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What is a gospel?

Gospel’ is an English translation of the Greek word euangelion which means ‘good news’ (eu –good + angelia – message). The literary term euangelion existed in the Greco-Roman world. It referred to lives of important figures written down to praise their ancestry or achievements.

The Christian literary form known to us as a ‘gospel’ is a particular way of writing which seeks to set out and explain the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in such a way that those reading it are moved to faith in him,  and also to provide believers with a pattern for living according to the way of Jesus.

The earliest use among Christians of the word ‘gospel’, and examples of ‘gospel’ writing, are to be found in Paul’s letters (e.g. Romans 1:1; Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-5) where he writes of the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in letters to communities of early believers. But the form which is most familiar to us is exemplified by the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

A gospel is not a biography nor a history in the usual sense (though the gospels arise from the actual life of Jesus of Nazareth, who lived and died in first century Palestine). The four gospels are efforts by four early Christian writers to capture something of the immensity of the experience of the life and death of Jesus and its meaning and to set it down for the sake of the communities of believers in Jesus.

Three of the gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke are often referred to as the synoptic gospels because they present a somewhat common view of the ministry of Jesus, though each of their portraits of him also has special particular emphases.

John’s gospel is conceived of quite differently, though it also includes material about Jesus which is part of the synoptic accounts.

The portrait of Jesus that emerges from all four gospels is consistent, cohesive and impressive, despite the different authorship and traditions surrounding each gospel and the many discrepancies in detail that occur in the texts. An explanation of why discrepancies occur in the gospels based on the life of one person can be found on the Xenos site.