|\”…the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight\” (Rev 4.7)|
Each of the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—draw their own, inspired portrait of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Each of these four Gospels provides insight into who the Son of God was, what he did, and why that matters. For those who believe in Inspiration, God provided the Church with four Gospels rather than a single one. For those who don\’t believe in inspiration, the Church chose to select, copy, and propagate four Gospels rather than one, and only four out of the many others that were written. Regardless of one\’s thoughts on inspiration and canon formation, however, the task of the interpreter remains the same: It’s our job to figure out why.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham… (Mat 1.1)
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God… (Mark 1.1)
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 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, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught… (Luke 1.1–4)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… (John 1.1–5)
Irenaeus of Lyon wrote in Against Heresies (ca. AD 180) and explain it this way:
For the cherubim, too, were four-faced, and their faces were images of the dispensation of the Son of God. For Scripture says, \’The first living creature was like a lion\’ (Rev 4.7) symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second \’was like a calf,\’ signifying his sacrificial and sacerdotal order; \’but the third had, as it were, the face as of a man,\’— an evident description of Jesus\’ advent as a human being; the fourth was \’like a flying eagle,\’ pointing out the gift of the Spirit hovering with sis wings over the Church.
Therefore the Gospels are in accord with these things, among which Christ Jesus is seated. For that according to John relates sis original, effectual, and glorious generation from the Father, thus declaring, \’In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God\’ (John 1.1). Also, \’all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made\’ (John 1.3). For this reason, too, is that Gospel full of all confidence, for such is his person. But that according to Luke, taking up his priestly character, commenced with Zacharias the priest offering sacrifice to God. For now was made ready the fatted calf, about to be immolated for the finding again of the younger son. Matthew, again, relates his generation as a man, saying, \’The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham\’ (Mat 1.1); and also, \’The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise\’ (???). This, then, is the Gospel of his humanity; for which reason it is, too, that a humble and meek man is kept up through the whole Gospel. Mark, on the other hand, begins with the prophetical spirit coming down from on high to men, saying, \’The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet\’ (Mark 1.2a)— pointing to the winged aspect of the Gospel; and on this account he made a compendious and cursory narrative, for such is the prophetical character.
And the Word of God himself used to converse with the ante-Mosaic patriarchs, in accordance with His divinity and glory; but for those under the law he instituted a sacerdotal and liturgical service. Afterwards, being made man for us, He sent the gift of the celestial Spirit over all the earth, protecting us with His wings. Such, then, as was the course followed by the Son of God, so was also the form of the living creatures; and such as was the form of the living creatures, so was also the character of the Gospel. For the living creatures are quadriform, and the Gospel is quadriform, as is also the course followed by the Lord (Against Heresies, 3.11.8).
Of course, if you\’re a Star Wars fan like myself, you might just say it this way:
Next time, we\’ll look at how to read horizontally.