Posts Tagged ‘canon’

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/23/2014: How To Form Your Canon with Lee McDonald

August 21, 2014

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Canon. It’s something a lot of Christians don’t think about. You open up your Bible and those books are there. They’re just there. Yet how did they get there? Why do you have the Gospel of Matthew and not The Gospel According To The Simpsons in your Bible? Why do you have the story of Genesis but you don’t have the Gilgamesh Epic?

Some of us have thought about this. We have to face the common objections that we see. We hear that the choosing of the books of the Bible was just arbitrary. We hear for the NT that many Gospels were excluded like the Gospel of Thomas. We see series on the History Channel like “Banned From The Bible.” We also hear today commonly on the internet that all the books of the Bible were chosen at the Council of Nicea in 325.

This indicates some have thought about this, but some haven’t thought as much as others. One person who has thought a lot about these issues is Lee McDonald.

Lee McDonald

According to his bio:

 

Dr. Lee Martin McDonald (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh, Scotland) has studied at many institutions including Cambridge University (England), Heidelberg University (Germany), and Harvard University. He is a professor of New Testament studies and president emeritus at Acadia Divinity College and former dean of the Faculty of Theology at Acadia Univeristy in Nova Scotia, Canada. He has taught New Testament Studies at Acadia, Sioux Falls Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, was a visiting scholar and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2007 – 2008, and lectured in a variety of graduate institutions in Canada, the USA, Athens in Greece, Budapest, Prague, and elsewhere. He also served for six years as president of the international Institute for Biblical Research (a community of hundreds of Old and New Testament scholars), was a chaplain in the U.S. Army, a pastor for more than twenty years, and has served on boards of directors for three graduate schools of theology. Lee McDonald has written and/or edited more than 31 books and authored more than 100 articles and essays on biblical subjects, as well as on practical issues for the church.

 

Dr. McDonald is a member of the prestigious Studiorum Novi Testamentum Societas, the Society of Biblical Literature and the Institute for Biblical Resarch. He is an American Baptist ordianed minister and has served as a pastor and in leadership positions within the denomination. He regularly focuses on how the Bible came to be and also what biblical scholars are saying about Jesus in various churches as well as academic settings. He also addresses the question of the relevance of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient non-biblical resources for understanding Jesus in his context and various pasages in the New Testment as well as their relevance for canon formation. He is a specialist in the context of early Christianity and the origin of the Bible.

 

 

Dr. McDonald is quite the authority on the canon and not just the New Testament canon! It would be a treat to discuss just that even, but no, you’re going to get two canons for the price of one! We’re going to be talking about the formation of the Old Testament canon as well. Why is it that in both canons we have the books that we have and not the other ones? Is there any controlling conspiracy going on? Are Christians just trying to hide ideas about Jesus that they just don’t like?

In the end, it could realize that the truth is something far greater. It could actually be that we have the very books that God intended us to have and we do have a reliable source of information on the history of the people of God and the life of Jesus the Christ.

So please be watching your ITunes feed soon for the latest episode of Deeper Waters discussing the formation of the canon of Scripture with Dr. Lee McDonald.

 

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast: 4/26/2014 — Craig Blomberg.

April 24, 2014

What’s coming up on Saturday’s episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

First off, due to a scheduling need of my guest, our episode will air a little bit later this Saturday. Instead of the traditional time of 3-5 PM EST, we will do the show from 4-6 PM EST.

So now, let’s get to the heart of the matter. What’s coming up?

Well I have as a return guest someone who has come to be an arch-heretic (if you believe certain parties heavily pushing an anti-intellectual view of Inerrancy) in the media. That is Craig Blomberg who will be back again to discuss his recent excellent book, “Can We Still Believe The Bible?” So who is Craig Blomberg? According to his bio:

“Dr. Craig Blomberg is Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado. He holds the B.A. from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, the M.A. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and the Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

Craig is the author of twelve books and has co-authored or co-edited seven more, along with dozens of journal articles and chapters in multi-author works. His books include three on the historical reliability and interpretation of the gospels (one specializing in John), two on interpreting and preaching the parables, three commentaries (on Matthew, 1 Corinthians and James), a textbook on Jesus and the Gospels and another on Acts through Revelation, and two books on material possessions in the Bible.

