AskDefine | Define gospels

Dictionary Definition

Gospels n : four books in the New Testament that tell the story of Christ's life and teachings [syn: Gospel, evangel]

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  1. Plural of gospel

Extensive Definition

In Christianity, a gospel (from Old English, "good news") is generally one of four canonical books of the New Testament that describe the birth, life, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. These books are the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, written between 65 and 100 AD. More generally, the term refers to works of a genre of Early Christian literature. It originally meant the "glad tidings" of redemption.
The first canonical gospel written is Mark (c 65-70), which in turn was used as a source for the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Matthew and Luke may have also used the hypothetical Q source These first three gospels are called the synoptic gospels because they share a similar view. The last gospel, the gospel of John, presents a very different picture of Jesus and his ministry from the synoptics. The canonical gospels were originally written in Greek.
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.
Other gospels circulated in early Christianity. Some, such as the Gospel of Thomas, lack the narrative framework typical of a gospel., Paul the Apostle used the term "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): The earliest extant use of "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:
in the LXX occurs only in the plural, and perhaps only in the classical sense of 'a reward for good tidings' (Bible verse 2|Sam|4:10 [also , , , Bible verse 2|Kings|7:9]); in the N.T. it is from the first appropriated to the Messianic good tidings (Bible verse |Mark|1:1, ), probably deriving this new meaning from the use of in Bible verse |Isa|40:9, , , .
In the New Testament, the "gospel" 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 Bible verse |Mark|1:14-15 or Bible verse 1|Corinthians|15:1-9; see also Strong's G2098). The word is still used in this sense.

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, 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). 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.

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". John was written last and shares little with the synoptic gospels.
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, c 65-70
  • Matthew: c. 70–100. 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,
  • John: c 90-100, c. 90–110, 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. 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


Matthew was probably written in Syria, perhaps in Antioch,
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. He appears as a stoic supernatural being, unmoved even by his own crucifixion. 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.

Non-canonical 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 orthodoxy. For example, if a gospel claimed to be written by James, yet was authored in the second century, clearly authorship was not authentic. 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. 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.
Two non-canonical gospels that are considered to be among the earliest in composition are the sayings Gospel of Thomas and the narrative Gospel of Peter. The dating of the Gospel of Thomas is particularly controversial, as a minority of scholars date it to before the writing of the canonical gospels. Like the canonical gospels, scholars have to rely on higher criticism, not extant manuscripts, in order to roughly date Thomas.
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 that has been suppressed is that of gospel harmonies, in which the apparent discrepancies in the canonical four gospels were selectively recast to present a harmoniously consistent narrative text. Very few fragments of harmonies 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 existence of private knowledge, briefly referred to in the canon, and particularly in the canonical Gospel of Mark, is part of the controversy surrounding the unexpectedly discovered Secret Gospel of Mark.
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 apostle who betrayed Jesus. 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, were 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.

Islamic view of gospels

In Islam, the word 'gospel' refers to the revelation given by God to the prophet Isa (Jesus). The Islamic view is that the four canonical gospels are not the same revelation that was received by Jesus.
Muslims believe that both Moses & Jesus received earlier revelations and divine scripture consistent with the original message from Prophet Abraham. However, they believe that these original divine scriptures were corrupted over time through mistranslation and editing.
Muslims regard the Qur’an as the culmination of a series of divine messages that started with those revealed to Adam, regarded in Islam as the first prophet, and continued with the Suhuf-i-Ibrahim (Scrolls of Abraham), the Tawrat (Torah), the Zabur (Psalms), and the Injeel (Gospel). The aforementioned books are not explicitly included in the Qur’an, but are recognized therein. The Qur’an also refers to many events from Jewish and Christian scriptures, some of which are retold in comparatively distinctive ways from the Bible and the Torah, while obliquely referring to other events described explicitly in those texts.

See also


External links

gospels in Arabic: الإنجيل
gospels in Azerbaijani: İncil
gospels in Belarusian: Евангелле
gospels in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Дабравесьце
gospels in Breton: Aviel
gospels in Bulgarian: Евангелие
gospels in Catalan: Evangeli
gospels in Czech: Evangelium
gospels in Danish: Evangelium
gospels in German: Evangelium (Buch)
gospels in Estonian: Evangeelium
gospels in Spanish: Evangelio
gospels in Esperanto: Evangelio
gospels in Basque: Ebanjelio
gospels in Faroese: Evangelium
gospels in French: Évangile
gospels in Friulian: Vanzeli
gospels in Gothic: 𐌰𐌹𐍅𐌰𐌲𐌲𐌴𐌻𐌾𐍉
gospels in Korean: 복음서
gospels in Upper Sorbian: Ewangelij
gospels in Croatian: Evanđelje
gospels in Indonesian: Injil
gospels in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Evangelio
gospels in Italian: Vangelo
gospels in Hebrew: בשורות
gospels in Javanese: Injil
gospels in Swahili (macrolanguage): Injili
gospels in Haitian: Levanjil
gospels in Latin: Evangelium
gospels in Latvian: Evanģēlijs
gospels in Luxembourgish: Evangelium
gospels in Limburgan: Evangelie
gospels in Hungarian: Evangélium
gospels in Macedonian: Евангелие
gospels in Dutch: Evangelie
gospels in Japanese: 福音書
gospels in Norwegian: Evangeliene
gospels in Norwegian Nynorsk: Evangelium
gospels in Narom: Évaungùile
gospels in Low German: Evangelium
gospels in Polish: Ewangelia
gospels in Portuguese: Evangelho
gospels in Romanian: Evanghelie
gospels in Russian: Евангелие
gospels in Albanian: Ungjilli
gospels in Sicilian: Vanceli
gospels in Simple English: Gospel
gospels in Slovenian: Evangelij
gospels in Somali: Injiil
gospels in Serbian: Јеванђеље
gospels in Swedish: Evangelium
gospels in Thai: พระวรสาร
gospels in Turkish: İncil
gospels in Turkmen: Injıl
gospels in Ukrainian: Євангеліє
gospels in Urdu: انجیل
gospels in Walloon: Evandjîle
gospels in Chinese: 福音
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