From the Old Englishgod spel, "good news." The providential preparations for the gospel attest its divine origin.
(1) The translation at Alexandria of the Old Testament into Greek (by the Septuagint), rendering the Jewish Scriptures accessible through that then universal language of the refined and polite to the literary of all nations. All possibility of questioning the existence or falsifying the contents of Old Testament prophecy was precluded thereby, however much the Jews who rejected Jesus would have wished to alter the prophecies which plainly identified Him as the foretold Messiah. The canon of the Old Testament having been completed, and prophecy having ceased before the Sept. translation, they could not deny that the divine knowledge derivable from it was complete.
(2) Greek and oriental philosophy had drawn attention to religious and moral speculations, which at once exposed and undermined paganism, and yet with all its endless labors gave no satisfactory answer to the questionings and cravings of man's spiritual being.
(3) The Roman empire had broken down the barriers between E. and W. and united almost the whole world, Asia, Africa, and Europe, in one, and established peace and good order, making possible the rapid transmission of the glad tidings from country to country; compare Luk 2:1; Mat 22:21.
(4) The universal expectation in the East of a great king to arise in Judea, probably due to fragments of revelation (as the prophecy of Balsam, Num 24:17) such as led the wise men of the East to conic seeking "the king of the Jews."
(5) The settling of the Jews, and the consequent erection of synagogues, throughout all the towns of Asia. Greece, Italy, Africa, and western Europe. Hence by the reading of the law and the prophets in the synagogues everywhere each sabbath proselytes of righteousness were gathered from the Gentiles, such as the eunuch or chamberlain of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, a student of Scripture, Cornelius the centurion who "feared God with all his house, and gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always."
These not being bound under the ceremonial yoke, as the original Jews, formed a connecting link with the Gentiles; and hence at Antioch in Pisidia, when the Jews rejected the preaching of Paul and Barnabas, these proselytes, with the Gentiles, "besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath, ... and on that day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God" (Act 13:15-44). So at Iconium (Act 14:1), and at Thessalonica (Act 17:1-4). Such were the "devout men, out of every nation under heaven," the collected representatives of the world, to whom Peter preached with such success (Act 2:4-11). The 3,000 converts of that day and the 5,000 of a few days after (Act 4:4) would act as missionaries on their return to their several nations. To the Jews first in each synagogue abroad the apostles preached, and gathered many converts from among them; and then to the Gentiles.
The Jews' national rejection of Jesus is no valid objection to the gospel, since He foretold it Himself (Mat 16:21; Mat 26:2), and the Old Testament prophets did so too (Isa 49:16; Isa 49:21; Isa 49:52; Isa 49:53; Psalm 22); so that, fixing their eyes on the prophecies of Messiah's glory and kingdom which they wrested to mean His setting up a temporal kingdom at Jerusalem and overthrowing the Roman existing dominion, and shutting their eyes to the prophecies of His humiliation, "they knew Him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath," and yet in spite of themselves, like their types Joseph's brethren (Gen 50:20), "they have fulfilled them in condemning Him" (Act 13:27; Act 3:18). The harmony in Christ of prophecies seemingly so opposite, His temporal and temporary humiliation, and yet His spiritual dominion now and His final visible and everlasting kingdom, furnish conclusive proof of the Divinity of prophecies which no human sagacity could have anticipated or human agency fulfilled.
The correspondence of the gospel event to the predictions of the Old Testament is thus established by the Jews, unwilling witnesses and therefore beyond suspicion. Graves (Pentateuch, 2:3,6) well says, had they universally embraced the gospel at its first publication, the sceptic might allege the prophecies to have been fabricated or altered to fit them to the events; the contrary is now certain. This is one great cause why the national conversion of the Jews is delayed "until the fullness of the Gentiles shall come in" (Rom 11:35). They continue guardians of the prophetic records until these shall have had their contents examined, and their application ascertained, by every other nation in the world. Genuineness and inspiration of the Four Gospels. The "prophets" in the Christian church who had the spiritual gift of "discerning spirits" were an effectual check on the introduction of a pseudo-inspired writing. Paul appeals to them on the inspiration of his letters (1Co 14:37; 1Co 12:10; compare 1Jo 4:1).
