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a-pok'-ri-fal gos'-pels:


1. Early Gospels

2. Canonical Gospels

3. Apocryphal Gospels

4. Gospel according to the Hebrews


1. Gospel of the Ebionites

2. Gospel of the Egyptians

3. Gospel of Marcion

4. Gospel of Peter

5. Gospel of the Twelve Apostles

6. Gospels of Barnabas and Bartholomew


1. Gospels of the Nativity

(a) Protevangelium of James

(b) Pseudo-Matthew

(c) The Nativity of Mary

(d) Gospel of Joseph the Carpenter

(e) The Passing of Mary

2. Gospels of the Infancy or Childhood

(a) Gospel of Thomas

(b) Arabic Gospel of the Childhood

3. Gospels of the Passion and Resurrection

(a) Gospel of Peter (as above)

(b) Gospel of Nicodemus

(1) Acts of Pilate

(2) Descent of Jesus into the Lower World

(c) Other Fabrications


The apocryphal gospels form a branch of the apocryphal literature that attended the formation of the New Testament canon of Scripture. Apocryphal here means non-canonical. Besides gospels, this literature included acts, epistles and apocalypses.

I. Introductory.

1. Early Gospels:

The introduction to the third canonical Gospel shows that in the days of the writer, when the apostles of the Lord were still living, it was a common practice to write and publish accounts of the acts and words of Jesus. It has even been maintained (S. Baring-Gould, Lost and Hostile Gospels, xxiii, London, 1874) that at the close of the 1st century, almost every church had its own gospel with which alone it was acquainted. These were probably derived, or professed to be derived, from the oral reports of those who had seen, heard, and, it may be, conversed with our Lord. It was dissatisfaction with these compositions that moved Luke to write his Gospel. Whether any of these ante-Lukan documents are among those still known to us is hardly longer doubtful. Scholars of repute-Grotius, Grabe, Mill-were in earlier times disposed to place the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Gospel of the Ebionites, and the Gospel of the Egyptians among those alluded to by Luke, some holding the Gospel of the Hebrews to be as early as just after the middle of the 1st century. More recent criticism does not allow so early an appearance for those gospels, though a fairly early date is still postulated for the Gospel of the Hebrews. The Protevangelium of James (noticed below) is still held by some as possibly falling within the 1st century (EB, I, 259).

2. Canonical Gospels:

However this may be, there can be no doubt that by the close of the 1st century and the early part of the 2nd century, opinion was practically unanimous in recognition of the authority of the four Gospels of the canonical Scriptures. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (180 A.D.), recognizes four, and only four Gospels, as "pillars" of the church. The Harmonies of Theophilus, bishop of Antioch (168-80 A.D.), and of Tatian, and the Apology of Justin Martyr carry back the tradition to a much earlier period of the century, and, as Liddon proves at considerable length (Bampton Lectures, 2nd ed., 210-19), "it is scarcely too much to assert that every decade of the 2nd century furnishes its share of proof that the four Gospels as a whole, and John's in particular, were to the church of that age what they are to the church of the present."

The recent attempt of Professor Bacon of Yale to get rid of the important authority of Irenaeus (The Fourth Gospel in Research and Debate, New York, 1910) will not succeed; it has been shown to be merely assertive where there is no evidence and agnostic where evidence is apparently demonstrative. During the last century the Gospels, as regards their composition, credibility and historicity, were subjected to the most searching and unsparing criticism which, though intimations of it were previously not wanting, may be said to have begun when Strauss, to use Liddon's words, "shocked the conscience of all that was Christian in Europe" by the publication of his first Life of Jesus. The methods pursued in this work consisted largely in the application to the sacred books, and especially to the Gospels, of the principles of criticism that had for forty years previously been used in estimating the structure and composition of some of the literary products of antiquity; and the controversy excited by this criticism can hardly yet be said to have subsided. This is not the place for entering upon an account of the controversy; it may be sufficient here to say that the traditional positions of the church have been ably defended, and in particular, that the claims of the canonical Gospels have been abundantly maintained.

3. Apocryphal Gospels:

Whatever was the fate of the ante-Lukan and other possible 1st-century gospels, it is with the 2nd century and the formation of an authoritative canon that the apocryphal gospels, such as we now have, for the most part begin to appear. In the days of the reproduction of documents by manuscript, of restricted communications between different localities, and when the church was only as yet forming and completing its organization, the formation and spread of such gospels would be much easier than now. The number of such gospels is very considerable, amounting to about fifty. These exist mainly in fragments and scattered notices; though some, as pointed out below, are either entire or nearly so. The apparent number has probably been increased by the use of different names for the same document. Thirty are named by Hofmann with more or less explanation in RE, I, 511; a complete hat is given in Fabricius (Cod. Apocrypha New Testament, I, 355). Ebionistic and Gnostic circles were specially prolific of such gospels. "It would be easy," says Salmon (Intro, 1st ed., 239) "to make a long list of names of gospels said to have been in use in different Gnostic sects; but very little is known as to their contents, and that little is not such as to lead us to attribute to them the very slightest historical value."

Of many indeed no more is known than the names of the authors, such as the gospels of Basilides, of Cerinthus, of Apelles, of Matthias, of Barnabas, of Bartholomew, of Eve, of Philemon and many others. The scholars and authorities of the early church were quite well aware of the existence and aims of these productions. It is noteworthy also that they had no hesitation in characterizing them as they deserved. The Marcosians, according to Irenaeus, adduced "an unspeakable number of apocryphal and spurious writings, which they themselves had forged, to bewilder the minds of the foolish"; and Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 25) gives the following list of spurious and disputed books: "That we have it in our power to know both these books (the canonical) and those that are adduced by the heretics under the name of the apostles such, namely, as compose the gospels of Peter, of Thomas, and of Matthew, and certain others beside these or such as contain the Acts of Andrew and John, and of the other apostles, of which no one of those writers in the ecclesiastical succession has condescended to make any mention in his works: and, indeed, the character of the style itself is very different from that of the apostles, and the sentiments, and the purport of these things that are advanced in them, deviating as far as possible from sound orthodoxy, evidently prove they are the fictions of heretical men: whence they are not only to be ranked among the spurious writings but are to be rejected as altogether absurd and impious."

In the appendix to Westcott's Introduction to the Study of the Gospels will be found, with the exception of those recently discovered in Egypt, a complete list of the non-canonical sayings and deeds ascribed to our Lord as recorded in the patristic writings; and also a list of the quotations from the non-canonical gospels where these are only known by quotations.

The aim of the apocryphal gospels may be regarded as

(1) heretical or

(2) supplemental or legendary: that is to say, such as either were framed in support of some heresy or such as assume the canonical gospels and try to make additions-largely legendary-to them. Before considering these it may be well to take separate account of the Gospel according to the Hebrews.

4. Gospel According to the Hebrews:

The undoubted early date of this gospel, the character of most of its not very numerous quotations, the respect with which it is uniformly mentioned by early writers, and the esteem in which it is at present held by scholars in general, entitle the Gospel according to the Hebrews to special notice. Apart from the tradition, to which it is not necessary to attach too great importance, that represented our Lord as commanding His disciples to remain for twelve years in Jerusalem, it is reasonable to suppose that for the Christian communities resident in Jerusalem and Palestine a written gospel in their own language (Western Aramaic) would soon be a necessity, and such a gospel would naturally be used by Jewish Christians of the Diaspora. Jewish Christians, for example, settled in Alexandria, might use this gospel, while native Christians, as suggested by Harnack, might use the Gospel of the Egyptians, till of course both were superseded by the four Gospels sanctioned by the church.

