Hill, C. E. Who Chose the Gospels?: Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy. Oxford University Press, 2010.
The fictional claims of Dan Brown, the sensationalized claims of Bart Ehrman, and the more scholarly arguments of Lee Martin McDonald, Ehrman, and others have promoted the idea of an early Christian movement notable for theological diversity. According to this storyline, the imposition of orthodoxy and a church-dictated canon of Scriptures stifled the creative diversity of the early church. Hill challenges this view by demonstrating that it is based on a faulty methodology, overstatements, and a sloppy handling of the evidence.
For instance, one scholar claims that "gospels were breeding like rabbits" (2). Yet that scholar finally lists only nine non-canonical gospels that have been discovered. This scholar calls his listing "partial." Hill notes, "It is not unlikley that more Gospels might have circulated before 175. But if they once existed, they have left no record, even in later lists of books to be avoided" (8).
Since Irenaeus provides an early testimony to the four-gospel canon, scholars promoting a late canon must marginalize him as an aberration (and not very nice, to boot). But Hill documents at least eight theologians (some of note) close to the time of Irenaeus who share his four gospel canon (Hill also argues that Irenaeus wasn’t as mean as some people make him out to be).
Having established that Irenaeus and the church of his era did have a four-gospel canon, Hill then works his way back by looking the citations of the four gospels and non-canonical works in the church fathers, gospel harmonies, and even the writings of the non-orthodox to demonstrate that evidence for the four gospel canon extends back to the early second century. Hill is fair in his interpretations of the evidence, noting when some of it is not as clear or a certain as other evidence.
So, to restate the title question, Who chose the Gospels? Hill’s answer to that question toward the end of the book is worth quoting at length:
Who, then, first chose the Gospels, if it wasn’t anybody in the fourth century? It wasn’t Origen, Tertullian, or Hippolytus in the first half of the third century, or Clement of Alexandria or Serapion at the end of the second. It wasn’t even Irenaeus or anyone writing in the last quarter of the second century. All these had inherited the same four Gospels from previous generations.
It wasn’t Tatian in Rome or Syria or Theophilus in Antioch. . . . It wasn’t Justin Martyr, who by the early 150s in Rome was using the same four Gospels, and treating evidently only these four as ‘Memoirs of the Apostles,’ composed by the apostles and their followers . . .
The evidence brings us, then, to an earlier time. But how much earlier? While the date prior to 150 are not quite so clear, the four Gospels are known as authoritative sources in the Epistle of the Apostles and the Apocryphon of James in the 140s. Papias, probably in the 120s, knows all four; Aristides, at about the same time, knows ‘the Gospel’ in multiple individual written expression, including Luke and John, and a decade earlier Ignatius knows at least Matthew and John. And sometime around the year 100 Papias’ elder discusses the origins of Matthew and Mark, and, if the argument summarized in chapter 10 is near the mark, Luke and John as well.
How is it that these four Gospels came to be known so widely from such an early time? There was certainly no great council of Christian churches before 150 which laid down the law on which Gospels to use. No single bishop, not even the bishop of Rome, should he ever have made such a proclamation (and there is no reason to think he did), had the clout to make it stick. If there was any authoritative figure who endorsed the four Gospels, the most viable option would have to be, as a tradition known to Origen and possibly Papias’ elder said, the aged apostle John. Such a story is a long, long way from historical verification, though that fact in itself does not make it impossible.
But if we set aside that story as likely to be legendary, our search appears to have reached a dead-end. We cannot find who chose the Gospels. It looks like nobody did. They almost seem to have chosen themselves through some sort of ‘natural selection.’ And this at least concurs with the conclusion of Bruce Metzger, one of the last generation’s premier scholars of the New Testament canon, who wrote, ‘neither individuals nor councils created the canon; instead they came to recognize and acknowledge the self0authenticating quality of these writings which imposed themselves as canonical upon the church" (227-29).
The idea of self-authenticating Scriptures may not sit well with some, but Hill notes that this best with the way the early Christians spoke about the gospels: "Christian writers of the second century do not speak of choosing the Gospels or of the criteria they might have created for making such choices. This is not the way they thought. When speaking of the church’s part in the process they instead use works like ‘receive,’ recognize,’ ‘confess,’ ‘acknowledge,’ and their opposites" (231).
In sum, Hill’s believing stance, tight argumentation, and engaging writing style made this one of the best books I’ve read this year. As an added benefit, I think it makes a marvelous case study in presuppositional apologetics that makes good use of evidences (though I must admit that I do not know how Hill would self-identify in terms of apologetic method).
Letham, Robert. Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology. P&R, 2011.
This is not an introductory book to the union of Christ theme. To adequately evaluate this book, I’d first need know a good deal about the doctrine already and then know something of the Greek Orthodox doctrine of deification to know whether Letham is making appropriate use of it in his discussion. I also find his view of union more sacramental—not Roman Catholic, but more Nevin than Hodge. In the end I came away without any clear definition of what union with Christ is.
Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters. Focus on the Family Radio Theater. [Audiobook]
This is a well-done dramatization of a book that is difficult to dramatize (being a collection of letters). That said, I think I would probably prefer a well read audiobook to the dramatization with this particular book.