Thus, by the two-fold inspiration, that of the authors and that of the judges, the canonicity of the four Gospels, as of the other books of New Testament, is established. The anonymous fragment of the canon of the New Testament attributed to Caius a presbyter of Rome (published by Muratori, Antiq. Ital., iii. 854, and known as the Muratorian Fragment), recognizes the Gospels (Luke and John, the sentences as to Matthew and Mark are obliterated) as inspired, and condemns as uninspired the Shepherd by Hermes, "written very recently in our own times," i.e. in the first part of the second century, the age in which John the last apostle died. Theophilus (Ad Autol., iii. 11), Bishop of Antioch A.D. 168, refers to "the evangelists" and "the Holy Scriptures" of the New Testament. Clement of Alexandria in the latter part of the second century refers to the collection of Gospels as one whole, "the gospel" (Quis Dives Salvus?).
The anonymous letter to Diognetus (sec. 11 ed. Hefele) attributed to Justin Martyr refers to "the Gospels and the Apostles" (i.e. the letters). Ignatius of Antioch, a hearer of John (Ep. ad Philad., sec. 5), calls "the (written) Gospel the flesh of Jesus," and classes it with the Old Testament prophets. Tertullian (Adv. Marc. iv. 2), mentioning the Four Gospels two as the work of apostles and two as that of apostolic men (A.D. 208); Irenaeus (Adv. Haer., ii. 27; iii. 11, sec. 7); martyred A.D. 202; Origen, speaking of the four Gospels as "the elements of the church's faith"; Eusebius; and not only these orthodox writers but heretics, Marcion dud others, appeal to the Gospels as the inspired standard Canon.(See CANON.).
They were translated into Syriac in the second century, and into Latin and the two Egyptian dialects by the fourth century. We have better evidence for their genuineness than for any other ancient writing. Theophilus arranged the Four Gospels so as to form one work (Jerome, Ep. ad Algas., iv. 197). Tartan, who died A.D. 170, formed a Diatessaron or harmony of the Four Gospels. Barnabas (Paul's companion), Clement of Rome (Phi 4:3), and Polycarp quote the Gospels, though not with verbal exactness. Justin Martyr quotes Matthew, Luke, and John largely and exactly. As the heretic Gnostics and Marcion arose early in the second century their acceptance of the Gospels proves that these had been promulgated some time before (i.e. in the apostolic age itself), for after the dissensions between the orthodox and heretics had arisen the Gospels would never have been accepted by mutually hostile parties.
A distinct line was drawn between the apocryphal and the genuine Gospels. Unbelievers, as Celsus in controversy with Origen, could not deny the genuineness of the four even while rejecting their contents. The fathers' large quotations (Origen's especially) prove our Gospels were the same as theirs. Our Saviour wrote nothing Himself, the alleged letter to Abgarus, king of Edessa, being probably spurious. If He had (like Muhammed) recorded His own miracles and teachings, internal consistency would have been nothing marvelous. People would have deified the form, while failing to discern the inner essence. "If I bear witness of Myself My witness is not true" (Joh 5:31).
There would be lost the powerful proof we now have, from the mutual coherency of writings not composed by the Founder of Christianity nor in His lifetime, but by Jews, unlearned mostly, giving independent yet marvelously agreeing accounts of miraculous works, and a spiritual system of doctrine unheard before, themselves willing to lay down their lives for the truths they witnessed to; these writings received and accepted too by numerous congregations, living at the time and in the very places where the miracles alleged in proof of their inspiration were wrought, and producing worldwide effects now for ages. The reality of their inspiration alone can account for all this.
The Jews and Gentiles had attained high civilization when Christ came; it is not in such an age that myths spring up and are accepted, but in a people's infancy (2Pe 1:16). Mutual relationship of the Four Gospels. - They differ in language and details, so that the later cannot have been mere copyists of their predecessors. Their accordance in unusual expressions and in choice of incidents implies at the same time that the later evangelists were acquainted, with the Gospels that preceded. The four have by the Holy Spirit's design, if not by that of the writers, a supplementary relation to each other. Each later evangelist has a two-fold aim:
(1) to confirm by his own independent witness the facts recorded in the preceding Gospel;
(2) to give new facts, and to place those already recorded in a new light. The former aim accounts for the agreements, the latter for the variations. In the first three, called the Synoptic Gospels, from the main outline being the same and the scene of Christ's ministry mainly Galilee, the first aim is prominent. In the fourth, written long after, all is new except the events of passion week and the feeding of the 5,000 (and the storm at sea) recorded to introduce the discourse in Galilean Capernaum (John 6); and the scene is mainly not in Galilee but Judea. But they hint also at Christ's ministry in Judea (Mat 23:37; Luk 13:34); John too occasionally describes His Galilean ministry (John 2; John 6; John 7; John 21).