On Sunday mornings Craig regularly preaches and teaches in a variety of churches. On Sunday evenings, he attends and is part of the leadership team of Scum of the Earth Church in urban Denver, an outreach ministry to “the right-brained and left out” young adults of the metro area.

Craig’s wife, Fran, is currently adjunct professor of Intercultural Ministries at Denver Seminary and is pursuing her Ph.D in Missiology through the International Baptist Seminary in Prague. Craig and Fran have two daughters: Elizabeth (Little), who is married and is employed as a lay student worker at her Methodist Church in Canterbury, England; and Rachel, who is majoring in biochemistry at the University of Rochester, New York.”

Blomberg 2014 pic 1

Despite what his critics think, I find Blomberg’s book to be incredibly helpful and for those who were listening last Saturday, keep in mind that Daniel Wallace as well spoke highly of Blomberg. Blomberg’s book covers the areas of the text of the Bible, the canon of Scripture, the problems of translation, the issue of Inerrancy, questions about genre consideration, and finally miracles. All of these are incredibly relevant to our culture today and all of them have answers.

I really hope you’ll be there to listen to this important episode and also that you’ll go out and get a copy of Blomberg’s book. Remember that our show will be on a different time this week and that is going to be from 4-6 PM EST. We will naturally be able to take your calls as well and the number if you want to call in is 714-242-5180.

The link can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Can We Still Believe The Bible?

April 1, 2014

What do I think of Craig Blomberg’s latest book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

CanWeStill

I was one of those fortunate enough to get a copy in advance of Blomberg’s latest book for review purposes. As it stands, I was expecting to get a book on new findings that demonstrate the reliability of the Gospels and answers to atheist objections and matters of that sort. I was disappointed in that regards.

But sometimes, it’s good to be disappointed.

Blomberg’s book was not what I expected, and that’s a good thing, because he dealt more with issues surrounding the Bible. I don’t think he wrote this for skeptics of the faith as much as he wrote it for Christians to get them to focus on what’s really the most important, and there have been too many debates lately that have lost that focus.

The book moves in a gradual path from one point to the next connecting the chapters. There is a progression that the reader can easily pick up on that answers the major contemporary issues that are surrounding the Bible today. Also in this, Blomberg goes to great lengths to avoid extremes. There’s more of a happy medium in the topics that he raises that he encourages us to embrace.

The first topic Blomberg deals with is if we have the right words of the Bible or not. After all, if the text has just been so terribly corrupted, then how can we even begin to say we believe the Bible since we have no idea what it says?

We’ve seen those memes before that have the facts about the Bible about how the copies we have are late and there are only copies and copies and we possess no originals and since all of this is true, well we just can’t really trust the Bible.

The sad reality is that if the text of the NT cannot be trusted, the text of any other ancient document cannot be trusted. Now keep in mind at this point I am not saying the information conveyed in the text is true. I am simply saying that the text has been handed down reliably.

For every ancient text, we only have copies. Some of these are indeed centuries away from the original text. Sometimes, we only have a few extant copies. Yet the time span of the Bible is closer by far than other ancient texts and when it comes to the number of texts that we have, there is an embarrassment of riches.

In fact, we have more evidence of the reliability of the Biblical text than we did when Ehrman had his crisis of faith that he recounts in several of his books. Yet still, this idea persists that we can’t know what the authors of the Bible originally said. (Interestingly, Ehrman does think he can get to what the oral tradition was behind the text of the Bible. So Ehrman thinks he can take an inaccurate text and use that to get an accurate oral transmission?) A sign of this is that recently on Peter Boghossian’s Facebook page he put up a link to Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman and said he was sure the apologists would not comment.

