The Word Gospel:
The Greek word “??? ????????????, to? evange?lion” means “good news” referring to the good news about Christ the Savior and His salvation. The Gospel proclaims, by the Holy Spirit, the good tidings of the love of God for us, that He sent His only begotten Son for our salvation to have eternal life, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The word “Gospel” stands for the general message of Christianity, the record of the life of our Lord (Mark 1:1; 10:29; 1Corinthians 15:1), embracing all His teachings (Acts 20:24). It is the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins and son-ship with God granted through Christ. It means remission of sins and reconciliation with God. The Gospel is not only a message of salvation, but also the instrument through which the Holy Spirit works, as St. Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16).
Our Lord Jesus went about all the cities and villages, preaching the “Gospel of the Kingdom” (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). It is also called “Gospel of God” (Romans 1:1; 15:16; 1Thessalonians 2:8; 1Titus 1:11; 1Peter 4:17); the “Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1); and the “Gospel of Christ” (Romans 1:16; 1Corinthians 9:12, 18; 2Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 1:7; 1Thessalonians 3:2). At the same time, it is describes as the “Gospel of the grace of God” (Act 20:24); the “Gospel of salvation” (Ephesians 1:13); and the “Gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).
Writing the New Testament
The Lord Christ ordered His disciples, before His ascension, saying, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Therefore they went to preach the Gospel of salvation, after receiving power from above when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Thus, the church was established by vocal teaching and personal preaching through the testimony of the apostles and the apostolic tradition to their disciples.
As soon as the field of the apostolic preaching was widened, it was necessary for the apostle to be attached with the churches they established via written epistles. For the need of the coming generations, it was also necessary to document the life of the Lord Christ, His teaching and preaching by faithful witnesses. Therefore St. Mark wrote his Gospel, the oldest among the four, followed by St. Matthew’s and then St. Luke’s. That is to say that Christ’s apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, write 27 books, between the year 50 to 70 A.D. (i.e. before the destruction of Jerusalem) except the Gospel of St. John, his revelation and epistles, which were written before the end of the first century. These writings give us a clear authentic picture of the history, beliefs and practices of the early church, in addition to fact that they are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness (2Timothy 3:13).
The first duty of the early church, guided by the Holy Spirit, during the fist century, was to canonize these writings to be differentiated from the apocrypha, that is the uninspired writings called by the names of some apostles, and even to differentiate them from the other orthodox writings by some believers but not inspired by the Holy Spirit. This fact is obvious to notice, as St. Peter refers to St. Paul’s epistles by saying, “… as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2Peter 3:15, 16). These holy books were well known and widely used in the church allover since the first half of the second century.
The apostolic writings of the New Testament are categorized into: Historical, educational, and prophetical. The four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles represent the historical part, while the epistles represent the educational, and the Revelation represents the prophetical part. In other words, the Gospels introduced Jesus Christ in His incarnation to live among us and to fulfill our salvation; while the book of Acts and the epistles show us the edification and growth of His church, which He established, guided by His Holy Spirit; and in the Revelation we see His in His glory accompanied with His bride, the church of saints, to reign in the heavenly city of God forever.
The Four Gospels
Each of the four Gospels has much in common to all: each of them deals with the same period of history, each sets forth the teaching and miracles of Christ the Savior, and each describes His death and resurrection. But while the four Gospels have much in common, each gospel has its own characteristics. Just as a course in architecture enables the student to discern the subtle distinctions between the Ionic, the Gothic, and the Corinthian styles—distinctions which are lost upon the uninstructed; or, just as a musical training fits one to appreciate the grandeur of a master-production, the loftiness of its theme, the beauty of its chords, the variety of its parts, or its rendition—all lost upon un-initiated; so the exquisite perfections of the four Gospels are unnoticed and unknown by those who see in them nothing more than four biographies of Christ.
