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A Brief Background on the Evangelists

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John


The purpose of this brief document is to give Christians a brief, yet, comprehensive background for each of the four Evangelists. Such information will, without doubt, enrich the reading of each Gospel.


These summaries were prepared in Spanish by Msgr. John Straubinger [1883 - 1956] - Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Müenster, Germany. Msgr. Straubinger was Professor of Holy Scriptures in the St. Joseph Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of La Plata, Argentina, and the author of what we consider the best translation of the New Testament.

The original texts by Msgr. Straubinger were translated by The M+G+R Foundation.


St. Matthew

We know very little about the life of St. Matthew, formerly called Levi. He was a tax collector in Capernaum, until one day Jesus called him to the apostolate, simply saying: "Follow me"; and Levi "rose and followed him" (Matt. 9:9).

His apostolic life was first developed in Palestine, next to the other Apostles; later he probably preached in Ethiopia (Africa), where it seems he also suffered martyrdom. His body is venerated in the Cathedral of Salermo (Italy); his feast day is celebrated on September 21st.

St. Matthew was the first to write the Good News in book form between the years 40-50 of the Christian era. He composed it in Aramaic or Syriac for the Jews of Palestine who used that language. Later this Gospel, whose Aramaic text has been lost, was translated into Greek.

Matt. 9:9 - As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

St. Mark

Mark, formerly called John, was the son of that Mary in whose house the disciples of the Lord used to gather (Acts 12:12). It is very probable that the same house served as a stage for other sacred events, such as the Last Supper and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

With his cousin Barnabas, Mark accompanied St. Paul on the first apostolic journey to the city of Perge in Pamphylia (Acts 13:13). Later, between the years 61-63, we find him again at the side of the Apostle of the Gentiles when he was imprisoned in Rome.

St. Peter called Mark his "son" (I Pet. 5:13), which suggests that he was baptized by the Prince of the Apostles. The oldest tradition unanimously confirms that Mark in Rome transmitted to the people the teachings of his spiritual father, writing there, in the 50s and 60s, his Gospel, which is therefore that of St. Peter.

The purpose of the second Evangelist is to demonstrate that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that all things in nature and even demons are subject to him. For this reason he mainly relates the miracles and the expulsion of unclean spirits.

The Gospel of St. Mark, the shortest of the four, presents in synthetic form, many passages of the synoptic Gospels, however, which is of particular interest because it narrates some episodes that are exclusive to him and also because of the many nuances themselves, which allow a better understanding of the other Gospels.

St. Mark died in Alexandria, Egypt, whose church he was the head of. The city of Venice, which has him as its patron, venerated his body in the cathedral.

Acts 12:12 - When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying.
Acts 13:13 - From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.
I Pet. 5:13 - She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.

St. Luke

The author of the third Gospel, "Luke the Physician" (Col. 4:14), was a Syrian born in Antioch, of pagan family. He had the good fortune to convert to the faith of Jesus Christ and to meet St. Paul, whose faithful companion and disciple he was for many years, sharing with him even the prison in Rome.

According to his own testimony (1,3) Luke was informed "of everything exactly from its first origin" and wrote to record the oral tradition (1,4). There is no doubt that one of his main sources of information was Paul himself and it is very likely that he also received reports from the Blessed Mother of Jesus, especially about the Lord's childhood, which Luke is the only one to refer to in some detail. Because of his news about the Child and his Mother, he was called the Evangelist of the Virgin. Legend has it that he painted the first portrait of Mary.

Luke is also called the Evangelist of Mercy, because he is the only one who brings us the parables of the Prodigal Son, of the Lost Drachma, of the Good Samaritan, etc.

This third Gospel was written in Rome at the end of the first captivity of St. Paul, that is, between the years 62 and 63. Its recipients are the Christians of the churches established by the Apostle of the Gentiles, just as Matthew dedicated himself more especially to showing the Jews the fulfillment of the prophecies realized in Christ. That is why St. Luke's Gospel contains an account of the life of Jesus that we can consider the most complete of all and purposely made for us Gentiles Christians.

Col. 4:14 - Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.
Luke 1:3 - With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,...
Luke 1:4 - that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

St. John

St. John, a native of Bethsaida in Galilee, was the brother of James the Elder, both sons of Zebedee, and of Salome, sister of the Most Holy Virgin. Being first a disciple of St. John the Baptist and seeking with all his heart the kingdom of God, he then followed Jesus, and soon became his favorite disciple. From the Cross, the Lord entrusted to him his Most Holy Mother, which John, henceforth, took care of as his own.

John was the disciple "whom Jesus loved" and who at the Last Supper was "lying on Jesus' breast" (John 13:23), as a friend of his heart and an intimate witness of his love and sorrows.

After the Resurrection, John remained in Jerusalem as one of the "pillars of the Church" (Gal. 2:9), and later he moved to Ephesus in Asia Minor. Exiled by Emperor Domitian (81-95) to the island of Patmos, he wrote the Apocalypse there. At the death of the tyrant he was able to return to Ephesus. The date and every detail of his death are not known (cf. John 21:22- 23).

In addition to the Apocalypse and three Epistles, at the end of the first century, that is, about 30 years after the Synoptic Gospels and the fall of the Temple, he composed this Gospel, which aims to strengthen faith in the messianity and divinity of Jesus Christ, at the same time as it serves to complete the previous Gospels, mainly from the spiritual point of view, since he has been called the Evangelist of love.

His language is of the highest order that the Sacred Scripture has bequeathed to us, as the prologue shows, which, due to the supernatural sublimity of its subject, has no similarity in the literature of Humanity.

John 13:23 - One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him.
Gal. 2:9 - James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised.
John 21:22-23 - Jesus answered (to Peter), “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

Translation of the original texts in Spanish using DeepL Translation Services

Related Documents

A brief History of the Biblical translations authored by Msgr. Juan Straubinger

Introductory Notes to the Acts of the Apostles and all Letters in the New Testament

Introductory Notes to the Book of the Apocalypse

Published on December 12th, 2019 - Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe - Patroness of the Americas

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