Why Four Gospels for One Gospel

(June 6, 2020) 7:45 AM A few years ago I asked, “Why are there four gospels in our New Testament and not, say, three or five?”

But as I read Gal. 2:1-10 this morning — the next paragraph in my study of this marvelous letter — I can see how my question might be a bit misleading. Paul has much to say about this subject in our passage. To read these verses is to derive one conclusion and one conclusion only: There is only one gospel. And it is through this gospel that Jews and Gentiles alike are accepted by God on the same terms — through faith in Jesus Christ. Now if there is only one gospel for the apostle Paul and for the Jerusalem apostles, shouldn’t there be only one gospel for us? How, then, can we speak of four “gospels”?

The reason is simple: the term “gospel” (euangelion) originally referred only to a message. Thus in the New Testament, euangelion never refers to a book. Later, the term was broadened in meaning to include what we today call the written “gospels” of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. So in one sense, there is only one gospel in the New Testament, and there is only one gospel for the church. This gospel message hasn’t changed in two millennia. Whether it is proclaimed to young or old, Jew or Gentile, cultured or uncultured, its substance never changes. Peter and Paul preached the same gospel, and so must we.

One way, I think, to overcome the apparent contradiction between this “one gospel” and the “four gospels” is to refer to the latter, as I do in my book Why Four Gospels?, as the “fourfold gospel.” This is, in fact, how the early church referred to them. In addition, when these four accounts of the life of Christ were originally published, their titles were not “The Gospel of Matthew,” “The Gospel of Mark,” etc. They were, instead, “The Gospel according to Matthew,” “The Gospel according to Mark,” and so forth. This is without a doubt the best way to refer to them today, and I myself have tried to do so in my teaching and writing, though I often lapse back into “The Gospel of Matthew.” Certainly, there are differences of style between these four accounts. There are also differences of emphasis. All this I point out in my book. But their substance is the same, and the early church was at pains to emphasize this. This matter is of importance to us today because there are some who want to pit Matthew against Mark, for example, or John against Luke. They openly allege that the gospels contradict one another. Therefore, they can’t be trusted. That there are apparent contradictions between the written gospels, no one will deny. But they are capable of explanations that do not require us to sacrifice the inspiration and inerrancy on the altar of scholarship. Each gospel writer, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, had to select and arrange the material in his book. This material will naturally vary from gospel to gospel. And this is one reason we must study these accounts horizontally — using a harmony of the gospels or a Greek synopsis to do so. Not only that, each gospel has a different purpose. Matthew wrote to accomplish one thing, Mark another, Luke another, and John yet another. And so we must read each gospel vertically (from beginning to end) if we are to understand its unique emphasis. The lesson that stands out for me in this paragraph from Galatians is that there is only one true gospel message, the gospel of grace, of God’s free and unmerited favor. To turn from that gospel is to turn from the grace of Christ. In this sense, the church does not have more than one gospel. Both Paul and Peter had been entrusted with the same gospel. And that gospel it our common message today.

Hope this made sense!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

New eBook Formats for Why Four Gospels

Why Four Gospels is now available for iTunes and Google Play, and continues to be available for Kindle. While it’s nice to have these new formats, it is still available in print, and my price check on Amazon.com today showed $8.48 retail.


Or you can purchase it direct with orders over $9.99 shipped free:

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Publication of The Pericope of the Adulteress in Modern Research

From Dave Black Online:

1) I am pleased to announce that The Pericope of the Adulteress in Modern Research has been accepted for publication in T & T Clark’s Library of New Testament Studies series. You may recall that SEBTS hosted a major conference on this topic in April of 2014 .

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Well, the papers have now been assembled in book form. Yours truly and my former assistant and current Th.M. student Jacob Cerone are serving as editors. Here are the contents:

Foreword:  Gail O’Day

Preface: David Alan Black

Introduction: Jacob N. Cerone

Chapter 1: John David Punch: “The Piously Offensive Pericope Adulterae

Chapter 2: Jennifer Knust: ” ‘Taking Away From’: Patristic Evidence and the Omission of the Pericope Adulterae from John’s Gospel”

Chapter 3: Tommy Wasserman: “The Strange Case of the Missing Adulteress”

Chapter 4:  Chris Keith: “The Pericope Adulterae: A Theory of Attentive Insertion”

Chapter 5: Maurice Robinson: “The Pericope Adulterae: A Johannine Tapestry with Double Interlock”

Chapter 6: Larry Hurtado: “The Pericope Adulterae: Where from Here?