There is no proof however that the gospel was earlier than the Synoptics, much less that it was among the ante-Lukan gospels. Harnack, indeed, by a filiation of documents for which there seems hardly sufficient warrant, placed it as early as between 65 and 100 A.D. Salmon, on the other hand (Intro, Leer X) concludes that "the Nazarene gospel, so far from being the mother, or even the sister of one of our canonical four, can only claim to be a grand-daughter or grand-niece." Jerome (400 A.D.) knew of the existence of this gospel and says that he translated it into Greek and Lat; quotations from it are found in his works and in those of Clement of Alexandria. Its relation to the Gospel of Matthew, which by almost universal consent is declared to have been originally written in Hebrew (i.e. Aramaic), has given rise to much controversy. The prevalent view among scholars is that it was not the original of which Matthew's Gospel was a Greek translation, but still that it was a fairly early composition. Some, like Salmon and Harnack, are disposed to regard Jerome's Hebrew Gospel as to all intents a fifth gospel originally composed for Palestinian Christians, but which became of comparatively insignificant value with the development of Christianity into a world-religion. Besides two references to the baptism of Jesus and a few of his sayings, such as-"Never be joyful except when ye shall look upon your brother in love"; "Just now my Mother, the Holy Spirit, took me by one of my hairs and bore me away to the great mountain Thabor"-it records the appearance of our Lord to James after the resurrection, adduced by Paul (1 Corinthians 15:7) as one of the proofs of that event; but of course Paul might have learned this from the lips of James himself as well as from ordinary tradition, and not necessarily from this gospel.

This indeed is the principal detail of importance which the quotations from this gospel add to what we know from the Synoptics. In other divergences from the Synoptics where the same facts are recorded, it is possible that the Gospel according to the Hebrews may relate an earlier and more reliable tradition. On the other hand, the longest quotation, which gives a version of Christ's interview with the Rich Young Ruler, would seem to show, as Westcott suggests, that the Synoptics give the simpler and therefore the earlier form of the common narrative. Many scholars, however, allow that the few surviving quotations of this gospel should be taken into account in constructing the life of Christ. The Ebionites gave the name of Gospel of the Hebrews to a mutilated gospel of Matthew. This brings us to the heretical gospels.

II. Heretical Gospels.

1. Gospel of the Ebionites:

The Ebionites may be described generally as Jewish Christians who aimed at maintaining as far as possible the doctrines and practices of the Old Testament and may be taken as representing originally the extreme conservative section of the Council of Jerusalem mentioned in Acts 15:1-29. They are frequently mentioned in patristic literature from the 2nd to the 4th centuries, and the prolonged Gnostic controversies of those times may well have founded among them different sects or at least parties. Accordingly Jerome, a writer of the 4th century, states (Ep ad August. 122 13) that he found in Palestine Jewish Christians known as Nazarenes and Ebionites. Whether these were separate sects or simply supporters of more liberal or narrower views of the same sect cannot well be determined. Some, such as Harnack and Uhlhorn, have held that the two names are general designations for Jewish Christians; others regard the Ebionites as the most retrograde and the narrowest of Jewish Christians, while the Nazarenes were more tolerant of difference of belief and practice.

The Gospel of the Ebionites or the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles, as it was also called, represented along with the Gospel of the Hebrews (noticed above) this Judeo-Christian spirit. Some fragments of the Gospel of the Ebionites are preserved in Epiphanius (d 376). He speaks of the Nazarenes as "having the Gospel according to Matthew in a most complete form, in Hebrew" (i.e. Aramaic), though he immediately adds that he does not know whether "they removed the genealogies from Abraham to Christ," that is to say, whether they accepted or rejected the virgin birth of Christ. In contrast with this statement he says that the Ebionites had a gospel "called the Gospel according to Matthew, not entire and perfectly complete, but falsified and mutilated, which they call the Hebrew gospel." The extant fragments from the gospel are given in Westcott (Intro, 437). They "show that its value is quite secondary and that the author has simply compiled it from the canonical, and especially from the Synoptic Gospels, adapting it at the same time to the views and practices of Gnostic Ebionism" (DCG, I, 505).

2. Gospel of the Egyptians:

Three short and somewhat mystic verses are all that are left of what is known as the Gospel of the Egyptians. They occur in Book III of the Stromateis of Clement of Alexandria, who devoted that book to a refutation of Encratism, that is, the rejection, as absolutely unlawful, of the use of marriage, of flesh meat and of wine. Already in the Pauline Epistles are met parties with the cry (Colossians 2:21) "Handle not, nor taste, nor touch," and (1 Timothy 4:3) "forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats." The verses in Clement read as follows: "When Salome asked how long will death prevail? The Lord said, As long as ye women bear children: for I have come to destroy the function of women. And Salome said to him. Did I not well then in not bearing children? And the Lord answered and said, Eat of every herb, but do not eat of that which is bitter. And when Salome asked when the things would be known about which she had inquired, the Lord said, When ye trample on the garment of shame, and when the two shall be one, and the male with the female neither male nor female." The words assuredly vary much from the usual character of those of our Lord. Modern writers vary as to their encratite tendency and as to how far the Gospel of the Egyptians was practical. With so little to go upon, it is not easy to form a conclusion. It may have contained other passages on account of which Origen deemed it heretical. It was used by the Naassenes and Sabellians. The date of the Gospel is between 130 and 150.

3. Gospel of Marcion:

The Gospel of Marcion would seem to have been intended as a direct counteractive to the Aramaic gospels. A native of Pontus and the son of a bishop, Marcion settled at Rome in the first half of the 2nd century and became the founder of the anti-Jewish sect that acknowledged no authoritative writings but those of Paul. This work forms a striking example of what liberties, in days before the final formation of the canon, could be taken with the most authoritative and the most revered documents of the faith, and also as showing the free and practically unlimited nature of the controversy, of which the canon as finally adopted was the result. He rejected the Old Testament entirely, and of the New Testament retained only the Gospel of Luke, as being of Pauline origin, with the omission of sections depending on the Old Testament and ten epistles of Paul, the pastoral epistles being omitted. The principal Church Fathers agree upon this corruption of Luke's Gospel by Marcion; and the main importance of his gospel is that in modern controversy it was for some time assumed to be the original gospel of which Luke's Gospel was regarded as merely an expansion. The theory was shown first in Germany and afterward independently in England to be quite untenable. It was lately revived by the author of Supernatural Religion; but Dr. Sanday's work on The Gospels in the Second Century (chapter viii) may be said to have closed the controversy. (Compare also Salmon's Intro, Lect XI.)

4. Gospel of Peter:

Until about a quarter of a century ago no more was known of the Gospel of Peter than of the crowd of heretical gospels referred to above. From Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, VI, 12, 2) it was known that a Gospel of Peter was in use in the church of Rhossus, a town in the diocese of Antioch at the end of the 2nd century, that controversy had arisen as to its character, and that after a careful examination of it Serapion, bishop of Antioch (190-203), had condemned it as docetic. Origen (died 253 A.D.), in his commentary on Matthew 10:17, refers to the gospel as saying that "there are certain brothers of Jesus, the sons of Joseph by a former wife, who lived with him before Mary." Eusebius further in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 3, 2 knows nothing of the Gospel according to Peter being handed down as a catholic writing, and in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 25, 6 he includes the Gospel of Peter among the forged heretical gospels. Theodoret, one of the Greek ecclesiastical historians (390-459), says that the Nazarenes used a gospel called "according to Peter."

The gospel is also referred to in Jerome (De Viris Illustr., chapter 1) and it is condemned by the Decretum Gelasianum (496?). Salmon (Intro, 231) remarks: "Of the book no extracts have been preserved, and apparently it never had a wide range of circulation." These words were written in 1885. In the following year the French Archaeological Mission, working in upper Egypt, found in a tomb, supposed to be a monk's, at Akhmim (Panopolis), a parchment containing portions of no less than three lost Christian works, the Book of Enoch, the Gospel of Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter. These were published in 1892 and have given rise to much discussion. The gospel has been carefully reproduced in facsimile and edited by competent scholars The fragment is estimated to contain about half of the original gospel. It begins in the middle of the history of the Passion, Just after Pilate has washed his hands from all responsibility and ends in the middle of a sentence when the disciples at the end of the Feast of Unleavened Bread were betaking themselves to their homes "But I (Simon Peter, the ostensible writer) and Andrew my brother took our nets and went to the sea; and there was with us Levi the son of Alpheus whom the Lord.." Harnack (Texte und Untersuchungen, IX, 2, 2nd edition, 76) exhibits about thirty new traits contained in the Petrine account of the Passion and burial.

