A gospel (from Old English, gōd spell "good news") is a writing that describes the life of Jesus. The word is primarily used to refer to the four canonical gospels: the Gospel of Matthew, Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Luke and Gospel of John, probably written between AD 65 and 110. 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.
The first canonical gospel written is thought by some scholars to be Mark (c 65-70), which was allegedly used as a source for the gospels of Matthew and Luke. In modern source criticism, Matthew and Luke are generally thought to have used a common source, the Q document, These first three gospels are called the synoptic gospels because they share similar incidents, teachings, and even much language.
However scholar James R. Edwards has put forward the possibility that the Gospel of the Hebrews was the first gospel to be written. It is further argued that this gospel was the basis for the canonical gospels.
The fourth gospel, the Gospel of John, presents a very different picture of Jesus and his ministry from the synoptics. In differentiating history from invention, historians interpret the gospel accounts skeptically but generally regard the synoptic gospels as including significant amounts of historically reliable information about Jesus. Scholars maintain that the gospels and all the books of the New Testament were written in Greek, which is known as 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. 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. These gospels almost certainly appeared much later than the canonical gospels, with the Gospel of Thomas being a likely exception.
The word gospel derives from the Old English god-spell  (rarely godspel), meaning "good tidings" or "glad tidings". 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. Before the first gospel was written (Mark, c 65-70), 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):
...that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried; and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures; And that he was seen of Cephas; then of the Twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once: of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some have fallen asleep. After that he was seen of James, then of all the apostles. Last of all, he was seen of me also, as one born out of due time.
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".
In the New Testament, evangelism 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.
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 four gospels, 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 had been 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 translation of the Bible made by Jerome 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.
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).
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". 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. The birth and infancy narratives apparently developed late in the tradition. Luke and Matthew may have originally appeared without their first two chapters.
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:
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. 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):
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, an ancient Christian center. Mark has traditionally been associated with Peter's preaching in Rome, and it is well-suited to a Roman audience. 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.
Following Raymond Brown's postulation of a Johannine community having been responsible for John's gospel and letters, other scholars have identified localized communities behind each of the other gospels and Q. This assumes the relative isolation of early Christian communities in which distinctive traditions concerning Jesus thrived. Other scholars have questioned this hypothesis and have stressed the constant communication between early Christian communities.
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.
One of the most important concerns in accurately accounting for the oral Jesus tradition is the model of transmission used. Form criticism (Formgeschichte) was developed primarily by the German scholars Karl Ludwig Schmidt, Martin Dibelius, and Rudolf Bultmann. The oral model developed by the form critics drew heavily on contemporary theory of folkloric transmission of oral material, and partly as a result of this form criticism posited that the Jesus tradition was transmitted informally, added to freely, and was uncontrolled. However, "Today it is no exaggeration to claim that a whole spectrum of main assumptions underlying Bultmann's Synoptic Tradition must be considered suspect." A number of other models have been proposed which posit greater control over the tradition, to varying degrees. For example, largely in response to form critical scholarship, Professor Birger Gerhardsson examined oral transmission in early rabbinic circles, and proposed that such a model (controlled and formal) would more accurately reflect the transmission of the Jesus tradition in early Christian circles, and as a consequence the oral traditions present in the gospels have been fairly reliably and faithfully transmitted. Professor Kenneth Bailey, after spending a great deal of time in remote and illiterate villages in the Middle East, used his experience of orality in such places to formulate a similar model of controlled transmission within the early Christian communities, but posited an informal mechanism of control. Controlled models of the Jesus tradition, and with them an evaluation of the gospels as possessing greater historical reliability, have been accepted by several scholars in recent years.
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). In Mark, apparently written with a Roman audience in mind, Jesus is a heroic man of action, given to powerful emotions, including agony. In Matthew, apparently written for a Jewish audience, Jesus is repeatedly called out as the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy. In Luke, apparently written for gentiles, Jesus is especially concerned with the poor. Luke emphasizes the importance of prayer and the action of the Holy Spirit in Jesus' life and in the Christian community. Jesus appears as a stoic supernatural being, unmoved even by his own crucifixion. Like Matthew, Luke insists that salvation offered by Christ is for all, and not the Jews only.
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. Jesus preaches in Jerusalem, launching his ministry with the cleansing of the temple. He performs several miracles as signs, most of them not found in the synoptics.