As if any of us were just unprepared for Ehrman and had nothing to say.

This is also especially so since there is always new information coming. A book that came out shortly after Blomberg finished the manuscript I’m sure is The Early Text of the New Testament. There is even a rumor that we could have a 1st century copy of Mark, which would really devastate much of this ideology.

For those interested, Blomberg even goes into Old Testament textual criticism. He notes that the skeptics would have a stronger case here, but it is not made. I suppose the NT is the one that most want to deal with and sadly, too many Christians do ignore the OT.

On the other extreme, Blomberg advises not heeding groups of people like the KJV onlyists. As he tells us, each generation it seems this movement arises again and must be dealt with. I won’t go into what Blomberg says here, but he goes so far as to say the KJV onlyists go past the Muslims in the way they choose one text and just exclude all others.

The next topic to consider is the canon of the Bible. Did the church get it right with the canon? Blomberg here shows how many of the books were debated for the OT and the NT both but eventually made it in. He makes a case for why the Apocrypha was not included in the sacred literature and discusses the books that were selected to possibly be in the canon but in the end, were rejected.

What’s the other extreme to having the canon be flexible entirely? Well it’s to say that the Bible stands alone and is our only guide for anything. This gets ridiculous when we see many books on a Biblical Guide to X, where the topic is concerning matters the Bible was never meant to address. One can find principles that are consistent with the Bible, but let’s not get that confused with what the Bible is really authoritatively teaching. If you want to learn algebra, your best bet is a math textbook and not the Bible.

The next section deals with the topic of translations of the Bible. Why are there so many? Blomberg points out that there are different theories on biblical translation. Some go for a word-for-word translation as much as possible. Some want to focus on getting the meaning across more than a literal translation of the words. Then some try to go in the middle. There’s a time and place for each. It would be a mistake however to always think that the literal is best.

Naturally, there are some translations to avoid such as the NWT of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Mormons. I was also thinking Blomberg might have included something I read when I was in Bible College, which is the Scholar’s Version, the one put out by the Jesus Seminar which included the Gospel of Thomas.

Meanwhile, there is an extreme to avoid here and that has been a debate over gender-inclusiveness in the Bible. Now if we’re talking about turning God into a female for instance, then yes, I have a problem with changing that language, but when we talk about mankind in the generic sense, I really don’t have a problem. There are commands that are clearly wrong for men and women both and changing the language to indicate that is not an issue, yet sadly so many Christians have been ready to attack anyone that moves in a direction they don’t really like. This included an all-out attack on the TNIV.

Blomberg ultimately concludes that one can take any of the best-selling translations of the Bible and find the Gospel message in there. While I have my own preferences at times in translation, I do have to agree with that one.

Next we come to a big one. What about Inerrancy? As many know, I have been caught in the thick of this one having been someone who was a student at Geisler’s first Seminary he founded and even being one of his students for a time. I also happen to be the son-in-law of Mike Licona so when the Inerrancy wars started, I was right there.

One of the first points I really liked in this chapter was how Blomberg dealt with this idea that there is no academic freedom for many scholars since they have to agree to something in a statement such as Inerrancy. Blomberg points out that most scholars agree to that who teach at these institutions because in their background study for years, they’ve come to the conclusion that they agree and they don’t take such claims lightly. If they do change their minds, they move on from that institution to another. Unfortunately, stories like that don’t get attention. It’s when a professor gets “ousted” that the media suddenly show up.

Blomberg also says that “Inerrancy can be wielded as a blunt tool to hammer into submission people whose interpretation of passages differ from ours, when in fact the real issue is not whether a passage is true or not but what kind of truth it teaches.”

Too many times I have seen the idea put forward that because Inerrancy is true, a teaching is true. It could be young-earth creationism. It could be pre-trib dispensationalism. It could even be that the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 is a real historical event instead of something apocalyptic!