Of 99 portions in Matthew and 93 portions in Mark, 78 sections are common to both Matthew and Mark; also, of 65 particulars in Mark, 54 of them appear in Matthew in the same relative order. Yet that Mark does not copy Matthew appears from his restoring the true order of events before the Baptist's death, from which Matthew had departed to give prominence to the Sermon on the Mount and the apostolic commission, and to make less prominent the narrative, which is but one third of the whole. Mark too, of all Four Gospels, abounds in the most minute graphic touches as an eyewitness of the scenes, though his Gospel is the shortest.
In 42 sections the three Synoptists coincide; 12 more sections are given by Matthew and Mark alone; five sections are given by Mark and Luke alone, 14 sections are given by Matthew and Luke. Besides, five sections are unique to Matthew, two sections are unique to Mark, and nine sections are unique to Luke. The verbal coincidences are chiefly in reciting the words of Jesus or of others in connection with, Him, seldom in the narrative of the evangelists themselves. In Matthew the proportion is as one to more than two, in Mark one to four, in Luke one to ten (Norton, Genuineness, I. 240). Stroud thus tabulates the four, taking 100 as the sum:
John's narrative of Mary's anointing of Jesus' feet combines her actions drawn from Luke, the ointment and its value from Mark, and the admonition to Judas from Matthew. His chief aim is to set forth Jesus as the Incarnate Word, the everlasting Son of God, a truth which some gnostics preceding Cerinthus even already began to impugn. Yet he omits facts recorded by the Synoptists which would have suited his purpose, just; because he knew they had sufficiently recorded them already. That Luke wrote chronologically in his general facts is probable from his phrase "in order" (Luk 1:1; unique to him, expressing succession Luk 8:1, "afterward," Greek "in order," Act 18:23). His "Acts" are in chronological order. Notes of time occur in his Gospel (Luk 1:26; Luk 1:56; Luk 3:1-23; Luk 6:1).
Of the 44 particulars in Mark and the 42 particulars in Luke, (forming the latter's main part ending with Luk 9:50,) Luk 9:32 particulars are common to both gospels, and with one exception in the same order; the more remarkable as 10 new particulars are inserted into Luke, 12 particulars are in Mark; the true succession alone would admit of such insertions without irregularity ensuing. At Luk 18:15, the blessing of the children, Luke's narrative rejoins Matthew and Mark. The middle portion relates to the last half year of Jesus' ministry, Luk 9:51 refers to His last journey to Jerusalem. His mission of the 70 (the better manuscripts have: 72) before Him (Luke 10), also Luk 13:22-23; Luk 17:11; Luk 23:5 confirm this. His route was through Samaria into Galilee from Ephraim (Luk 9:51; Joh 11:54) as the starting point, then along the border between Galilee and Samaria into Peraea (Luk 17:11; Luk 13:31), so by Jericho to Bethany and Jerusalem (Birks' Horae Evangel. and Greswell; but(See JESUS CHRIST.)
Mark wrote before Luke, for except 24 verses all his Gospel is in one of the two other Synoptists; he never, if he was after Luke, would for the sake of 24 verses of original matter have published a distinct Gospel. His graphic vividness indicates an eyewitness not a compiler. Matthew, the earlier, omits the ascension as involved in the resurrection. Luke, the later writer, supplies the omission. Matthew, writing for Judea, dwells on facts less known there, Christ's appearing in Galilee, omitting the ascension as known to most of his readers. Luke, writing for Gentile converts, describes facts less familiar to them which occurred after the resurrection in and about Jerusalem.
Matthew selects facts suitable for Jews, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in Jesus' descent from Abraham and David and His legal title to Solomon's throne. Luke shows the Gentiles that He was sprung from Adam, the common father of Gentiles and Jews. Matthew is more copious in discourses, the facts being taken for granted as notorious to his readers, the first thing needed being to show the Jews in what relationship with Christ's teaching had with the law. Luke is copious in facts less known to the Gentiles and on Christ's later ministry; Matthew having already dwelt more on His earlier ministry. Mark uses "gospel" for Christ's doctrine; a later usage, not in Matthew.(See MATTHEW; MARK.)
