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In Christianity, a gospel (from Old English, gōd spell "good news") is to be generally one of the first four books of the New Testament that describe the birth, life, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. The four canonical texts are the Gospel of Matthew, Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Luke and Gospel of John, probably written between 65 and 100 AD.<ref>Marcus J. Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally, (HarperSanFrancisco, 2002) page 189.</ref><ref name ="Harris">Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.</ref> They appear to have been originally untitled; they were quoted anonymously in the first half of the second century (i.e. 100 - 150) but the names by which they are currently known appear suddenly around the year 180.<ref>E P Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, (Penguin, 1995) page 63 - 64.</ref>

The first canonical gospel written is thought by most scholars to be Mark (c 65-70), which was according to the majority used as a source for the gospels of Matthew and Luke.<ref name ="Harris">Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.</ref> In modern source criticism, Matthew and Luke are generally thought to have used a common source, the Q document,<ref name ="Harris">Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.</ref> These first three gospels are called the synoptic gospels because they share similar incidents, teachings, and even much language.<ref name ="Harris"/> The last gospel, the gospel of John, presents a very different picture of Jesus and his ministry from the synoptics.<ref name ="Harris"/> In differentiating history from invention, historians interpret the gospel accounts skeptically.<ref name = "Sanders">Sanders, E. P. The historical figure of Jesus. Penguin, 1993.</ref> The synoptic evangelists demonstrated reserve in altering or inventing stories about Jesus, and historians regard the synoptic gospels as including significant amounts of historically reliable information about Jesus.<ref name = "Sanders"/> Scholars maintain that the gospels and all the books of the New Testament were written in Greek, see also Greek primacy.

The synoptic gospels are the source of many popular stories, parables, and sermons, such as Jesus' humble birth in Bethlehem, the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, the Last Supper, and the Great Commission. John provides a theological description of Jesus as the eternal Word, the unique savior of humanity. All four attest to his Sonship, miraculous power, crucifixion, and resurrection. Portions of the gospels are traditionally read aloud during church services as a formal part of the liturgy.

More generally, gospels compose a genre of Early Christian literature.<ref>Peter Stuhlmacher, ed., Das Evangelium und die Evangelien, Tübingen 1983, also in English: The Gospel and the Gospels</ref> Gospels that did not become canonical likely also circulated in early Christianity. Some, such as the Gospel of Thomas, lack the narrative framework typical of a gospel.<ref name ="Oxford:unspecified">Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005, unspecified article</ref> These gospels probably appeared later than the canonical gospels, though in the case of Thomas, scholarship is divided on the exact date.

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The word gospel derives from the Old English god-spell(rarely godspel), meaning "good tidings" or "good news". It is a calque (word-for-word translation) of the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον, euangelion (eu- "good", -angelion "message"). The Greek word "euangelion" is also the source of the term "evangelist" in English. The authors of the four canonical Christian gospels are known as the four evangelists.

Originally, the "gospel" was the glad tidings of redemption through the expiatory offering of Jesus Christ for one's sins, the central Christian message. Note: John 3:16. <ref name="ODCC self">"Gospel." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005</ref> Before the first gospel was written (Mark, c 65-70)<ref name ="Harris">Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.</ref>, Paul the Apostle used the term εὐαγγέλιον "gospel" when he reminded the people of the church at Corinth "of the gospel I preached to you" (1 Corinthians 15.1). Paul averred that they were being saved by the gospel, and he characterized it in the simplest terms, emphasizing Christ's appearances after the Resurrection (15.3 – 8): Template:Quotation

The earliest extant use of εὐαγγέλιον "gospel" to denote a particular genre of writing dates to the 2nd century. Justin Martyr (c 155) in 1 Apology 66 wrote: "...the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels".

Henry Barclay Swete's Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, pages 456-457 states:

Εὐαγγέλιον in the LXX occurs only in the plural, and perhaps only in the classical sense of 'a reward for good tidings' (2 Sam 4:10 [also 2 Sam 18:20, 2 Sam 18:22, 2 Sam 18:25-27, 2 Kings 7:9]); in the N.T. it is from the first appropriated to the Messianic good tidings (Mark 1:1, Mark 1:14), probably deriving this new meaning from the use of εὐαγγελίζεσθαι in Isa 40:9, Isa 52:7, Isa 60:6, Isa|61:1.

