What Is a Gospel, and Why Were the Canonical Gospels Written?

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What is a gospel, and why were the canonical gospels written?

What is a gospel?

A gospel is a narrative that describes the life of Jesus. The most commonly known gospels are the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The gospels are considered to be a revelation from God and are central to the Christianity belief system. To the first Christians it would have been a surprise to see a book called gospel as for them the word gospel would have meant to gospel message. The word gospel translates from Greek to ‘good news’. It must be regognised that when Matthew, Mark, Luke and John first appeared in writing, they were not labelled as gospels. That title was later added after they had all been collected together and each was seen as a commentary of a message of Jesus but told according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. (Wenham and Waltor, 2001)

It is important to fit the gospels into an appropriate genre in order to understand them. Hurtado says that a literary genre is a category or type of literature for example a bibliography or novel. He says that literary genres are not universal or static categories but they have developed and changed over time. In order to determine a writing’s genre we must look at the genres and literary conventions relevant to the era of the writings. Therefore, the question of the genres of the gospels must be addressed by examining their characteristics in comparison with the types of literature current in the Greco Roman setting.

Hurtado continues to say that the literary genre of the gospels involves two basic issues, the first being the literary nature of the canonical gospels as continuous prose narrative of Jesus’ ministry and their relationship to other early Christian writings. The second issue to consider is the relationship of the gospels to their Greco Roman literary setting. There are two practical purposes served in this discussion, firstly a better understanding of the place of the gospels in the...
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