In carefully reading through the four Gospels it soon becomes apparent to any reflecting mind that in none of them, nor in the four together, do we have anything approaching a complete biography of our Savior’s earthly ministry. There are great gaps in His life which none of the Evangelists profess to fill in. After the record of His infancy, nothing whatever is told us about Him till He had reached the age of twelve, and after the brief record which St. Luke gives of Christ as a boy in the Temple at Jerusalem (Luke 2), nothing further is told us about Him until He had reached the age of thirty. Even when we come to the accounts of His public ministry it is clear that the records are but examples; the Evangelists select only portions of His teachings and describe in detail but a few of His miracles, as St. John says, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30, 31). Concerning the full scope of all that was crowded into His wonderful life, St. John gives us some idea when he says, “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
Each of the four Gospels is complete in itself, written with a distinctive design to suit those to whom it was written in particular. Every Evangelist, inspired by the Holy Spirit, selected the events which were strictly relevant and pertinent to his Gospel’s peculiar theme and subject. St. Matthew, for example, who wrote to the Jews, started His Gospel with Christ’s royal genealogy, proving that He is the Messiah, the Son of Abraham, and the Son of King David according to the divine promise for them; and he mentioned the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies in Him (Matthew 1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15,17-18, 23; 3:3; 4:14-15; 8:17; 12:17-21; 13:14-15, 35;15:7; 27:9-10, 35…). So, he mentioned 60 prophecies from the Old Testament fulfilled in Christ, and repeated the word “the kingdom” 55 times (Matthew 3:2; 4:17, 33; 5:19; 6:33; 7:21; 9:35; 10:7; 13:11, 18, 24, 31, 33, 44, 52…), and the “Son of David” 8 times (Matthew 1:1, 10; 9:27; 12:23; 15:23; 21:9, 15; 22:42). St. Mark who wrote his Gospel mainly to the Romans, didn’t mention any of these prophecies or genealogy because they knew nothing about them, but rather he explained to them the Aramaic words (Mark 3:17; 5:14; 7:14, 34; 15:21, 34), Jewish rites and customs (Mark 7:2-4; 14:12; 15:42; 12:18), places (Mark 1:5; 13:3; 11:1); and he selected the miracles which declared the mighty power of Christ since they were men of wars who believe is power; and for the same reason, his Gospel was the shortest. St. Luke, who wrote his Gospel mainly to the Greek, selected the events which prove that Christ is coming for all nations, not only to the Jews, to make us children of God (Luke 4:25, 27; 9:50, 54; 14:25-37; 19:1-10). This explains why his Gospel traces Christ’s genealogy back to Adam, the first man, considering him the son of God (Luke 3:38). St. John, who wrote his Gospel at the end of the first century after the other three Gospels, chose the events and sayings to prove the Divinity of Christ against the heresies of his time.
Suppose nowadays four men should write a “life” of ex-president and that each one designed to present him in a different character, e.g. the first should treat of his private and domestic life, the second deal with him as a sportsman, the third depict his military prowess and the fourth traced his political and presidential career. Now it will be seen at once that these four biographers while writing of the life of the same man would, nevertheless, view him in four entirely different relationships with different details.
Why four Gospels? Why not have reduced them to two or three? Or, why not have added a fifth? Why four? In seeking to answer this question, we are not left to the uncertainties of speculation or imagination, but the Scripture is its own interpreter. According to the Biblical terminology, the number “Four” is the number represents the earth, because there are four points to earth’s compass, i.e. north, east, south, and west; and there are four seasons to earth’s year, i.e. spring, summer, autumn, and winter. And in the “Parable of the Sower”, our Lord divided the field into four kinds of soil, and later He said, “The field is the world.” How fitting, then, that the Holy Spirit should have given us four Gospels in which to set forth the earthly ministry of the Heavenly One. Regarding this fact, St. Irenaeous says, “It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, literally, “four catholic spirits;” Greek, ??????? ???????? ????????: Latin, “quatuor principales spiritus,” while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” (1Timothy 3:15) of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh.”