One important aspect of the study of the Gospels is the genre under which they fall. Genre "is a key convention guiding both the composition and the interpretation of writings." Whether the Gospel authors set out to write novels, myths, histories, or biographies has a tremendous impact on how they ought to be interpreted. If, for example, Rudolf Bultmann was correct, and the Gospel authors had no interest in history or in a historical Jesus, then the Gospels must be read and interpreted in this light. However, many recent studies suggest that the genre of the Gospels ought to be situated within the realm of ancient biography. Although not without critics, the position that the Gospels are a type of ancient biography is the consensus among scholars today.
In addition to the four canonical gospels, early Christians wrote other gospels that were not accepted into the canon.
Origen said the first Gospel was written by Matthew. This Gospel was composed in Hebrew near Jerusalem for Hebrew Christians and translated into Greek, but the Greek copy was lost. The Hebrew original was kept at the Library of Caesarea. The Nazarene Community transcribed a copy for Jerome which he used in his work. Matthew's Gospel was called the Gospel according to the Hebrews or sometimes the Gospel of the Apostles 
Recent studies of the external evidence, shows that there existed among the Nazarene and Ebionite Communities, a gospel commonly referred to as the Gospel of the Hebrews. It was written in Aramaic and its authorship was attributed to St. Matthew. Indeed the Fathers of the Church, while the Gospel of the Hebrews was still being circulated and read, referred to it always with respect, often with reverence. The Early Church Fathers (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus Origen, Jerome etc) all made reference to this gospel of Matthew.
Professor of Theology, James Edwards in his latest work, claims that the Apostle Matthew wrote the Gospel of the Hebrews, an eye witness account in the Hebrew of the life of Jesus long before any of the Canonical Gospels. He argues that it was considered authentic, held in very high regard by Early Church leaders and the basis for future gospels including the Gospel of Matthew found in the Bible. Edwards said he won’t get feedback from scholarly reviews until 2011 at the earliest, but it most probably will spark scholarly debate.  
Like Q, the gospel attributed to Thomas is mostly wisdom without narrating Jesus's 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. 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. It may represent a tradition independent from the canonical gospels, but that developed over a long time and was influenced by Matthew and Luke. While it can be understood in Gnostic terms, it lacks the characteristic features of Gnostic doctrine. The Jesus Seminar identified two of its unique parables, the parable of the empty jug and the parable of the assassin. 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.
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.
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.
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. Mark Goodacre and other scholars have questioned this hypothetical document.
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.
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 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.
The material in the Comparison Chart is from the Gospel Parallels by B. H. Throckmorton, The five Gospels by R. W. Funk, The Gospel According to the Hebrews, by E. B. Nicholson & The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition by J. R. Edwards.
|Item||Matthew, Mark, Luke||John||Thomas||Gospel of the Hebrews|
|New Covenant||The central theme of the Gospels - Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself ||The central theme - Love is the New Commandment given by Jesus ||Secret knowledge, love your friends ||The central theme - Love one another |
|Forgiveness||Very important - particularly in Matthew and Luke ||Assumed ||Not mentioned||Very important - Forgiveness is a central theme and this gospel goes into the greatest detail |
|The Lord's Prayer||In Matthew & Luke but not Mark ||Not mentioned||Not mentioned||Important - “mahar” or "tomorrow" |
|Love & the poor||Very Important - The rich young man ||Assumed ||Important ||Very important - The rich young man |
|Jesus starts his ministry||Jesus meets John the Baptist and is baptized ||Jesus meets John the Baptist ||N/A- Speaks of John the Baptist ||Jesus meets John the Baptist and is baptized. This gospel goes into the greatest detail |
|Disciples-inner circle||Peter, Andrew, James & John ||Peter, Andrew, James & the Beloved Disciple ||Peter, Andrew James & John ||Peter |
Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Simon the Zealot, Jude Thaddaeus, & Judas
Philip, Nathanael, Matthew, Thomas, James, Simon the Zealot, Jude Thaddaeus & Judas 
Matthew, James the Just (Brother of Jesus), Simon the Zealot, Thaddaeus, Judas 
Matthew, Thomas, James the Just (Brother of Jesus) 
|Possible Authors||Unknown; Mark the Evangelist & Luke the Evangelist||The Beloved Disciple ||Thomas ||Matthew the Evangelist |
