What Are The Gospels And Who Wrote Them
The word Gospel is translated from the Greek euaggelion or euangeliou, which means good news or more specifically, Gods good news. In the Bible, the Gospels are the four accounts of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, as written by His disciples.
They are considered to be historical, narrative, and theological literature and are considered to be the full truth about the miracles of the Christ and His teachings. The rest of the New Testament is based on these four Gospel accounts, either recounting what happened after the events of the Gospels and how the church spread, or specific teachings by several apostles on how we are to live as followers of Christ and how to better understand Christs teachings. They are meant to be entirely factual and to convey historically accurate information.
The Gospels comprise the books Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Traditionally, scholars believe the former tax collector Matthew, also known as Levi and one of Jesuss apostles who traveled alongside him, wrote the Gospel of Matthew. The account is anonymous, but early church fathers unanimously agree Matthew was the author.
Scholars believe John Mark, a close friend of the apostle Peter, wrote the Gospel of Mark, a claim also unanimously supported by early church fathers. This is thought to be the same John Mark, or Mark, that Peter referred to as my son Mark in 1 Peter 5:13. They enjoyed a close working and personal relationship.
New Testament: Who Wrote The Gospels
Just as the Old Testament chronicles the story of the Israelites in the millennium or so leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ, the New Testament records Jesuss life, from his birth and teachings to his death and later resurrection, a narrative that forms the fundamental basis of Christianity. Beginning around 70 A.D., about four decades after Jesuss crucifixion , four anonymously written chronicles of his life emerged that would become central documents in the Christian faith. Named for Jesuss most devoted earthly disciples, or apostlesMatthew, Mark, Luke and Johnthe four canonical Gospels were traditionally thought to be eyewitness accounts of Jesuss life, death and resurrection.
12th-13th century depiction of evangelists Luke and Matthew writing the Gospels.
But for more than a century, scholars have generally agreed that the Gospels, like many of the books of the New Testament, were not actually written by the people to whom they are attributed. In fact, it seems clear that the stories that form the basis of Christianity were first communicated orally, and passed down from generation to generation, before they were collected and written down.
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Treat Other Cultures And Faith Traditions With Respect
Whether youre engaging with someone across the street or the ocean, Kim says its important to respect other cultures and faiths in their own right, not just as grounds awaiting Christian conversion. This does not mean that you have to ignore your differences from others or accept different faith traditions as the truth. But it does mean being open to listening to people from other cultures and faiths and learning from them.
The Gospel In Its Fullness
To clarify the essence of the gospel is not to have said everything important about it. There is a much greater fullness to the gospel. Its truths, themes and implications are so vast and rich that it will take you your lifetime to explore, understand and experience.
To start, think of the first four books in the New Testament. They are titled the Gospel According to Matthew, the Gospel According to Mark, the Gospel According to Luke and the Gospel According to John. They communicate the same gospel , but they do so in a fuller narrative form, each sharing the story of Jesus life, ministry, death and resurrection with its own theme or emphasis. That is why these gospels are so loved.
For example, Matthew builds his book around the gospel of the kingdom, or how Jesus came as Israels long-expected king only in quite unexpected ways. John emphasizes eternal life. They emphasize different things but present one message, and by reading both, you gain a fuller understanding of the one true gospel and of Jesus Christ.
As you move on into the book of the Bible called the Acts of the Apostles, you read various gospel messages. If you look closely, you will discover that each communicates the essence of the gospel. So when Peter spoke to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost and Paul to the philosophers in Athens , they both shared Jesus, but each did so in a manner relevant to his particular audience and situation.
Be Ready To Learn Something New About The Gospel Yourself
Everyone has more to learn about the gospel. So as you share the gospel, you may find your view of it evolves, too. That doesnt mean the gospel is changing it may just mean your understanding of it is growing.
Growing up in Nepal, where most people are Buddhist or Hindu, Yakuv Gurung began sharing the gospel at a young age. Verbal evangelism was highly prioritized. Thats actually how Christianity grew in Nepal, Gurung says. But as I grew older, I began to realize we were missing some things in terms of approach. Rather than simply sharing the gospel, we need to actually be the gospel. My character should reflect the gospel. In my context, where lots of Hindus and Buddhists and non-Christians are watching us, that becomes pre-evangelism.
Today, Gurung is leading a movement of new churches both in Nepal and among Nepali immigrants in the U.S.
