Did The Gospel Authors Have An Agenda?

Last Updated: February 14, 2024By

Short answer; yes. The men who wrote Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had an agenda.

If you’re like me, the first time you hear someone make that statement, you might get a little defensive. And I get it. “Agenda” is a bit of a loaded word these days.  I’m a Gen-Xer. I grew up on a steady diet of The X-Files and Oliver Stone movies. So, when I see the word “agenda” my first instinct is to assume the person means hidden agenda. Manipulation. Propaganda.

Something I’ve had a steady diet of in recent years is Greg Koukl’s Tactics book. So, I know the first thing I need to do when confronted with a term that often times gets confused – or has broad usage – is to ask the question “what do you mean by ‘agenda'”?

The Agenda Of The Gospel Authors

Anyone who writes a book or puts out a video or makes a speech or writes an article has an agenda. Including me. My agenda with this article is to convince you that the Gospel authors aren’t being dishonest in their intentions. In fact, two of them explicitly state their purpose in the text of the books they wrote. You see, that’s what an agenda is; the purpose. The agenda of the author is the reason for which they wrote the book. Or posted the video. Or gave the speech. They want to convince you of something. They believe something to be true and they want to convince you that it’s true. There’s nothing inherently nefarious about that.

So, what was the agenda of the Gospel authors? First, let’s look at the Gospel of Luke.   He tells us in the very beginning what his agenda is:

1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Luke 1:1–4. (emphasis mine)

Luke wrote his gospel so that Theopilus could have an orderly account of the eyewitnesses to Christ’s ministry and the things that have happened since. People speculate on who Theophilus was, but even secular historians commend Luke for the rigor and accuracy of the historical account he provides.

The other gospel author that directly told us his agenda was John. John’s agenda is written towards the end of his work.

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), John 20:30–31. (emphasis mine)

John’s agenda is for his readers to believe that Jesus is the foretold Jewish Messiah, that he is the Son of God, and if you believe in Him you will have eternal life in the presence of God. Pretty clear.

The authors of Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels don’t give explicit intent like Luke and John did. But, I will point out that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the synoptic Gospels because they share the same point of view; they have the same agenda. They have the same core message. The accounts may be a little different, but the message is the same – that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, Son of God, who rose from the dead. And, if you believe in Him you will have eternal life.

Did The Gospel Authors Have A Hidden Agenda?

For most of my adult life, I was pretty sure that the people who wrote the New Testament had a hidden agenda or some sort of ulterior motive. Why did I think this? Because I had been trained that powerful organizations got that way by being manipulative and dishonest (X-Files, remember?). Another thing I grew up with were televangelistic megachurches – where the pastors had megamansions, private jets, and limos to drive them around. Oh, and sex scandals. Let’s not forget about those. Plus, the Roman Catholic church is often parading around golden treasures, jewel encrusted scepters and headpieces. And I had heard story after story of pastors and priests using their positions of power to manipulate the members of their congregations in the name of God. I also knew that for much of history the Church and the government (usually a monarchy) were inextricably linked together. Sure, one of the founding principles of the United States was religious freedom. Apart from that, there was no power greater in the Western World than the Church. And, if the Church is founded on the Bible, then clearly the Bible had to promote this kind of thing.

So what happened to change my mind? What happened to make me move from hyperskepticism to championing the Bible as the most trustworthy book ever written?

Well, for starters, I read it.

See, I had formed this opinion about the Gospels and their authors without ever actually reading it for myself. I mean, sure, I had heard most of the stories. I attended Sunday school and sat in the pews every Sunday until I was 18. But, I had never read the Bible for myself.

When I read the Gospels for the first tine, I was immediately struck by how the way of life being prescribed in the New Testament was very different than what I was seeing portrayed on TV and in books. What Jesus and his disciples went through didn’t reflect what I was seeing in modern times. So, somewhere, the train got a little off the tracks.

The second thing that happened is I began to dig into the history of the early church and the fate of the apostles. Turns out, it wasn’t good. You don’t have to go any further than the book of Acts to see how they were received in many cities. They were arrested, beaten, stoned, tossed over city walls, and left for dead. In his massive tome entitled The Fate Of The Apostle, Sean McDowell goes over the historical record for what happened to Jesus’ inner circle. We can know with confidence that many of them were martyred because of what they proclaimed. And while we don’t know the exact fate of all of them, when we do know is they were willing to die.

Sure, in the 4th century when Constantine became emperor of Rome, the church started to grow in power and influence. But, for the first three hundred years after Jesus’ death, his followers were often persecuted. Power, wealth, and prestige were the opposite of the life they led.

As I read the Scriptures and I read history I thought to myself, “man, if they had some sort of hidden agenda it wasn’t one I’d want to be a part of”. As J. Warner Wallace likes to tell us, every crime is motivated by one of three things; sex, money, or power.So, if these men had some sort of hidden agenda what was it? Sure, 400 years later, the church began to amass its wealth and power. But, in the beginning, you were more likely to end up getting run out of town. Or worse. What a terrible conspiracy!

“Hey guys! I have this great plan. Let’s break away from our cultural leaders, put our lives and the lives of our families at risk, go broke, and spend the rest of our days wandering around the Middle East getting chased from town to town.. Oh, and we’ll likely end up dead. Who’s with me?”

Another thing that struck me is the person of Paul. Paul is one of the most puzzling”conspirators”. Why would he join in with this band of social outcasts? He was on the road to power and a life of luxury. He was climbing the Pharisee ladder to the top. And in a hurry. Why would he give that all up? He had already “won” at life. Why would he turn to the life of an itinerant preacher/tent maker who – among other things – was arrested numerous time, stoned, left for dead, arrested, and shipwrecked (see 2 Cor 11:23-29)?

The point is that the gospel authors said and did a lot of things that got them into a lot of trouble. It didn’t get them ahead in life (not this one, at least). They said and did the the things they did because they were eyewitnesses to the events and they knew they were true. The events they reported on and the way of life they taught – they believed it was true. And lived it out in front of everyone. There was no hidden agenda, no ulterior motive. What you see is what you get.

If you want to know what the motive of the authors of the New Testament was, just ask them. They’ll tell you.

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About the Author: David W. Gilmore

Dave Gilmore is the founder and editor-in-chief of Legati Christi. Over the past few years he has developed a passion for Christian Apologetics and theology, and enjoys talking to others about the Christian world view

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