Consider for instance the doctrinal basis for being a member of the Evangelical Theological Society.

“The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.

God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”

So to answer someone like Geisler who would ask “Could Mary Baker Eddy join the ETS?”, the answer would be no. She would not agree with the second. Yet notice that believing in the first does not mean one automatically believes in the second. One can believe the Bible is Inerrant and still get the second question wrong in thinking the Bible does not teach a Trinity. Jehovah’s Witnesses do this. Yet they could certainly not join ETS.

If you want to know if a person denies Inerrancy, it is not to be found in looking at what that person thinks the Bible teaches. Where is the knowledge that they deny Inerrancy to be found? It is in saying that they think the Bible has errors in it.

It is not a surprise then that the opposite extreme in this chapter is someone like Geisler again. Blomberg points out that if Geisler and those like him had their way, there would hardly be anyone left in ETS. This is the same Geisler who likes to use ETS as a weapon in the Licona debate to point out how Gundry was voted against (Which is covered in the next chapter) but ignores that the vote didn’t go his way with open theism. At this, Geisler left the institution and called it the Formerly Evangelical Theological Society. Now that he needs the Gundry vote again for his case, then he can start using the ETS once more. Blomberg points out that Geisler has repeatedly left Seminary after Seminary, including the one he founded, because none of them were conservative enough for him. I concur with Dr. Michael Bird.

“I thought a big highlight was Blomberg’s critique of extreme views of inerrancy by Robert Thomas and especially Norman Geisler. It becomes clear that Geisler in particular is not a particularly pleasant chap to work with and has never found an institution that was worthy of him. Seriously, Geisler is the villain of this chapter and comes across as being slightly to the right of Atilla the Hun.”

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2014/03/craig-blomberg-can-we-still-believe-the-bible/

It is good to see evangelicals like Bird and Blomberg coming out and standing up to what has been going on and being willing to really use all the historical tools that we can to examine the Bible instead of imposing modern standards on the text.

Related to this is the fifth chapter on genre categories in the Bible. Again, Blomberg covers both testaments. He asks questions about the nature of Job, Jonah, and the authorship and dates of books like Daniel and Isaiah and asks if the critical approach to any of these would really be a death knell for Inerrancy, concluding that they would not.

When it comes to the NT, he brings up the Gundry issue that I hinted at earlier and again points out the way Geisler behaved in this one. Gundry had the idea that much of Matthew was midrashic and thus not meant to be read as historical. It was something the readers would have known about and thus would not be a danger to Inerrancy.

Geisler would have none of it and encouraged the ETS to oust Gundry from membership. Most of the society however said that Gundry should be allowed to make his case and let it be critiqued in the scholarly circles instead of by censuring him. If there was little to his proposals, they would not gain scholarly support and would die out. Yet in the end, Gundry was voted out of the society. How did this happen when so many were saying what they said?

Answer. Geisler started a political campaign and had friends show up who normally would not come to meetings. The views presented were not presented in their fullest and just barely over the 2/3rds needed voted to remove Gundry. Blomberg points out that someone as stalwart as D.A. Carson did not see a violation of Inerrancy here, though he certainly saw no credibility to Gundry’s views. No shock Geisler has followed similar tactics against Mike Licona.

The simple solution to all of this is to do what we encourage skeptics to do. Follow the evidence where it leads. If the evidence shows that the Gospels are Greco-Roman biographies for instance, and scholarship across the board tends to go this way, then let us go with it. Let us find a way to shape our worldview according to the facts. Let’s not shape the facts according to our worldview.

The final chapter is on miracles. Now I must admit this one was probably the one that I thought could be improved on the most as in dealing with objections to miracles, there are mainly endnotes referring to Keener and Hume. For a book like Blomberg’s I would have liked to have seen some of the argumentation take place, although I certainly agree that pointing to someone like Keener is the way to go.