|Virgin birth account||In Matthew & Luke, but not Mark ||Not mentioned||Not mentioned||Not mentioned|
|Jesus' baptism||Described ||Not Mentioned ||N/A||Described great detail |
|Preaching style||Brief one-liners; parables||Essay format, Midrash||Sayings ||Brief one-liners; parables |
|Storytelling||Parables ||Figurative language & Metaphor ||Gnostic, hidden ||Parables |
|Jesus' theology||1st Century liberal Judaism.||Critical of Jewish Authorities ||Gnostic ||1st Century Judaism |
|Miracles||Many miracles||Seven Signs||N/A||Fewer but more credible miracles |
|Duration of ministry||1 year ||3 years (Multiple Passovers)||N/A||1 year |
|Location of ministry||Mainly Galilee||Mainly Judea, near Jerusalem||N/A||Mainly Galilee|
|Passover meal||Body & Blood = Bread and wine||Interrupts meal for foot washing||N/A||Hebrew Passover is celebrated but details are N/A Epiphanius |
|Burial shroud||A single piece of cloth||Multiple pieces of cloth ||N/A||Given to the High Priest |
|Resurrection||Mary and the Women are the first to learn Jesus has arisen ||John adds detailed account of Mary's experience of the Resurrection ||Not Applicable as Gospel of Thomas is a collection of the "sayings" of Jesus, not the events of his life||In the Gospel of the Hebrews is the unique account of Jesus appearing to his brother, James the Just.|
McGrath, A. 2001. In the Beginning the Story of the King James Bible and how it changed a Nation, a Language and a Culture. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0 340 78585 3.
Gospel, in Christianity, (from Old English, gōd spell "good news"), is that which is contained in the first four books of the New Testament that describe the birth, life, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus.
Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).
GOSPEL (0. Eng. godspel, i.e. good news, a translation of Lat. bona annuntiatio, or evangelium, Gr. Eua-n4Xtov; cf. Goth. iu spillon, " to announce good news," Ulfilas' translation of the Greek, from iu, that which is good, and spellon to announce), primarily the " glad tidings " announced to the world by Jesus Christ. The word thus came to be applied to the whole body of doctrine taught by Christ and his disciples, and so to the Christian revelation generally (see Christianity); by analogy the term " gospel " is also used in other connexions as equivalent to " authoritative teaching." In a narrower sense each of the records of the life and teaching of Christ preserved in the writings of the four " evangelists " is described as a Gospel.
The many more or less imaginative lives of Christ which are not accepted by the Christian Church as canonical are known as " apocryphal gospels " (See Apocryphal Literature). The present article is concerned solely with general considerations affecting the four canonical Gospels; see for details of each, the articles under Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The disciples of Jesus proclaimed the Gospel that He was the Christ. Those to whom this message was first delivered in Jerusalem and Palestine had seen and heard Jesus, or had heard much about Him. They did not require to be told who He was. But more and more as the work of preaching and teaching extended to such as had not this knowledge, it became necessary to include in the Gospel delivered some account of the ministry of Jesus.
Moreover, alike those who had followed Him during His life on earth, and all who joined themselves to them, must have felt the need of dwelling on His precepts, so that these must have been often repeated, and also in all probability from an early time grouped together according to their subjects, and so taught. For some time, probably for upwards of thirty years, both the facts of the life of Jesus and His words were only related orally. This would be in accordance with the habits of mind of the early preachers of the Gospel.
Moreover, they were so absorbed in the expectation of the speedy return of Christ that they did not feel called to make provision for the instruction of subsequent generations. The Epistles of the New Testament contain no indications of the existence of any written record of the life and teaching of Christ. Tradition indicates A.D. 60-70 as the period when written accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus began to be made (see Mark, Gospel Of, and Matthew, Gospel Of). This may be accepted as highly probable.
We cannot but suppose that at a time when the number of the original band of disciples of Jesus who survived must have been becoming noticeably smaller, and all these were advanced in life, the importance of writing down that which had been orally delivered concerning the Gospel-history must have been realized. We also xi" 9 a gather from Luke's preface (i. 1-4) that the work of writing was undertaken in these circumstances and under the influence of this feeling, and that various records had already in consequence been made.
But do our Gospels, or any of them, in the form in which we actually have them, belong to the number of those earliest records ? Or, if not, what are the relations in which they severally stand to them ? These are questions which in modern criticism have been greatly debated.
