In the New Testament generally, the message of Christian salvation; in particular the four written accounts of the life of Jesus in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Although the first three give approximately the same account or synopsis (giving rise to the name ‘Synoptic Gospels’), their differences from John have raised problems for theologians.
The so-called fifth Gospel, or Gospel of St Thomas (not connected with the disciple Thomas), is a 2nd-century collection of 114 sayings of Jesus. It was found in a Coptic translation contained in a group of 13 papyrus codices, discovered in Upper Egypt in 1945, which may have formed the library of a Gnostic community (see Gnosticism).
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John describe the life and teaching of Jesus, although little is known of his early life before he was baptized by John the Baptist and became a preacher. The word gospel means ‘good news’, referring to the aim of early Christian writers to spread the ‘good news’ of the coming of Jesus and of his resurrection and its significance in saving people from sin.
Many of the accounts about the life of Jesus are repeated in two or more of the Gospels. For example, the stories about Jesus' birth (the nativity) can be found in Matthew and in Luke, but the accounts concentrate on different aspects of the story. The events of Jesus' last week, including the crucifixion and resurrection, appear in all four Gospels.
The Gospels were not written until at least 20 years after the death of Jesus, as the first Christians spread the ‘good news’ through preaching and by word of mouth. The need to make a written record arose when original witnesses and preachers began to grow old and die. It is generally accepted that St Mark's Gospel was the first to be written, around AD 60.
When a Gospel is being read during a church service, everyone in the church turns towards the Bible as a mark of respect.
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