The central fact of Christian preaching was the intelligence that the Saviour had come into the world (Mt 4:23; Ro 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; Ac 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 (Lu 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" (Eze 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 according to.)
From the Old English god spel, "good news." The providential preparations for the gospel attest its divine origin.
(1) The translation at Alexandria of the Old Testament into Greek (by the Septuagint), rendering the Jewish Scriptures accessible through that then universal language of the refined and polite to the literary of all nations. All possibility of questioning the existence or falsifying the contents of Old Testament prophecy was precluded thereby, however much the Jews who rejected Jesus would have wished to alter the prophecies which plainly identified Him as the foretold Messiah. The canon of the Old Testament having been completed, and prophecy having ceased before the Sept. translation, they could not deny that the divine knowledge derivable from it was complete.
(2) Greek and oriental philosophy had drawn attention to religious and moral speculations, which at once exposed and undermined paganism, and yet with all its endless labors gave no satisfactory answer to the questionings and cravings of man's spiritual being.
(3) The Roman empire had broken down the barriers between E. and W. and united almost the whole world, Asia, Africa, and Europe, in one, and established peace and good order, making possible the rapid transmission of the glad tidings from country to country; compare Lu 2:1; Mt 22:21.
(4) The universal expectation in the East of a great king to arise in Judea, probably due to fragments of revelation (as the prophecy of Balsam, Nu 24:17) such as led the wise men of the East to conic seeking "the king of the Jews."
(5) The settling of the Jews, and the consequent erection of synagogues, throughout all the towns of Asia. Greece, Italy, Africa, and western Europe. Hence by the reading of the law and the prophets in the synagogues everywhere each sabbath proselytes of righteousness were gathered from the Gentiles, such as the eunuch or chamberlain of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, a student of Scripture, Cornelius the centurion who "feared God with all his house, and gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always."
These not being bound under the ceremonial yoke, as the original Jews, formed a connecting link with the Gentiles; and hence at Antioch in Pisidia, when the Jews rejected the preaching of Paul and Barnabas, these proselytes, with the Gentiles, "besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath, ... and on that day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God" (Ac 13:15-44). So at Iconium (Ac 14:1), and at Thessalonica (Ac 17:1-4). Such were the "devout men, out of every nation under heaven," the collected representatives of the world, to whom Peter preached with such success (Ac 2:4-11). The 3,000 converts of that day and the 5,000 of a few days after (Ac 4:4) would act as missionaries on their return to their several nations. To the Jews first in each synagogue abroad the apostles preached, and gathered many converts from among them; and then to the Gentiles.
The Jews' national rejection of Jesus is no valid objection to the gospel, since He foretold it Himself (Mt 16:21; 26:2), and the Old Testament prophets did so too (Isa 49:16,21,26/type/mnt'>26,26/type/mnt'>26; Psalm 22); so that, fixing their eyes on the prophecies of Messiah's glory and kingdom which they wrested to mean His setting up a temporal kingdom at Jerusalem and overthrowing the Roman existing dominion, and shutting their eyes to the prophecies of His humiliation, "they knew Him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath," and yet in spite of themselves, like their types Joseph's brethren (Ge 50:20), "they have fulfilled them in condemning Him" (Ac 13:27; 3:18). The harmony in Christ of prophecies seemingly so opposite, His temporal and temporary humiliation, and yet His spiritual dominion now and His final visible and everlasting kingdom, furnish conclusive proof of the Divinity of prophecies which no human sagacity could have anticipated or human agency fulfilled.
The correspondence of the gospel event to the predictions of the Old Testament is thus established by the Jews, unwilling witnesses and therefore beyond suspicion. Graves (Pentateuch, 2:3,6) well says, had they universally embraced the gospel at its first publication, the sceptic might allege the prophecies to have been fabricated or altered to fit them to the events; the contrary is now certain. This is one great cause why the national conversion of the Jews is delayed "until the fullness of the Gentiles shall come in" (Ro 11:35). They continue guardians of the prophetic records until these shall have had their contents examined, and their application ascertained, by every other nation in the world. Genuineness and inspiration of the Four Gospels. The "prophets" in the Christian church who had the spiritual gift of "discerning spirits" were an effectual check on the introduction of a pseudo-inspired writing. Paul appeals to them on the inspiration of his letters (1Co 14:37; 12:10; compare 1Jo 4:1).
Thus, by the two-fold inspiration, that of the authors and that of the judges, the canonicity of the four Gospels, as of the other books of New Testament, is established. The anonymous fragment of the canon of the New Testament attributed to Caius a presbyter of Rome (published by Muratori, Antiq. Ital., iii. 854, and known as the Muratorian Fragment), recognizes the Gospels (Luke and John, the sentences as to Matthew and Mark are obliterated) as inspired, and condemns as uninspired the Shepherd by Hermes, "written very recently in our own times," i.e. in the first part of the second century, the age in which John the last apostle died. Theophilus (Ad Autol., iii. 11), Bishop of Antioch A.D. 168, refers to "the evangelists" and "the Holy Scriptures" of the New Testament. Clement of Alexandria in the latter part of the second century refers to the collection of Gospels as one whole, "the gospel" (Quis Dives Salvus?).
The anonymous letter to Diognetus (sec. 11 ed. Hefele) attributed to Justin Martyr refers to "the Gospels and the Apostles" (i.e. the letters). Ignatius of Antioch, a hearer of John (Ep. ad Philad., sec. 5), calls "the (written) Gospel the flesh of Jesus," and classes it with the Old Testament prophets. Tertullian (Adv. Marc. iv. 2), mentioning the Four Gospels two as the work of apostles and two as that of apostolic men (A.D. 208); Irenaeus (Adv. Haer., ii. 27; iii. 11, sec. 7); martyred A.D. 202; Origen, speaking of the four Gospels as "the elements of the church's faith"; Eusebius; and not only these orthodox writers but heretics, Marcion dud others, appeal to the Gospels as the inspired standard Canon. (See CANON.) .
They were translated into Syriac in the second century, and into Latin and the two Egyptian dialects by the fourth century. We have better evidence for their genuineness than for any other ancient writing. Theophilus arranged the Four Gospels so as to form one work (Jerome, Ep. ad Algas., iv. 197). Tartan, who died A.D. 170, formed a Diatessaron or harmony of the Four Gospels. Barnabas (Paul's companion), Clement of Rome (Php 4:3), and Polycarp quote the Gospels, though not with verbal exactness. Justin Martyr quotes Matthew, Luke, and John largely and exactly. As the heretic Gnostics and Marcion arose early in the second century their acceptance of the Gospels proves that these had been promulgated some time before (i.e. in the apostolic age itself), for after the dissensions between the orthodox and heretics had arisen the Gospels would never have been accepted by mutually hostile parties.
A distinct line was drawn between the apocryphal and the genuine Gospels. Unbelievers, as Celsus in controversy with Origen, could not deny the genuineness of the four even while rejecting their contents. The fathers' large quotations (Origen's especially) prove our Gospels were the same as theirs. Our Saviour wrote nothing Himself, the alleged letter to Abgarus, king of Edessa, being probably spurious. If He had (like Muhammed) recorded His own miracles and teachings, internal consistency would have been nothing marvelous. People would have deified the form, while failing to discern the inner essence. "If I bear witness of Myself My wit
Under this heading we may consider the four Gospels as a whole, and their relations to one another, leaving detailed questions of date and authorship to the separate articles.
1. The aims of the Evangelists.
The name Gospel (from god and spell, Ang. Sax. good message or news, 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. --
1. To bring four separate independent witnesses to the truth.
2. 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.