With a view to obtaining answers to them, it is necessary to consider the reception of the Gospels in the early Church, and also to examine and compare the Gospels themselves. Some account of the evidence supplied in these two ways must be given in the present article, so far as it is common to all four Gospels, or to three or two of them, and in the articles on the several Gospels so far as it is especial to each.
1. The Reception of the Gospels in the Early Church. - The question of the use of the Gospels and of the manner in which they were regarded during the period extending from the latter years of the 1st century to the beginning of the last quarter of the 2nd is a difficult one. There is a lack of explicit references to the Gospels; 1, and many of the quotations which may be taken from them are not exact. At the same time these facts can be more or less satisfactorily accounted for by various circumstances. In the first place, it would be natural that the habits of thought of the period when the Gospel was delivered orally should have continued to exert influence even after the tradition had been committed to writing. Although documents might be known and used, they would not be regarded as the authorities for that which was independently remembered, and would not, therefore, necessarily be mentioned.
Consequently, it is not strange that citations of sayings of Christ - and these are the only express citations in writings of the Subapostolic Age - should be made without the source whence they were derived being named, and (with a single exception) without any clear indication that the source was a document. The exception is in the little treatise commonly called the Epistle of Barnabas, probably composed about A.D. 130, where (c. iv. 14) the words " many are called but few chosen " are introduced by the formula " as it is written."
For the identification, therefore, of the source or sources used we have to rely upon the amount of correspondence with our Gospels in the quotations made, and in respect to other parallelisms of statement and of expression, in these early Christian writers. The correspondence is in the main full and true as regards spirit and substance, but it is rarely complete in form. The existence of some differences of language may, however, be too readily taken to disprove derivation. Various forms of the same saying occurring in different documents, or remembered from oral tradition and through catechetical instruction, would sometimes be purposely combined.
Or, again, the memory might be confused by this variety, and the verification of quotations, especially of brief ones, was difficult, not only from the comparative scarcity of the copies of books, but also because ancient books were not provided with ready means of reference to particular passages. On the whole there is clearly a presumption that where we have striking expressions which are known to us besides only in one of our Gospel-records, that particular record has been the source of it.
And where there are several such coincidences the ground for the supposition that the writing in question has been used may become very strong. There is evidence of this kind, more or less clear in the several cases, that all the four Gospels were known in the first two or three decades of the 2nd century. It is fullest as to our first Gospel and, next to this one, as to our third.
After this time it becomes manifest that, as we should expect, documents were the recognized authorities for the Gospel history; but there is still some uncertainty as to the documents upon which reliance was placed, and the precise estimation in which l For the only two that can be held to be such in the first half of the 2nd century, and the doubts whether they refer to our present Gospels, see Mark, Gospel Of, and Matthew, Gospel Of.
they were severally held. This is in part at least due to the circumstance that nearly all the writings which have remained of the Christian literature belonging to the period circa A.D. 130-180 are addressed to non-Christians, and that for the most part they give only summaries of the teaching of Christ and of the facts of the Gospel, while terms that would not be understood by, and names that would not carry weight with, others than Christians are to a large extent avoided. The most important of the writings now in question are two by Justin Martyr (circa A. D. 145-160), viz. his Apology and his Dialogue with Trypho. In the former of these works he shows plainly his intention of adapting his language and reasoning to Gentile, and iri the latter to Jewish, readers. In both his name for the Gospel-records is " Memoirs of the Apostles."
After a great deal of controversy there has come to be very wide agreement that he reckoned the first three Gospels among these Memoirs. In the case of the second and third there are indications, though slight ones, that he held the view of their composition and authorship which was common from the last quarter of the century onwards (see Mark, Gospel Of, and Luke, Gospel oF), but he has made the largest use of our first Gospel. It is also generally allowed that he was acquainted with the fourth Gospel, though some think that he used it with a certain reserve.
Evidence may, however, be adduced which goes far to show that he regarded it, also, as of apostolic authority. There is a good deal of difference of opinion still as to whether Justin reckoned other sources for the Gospel-history besides our Gospels among the Apostolic Memoirs. In this connexion, however, as well as on other grounds, it is a significant fact that within twenty years or so after the death of Justin, which probably occurred circa A.D. 160, Tatian, who had been a hearer of Justin, produced a continuous narrative of the Gospel-history which received the name Diatessaron (" through four "), in the main a compilation from our four Gospels.'
