The church has spoken of the one gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, we have the gospel according to … Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These four gospels make up the one gospel. It is not Matthew’s gospel, but the gospel of Jesus Christ according to Matthew. There is The Fourfold Gospel.
Is this defensible? Have we moved past the one gospel of Jesus Christ? First, we will defend a theological reading that has been present throughout the church. Along the way, this will involve clarifying what is and is not being claimed. Second, we will show what a theological reading looks like by looking at the beginnings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The One Gospel of Jesus Christ
The church has a canon, a set of books that are God’s Word. This canonization is important for understanding the texts. As Francis Watson says, “The fourfold gospel…is the outcome of a process of gospel reception, and–since reception creatively reshapes what is received–it is also an ongoing work of gospel production.”  Thus, “Each text is as it is only in relation to the others.”  In saying that there is a fourfold gospel by receiving these texts as the Word of God, the church says that God’s Word in these texts is found by reading them as four witnesses to the one gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is receiving these four gospels as witnesses to the one gospel that is so important. The church did not receive one gospel only. It did not simply choose among Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Nor did the church take the best parts of each and make one new text to serve as the one gospel. No, the church received four gospels. “The church’s decision to acknowledge four gospels does not simply recognize them for what they are; it also bestows on each of them its own independent status and validity.”  At the same time, the church received one gospel. Thus, the gospels as God’s Word tell the one gospel of Jesus Christ. There are not four different gospels: Matthew’s gospel, Mark’s gospel, Luke’s gospel, and John’s gospel. Instead, all four bear witness to the one gospel of Jesus Christ. By looking at how the four gospels bear witness to the one gospel in their distinct ways, we are able to hear God’s Word more fully.
So this theological reading is based on reading the texts as God’s Word. The texts must be seen as received as God’s Word within the canon in order to be read rightly. Theological reading focuses on how to read these texts as God’s Word about the truth of the Christian faith, the one gospel of Jesus Christ. This reading does not cover everything. There are plenty of questions about the text that are worthwhile that do not fall into this category. Nor does this reading deny the validity of biblical scholarship.
So what does this reading look like? We turn there next.
Reading the Fourfold Gospel
Ezekiel begins his book with God’s throne and a vision of angels. These angels have four faces: a man, a lion, an ox/calf, and an eagle. The early church read the fourfold gospel in light of this vision. Watson uses this connection to read the fourfold gospel theologically. He does so by focusing on the openings of the gospels.
Consider his summary of this reading: “There is a human face, and it corresponds to Matthew’s opening genealogy of the Jewish Jesus, descended from David and from Abraham. The lion’s face evokes the roar from the desert with which Mark introduces the wild figure of John the Baptist. The face of a calf speaks of sacrifice and the temple, which is where Luke’s narrative both begins and ends. The eagle that soars into the heights is the evangelist John, whose gospel opens by bearing witness to the eternal Word who was with God in the beginning and who was God.”  At first reading, this might strike us as fanciful. But if this is God’s Word and the process of canonization really matters for reading the text rightly, we might need to hear in different ways. In fact, the way this reading sheds light can support the strategy itself. Let us simply look at the gospel according to Matthew.
The human faces sheds light on the Matthew. Matthew, after all, begins with a human genealogy. Jesus the Christ is the son of David, the son of Abraham. “Matthew comes first in the canonical collection because–in view of his early readers, who put him there–his emphasis on Jesus’ Jewishness is the key to understanding who Jesus is.”  This Jesus is truly human. More than that, he is Jewish. In the genealogy, Matthew draws on scriptural resources to point us to Jesus. The somewhat parenthetical comments that crop up in the genealogy helps draw us into the world of the Old Testament. The genealogy also teaches us how to read Scripture: “the sacred scriptural past is reshaped so that it points toward a single goal, the birth of the Messiah.” 
At the same time, the parenthetical comments point us to a darker side of biblical history. Sin abounds. Exile comes. The last Davidic King heads the list of nobodies. Ultimately, the prominence Matthew gives to the exile shows “that the sacred history recorded in Israel’s scriptures does not have the power to regenerate itself. Rather, it awaits some decisive event in which God will act to save his people…This history cannot deliver itself from the burden of its past. The coming of the Messiah must be the act of God. As the prophet and the angel announce, his name will be ‘Immanuel, God-with-us.'”  Yet this gospel will go to the ends of the earth and include all nations: “salvation has come to the world in the person of a Jew.” 
Francis Watson also reads Mark, Luke, and John in terms of the early church’s connection to Ezekiel’s vision. The book explores other themes like the triumphal entry, the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ death on a cross, and more. The book is rich with evocative and wonderful readings of the Scriptural text. At the same time, I found myself disagreeing with some readings and points. For instance, does Jesus really “cast doubt on the Messiah’s Davidic credentials” when he asks how the Messiah can be David’s Son when David calls him “Lord”?  Instead, as Richard Hays suggest, “[T]his question can hardly be read as a repudiation of Jesus’ status as a Davidic Messiah; rather, the function of the narrative is to emphasize yet again that Jesus both fulfills and transcends the expectation of a messianic Son of David.” 
The book is well worth reading. Watson’s command of the tradition and the texts is astounding. After all, any book on reading the gospels theologically that has endorsements from both John Webster and Dale Allison Jr. is basically mandatory reading. Watson helps us to read the gospels theologically. In doing so, he provides reasons for embracing this practice.