These are given in detail in an additional volume of the Ante-Nicene Library: Recently Discovered manuscripts, etc., Edinburgh, 1897. But Dr. Swete (Gospel of Peter, xv, London, 1893) shows that "even details which seem to be entirely new or which directly contradict the canonical narrative, may have been suggested by it"; and he concludes that notwithstanding the large amount of new matter which it contains, "there is nothing in this portion of the Petrine Gospel which compels us to assume the use of sources other than the canonical gospels." To Professor Orr (NT Apocryphal Writings, xixff) the Gnostic origin of the gospel seems clear in the story given of the Resurrection; and its docetic character-that is, that it proceeded from those who held that Christ had only the semblance of a body-from the statement that on the cross Jesus was silent as one who felt no pain, and from the dying cry from the cross, "My power, my power, thou hast forsaken me," the really Divine Christ having departed before the crucifixion. The date of the gospel has been placed by some in the first quarter, and by others in the third quarter, of the 2nd century. For the other newly discovered "Sayings of Jesus," see LOGIA.

5. Gospel of the Twelve Apostles:

A Gospel of the Twelve is mentioned by Origen (Hom. I, in Luc), and a few fragments of it are preserved by Epiphanius (Haerea, 39 13-16, 22). It commenced with the baptism, and was used by the Ebionites. It was written, Zahn thinks, about 170 A.D.

6. Gospel of Barnabas and Bartholomew:

A Gospel of Barnabas and Gospel of Bartholomew are condemned in the decree of Pope Gelasius. The latter is mentioned by Jerome (Prooem ad Matt).

III. Supplementary or Legendary Gospels.

In all of the gospels of this class it is noteworthy that considering the desire of the writers of non-canonical gospels to multiply miracles, no notice is taken of the period in the life of Christ that intervened between his twelfth year and his thirtieth. The main reason for the omission probably is that no special dogmatic end was to be served by the narrative of this period of the Saviour's life. Where access cannot be had to these documents in their original languages, it may be useful to point out that a good and full translation of them may be found in Vol XVI of Clark's Ante-Nicene Library, Edinburgh, 1870.

1. Gospels of the Nativity:

(a) The Protevangelium of James.

The earliest of these documents is the Protevangelium of James. James is supposed to be the Lord's brother. The title "Protevangelium" or First Gospel-a catching title which assumes much and suggests more-was given to this document by Postellus, a Frenchman, who first published it in Latin in the year 1552. In the Greek and Syriac manuscripts, it is known by various other titles, such as, The History of James concerning the Birth of the All-Holy and Ever-Virgin Mother of God and of Her Son Jesus Christ. Tischendorf in the notes to chapter i of his Evang. Apocrypha gives a long list of the names descriptive of it in the various manuscripts. In the Gelasian Decree depriving it of canonical authority it is simply styled Evangelium nomine Jacobi minoris apocryphum. In this document the birth of Mary is foretold by angelic announcement to her parents, Joachim and Anna, as was that of Jesus to Mary. It contains in twenty-five chapters the period from this announcement to the Massacre of the Innocents, including accounts of the early training of Mary in the temple, the Lukan narrative of the birth of Christ with some legendary additions, and the death of Zacharias by order of Herod for refusing to give information regarding the place of concealment of Elisabeth and the child John who, in their flight during the massacre, are miraculously saved by the opening of a mountain.

At chapter 18 a change takes place in the narrative from the third to the first person, which has been taken (NT Apocrypha Writings by Professor Orr, D.D., London, 1903) to suggest an Essenian-Ebionitic origin for the document, and at least to argue for it a composite character, which again may account for the great variety of view taken of its date. It has been assigned (EB, I, 259) to the 1st century. Zahn and Kruger place it in the first decade, many scholars in the second half of the 2nd century; while others (e.g. Harnack) place it in its present form as late as the middle of the 4th century. Good scholars (Sanday, The Gospels in the Second Century) admit references to it in Justin Martyr which would imply that possibly in some older form it was known in the first half of the 2nd century. In its latest forms the document indicates the obvious aim of the writer to promote the sanctity and veneration of the Virgin. It has been shown to contain a number of unhistorical statements. It was condemned in the western church by Popes Damasus (382), Innocent I (405) and by the Decretum Gelasianum (496?). It would seem as if the age thus deprived of the Protevangelium demanded some document of the same character to take its place.

(b) Pseudo-Matthew.

A forged correspondence between Jerome and two Italian bishops supplied a substitute in the Gospel of the Pseudo-Matthew, which Jerome was falsely represented to have rendered in Latin from the original Hebrew of Matthew. The gospel is known only in Latin and, as already indicated, is not earlier than the 5th century. The Protevangelium is freely used and supplemented from some unknown (probably Gnostic) source, and further miracles especially connected with the sojourn in Egypt have been wrought into it with others added from the Childhood Gospel of Thomas. Some of the miracles recorded of Egypt are represented as fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy, as when (chapter 18) the adoration of the infant Jesus by dragons recalls the fulfillment of what was said by David the prophet: "Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons: ye dragons and all ye deeps"; or as when (chapter 19) lions and panthers adored them, showing the company the way in the desert, "bowing their heads and wagging their tails and adoring Him with great reverence," which was regarded as a fulfillment of the prophecy: "Wolves shall feed with lambs and the lions and the ox shall eat straw together." In this gospel, too, appears for the first time the notice of the ox and the ass adoring the child Jesus in the manger, of which much was made in Christian article The gospel is further eked out by the relation of several of the miracles connected with the Gospel of the Childhood.

(c) The Nativity of Mary.

The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary was written in Latin. It goes over much the same ground as the earlier portion of the Pseudo-Matthew, but so differs from it as to indicate a later date and a different author. It includes more of the miraculous element and daily angelic visits to Mary during her residence in the temple. This gospel makes Mary leave the temple in her 14th year; according to the gospel next described, where the narrator is represented as the Son of Mary Himself, she left the temple in her 12th year, having lived in it nine years. It was for long held to be the work of Jerome, and from this gospel was almost entirely formed the "Golden Legend" which largely took the place of the Scriptures in the 13th century. throughout Europe before the invention of printing. It was among the books early printed in some countries where (as in England) it might not be safe to print the Scriptures. Its services to medieval literature and art should not blind us to the fact that it was a forgery deliberately introduced into the service of the church about the 6th century, when the worship of Mary was specially promoted in the church.

(d) Gospel of Joseph the Carpenter.

To the same class of compositions belongs the Gospel of Joseph the Carpenter. Originally written in Coptic, it was translated into Arabic, in which language with a Latin version it was published in 1722. The composition is devoted to the glorification of Joseph, a cult which was specially favored by the monophysite Coptics. It dates from the 4th century. It contains in 22 chapters the whole history of Joseph and relates in the last part the circumstances of his death at the age of 111 years. These are of some importance for the history of dogma.

(e) The Passing of Mary.

