The Gospels

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The Gospels (from the Greek for "good news") are accounts of Jesus attributed to two of His Apostles (Matthew and John) and two disciples (Mark and Luke). The evangelical biblical scholar E.P. Sanders notes that the original texts were internally anonymous and that the four gospels were not ascribed to these figures until after 150 A.D.[1]

The Gospels were originally written in Greek, the common lingua franca (common or commercial language among diverse peoples) of the Roman Orient. No original Gospels have been found in Aramaic; the only known Aramaic Gospels are translations from Greek versions. The general consensus is that the Gospel according to Matthew was written particularly for Jews; the Gospel according to Mark was written particularly for Romans; the Gospel according to Luke was written particularly for Greeks; and the Gospel according to John was written for everyone.

Jesus had emphasized that scribes were part of those He sent forth to proselytize the world. "I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes ...." (Matt 23:34 (NAS)). There are a number of other "gospels" writen during this period. They include: the Gospel of the Ebionites, Gospel of the Hebrews, Gospel of Marcion, Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Thomas, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and the Infancy Gospel of James. [2]

Etymology

"Gospel" is derived from the Middle English word "godspel," in which "god" means "good" and "spel" means "news." Thus "Gospel" literally means "good news," and some denominations like to use the phrase "good news" because they feel it conveys the nature of the Gospel clearly. It is a translation of the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion), which is also the root of the word "evangelist;" an evangelist is someone who spreads the good news. The "good news" here is, specifically, the news of Christ's redemption. The four Gospels offer different, yet complementary, accounts of the story of Jesus's life and teachings, and lay the foundation for the doctrine of Christ's redemption.

The relationship of the Gospels

Although Matthew comes first in Biblical order, the gospel of Mark is widely agreed to be the oldest of the Gospels. Matthew and Luke were probably compiled slightly later, drawing both from the oral traditions of the life of Jesus. John is the last of the Gospels, the most theologically mature, and the strongest in its emphasis on God's loving sacrifice of his only son, Jesus, and the ways in which this sacrifice redeemed all mankind. The first three canonical Gospels are often called the "synoptic" Gospels, as they tell slightly different versions of the same underlying story of Christ's life and ministry on earth.

Luke was a said to have been a Greek physician (see Col 4:14) who accompanied Paul and also wrote the Acts of the Apostles describing the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Unlike the allegedly firsthand Gospels of Matthew and John, the Gospel of Luke records eyewitness accounts of others, much as a doctor asks a patient for his medical history and then writes it down in the medical file. Due to Luke's professional nature, his Gospel is very comprehensive about Jesus' life and resurrection, and it also conveys the great sense of joy that Jesus' family, friends and followers felt.

Non-canonical Gospels

In addition to the four Canonical gospels, many other early texts claiming to record the accounts of Jesus's earthly ministry have survived. Most notable among these is the Gospel of Thomas, which contains additional sayings and teachings. Recently, a Gospel of Judas surfaced, but this text is decidedly a later one, and its claim for any original authority is very slim. These Gospels are considered apocryphal by most modern Christian denominations, and therefore not authoritative texts, but they have stirred considerable interest among theologians and many lay believers in the nature of early Christian beliefs.

Among fragments that still survive are the gospels according to the Hebrews (much prized by the early Jewish Church), according to the Egyptians, of the Ebionites, of Philip, of Matthias, of Peter, of Thomas (almost complete), of Nicodemus, of Bartholomew, of Pseudo-Melito, of Joseph of Arimathaea, of James, of Pseudo-Matthew, of Barnabas and a whole collection of infancy gospels [3].


References

  1. E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, 163-166.
  2. Donald Harman Akenson, Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds, 216.
  3. James. M.R, The Apocryphal New Testament (Clarendon, Oxford, 1924)