7.1. Which Face, Which Gospel

In criticism of this association, some note the variations found among the church fathers in assigning the faces to the gospels:

The church Father Irenaeus said the human face of the third beast represented Matthew, the eagle of the fourth the gospel of Mark, the ox of the second Luke, and the lion of the first being John. Victorinus said the man pictured Matthew, the lion Mark, the ox Luke, and the eagle John. Augustine identified the lion with Matthew, the man with Mark, the ox with Luke, and the eagle with John. Athanasius referred the man to Matthew, the calf (i.e., ox) to Mark, the lion to Luke, and the eagle to John. Seemingly, almost every combination has been suggested.1

From this passage is derived the familiar symbolism of the four Evangelists; Mark seated on a lion, Luke on a steer, Matthew on a man, and John on an eagle.2

But should these variations be taken as evidence of the bankruptcy of any view which correlates the faces with the gospels? We think not. For there is more than subjective guess-work behind our results:
  • Although the Church Fathers differed in the accuracy with which they understood the correlation and therefore reached differing conclusions, it is significant that they all saw some sort of correlation between the faces and the gospels: “The unanimity of the early church regarding acceptance of some combination of such symbolism is remarkable.”3
  • There is objective evidence found within Scripture itself which reliably establishes the intended emphasis of each gospel. This evidence is found in the genealogies of Christ which establish the line of Jesus from Abraham (Matthew), Adam (Luke), and eternity (John). Thus we know with some certainty that Matthew presents Jesus as King of the Jews, Luke as the Son of Man, and John as the Son of God. The only remaining question is that of the presentation of Mark. There being no genealogy in Mark, it seems plain that the emphasis of servant fits his gospel.
  • The fourfold identification of “the BRANCH” in the Old Testament provides additional objective Scriptural support for the fourfold correlation: King (Jer. Jer. 23:5-6); Servant (Zec. Zec. 3:8); Man (Zec. Zec. 6:12); Lord (Isa. Isa. 4:2).


1 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 355.

2 M. R. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies (Escondido, CA: Ephesians Four Group, 2002), Rev. 4:7.

3 Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 355.