Greenblatt, Stephen. Hamlet in Purgatory.. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
A Protestant Hamlet just returned from Wittenburg is confronted by his father’s purgatorial ghost. This strange happening sets Greenblatt off on a quest to understand the development of purgatory and the Protestant polemic against it. Eventually Greenblatt applies his research to Shakespeare’s plays and to Hamlet in particular. The research on purgatory and it’s reception history is well done.
Cole, Graham. God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom. Inter-Varsity Press, 2009.
This is a good book. Cole covers a great deal of ground from the nature and character of God to his ultimate goal for creation and redemption: his glory–and much in between. But this also proved to be a weakness of the book. It seems that he could have dropped material covered in depth in other works to focus on less treated aspects of the atonement which he was able to cover only superficially given his scope. His subtitle, "How atonement brings shalom" does not receive an in-depth answer. Nonetheless, it is a good book that points the intermediate theologian in the right direction on a number of crucial issues relating to the atonement.
Athanasius. On the Incarnation. Crestwood, NY: 1944; repr., St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1977.
Athanasisus’s work on the incarnation is actually a full theology organized in a creation, fall , redemption, apologetics structure. It is not without occasional errors, as Lewis notes in his justly famous introduction to this translation, but for the most part it is rich, devotion-inspiring theology. In his introduction, Lewis wrote, "For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may away may others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that their heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology" (8). That is certainly true with this work.
DiCamillo, Kate. Because Of Winn-Dixie. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2000.
Leedy, Randy. Love Not the World: Winning the War Against Worldliness. Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 2012.
Discussing topics such as worldliness or eternal punishment or ecclesiastical boundaries are rarely enjoyable. The gospel, the new heavens and new earth, or the missionary advance of the church are more engaging topics. Nevertheless, ecclesiastical boundaries are necessary for healthy missionary advance. Understanding the punishment we all deserve for our guilt and sin is important for fully understanding the salvation we have in Christ. And understanding and applying Scriptural teaching about the world is essential for living out the gospel and its implications.
Leedy’s study of biblical theme of the world breaks into three parts. In two chapters he defines the world. Though this terminology is New Testament in origin, Leedy finds a parallel in Old Testament warnings for Israel not to conform to the nations. Since God’s New Testament people are multi-national, the Bible shifts from warning against conformity to the nations to warning against conformity to the world. Leedy does a good job documenting why this shift was necessary as well as surveying the varying senses of kosmos and aion, the two Greek words typically translated "world" in English versions. This section could have been strengthened, in my opinion, by reducing the space given to describing the difficulty that early Jewish Christians had in embracing Gentile Christians to make space for an examination of why world or age replaces nations in these warnings.*
The core of the book deals with the difficult task of defining what worldliness is. Based on the theological definition developed in the first part of the book, Leedy surveys various New Testament passages that describe worldliness. From this survey he is able to chart and categorize the explicit Scriptural descriptions of worldliness. But what about issues that the Scripture does not directly address? Leedy argues that the open-ended nature of Scriptural vice-lists compels Christians to acknowledge that Scripture does not provide a comprehensive list of worldly behaviors and attitudes to avoid. In other words, simply because it doesn’t show up in Scripture as explicitly prohibited doesn’t mean a Christian has the liberty to love it or do it. On the other hand, Leedy warns against simply adopting human lists of dos and don’ts. In the face of these false alternatives, Scripture demands discernment, and Leedy illustrates this by examining passages in which Scripture models this demand for discernment. His treatment of 1 Corinthians 8-10 is masterful, providing not only a clear outline of Paul’s argument but also a model for understanding how the epistolary authors reason with their readers. With this Scripture foundation in place, Leedy sets up a framework for applying Scripture to present-day culture.
The book’s final chapter moves into practical thoughts about overcoming worldliness. It begins with a serious consideration of cost of worldliness, before moving toward practical steps for resisting worldliness. This application is firmly grounded on the recognition of what Christ has accomplished in overcoming the world. Sanctification is not a matter of mere will power. It does involve means of grace, however. Leedy lists, "the indwelling Spirit, Scripture, prayer, and fellowship with other believers," and he develops at length the role Scripture study and meditation play in overcoming worldliness. No doubt space constraints played a role in focusing on Scripture, but this section would have been strengthened by a consideration of the other elements listed. I would have been especially interested in a discussion about the role of the indwelling Spirit.
In all, Leedy has provided a helpful guidebook to a distasteful but very important topic.
Hess, Richard S. “Yahweh’s ‘Wife’ and Belief in One God in the Old Testament.” In Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
By the late 1970 archaeological discoveries revealed inscriptions that paired Yahweh with Asherah. This has led some scholars to assert that the Israelites were not monotheistic until the time of Josiah or even until the time of the exile. Hess looks at inscriptions, cultic sites, iconography, and the presence of the divine name in people’s name. He concludes that it is difficult to demonstrate that monotheism did not exist early in Israel’s history. Furthermore, the difficulties in explaining how monotheism arose in the time of Josiah or during the exile coupled with the heavy dominance of the name of Yahweh in Israelite personal names makes the earlier existence of monotheism probable. Since Hess is arguing from archaeological evidence alone, this is the best conclusion he can reach. He does not engage in a defense of traditional dating of the biblical books nor does he make his case from Scripture.
