The church commemorates St. Matthew on November 16th. Evangelist, in this context, means a person who wrote a Gospel. Tradition identifies the author of the first Gospel with Matthew, the tax collector whom Jesus called in Matthew 9:9-13. Tradition tells us that he wrote this Gospel in the Aramaic or Hebrew, a language which was then translated into Greek. Modern scholars doubt this, but there is no question that the first Gospel is the most “Jewish” of the four Gospels. Saint Matthew shows that Jesus Christ is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament and will often write of Jesus’ words or deeds saying “…. This was done so that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets” showing that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophesy. In addition, St. Matthew collects our Lord’s teaching into five sections which reminds us of the five “Books of the Law” (the first five books of the Old Testament) given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
Normally, when we think of a Gospel, we mean a book of the New Testament. But our four Gospels where probably not written before the second half of the first century AD, and were not collected into a book until considerably later. But in the teaching of the early church, i.e., the church which existed before the Gospels were written as we see in the Book of Acts, which describes the early sermons of the apostles, or Saint Paul’s epistles (which were written before the Gospels) we find expressions such as these: “to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20: 24) or “…I am ready to preach the Gospel to you who are in Rome also” (Romans 1:15). Clearly when the apostles used the word Gospel in their teaching they were not referring to the books of the Gospels.
Our English word Gospel comes from the Old English “God-spell” which means good news. This is a translation of the Greek word for Gospel “evangelion” which means good news. In this sense the word Gospel refers not so much to a written text, but rather the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. One could even say that Jesus Christ himself is the good news, the reconciler of humanity and God.
Therefore, the Gospel is not so much a text bound in a book but rather the good news of God’s victory over sin and death accomplished by Jesus Christ.