Ματθαιος μεν εγραψεν Εβραιοις θαυματα Χριστου,
Μαρκος δ Ιταλιη,
Πασι δ Ιωαννης,
κηρυξ μεγας, ουρανοϕοιτης.
(Gregory of Nazianzus, Carmina dogmatica 1.12.6–9)
Richard Bauckham has called on scholars to abandon the reading strategy of redaction criticism that had risen to prominence especially in the 1960s, and return to the way the gospels had always been understood before that – as having been written ‘for all Christians’. The present essay resituates this debate as actually yet another instance of a very old and enduring hermeneutical problem in the exegesis of Christian literature: the relationship between the particularity and universality of the gospels. Study of patristic gospel exegesis reveals no author who says the gospels were written ‘for all Christians’, and, even more importantly, shows that early Christian readers – through evangelist biographies, localizing narratives, audience request traditions, and heresiological accounts of the composition of individual gospels, as well as in their theological reflections on the fourfold gospel – engaged in a sustained and deliberate dialectic between the local and universal audiences of the gospels which defies any simple dichotomy between ‘specific’ and ‘indefinite’ readers.