In this chapter, Blomberg looks at the miracles in both testaments and focuses mainly on the purpose of the miracles and their nature in comparison to claims in other religions. He notes many of the accounts are rather restrained and are meant for a specific purpose instead of just show. This is especially so in the case of Jesus’s miracles in the NT. He also uses the NT time to go after the health and wealth word of faith teachers. Many people Jesus healed did not have faith.

There are two extremes to avoid. The first is to believe all miracle claims. All claims of miracles should be believed or disbelieved based on the evidence that we have available. The next is to be overly skeptical of all miracles, and this includes Christians who believe the miracles of the Bible, but stalwartly refuse to admit any miracle in any other religion. This becomes a double-standard.

Meanwhile, you can also have claims such as John MacArthur with the “Strange Fire” conference where all charismatic were painted with a broad brush. Now I am in no way charismatic, but I agree that MacArthur crossed a big line with this one. Naturally, one can be on guard, but one should always be open to being wrong, and I have many Christian brothers and sisters in the charismatic movement. I have no desire to question their salvation.

In the end, I think Blomberg’s book is an excellent one. It’s not one on biblical apologetics per se, but it does fill a necessary gap. Blomberg’s writing remains us where our true focus needs to be. I highly recommend this one for students of Scripture.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/22/2014: Charles Hill

March 20, 2014

What’s coming up this Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

TextandCanon

This Saturday we have quite a show planned for you. He is the co-editor of the book “The Early Text of the New Testament” and the writer of “Who Chose The Gospels?” as well as a contributor to the upcoming book “How God Became Jesus.” That is Dr. Charles Hill.

CharlesHill

Dr. Hill got his Bachelor’s at the University of Nebraska. His Master’s came at Westminster Theological Seminary and he received his Ph.D. at Magdalene College, University of Cambridge. He is currently professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.

Let me put his lists of books and accomplishments and such this way. His CV is thirteen pages long. It would be extensive to list all of them.

So let me give you some idea of the kind of thing that we’re going to be talking about.

First, we’re going to spend about an hour talking about the early text of the new testament. This is also the title of the book that I mentioned above and we’ll be looking at how it is that we can believe that the text of the NT has been handed down to us reliably, which will be held in distinction to someone like Bart Ehrman.

As I wrote in my review of this book, it is indeed very scholarly. I won’t claim to understand a lot of the fine points of language that are in it, so hopefully we’ll be getting something here that can be readily understood and increase the certainty that the text that we have is reliable.

From there, we’ll be talking about the book “Who Chose The Gospels?”. This one is a book that will be definitely much more accessible. In fact, I’ve even let a friend of ours borrow it for the time being because it’s so accessible to everyone.

This is an entertaining read on canon criticism that deals with many of the ideas of conspiracies in getting the Gospels in the canon, poking fun throughout at the idea of who all was involved in this grand conspiracy to bring us four Gospels.

Both of these of course are extremely important for the texts of the New Testament. We need to know about the reliability of the text that we have insofar as it is text. (After all, saying the text has been handed down reliably says nothing about if the message in the text is true.) We also want to be sure that we have the Gospels that God intended for us to have.

That’s why I’m delighted to have on the show a scholar who specializes in these areas. I hope you will be just as excited as I am and be ready to listen to our program when it airs on March 22nd. As always, the call in number to the show if you want to call and ask a question is 714-242-5180. The time of the show will be from 3-5 PM EST.

The link can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Who Chose The Gospels?

February 17, 2014

What do I think of Charles Hill’s book on the Gospels? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

whochosethegospels

It has been said by some scholars that there was a sea of Gospels. Often we’re told that there were eighty or so up for consideration into the canon and yet, only four was chosen. Conspiracy theorists begin immediately looking at the data and see that somehow, a church being persecuted regularly by the Roman Empire and without any real power in the world, managed to control enough to make sure that their books came out on top. There were several Christianities that were vying for the spot of being the authentic one, but lo and behold, the party deemed today as orthodox won out and silenced all the others!

