In Christian tradition, the Four Evangelists are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the authors attributed with the creation of the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament that bear the following titles: Gospel according to Matthew; Gospel according to Mark; Gospel according to Luke and Gospel according to John.
The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels, because they include many of the same stories, often in the same sequence. Convention has traditionally held that the authors have been two of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, John and Matthew, as well as two "apostolic men," Mark and Luke:
- Matthew – a former tax collector who was called by Jesus to be one of the Twelve Apostles,
- Mark – a follower of Peter and so an "apostolic man",
- Luke – a doctor who wrote what is now the book of Luke to Theophilus. Also known to have written the book of Acts (or Acts of the Apostles) and a close friend of Paul of Tarsus,
- John – a disciple of Jesus and possibly the youngest of his Twelve Apostles.
They are called evangelists, a word meaning 'people who proclaim good news,' because their books aim to tell the "good news" ("gospel") of Jesus.
In iconography, the evangelists often appear in Evangelist portraits derived from classical tradition, and are also frequently represented by the symbols which originate from the four "living creatures" that draw the throne-chariot of God, the Merkabah, in the vision in the Book of Ezekiel (Chapter 1) reflected in theBook of Revelation (4.6-9ff), though neither source links the creatures to the Evangelists. Images normally, but not invariably, appear with wings like angels. The meanings accruing to the symbols grew over centuries, with an early formulation by Jerome, and were fully expressed by Rabanus Maurus, who set out three layers of meaning for the beasts, as representing firstly the Evangelists, secondly the nature of Christ, and thirdly the virtues required of a Christian for salvation: One might note that these animals may[original research?] have originally have been seen as representing the highest forms of the various types of animals, i.e., man, the king of creation as the image of the Creator; the lion as the king of beasts of prey (meat-eating); the ox as the king of domesticated animals (grass-eating) and the eagle as the king of the birds.