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How Were Gospels Chosen How Were Gospels Chosen

Bible Stories

How Were Gospels Chosen

Written by: Flor Small

Discover the process behind the selection of the Gospels and gain insight into the intriguing world of Bible stories. Explore the criteria and factors that influenced the inclusion of these sacred texts.

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Table of Contents


How were the gospels chosen? This question has intrigued scholars and believers alike for centuries. The process of selecting the four canonical gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—was a complex and multifaceted one, involving a combination of historical, theological, and ecclesiastical factors. Understanding the criteria for selection, the role of early church leaders, and the considerations of authorship and authenticity can shed light on the intricate process of choosing the gospels that would form the foundation of Christian faith.


Criteria for Selection

  1. Apostolic Authority: One of the primary criteria for selecting the gospels was their apostolic authority. The early church sought to ensure that the gospels were directly connected to the apostles or individuals who had direct contact with Jesus. This criterion aimed to preserve the authenticity and reliability of the gospels by tracing their origins back to those who had firsthand experience with Jesus' teachings and life.

  2. Orthodoxy and Consistency: The gospels were also evaluated based on their theological orthodoxy and consistency with the teachings of the early Christian community. The early church leaders were keen on selecting gospels that aligned with the core beliefs and doctrines of the Christian faith, ensuring that they conveyed a coherent and unified message about Jesus and his teachings.

  3. Widespread Usage: Another important criterion for the selection of the gospels was their widespread usage across different Christian communities. The gospels that were eventually chosen had gained significant acceptance and recognition among various early Christian congregations, indicating their perceived value and relevance in shaping the faith of believers.

  4. Liturgical Suitability: The suitability of the gospels for liturgical use also played a role in their selection. The early church considered how the gospels could be incorporated into the worship practices and rituals of the Christian community, emphasizing the importance of these texts in shaping the spiritual life of believers.

  5. Inspiration and Divine Guidance: Ultimately, the selection of the gospels was also influenced by the belief in divine inspiration and guidance. Early church leaders and theologians viewed the process of selecting the gospels as guided by the Holy Spirit, leading them to recognize and affirm the four canonical gospels as inspired and authoritative texts for the Christian faith.

Understanding these criteria provides insight into the rigorous and thoughtful process that guided the selection of the gospels, reflecting the early church's commitment to preserving the integrity and significance of these foundational texts.


Role of Early Church Leaders

The role of early church leaders was pivotal in the process of choosing the canonical gospels. These leaders, often referred to as the Church Fathers, played a significant role in shaping the theological and doctrinal landscape of early Christianity. Their influence and authority were instrumental in determining which gospels would be recognized as authoritative and included in the New Testament.

  1. Doctrinal Guardians: Early church leaders served as guardians of the Christian faith, entrusted with the responsibility of preserving the integrity and purity of Christian teachings. As custodians of orthodoxy, they were deeply involved in discerning which writings accurately reflected the core beliefs of the Christian community. Their doctrinal oversight contributed to the selection of gospels that aligned with the established theological framework of the early church.

  2. Ecclesiastical Authority: The authority wielded by early church leaders, such as bishops and theologians, carried significant weight in the process of gospel selection. Their positions of leadership and influence within the Christian community empowered them to make decisions regarding the acceptance and recognition of specific texts as authoritative scripture. This authority allowed them to endorse and promote certain gospels while marginalizing others that did not meet the established criteria.

  3. Theological Discernment: Early church leaders were deeply engaged in theological discourse and debate, addressing various doctrinal controversies and theological challenges that arose within the early Christian community. Their discernment and theological acumen were essential in evaluating the content and theological implications of different gospel texts, contributing to the eventual recognition of the four canonical gospels as the standard-bearers of Christian faith.

  4. Synodical Decisions: The convening of early church councils and synods, such as the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Carthage, provided platforms for church leaders to deliberate on matters of theological significance, including the recognition of authoritative scriptures. These gatherings facilitated collective decision-making processes through which the status of the gospels was affirmed and solidified within the broader Christian community.

  5. Pastoral Guidance: In addition to their doctrinal and theological roles, early church leaders also provided pastoral guidance to the Christian faithful. Their endorsement of specific gospels and their teachings served to shape the spiritual formation and religious practices of the early Christian congregations, reinforcing the significance of the chosen gospels in the life of the church.