In the Gospels, the Lord who sits upon the cherubim, and contains all things, was manifested to men through His incarnation. As also David says, when entreating His manifestation, “You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth!” (Psalms 80:1). The cherubim were four-faced, and are termed “the living creature” in (Ezekiel 10:15, 17) and (Revelation 4:6)… “And the first living creature was like a lion, and the second living creature like a calf, and the third living creature had a face as a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle” (Revelation 4:7). The man illustrates the Gospel of St. Matthew which starts with Christ’s genealogy proving that He is the Son of Abraham and the Son of David, an evident description of His incarnation to carry our sins and to lead us to His heavenly kingdom. The lion represents the Gospel of St. Mark which starts with the roaring sound in wilderness, symbolizing Christ’s effectual working, His leadership, and royal power. The calf represents the Gospel of St. Luke which starts with Zacharias the priest illustrating the bloody sacrifices symbolizing His sacrificial and sacerdotal order. The eagle represents the Gospel of St. John who talks about the divinity of Christ carrying us from earth to heaven.
The four Gospels alike present to us the person and work of our blessed Savior, but each one views Him in a distinct relationship, and only that which served to illustrate the separate design which each Evangelist had before him found a place in his Gospel. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Christ is presented as the Messiah, the Son of David, and the King of kings, who gave us the Law of the heavenly kingdom to follow. In St. Mark’s, Christ is depicted as the Mightier who defeated Satan; and this explains why there are more miracles (deeds of might and authority especially over demons) detailed here than in any of the other Gospels. In St. Luke’s, Christ is set forth as the Friend, Servant and Savior of mankind; and this explains why this Gospel traces His genealogy back to Adam, the first man, why He is seen here so frequently in prayer as the perfect Man (Luke 3:21; 6:12; 9:28), and why the angels are seen ministering to Him, instead of commanded by Him as they are in the gospel of St. Matthew (Luke 2:9-14). In St. John’s, Christ is revealed as the Son of God, who became Man for our salvation, to believe in Him and to start a relationship with Him as our Heavenly Father. This explains why St. John started his Gospel by accompanying us back to a point before time began, and we are shown Christ as the Word “in the beginning,” with God, who created all things (John 1:1-3); why he focused on the relation between Christ and His Father and the Holy Spirit (John 10:30, 38; 14:9-13, 20, 26; 15:26; 16:14-15, 27-28; 17:1-26); why we get here so many of His Divine titles, as “The only begotten Son of the Father (John 1:18; 3:16-18),” the “Lamb of God (John 1:29),” the “Light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5)” etc.; why we are told here that prayer should be made in His Name (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26), and why the Holy Spirit is here said to be sent from the Son as well as from the Father (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).
Not only did the Old Testament prophesied the coming of Christ, His character, His amazing teaching, His miraculous acts, His redeeming death, and resurrection, but types also foreshadowed these four Gospels. In the Book of Genesis we read “And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.” There must be some deeply hidden meaning to this, for the Holy Spirit has condescended to record this detail prepares us to look beneath the surface and seek for some mystical meaning, and surely that is not far to seek. Note carefully that in Eden itself “the river” was one, but “from thence” it “was parted” and became into four heads. “Eden” suggests to us the Paradise above: the “river” which “watered” it, tells of Christ who is the living Water, the Light and Joy of Heaven; and His life and ministry on earth, by the Holy Spirit, “parted into four heads” in the Four Gospels.
Another Old Testament type which anticipated the fourfold story of Christ’s ministry as recorded in the four Gospels may be seen in (Exodus 26:31, 32), “You shall make a veil woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen. It shall be woven with an artistic design of cherubim. You shall hang it upon the four pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold.” This “veil” foreshadowed the Incarnation, according to St. Paul “… through the veil, that is, His flesh.” (Hebrews 10:19, 20). It is surely significant that this “veil” was hung upon “four pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold” since the wood represents His humanity, and the gold His Divinity. Just as these “four pillars” served to display the beautiful veil, so in the four Gospels we have made manifest the perfections of the incarnate Word of God and His redeeming act.