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The Four Gospels: Focus and Emblem

July 9, 2012

From this introductory message to the gospel of John series, a summary of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

It’s well known that each of the four gospels has a particular emphasis, what the writer wished to bring out concerning Christ and His earthly ministry.  Matthew’s gospel presents the King of the Jews. Mark brings the servant of Jehovah. Luke emphasizes the service and sacrifice of Christ. John’s gospel shares with us the Divine Son.  The differences even in the introduction make sense given this guideline.  Matthew presents the King’s genealogy, and Luke presents the genealogy of the Son of Man (all the way back to Adam).  Mark is telling about a servant, and who cares about a servant’s genealogy?  Likewise, John’s gospel emphasizes the Divine nature, the eternal self-existent Son.  God has no genealogy.

Something new I’ve learned:  in the early church, each gospel was represented by a particular symbol, or emblem.  These symbols relate the gospels to the four living creatures described in Ezekiel 1:10 and Revelation 4:7.

As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.

  • Matthew:  The Lion — the Lion of the Tribe of Judah
  • Mark:  Man; the adverb “immediately,” the servant active in carrying out His Father’s will
  • Luke:  The ox, the animal of service and sacrifice
  • John: The Eagle, which can look straight into the rays of the sun.

Mark’s gospel actually uses the term “Son of God” more frequently than John, so some overlap occurs.  But John’s gospel is preeminent in showing our Lord in His divine nature and divine personality.  The early church called John “The Theologian.”

From internet googling, I found one site, Catholic Resources, that lists the specific emblems assigned, by four early Christian authors, to each of the four gospels.  As shown, and noted in S. Lewis Johnson’s introductory message, some variation did exist in the early Church concerning the precise emblem identities.  The ox and the eagle were most consistently identified as Luke and John, but the Mark and Matthew emblems varied more.

Christian Author
Human/Angel Lion Ox Eagle
Irenaeus of Lyons Matthew John Luke Mark
Augustine of Hippo Mark Matthew Luke John
Pseudo-Athanasius Matthew Luke Mark John
Jerome Matthew Mark Luke John
  1. July 9, 2012 at 8:36 am

    When I was principal of a Catholic School – for one year – in Mafikeng, South Africa (1981), the school priest gave me the bronze door of an obsolete tabernacle in which the “host” was preserved on the altar. Ten years later I installed it into a wall in a dungeon I built beneath my house in King William’s Town. I sold the house six years ago. I wonder ( a teeny bit) whether the new owners held on to it.

    Lynda, do you think it’s ok to have such a representation on one’s wall 1. with a previous history like the one I mentioned, or 2. as a piece of art, or 3. neither?

    • July 9, 2012 at 9:18 am

      That’s interesting, Bography, and with my limited knowledge of Catholicism, I’m not completely sure how to answer. I’ve never seen artwork portraying the host preserved on the altar, and don’t know what that looks like.

      Generally speaking, I would see that as a matter of Christian liberty (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8), as something okay as a piece of art, so long as the person does not see it in its religious/historical connection — for a strong Christian who knows that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.”

      • July 9, 2012 at 3:14 pm

        The artwork on the door portrayed the four evangelists – an ox , a lion, etc.

  2. July 9, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    In that case I don’t see a problem, as the artwork goes back to the early Church idea of the emblems used to represent the four gospels.

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