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[M.E.,=good news; evangel from Gr.,= good news], a written account of the life of Jesus. Though the Gospels of the New Testament are all anonymous, since the 2d cent. they have been named MatthewMatthew, Gospel according to,
1st book of the New Testament. Scholars conjecture that it was written for the church at Antioch toward the end of the 1st cent. Traditonally regarded as the earliest Gospel, it is now generally accepted that it postdates the Gospel of St.
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, MarkMark, Gospel according to,
2d book of the New Testament. The shortest of the four Gospels and probably the earliest, it is usually thought to have been composed shortly before the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Tradition claims St. Mark as the author and St.
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, LukeLuke, Gospel according to Saint,
third book of the New Testament. It was composed in the second half of the 1st cent. Since the 2d cent. it and the Acts of the Apostles have been ascribed to St. Luke; Acts is sometimes considered a sequel to the Gospel.
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, and JohnJohn,
three letters of the New Testament. Traditionally, they are ascribed to John son of Zebedee, the disciple of Jesus. All three letters probably date to the end of the 1st cent. A.D., and may have been written as a corpus. First John is a homily.
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. The first three are called Synoptic GospelsSynoptic Gospels
[Gr. synopsis=view together], the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), considered as a unit. They bear greater similarity to each other than any of them does to John, which differs from them also in purpose.
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 because they agree in much of their subject matter, wording, and narrative order and so appear to be written from a common vantage point. Some PseudepigraphaPseudepigrapha
[Gr.,=things falsely ascribed], a collection of early Jewish and some Jewish-Christian writings composed between c.200 B.C. and c.A.D. 200, not found in the Bible or rabbinic writings.
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—e.g., the Gospel of Thomas—partly resemble the canonical Gospels. The solemn reading of the day's Gospel is a special feature of the liturgy in many churches. Formerly the Gospel (i.e., a book of the Gospels) was used instead of the Bible for the oath in courts in Christian countries. This sort of honor paid to the book resulted in some outstanding examples of illuminationillumination,
in art, decoration of manuscripts and books with colored, gilded pictures, often referred to as miniatures (see miniature painting); historiated and decorated initials; and ornamental border designs.
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—e.g., the Lindisfarne Gospels (see Holy IslandHoly Island
or Lindisfarne
, off the coast of Northumberland, NE England. At low tide the island is connected with the mainland by a stretch of sand. It is partly cultivated, and tourism and fishing are important. A church and monastery, built in 635 under St.
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) and the Book of Kells (see under Ceanannus MórCeanannus Mór
or Kells,
town (1991 pop. 2,185), Co. Meath, NE Republic of Ireland, on the Blackwater River. It is a market town and was once a royal residence for Irish kings. Computer cabinets are made there.
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). Sometimes the term "gospel" is used in a broader sense to indicate the Christian message of salvation.


See J. B. Green, How to Read the Gospels and Acts (1987); R. Price, Three Gospels (1996).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The word "gospel" comes from the old English expression "good (or God's) spell." In other words, the good story or good news. The term has come to refer to the news of Jesus Christ's teachings about salvation and the kingdom of God. It refers as well to the four stories we have of Jesus in the Bible—Matthew, Mark, Luke (called Synoptic, or "similar" Gospels because of their similarity to one another), and John (see Bible). In this context, Christian churches that follow the universal lectionary readings each Sunday will always have a reading from the Old Testament, the New Testament (meaning the Epistles, or letters), and the Gospels. Often congregations will be invited to stand while the Gospel is being read. Each year a different Gospel is featured, over a three-year cycle. The Gospel reading is considered the controlling text; in other words, Old and New Testament readings are selected on the basis of the light they shed on the Gospel text.

In the 1950s, the Red Letter edition of the New Testament was published. This version printed all the words of Jesus in red. The idea behind this was that the Gospel would be differentiated from the words of the transcribers. It was an editorial method of highlighting the "Gospel truth."

Lately the word "gospel" has been used as a method of marketing churches preaching a conservative theology. A "Gospel-preaching church" is an evangelical or fundamentalist church, differentiating it from a liberal or mainline church. The distinction is one of semantics. All Christian churches believe they are preaching the Gospel. They just disagree as to what the Gospel is. Churches that believe the Gospel refers to a body of doctrines to be believed (the fundamentals, for instance; see Fundamentalism) refer to themselves as "Gospel-believing churches." Churches that emphasize the words of Jesus referring to outreach ("Give a cup of cold water in my name.... True worship is visiting the sick and feeding the hungry....") are often accused of preaching only the "social Gospel." Often it is said that the Gospel is summed up in one passage—John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


one of the four biographies of Jesus Christ that begin the New Testament; thus, “the real beginning of Christianity.” [Christianity: NCE, 1112]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. Black religious music originating in the churches of the Southern states of the United States
2. the message or doctrine of a religious teacher
a. the story of Christ's life and teachings as narrated in the Gospels
b. the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ
c. (as modifier): the gospel story


1. any of the first four books of the New Testament, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
2. a reading from one of these in a religious service
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005