Four Gospels Included In The Bible

There are four Gospels included in the Bible-the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They were composed between forty and hundred years after the departure of Jesus on the basis of some earlier documents which are now lost. Biblical scholars have identified some of these earlier documents as (1) Q (German Quelle-Source), a lost document in Aramaic, which reached the writers of the Gospels in a Greek translation; (2) (‘Urmarcus’-Primitive Mark) an earlier draft of Mark’s Gospel written on the basis of Peter’s discourses about Jesus, and (3) ‘L’, a collection of reports about Jesus used only by Luke. A comparison of the Gospels will show that their authors used these lost documents in a somewhat free manner; they did not even hesitate to change some things in them to suit their own purpose.

The first Gospel to be written was that of Mark. It was written at Rome at least forty years after the so-called fructification of Jesus. The Gospel as we have it today is considered to be an expanded version of Urmarcus, about which Papias, an early Christian writer, has the following to say:

“The elder John used to say Mark, having become Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied him, but subsequently, as I said, attached himself to Peter, who used to frame his teaching to meet the wants of his hearers, and not as making a connected narrative of the Lord’s discourses.” (Roberts and Donaldson, The Ante – Nicene Fathers, voI., pp. 154, 155)

It is not possible to say whether Urmarcus was expanded and revised to give us the Gospel of Mark as we have it by Mark himself or by some other person. Dr. C. J. Cadoux, who was Mackennal Professor of Church History at Oxford, thus sums up the conclusions of eminent Biblical scholars regarding the nature and composition of this Gospel:

“It was written after Peter’s martyrdom (65 A.D.), and as a time when Mark, who had not himself been a disciple of Jesus, apparently had some of the personal disciples of Jesus within reach by whose knowledge he could check his narrative. These circumstances of its composition account for the existence in it, side by side, of numerous signs of accuracy and a certain number of signs of ignorance and inaccuracy.” (The Life of Jesus, p: 13).

The two-source hypothesis: Most scholars agree that Mark was the first of the gospels to be composed, and that the authors of Matthew and Luke used it plus a second document called the Q source when composing their own gospels. The blue sections indicate material original to Luke and Matthew.

The Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek at Antioch about 90 C.E. The author made use of at least two lost documents “Q’ and ‘Urmarcus’. No independent scholar, regards this Gospel as the work of Matthew, the apostle of Jesus. If Matthew composed anything, it must have been only ‘Q’. Regarding the liberties taken by the unknown author of this Gospel with the original material, C. J. Cadoux writes:

“But a close examination of the treatment he gives to his borrowings from Mark shows that he allowed himself great freedom in editing and embroidering his material in the interest of what he regarded as the rightful honoring of the great Master. The same tendencies are often visible elsewhere when he is producing ‘Q’ or providing matter peculiar to himself. Anything, therefore, strictly peculiar to ‘Matthew’ can be accepted as historical only with great caution.” (Life of Jesus pp, 14, 15).

The third Gospel, the Gospel of Luke, was written somewhere in Greece about the year 80 C. E. for the benefit of “the most excellent” Theophilus, probably a high official of the Roman Empire. It is an apologetic addressed to non-Jews. The writer, who was the friend and travel-companion of St. Paul, made use of at least three lost documents, two of these were Matthew’s Gospel and the third was peculiar to himself. Luke, who wished to bring his Gospel in line with the Pauline point of view, took even greater liberties with his sources than the writer of Matthew’s Gospel had done.

The Four Gospels – Sources and History

The Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke are called “the Synoptic Gospels” because they proceed on the basis of the same lost document and have much in common. The Gospel of John is very different from these. The divinity and Pre-existence of Jesus are hinted in this Gospel alone, though never as a claim put forward by Jesus himself. In the opening lines the writer of this Gospel makes the claim that the divine Logos, the Word or Reason of God, which created the world, had become incarnate in Jesus. The Gospel of John was written at or near Ephesus between the years 110 and 115 of the Christian era by some unknown writer who was anti-semitically inclined and presented the Jews as the enemies of Jesus Christ. The modern Biblical scholars doubt the genuineness not only of the writer’s own views expressed in this Gospel, but also of the words put by him in the mouth of Jesus Christ. C. J. Cadoux writes:

“The speeches in the Fourth Gospel are so different from those in the Synoptic, and so like the comments of the Fourth Evangelist himself, that both cannot be equally reliable as records of what Jesus said: Literary veracity in ancient times did not forbid, as it does now, the assignment of fictitious speeches to historical characters; the best ancient historians made a practice of composing and assigning such speeches in this way.” (pp. 16). (*.‘Islam and Christianity’ by U. A. Samed was frequently quoted in this section.)

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