Matthew in naming the twelve (Mat 10:3) modestly places himself after Thomas as "Matthew the publican." Mark and Luke place him before Thomas and omit the humiliating epithet also they do not join his former profession with the apostolic name Matthew, but hide it under his lesser-known name Levi (Mat 9:9; Mar 2:14; Luk 5:27). This is an undesigned propriety and mark of truth. John by his greater fullness on Jesus' Godhead composed a doctrinal supplement to the Synoptics, who dwelt more on His ministry as the "Son of man" (though they too declare plainly His Godhead: Mat 16:16-17; Luk 1:32, etc.). John marks Christ's going up to the feasts at Jerusalem, which they do not.
He also supplies the interval, omitted in them, from the temptation to Jesus' second return to Galilee when His public ministry began, after John was cast into prison. He inserts in this interval Jesus' "earlier" return to Galilee (Joh 1:43) and visit to Jerusalem (Joh 2:13) and Judea (Joh 3:22; Joh 3:24), before the Baptist's imprisonment.
Then, at Joh 4:3-43, his Gospel coincides with the Synoptists at Christ's second visit to Galilee (Mat 4:12; Luk 4:14). In Joh 7:1 he alludes to His 18 months' ministry in Galilee, recorded by them and therefore omitted by him, between the visit to Jerusalem at the feast of tabernacles (Joh 7:2; Joh 7:10) and the former visit (Joh 5:1), for Joh 6:4 compared with Joh 7:1 implies Christ omitted attending the Passover occurring in that interval lest the Jews should kill Him before the time. Joh 21:1 evidently supplemerits Mat 28:16, which it precedes in time. Joh 21:6-7 supplements Luk 5:6; Luk 5:8, the corresponding miracle before His resurrection. There are three periods marked in Acts:
(1) From the ascension to the rise of the first purely Gentile church at Antioch where the disciples were first called Christians (Act 11:26); the first Gospel, Matthew, corresponds to this first and Jewish period, between A.D. 30 and A.D. 41. The second period is from the rise of the Gentile church at Antioch to Paul's passing over to Europe in obedience to the vision at Troas; the second Gospel, Mark, answers to this Judaeo-Gentile transition period, A.D. 41 or 44 - A.D. 50; hence, there occur (Mark 7) adaptations to Gentile converts by explanations of Jewish usages. The third period extends from Paul's first entering Europe down to his reaching Rome; the third Gospel, Luke, answers to this third period, A.D. 50-63, being suited to Greeks not familiar with the geography of Judea; it must have been written before Act 1:1 which refers to it (Acts being written probably soon after A.D. 63, the date of the close of Paul's imprisonment with which it abruptly breaks off).
Theophilus probably lived at Antioch (Birks' Hor. Evang., 192), and Luke perhaps published his Gospel at the close of his first connection with Paul, whom he joined at Troas A.D. 53, and who seems to have helped him as Peter helped Mark. Philippi, where Luke was left behind, was perhaps the center from which he circulated it among the Greek churches. Compare 2Co 8:18, "the brother whose praise is in the Gospel throughout all the churches." Mark probably wrote while having the opportunity of Peter's guidance in Palestine, between his return from Perga and his second journey with Barnabas in or for Caesarea, the second center of gospel preaching as Jerusalem was the first and Antioch the third, the scene of Cornelius' conversion by Peter, Mark's father in the faith, the head quarters of the Roman forces in Palestine, where Philip the evangelist resided. Latin idioms and Roman energy are characteristic of Mark, whose very name is Roman.
Many centurions are honourably noticed in the Gospels and Acts, so that it is likely the gospel made much way among the Romans at Caesarea. In Col 4:10 be is identified with John (Hebrew) Mark (Latin) by the addition "sister's son to Barnabas." He was with Peter in Mesopotamian Babylon (A.D. 58) when Peter (1Pe 5:18) calls him "Mark (Marcus) my son." Peter, after escaping from Herod's prison, went to the house of John Mark's mother first (Act 12:12). Eusebius, from Papins or John Presb., (Hist. Eccles., iii. 39; v. 8) calls Mark "Peter's interpreter," "handing down in writing what Peter preached." Justin Martyr, Dial. Tryph., 106, quotes Mark's Gospel as "Records (or "Memorials", apomnemoneumata) of Peter." Tertullian (Marcion iv. 5) and Jerome (Ad Hedib.) say, "Peter narrated, Mark wrote." Internal evidence favours this tradition.
