Isn’t it true that the four Gospels were chosen from “many” Gospels?
I’ll take a brief pause here from dealing solely with Luke’s writings to answer a question I just received from a viewer of The Real Jesus video podcast. Inevitably, someone is going to ask a question about the dating of the so-called Gnostic Gospels.
On Tue, Oct 27, 2009 at 10:18 AM, YouTube Service
Was there a massacre around the time of Jesus birth?
You guys seem a lot more learned about the historical dating of the Gospels. I don’t think anything in the New Testament can be trusted. I have heard a few times from different places that there were over 80 gospels and the oligarchy chose what Gospels it wanted when a lot of people just wrote them up and sold them.
The “many Gospels” referred to here are writings from the second century and later composed by a group called the Gnostics. This was a world-wide religious movement in the ancient world that believed the material world was evil and taught that salvation was spiritual and could only be obtained through “secret knowledge” or gnosis. The Gnostics syncretized the tenets of many other religions into their writings. As Christianity began to become widespread, the Gnostics made use of the sayings of Jesus in order to popularize their own teachings. But we do not see any of these Gnostic Gospels until the mid to late second century.
If one wants to know about the flavor of the Gnostic Gospels, just read them. They contain just the sayings of Jesus and usually claim that a particular disciple of Jesus received “secret knowledge” that the author of the book is now revealing. They are fundamentally different than the four Gospels. Judaism and Christianity are holistic religions, while Gnosticism is dualistic, pitting the evil material world against the spiritual world. Since history of the material world is evil, there is no attempt to give the reader a sense of a connection to history. Just as I have been arguing for the historicity and authenticity for the canonical Gospels, the Gnostic Gospels reveal a blatant agenda to distort the teachings of Jesus with no respect for even an appearance of factual reality.
The “many gospels” hypothesis is the brain-child of professors and popular authors such as John Dominic Crossan, Elaine Pagels and Marvin Meyer. Their writings make for brisk sales and media attention because they are so sensationalistic. No university wants to pay researchers to publish papers and books reiterating the view of the Church Fathers on the dating and origin of the Gospels. Researchers are paid to publish “new findings” and are under a considerable amount of pressure to get some media attention.
There is also an underlying motive by some to promote an “original” form of Christianity that was more liberal and less patriarchal. Whether or not the Gnostic Gospels provide this point of view is debatable. However, this might be one reason why there has been such a flurry of interest in recent years over these “new discoveries.” (In fact, most of these writings have been known through archaeological discoveries since the late 1800s and much of the content of the books has been documented ever since they appeared in the second, third and fourth centuries.) Dan Brown has even made this burgeoning Neo-Gnosticism the thesis of his best-selling novels, which he claims are “based on history” even though his plots are fictional.
The conspiracy theory goes as follows: Gnosticism was the “original Christianity” – in fact, there were “many Gospels” and “many Christianities” based on Gnostic mysticism. Then about 180 AD, Irenaeus the Bishop of Lyons appeared. He and his followers were intolerant bigots who hand-selected and/or edited the four Gospels they felt most represented the patriarchal view of the Apostle Paul toward women and sexuality. (Or in some far-fetched versions, this historical revisionism didn’t occur until the Council of Nicea in the fourth century.) According to this hypothesis, the New Testament canon was a response to a perceived Gnostic threat to the authority of the bishops.
This view is in contrast with the testimony of Irenaeus and Tertullian who explained that various Gnostic sects each adopted one of the four Gospels that they believed best supported their views often editing out parts they disagreed with. The Ebionites used only the Gospel according to Matthew, because they thought it represented a more “earthly” Jesus. The Adoptionists made use only of Mark, because they felt it separated “Jesus” from “Christ.” Marcion used only the Gospel of Luke because he felt it represented a more “spiritual” Jesus. Finally, the Cerinthians and Valentinians used only their warped interpretation of John to show that Jesus was a separate spiritual being from the evil demiurgic God who created the material universe.
