Synopses & Reviews
The Bible contains four Gospels which tell the story of Jesus of Nazareth. And yet, many more Gospels once existed. Who, then, determined which Gospels would, for the next two thousand years, serve as the main gateways to Jesus and his teaching?
Recent books and films have traced the decision to a series of fourth-century councils and powerful bishops. After achieving victory over their rivals for the Christian name, these key players, we are now told, conspired to 'rewrite history' to make it look like their version of Christianity was the original one preached by Jesus and his apostles: the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John became the prime tools for their re-sculpting of the Christian story, leading to the destruction of previously treasured writings like the Gospels of Judas, Mary, and Thomas. Are the four canonical Gospels, then, in the Bible as the result of a great, ecclesiastical conspiracy? Or does this explanation itself represent another 'rewriting of history', this time by a group of modern academics?
Who Chose the Gospels? takes us to the scholarship behind the headlines, examining the great (and ongoing) controversy about how to look at ancient books about Jesus. How the four Biblical Gospels emerged into prominence among their competitors is a crucial question for everyone interested in understanding the historical Jesus and the development of the Christian church.
"For those willing to examine the documentary evidence, there is no better guide
than this book by Charles E. Hill. Hill is meticulous, even-handed, careful to
distinguish between historical datum and speculation-and a good writer
to boot. Not many books that are so informed are such a pleasure to read."--D. A. Carson
"A lively, engaging, and authoritative account of the origins and early history of the fourfold gospel."--Andrew Gregory, University of Oxford
"This well-written semi-popular presentation offers a vigorous and generally persuasive counter-narrative to widely publicized views that portray the success of the canonical gospels as the result of political or power machinations in the early church."--Religious Studies Review
"Interesting and appealing...Hill's presentation of early Christian sources is informative, easy to follow for the layman, and offers a much needed counterbalance in scholarship. It cogently argues for the early ascendancy of the four canonical Gospels and lacks the sensationalism that pervades many recent studies of early Christianity."--BYU Studies Quarterly
It is now widely said that the four Gospels rose to prominence only after a long battle within early Christianity, a battle finally won in the fourth century, after the establishment of the Church by Constantine the Great. In Who Chose the Gospels? Charles E. Hill demolishes this claim, providing a more historically accurate, alternative account of how the Church came to acknowledge four, and only four, narratives of the life of Jesus. Hill offers not only an informed critique of recent, overtly "political" readings of early Christian history, but also a more nuanced analysis of how and why, out of all the Gospels written in the early centuries of the Church, just these four "made it" into the Bible. In fact, the author shows that despite the profusion of Gospels, there was wide agreement among church leaders, in diverse regions of the empire, at least from the second century onward, as to the authority of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Thus it was not a conspiracy but common consensus that determined the books of the New Testament.
About the Author
Charles E. Hill
is Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, in Orlando, Florida.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Drowning in a Sea of Gospels
1. The Proof is in the Papyri: Gospel Bestsellers from Egyptian Garbage Dumps
2. Silencing the Bishop, Part I: The Lonely Irenaeus
3. Silencing the Bishop, Part II: The Ugly Irenaeus
4. Irenaeus' 'Co-conspirators': Clement, Serapion, and a Canon-list-maker
5. 'Packaging' the Gospels: of Harmonies, Synopses, and Codices
6. Preaching and Teaching the Gospels: Justin Martyr and the Apostles' Memoirs
7. Justin's 'Co-conspirators': The Gospels as Public Documents
8. Some 'Proto-conspirators': Two Forgers and an Apologist
9. Some 'Co-proto-conspirators': The Apostolic Fathers
10. The Search for an 'Arch-conspirator': A Bishop, an Elder, and an Elderly Apostle
11. Who Chose the Gospels?
Appendix: Dates of the earliest manuscripts of the canonical Gospels