I’ll just say that I’m delighted that Gail O’Day agreed to write the foreword and Larry Hurtado the response. And, of course, I am grateful beyond words to T & T Clark. If this book in an way contributes to even one person coming to a better understanding of this key New Testament passage, then the conference was worth the effort a billion times over.

On the Reliability of the Gospels, Especially Mark

(Extracted from Dave Black Online, March 17, 2015. Used by permission.)

11:44 PM Just wanted to say hello before going to bed tonight. I spent a few days in the Dallas area over the weekend, primarily to attend a conference sponsored by Brite Divinity School and featuring Adela Yarbro Collins of Yale. Her topic was the Gospel of Mark, which happens to be the current subject of investigation for my book on the kingdom. The lecture was less stimulating that I had expected. Perhaps my expectations were misplaced. I was hoping for a rigorous reassessment of the faith claims of the Gospel of Mark in a way that laypeople unfamiliar with New Testament scholarship could understand. To be sure, Collins touched on this subject tangentially, but the majority of her lecture repeated well-known assertions about Mark — Mark is our earliest Gospel, the words “Son of God” (1:1) were added later, the last twelve verses of Mark are inauthentic, the Messianic Secret is the interpretive key to understanding this Gospel, etc. Given that the final verses of Mark have now been given a definitive defense I was surprised at how unpersuasive Collins was in trying to refute it. Moreover, I didn’t find any of her objections to the historicity of Mark’s account plausible. Jesus Christ is the most remarkable individual who ever lived. Nobody else can even remotely match His record in terms of literature, health, education, music, and so forth. Those of us who are not put off by the testimonies of the evangelists know that in Him we have found the way of salvation and true life. When there is reason to think that an evangelist has placed words in Jesus’ mouth, it can be interesting to decide whether our suspicions are based on facts or suppositions. Readers of this blog will realize that I write from a less skeptical viewpoint than that. Indeed, the more difficult a saying of Jesus seems to be (e.g., the famous “I am” sayings of John), the more likely they are to be original in my view. I applaud much of Collins’ exegesis of various passages in Mark that explain why Mark’s Gospel reads like Mark’s Gospel. But none of these conclusions satisfies the main question of interpretation, so her exegesis misses the mark. Most importantly, when she says “You can’t point to anything in the Gospel of Mark and say, ‘This is what Jesus said or did,'” her conclusion is, in my opinion, completely without merit. Given the fact that many New Testament scholars have affirmed the historical reliability of the eyewitness testimony of the evangelists, I feel justified in relying on the Gospel records as the most complete and authenticate records in all of human history. This means that the New Testament does indeed provide us with an answer to our most important question — who is Jesus Christ? Ultimately, He is who He said He was — the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. It strikes me as more humble and more reasonable to assume that if the early church didn’t see contradictions between the Gospels, we shouldn’t either. Let me add that I do not for one minute suggest that the Gospels are above rigorous academic investigation. I realize that it is often asserted that the Gospels are unreliable. My point is that no arguments to date have, in my view, been cogent enough to make them stick. If this makes me an inerrantist, so be it. Former ICBI president (and fellow Basler) James Montgomery Boice once wrote:

Members of the Council believe that they are simply calling a mountain a mountain and think it is reasonable to expect that the ICBI will be a unifying force within evangelicalism, as it encourages Christian brothers and sisters to stand for the only objective basis of a sure foundation from God there is — inerrancy.

Bless God for the light He has given us in the Scriptures for our journey through this dark world!

Implications of the Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

11:48 AM Hello bloggers,

Sorry for posting so much about me of late. I think we all need a break from that, don’t you? So, to change the subject ….

The journal New Testament Studies has kindly been allowing access to several of its essays for free. I have been reading Graham Stanton’s “The Fourfold Gospel” with great interest, since I am a proponent of the “Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis.” (See my Why Four Gospels?) The essay, of course, assumes a commitment to the Markan Priority Hypothesis.