By the end of the second century, the Gnostics had already begun writing their own books of “secret knowledge” based on the writings of Jesus that had little regard for the historical-narrative structure of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Some liberal scholars, such as Crossan, Pagels and Meyer, have tried to turn this scenario on its head by saying the Gnostic Gospels came first and the canonical Gospels drew from them. It is true that Gnosticism existed prior to Jesus, but the religion borrowed bits and pieces from Judaism and Christianity, not vice versa.
But here is the bottom line: The four canonical Gospels have a remarkable pedigree. The four Gospels were known and quoted numerous times by other Christian writers in the late first and second centuries. In the late 1800s, some liberal Higher Critics placed the Gospels very late, even at the end of the second century, but due to more recent archaeological discoveries and scholarship, almost every scholar now agrees the four Gospels are first century books. One would have to ignore the writings of the Church Fathers in order not to see this.
My view is that all the books of the New Testament were probably written before 70 AD. The exception to this might be the Gospel of John and the letters of John.
First, there is the Didache and 1 Clement, both written in the late first century, which quote heavily from the New Testament. Then by 90 AD there isn’t a decade in which there isn’t a work that draws on the New Testament. Around 125 AD, another early yet seldom mentioned Christian apologist, Aristides of Athens, wrote the following to the Emperor Hadrian.
Take, then, their writings, and read therein, and lo! you will find that I have not put forth these things on my own authority, nor spoken thus as their advocate; but since I read in their writings I was fully assured of these things as also of things which are to come. And for this reason I was constrained to declare the truth to such as care for it and seek the world to come.
This shows that within 60 years of the lifetime of the Apostles, the New Testament writings were known throughout the Roman Empire.
In fact, it has been demonstrated that the majority of the 7958 verses in the New Testament could be reconstructed just from the writings of the Church Fathers up until about 200 AD. This includes 268 citations by Justin Martyr, 1,038 by Irenaeus, 1,017 by Clement of Alexandria, 9,231 by Origen, 3,822 by Tertullian, 734 by Hippolytus (Geisler and Nix, General Introduction to the Bible, 431).
As you look at the following timeline, consider that the earliest of the Church Fathers lived early enough to have known the Apostles and that the overlapping lifetimes of all these men indicate a great certainty for the transmission of Apostolic writings. The four Gospels are quoted very early, but the Gnostic Gospels are unknown until after the middle of the second century.
Patristic Writings Timeline
The following authors cite the New Testament. The timeline indicates the most likely dates of their works.
The Didache – c. 70-100 AD
Clement of Rome – c. 96 AD
Ignatius of Antioch – c. 110-117
Polycarp of Smyrna – c. 110-155
Papias of Hieropolis – c. 125
The Epistle of Barnabas – c. 100-132
Aristides of Athens – c. 123-127
Quadratus of Athens – c. 123-127
Hermas of Rome – c. 125-135
Mathetes – c. 130-150
Aristo of Pella – c. 140
Justin Martyr – c. 150-160
Tatian – c. 150-165
Theophilus of Antioch – c. 169-182
Melito of Sardis – c. 172-177
Irenaeus of Lyons – c. 175-185
Athenagoras – c. 176-178
Muratorian Canon – c. 175-200
Clement of Alexandria – c. 180-200
Tertullian of Carthage – c. 200-220
Origen of Alexandria – c. 200-230
Hippolytus of Rome – c. 220
«- Law & Order episode "Dignity" infuriates pro-aborts
- Real Jesus
-» Dating the Gospel of Luke (part 4)
Your comments are welcome!
Download the Free Study Guide!
God’s Law and Society powerfully presents a comprehensive worldview based upon the ethical system found in the Law of God.
Speakers include: R.J. Rushdoony, George Grant, Howard Phillips, R.C. Sproul Jr., Ken Gentry, Gary DeMar, Jay Grimstead, Steven Schlissel, Andrew Sandlin, Eric Holmberg, and more!
Sixteen Christian leaders and scholars answer some of the most common questions and misconceptions related to this volatile issue:
1. Are we under Law or under Grace?
2. Does the Old Testament Law apply today?
3. Can we legislate morality?
4. What are the biblical foundations of government?
5. Was America founded as a Christian nation?
6. What about the separation of Church and State?
7. Is neutrality a myth?
8. What about non-Christians and the Law of God?
9. Would there be “freedom” in a Christian republic?
10. What would a “Christian America” look like?
Perfect for group instruction as well as personal Bible study.
