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What makes the four gospels different?

Age: the four canonical gospels are almost certainly older than other gospels which survive. In the opening of his gospel, however, Luke seems to indicate that there were even earlier accounts of Jesus' life. It remains therefore possible that gospels earlier than the four canonical gospels could be found (such identifications have sometimes been alleged). However, on present knowledge, these four appear to be the oldest surviving gospels.

IrenaeusChurch acceptance: it appears that the four gospels were accepted over a wide geographical range at least by the latter part of the second century. No similar level of acceptance is found for other gospels. Witnesses suggesting a four gospel collection in various areas are Tatian (ca. AD 172) in Syria, Irenaeus (ca. AD 185) in Gaul, and manuscript P45 (ca. 225) in Egypt.

Relationship to the Old Testament and Judaism: the four canonical gospels typically stand in closer relationship to the Old Testament and to Judaism than other gospels. This is because Christianity in its earliest stages related more closely to the Old Testament and to Judaism than it often did in its later expressions.

Literary relationship: the literary relationship between the four gospels and other gospels needs to be investigated on a case by case basis. A number of other gospels appear to show dependence on the four canonical ones. This is probable for the Egerton Gospel, the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Thomas, though some scholars have maintained the reverse relationship.

Historical value: arguments assessing the historical reliability of gospels needs to be considered on a case by case basis. However, gospels assigned dates in the second century or later have little, if any, information of historical value not also contained in other documents. The four canonical gospels remain our supreme sources for knowledge of the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. The choice of these four in general by the church had been made over a century beforehand.


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This new book argues that the four Gospels are closely based on eyewitness testimony of those who knew Jesus.

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The Gospel of Judas

by Simon Gathercole

`Judas' is synonymous with `traitor'. But a newly-discovered ancient text of the Gospel of Judas offers a picture of Judas Iscariot radically different from the Church's traditional understanding of him, and maintains that far from being the infamous betrayer, Judas was actually Jesus' trusted friend and the recipient of secret revelation. Simon Gathercole's new book includes a translation of the ancient Egyptian text of the Gospel of Judas and a running commentary, and offers new translations of all the ancient evidence about Judas Iscariot and the Gospel attributed to him... more



The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ

by Martin Hengel

How could the word, 'gospel', be used both by Paul for a proclamation which seems to include no narrative about the earthly Jesus, and by the author of the Gospel according to Mark and his successors, as a title works, which adopt an essentially narrative form? Why did the church, in forming its canon of scripture, choose to include four different and sometimes contradictory accounts of the life of Jesus, when others, like Tatian and Marcion, opted for a harmony, for one account? more


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