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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature


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The Greek word, which literally signifies glad tidings, is translated in the English Version by the word Gospel, viz., God's spell, or the Word of God. The central point of Christian preaching was the joyful intelligence that the Savior had come into the world (; ); and the first Christian preachers, who characterized their account of the person and mission of Christ by the term Gospel. This name was also prefixed to the written accounts of Christ. We possess four such accounts; 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 represented Christ in the special character of the Savior of sinners (, sq.; 15:18-19, sq.); the fourth by John, who represents Christ as the Son of God, in whom deity and humanity became one. The ancient church gave to Matthew the symbol of the lion, to Mark that of man, to Luke that of the ox, and to John that of the eagle; these were the four faces of the cherubim. The cloud in which the Lord revealed Himself was borne by the cherubim, and the four Evangelists were also the bearers of that glory of God which appeared in the form of man.

Concerning the order which they occupy in the Scriptures, the oldest Latin and Gothic Versions place Matthew and John first, and after them Mark and Luke, while the other MSS. and the old versions follow the order given to them in our Bibles. As dogmatical reasons render a different order more natural, there is much in favor of the opinion that their usual position arose from regard to the chronological dates of the respective composition of the four gospels: this is the opinion of Origen, Irenaeus, and Eusebius. All ancient testimonies agree that Matthew was the earliest, and John the latest Evangelist. The relation of the Gospel of John to the other three Gospels, and the relation of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke to each other, is very remarkable. With the exception of the history of the Baptist, and that of Christ's passion and resurrection, we find in John not only narratives of quite different events, but also different statements even in the above sections. On the other hand, the first three Evangelists not only tolerably harmonize in the substance and order of the events they relate, but correspond even sentence by sentence in their separate narratives (comp. ex. gr. with;;;; , etc.). The thought that first suggests itself on considering this surprising harmony is that they all had mutually drawn their information from one another. Some critics are of opinion that Matthew was the oldest source, and that Mark drew his information both from Matthew and Luke; again, according to others, Luke was the oldest, and Matthew made use of Luke and Mark; while most critics in Germany have adopted the view that Matthew was the oldest, and was made use of by Luke, and that Mark derived his information both from Matthew and Luke. Some of the most modern critics are, on the other hand, of opinion that Mark was the original evangelist, and that Matthew and Luke derived their information from him. The difference of these opinions leads to the suspicion that none of them are right, more especially when we consider that, notwithstanding the partial harmony of the three evangelists in the choice of their sentences, there is still a surprising difference in them as regards the words of those sentences; a fact which compelled the critics who suppose that the evangelists made use of each other's writings, to account everywhere for such deviations, and frequently to have recourse to the most trivial and pedantic arguments. To us these differences in word and phrase would appear inconceivable were we disposed to assume that the evangelists had copied one another.

As the three Evangelists mutually supply and explain each other, they were early joined to each other, by Tatian, about A.D. 170, and by Ammonius, about A.D. 230,  and the discrepancies among them early led to attempts to reconcile them. And with this view various elaborate treatises have been composed, both in ancient and modern times. But when we consider that one and the same writer, namely, Luke, relates the conversion of Paul (; ), with different incidental circumstances, after three various documents, though it would have been very easy for him to have annulled the discrepancies, we cannot help being convinced that the Evangelists attached but little weight to minute preciseness in the incidents, since, indeed, the historical truth of a narration consists less in them, in the relation of minute details, than in the correct conception of the character and spirit of the event.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Gospel'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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