Ten parts, over four hours of instruction!
Running Time: 240 minutes
Watch over 60 on-line video interviews from God’s Law and Society.
$19.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
High Quality Paperback — 200 pages
A Reasonable Response to Christian Postmodernism
Includes a response to the book Christian Jihad by Colonel V. Doner
The title of this book is a misnomer. In reality, I am not trying to get anyone to shut up, but rather to provoke a discussion. This book is a warning about the philosophy of “Christian postmodernism” and the threat that it poses not only to Christian orthodoxy, but to the peace and prosperity our culture as well. The purpose is to equip the reader with some basic principles that can be used to refute their arguments.
Part 1 is a response to some of the recent writings by Frank Schaeffer, the son of the late Francis Schaeffer. This was originally written as a defense against Frank’s attacks on pro-life street activism – a movement that his father helped bring into being through his books, A Christian Manifesto, How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? These works have impacted literally hundreds of thousands of Christian activists.
Part 2 is a response to Colonel Doner and his book, Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America. Doner was one of the key architects of the Christian Right that emerged in the 1980s, who now represents the disillusionment and defection many Christian activists experienced in the 1990s and 2000s. There is still great hope for America to be reformed according to biblical principles. As a new generation is emerging, it is important to recognize the mistakes that Christian activists have made in the past even while holding to a vision for the future.
$14.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
High Quality Paperback — 40 pages of dynamite!
Revival, Resistance, Reformation, Revolution
An Introduction to the Doctrines of Interposition and Nullification
In 1776, a short time after the Declaration of Independence was adopted, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were assigned to design an official seal for the United States of America. Their proposed motto was Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God. America owes its existence to centuries of Christian political philosophy. Our nation provided a model for liberty copied by nations the world over.
By the 21st century, we need a “Puritan Storm” to sweep away the Hegelian notion that the state is “God walking on earth.” We need revival and reformation in full force to vanquish the problems that plague us as a nation — from government controlled healthcare — to abortion on demand — to same sex “marriage.” This booklet gives a primer on our founders’ Christian idea of government and examines how the doctrine of nullification was woven into the Constitution as a safeguard against federal tyranny. It concludes with the history and theology of civil resistance. A Second American Revolution is coming with the Word of God growing mightily and prevailing! (Acts 19:20).
$7.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
What is true Revival and Spiritual Awakening?
Discover the answer in this eyewitness account by Dennis Kinlaw, President of Asbury College, Wilmore, Kentucky, who recounts the story of a visitation of the Holy Spirit in 1970. This is the presentation that has continued to spark the flames of Revival in the hearts of people around the world. Contains eyewitness footage from the Revival at Asbury College in 1970 in Wilmore, Kentucky.
Certain to challenge you to greater holiness and a deeper commitment to full-scale revival. Original news and private footage has been included. If you are a student who longs to see a spiritual awakening at your school, you must see this video!
“This simple video does a wonderful job of conveying something of God’s heart and power, Everyone we have ever shown this to has received an immediate impartation of faith for revival and the power of prayer.”
— Bob and Rose Weiner, Weiner Ministries Int’l
Running Time: 40 minutes
$19.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
That Swiss Hermit Strikes Again!
Dr. Schaeffer, who was one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the twentieth century, shows that secular humanism has displaced the Judeo-Christian consensus that once defined our nation’s moral boundaries. Law, education, and medicine have all been reshaped for the worse as a consequence. America’s dominant worldview changed, Schaeffer charges, when Christians weren’t looking.
Schaeffer lists two reasons for evangelical indifference: a false concept of spirituality and fear. He calls on believers to stand against the tyranny and moral chaos that come when humanism reigns-and warns that believers may, at some point, be forced to make the hard choice between obeying God or Caesar. A Christian Manifesto is a thought-provoking and bracing Christian analysis of American culture and the obligation Christians have to engage the culture with the claims of Christ.
$19.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)