the way John speaks of the Jews he is writing to, "John's Gospel speaks of "the Jews" almost as if Jesus' disciples were not Jews themselves. This is probably for his non-Jewish nation quite natural, if he was writing the Gospel in Ephesus. The use of the term, without distinction, for Judeans in general and the Jewish religious authorities who opposed Jesus has often been misinterpreted as anti-Semantic. But John is a Jew himself, and he points out that "many (Jews) believed", particularly as events move toward their climax (see ex. 11:45; 12:11, 42). And the unbelief of others is something he struggles to account for (12:37-43)" (p. 621).

Both Matthew and John wrote to their own people as well as everyone who reads and responds to their Gospels. Both apostles new that Jesus Christ is the Messiah; getting the people to believe as well was their main task in writing the words they wrote that changed the world.

Next, I will look at a few of the events that the apostle John included in his Gospel that Matthew (or for the most part, the other Gospel writers also) did not include in his. Where Matthew wanted to prove that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, John wanted his readers to see Jesus for the God that He is. In his Gospel, John includes more of Jesus' miracles than the other Gospel writers. I will look at few below along with other events that tell us more about Jesus so that we may better understand who He is.

The first takes place in John 3:1-21. The most important aspect of these scriptures is where Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again. Today, we have the benefit of having been able to study Jesus' words much more clearly. Nicodemus had never heard anything like this before. He was stunned by Jesus' words and reacted in a way some still react today Nicodemus took the words literally and not spiritually. In verse four, Nicodemus says "How can anyone be born when he's an old man? He can't go back inside his mother a second time to be born, can he?" These verses help us better understand that most everything Jesus said or did had a spiritual connotation that went with it. Where most hearers believed that Jesus meant the physical aspects of life (such as physical healings or physical rest, which He did), Jesus was more concerned about a person's spiritual healing and rest, a place where their souls are free from the stain of sin and eternal life in Him is theirs. Yes, Jesus cares about our earthly needs, but He cares more that we are with the Father at the end of all things.

In the scripture where Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well, we see that Jesus considers all people, male and female, worthy of the Kingdom of God. We find these scriptures in John 4:5-42. Here we see Jesus speaking to the woman as if she were an equal, not as an outcast of society in a male-dominated culture. Jesus explained her many sins to her, but still considered her as someone with a heart and a mind to think for herself. Because of His treatment of her, and the truth He told her, Jesus won over a convert that day.

One of the most extraordinary miracles that Jesus performed was the day He raised Lazarus from the dead. In this miracle, Jesus showed us that He did in fact have the power of God running through His soul. That day, Jesus showed those who watched that God was indeed with tem and that the Kingdom of God was at hand. We find this miracle in John 11:1-44. These scriptures don't tell us the reaction of the people surrounding Him, but it does tell of the reaction of Jesus' enemies. Even though Jesus showed great power over death, His enemies showed no fear other than the desire to kill Jesus just because He would usurp their evil way of life.

From studying Matthew's Gospel, we can learn more about Jewish society since he wrote to his fellow Jews. Those of us who are not Jewish may not understand all that Matthew is saying to his own people for he is telling us the history of Jesus from a Jewish point of view. Once we study Jewish life, the more we understand the Jewishness of Jesus Christ. We need this to have a well-rounded since of all that Jesus is, both human and divine.

John, on the other hand, was writing to Jews being persecuted for believing that Jesus was the Messiah. Along with this purpose, John also wrote to the non-Jewish nations so that they, too, could know Jesus and believe in him. As the Disciple that Jesus Loved, John had intimate knowledge and understanding of just who Jesus was. More than any other disciple of Jesus, John believed that Jesus was God in the flesh long before the others did. John loved Jesus with a love that transcends human understanding. In this we can better understand just what kind of relationship Jesus wants to have with us; a relationship that is closer than anything we could possibly imagine here on earth. Jesus continually, through the four Gospels, shows us the way to that kind of relationship. If we continue to study the Gospels for all they have to tell us, we, too, can enter into a closer relationship with our Savior and Friend. That's just what Jesus wants us to do.


(1995, 2003). Life in the spirit study bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan/Life Publishers

(2002). Zondervan handbook to the bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan

All Scripture is taken from GOD'S WORD, 1995 God's Word to the Nations. Used by permission of Baker Publishing Group.

Burke, G. (2000). The niv application commentary: john. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondrvan

Elwell, W., Yarbrough, R. (1998, 2005). Encountering the new testament: a historical and theological survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Bobby Bruno was saved 15 years ago in a way that left him no doubt that Jesus wanted him to reach others with His great and abounding love. He started writing at the age of 12 and hasn't stopped since. He achieved Associates Degree in Biblical Studies from Ohio Christian University in early 2014.

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