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Gospel and Gospels
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    A gospel is any of the four New Testament books narrating the life, death and teachings of Jesus - they have been named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and placed at the beginning of the New Testament.

    Gospel, literally translated, means "good news" deriving from the Old English "god-spell" translated from Greek (euangelion) used in the New Testament. Originally, the gospel was the good news of redemption through the propitiatory offering of Jesus Christ for one's sins, the central Christian message.


    The expression "gospel" was used by Paul, probably before the literary Gospels of the New Testament canon had been produced, when he reminded the people of the church at Corinth "of the gospel I preached to you" (1 Corinthians 15.1) through which, Paul averred, they were being saved, and he characterized it in the simplest terms, emphasizing Christ's appearances after the Resurrection (15.3 – 8).

    The earliest extant use of gospel (or its Greek equivalent evangelion) 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".

    The Gospels are essentially Jewish books, written by Jewish people for early (Jewish) Christians who were still worshiping in the synagogue. [1]

    Canonical Gospels

    Of the many gospels written in antiquity, only four gospels came to be accepted as part of the New Testament - the canonical Gospels.

    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). This canon, which corresponds to the modern Catholic canon was used in the Vulgate, an early 5th century Latin from Hebrew translation of the Bible made by Jerome under the commission of Pope Damasus I in 382 and became the definitive and officially promulgated Bible version of the Roman Catholic Church.

    The canonical gospels are:

    • Gospel according to Matthew

    • Gospel according to Mark

    • Gospel according to Luke

    • Gospel according to John

    Among the canonical Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke include many similar passages describing the life of Jesus and sometimes use identical or very similar wording. John expresses itself in a different style and relates the same incidents in a different way— even in a revised narrative order— and is often full of more encompassing theological and philosophical messages than the first three canonical Gospel accounts. It is John that explicitly introduces Jesus as God incarnate.

    Parallels among the first three Gospel accounts are so telling that many scholars have investigated the relationship between them. In order to study them more closely, German scholar JJ Griesbach (1776) arranged the first three Gospel accounts in a three-column table called a synopsis. As a result, Matthew, Mark, and Luke have come to be known as the synoptic Gospels; and the question of the reason for this similarity, and the relationship between these Gospels is known as the Synoptic Problem. Some Christians argue that this could be explained by adhering to the belief that the gospels were "spirit-breathed", i.e. that the Holy Spirit provided inspiration for every book in the Bible, and that consequently the similarities in the different accounts are due to having the same author, i.e. God.

    However, 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". The rediscovery of the Gospel of Thomas, a sayings gospel remarkably similar to the form that Q was thought to take, and containing many of the sayings shared only between Matthew and Luke, but in a more raw form, has given a large degree of credence to the hypothesis.

    Another theory which addresses the synoptic problem is the Farrer hypothesis. This theory maintains that Mark was written first and removes the need for a theoretical document Q. What Austin Farrer has argued is that the Gospel of Mark was used as source material by the author of Matthew and Luke used both of the previous gospels as sources for his Gospel.

    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.

    The following are date ranges representing the general scholarly consensus:

    • Mark: c. 68–73

    • Matthew: c. 70–100

    • Luke: c. 80–100

    • John: c. 90–110

    Traditional Christian scholarship has generally preferred to assign earlier dates.

    Non-Canonical ("Apocryphal") Gospels

    In addition to the four canonical gospels there have been 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 the prevailing orthodoxy. If a gospel claimed to be written by for example, James, but was clearly authored after 120, then there was little chance of the authorship being authentic. This differs from the four canonical gospels which the majority of 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. 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. This can be seen in the case of the Gospel of Peter, which was written in the correct time, 70-120, but was considered dangerous for elements which could be used to support docetism (the belief that Jesus was incorporeal, a pure spirit, and hence could not physically die).

    Another non-canonical gospel that is considered to be among the earliest in composition is the, mentioned above, sayings Gospel of Thomas. The dating of the Gospel of Thomas is particularly controversial, as there is some suspicion in critical schools of scholarship that it predates the canonical Gospels, which would, if conclusively proven, have a profound impact on the understanding of their origin.

    In General, some gospels that were not eventually included in the canon are similar in style and content to the canonical Gospels. Others are "sayings gospels", as lost Q is supposed to have been. Still others are Gnostic (dualistic role that flesh is evil and spirit is good) in style and content, presenting a very different view of teaching.

  • Read Matthew's Gospel - Bible Gateway

  • Read Mark's Gospel - Bible Gateway

  • Read Luke's Gospel - Bible Gateway

  • Read John's Gospel - Bible Gateway

  • Gospel and Gospels - Catholic Encyclopedia

  • Gospel - 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

  • Jesus of Nazareth in Early Christian Gospels - Andrew Bernhard

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    Last updated: June 2013
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