Mark's Gospel, except a few verses, is limited to the time of Peter's attendance on our Lord. The blessing pronounced on him after his confession of Christ is omitted, while the ensuing reproof is retained; his fall is recorded, but not his bitter tears of repentance. For other instances of omitting what tends to Peter's honour compare Mat 14:29; Mat 17:24-27; Mar 9:30-33; Mar 14:47; Joh 18:10; Luk 5:10; Luk 24:34. The angel's words addressed to Mary Magdalene after Christ's resurrection, "Go, tell His disciples and Peter," are recorded owing to Peter's deep sense of Christ's pardoning grace after his grievous fall; delicacy forbade his recording his own repentance, gratitude can never forget that Jesus' first words of special comfort were sent to him, "tell Peter" specially, for his Saviour has risen even for his justification (Mar 16:7).
Mark's Gospel, brief, vivid, and abounding in acts rather than discourses, was best suited to the Roman character, with fewer Old Testament quotations than Matthew who wrote for the Jews. The tradition of its being written in Rome arose probably from its Roman character; from Caesarea it would soon pass to Rome through Romans sailing from Caesarea there. Mark's shortcoming was that of his spiritual father - Peter - slowness to admit uncircumcised Gentile Christians to the privileges of full fellowship (Act 13:13; Act 15:38; compare Act 10:14; Gal 2:11-14). Mark, from love of ease and home, as well as Jewish prejudice, shrank from carrying the gospel to the heathen of Pamphylia; but by subsequent zeal he so regained Paul's favour that the apostle desired Luke to bring him, saying "he is profitable to me for the ministry" (2Ti 4:11).
Matthew presumes his readers are familiar with Jewish usages and localities, and appeals to their prophets continually. This accords with the earliest period of church history. The closing charge "Go ye, teach all nations," accords with the church's circumstances at its opening the door to Cornelius and Gentile proselytes, A.D. 41. Eusebius' Chronicle in some manuscripts gives this date. A written Gospel was not needed when all the apostles were in Jerusalem; but just when they were going abroad a record such as Matthew's was needed. Isidore and Nicephorus (Hist. Ecclesiastes, ii. 15) fix on 15 years after the ascension as the date. Thus, in the Jewish aspect of Matthew's Gospel, the Roman of Mark's, and the Greek of Luke's, we observe the conflux of the three chief human civilizations, the Hebrew theocracy, the Roman polity, and the Greek literary and artistic refinement; while in John's the spiritual verities of the Son of God predominate.
The same significant union appears in the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin inscription on the cross. Gospel harmonies: spiritual relations. Discrepancies have been alleged in the Gospels. But they are not irreconciliable; granting that the ways of harmonizing proposed are not always the true ways, the very variations disprove collusion. Reconciliable diversity is a confirmation of the truth, as alleged by mutually independent witnesses. Entire sameness in all four would make all but the first mere copies. Contradictions would prove one or other inaccurate. Substantial unity, with circumstantial diversity, partial and reconciliable, is the highest kind of internal evidence. As in architecture a front and a side view, a ground plan and an elevation, are different, yet harmonize in viewing the connected whole, so the four, though not facsimiles, have an inner harmony when one first looks to the purpose and the individual spiritual character of each, and then to the mutually connected whole in its fourfold aspect.
The variation in the order of the same events as recorded in different Gospels (Mat 8:28 compare Mar 5:1; Luk 8:26; Mat 8:19-22 compare Luk 9:57-61) does not imply discrepancy unless it could be shown that all the evangelists designed a chronological record throughout. The spiritual sequence and connection is the essential thing in a revelation, and is as true in those Gospel passages which do not observe the chronological order as in those which do; for the same truth is manifold in its spiritual bearings, and is therefore put in various connections, under the Spirit's guidance, for the church's edification. Fuller information as to all the facts of the case would clear away seeming discrepancies. It is enough for the harmonist to show a possible reconciliation (in the absence of fuller knowledge); this is sufficient even to meet a priori objections against the accurate truth of details, and such objections have no force against the gospel as a whole.
"Substantial truth under circumstantial variety" is the most conclusive testimony, as proving the mutual independence of the witnesses, for had all four been alike their testimony would have been that of but one witness. At the same time all four, being supervised by the Spirit of God, are true in their order of events spiritually, though but one order is true chronologically. Mechanical uniformity is no necessary result of inspiration. The four are not mere annals or biographies, but spiritual records, "memoirs" adapted to various wants of the Christian life. A diatessaron, or continuous record compiled chronologically out of the four, fails in this, viz. the setting forth of the events under their mutual, manifold, spiritual relations. Christ's life, death and resurrection are represented from four different aspects to complete the view.