Transitus Mariae: although not strictly a gospel of the Nativity notice may here be taken of the account of John the Theologian of the Falling Asleep (koimesis) of the Holy Mother of God or as it is more commonly called "the Passing of Mary" (transitus Mariae). It was originally written in Greek, but appears also in Latin and several other languages. Two years, it seems, after the ascension of Jesus, Mary, who paid frequent visits to the, "Holy tomb of our Lord to burn incense and pray" was persecuted by the Jews and prayed her Son that He would take her from the earth. The archangel Gabriel brings an answer to her prayers and announces that after three days she shall go to the heavenly places to her Son, into true and everlasting life. Apostles from their graves or from their dioceses are summoned to her bedside at Bethlehem and relate how they were occupied when the summons reached them. Miracles of healing are wrought round the dying bed; and after the instantaneous transportation of Mary and the attendant apostles to Jerusalem, on the Lord's Day, amidst visions of angels Christ Himself appears and receives her soul to Himself. Her body is buried in Gethsemane and thereafter translated to Paradise. Judged by its contents which reveal an advanced stage of the worship of the Virgin and also of church ritual, the document cannot have been produced earlier than the end of the 4th or the beginning of the 5th century, and it has a place among the apocryphal documents condemned by the Gelasian Decree. By this time indeed it appears as if the writers of such documents assumed the most unrestricted license in imagining and embellishing the facts and situations regarding the gospel narrative.

2. The Gospels of the Infancy or Childhood:

(a) Gospel of Thomas.

Next to the Protevangelium the oldest and the most widely spread of the apocryphal gospels is the Gospel of Thomas. It is mentioned by Origen and Irenaeus and seems to have been used by a Gnostic sect of the Nachashenes in the middle of the 2nd century. It was docetic as regards the miracles recorded in it and on this account was also acceptable to the Manichees. The author was one of the Marcosians referred to by Irenaeus. Great variations exist in the text, of which there are only late catholic recasts, two in Greek, one in Latin and one in Syriac. One of the Greek versions is considerably longer than the other, while the Latin is somewhat larger than either. They are very largely concerned with a record of miracles wrought by Jesus before He was 12 years of age. They depict Jesus as an extraordinary but by no means a lovable child. Unlike the miracles of the canonical Gospels those recorded in this gospel are mainly of a destructive nature and are whimsical and puerile in character. It rather shocks one to read them as recorded of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The wonder-worker is described by Renan as "un gamin omnipotent et omniscient," wielding the power of the Godhead with a child's waywardness and petulance. Instead of being subject to His parents He is a serious trouble to them; and instead of growing in wisdom He is represented as forward and eager to teach. His instructors, and to be omniscient from the beginning. The parents of one of the children whose death He had caused entreat Joseph, "Take away that Jesus of thine from this place for he cannot dwell with us in this town; or at least teach him to bless and not to curse." Three or four miracles of a beneficent nature are mentioned; and in the Latin gospel when Jesus was in Egypt and in his third year, it is written (chapter 1), "And seeing boys playing he began to play with them, and he took a dried fish and put it into a basin and ordered it to move about. And it began to move about.

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1. Scope of This Article

2. The Gospels in Church Tradition


1. Nature of the Problem

2. Proposed Solutions

(1) Oral Gospel

(2) Mutual Use

(3) Hypothesis of Sources

(4) Other Sources


1. The Problem not Solely a Literary One

2. Influence of Oral Instruction


1. Range of Apostolic Witness

2. Bearing on Order

3. Time of Happenings


1. Return to Earlier Dating

2. The Material Still Older


1. The Jewish and Christian Messiah

2. Originality of the Christian Conception

3. The Messianic Hope



1. The Ethics of Jesus

2. Jesus as Thinker



I. Introductory.

1. Scope of Article:

The present article is confined to the consideration of the relations and general features of the first 3 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke)-ordinarily named "the Synoptic Gospels," because, in contrast with the Fourth Gospel, they present, as embodying a common tradition, the same general view of the life and teaching of Jesus during His earthly ministry, and of His death and resurrection. The Fourth Gospel, in itself and in its relation to the Synoptics, with the Johannine literature and theology generally, are treated in special articles.


2. The Gospels in Church Tradition:

The place of the Gospels in church tradition is secure. Eusebius places the 4 Gospels among the books that were never disputed in the church (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 25). It is acknowledged that by the end of the 2nd century these 4 Gospels, and none else, ascribed to the authors whose names they bear, were in universal circulation and undisputed use throughout the church, stood at the head of church catalogues and of all VSS, were freely used, not only by the Fathers of the church (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement, Origen, etc.), but by pagans and heretics, and by these also were ascribed to the disciples of Christ as their authors. Justin Martyr, in the middle of the century, freely quotes from "Memoirs of the Apostles," "which are called Gospels," "composed by the apostles and those that followed them" (1 Apol. 66-67; Dial. with Trypho, 10, 100, 103). What these Gospels were is made apparent by the Diatessaron, or Harmony of Four, of his disciple Tatian (circa 170), constructed from the 4 Gospels we possess. The first to mention Matthew and Mark by name is Papias of Hierapolis (circa 120-30; in Euseb., HE, III, 39). Dr. Sanday is disposed to carry back the extracts from Papias to about 100 A.D. (Fourth Gospel, 151); Dr. Moffatt likewise says, "These explanations of Matthew and Mark must have been in circulation by the end of the 1st century" (Introduction to Lit. of New Testament, 187). The gist of the testimony of Papias is: "Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though he did not record in order, that which was either said or done by Christ"; "Matthew composed the Oracles (Logia) in Hebrew (Aramaic), and each one interpreted them as he was able." Eusebius evidently took what he quotes about Matthew and Mark from Papias to refer to our present Gospels, but a problem arises as to the relation of the Aramaic "Logia" said to be composed by Matthew to our canonical Greek Gospel, which was the only Gospel of Matthew known to the early Fathers. There is no ground for the supposition that the Jewish-Christian GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE HEBREWS (which see) was the original of the Greek Matthew; it was on the other hand derived from it. The Gnostic Marcion used a mutilated Luke. Compare further, below on dating, and for details see special articles on the respective Gospels; also BIBLE; CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.

II. The Synoptic Problem.

1. Nature of the Problem:

Arising from their peculiar nature, there has always been a Synoptic problem, ever since the 3 Gospels appeared together in the Canon of the New Testament. No one could read these Gospels consecutively with attention, without being aware of the resemblances and differences in their contents. Each writer sets forth his own account without reference to the other two, and, with the partial exception of Luke (1:1-4), does not tell his readers anything about the sources of his Gospel. A problem thus arose as to the relations of the three to one another, and the problem, though it approaches a solution, is not yet solved. A history of the Synoptic problem will be found in outline in many recent works; the most elaborate and best is in Zahn's Introduction, III. In it Zahn briefly indicates what the problem was as it presented itself to the church in the earlier centuries, and gives in detail the history of the discussion from the time of Lessing (1778) to the present day. It is not possible within the limits of this article to refer otherwise than briefly to these discussions, but it may be remarked that, as the discussion went on, large issues were raised; every attempt at solution seemed only to add to the difficulty of finding an adequate one; and at length it was seen that no more complex problem was ever set to literary criticism than that presented by the similarities and differences of the Synoptic Gospels.

2. Proposed Solutions:

Of the hypotheses which seek to account for these resemblances and differences, the following are the most important.

(1) Oral Gospel:

The hypothesis of oral tradition: This theory has rather fallen into disfavor among recent critics. Dr. Stanton, e.g., says, "The relations between the first 3 Gospels cannot be adequately explained simply by the influence of oral tradition" (Gospels as Historical Documents, II, 17; similarly Moffatt, in the work quoted 180). Briefly stated, theory is this. It assumes that each of the evangelists wrote independently of the others, and derived the substance of his writing, not from written sources, but from oral narratives of sayings and doings of Jesus, which, through dint of repetition, had assumed a relatively fixed form. The teaching of the apostles, first given in Jerusalem, repeated in the catechetical schools (compare Luke 1:4, the Revised Version (British and American)), and entrusted to the trained memories of the Christian converts, is held to be sufficient to account for the phenomena of the 3 Gospels. The oral Gospel took its essential form in Palestine, and written editions of it would by and by appear in more or less complete form (Luke 1:1). The first distinguished advocate of the oral hypothesis was Gieseler (1818). It was upheld in Britain by Alford and Westcott, and is today advocated, with modifications, by Dr. A. Wright in his Synopsis of the Gospels in Greek (2nd edition, 1908).