This is a narrative taught as gospel itself on the internet and in sources such as “The Da Vinci Code”, yet is there really any accuracy to it? Could it be that programs with such conspiracies such as one can find on the History Channel are really inaccurate and the truth is a lot more tame than that?

Charles Hill in “Who Chose The Gospels?” looks at this question and while there were other canon disputes, his main area he wants to look at is the Gospels. If you’re wanting to see how the church decided which epistles to include in the canon, you will be disappointed. If you want to see how the church arrived at four Gospels, you will not be.

Hill starts with the claim about multiple Gospels and says really, there weren’t as many as thought. These were Gospels that might pop up somewhere and be a flash in the pan and then just go off. They are harder to find because they just weren’t deemed as valuable.

An interesting way of showing this is that Hill takes us to Egypt where heterodoxy was most prevalent and shows that even there, if we look among the findings that we have, the canonical Gospels come out far and above on top! This means that even where heterodoxy was the leading contender, orthodox Gospels were still the primary Gospels that were being copied.

Of course, we need more to demonstrate the claim. The first person we go to is Irenaeus who wrote in the second century. Irenaeus gave an argument that there can only be four Gospels since there are four zones of the world and four principle winds, etc. He speaks about how the four Gospels represent the four creatures in the vision in Revelation, which no doubt has shades of Ezekiel there.

Now the modern person scoffs at this argument, and indeed if this was Irenaeus’s only reason we could understand it, but Irenaeus is not making an argument from reason so much as he is making one from aesthetics and as an aesthetical argument, it would be seen as quite good in Irenaeus’s day. Hill points out that to meet the argument, one would have to argue that “There is no harmony, proportion, or beauty to creation.” (p. 38) If someone wants to make such an argument, good luck. I hope such a person is not married. Their spouse will not be happy hearing there is no beauty in creation.

The main point to get is that early on, the second century, Irenaeus is already saying that there are four Gospels. This goes against the idea that the idea of four Gospels was suddenly foisted on the church in the fourth century. (No doubt with Constantine, who as we all know is the cause of all the problems in the church.)

But maybe Irenaeus is a lone example.

Except Hill shows later fathers who held to the four. Hippolytus, Tertullian, Origen, Dionysius, Cyprian, Victorinus, Marinus, and Euplus. If Irenaeus was acting alone, he sure tricked a lot of people into going along with the scheme.

Of course, if you can’t deal with Irenaeus’s arguments, there’s always one route you can take. You can just go after his character. Hill spends the next chapter looking at the way Irenaeus’s modern opponents paint him as a mean-spirited and aggressive bully.

What’s neglected by these people is that Irenaeus was speaking in the common style of his day. Do we do this today? Not often, though some do still. What does that mean? Does that mean we’re better? No. Whether the language is appropriate or not is not determined by the reigning zeitgiest of the day.

Furthermore, Irenaeus does also make charges of some of his opponents of sexual misconduct. Hill says it’s a surprise the feminists of today aren’t siding with Irenaeus, but alas, they’re more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the offender when Hill makes an excellent case that there’s good reason to think this charge was an exception for Irenaeus and one he made because he had good reason to think it was true.

Yet still, one could say Irenaeus was late second century. Fair enough. What if he had some co-conspirators who worked with him on this plot to foist four Gospels on the church? Hill looks at a teacher, preacher, and canon-list maker.

Enter Clement of Alexandria. Living in the Egypt area, Clement would have been familiar with the non-canonical Gospels and indeed he did read them, but if you want to know where his devotion lies, it’s to the Canonical ones. The ratio of citations of the canonicals to the non-canonicals is about 120 to 1. He speaks much more favorably of the canonicals saying they are acknowledged and handed down to us. This is not said of the others.

