Why Four Gospels?

         The historical origins of the gospels

Archive for Commentary

June 5, 2014

Affirming the Historicity and Apostolicity of the Gospels

Filed under: Commentary @ 1:47 pm

Why Four Gospels?6:56 AM Jim Wallace had penned a fine piece called How Can We Trust the Gospels When the Genealogy of Jesus Is So Different? Many New Testament scholars question the historical reliability of the four Gospel accounts of the life of Christ. They insist that the records are filled with after-the-fact embellishments — a fact that requires scholars to search for the “historical Jesus” beneath the accretions of tradition, much like peeking an opinion to its core. For example, on one of the most important points of the Jesus story — the resurrection and the empty tomb — all the Gospels agree. Yet even when confronted with this evidence many people do not find the truth of the resurrection easy to accept. Nevertheless, belief in the resurrection of Christ is essential to our faith. Apostolic preaching confirmed it and even made it a condition of salvation: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

I wrote my book Why Four Gospels? not so much to argue for Matthean priority as to affirm the complete historicity and apostolicity of the Gospels. Early in my Christian experience I discovered that the Gospels were — and needed to be — central in my understanding not only of the Good News about Jesus Christ but of life itself. Only the cross of Jesus can supply meaning to life, and that is because the cross and the resurrection are an interwoven reality. Of one thing I am quite certain: Christianity is a historical faith. It is rooted and grounded in historical fact. No “leap of faith” is required to believe in Jesus. As I once heard Francis Schaeffer put it in Switzerland, you don’t have to put your brain in park or neutral to become a Christian. His cross is the center of all history. It is the crossroads of the universe. No one can avoid confrontation with it.

It is my prayer that skeptics may come to the Gospels with an open mind and heart, for there the living Christ is ready to meet Doubting Thomases in their pessimism and the travelers to Emmaus in their intellectualism.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. 6/5/2014)

February 17, 2014

The Longer Ending of Mark and Snake Handling

Filed under: Commentary @ 11:03 pm

11:36 AM Now this was a fun read: The awkward truth about snake-handling: it’s totally Biblical. It all depends on how you read Mark 16:9-20 — original or not? The commenter is correct when he says, “There are plenty of biblical inerrantists who correctly discern this long ending of Mark as extra-biblical, using basic textual criticism.” Alas, there are other biblical inerrantists would politely disagree. Which is why I published Perspectives on the Ending of Mark. Read at your own risk!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

June 13, 2013

Pay Attention to Ancient Sources

Filed under: Commentary @ 2:19 pm
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5:45 AM When the great C. S. Lewis moved from Oxford to Cambridge, his inaugural lecture explored the theme of literary history. In it he questioned the age-old practice of referring to “periods” in English literature, such as the “Renaissance.” Such terms, he insisted, were myths. “The Renaissance never happened,” he said. He argued that “periods” in history are not necessarily facts but rather retrospective concepts shaped more or less by polemical factors. Thus the literature of the so-called “Middle Ages” is no less important than that produced during the Renaissance.

In my forthcoming book on the authorship of Hebrews, I argue that the reception history of the book of Hebrews, a book that always circulated in the early church among the Pauline letters, has shared a similar fate. The evidence for its Paulinity has not so much been refuted as overlooked or ignored. In my book Why Four Gospels? I have argued similarly for Matthean priority based upon the unanimous testimony of the earliest church that Matthew (and not Mark) was the first written record of the life and teachings of Jesus. Throughout my studies of the Gospels I’ve been struck by one thing: how Jesus’ ministry broke like a thunderclap on Galilee. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan were of the same degree, I would imagine. In Mark we often read that Jesus’ hearers were completely amazed at His teaching and shocked beyond words at His scandalous deeds.

I will be the first to confess that Jesus’ teachings did not always strike me in this manner. For many years I was much more attracted to the detailed logic and complex semotaxis of Paul’s writings. But if I am correct in arguing that Matthew is our earliest Gospel and that it may have been written within a decade of the resurrection, then it seems likely that the apostle Paul was well aware of its contents and, indeed, may well have a had a copy of Matthew’s scroll with him on his various missionary journeys. It is not hard to imagine the impact this Gospel of Matthew might have had on Paul’s life and ministry. For throughout the whole account of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew there is a singular and profound focus on the Great Commission to reach the unevangelized nations, ta ethne. The Great Commission requires, not discussion, but obedience. Jesus demands it — of Paul, and no less of us today. And Matthew has provided not only for his own community (in Palestine) but for all Christians of all times and places a marvelous tool for carrying out this commission to the ends of the earth.

