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Why do the gospels start with Matthew instead of John?
Thank you for your interesting question about the gospels and their order.
It is important or us to understand that the Bible didn't appear by being hand delivered by God. Rather, the Bible as we have it today developed over time. Each book that was considered to be included in the scriptures went under serious consideration, study and debate. Key questions such as the who was the author, whether the book agrees with other writings, whether the book is respected and even when it was written were all considered by early church leaders.
This is to say that if a book was written 200 years after Jesus, written by a known heretic and the writings contradict other Biblical writings, then it would be rejected.
However, rather than this being a human-only exercise, as Christians we believe that the Holy Spirit was active in the preservation, compilation and proclamation of the scriptures, as He is today.
Mark was the first gospel to be written (before 65AD) and was recognised very early in the life of the church. However, it begins with John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of Jesus and leads straight into Christ's ministry. While it is important to know the teachings and ministry of Jesus, it would make sense to begin with some background story, in the same way that a biography might do today.
Similarly, Luke, although rich in depth and detail, doesn't begin with the birth of Jesus, but begins with John the Baptist. Therefore it wouldn't make sense to use Luke as a starting point if we want the New Testament to begin with the focus on Jesus.
We therefore have two potential books to begin the New Testament, which you have identified: Matthew and John. Out of these two gospels, John was the last to be canonised. It is different compared to the other three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) as it is often thematic in its approach, rather than chronological. John also contains a lot of information unique to the other gospels. It is still authoritative and God-breathed, just as all scripture is (2 Timothy 3:16), but it offers us a different perspective from the others.
John tells us the purpose for him writing his gospel: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 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 (John 20:30-31). John's focus, from the poetic introduction in John 1, all the way to his closing in John 20, is all about Jesus being the Son of God.
Matthew's gospel however begins with the genealogy of Jesus, going back all the way to Abraham. Some of the people in this list are the most famous in the Bible. It includes leaders, Kings, shepherds but also people we know very little about.
Within our Christian context, we understand Jesus to be God. Only God can do the miracles, conduct the healings and of course, rise from the dead! However, sometimes it's harder for us to see the humanity of Jesus; that He is not just fully God, but also fully human in every way. He is connected with all those mentioned in the genealogy; God became one of us!
Further to this though, we see that the promises that were given about Jesus are fulfilled through the line Matthew follows. Think of the prophecy to Abraham, where God says "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3). Another prophecy where God says to David "I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom" (2 Samuel 7:12). Jesus was a prophet, priest and King, just like the people in His genealogy. These, and so much more, show us the humanity of Jesus.
So while John shows us the wonderful news of God coming to earth to save us, Matthew shows the humanity of Jesus, connecting His coming to the linage of people throughout biblical history.
While it is good for us to ponder such questions about the Bible, we have to ask whether or not it is important. Ultimately, the answer above is somewhat speculative as we do not know for sure why some books are in the order we find them. However, Paul writes for us what is of first importance: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).
Do you believe Jesus' death and resurrection as first importance? If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, asking Him for the forgiveness of your sins, then I encourage you to do so today.
In summary, the books of the Bible are there because of a series of tests by the early church fathers and the preserving work of the Holy Spirit. Each of the books are God breathed and show us the glory of Jesus. While Mark was written first and Luke contains a lot of detail, Matthew seems to have been chosen because it shows us the humanity of Jesus. John, while showing us Jesus' deity, was the last of the gospels to be canonised. However, what remains of first importance is believing in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.
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*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise
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