(2) Mutual Use:

As old as Augustine, this hypothesis, which assumes the use of one of the Gospels by the other two, has been frequently advocated by scholars of repute in the history of criticism. There have been many variations of theory. Each of the 3 Gospels has been put first, each second, and each third, and each in turn has been regarded as the source of the others. In fact, all possible permutations (6 in number) have been exhausted. As the hypothesis has few advocates at the present day, it is not necessary to give a minute account of these permutations and combinations. Two of them which may be regarded as finally excluded are

(a) those which put Luke first; and

(b) those which put Mark last (the view of Augustine; in modern times, of F. Baur and the Tubingen school).

(3) Hypothesis of Sources:

This is theory which may be said to hold the field at the present time. The tendency in criticism is toward the acceptance of two main sources for the Synoptic Gospels.

(a) One source is a Gospel like, if not identical with, the canonical Gospel of Mark. As regards this 2nd Gospel there is a consensus of opinion that it is prior to the other two, and the view that the 2nd and 3rd used it as a source is described as the one solid result of literary criticism. Eminent critics of various schools of thought are agreed on this point (compare W.C. Allen, Matthew, Pref. vii; F.C. Burkitt, Gospel History and Its Transmission, 37). It has been shown that most of the contents of Mark have been embodied in the other two, that the order of events in Mark has been largely followed by Matthew and Luke, and that the departures from the style of Mark can be accounted for by the hypothesis of editorial amendment.

(b) The other source (now commonly named Q) is found first by an examination of the matter not contained in the 2nd Gospel, which is common to Matthew and Luke. While there are differences as to the extent and character of the 2nd source, there is something like general agreement as to its existence. It is not agreed as to whether this source contained narratives of events, as well as sayings, or whether it was a book of sayings alone (the former is thought to be the more probable view), nor is it agreed as to whether it contained an account of the Passion week (on the differing views of the extent of Q, see Moffatt, op. cit., 197); but while disagreement exists as to these and other points, the tendency, as said, is to accept a "two-source" theory in some form as the only sufficient account of the phenomena of the Gospels.

(4) Other Sources:

To make the source-theory probable, some account must be taken of other sources beyond the two enumerated above. Both the 1st and the 3rd Gospels contain material not borrowed from these sources. There is the fore-history of Matthew 1:2, which belongs to that Gospel alone, with other things likewise recorded by Matthew (9:27-34; 12:22; 14:28-33; 17:24, etc.). Then not only has Luke a fore-history (chapters 1; 2), but a large part of his Gospel consists of material found nowhere else (e.g. 7:11-16, 36-50; 10:25; parables in chapters 15; 16; 18:1-14, etc.). This Sondergut of Matthew and Luke will be more appropriately treated in the articles which deal with these Gospels respectively. Here it is sufficient to point out that the criticism of the Synoptic Gospels is not complete till it has found a probable source

(a) for what is common to them all,

(b) for what is common to any two of them, and

(c) for what is peculiar to each.

The literature on the subject is so voluminous that only a few references can be given. In addition to those named, the following works may suffice to set forth the present condition of the Synoptic problem: B. Weiss, Introduction to New Testament, and other works; Harnack, Luke the Physician, The Sayings of Jesus, The Acts of the Apostles, Date of the Acts of the Apostles and of the Synoptic Gospels (English translations); Wellhausen, Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien, and works on each of the Synoptic Gospels, especially Studies in the Synoptic Problem, edited by Dr. Sanday.

III. Literary Analysis and Oral Tradition.

1. The Problem Not Solely a Literary One:

Looked at merely as a problem of literary analysis, it is scarcely possible to advance farther than has been done in the works of Harnack, of Sanday and his co-adjutors, and of Stanton, referred to above. The work done has been of the most patient and persevering kind. No clue has been neglected, no labor has been spared, and the interrelations of the three Gospels have been almost exhaustively explored. Yet the problem remains unsolved. For it must not be forgotten that the materials of the Synoptic Gospels were in existence before they assumed a written form. Literary analysis is apt to forget this obvious fact, and to proceed by literary comparison alone. The Gospel was confessedly at first and for some years a spoken Gospel, and this fact has to be taken into account in any adequate attempt to understand the phenomena. It is not enough to say with Dr. Stanton that "the relations of the first three Gospels cannot be adequately explained simply by the influence of oral tradition"; for the question arises, Can the relations between the first three Gospels be explained simply by the results of literary analysis, be it as exhaustive and thorough as it may? Let it be granted that literary analysis has accomplished a great deal; that it has almost compelled assent to the two-source hypothesis; that it has finally made good the priority of Mk; that it has made out a probable source consisting mainly of sayings of Jesus, yet many problems remain which literary analysis cannot touch, at least has not touched. There is the problem of the order of events in the Gospels, which is so far followed by all three. How are we to account for that sequence? Is it sufficient to say, as some do, that Mark set the style of the Gospel narrative, and that the others so far followed that style? All Gospels must follow the method set by Mark, so it is affirmed. But if that is the case, how did Matthew and Luke depart from that copy by writing a fore-history? Why did they compile a genealogy? Why did they give so large a space to the sayings of Jesus, and add so much not contained in the Gospel which, on the hypothesis, set the pattern of what a Gospel ought to be? These questions cannot be answered on the hypothesis that the others simply followed a fashion set by Mark. Sometimes the 2nd Gospel is described as if it were suddenly launched on the Christian world; as if no one had ever heard of the story contained in it before Mark wrote it. From the nature of the case, it is obvious that the church had knowledge of many of the facts in the life of Christ, and was in possession of much of His teaching before any of the Gospels were written. So much is plain from the Epistles of Paul. How many facts about Jesus, and how much of His teaching may be gathered from these epistles, we do not inquire at present. But we do learn much from Paul about the historical Jesus.

2. Influence of Oral Instruction:

The Christian church in its earlier form arose out of the teaching, example and influence of the apostles at Jerusalem. It was based on apostolic testimony as to the life, character, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That testimony told the church what Jesus had done, what He had taught, and of the belief of the apostles as to what He was, and what He continued to be. We read that the early church "continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship" (Acts 2:42). The "teaching" consisted of reminiscences of the Lord, of interpretations of the facts about Jesus and of agreements between these and the Old Testament. The first instruction given to the church was oral. Of this fact there can be no doubt. How long oral teaching continued we may not say, but it is likely that it continued as long as the apostles dwelt together at Jerusalem. To them an appeal could constantly be made. There was also the strictly catechetical teaching given to the converts, and this teaching would be given after the manner to which they had been accustomed in their earlier education. It consisted mainly in committing accurately to memory, and in repetition from memory (see CATECHIST; CATECHUMEN). There would thus be a stricter tradition, as it was taught in the catechetical classes, and a looser tradition which consisted of as much as the people could carry with them from the preaching of the apostles at the weekly assemblies. Those, besides, who were present at the day of Pentecost, and others present at the feasts at Jerusalem, who had passed under Christian influence, would carry with them on their return to their homes some knowledge of the life and death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. It may have been a meager Gospel that these carried with them to Antioch, to Rome, or to other cities in which the diaspora dwelt. But that they did carry a Gospel with them is plain, for from their testimony arose the church at Antioch, where the Christians had without question a knowledge of the Gospel, which informed their faith and guided their action.