This, then, is why I think it is so important for us to read and study the Gospels. And I do hope, in this light, that my students and I do not get so distracted by the many marvelous details in the Gospel accounts that we fail to live out the “Good News” that so captivated and transformed the first followers of Jesus.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission)

April 5, 2013

Irenaeus Not the Inventor of the Fourfold Gospel Canon

Filed under: Commentary @ 5:07 pm

4:42 PM Michael Kruger has posted an interesting essay in which he argues that the Fourfold Gospel canon was not invented by Irenaeus.

Not only did his contemporaries have this same view, but this view was even shared by those before him. Thus, we must consider the possibility that Irenaeus was actually telling the truth when he says that the fourfold gospel was something that was “handed down” to him.

Wonderful. And a good reminder why Bernard Orchard called his view of synoptic origins the “Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis.” (For details, see my book on the subject.)

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission)

February 23, 2013

Filed under: Commentary @ 11:44 pm

8:10 AM Saw this today:

One of the many curiosities in the study of the NT and earliest Christianity is the early history and fortunes of the Gospel of Mark (hereafter, GMark). On the one hand (assuming the dominant view of Mark’s priority), the GMark appears to have been very influential. It is widely thought that the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were likely prompted to write the kind of Jesus-books that they did by GMark.

“Assuming the dominant view of Mark’s priority.” This is precisely, I argue, what we cannot and must not do today.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission)

September 8, 2012

Gospel Dates in Relation to Philippians

Filed under: Commentary @ 1:27 am
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7:16 PM Mark over at Alternation continues his excellent discussion of the book of Philippians, which we are now studying in Greek 3. His current passage is 1:12-18. In verse 14 Paul refers to the “word” which the Romans believers were speaking boldly and fearlessly. Concerning this word, Mark states:

The word is not yet written down in the four Gospels or any creed, but it has been summarized in creed-like confessions and hymns, and is contained in a recognized body of traditional teaching.

This view is, of course, possible, but it is my contention (as argued in Why Four Gospels?) that the Gospel of Matthew was written within 10 years of the resurrection and that Paul quite possibly had a copy of it with him on his missionary journeys. It’s a fascinating hypothesis, isn’t it, that Paul may have actually possessed a copy of the First Gospel in his hands and that he may have alluded to or quoted from it in his earliest writings (e.g., 1 Thessalonians). I imagine that very few students today realize that there is more than a handful of sound arguments for this theory. Mark’s point nevertheless holds:

The word they are speaking is the story of Jesus Christ, how he defeated sin, death, and hatred by enduring them on the cross and rising again, how he will come again to finish the work of transforming all creation into the place where God’s will is done on earth as in heaven, and how he empowers his followers through the Spirit of God to live a life that is a foretaste of and witness to the glory and victory that is to come.

And that is very well put.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission)

