History & Synopsis of the Four Gospels

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  • 0:01 What Are the Gospels?
  • 0:45 When Were They Written?
  • 1:43 Differences Between…
  • 2:49 Becoming the Official Gospels
  • 3:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

While the Holy Bible has hundreds of pages and dozens of books, four in particular are called the Gospels. This lesson explains what makes the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John so important in Christian belief.

What Are the Gospels?

For Christians, the Holy Bible is a sacred text. However, at the core of the Holy Bible are four accounts, known as the Gospels, that are the only books that tell of the life and times of the central figure in Christianity, Jesus Christ. These Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, therefore are among the most holy texts for Christians.

However, as with any ancient text, there are still many questions. Who wrote the Gospels? Why have four when you could only have one? And given many other ancient texts that claim to be gospels, how can we be really sure that these four books of the Bible are the most accurate recollections of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? This lesson will attempt to answer those questions.

When Were They Written?

Despite the fact that the Gospels go into a great bit of detail on the life and times of Jesus, not one of them was written during His life. In fact, the earliest Gospels were written within 40 years of the death of Jesus, making them quite early texts but meaning that the Letters of Paul predate them by two decades. The Letters of Paul are another important part of the New Testament written around 50 AD.

Modern scholars believe that the Gospels were written over the span of the next 50 years following the first Gospel, from 70 AD to 120 AD. Earlier tradition states that the texts were actually later, but it seems to make sense that the Gospels, or at least some of their sources, were written during this period. This is because of the fact that the Emperor Nero had made the new religion a target for expanded persecution. In the past, an oral record of the life of Jesus may have been sufficient, but with the immense pressure on the Christian community, now a written record that could survive imprisonment was preferable.

Differences Between the Gospels

Despite being all written at about the same time, there are significant differences between the Gospels. Each Gospel has examples that are not found in the other three. However, what is more shocking is that three of the Gospels actually have an incredible amount of overlap. While the Gospel of John is largely independent in content and style from the others, the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and Mark share a great deal in common. These three Gospels are known as the Synoptic Gospels.

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