In the New Testament, evangelion meant the proclamation of God's saving activity in Jesus of Nazareth, or the agape message proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth. This is the original New Testament usage (for example Mark 1:14-15 or 1|Corinthians 15:1-9; see also Strong's G2098). The peculiar situation in the English language of an obsolete translation persisting into current usage harks back to John Wycliffe who already had gospel, and whose usage was adopted into the King James Version. The short o in the modern word gospel is due to mistaken association with the word god. Old English gōd-spell had a long vowel and would have become good-spell in Modern English.

Canonical Gospels

Of the many gospels written in antiquity, only four gospels came to be accepted as part of the New Testament, or canonical. An insistence upon there being a canon of canonical four, and no others, was a central theme of Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 185. In his central work, Adversus Haereses Irenaeus denounced various early Christian groups that used only one gospel, such as Marcionism which used only Marcion's version of Luke, or the Ebionites which seem to have used an Aramaic version of Matthew as well as groups that embraced the texts of newer revelations, such as the Valentinians (A.H. 1.11). Irenaeus declared that the four he espoused were the four Pillars of the Church: "it is not possible that there can be either more or fewer than four" he stated, presenting as logic the analogy of the four corners of the earth and the four winds (3.11.8). His image, taken from Ezekiel 1, or Revelation 4:6-10, of God's throne borne by four creatures with four faces—"the four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and the four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle"—equivalent to the "four-formed" gospel, is the origin of the conventional symbols of the Evangelists: lion, bull, eagle, man. Irenaeus was ultimately successful in declaring that the four gospels collectively, and exclusively these four, contained the truth. By reading each gospel in light of the others, Irenaeus made of John a lens through which to read Matthew, Mark and Luke.

By the turn of the 5th century, the Catholic Church in the west, under Pope Innocent I, recognized a biblical canon including the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which was previously established at a number of regional Synods, namely the Council of Rome (382), the Synod of Hippo (393), and two Synods of Carthage (397 and 419).<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> This canon, which corresponds to the modern Catholic canon, was used in the Vulgate, an early 5th century translation of the Bible made by Jerome<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> under the commission of Pope Damasus I in 382.

There was also another order, the "western order of the Gospels", so called because it is typical for the manuscripts which are usually a representative of the Western text-type.

This order is found in the following manuscripts: Bezae, Monacensis, Washingtonianus, Tischendorfianus IV, Uncial 0234.

Medieval copies of the four canonical gospels are known as Gospel Books or also simply as Gospels (in Greek as Tetraevangelia). Notable examples include the Lindisfarne Gospels (c 700), the Barberini Gospels, Lichfield Gospels and the Vienna Coronation Gospels (8th century), the Book of Kells and the Ada Gospels (ca. 800) or the Ebbo Gospels (9th century).

Origin of the canonical Gospels

The dominant view today is that Mark is the first Gospel, with Matthew and Luke borrowing passages both from that Gospel and from at least one other common source, lost to history, termed by scholars 'Q' (from German: Quelle, meaning "source"). This view is known as the "Two-Source Hypothesis". <ref name="Goodacre">For a dissenting view, seeMark Goodacre.</ref>.John was written last and shares little with the synoptic gospels.

The gospels were apparently composed in stages. Mark's traditional ending (Mark 16:9-20) was most likely composed early in the second century and appended to Mark in the middle of that century.<ref name = "May Metzger Mark">May, Herbert G. and Bruce M. Metzger. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. 1977. "Mark" p. 1213-1239</ref> The birth and infancy narratives apparently developed late in the tradition.<ref name = "ActJBirth">Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. HarperSanFrancisco. 1998. "Birth & Infancy Stories" p. 497-526.</ref> Luke and Matthew may have originally appeared without their first two chapters.<ref name = "ActJBirth"/>

The general consensus among biblical scholars is that all four canonical Gospels were originally written in Greek, the lingua franca of the Roman Orient.


Estimates for the dates when the canonical Gospel accounts were written vary significantly; and the evidence for any of the dates is scanty. Because the earliest surviving complete copies of the Gospels date to the 4th century and because only fragments and quotations exist before that, scholars use higher criticism to propose likely ranges of dates for the original gospel autographs. Scholars variously assess the consensus or majority view as follows:

  • Mark: c. 68–73,<ref name="Brown">Raymond E. Brown. An Introduction to the New Testament.</ref> c 65-70<ref name ="Harris">Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.</ref>
  • Matthew: c. 70–100.<ref name="Brown"/> c 80-85.<ref name ="Harris">Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.</ref> Some conservative scholars argue for a pre-70 date, particularly those that do not accept Mark as the first gospel written.
  • Luke: c. 80–100, with most arguing for somewhere around 85,<ref name="Brown"/>, c 80-85<ref name ="Harris">Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.</ref>
  • John: c 90-100,<ref name ="Harris">Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.</ref> c. 90–110,<ref>C K Barrett, among others.</ref> The majority view is that it was written in stages, so there was no one date of composition.