IV. Order of Events and Time of Happenings in the Synoptic Gospels.

1. Range of Apostolic Witness:

It is known from Acts that the main topic of the preaching of the apostles was the resurrection of the Lord. "With great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 4:33). It is evident, however, that the apostolic witness would not be limited to the events of the Passion week, or to the fact of the resurrection. There would arise a thirst for information regarding the life of Jesus, what He had done, what He had said, what manner of life He had lived, and what teaching He had given. Accounts of Him and of His work would be given by the apostles, and once these accounts were given, they would continue to be given in the same form. Tell a story to a child and he will demand that it be always given in the form in which he first knew it. Hearers of a story are impatient of variations in the subsequent telling of it. Memory is very tenacious and very conservative.

2. Bearing on Order:

It is clear that the first lessons of the apostles were accounts of the Passion week, and of the resurrection. But it went backward to events and incidents in the life of Jesus, and as we read the Synoptic Gospels, we soon see that the order was dictated by the events themselves. They are grouped together for no other reason than that they happened so. Most of the incidents are hung on a geographical thread. In the 2nd Gospel, which seems to preserve most faithfully the traditional order, this is obvious to every attentive reader; but in all the 3 Gospels many of the narratives go in well-established cycles. To take only one illustration, where many might be instanced, the healing of the woman with the issue of blood is represented as occurring in the course of the walk to the house of Jairus (Mark 5:21). The only explanation is that this was the actual mode of its happening. Events happened, incidents arose, in the course of the journeys of Jesus and His disciples, words were also spoken, and in the memories of the disciples, when the journey was recalled, there arose also what had happened in the course of the journey. In fact, as we follow the journey through Galilee, to the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, through Samaria, down the valley of the Jordan, through Jericho to Jerusalem, we find that the grouping of the material of the Gospels is determined by the facts. Most of what is recorded happened in the course of the journeys, and was borne in the memories of the disciples in the order of its happening. The order, then, is not arbitrary, nor is it the product of reflection; it is the outcome of the facts. It is true that in pursuance of their several plans, Luke sometimes, Matthew frequently, deserts the order of Mark, but it is noteworthy that they never do so together. As Professor Burkitt says, "Matthew and Luke never agree against Mark in transposing a narrative. Luke sometimes deserts the order of Mark, and Matthew often does so; but in these cases Mark is always supported by the remaining Gospel" (op. cit., 36). In Matthew, after 19:1, the events follow each other quite as in Mark.

3. Time of Happenings:

When one studies the rather kaleidoscopic political geography of Palestine in the first 40 years of our era, he will find many confirmations of the historic situation in the Synoptic Gospels. The birth of Jesus was in the time of Herod the Great, when the whole of Palestine was under one government. After the death of Herod, Palestine was under several rulers. Archelaus had possession of Judea until the year 9 A.D. Galilee was under Herod Antipas until the year 37, and the tetrarchy of Philip had a distinct government of its own. About the year 40 Palestine was again under one government under Herod Agrippa. Now it is clear that the events of the Gospels happened while Herod Antipas ruled in Galilee and Peraea, and while Pilate was procurator in Judea (see CHRONOLOGY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, and JESUS CHRIST). Nor is the significance of this environment exhausted by the reference to the time. As Professor Burkitt has shown (op. cit., in his chapter entitled "Jesus in Exile"), in the itinerary recorded in Mark 5, the parts avoided are the dominions of Herod Antipas. It is said in Mark 3:6, "And the Pharisees went out, and straightway with the Herodians took counsel against him, how they might destroy him." The significance of this alliance between the Pharisees and the Herodians is well drawn out by Professor Burkitt in the work cited above. It is simply noted by Mark, and on it the evangelist makes no remark. But the conspiracy had a great effect on the work of Jesus. A little later we find Jesus no more in any of the synagogues. He devotes Himself to the training of the Twelve, and is outside of the dominions of Herod Antipas. It is not to be forgotten that during these months Jesus is an exile from His own land, and it was during that period of exile that the issue of His work became clear to Him, and from the time of the great confession at Caesarea-Philippi He began to tell His disciples of the decease that He should accomplish at Jerusalem (Matthew 16:13 ff parallel).

V. Dating of the Synoptic Gospels.

1. Return to Earlier Dating:

The question as to the dates at which the Synoptic Gospels appear in a published form may more suitably be dealt with in connection with the articles on the separate Gospels. It need only be observed here that opinion is tending toward much earlier dates than were common till lately. By all but extreme writers it is now admitted that the first 3 Gospels fall well within the limits of the apostolic age. In the Preface to his work on Luke (1906), Harnack reminded his readers that 10 years before he had told them that "in the criticism of the sources of the oldest Christianity we are in a movement backward to tradition." The dates he formerly favored were, for Mark between 65 and 70 A.D., for Matthew between 70 and 75, for Luke between 78 and 23. Harnack's more recent pronouncement as to the date of Acts, which he states with all the emphasis of italics, "It seems now to be established beyond question that both books of this great historical work were written while Paul was yet alive" (Date of the Acts and the Synoptic Gospels, 124, English translation), must have a determining influence on critical opinion. If Acts were written during the lifetime of Paul (compare Acts 28:30 ff), then the 3rd Gospel must have been written earlier. It is likely that Luke had all his material in hand during the imprisonment of Paul at Caesarea. If he made use of the 2nd Gospel, then Mark must have had a still earlier date, and the whole problem of the dating of the Gospels is revolutionized. The essential thing is that the 3 Gospels were probably written and published before the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.). There is nothing in their contents that makes this view untenable.

2. The Material Still Older:

It is still to be remembered, however, that the materials of which the Gospels are composed existed before they were put into a written form. Every discussion must take note of that fact. The literature of the New Testament presupposes just such accounts of the life of Jesus as we find in the Synoptic Gospels, and readers of the Gospels have a right to rest on their veracity and sufficiency as accounts of Jesus, of what He was, what He said, and what He did. They are their own best witnesses.

VI. The Messianic Idea in Its Bearings on Historicity of the Gospels.

1. The Jewish and the Christian Messiah:

In a striking passage in his Das Evangelium Marci (65, 66), Wellhausen vividly sets forth the significant contrast between the Jewish and the Christian conceptions of the Messiah. We quote the words, notwithstanding the fact that Wellhausen does not regard the passage, Mark 8:31 ff, as historical. With him what is set forth there is not the figure of the historical Jesus, but a picture of the persecuted church.

"The confession of Peter, `Thou art the Messiah,' affords," he says, "the occasion for the setting forth of what up to this time was latent. He has elicited the confession and accepted it. Nevertheless, He accepts it with a correction; a correction that follows as a matter of course. He is not the Messiah who will restore the kingdom of Israel, but another Messiah altogether. Not to set up the kingdom does He go to Jerusalem, but He goes in order to be crucified. Through sorrow and death He goes into glory, and only by this way can others also enter. The kingdom of God is no Judaistic kingdom; the kingdom is destined only for some chosen individuals, for disciples. The thought of the possibility of a metanoia of the people has wholly disappeared. Into the place of a command to repent addressed to all steps the command to follow, and that can be obeyed only by a very few. The conception of following loses now its proper forces and takes a higher meaning. It does not mean what it meant up to this time, namely, to accompany and to follow Him during His lifetime; it overflows that meaning; one is to follow Him even unto death. The following is an imitatio possible only after His death, and this is to be attained only by a very few. One must bear his cross after Him.. The situation of the oldest congregation and its tone is here foreshadowed by Jesus as He goes to meet his fate."

A similar passage occurs in the Einleitung, which ends with the significant sentence, "All these are noteworthy signs of the time in which He takes His standpoint" (81).