Each Gospel has its distinctive character; the progression of the four reaches its climax in John, who portrays the divinity of the Son of God, as the former three portray His humanity. They are not four different Gospels, but one fourfold Gospel from the Holy Spirit, through four intelligent agents, each giving that view of the Lord Jesus which belonged to his own character and circumstances, and those of his immediate readers, and so by Divine Providence meeting severally the church's wants in all ages. Seeming discrepancies area test of faith, whether in spite of difficulties we will, because of the preponderating probabilities, believe all God's word.
They are incentives for us more diligently to "search the Scriptures," which contain within themselves their own best vindication and harmony. The Gospels are fragmentary, complete spiritually but not historically; hence the seeming discrepancies. Those early churches which collected the canon saw the alleged discrepancies, but saw nothing in them incompatible with inspiration and truth; otherwise they would not have transmitted them: as in nature the seeming variations in the orbits of some planets are found, on fuller knowledge, to be in harmony with the general law.
FOURFOLD GOSPEL. - Irenaeus (iii. 11), Athanasius (Syn. Scr., p. 55), Jerome (Matt., prooem.) regarded the four living Cherubim united in one as representing the fourfold gospel.(See CHERUBIM.) Both are the chariot of God bearing Him into all lands (Psa 99:1; Psa 19:4), guided by the Spirit, intertwined with wheels in wheels of coincidences and variations, full of eyes, discerning the thoughts. The four in their spiritual ideal reveal the Saviour under a fourfold aspect.
(1) The lion denotes Christ's kingship, as "lion of the tribe of Judah." Matthew traces His line of succession to the throne from "David the king." The wise men (Matthew 2), according to Balaam's prophecy of the "sceptre to arise out of Israel," sought "the king of the Jews." The climax of the three temptations (Matthew 4) is Satan's offer of the kingdom. The Sermon on the Mount has the sententious tone of an authoritative king. Seven parables illustrate the true nature of the kingdom, for the Jews for whom Matthew writes looked for Messiah's kingdom. His claim of exemption from tribute, recorded in Matthew alone (Mat 17:24), marks Him Son and Heir of the kingdom. Matthew closes with His universal dominion (Mat 28:18-20).
(2) The ox or calf typifies patient toil (1Co 9:9-10). Mark's representation of Christ corresponds; homely, earnest, minutely graphic, full of action rather than discourse, suited to the Roman practical character, it. abruptly carries us at once into Christ's ministry of unceasing toil (Mark 1). The word variously translated "straightway," "immediately," "forthwith," "anon," "as soon as," "by and by" (eutheoos occurs 27 times, though in Matthew but eight times, in Luke twice; an illustration of its energetic tone. Minute details are peculiar to his vivid style: "Jesus was with the wild beasts" (Mar 1:13); "Zebedee with the hired servants" (Mar 1:20); Boanerges (Mar 3:17); Jesus' gestures (Mar 3:5); His successive acts in curing the deaf (Mar 7:33-34); the lingering glory on His countenance, and the people's amazement (Mar 9:15). It presents the best picture of Jesus' daily outward life.
(3) A man's face denotes human sympathy. Luke's Gospel presents the lowly humanity of the Son of man's conception, birth, and childhood; it traces Him up to Adam, the common father of all men. The parables and miracles unique to Luke exhibit Christ's human tenderness; the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the grateful Samaritan leper, the publican's prayer, Zaccheus, the raising of the Nain widow's son.
(4) The eagle denotes high soaring heavenliness. John's Gospel, say the fathers, is "the Gospel after the Spirit," as the others are "after the flesh." John supplies details of Andrew, Philip, Nathanael, Thomas, and Judas, unmentioned by the others; also details of time, place, and numbers; also supplemental matter (Joh 2:19), "destroy this temple," accounting for the charge of the false witnesses unexplained in Mat 26:61. In the prologue and elsewhere Christ's characteristic aspect is His Divine glory breaking forth the brighter amidst the darkness of the Jews' opposition.
Each of the four, while recognizing the Lord's other aspects, has one aspect prominent; and the four combine in one harmonious whole, joined by a spiritual not a mechanical unity. "Mutual intertexture is characteristic of Scripture. The second and third evangelists warranted the genuineness of each former Gospel with all the authority of the latter, by quoting its words. Thus they became joint vouchers for the genuine Gospels and joint opposers of the spurious. John authenticates the foregoing ones not by adopting but by omitting what they had related, and supplying what they omitted." (Wordsworth.)
Taken from: Fausset's Bible Dictionary by Andrew Robert Fausset (1821-1910)