The central fact of Christian preaching was the intelligence that the Saviour had come into the world (Matt. 4:23; Rom. 10:15); and the first Christian preachers who called their account of the person and mission of Christ by the term evangelion_ (= good message) were called _evangelistai (= evangelists) (Eph. 4:11; Acts 21:8).
There are four historical accounts of the person and work of Christ: "the first by Matthew, announcing the Redeemer as the promised King of the kingdom of God; the second by Mark, declaring him 'a prophet, mighty in deed and word'; the third by Luke, of whom it might be said that he represents Christ in the special character of the Saviour of sinners (Luke 7:36; 15:18); the fourth by John, who represents Christ as the Son of God, in whom deity and humanity become one. The ancient Church gave to Matthew the symbol of the lion, to Mark that of a man, to Luke that of the ox, and to John that of the eagle: these were the four faces of the cherubim" (Ezek. 1:10).
Date. The Gospels were all composed during the latter part of the first century, and there is distinct historical evidence to show that they were used and accepted as authentic before the end of the second century.
Mutual relation. "If the extent of all the coincidences be represented by 100, their proportionate distribution will be: Matthew, Mark, and Luke, 53; Matthew and Luke, 21; Matthew and Mark, 20; Mark and Luke, 6. Looking only at the general result, it may be said that of the contents of the synoptic Gospels [i.e., the first three Gospels] about two-fifths are common to the three, and that the parts peculiar to one or other of them are little more than one-third of the whole."
Origin. Did the evangelists copy from one another? The opinion is well founded that the Gospels were published by the apostles orally before they were committed to writing, and that each had an independent origin. (See MATTHEW, GOSPEL OF.)
The name Gospel (from god
, Ang. Sax. good message
, which is a translation of the Greek euaggelion
) is applied to the four inspired histories of the life and teaching of Christ contained in the New Testament, of which separate accounts are given in their place. They were all composed during the latter half of the first century: those of St. Matthew and St. Mark some years before the destruction of Jerusalem; that of St. Luke probably about A.D. 64; and that of St. John towards the close of the century. Before the end of the second century, there is abundant evidence that the four Gospels, as one collection, were generally used and accepted. As a matter of literary history, nothing can be better established than the genuineness of the Gospels. On comparing these four books one with another, a peculiar difficulty claims attention, which has had much to do with the controversy as to their genuineness. In the fourth Gospel the narrative coincided with that of the other three in a few passages only. The received explanation is the only satisfactory one namely, that John, writing last, at the close of the first century had seen the other Gospels, and purposely abstained from writing anew what they had sufficiently recorded. In the other three Gospels there is a great amount of agreement. If we suppose the history that they contain to be divided into 89 sections, in 42 of these all the three narratives coincide, 12 more are given by Matthew and Mark only, 5 by Mark and Luke only, and 14 by Matthew and Luke. To these must be added 5 peculiar to Matthew, 2 to Mark and 9 to Luke, and the enumeration is complete. But this applies only to general coincidence as to the facts narrated: the amount of verbal coincidence, that is, the passages either verbally the same or coinciding in the use of many of the same words, is much smaller. It has been ascertained by Stroud that "if the total contents of the several Gospels be represented by 100, the following table is obtained: Matthew has 42 peculiarities and 58 coincidences. Mark has 7 peculiarities and 93 coincidences. Luke has 59 peculiarities and 41 coincidences. John has 92 peculiarities and 8 coincidences. Why four Gospels. --
- To bring four separate independent witnesses to the truth.
- It is to give the Lord?s life from every point of view, four living portraits of one person. There were four Gospels because Jesus was to be commended to four races or classes of men, or to four phases of human thought,--the Jewish, Roman, Greek and Christian. Had not these exhausted the classes to be reached, there would doubtless have been more Gospels. In all ages, the Jewish, Roman and Greek natures reappear among men, and, in fact, make up the world of natural men, while the Christian nature and wants likewise remain essentially the same. The FIRST GOSPEL was prepared by Matthew for the Jew. He gives us the Gospel of Jesus, the Messiah of the Jews, the Messianic royalty of Jesus. He places the life and character of Jesus, as lived on earth, alongside the life and character of the Messiah, as sketched in the prophets, showing Christianity as the fulfillment of Judaism. Mark wrote the SECOND GOSPEL. It was substantially the preaching of Peter to the Romans. The Gospel for him must represent the character and career of Jesus from the Roman point of view, as answering to the idea of divine power, work, law, conquest and universal sway; must retain its old significance and ever-potent inspiration at the battle-call of the almighty Conqueror. Luke wrote the THIRD GOSPEL in Greece for the Greek. It has its basis in the gospel which Paul and Luke, by long preaching to the Greeks, had already thrown into the form best suited to commend to their acceptance Jesus as the perfect divine man. It is the gospel of the future, of progressive Christianity, of reason and culture seeking the perfection of manhood. John, "the beloved disciple," wrote the FOURTH GOSPEL for the Christian, to cherish and train those who have entered the new kingdom of Christ, into the highest spiritual life. --Condensed from, Prof. Gregory.