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The Gospel 'according to' … who?

Recently I got what I thought was an excellent question:

Hi, can you clarify why there’s an according to Luke, according to John in Injil? As far as I understand the word according means an account inspired by that person based on his understanding.

Hence, I am interested in Gospel(s) according to Jesus pbuh but “not according” to Luke, John, etc. If you have a copy, I would be happy to get it from you.

I thought it was worthwhile to give an in-depth answer. Let’s think about the question and even re-phrase it a little.

What does the word ‘Gospel’ mean?

There are four Gospel books in the New Testament of al Kitab: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  What does it mean that these are ‘according to’ these different writers?  Does it mean there are four different gospels (or Injils)?  Are they different from the ‘Gospel of Jesus’?  Does it mean these are accounts ‘inspired by that person based on his understanding’?

It is so easy with questions like this to dismiss serious thinking because of our preconceived ideas. But to get a systematic answer, and one based on knowledge, we need to understand the word ‘Gospel’ (or ‘Injil’).  In the original Greek (this is the original language of the New Testament see here for details) the word for Gospel is εὐαγγελίου (pronounced euangeliou).  This word means a ‘message of good news’.  We know this by seeing how it was used in ancient history.  The Old Testament (Taurat & Zabur) were written in Hebrew (see here for details). 

Hebrew into Greek, and ‘εὐαγγελίου’

But about 200 BC – before the New Testament – because the world of that day was becoming very Greek-speaking, a translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek was made by Jewish scholars of that time.  This translation is called the Septuagint (see here for details on the Septuagint from my other website).  From the Septuagint, we can understand how Greek words were used at that time (i.e. 200 BC).  So here is a passage from the Old Testament where εὐαγγελίου (‘good news’) was used in the Septuagint.

David answered Rekab and his brother Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As surely as the Lord lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, when someone told me, ‘Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and put him to death in Ziklag. That was the reward I gave him for his news! (2 Samuel 4:9-10)

This is a passage when King David (Dawood) is speaking about how someone brought news of his enemy’s death thinking it would be good news to the king.  This word ‘good news’ is translated εὐαγγελίου in the 200 BC Greek Septuagint. So this means that εὐαγγελίου in Greek means the ‘good news’.

But εὐαγγελίου also meant the historic book or document that contained the ‘good news’.  For example, Justin Martyr was an early follower of the Gospel (he would be exactly the same as a ‘successor’ to the companions of the Prophet (PBUH)) and an extensive writer. He used εὐαγγελίου in this way when he writes “… but also in the gospel it is written that He said…” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 100).  Here the word ‘good news’ is used to denote a book.

In the title ‘The Gospel according to…’ the word εὐαγγελίου (gospel) has the first meaning of the word, while also suggesting the second meaning.  The ‘Gospel according to Matthew’ means the Good News as recorded in a written account by Matthew.

‘Gospel’ compared to ‘News’

Now the word ‘news’ today has the same double meaning.  ‘News’ in its primary sense means dramatic events that are occurring such as a famine or a war.  However, it can also refer to the agencies like BBC, Al-Jazeera or CNN that report these ‘news’ items to us. 

As I write this, the civil war in Syria is making a lot of news. And it would be normal to say “I am going to listen to the BBC News on Syria”.  ‘News’ in this sentence refers primarily to the events but also to the agency reporting the events. But the BBC does not make up the news, nor is the news about the BBC – it is about the dramatic event. A listener who wants to be informed of a news event may listen to several news reports from several agencies to get a more complete overall perspective – all about the same news event.

In the same way, the Gospel is about Isa al Masih – Jesus (PBUH).  He is the object of the news focus and there is only one Gospel.  Notice how Mark starts his book

“The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ…” (Mark 1:1)

There is one gospel and it is about Jesus (Isa – PBUH) and he had one message, but Mark wrote this message down in a book – the Gospel.

The Gospels – like hadiths

You can also think of this in terms of hadiths. There are hadiths of the same event that come through different isnads or chains of narrators. The event is one thing but the chain of reporters can be different.  The event or saying of the hadith is not about the narrators – it is about something that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said or did.  The Gospels are exactly the same except that the isnad chain is only one link long

If you accept in principle that an isnad (after doing the proper checking that scholars like Bhukari and Muslim did) can accurately report the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), even if there can be different isnads through different narrators going back to the same event, why is it difficult to accept the one link or one narrator long ‘isnad’ of the gospel writers?  It is exactly the same principle but the isnad chain is much shorter and much more clearly established since it was written down very soon after the event, not a few generations years later like the scholars Bukhari and Muslim did when they reduced the oral isnads of their day to writing.

Allah inspired the Gospel Writers

And the writers of these gospels were promised by Isa al Masih (PBUH) that what they wrote would be inspired by Allah – the writing is not from their human inspiration.  It says so both in the gospels and the Qur’an

“All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:25-26)

And behold I inspired the Disciples to have faith in me and mine messenger (Isa): they said, “We have faith, and you bear witness that we bow to Allah as Muslims (Surat 5:111 – Table Spread)

So the written documents they produced – the gospels we have today – were not inspired by them.  They were inspired by Allah and thus deserve serious consideration.  The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have always been (since they were written down in the first century) the gospel of Jesus – they were the reporters of it.  Read their writings to read the message of Jesus (Isa – PBUH) and understand the ‘Good News’ he was teaching.

5 thoughts on “The Gospel 'according to' … who?”

  1. One small correction. You have quoted the Greek word εὐαγγελίου (pronounced euangeliou) a few times. This is not the basic form of the word that would normally be found in a dictionary. That would be εὐαγγελιον (usually pronounced/transliterated euangelion.) Euangeliou is the مضاف الیہ /possessive/genitive form of the اسم/noun. So it would normally be translated “OF good news”. Euangelion is the فاعل/subjective/nominative form.
    You quote Mark 1:1. There the form of the word that is used is indeed euangeliou. For this reason it is translated “The beginning OF the good news …”

  2. The names of the surahs in the Qur’an are not part of the original متن / text. They were applied later. The same is true of the books of the Bible, including “The Gospel according to Mark”.

  3. Agreed Gospels are like hadith. Hadith are sayings of Prophet Muhammad PBUH and his companions and not the exact word of God. Though Prophet Muhammad PBUH had been inspired by the Angel. Hadiths are generally not accepted by Muslims Unanimously. Similarly Gospel is not the exact word of God but may contain sayings of Jesus and his companion. First Gospel was compiled by Mark on whose basis other Gospels (Mathew and Luke) were complied. Mark was not the apostle. so your references of disciples are not valid for his work or Mathew or Luke work. Some say Mark was student of Peter some don’t agree on this. How can we rely on the teachings of unknown person.

    1. MM, your question: “How can we rely on the teachings of unknown person?”
      My answer: “Read them. Check them out as much as you can. Ask God for help. Reject the false and uncertain. Let all that is true and good impact on your thoughts and actions.”

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