The Canonical Gospels

Biblical Archaeology Society

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—the four canonical Gospels—have come down to us in Greek. From old Greek manuscripts, the Gospels we use today have been translated countless times, into countless languages. These translations all differ from one another, allowing for multiple versions of the same writings. With so many variations of each text, is any one version of a Gospel more accurate than the next?

In contrast, the Hebrew Bible was written in Hebrew, with a few short sections in a sister language called Aramaic. Were the canonical Gospels really originally written in Greek? In “Was the Gospel of Matthew Originally Written in Hebrew?” Biblical scholar George Howard presents formidable evidence from a little-known 14th-century manuscript that at least one of the Gospels, and perhaps more, may originally have been written in Hebrew!

“To Be Continued … The Many Endings of the Gospel of Mark” by Michael W. Holmes explores the nine versions of the last chapter of the Gospel of Mark that we have today. The shortest version ends with the empty tomb; Jesus is never seen again. In the longest, Jesus reappears three times before he rises to heaven.

The difference is critical—to Bible scholars trying to determine which ending is the earliest, to biographers mapping the course of Jesus’ life, to historians trying to trace how it came to be recorded, to theologians contemplating Jesus’ resurrection, and to curious readers who simply want to know how the story ends.

Who Really Wrote Luke?

In “Who Wrote the Gospel of Luke?” Mikeal Parsons investigates a seemingly obvious question: Who is Luke? The gospel itself never reveals the author’s name.

Over the centuries, numerous traditions have evolved around this somewhat shadowy evangelist: Luke is credited with writing not only his gospel but the New Testament Book of Acts as well. He is portrayed as a physician, a friend of Paul’s and even a painter, and is described as a gentile writing for a gentile audience. Parsons examines the author of two of the most significant contributions to our understanding of the founders of Christianity and its first followers.

Photo: Erich Lessing

John and Jesus

Commentators have long debated whether John provides the truest portrait of Jesus or the least accurate. But perhaps they should be asking another question altogether: What kind of book is the so-called Gospel of John?

The brisk dialogue and memorable sayings of the Synoptics give way to a handful of elaborate set pieces in John. In “The Un-Gospel of John,” Robin Griffith-Jones considers this more spiritual gospel. While the other gospels tell Jesus’ stories from the outside, John reveals the heart of Jesus.

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