The role of early church leaders in the selection of the gospels underscores their profound impact on the development and establishment of the New Testament canon. Their theological insight, ecclesiastical authority, and pastoral care collectively contributed to the recognition of the four canonical gospels as foundational texts that continue to shape Christian belief and practice.


Consideration of Authorship and Authenticity

The consideration of authorship and authenticity played a crucial role in the process of selecting the canonical gospels. Early Christian communities placed significant emphasis on tracing the authorship of the gospels back to individuals with direct connections to Jesus or the apostolic circle. This emphasis stemmed from the belief that the firsthand witness of the life and teachings of Jesus conferred a unique authority and reliability to the gospel accounts.

  1. Apostolic Attribution: The attribution of the gospels to apostolic figures or individuals closely associated with the apostles was a key factor in their recognition as authoritative texts. The gospels of Matthew and John, who were among the twelve apostles, were ascribed to these apostolic figures, lending them apostolic authority. Mark, a companion of Peter, and Luke, a companion of Paul, were also linked to apostolic circles, contributing to their acceptance within the early Christian community.

  2. Eyewitness Testimony: The emphasis on eyewitness testimony and direct association with the apostolic community underscored the significance of authenticity in the gospel accounts. Early Christians valued the firsthand witness of those who had experienced the events and teachings of Jesus, viewing it as a hallmark of the gospels' reliability and trustworthiness.

  3. Community Recognition: The recognition and acceptance of the gospels by early Christian communities also played a role in affirming their authenticity. The widespread usage and acknowledgment of specific gospels within diverse Christian congregations contributed to their perceived authenticity and relevance, reflecting the collective affirmation of their value as authoritative accounts of Jesus' life and ministry.

  4. Doctrinal Consistency: The doctrinal consistency and coherence of the gospel accounts with the broader Christian teachings and beliefs were essential considerations in evaluating their authenticity. The gospels' alignment with the core doctrines and theological framework of the early church reinforced their credibility and contributed to their inclusion in the New Testament canon.

  5. Manuscript Tradition: The preservation and transmission of the gospel texts through manuscript tradition also influenced the consideration of their authenticity. Early Christian scribes and communities were meticulous in copying and safeguarding the gospel manuscripts, aiming to maintain the integrity and accuracy of the texts as they were passed down through generations.

The consideration of authorship and authenticity reflects the early church's commitment to preserving the genuine accounts of Jesus' life and teachings. The emphasis on apostolic authority, eyewitness testimony, community recognition, doctrinal consistency, and manuscript tradition collectively contributed to the recognition of the four canonical gospels as authentic and authoritative representations of the Christian faith.


Influence of Theological Content

The influence of theological content played a significant role in the selection of the canonical gospels. The theological richness and doctrinal implications conveyed within the gospel accounts were pivotal factors in determining their recognition as authoritative and foundational texts within the early Christian community.

  1. Christological Emphasis: The theological content of the gospels centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. The portrayal of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, and the embodiment of divine love and redemption permeated the gospel narratives. The profound theological emphasis on the identity and mission of Jesus contributed to the recognition of the gospels as essential sources for understanding the Christian understanding of Christ.

  2. Soteriological Significance: The theological content of the gospels also underscored the soteriological significance of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. The themes of atonement, forgiveness, and salvation through the redemptive work of Christ were intricately woven into the gospel narratives, shaping the theological framework of early Christian belief in the transformative power of the gospel message.

  3. Ethical and Moral Teachings: The ethical and moral teachings articulated within the gospel accounts carried profound theological implications for the Christian community. The ethical standards and moral precepts presented by Jesus in the gospels provided a theological foundation for ethical living and communal conduct, guiding the ethical formation of early Christian congregations.

  4. Eschatological Hope: The gospels also conveyed eschatological teachings concerning the future consummation of God's kingdom and the ultimate fulfillment of God's redemptive purposes. The theological content of the gospels instilled a sense of eschatological hope and anticipation within the early Christian community, shaping their understanding of the future and the divine fulfillment of God's promises.