Before the close of the 2nd century the four Gospels had attained a position of unique authority throughout the greater part of the Church, not different from that which they have held since, as is evident from the treatise of Irenaeus Against Heresies (c. A.D. 180; see esp. iii. i. i f. and x., xi.) and from other evidence only a few years later. The struggle against Gnosticism, which had been going on during the middle part of the century, had compelled the Church both to define her creed and to draw a sharper line of demarcation than heretofore between those writings whose authority she regarded as absolute and all others.
The effect of this was no doubt to enhance the sense generally entertained of the value of the four Gospels. At the same time in the formal. statements now made it is plainly implied that the belief expressed is no new one. And it is, indeed, difficult to suppose that agreement on this subject between different portions of the Church could have manifested itself at this time in the spontaneous manner that it does, except as the consequence of traditional feelings and convictions, which went back to the early part of the century, and which could hardly have arisen without good foundation, with respect to the special value of these works as embodiments of apostolic testimony, although all that came to be supposed in regard to their actual authorship cannot be considered proved.
2. The Internal Criticism of the Gospels. - In the middle of the 1 9th century an able school of critics, known as the Tubingen school, sought to show from indications in the several Gospels that they were composed well on in the 2nd century in the interests of various strongly marked parties into which the Church was supposed to have been divided by differences in regard to the Judaic and Pauline forms of Christianity. These theories are now discredited. It may on the contrary be confidently asserted with regard to the first three Gospels that the local colouring in them is predominantly Palestinian, and that they 1 The character of Tatian's Diatessaron has been much disputed in the past, but there can no longer be any reasonable doubt on the subject after recent discoveries and investigations.
(An account of these may be seen most conveniently in The Diatessaron of Tatian, by S. Hemphill; see under Tatian.) show no signs of acquaintance with the questions and the circumstances of the 2nd century; and that the character even of the Fourth Gospel is not such as to justify its being placed, at furthest, much after the beginning of that century.
We turn to the literary criticism of the Gospels, where solid results have been obtained. The first three Gospels have in consequence of the large amount of similarity between them in contents, arrangement, and even in words and the forms of sentences and paragraphs, been called Synoptic Gospels. It has long been seen that, to account for this similarity, relations of interdependence between them, or of common derivation, must be supposed. And the question as to the true theory of these relations is known as the Synoptic Problem.
Reference has already been made to the fact that during the greater part of the Apostolic age the Gospel history was taught orally. Now some have held that the form of this oral teaching was to a great extent a fixed one, and that it was the common source of our first three Gospels. This oral theory was for a long time the favourite one in England; it was never widely held in Germany, and in recent years the majority of English students of the Synoptic Problem have come to feel that it does not satisfactorily explain the phenomena. Not only are the resemblances too close, and their character in part not of a kind, to be thus accounted for, but even many of the differences between parallel contexts are rather such as would arise through the revision of a document than through the freedom of oral delivery.
It is now and has for many years been widely held that a document which is most nearly represented by the Gospel of Mark, or which (as some would say) was virtually identical with it, has been used in the composition of our first and third Gospels. This source has supplied the Synoptic Outline, and in the main also the narratives common to all three. Questions connected with the history of this document are treated in the article On Mark, Gospel Of.
There is also a considerable amount of matter common to Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. It is introduced into the Synoptic Outline very differently in those two Gospels, which clearly suggests that it existed in a separate form, and was independently combined by the first and third evangelists with their other document. This common matter has also a character of its own; it consists mainly of pieces of discourse. The form in which it is given in the two Gospels is in several passages so nearly identical that we must suppose these pieces at least to have been derived immediately or ultimately from the same Greek document.
In other cases there is more divergence, but in some of them this is accounted for by the consideration that in Matthew passages from the source now in question have been interwoven with parallels in the other chief common source before mentioned. There are, however, instances in which no such explanation will serve, and it is possible that our first and third evangelists may have used two documents which were not in all respects identical, but which corresponded very closely on the whole. The ultimate source of the subject matter in question, or of the most distinctive and larger part of it, was in all probability an Aramaic one, and in some parts different translations may have been used.
This second source used in the composition of Matthew and Luke has frequently been called " The Logia " in order to signify that it was a collection of the sayings and discourses of Jesus. This name has been suggested by Schleiermacher's interpretation of Papias' fragment on Matthew (see Matthew, Gospel Of). But some have maintained that the source in question also contained a good many narratives, and in order to avoid any premature assumption as to its contents and character several recent critics have named it " Q."
