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Jacob Jordaens, The Four Evangelists, 1625–1630.

In Christian tradition, the Four Evangelists are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the authors attributed with the creation of the four canonical Gospel accounts. In the New Testament, they bear the following titles: the Gospel of Matthew; the Gospel of Mark; the Gospel of Luke; and the Gospel of John. These names were assigned to the works by the early church fathers in the 2nd century AD; none of the writers signed their work.[1]


The four winged creatures that symbolize the Four Evangelists surround Christ in Majesty on the Romanesque tympanum of the Church of St. Trophime in Arles.
The lion symbol of St. Mark from the Echternach Gospels, here without wings. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris.

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 or even verbatim. While the periods to which the gospels are usually dated suggest otherwise,[2][3] convention traditionally holds that the authors were two of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, John and Matthew, as well as two "apostolic men",[4] Mark and Luke, whom Orthodox Tradition records as members of the 70 Apostles (Luke 10):

They are called evangelists, a word meaning "people who proclaim good news", because their books aim to tell the "good news" ("gospel") of Jesus.[5]


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 in the vision in Ezekiel 1 reflected in the Book of Revelation (4:6–9ff), referred to as the four 'Seraphim', though neither source links the creatures to the Evangelists (of course the depiction of the Seraphim predates in chronology the writing of the New Testament which portrays the writers John, Luke, Mark, Matthew as symbolically embodied by the four Seraphim). Images normally, but not invariably, appear with wings like angels.[6][7] When the symbols of the Four Evangelists appear together, it is called a Tetramorph, common in the Romanesque art of Europe such as church frescoes or murals.

The meanings accruing to the symbols grew over centuries, with an early formulation by Jerome,[6] and were fully expressed by Rabanus Maurus, who set out three layers of meaning for the beasts: representing first the Evangelists, second the nature of Christ, and third the virtues required of a Christian for salvation.[7] These animals may have originally been seen as representing the highest forms of the various types of animals: man, as king of creation, as the image of the creator; the lion, as king of beasts of prey (meat-eating); the ox, as king of domesticated animals (grass-eating); the eagle, as king of birds.

The symbols of the four Evangelists are here depicted in the Book of Kells. The four winged creatures symbolize, top to bottom, left to right: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Each of the symbols is depicted with wings, following the biblical sources first in Ezekiel 12, and in Revelation. The symbols are shown with, or in place of, the Evangelists in early medieval Gospel Books, and are the usual accompaniment to Christ in Majesty when portrayed during the same period, reflecting the vision in Revelation. They were presented as one of the most common motifs found on church portals and apses, as well as many other locations.[8]

When surrounding Christ, the figure of the man usually appears at top left—above Christ's right hand, with the lion above Christ's left arm. Underneath the man is the ox and underneath the lion is the eagle. This both reflects the medieval idea of the order of "nobility" of nature of the beasts (man, lion, ox, eagle) and the text of Ezekiel 1:10. From the 13th century, their use began to decline, as a new conception of Christ in Majesty, showing the wounds of the Passion, came into use.[8] In Evangelist portraits, they sometimes appear to dictate to the writing evangelist.


Matthew is often cited as the "first Gospel account", not only owing to its place in the canon, but also in view of the patristic witness to this effect. However, most biblical scholars see the gospel account of Mark as having been written first and John's gospel account as having been written last.

It is customary to refer to the gospels phrased as "Gospel of Matthew" rather than "Matthew's Gospel", not least because of its shorter length; the ancient titles do not use the possessive case of modern English and the preposition "according to" signifies that each evangelist sets forth the one "Gospel of God" according to his own capacity, but not in the sense of creating his own story.


Saint Matthew:
the winged man or angel
Saint Mark:
the lion
(in this case without wings)
Saint Luke:
the ox or bull
(in this case without wings)
Saint John:
the eagle
Miniatures from the Grandes Heures of Anne of Brittany, Queen consort of France (1477–1514)
The Four Evangelists, 10th century

See also


  1. ^ Denova, Rebecca (26 February 2021). "The Gospels". World History Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 24 February 2024. Retrieved 3 March 2024.
  2. ^ Lincoln, Andrew (25 November 2005). Gospel According to St John: Black's New Testament Commentaries (reprint ed.). Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 18. ISBN 978-1-4411-8822-9.
  3. ^ France, R. T. (11 July 2007). The Gospel of Matthew. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-8028-2501-8.
  4. ^ Schaff, Philip. "Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian". Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Archived from the original on 27 September 2023. Retrieved 3 March 2024.
  5. ^ Mark 1:1
  6. ^ a b Jerome, Saint (December 2008). "Preface". Commentary on Matthew. The Fathers of the Church. Vol. 117. Translated by Scheck, Thomas P. CUA Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-8132-0117-7. Retrieved 3 March 2024.
  7. ^ a b Male, Emile (1972) [1913]. The Gothic Image: Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century (reprint ed.). New York: Harper & Row. pp. 35–7. ISBN 978-0064300322.
  8. ^ a b Male, op. cit.