Well sure, but didn’t a community use the Gospel of Peter? For a time, yes, as approved by Serapion, until he got to read the Gospel for himself and then banned it from public reading. (Note that it is not recorded that he ordered it to be destroyed) Also, it’s important to realize that this Gospel was just being put forward when Serapion arrived. It was new and thus not one of the handed down ones.

As for the canon-list maker, this refers to the Muratorian Fragment which dates to the second century, to be fair, it only mentions two Gospels as the part that lists the first two is missing, but the two mentioned are Luke and John. No scholar doubts Matthew and Mark are the others.

But what if we went even earlier? How about Justin Martyr and the memoirs of the apostles? Hill shows there’s good reason to think Justin knew all four Gospels. Why not name them? For one thing, he was writing to the emperor and citing his own authorities would not be a convincing case. Is a Christian convinced when an atheist cites the God Delusion? Nope. Is an atheist convinced when a Christian cites Scripture? Nope. Are either convinced when a Muslim cites the Koran? Nope.

Well what if in this conspiracy Justin also had co-conspirators? If so, he had awfully strange bedfellows for a Christian.

The first would be Trypho. While Trypho never names the Gospels, there is assumed a familiarity with the Gospel between Justin and Trypho. (Gospel could refer to the message but also, all four Gospels could be spoken of singularly as the Gospel) There is no indication of material from non-canonical Gospels. The same applies in fact to the Emperor and Senate Justin wrote to. Justin refers to written records which record what happened, namely acts, and why not think that this refer to the Gospels? Justin also indicates these memoirs would not be hard to obtain.

Next would be Crescens, an early Christian opponent. Justin says Crescens has likely not read the Gospels and if he has read them, he has not understood them. What does this tell us? It tells us that there was a written source where Justin thought one could find the truth of Christianity.

After that is Celsus who tries to use the Gospels to disprove Christianity and points to items in there like the supposedly contradictory genealogies and which Gospels is it that have those genealogies? Only two! Matthew and Luke! Canonicals! Celsus also refers to other claims that are only found in the other canonical Gospels. Even the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Judas show a dependence on the canonicals and in fact that they are responding to the canonicals.

But what if the case for the four can go back even earlier!

Now Hill takes us to the Apocryphon of James which is in fact, a response to material in the Gospels, such as the Gospel of John. Another work, the Epistle of the Apostles, responds to that, which means that it too had to know about the Gospels.

Hill also asks here if Marcion invented the canon and concludes that he did not. In fact if anything, he was dependent on a prior idea of a canon. He had to edit some materials in order to begin to have a canon.

Finally, he points to Aristides who wrote to the emperor and pointed to written sources the emperor could obtain and included references to Jesus that come out of the Gospels.

The trend continues. Polycarp shows familiarity with the Gospels. So does Clement of Rome and the Epistle of Barnabas has a reference to Matthew in it that many scholars to this day have tried to deny.

Finally, we come to Papias. Hill points out that when Papias lists the apostles, he lists them in the order they are found in John. It’s either an amazing coincidence, or else Papias was familiar with John. He also goes to Eusebius at this point with further testimony from a source Eusebius does not name but Hill makes a fascinating case concerning. In fact, Hill argues that it could be the apostle John was the one who collected all the Gospels after writing his own and passed them on.

So this still leaves the question.

Who chose the Gospels?

For Hill, it would be like asking how you chose your parents. You don’t. You just recognize them. The Gospels essentially chose themselves. They were recognized on the basis of what they were and the church could not deny it. There were no grand conspiracies. There were no power plays going on to push these to the front. This was just the natural order at work.

I have here given a brief synopsis, but if you are interested in this debate, you owe it to yourself to read this book. It is difficult for me to think of a way someone could hold to the crazy theories often put on the internet today in the light of Hill’s research and we owe him a great debt of gratitude for putting together a fine and engaging work.

In Christ,
Nick Peters