Traditional Christian scholarship has generally preferred to assign earlier dates. Some historians interpret the end of the book of Acts as indicative, or at least suggestive, of its date; as Acts does not mention the death of Paul, generally accepted as the author of many of the Epistles, who was later put to death by the Romans c. 65.Template:Fact Acts is attributed to the author of the Gospel of Luke, and therefore would shift the chronology of authorship back, putting Mark as early as the mid 50s. Here are the dates given in the modern NIV Study Bible (for a fuller discussion see Augustinian hypothesis):

  • Mark: c. 50s to early 60s, or late 60s
  • Matthew: c. 50 to 70s
  • Luke: c. 59 to 63, or 70s to 80s
  • John: c. 85 to near 100, or 50s to 70

Such early dates are not limited to conservative scholars. In Redating the New Testament John A. T. Robinson, a prominent liberal theologian and bishop, makes a case for composition dates before the fall of Jerusalem.


Matthew was probably written in Syria, perhaps in Antioch,<ref name="Harris"/> an ancient Christian center. Mark has traditionally been associated with Peter's preaching in Rome, and it is well-suited to a Roman audience.<ref name="Harris"/> Various cities have been proposed for the origin of Luke, but there is no consensus on the matter. Ephesus is a popular scholarly choice for the place of origin for the Gospel of John.<ref name="Harris"/>

Oral tradition

The oral traditions that the evangelists drew on were transmitted by word of mouth for decades. (However, it should be noted that traditionally both Matthew and John were eyewitnesses of the events recorded.) This oral tradition consisted of several distinct components. Parables and aphorisms are the "bedrock of the tradition." Pronouncement stories, scenes that culminate with a saying of Jesus, are more plausible historically than other kinds of stories about Jesus. Other sorts of stories include controversy stories, in which Jesus is in conflict with religious authorities; miracles stories, including healings, exorcisms, and nature wonders; call and commissioning stories; and legends.<ref name = "ActJIntro">Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. HarperSanFrancisco. 1998. Introduction, p. 1-40</ref>

Content of the Gospels

The four gospels present different narratives, reflecting different intents on the parts of their authors.<ref name = "mvkcgb">Ehrman. Misquoting Jesus.</ref>

All four gospels portray Jesus as leading a group of disciples, performing miracles, preaching in Jerusalem, being crucified, and rising from the dead.

The synoptic gospels represent Jesus as an exorcist and healer who preached in parables about the coming Kingdom of God. He preached first in Galilee and later in Jerusalem, where he cleansed the temple. He states that he offers no sign as proof (Mark) or only the sign of Jonah (Matthew and Luke).<ref name = "5G">Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The five gospels. HarperSanFrancisco. 1993.</ref> In Mark, apparently written with a Roman audience in mind, Jesus is a heroic man of action, given to powerful emotions, including agony.<ref name ="Harris">Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.</ref> In Matthew, apparently written for a Jewish audience, Jesus is repeatedly called out as the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy.<ref name ="Harris">Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.</ref> In Luke, apparently written for gentiles, Jesus is especially concerned with the poor.<ref name ="Harris">Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.</ref> Luke emphasizes the importance of prayer and the action of the Holy Spirit in Jesus' life and in the Christian community.<ref name = "tggkjn">Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005, article Luke, Gospel of St</ref> Jesus appears as a stoic supernatural being, unmoved even by his own crucifixion.<ref name = "mvkcgb"/> Like Matthew, Luke insists that salvation offered by Christ is for all, and not the Jews only.<ref name = "tggkjn"/><ref> St. Matthew , "The Thompson Chain-Reference Study Bible New King James Version", (B.B. Kirkbride Bible Co. Inc., 1997) p. 1258 verse 12:21, p.1274, verse 21:43.</ref>

The Gospel of John represents Jesus as an incarnation of the eternal Word (Logos), who spoke no parables, talked extensively about himself, and did not explicitly refer to a Second Coming.<ref name ="Harris">Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.</ref> Jesus preaches in Jerusalem, launching his ministry with the cleansing of the temple.<ref name ="Harris">Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.</ref> He performs several miracles as signs, most of them not found in the synoptics.