Pauls missionary journeys through Asia Minor seemed to impact his understanding of the gospel, too. Pauls actions in effect expanded Christianitynot just regionally as we usually think of it, but theologically, says Kim. It is doubtful he would have had reason to insist on a Christ who transcends circumcision and kosher diet if he had not been sent to live and work among people to whom his being an upright Pharisee had no meaning.
Theories About Who Was The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved
Given these doubts, some scholars have proposed alternative possibilities for the disciple whom Jesus loved. Here are three other people the unnamed disciple could be:
1. A literary representation of a faithful follower. This is unlikely, since the text not only specifically identifies him as one of the people present, but connects the one whom Jesus loved to the author of the gospel in John 21:24.
2. Lazarus. Lazarus first appears in John 11:1, and two chapters later, the writer identifies someone as the disciple whom Jesus loved . The gospel also explicitly says Jesus loves Lazarus:
So the sisters sent word to Jesus, Lord, the one you love is sick. John 11:3
3. Thomas. The disciple Jesus loved saw the spear pierce Jesus side , and Thomas specifically asks to see Jesus side when hes resurrected . This encounter comes just before the gospels purpose statement.
Differences Between The Four Gospels
Skeptics have criticized the Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, as being legendary in nature rather than historical. They point to alleged contradictions between Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They also maintain the Gospels were written centuries after the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses. The late date of the writings allowed legends and exaggerations to proliferate, they say.
Are the Gospels historical or mythological?
The first challenge to address is how to account for the differences among the four Gospels. They are each different in nature, content, and the facts they include or exclude. The reason for the variations is that each author wrote to a different audience and from his own unique perspective. Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience to prove to them that Jesus is indeed their Messiah. That’s why Matthew includes many of the teachings of Christ and makes numerous references to Old Testament prophecies. Mark wrote to a Greek or Gentile audience to prove that Jesus is the Son of God. Therefore, he makes his case by focusing on the events of Christ’s life. His gospel moves very quickly from one event to another, demonstrating Christ’s lordship over all creation. Luke wrote to give an accurate historical account of Jesus’ life. John wrote after reflecting on his encounter with Christ for many years. With that insight, near the end of his life John sat down and wrote the most theological of all the Gospels.
The Basic Meaning Of The Term
The term gospel is found ninety-nine times in the NASB and ninety-two times in the NET Bible. In the Greek New Testament, gospel is the translation of the Greek noun euangelion good news, and the verb euangelizo , meaning to bring or announce good news. Both words are derived from the noun angelos, messenger. In classical Greek, an euangelos was one who brought a message of victory or other political or personal news that caused joy. In addition, euangelizomai meant to speak as a messenger of gladness, to proclaim good news.1 Further, the noun euangelion became a technical term for the message of victory, though it was also used for a political or private message that brought joy.2
That both the noun and the verb are used so extensively in the New Testament demonstrate how it developed a distinctly Christian use and emphasis because of the glorious news announced to mankind of salvation and victory over sin and death that God offers to all people through the person and accomplished work of Jesus Christ on the cross as proven by His resurrection, ascension, and session at Gods right hand. In the New Testament these two words, euangelion and euangelizo, became technical terms for this message of good news offered to all men through faith in Christ.
The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia summarizes the gospel message this way:
Arguments Against Johns Authorship
Some scholars propose that the textual evidence doesnt necessarily point to John as the disciple whom Jesus loved.
1. John would have had important information that isnt recorded in the gospel. The gospel written by the disciple Jesus loved doesnt include the main events where only Peter, James, and John were presentthe raising of Jairus daughter, the transfiguration, or the prayer in Gethsemane. Plus, John followed Jesus from the beginning of his ministry , but the disciple whom Jesus loved isnt mentioned until the Last Supper .
2. John may have been martyred before this gospel was written. Some scholars have suggested the apostle John was martyred too early to have written this gospel, citing Mark 10:3839, where Jesus may be suggesting that an early martyrdom was in his future:
You dont know what you are asking, Jesus said. Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?
We can, they answered.
Jesus said to them, You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with . . .
3. A fourth-century church historian says there were two Johns. Were back to Eusebius and Papias. According to Eusebius, Papias claims that there were two men named John ministering in Ephesus .
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So What Genre Are The Gospels
The gospels are historical narrative motivated by theological concerns. Their intention is to convey accurate historical material about Jesus and also explain and interpret these salvation-bringing events. The gospels were written not by detached, uninterested observers but by evangelists, proclaimers of good news, announcing the good news of Jesus Christ and calling people to believe in him.
The Date Of The Gospels: External Evidence
Were the Gospels written by eyewitnesses of the events, or were they not recorded until centuries later? As with the internal evidence, the external evidence also supports a first century date.
