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Gospel (from the Old English gōd spel, 'good' + 'tidings', 'news') means 'Good News. The word is used several times in the first chapter of Mark, the earliest of the books in the New Testament, once by Jesus himself in his first recorded saying: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (v. 15). A Gospel is now principally the name for the four narratives of the life and teaching of Jesus in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. They were originally circulated without names: only later did traditions develop that ascribed them to the Four Evangelists. Each is properly called 'The Gospel according to -' by Christians, as each is only a different account of the same single truth. The four are:

  • the Gospel according to St. Matthew - briefly, Matthew (written probably after 70, probably not by the Matthew (a tax-collector) mentioned at ix: 9, and written for a Jewish audience);
  • the Gospel according to St. Mark - briefly, Mark (apparently written between 65 and 70, probably by the Mark mentioned in Acts, while in Rome);
  • the Gospel according to St. Luke - briefly, Luke (dated to c. 80-85; possibly written by the companion of Saint Paul called Luke; written in a Gentile church); and
  • the Gospel according to St John - briefly, John. This appears to have been written after 100, possibly at Ephesus. (The Apostle John was believed to have lived into the reign of the Emperor Trajan (98-117)).

The adjectives meaning 'to do with Matthew/Mark/Luke/John' are, respectively, Matthean, Marcan, Lucan and Johannine.

AWE has a list of all the Books of the Bible.

The first three of the Gospels have a great deal in common. They are known as the Synoptic ('from the same point of view') Gospels. Of these, the common (earliest written) source appears to be Mark, although some give the priority to Matthew. There is also speculation that Matthew and Luke also shared a source, now lost. This hypothetical text is known as The Q text. John is often called the Fourth Gospel, because it is of separate origin, although it shows awareness of the Synoptic tradition.

There are also several Gospels that have not been accepted into the Christian canon, but are nevertheless of a similar age. These include the Gospel of Nicodemus (also called the Acts of Pilate), of the fourth century; the Gospel of the Infancy; the fifth century Gospel of Bartholomew; an earlier Gospel of Thomas, a collection of sayings of Jesus from the second century, claimed to have been written by the apostle Saint Thomas. Other, less famous, ones are the Infancy Gospel of James and the Gospel of Judas.

In informal English, gospel is slang for 'sincere', 'absolutely true' and such ideas: "I'll take my gospel oath on it" means 'I will swear most seriously that it is so', and "it's the gospel truth" that 'this is absolutely and undeniably true'. (Both these phrases are sometimes used by those who want to deceive.)

Etymological note: Gospel was a translation of the Latin bona adnuntiatio or bonum nuntium, a representation of the Greek εὐαγγέλιον, (euangelion). It is not - as it was interpreted in Old English almost as soon as it was first written, in the form godspel - 'the story of God'. It was, says OED, "doubtless originally gód spel ['good' + 'tidings']".