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What Are the Gospels?

The paining, The Four Evangelists (1625–1630) by Jacob JordaensThe New Testament of the Bible begins with four individually authored books about the life of Jesus:

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, The Bible Table of Contents]

While they’re not straight biographies as such—since they omit such information as character development, background facts, and chronology—they’re four accounts of the one gospel: the person of Jesus Christ. Each of the writings are set in first-century Palestine during the Roman occupation.

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Getting to Know the Major Characters of the New Testament: Part 1 (Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist)]

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According to the Encyclopedia of the Bible, the books are historical with the primary aim of presenting the Good News Jesus preached and lived: that the kingdom of God is at hand. This accounts for the heavy emphasis in each Gospel on the final days of Jesus’ earthly life, his crucifixion, and his resurrection.

A chart of the beginning verses of each of the 4 Gospels

[Watch the video New Testament Basics: The Gospels from Our Daily Bread Ministries on Bible Gateway ]

The authors were not literary men: Matthew was a tax collector, Mark is known simply as a companion of Paul and Peter, Luke was a physician and fellow traveler with Paul, and John was a fisherman. They sought to give a portrait of Christ as each saw him from their individual perspective (Matthew and John were among the 12 original disciples of Jesus) and to record the message of salvation.

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The spread of the church throughout the world created the demand for written Gospels. Documents about Jesus’ message were needed for instructing new converts and for teaching, as well as for use in public worship. By the end of the second century the four Gospels were on a par with the Old Testament Scriptures.

[See the MasterLecture video lesson, Four Portraits, One Jesus, an online course about Jesus and the Gospels taught by Dr. Mark Strauss]

  • Matthew presents Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes.
  • Mark portrays him as the suffering Son of God, who offers himself as a sacrifice for sins.
  • Luke’s Jesus is the Savior for all people, who brings salvation to all nations and people groups.
  • In John, Jesus is the eternal Son of God, the self-revelation of God the Father.

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Infographic: A Visual Harmony of the Gospels]

Valuable testimony from Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Papias, and Irenaeus, indicates that the Gospels all originated from the apostolic age. Few ancient documents have such attestation so close to the date of their composition.

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Filed under Introduction to the Bible, New Testament