It may, however, fairly be called " the Logian document," as a convenient way of indicating the character of the greater part of the matter which our first and third evangelists have taken from it, and this designation is used in the articles on the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. The reconstruction of this document has been attempted by several critics. The arrangement of its contents can, it seems, best be learned from Luke.
3. One or two remarks may here be added as to the bearing of the results of literary criticism upon the use of the Gospels. Their effect is to lead us, especially when engaged in historical inquiries, to look beyond our Gospels to their sources, instead of treating the testimony of the Gospels severally as independent and ultimate. Nevertheless it will still appear that each Gospel has its distinct value, both historically and in regard to the moral and spiritual instruction afforded. And the fruits of much of that older study of the Gospels, which was largely employed in pointing out the special characteristics of each, will still prove serviceable.
Authorities. - I. German Books: Introductions to the New Testament - H. J. Holtzmann (3rd ed., 1892), B. Weiss (Eng. trans., 1887), Th. Zahn (2nd ed., 1900), G. A. Jiilicher (6th ed., 1906; Eng. trans., 1904); H. v. Soden, Urchristliche Literaturgeschichte, vol. i. (1905; Eng. trans., 1906). Books on the Synoptic Gospels, especially the Synoptic Problem: H. J. Holtzmann, Die synoptischen Evangelien (1863); Weizsacker, Untersuchungen fiber die evangelische Geschichte (1864); B. Weiss, Das Marcus-Evangelium and seine synoptischen Parallelen (1872) Das Matthdus-Evangelium and seine Lucas-Parallelen (1876); H. H. Wendt, Die Lehre Jesu (1886); A. Resch, Agrapha (1889), &c.; P. Wernle, Die synoptische Frage (1899); W. Soltau, Unsere Evangelien, ihre Quellen and ihr Quellenwert (1901); H. J. Holtzmann, Hand-Commentar zum N.T., vol. i. (1889); J. Wellhausen, Das Evangelium Marci, Das Evangelium Matthiii, Das Evangelium Lucas (1904), Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien (1905); A. Harnack, Spriiche and Reden Jesu, die zweite Quelle des Matthdus and Lukas (1907).
2. French Books: A. Loisy, Les Evangiles synoptiques (1907-1908).
3. English Books: G. Salmon, Introduction to the New Testament (1st ed., 1885; 9th ed., 1904); W. Sanday, Inspiration (Lect. vi., 3rd ed., 1903) ,B. F. Westcott, An Introduction to the Study of the Gospels (1st ed., 1851; 8th ed., 1895); A. Wright, The Composition of the Four Gospels (1890); J. E. Carpenter, The First Three Gospels, their Origin and Relations (1890); A. J. Jolley, The Synoptic Problem (1893); J. C. Hawkins, Horae synopticae (1899); W. Alexander, Leading Ideas of the Gospels (new ed., 1892); E. A. Abbott, Clue (1900); J. A. Robinson, The Study of the Gospels (1902); F. C. Burkitt, The Gospel History and its Transmission (1906); G. Salmon, The Human Element in the Gospels (1907); V. H. Stanton, The Gospels as Historical Documents: Pt. I., The Early Use of the Gospels (1903); Pt. II., The Synoptic Gospels (1908).
W. G. Rushbrooke, Synopticon, An Exposition of the Common Matter of the Synoptic Gospels (1880); A. Wright, The Synopsis of the Gospels in Greek (2nd ed., 1903).
See also the articles on each Gospel, and the article BIBLE, section New Testament. (V. H. S.)
a word of Anglo-Saxon origin, and meaning "God's spell", i.e., word of God, or rather, according to others, "good spell", i.e., good news. It is the rendering of the Greek evangelion, i.e., "good message." It denotes (1) "the welcome intelligence of salvation to man as preached by our Lord and his followers. (2.) It was afterwards transitively applied to each of the four histories of our Lord's life, published by those who are therefore called 'Evangelists', writers of the history of the gospel (the evangelion). (3.) The term is often used to express collectively the gospel doctrines; and 'preaching the gospel' is often used to include not only the proclaiming of the good tidings, but the teaching men how to avail themselves of the offer of salvation, the declaring of all the truths, precepts, promises, and threatenings of Christianity." It is termed "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24), "the gospel of the kingdom" (Mt 4:23), "the gospel of Christ" (Rom 1:16), "the gospel of peace (Eph 6:15), "the glorious gospel," "the everlasting gospel," "the gospel of salvation" (Eph 1:13).
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