When Matthew wrote his Gospel, he did not intend to supplement Mark: his incorporation of most of Mark’s Gospel is surely an indication that he intended that his Gospel should replace Mark’s, and that it should become the Gospel for Christians of his day. Similarly Luke. Luke’s Preface should not be dismissed merely as the evangelist’s way of honouring literary convention. There is little doubt that Luke expects that his more complete Gospel will displace his predecessors, even though he may not intend to disparage their earlier efforts. Whether or not John knew of the existence of one or more of the synoptic gospels, he seems to have expected that his Gospel would win wide acceptance as the Gospel.

If I may be permitted a few random reflections …

I deeply appreciate Stanton’s tireless work in Gospel studies. However, as I have tried to show in my book, to understand how the four Gospels got to us, one needs to forget virtually everything that has been previously accepted as fact about the Synoptic Problem. The Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis does not allow readers to acquire a new idea that can be applied to their existing solution to the problem. Simply put, students of the Gospels cannot hold to the traditional solution of Markan Priority and accept the concepts that are put forth in Why Four Gospels? Let me elucidate:

1) The Markan Priority Hypothesis — which is the “affirmed” interpretation of history based almost exclusively on the internal evidence — is fatally flawed when one takes into account the writings of the earliest Christian fathers. Regrettably, any theory of New Testament interpretation, once it is established, becomes nearly impossible to dislodge, even if new (and seemingly contradictory) evidence is produced. Any new interpretation of the events, if it is to be accepted, must be built around the old consensus and incorporated into it, even at the expense of logic. An example of this is the Farrer Hypothesis, which dispenses with “Q” while insisting on Markan Priority. Indeed, so embedded is the popular view in the public consciousness that it is nearly impossible to dismiss it. The story is “safe,” and the matter is not really open to debate. In my opinion, New Testament scholarship has become so preoccupied with maintaining the status quo that it has neglected to explore the external evidence. Moreover, I think there is insufficient curiosity, generally speaking, as to why the Gospels were written in the first place.

2) As I have noted, the accepted version of the story focuses on the external evidence. If, however, one were to seriously investigate the external evidence — the evidence provided by the patristic testimony — it would become evident that current explanations are incongruent and incompatible with the opinions of the fathers. Why, for example, did Clement of Alexandria insist that the Gospels “containing the genealogies” (i.e., Matthew and Luke) were written first? And why is Matthew always listed as the first Gospel? Why is Mark’s Gospel consistently described not as an independent work of Mark but as a record of the words of the apostle Peter? In light of this evidence, it seems illogical to believe that our earliest Gospel was written by Mark, a non-eyewitness.

3) Ensconced deeply in the affirmed version is the notion that Mark contains inferior grammar to that found in Matthew and Luke. Some Markan priorists have even gone so far as to claim that Mark contains “errors” that were subsequently “corrected” by Matthew and Luke. Yet each of these supposed “errors” allows for a plausible alternative explanation that does not require Markan priority (as I have attempted to show here). If the New Testament student desires a complete understanding of the factors that led up to the writing of the Gospels, the internal evidence alone simply does not provide it. The external evidence keeps getting in the way of the affirmed version.

4) Again, why are the fathers so adamant that Matthew came first? Why did Clement aver that Matthew and Luke came before Mark? Why do the fathers go to great lengths to show that Mark never set out to write a Gospel but simply recorded the words of Peter as they were spoken before his Roman audience? What has prevented proponents of the affirmed view from asking these vital questions? The answer, in my opinion, is that the consensus view is falsely shackled to a misguided preference for the internal evidence. In short (and this post is already way too long!), as long as the patristic testimony is ignored, the internal evidence, which by its very nature is subjective, will continue to reign supreme. And as long as the traditional view is anchored in the minds of scholars, the solution will remind hidden.

So what is the simplest explanation of the facts — all the facts? To discover that, one must be bold. The missing pieces of the puzzle must be included if we are to assemble the whole puzzle rather than leaving them out because they do not seem to fit. Taking the external evidence into account will have serious repercussions. The answer to the Synoptic Problem will remind incomplete until a central piece of the puzzle is in place.

Think about it 🙂


The Longer Ending of Mark and Snake Handling

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.)

Irenaeus Not the Inventor of the Fourfold Gospel Canon

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)