An Introduction to the Gospels




The ‘Synoptic Gospels’ (synoptic means ‘at one glance’) refer to those of Matthew, Mark and Luke and are thus named because of the similarity of their content. The first order in which the Gospels were suggested to have been written was Matthew, Mark and Luke which is the order in which they are printed in most Bibles. But subsequent investigation as to the content of the three Gospels has led biblical scholars to conclude that the correct order should be Mark, Matthew and Luke. This is because 80% of Mark’s Gospel is reproduced in Matthew and 65% in Luke. It seems certain that Matthew and Luke were using Mark’s Gospel as a framework for their own work. This does not discredit their Gospels. Even though they were using Mark’s work, their Gospels had a different emphasis. For instance Matthew was writing specifically for the Jews to encourage them to be faithful to their new Christianity and not to return to their old faith. Mark’s Gospel is traditionally attributed to be due to his companionship with Peter. It is therefore an account of the life of Jesus from the one chosen by Jesus to be the head of the Church. Luke’s Gospel is also traditionally attributed to have come about through his companionship with Paul who he accompanied on some of his missionary journeys.




John was the last to write his Gospel. He is thought to have written at the request of the elders. He assumes that his readers know the Synoptic Gospels and in some points completes their narrative. John was known as Jesus’ ‘beloved disciple’. It was to him that Jesus entrusted the care of the Blessed Virgin. It is, therefore, no wonder that his Gospel is able to reach such spiritual heights. 




In the earliest days the stories of Jesus would have been passed on by word of mouth. In those days learning and remembering lengthy stories was the only way of passing them from one generation to the next. Eventually they were written down and in the early days many such stories - ‘gospels’ - would have been in use but eventually the church elders, who had access to all the writings, decided to concentrate on the four we now know.





The four evangelists and their Gospels were believed to have been prefigured by the four living creatures mentioned in the vision of Ezechiel (1:10) St Matthew is symbolized  by the ‘man’ because he commences his Gospel with Christ’s earthly ancestry and stresses his human and kingly character. St Mark is represented by the ’lion’ because he starts his Gospel with St John the Baptist, ‘the voice of one crying in the desert.’ St Luke is typified by the ‘bull’, the animal of sacrifice, because he begins with the history of Zachary, the priest, offering sacrifice to God. St John is expressed by the ‘eagle’ because, from the very beginning of his Gospel, he soars above the things of the earth and time and dwells upon the divine origin and nature of Jesus.