2. Originality of the Christian Conception:

Elsewhere Wellhausen admits that the sections of the Gospels following the scene at Caesarea-Philippi contain what was known as the distinctive Gospel of the apostolic church. But this Gospel owed its origin to the apostolic church itself. It is a question of the highest importance, and the answer cannot be determined by mere literary criticism: Is the Christian conception of the Messiah due to Jesus? or is it due to the reflection of the church? Which is the more probable? It is agreed, Wellhausen being witness, that the Christian conception was subversive of the Jewish outlook, that the two were in contradiction in many ways. One can understand the Christian conception, and its triumph over the Jewish among the Christian people, if it had been set forth by the Master; but it is unintelligible as a something which originated in the congregation itself. The conception of a crucified Messiah, of a suffering Saviour, was a conception which was, during the years of His earthly ministry, in the mind of Jesus alone. It was not in the minds of the disciples, until He had risen from the dead. And it was not in the minds of His contemporaries. But it was the ruling conception in the Jerusalem church as it is in the Epistles of Paul. No: the conception of the suffering Saviour was not the invention of the church, nor did it rise from her thought of her own needs; it was a gift to her from the suffering and risen Lord. Not without a great impulse, nor without a strong source of persuasion, do men displace notions which they have cherished for generations, and substitute notions which are contradictory and subversive of those fiercely and firmly held.

We take these chapters therefore as historical, and as descriptive of the historical Jesus. If we can do so, then the matter is intelligible, not otherwise. It is also to be observed in this relation that the needs of the church are new needs. There is no provision in the New Testament for the needs of the natural man. The critical view often puts the cart before the horse, and this is one illustration of the fact. The needs of the church are the creation of Christ. They are new needs, or needs only imperfectly felt by humanity before Jesus came.

3. The Messianic Hope:

Be the needs of the church as great as they may, they are not creative; they are only responsive to the higher call. Nor is it a possible hypothesis that lies at the basis of the criticism of Wellhausen and of many others. Since the time of Baur it has often been said or assumed that it was the Messianic hope that gave concreteness to Christianity; that through the prevalence of the Messianic hope, Christianity was enabled to enter on its career of victory. This is another case of the husteron proteron. It is the historical Jesus that has given concreteness and definiteness to the Messianic conceptions which were current in His time. Because at the heart of the Christian conception there was this concrete gracious figure, and because of the commanding influence of Jesus Christ, this form of Messianism entered into human life, flourished and endured, and is with us today. Other forms of Messianism have only an antiquarian value. They may be discussed as of literary interest, but their practical significance is as nothing. No doubt Messianic categories were ransacked by the church to see if they could be used in order more fully to set forth the significance of Jesus Christ. But the essence of the matter did not lie in them but in Him, whom they had known, loved and served. It is time that a newer critical assumption should be found than the obsolete, worn-out one that the church invented the Christ. We know a little of the early church, and we know its immaturity and its limitations. We have learned something, too, of the Jews at the time of our Lord, and we note that in the Gospels their limitations have been transcended, their immaturity has been overcome, and how? By the fact of Christ. He is so great that He must be real. VII. The Old Testament in Its Bearing on the Synoptic Gospels.

It is always to be remembered that the Old Testament was the Bible of the early Christians. They accepted it as the Word of God, and as authoritative for the guidance of life and conduct. It is one thing to admit and assert this; it is another thing to say that the story of the Old Testament molded and directed the story of Jesus as it is in the Synoptic Gospels. This has been widely asserted, but without adequate proof. As a matter of fact Christianity, when it accepted the Old Testament as the word of God, interpreted it in a fashion which had not been accented before. It interpreted it in the light of Jesus Christ. Tendencies, facts, meanings, which had been in the Old Testament came into light, and the Bible of the Christians was a Bible which testified of Christ. That on which the Jews laid stress passed into the background, and that which they had neglected came into prominence. This view is set forth by Paul: "Unto this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lieth upon their heart" (2 Corinthians 3:15). Or as it is put in Luke, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Behooved it not the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into his glory?" (24:25). In the Christian interpretation stress was laid on meanings which Jewish readers had neglected, and so the church read the Old Testament in the new light, and things formerly hidden leaped into view.

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630. apoluo -- to set free, release
... The Bible never contradicts itself and hence "the divorce passages" in the Gospels
uttered by Jesus (following on fornication) are not contrary to the ...
//strongsnumbers.com/greek2/630.htm - 10k

2992. laos -- the people
... the Lord" (= Heb ). 2992 () is the usual term for "the of God" and thus
typically used in the (OT) and the Gospels, for (). : Heb 4 ...
//strongsnumbers.com/greek2/2992.htm - 7k

2541. Kaisar -- Caesar, a Roman emperor
... Caesar Definition: Caesar, a surname of the gens Iulia, which became practically
synonymous with the Emperor for the time being; in the Gospels it always ...
//strongsnumbers.com/greek2/2541.htm - 6k

4102. pistis -- faith, faithfulness
... 7:31, 12:42 and 4102/ ("believe"). As in the Gospels, a person's believing
(belief) is vital (cf. Heb 11:6). But a personal encounter ...
//strongsnumbers.com/greek2/4102.htm - 18k


the harmony of the gospels
the harmony of the gospels. <. the harmony of the gospels Saint Augustine.
Table of Contents. Title Page. the harmony of the gospels. ...
//christianbookshelf.org/augustine/the harmony of the gospels/

Why Four Gospels?
Why Four Gospels? . Why Four Gospels? Arthur W. Pink. Table of Contents. Title
Page. Foreword. Introduction. The Gospel of Matthew. The Gospel of Mark. ...
//christianbookshelf.org/pink/why four gospels/

The Harmony of the Gospels.
fulfilment, [207]93, etc. Adoption, nature of, [208]104. ...
/.../sermons on selected lessons of the new testament/the harmony of the gospels.htm

The Gospels in General
... The Gospels in General. THE TITLE OF THE GOSPELS The shortest ... salvation. This
meaning is also retained in the title of the gospels. The ...
/.../drummond/introduction to the new testament/the gospels in general.htm

The Study of the Gospels is the First Fruits Offered by These ...
... Book I. 4. The Study of the Gospels is the First Fruits Offered by These
Priests of Christianity. Now our whole activity is devoted ...
/.../origen/origens commentary on the gospel of john/4 the study of the.htm

The Harmony of the Gospels
... Part I. Preparatory III The Harmony of the Gospels. 36. The church early
appreciated the value and the difficulty of having four ...
/.../rhees/the life of jesus of nazareth/iii the harmony of the.htm

On the Authority of the Gospels.
the harmony of the gospels. <. ... the harmony of the gospels.Book
I. Chapter I."On the Authority of the Gospels. 1. In ...
/.../augustine/the harmony of the gospels/chapter i on the authority of.htm

The Harmony of the Gospels. Book I.
the harmony of the gospels. <. ... the harmony of the gospels.Book I.
The treatise opens with a short statement on the subject ...
/.../augustine/the harmony of the gospels/the harmony of the gospels book.htm

The Gospels
... CHAPTER II THE GOSPELS. ... The plural word euaggelia, signifying the Four Gospels,
is first found in a writing of Justin Martyr,[1] about AD152. ...
/.../pullan/the books of the new testament/chapter ii the gospels.htm

Literature on the Gospels.
... CHAPTER XII. THE NEW TESTAMENT. Section 77. Literature on the Gospels. I. Harmonies
of the Gospels. They begin with Tatian's Diatessaron, ad170. ...
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Smith's Bible Dictionary