  5. Theological Unity and Diversity: Despite the diverse theological emphases of the individual gospels, their collective theological unity in presenting the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus contributed to their recognition as complementary and cohesive accounts of the Christian faith. The diverse theological perspectives within the gospels enriched the early Christian understanding of the multifaceted nature of Jesus' identity and mission.

The influence of theological content within the gospels reflects their profound theological significance in shaping the doctrinal landscape of early Christianity. The theological richness, Christological emphasis, soteriological significance, ethical teachings, eschatological hope, and theological unity collectively contributed to the recognition of the four canonical gospels as foundational texts that continue to inspire and inform Christian faith and practice.


Comparison of Gospels

The comparison of the four canonical gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—reveals both distinctiveness and commonality in their portrayal of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While each gospel presents a unique perspective and emphasis, they collectively contribute to a multifaceted and comprehensive understanding of the person and work of Jesus. Here are key points of comparison:

  1. Narrative Emphases:

    • Matthew: Emphasizes Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and the establishment of the Messianic kingdom.
    • Mark: Portrays Jesus as a powerful and active servant, focusing on his deeds and miracles.
    • Luke: Highlights Jesus' compassion for the marginalized and his universal message of salvation for all.
    • John: Emphasizes Jesus' divine identity and presents a theological reflection on the significance of his life and teachings.
  2. Structural Variances:

    • Matthew: Organized into five major discourses, reflecting the structure of the Pentateuch.
    • Mark: Characterized by brevity and a sense of urgency, depicting Jesus' ministry in a concise and action-oriented manner.
    • Luke: Presents a detailed and orderly account, incorporating unique parables and emphasizing Jesus' interactions with women and the marginalized.
    • John: Structured around seven "signs" and discourses, conveying a theological narrative of Jesus' identity and mission.
  3. Inclusion of Teachings and Events:

    • Matthew: Emphasizes Jesus' teachings on ethical living, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Great Commission.
    • Mark: Focuses on Jesus' exorcisms, miracles, and teachings on discipleship and the coming kingdom.
    • Luke: Includes parables, teachings on prayer, and unique narratives such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.
    • John: Emphasizes "I am" sayings, theological discourses, and the intimate interactions of Jesus with individuals.
  4. Theological Emphases:

    • Matthew: Emphasizes Jesus as the rightful heir to the Davidic throne and the fulfillment of Israel's hopes.
    • Mark: Portrays Jesus as the suffering servant and emphasizes the paradox of the Messianic secret.
    • Luke: Highlights Jesus' role as the compassionate savior and the universal scope of the gospel message.
    • John: Emphasizes Jesus' divine identity, preexistence, and the significance of belief in him for eternal life.
  5. Resurrection Narratives:

    • Matthew: Describes the angelic announcement at the empty tomb and Jesus' appearance to the disciples in Galilee.
    • Mark: Concludes with the discovery of the empty tomb and the announcement of Jesus' resurrection, with variant endings in some manuscripts.
    • Luke: Presents the Emmaus road encounter and Jesus' appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem, emphasizing the physical reality of the resurrection.
    • John: Portrays the encounters with Mary Magdalene, the disciples, and Thomas, emphasizing the significance of Jesus' bodily resurrection.

The comparison of the gospels demonstrates the diverse yet complementary ways in which they contribute to the portrayal of Jesus and the proclamation of the gospel message. Each gospel, while distinct in its emphasis and style, collectively enriches the understanding of Jesus' life, teachings, death, and resurrection, providing a comprehensive and multifaceted testimony to the significance of his identity and mission.



In conclusion, the process of choosing the canonical gospels involved a meticulous evaluation of various criteria, the influence of early church leaders, the consideration of authorship and authenticity, the impact of theological content, and the comparison of the distinct perspectives presented in the gospels. The recognition of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the authoritative gospels within the New Testament canon reflects the careful discernment and collective affirmation of their significance in shaping the Christian faith. The diverse yet cohesive theological, narrative, and doctrinal contributions of the gospels collectively enrich the understanding of Jesus Christ and his redemptive mission, providing a foundation for Christian belief and practice. The selection of the gospels stands as a testament to the early church's commitment to preserving the authentic and authoritative accounts of Jesus' life and teachings, ensuring their enduring impact on the faith and spiritual formation of believers throughout history.

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