The Gospels – Overview

From Peter Kreeft’s You Can Understand the Bible:

The word gospel is a modernization of the Old English gospell (or God-spell), meaning “good news.” The original Greek word is eu-angellos (Latin, evangelium) meaning “good message.” The word angel (messenger) and evangelism (preaching this news) both come from eu-angellos. 

2 facts emerge from this world:

[1] Christianity is news – concrete facts, specific miraculous events that really happened.

[2] It’s good news – J.R.R. Tolkien says, “There is no tale ever told that men more wish were true.”

The “gospel” does not mean first of all the four books we know as the Gospels, but the news they report, the real events in which God’s plan of salvation was fulfilled. This “gospel” was preached, believed, and lived for years before these books were written. This simple fact refutes the claim that Christianity essentially rests on the Bible.

The Gospels are 4 of the books that the Church – our divinely appointed teacher – wrote and uses to teach us. We must never separate our textbook from our teacher.

What is the significance of the fact that there are 4 Gospels?

[1] Fulfills the prophecy in Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4 – the four “living creatures” – the four evangelists.

[2] The number 4 shows completeness. For example, the 4 winds blow from the 4 corners of the whole earth. These 4 Gospels were written to all 4 possible audiences in the ancient world, thus encompassing the whole world: Matthew for Jews, Mark for Romans, Luke for Greeks, John for everyone.

[3] The fact that there are 4 accounts, not 1, means we can do cross-checking, strengthening the historical reliability of the story. The minor discrepancies we see are exactly what you would expect from four independent, honest eyewitnesses to any events.

The Gospels are not puzzles for theologians but lights for lost travellers.


From the Navarre Bible Commentary:

The New Testament opens with the four Gospels; these are “the heart of all Scriptures ‘because they are our principal source for the life and teaching of the Incarnate Word, our Saviour’ ” (CCC 125, Vatican II, DV, 18).

On beginning his public ministry (cf. Mk 1:13-14), Jesus preached the Gospel, the good news that he would inaugurate the Kingdom of God, At the end of his life on earth (cf. Mk 16:15), he sent his apostles out to preach the Gospel to all creation. So, apostolic preaching about the life and message of Jesus is “the Gospel,” good news.

The first 3 Gospels are also known as the “Synoptic Gospels” – one is able to see at a glance (synopsis) where they agree and where they differ. In their structure the 3 Gospels follow the same pattern.

As regards the content and wording of these three Gospels, they share about 350 verses.

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