The name Gospel (from god and spell , Ang. Sax. good message or news , which is a translation of the Greek euaggelion) is applied to the four inspired histories of the life and teaching of Christ contained in the New Testament, of which separate accounts are given in their place. They were all composed during the latter half of the first century: those of St. Matthew and St. Mark some years before the destruction of Jerusalem; that of St. Luke probably about A.D. 64; and that of St. John towards the close of the century. Before the end of the second century, there is abundant evidence that the four Gospels, as one collection, were generally used and accepted. As a matter of literary history, nothing can be better established than the genuineness of the Gospels. On comparing these four books one with another, a peculiar difficulty claims attention, which has had much to do with the controversy as to their genuineness. In the fourth Gospel the narrative coincided with that of the other three in a few passages only. The received explanation is the only satisfactory one namely, that John, writing last, at the close of the first century had seen the other Gospels, and purposely abstained from writing anew what they had sufficiently recorded. In the other three Gospels there is a great amount of agreement. If we suppose the history that they contain to be divided into 89 sections, in 42 of these all the three narratives coincide, 12 more are given by Matthew and Mark only, 5 by Mark and Luke only, and 14 by Matthew and Luke. To these must be added 5 peculiar to Matthew, 2 to Mark and 9 to Luke, and the enumeration is complete. But this applies only to general coincidence as to the facts narrated: the amount of verbal coincidence, that is, the passages either verbally the same or coinciding in the use of many of the same words, is much smaller. It has been ascertained by Stroud that "if the total contents of the several Gospels be represented by 100, the following table is obtained: Matthew has 42 peculiarities and 58 coincidences. Mark has 7 peculiarities and 93 coincidences. Luke has 59 peculiarities and 41 coincidences. John has 92 peculiarities and 8 coincidences. Why four Gospels. --

  1. To bring four separate independent witnesses to the truth.
  2. It is to give the Lord's life from every point of view, four living portraits of one person. There were four Gospels because Jesus was to be commended to four races or classes of men, or to four phases of human thought,--the Jewish, Roman, Greek and Christian. Had not these exhausted the classes to be reached, there would doubtless have been more Gospels. In all ages, the Jewish, Roman and Greek natures reappear among men, and, in fact, make up the world of natural men, while the Christian nature and wants likewise remain essentially the same. The FIRST GOSPEL was prepared by Matthew for the Jew. He gives us the Gospel of Jesus, the Messiah of the Jews, the Messianic royalty of Jesus. He places the life and character of Jesus, as lived on earth, alongside the life and character of the Messiah, as sketched in the prophets, showing Christianity as the fulfillment of Judaism. Mark wrote the SECOND GOSPEL. It was substantially the preaching of Peter to the Romans. The Gospel for him must represent the character and career of Jesus from the Roman point of view, as answering to the idea of divine power, work, law, conquest and universal sway; must retain its old significance and ever-potent inspiration at the battle-call of the almighty Conqueror. Luke wrote the THIRD GOSPEL in Greece for the Greek. It has its basis in the gospel which Paul and Luke, by long preaching to the Greeks, had already thrown into the form best suited to commend to their acceptance Jesus as the perfect divine man. It is the gospel of the future, of progressive Christianity, of reason and culture seeking the perfection of manhood. John, "the beloved disciple," wrote the FOURTH GOSPEL for the Christian, to cherish and train those who have entered the new kingdom of Christ, into the highest spiritual life. --Condensed from, Prof. Gregory.
Easton's Bible Dictionary
The central fact of Christian preaching was the intelligence that the Saviour had come into the world (Matthew 4:23; Romans 10:15); and the first Christian preachers who called their account of the person and mission of Christ by the term evangelion_ (= good message) were called _evangelistai (= evangelists) (Ephesians 4:11; Acts 21:8).

There are four historical accounts of the person and work of Christ: "the first by Matthew, announcing the Redeemer as the promised King of the kingdom of God; the second by Mark, declaring him `a prophet, mighty in deed and word'; the third by Luke, of whom it might be said that he represents Christ in the special character of the Saviour of sinners (Luke 7:36; 15:18); the fourth by John, who represents Christ as the Son of God, in whom deity and humanity become one. The ancient Church gave to Matthew the symbol of the lion, to Mark that of a man, to Luke that of the ox, and to John that of the eagle: these were the four faces of the cherubim" (Ezek. 1:10).

Date. The Gospels were all composed during the latter part of the first century, and there is distinct historical evidence to show that they were used and accepted as authentic before the end of the second century.

Mutual relation. "If the extent of all the coincidences be represented by 100, their proportionate distribution will be: Matthew, Mark, and Luke, 53; Matthew and Luke, 21; Matthew and Mark, 20; Mark and Luke, 6. Looking only at the general result, it may be said that of the contents of the synoptic Gospels [i.e., the first three Gospels] about two-fifths are common to the three, and that the parts peculiar to one or other of them are little more than one-third of the whole."

Origin. Did the evangelists copy from one another? The opinion is well founded that the Gospels were published by the apostles orally before they were committed to writing, and that each had an independent origin. (see MATTHEW, GOSPEL OF.)

... The Gospels were all composed during the latter part of the first century, and there
is distinct historical evidence to show that they were used and accepted ...
/g/gospels.htm - 73k

Parable (52 Occurrences)
... Matthew 13:13. The parables uttered by our Lord are all recorded in the
synoptical (ie, the first three) Gospels. The fourth Gospel ...
/p/parable.htm - 38k

Evangelist (2 Occurrences)
... The writers of the four Gospels are known as the Evangelists. Noah Webster's Dictionary.
(n.) A missionary preacher; a bringer of the good news. ...
/e/evangelist.htm - 23k

... Testament. In more than one dialect we have apocryphal gospels (see Texts
and Studies, IV, number 2, 1896) and Gnostic papyri, etc. ...
/c/coptic.htm - 11k

... Standard Bible Encyclopedia. SPURIOUS, ACTS, EPISTLES, GOSPELS. spa'-ri-us. See
/s/spurious.htm - 7k

... For some time it was restricted to sayings of Christ not recorded in the Gospels
and believed to have reached the sources in which they are found by means of ...
/a/agrapha.htm - 21k

/e/endirons.htm - 8k

Childhood (10 Occurrences)
... Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia. CHILDHOOD, GOSPELS OF THE. child'-hood. See
/c/childhood.htm - 10k

Antichrist (4 Occurrences)
... IN THE NEW TESTAMENT 1. The Gospels 2. Pauline Epistles 3. Johannine Epistles
4. Book of Revelation III. IN APOCALYPTIC WRITINGS IV. ...
/a/antichrist.htm - 26k

Testament Gospels or Whole New Testament? 2. Old Testament ...
/v/vulgate.htm - 38k



Gospels of the Childhood

Related Terms

Parable (52 Occurrences)

Evangelist (2 Occurrences)





Childhood (10 Occurrences)

Antichrist (4 Occurrences)


Syriac (2 Occurrences)




Thomas (12 Occurrences)





Capernaum (16 Occurrences)

Latin (2 Occurrences)

Matthew (5 Occurrences)


Borrowing (1 Occurrence)

Text (5 Occurrences)



Zenas (1 Occurrence)

Fullness (31 Occurrences)

Twelve (176 Occurrences)

Ear (670 Occurrences)


Disciple (38 Occurrences)

Bartholomew (4 Occurrences)

Brethren (528 Occurrences)

Carpenter (4 Occurrences)

Centurion (22 Occurrences)

Agony (20 Occurrences)

Pilate (60 Occurrences)

Adam (29 Occurrences)

Herodians (3 Occurrences)

Church (110 Occurrences)

Pontius (4 Occurrences)

Golgotha (4 Occurrences)

Holy (1097 Occurrences)


Spirit (706 Occurrences)


Virgin (62 Occurrences)

Malefactor (2 Occurrences)

Boats (11 Occurrences)

Abstinence (2 Occurrences)

Ships (46 Occurrences)

Ascension (1 Occurrence)

Birth (357 Occurrences)

Simon (75 Occurrences)



Introduction (3 Occurrences)

Lord (59401 Occurrences)

Arrest (22 Occurrences)

Trial (45 Occurrences)

Sermon (1 Occurrence)

Scribes (85 Occurrences)

Judgment (430 Occurrences)



Meal-time (1 Occurrence)

Mealtime (1 Occurrence)


Offices (14 Occurrences)

Meals (8 Occurrences)

Providence (3 Occurrences)

Luke (4 Occurrences)

Apostles (79 Occurrences)

Pharisees (86 Occurrences)

Life (6001 Occurrences)

According (7613 Occurrences)


Mary (50 Occurrences)

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