Gospel originally meant the Christian message ("the gospel"), but in the 2nd century it came to be used also for the books in which the message was reported.[1] In this sense a gospel can be defined as a loose-knit, episodic narrative of the words and deeds of Jesus, culminating in his trial and death and concluding with various reports of his post-resurrection appearances.[2] Modern biblical scholars are cautious of relying on the gospels uncritically, but nevertheless, they provide a good idea of the public career of Jesus, and critical study can attempt to distinguish the original ideas of Jesus from those of the later Christian authors.[3][4]

The canonical gospels are the four which appear in the New Testament of the Bible. They were probably written between AD 66 and 110.[5][6][7] All four were anonymous (with the modern names of the "Four Evangelists" added in the 2nd century), almost certainly none were by eyewitnesses, and all are the end-products of long oral and written transmission.[8] Mark was the first to be written, using a variety of sources.[9][10] The authors of Matthew and Luke both independently used Mark for their narrative of Jesus's career, supplementing it with a collection of sayings called "the Q source", and additional material unique to each.[11] There is near-consensus that John had its origins as the hypothetical Signs Gospel thought to have been circulated within a Johannine community.[12] The contradictions and discrepancies between the first three and John make it impossible to accept both traditions as equally reliable.[13]

Many non-canonical gospels were also written, all later than the four canonical gospels, and like them advocating the particular theological views of their various authors.[14][15] Important examples include the gospels of Thomas, Peter, Judas, and Mary; infancy gospels such as that of James (the first to introduce the perpetual virginity of Mary); and gospel harmonies such as the Diatessaron.

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