ABOUT THE FOUR GOSPELS
THE WORD “GOSPEL”
Our English word “gospel” is a translation of the Greek word “evangelion.” “Evangelion” means “an announcement of something good,” “good news,” or “good tidings.” In earlier English “gospel” was spelled “godspell.” “God” meant “good;” and “spellâ€ meant “story.” A “god-spell” therefore meant “a story of something good” or “good news.” Our modern word “gospel” means exactly the same as the Greek “evangelion”: “good news.” When the word “gospel” is used in the New Testament, it always means “the good news that God has provided salvation for man through Christ.” It was not until about 150 A.D. that the name “gospel” began to be used to refer to the first four books of the New Testament. Today we commonly call the four books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John “The Four Gospels;” and we often speak of “The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.” By those names we are, of course, speaking of the entire inspired books, which they wrote, and not just of the “good news” part of their books. The writers of the Four Gospels are often called the “Four Evangelists.” An “evangelist” is someone who tells good news, specifically, the good news of salvation in Christ. “Evangelist” and “gospel speaker” or “gospel writer” mean the same thing.
NOT JUST BIOGRAPHIES
It is the Four Gospels that tell us everything that we know for certain about the life of Jesus. That does not mean, however, that the gospels are just biographies of Jesus. The gospel writers were not just interested in writing a historical account of Jesus’ life in chronological order. They were interested in much more than history. We might say that the gospel writers had a two-fold purpose under the Holy Spirit for writing their books: 1) Their first purpose is to present Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God; 2) their second purpose is to call unbelievers to faith in Jesus and to strengthen the faith of those who already believe. The Evangelist John states the gospel writers’ purpose clearly in John 20:31: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” That the gospels are not meant to be just biographies is easy to see. The Evangelists left out many details of Jesus’ life that they probably knew very well. For example, they said nothing of his life from the time he was a child until he was about thirty. Sometimes it seems they did not arrange things in chronological order, as biographers usually do. The point is that the Evangelists were led by the Spirit to write the things that served the purpose of calling people to faith and strengthening faith in Jesus Christ for eternal life. In carrying out their purpose of proclaiming Christ as the Savior, the Evangelists, of course, did not twist or change historical facts. Everything that they wrote is absolutely accurate. Luke makes this clear in the beginning of his Gospel. He says that he wrote the things that were handed down by “eyewitnesses,” things that were “carefully investigated,” so that people “may know the certainty” of what they learn in the gospels. (see Luke 1:1-4.)
FOUR DIFFERENT PICTURES OF THE SAME JESUS
Just as a photographer might take four different pictures from different angles of the same person, likewise the Four Evangelists do not write exactly the same things about Jesus. What Matthew, Mark, and Luke write is quite similar. For that reason they have been called the “synoptic gospels.” The word “synoptic” means literally “seen together” or “taking a common view.” But while the synoptic gospels are similar in their contents and in their order, there are differences among them also as we will see. John’s gospel is the most different of the four. He does not follow the same outline as the three synoptic gospels. His is the most independent gospel. Each of the gospels stresses something a little different about the Savior. Yet each of them is totally accurate. The gospels do not contradict one another, even as four pictures of the same man do not contradict each other, but give us a different view of the same man. It is probably natural that we have more confidence in what we read when four gospel writers tell us of Jesus than if only one writer had written a single gospel. Our full confidence comes when we know that the Holy Spirit led each of the Evangelists to write for us exactly what he wanted.
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