John, Paul, George and Ringo. Their names belong together, and as an honorary Scouser – having lived off Penny Lane as a student and now living round the corner from Strawberry Fields – those 4 men made their mark on our city, our nation and our history as their combined talents made them global stars. The Fab 4 were all very different individuals (always the way with a boy band) but together made something spectacular happen.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – the gospel writers. Their names belong together, arguably the original Fab 4. Are they the ultimate global boy band? They’ve certainly made their mark on history – but are they really a group? Are we meant to hear them together – their different talents and personalities blended to make the same song? Is Mark’s simple melody only truly enjoyed with Matthew’s beat, Luke’s guitar and John’s fancy piano?
The Fab 4 gospel writers are often treated like a boy band. Very often, when you hear someone teach the feeding of the 5000 from Matthew’s gospel they add the bits he missed from John about the boy’s lunch box. When you hear someone tell the “whole story” of Jesus calming the storm – adding Matthew, Mark and Luke’s accounts together – they are treating them like a boy band. As if they are only complete as a group. We can think that all of them are needed to make the song decent – the nerdy one, (Matthew) the talented one, (Luke) the arty one (John) and the one that looks good on the album cover, (Mark).
No! The gospel writers are not a boy band. They are individual solo artists. They are rock stars in their own right. What they include and leave out of their gospels is deliberate for the story they are telling and their style. Some people call it the ‘Author’s Purpose’ writing tool; I prefer to think of it as ‘Which Solo artist am I working with?’ Only when we see the gospel writers as four distinct individuals, inspired by the Spirit, each with a particular goal in mind, will we see Jesus in 4D as we are meant to. We do need them all – but not mashed together. We need each solo act to tell his own unique story about the same Saviour.
So, let me introduce you to the stars …
Matthew – to me, he is the folk singer. A country music story-telling genius, with sandals and stonewash denim, he’s linking the stories of the past to today. There’s a nostalgia and a homesick note to his stories, as he mingles joy, pain, promises and parables with the beautiful beatitudes. He loves to sing of the promised King and his songs are picked up by others who hear and connect with his authenticity and take his songs with them so they are sung all around the world.
Mark – well, he’s the pop star. Slick and cool in shades with a quiff, his song has a catchy beat, easy to pick up, positive, fast paced and fun. He gives us the highlights of the action with ‘suddenly’ this and ‘immediately’ that and an ear worm chorus that sticks in your head – “good news” da da da, “good news”. Before you know it, you’re singing along with him and the tune is stuck in your head. He leaves you with a cliff hanger question – do you believe this good news?
Luke – he’s my favourite. I’d have his poster on my wall. To me he’s the singer song writer, the acoustic guitarist with the widest appeal, shirt and chinos, ready to fit in anywhere. Mums love him. Kids love him. Dads dance to him. Everyone has one of his tracks on their playlist. Luke’s well travelled, a Michael Palin type, and you can hear the influence of other cultures in his music. His songs take us on a journey and introduce us to real people we didn’t think Jesus would be interested in as he shows us the Saviour who came to seek and save the lost.
John – I’ve found him the hardest to get into. It’s like I didn’t love his album first time through, but I stuck with it and before long, I realised it’s an absolute work of genius. John is like the classical musician – all mad hair, crumpled clothes and deep emotion. It’s like he’s making the wonder of orchestral music accessible to the masses. He starts big, we’re blown away and worry we might be in over our heads. Then we spot some repeated little riffs and patterns that we recognize and can hum along to, and before we know it we’re there! We nod along to the music with a tear on our cheek, amazed at the beautiful story as the light of the world shines into our darkness, revealing the ‘I am’ who suffers, dies and rises again that we might believe and have life.
They really are a Fab 4. Remember as you read and as you teach the Gospels – these guys are worth getting to know, they are total global rock stars in their own right, each one with a distinct genius that needs appreciating. They really aren’t the Bible’s boy band.
Thank you to Mark Meynell, who helped me understand the gospels better in 2016 with his 4D Jesus teaching sessions at Word Alive. He used much more high-brow and intelligent examples – and may not appreciate the association – but he set me on the track to understanding the individual writers and teaching them more faithfully.