Gumerlock, Francis X. “Mark 13:32 and Christ’s Supposed Ignorance: Four Patristic Solutions.” Trinity Journal 28, no. 2 (Fall 2007): 205-13.
The solutions Gumerlock documents are as follows: (1) Basil of Caesarea argued that the correct translation of the verse is "But of that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, if not (ei me) the Father." Thus Jesus was claiming that he did know the time of his return, though if he was not one with the Father he would not know. (2) Augustine argues that know is used in the figurative sense reveal. The Son knows, but does not reveal the day or hour of his return. There is biblical precedence for this use of know (cf. Deut. 13:3). (3) Gregory of Tours takes son as a figurative designation for the church and father as a figurative designation for Christ (cf. John 13:33; Heb. 2:13). Further support for this view may be found in in the context of the Olivet discourse in which Jesus does describe his relationship to his followers in relational symbols (bridegroom/virgin; master/servant; thief/servant). (4) Athanasius taught that Jesus was conceding limited knowledge in his humanity while not denying the his divine omniscience.
Gumerlock notes that the fourth view is currently most popular, but it also raises the most serious theological objections. Subsequent to Athanasisus theologians came to believe that this position had Nestorian tendencies by ascribing knowledge to a nature and not to the person. And yet, opponents to the fourth solution do have trouble with other verses: Luke 2:52 and Heb. 5:8. The other three options do not raise serious theological problems, but they raise exegetical objections. Basil’s interpretation makes sense of the Greek text in Mark, but it runs contrary to the parallel passage, Matthew 24:36. Augustine’s view, taken consistently, would not deny knowledge of the timing of Christ’s return to persons or angels but simply affirms that those who know will not reveal it until the Father reveals it. Gumerlock finds this less likely in light of 1 Thess. 5:2; Rev. 3:3; Acts 1:7. Gregory of Tours’ interpretation is imaginative, but there is no compelling reason to think that Jesus intended his language here to be taken as symbolic.
In the end Gumerlock remains agnostic about the actual solution and maintains that all four patristic solutions are viable if not unproblematic.
Hasel, Michale G. “New Excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa and the Early History of Judah.” In DDo Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
Argues against minimalists who deny a united kingdom. He bases his argument on the new excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa.
Dvorak, James D. “John H. Elliott’s Social-Scientific Criticism.” Trinity Journal 28, no. 2 (Fall 2007): 251-278.
Dvorak argues that there is value for an interpreter to consider his own and the biblical author’s cultural backgrounds. It also helps interpreters avoid "theological docetism"—seeing theology as the only important aspect of the biblical text. Social-Scientific criticism can supplement and revitalize historical-critical approaches. Three dangers, exist, however. First, the interpreter may "over-read" the text and over-value his guesses as to what cultural element is reflected in the text. Second, the interpreter should not over-value this approach and undervalue other interpretive approaches. Third, the interpreter must be careful of eisegesis: reading a cultural situation into a text rather than out of the text.
Hoffmeier, James K. “Ramses of the Exodus Narrative Is the 13th Century B. C. Royal Ramesside Residence.” Trinity Journal 28, no. 2 (Fall 2007): 281-89.
Hoffmeier seems to have corrected some errors in a particular defense of the early date for the exodus, but his exegetical arguments for the later date remain unpersuasive.
Schnabel, Eckhard J. “Paul, Timothy, and Titus: The Assumption of a Pseudonymous Author and of Pseudonymous Recipients in the Light of Literary, Theological, and Historical Evidence.” In Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
Schnabel does a good job debunking the arguments against Pauline authorship of the pastoral epistles. Schnabel also investigates the views of the early church regarding pseudipigraphal writings and concludes that the church was not receptive of such writings. He concludes by examining the theological consequences of concluding the pastorals were not written by Paul. This investigation of the theological issues raised by points of biblical introduction is welcome.
Smith, James K. A. “Reforming Public Theology: Two Kingdoms, or Two Cities?” Calvin Theological Journal 47 (2012): 122-137.
Smith argues that VanDrunen and others are wrong to conflate Augustine’s Two Cities and Luther’s Two Kingdoms. A Christian cannot be a citizen of the Two Cities while he ought to be a citizen of both kingdoms. Smith finds the two cities paradigm more useful since it better reflects that antithesis between the Christian and the world while not raising that antithesis to the point where limited cooperation with unbelievers is impossible. Smith also believes that VanDrunen confuses the ontological existence of natural law with the epistemological question of an unbeliever’s knowledge of it. Smith does agree with VanDrunen and related scholars’ ecclesial emphasis and on the objections to neo-Calvinist triumphalism.
Ortiz, Steven M. “The Archaeology of David and Solomon: Method or Madness.” In Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
Reviews and demonstrates fallacies related to the low dating of Finkelstein and co.