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Why you should read “Why Four Gospels?”

October 26, 2010

I just finished, and thoroughly enjoyed David Black’s Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels. This is the second edition (the first was published in 2001).  Dr. Black alerts the reader in the preface to the first edition that this book is not written for biblical scholars.  He seeks to “renew, restore, and strengthen faith in the truth of the Gospels.”  As a pastor, this appeals to me.  Dr. Black deals with technical information in an easy-to-follow format in this work.  I am far from a biblical scholar and Black’s presentation of the material is straightforward and flows well.

In the first section of the book, Black lays out his hypothesis, the Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis.  He proposes a Matthew, Luke, Mark, John ordering of the Gospels.  The basis for this hypothesis is two-fold.  First, a chronological look at the spread and needs of the first century church lends itself to this ordering.  Second, evidence from the Church Fathers also supports this ordering of the Gospels.  The second section of the book gives the evidences from the Church Fathers.  He has gone back and translated the writings from the Fathers for this section.  Black then evaluates the strength of the Markan Priority position.  This is the popular one today in evangelical circles.  He argues against this position based on the evidence from the Fathers as well as a logical look at the historical events from the first century.  The third section of the book expands on the theory of the composition of the Gospels.

I highly recommend this work for any pastor or person seeking to better understand why we have 4 Gospels and how they came about.  I do so for five reasons.  First, this is a brief enough treatment to argue for his position and tickle ones interest on the subject (he includes a 20 page bibliography in this 99 page book).  Second, he puts forward his hypothesis, examines the evidence, and then expands upon his hypothesis.  This makes his argumentation flow well.  This issue is somewhat new to me, so his format was very helpful to me.  Third, as a pastor and teacher I highly value the context in which the books of Scripture were written.  This book helps to clarify the context in my own mind.  I can see much benefit in my preaching and teaching ministry through understanding the context of the writing of each Gospel.  Fourth, in preaching and teaching, this book helps to harmonize the Gospel narratives.  Often in studying Scripture, we struggle with the variations in the Synoptics.  And fifth, this book is helpful in providing material and argumentation to refute those in our day who would throw out the reliability of the Gospels themselves.  Black’s reliance on the Church Fathers is a great help here.  Modern critics almost neglect the Fathers altogether.  It is form of what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery”.  Black addresses the issue of modern critics’ tendency to doubt the scholarship of the Church Fathers.

Black does a wonderful job introducing this subject to the reader.  For me, he has fulfilled his purposes.  The book was easy for me to follow as one who is not a Biblical Scholar, and he has strengthened my faith in the Gospels.

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