May 18, 2012

The Church Fathers and Study of the Gospels

Filed under: Commentary @ 2:29 pm
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5:50 AM I’m glad to see that the Gospel of Mark is being discussed on several blogs these days. The latest hubbub seems to have to do with something called Mark’s “community.” However, the elephant in the room, it seems to me, is the absence of any discussion of the church fathers. Of course, a full account of the patristic testimony would fill several volumes. I have made a partial case for Mark’s Sitz im Leben in my book Why Four Gospels? Sadly, the patristic evidence is today hardly known in New Testament scholarship, although everyone claims to regard it with a certain respect. The average person doesn’t have a clue because he or she hasn’t done the reading. Such investigation would raise questions too complex — and perhaps too uncomfortable — for the sort of subjective and superficial overview one finds in the typical New Testament Introduction. I myself was ill-taught in this respect while in seminary. Not once were we asked to crack open a patristic tome, and thus I was ill prepared for vigorous debate on the subject. I don’t mean to imply that students of the Gospels know absolutely nothing about the fathers. Certain New Testament scholars were famous for their knowledge (e.g., William Farmer). To become familiar with the field would ask a lot of your average student of the Gospels. In the eyes of some, I suppose, any interaction with the fathers is a subversive menace to the status quo. Those who (like myself) hold to somewhat traditional views of authorship and provenance are sometimes subjected to ad hominem innuendo (“Why Dave, you must be a Catholic!”). Merely questioning the consensus opinio can get you into hot water from the establishment. None of this is challenged front and center by the mainstream academy. Thus protected from all the evidence, many of our students have bought into what I consider to be a highly defective product. To call this merely a “bias” against the fathers is to understate the belligerent emotionality one sometimes encounters. The grain of truth which is the Markan Priority Hypothesis should not mean that we accept the theory without questioning it (the existence of “Q” alone should cause one to pause).

So let the discussion continue and expand. It certainly will in my New Testament classes, where students are exposed to the Mark-Q Hypothesis, Mark Without Q, the Two Gospel Hypothesis, and even the position espoused by their professor (the Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis) — testing and thinking and pondering before coming to a conclusion, their own conclusion. Enough of this, however. I’ve got to get to campus for grading and for two commencement services. Heartiest congratulations to all of our graduates and especially to my doctoral student Alex Stewart as well as my pastor Jason Evans who also will be receiving his doctoral hood today. Well done, one and all.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission)

March 30, 2012

Jesus of Faith or Jesus of Histroy

6) Who is Jesus? The “Jesus of history” or the “Jesus of the church”? Yesterday I listened to an interesting discussion of this topic called Der Mann aus Nazareth. It’s not surprising that this is a hot topic in Germany. And it was good to hear scholars calling us back to the biblical, core revelation about Jesus that is found in the Gospels. All too often German scholarship has concluded that the Gospels enshrine merely the kerygma of the early church. They are neither historical nor literary, but dogmatic and cultic – legends in which the Hellenistic mythological interpretation of Christ has been superimposed on the historical Jesus. I plan on returning to this subject in my book Godworld. In any event, I am convinced that it is unnecessary to separate the theological from the historical. The circumstances of the origin of the fourfold gospel will always be a matter of speculation, but historical evidence is not lacking (see my Why Four Gospels?).

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission)

March 23, 2012

External Evidence and the Synoptic Problem

2:36 PM I continue to be fascinated by the synoptic problem. My book Why Four Gospels? examines different elements that play an essential role in resolving this question.

My position is based on two foundational pillars: the external evidence provided by the earliest fathers that Matthew was the first of the canonical Gospels, and the internal evidence that suggests Mark is a conflation of Matthew and Luke (Orchard called this the “zigzagging effect”). I have yet to see a refutation of the external evidence. Most scholars reject the patristic testimony as being of little or no value for source-critical research. Since the internal evidence can never be probative (it can never prove anything about the sequence or interrelationships of the Gospels), it would seem that Gospel scholars would be all the more willing to take the external evidence into account. Whatever option is ultimately preferred, the internal evidence ought to be supplemented by considerations about the empirical circumstances under which the traditions about Jesus were developed in the earliest church. It may be that future generations of New Testament students will perform this task. If they don’t, I predict very little progress in this great area of research. I would dare to hope that my re-examination of the leading church fathers will offer some helpful suggestions for the next generation of scholars.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission)

April 1, 2011

Embellishing Stories

Filed under: Commentary @ 9:51 pm
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4:45 PM If you are a Civil War buff (as I am you) have probably seen the movie Gettysburg starring Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee and Jeff Daniels as Joshua Chamberlain. There’s an unforgettable scene that takes place on the first day of battle. Union cavalry General John Reynolds is in the copula of the Lutheran Theological Seminary when General John Reynolds of the Union I Corps rides up. “Thank God,” says a tearful Buford. “What goes, John?” asks Reynolds. “There’s a devil to pay,” replies Buford. “Can you hold?” inquires Reynolds. “I reckon I can,” says Buford. At this point, Buford descends from the copula and the two generals ride off toward the sound of battle on McPherson’s Ridge.


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