Non-canonical gospels

In addition to the four canonical gospels, early Christians wrote other gospels that were not accepted into the canon. Generally these were not accepted due to doubt over the authorship, the time frame between the original writing and the events described, or content that was at odds with orthodoxy.Template:Fact For example, if a gospel claimed to be written by James, yet was authored in the second century, clearly authorship was not authentic.Template:Fact This differs from the four canonical gospels which historians agree were authored before 100. For this reason, most of these non-canonical texts were only ever accepted by small portions of the early Christian community.Template:Fact Some of the content of these non-canonical gospels (as much as it deviates from accepted theological norms) is considered heretical by the leadership of mainstream churches, including the Vatican.Template:Fact

The sayings gospel Q

The hypothetical gospel Q comprised mostly sayings of Jesus with little narrative. It is presumably the source for many of Jesus' sayings in Matthew and Luke, and accordingly must have preceded these gospels. Its first edition was written c 50-60.<ref name = "5GStages">Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The five gospels. HarperSanFrancisco. 1993. "Stages in the Development of Early Christian Tradition" p. 128</ref> Mark Goodacre and other scholars have questioned this hypothetical document.

Gospel of Thomas

Like Q, the gospel attributed to Thomas is mostly wisdom without narrating Jesus' life. A few scholars argue that its first edition was written c 50-60, but that the surviving edition was written in the first half of the second century.<ref name = "5GStages"/> This would mean that its first edition was contemporary with the earliest letters of Paul the Apostle. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says that the original may date from c. 150.<ref name=ODCC:GofT>"Thomas, Gospel of." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005</ref> It may represent a tradition independent from the canonical gospels, but that developed over a long time and was influenced by Matthew and Luke.<ref name=ODCC:GofT/> While it can be understood in Gnostic terms, it lacks the characteristic features of Gnostic doctrine.<ref name=ODCC:GofT/> The Jesus Seminar identified two of its unique parables, the parable of the empty jug and the parable of the assassin.<ref name = "5GThomas">Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The five gospels. HarperSanFrancisco. 1993. "The Gospel of Thomas," p 471-532.</ref> It had been lost but was discovered, in a Coptic version dating from c. 350, at Nag Hammadi in 1945-6, and three papyri, dated to c. 200, which contain fragments of a Greek text similar to but not identical with that in the Coptic language, have also been found.<ref name=ODCC:GofT/>

Gospel of Peter

The gospel of Peter was likely written in the first half of the second century. It seems to be largely legendary, hostile toward Jews, and including Docetic elements. It had been lost but was rediscovered in the 19th century.

Infancy Gospels

A genre of "Infancy gospels" (Greek: protoevangelion) arose in the 2nd century, such as the Gospel of James, which introduces the concept of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (not to be confused with the absolutely different sayings Gospel of Thomas), both of which related many miraculous incidents from the life of Mary and the childhood of Jesus that are not included in the canonical gospels, but which have passed into Christian lore.


Another genre is that of Gospel harmonies, in which the four canonical gospels were selectively recast as a single narrative to present a consistent text. Very few fragments of harmonies have survived. The Diatessaron was such a harmonization, compiled by Tatian around 175. It was popular for at least two centuries in Syria, but eventually it fell into disuse.

Marcion's gospel of Luke

Marcion of Sinope, c. 150, had a version of the Gospel of Luke which differed substantially from that which has now become the standard text. Marcion's version was far less Jewish than the now canonical text, and his critics alleged that he had edited out the portions he didn't like from the canonical version, though Marcion argued that his text was the more genuinely original one. Marcion also rejected all the other gospels, including Matthew, Mark and especially John, which he alleged had been forged by Irenaeus.

Gospel of Judas

The Gospel of Judas is another controversial and ancient text that purports to tell the story of the gospel from the perspective of Judas, the disciple who is usually said to have betrayed Jesus in most versions of the Bible. It paints an unusual picture of the relationship between Jesus and Judas. The text was recovered from a cave in Egypt by a thief and thereafter sold on the black market until it was finally discovered by a collector who, with the help of academics from Yale and Princeton, was able to verify its authenticity. The document itself does not claim to have been authored by Judas (it is, rather, a Gospel about Judas), and dates no earlier than the second century.

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