Fortunately, New Testament scholars have an enormous amount of ancient manuscript evidence. The documentary evidence for the New Testament far surpasses any other work of its time. We have over 5000 manuscripts, and many are dated within a few years of their authors’ lives.
Here are some key documents. An important manuscript is the Chester Beatty Papyri. It contains most of the N.T. writings, and is dated around A.D. 250.
The Bodmer Papyri contains most of John, and dates to A.D. 200. Another is the Rylands Papyri that was found in Egypt that contains a fragment of John, and dates to A.D. 130. From this fragment we can conclude that John was completed well before A.D. 130 because, not only did the gospel have to be written, it had to be hand copied and make its way down from Greece to Egypt. Since the vast majority of scholars agree that John is the last gospel written, we can affirm its first century date along with the other three with greater assurance.
A final piece of evidence comes from the Dead Sea Scrolls Cave 7. Jose Callahan discovered a fragment of the Gospel of Mark and dated it to have been written in A.D. 50. He also discovered fragments of Acts and other epistles and dated them to have been written slightly after A.D. 50.4
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Do Miracles Discredit The Gospels
Skeptics question the accuracy of the Gospels because of the miracles. However, this is an issue of worldviews. Those who hold to a naturalistic worldview do not believe an omnipotent creator exists. All that exists is energy and matter. Therefore, miracles are impossible. Their conclusion, then, is that the miracle accounts in the Gospels are exaggerations or myths.
Those who hold to a theistic worldview can accept miracles in light of our understanding of God and Christ. God can intervene in time and space and alter the natural regularities of nature much like finite humans can in smaller limited ways. If Jesus is the Son of God, we can expect Him to perform miracles to affirm His claims to be divine. But worldviews are not where this ends. We also need to take a good look at the historical facts.
There are also non-Christian sources that attest to the miracles of Christ. Josephus writes, “Now there was about that time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew to him both many of the Jews and many of the gentiles.” The Jewish Talmud, written in the fifth century A.D., attributes Jesus’ miracles to sorcery. Opponents of the Gospels do not deny He did miracles, they just present alternative explanations for them.
The Infancy Gospel Of Thomas
This gospel is often confused with the more well-known Gospel of Thomas . It is unclear who wrote the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, when, or even where, but the two books likely have nothing to do with one another.
Whats not a mystery is why this book was written. As time went on, Christians were curious about Jesus and wanted to know more about His life as a human. This gospel fills in the gaps left from the four canonical Gospels and focuses on the years of Jesuss childhood.
Even though this book was never a serious contender to be added to the Bible, it remained immensely popular. Many of the stories contained within, such as a 12-year-old Jesus going to the Temple, remain in Christian memory to this day. Most of the book remains intact and can still be read.
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When Were The Gospels Written
After Jesus rose from the dead, He lived among His disciples for many days, teaching and spending time with them. Just before His ascension to Heaven, they were all gathered at a mountain in Galilee. Jesus then told them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age .
Go tell others. Make disciples. Spread the Good News.
This is exactly what they were trying to do with the Gospel accounts, the first four books of the New Testament.
What are the Gospels, and when were the Gospels written? And can we trust them?
Yes, we can most certainly trust the Gospels. Here, then, is a look at who wrote the Gospels, why and when they did so, and how they can help us today.
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Jesus And The Hidden Contradictions Of The Gospels
Bart Ehrman is the author of more than a dozen books, including Misquoting Jesus and God’s Problem. HarperOnehide caption
Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible By Bart D. Ehrman
Bible scholar Bart Ehrman began his studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Originally an evangelical Christian, Ehrman believed that the Bible was the inerrant word of God. But later, as a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, Ehrman started reading the Bible with a more historical approach and analyzing contradictions in the Gospels.
Ehrman, the author of Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible , tells Terry Gross that he discourages readers from “smash the four Gospels into one big Gospel and think that get the true understanding.”
“When Matthew was writing, he didn’t intend for somebody … to interpret his Gospel in light of what some other author said. He had his own message,” Ehrman says.
To illustrate the differences between the Gospels, Ehrman offers opposing depictions of Jesus talking about himself. In the book of John, Jesus talks about himself and proclaims who he is, saying “I am the bread of life.” Whereas in Mark, Jesus teaches principally about the coming kingdom and hardly ever mentions himself directly. These differences offer clues into the perspectives of the authors, and the eras in which they wrote their respective Gospels, according to Ehrman.
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