What Are the Gospels?

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What are the gospels? When and by whom were they written? Why are three of them considered synoptic?

´╗┐The gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, were inspired and created so that a written record existed regarding the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. God's Holy Spirit within the four writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, insured that their words were accurate and reflected the truth (John 14:26). The gospels, along with the book of Acts, compose the first of four major New Testament divisions found in the original canonized copy of the Bible.


Matthew is not only the first of the four gospels listed in the group, his writing is the earliest one included in the New Testament. Written in 35 A.D., it is the 40th book of the Bible and contains 28 chapters and 1,071 verses.

Matthew was born a Jew from the priestly tribe of Levi. He, and John, are the only two gospel writers among the original 12 disciples.


Mark, the second of the four gospels, was penned in 42 A.D. It contains only 16 chapters, the smallest of the four accounts, and has 678 verses. That said, its 14th chapter lists a whopping 72 verses!

Mark was an early Jewish convert to Christianity and the cousin of Barnabas. One of his roles in the church was as Apostle Peter's secretary (1Peter 5:13). Although Mark was not an eyewitness to Jesus' ministry, his close association to Peter along with internal evidence found in his book point to it really being authored by the apostle (Restoring the Original Bible, pp. 335 - 336).


Luke, the third of the four gospels, was finished in 59 A.D., the last of the four writers to complete his work. His manuscript was finalized roughly one year before he accompanied the Apostle Paul from Caesarea to Rome to be tried before the Emperor.

Luke, a physician, was a Gentile (pagan) convert to Christianity. He gained his insight into the life of Jesus through not only the Apostle Paul but also from eyewitness accounts (Luke 1:1 - 4) he collected.


Evidence suggests the main body of John's eyewitness account of Jesus' life was written in 42 A.D. The prologue and epilogue of his gospel and the finalizing of his text, likely took place at or shortly after 95 A.D. ("When was the New Testament written?" in The Holy Bible, A Faithful Version). His manuscript contains 21 chapters and 879 verses.

John's book, the last of the gospels, is considered the most spiritual of the four accounts as his focus is on Jesus' teachings to his disciples. His work offers the best overall timeline of Jesus' ministry as it records four separate Passover seasons.


The writings of Matthew, Mark and Luke are often referred to as the synoptic gospels. They are called synoptic because they share a roughly similar viewpoint and record many of the same events in the life of Jesus. John's book is different, however, in that it includes events and dialogues not referenced in the other three writings.

A large part of John's account focuses on the events and teachings that took place during Jesus' last week (see John 12 - 19). He also places a special emphasis on what was taught on the night on which Christ was betrayed (see chapters 13 to 17), the details of which the other authors lacked. It is for these and other reasons that John is not considered one of the synoptic gospels.

Did You Know . . .

Luke 1 has the most verses of any of the gospels with 80. Additionally, it is the fourth biggest Biblical chapter in terms of verses behind Psalm 119 (176 verses), Numbers 7 (89) and 1Chronicles 6 (81). His writing also has the distinction, with 25,944 words, of being bigger than any other New Testament book.

List of All Terms in
Dictionary of Biblical Words

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All statistics quoted in this article are based
on the King James translation (KJV).