The traditional figures of man, lion, ox, and eagle near each evangelist correspond to each one's Gospel. The same four creatures are associated with Ezekiel's vision of the fiery wheel, and are also described in Revelation singing before the throne of God. These images first appeared in Christian art in the fourth century. They are often used as symbols of the Gospels.
- Because the Gospel according to Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus Christ starting with Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, and emphasizes Jesus' humanity, a human face is the symbol assigned to it.
- The symbol for Mark is a lion since this Gospel begins with the fierce preaching of John the Baptist in the desert. The lion is also a symbol of Christ’s divinity and kingship proclaimed in this Gospel.
- An ox, the sym bol of sacrifice, is assigned to Luke since this Gospel begins in the Temple with the priest Zechariah entering the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice. The Gospel emphasizes the priestly and sacrificial aspects of Jesus’ life.
- The Gospel according to John begins with a mysterious prologue that proclaims Jesus as the preexistent and incarnate Word of God who reveals the Father. A high-soaring eagle is its symbol. The eagle also may be a symbol of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus in the Gospel.