Sunday, November 28, 2010
Who Chose the Gospels?
I've heard many times now (mainly from Ivy League Gnostics) that the Christian canon was imposed top down by a theologically narrow oligarch of bishops bent on eradicating all traces of diversity from the ecclesial landscape. I think the truth of the matter is that the four Gospels reflect the diversity within the majority of the early church and the so-called "lost Gospels" lost out because they weren't all that popular and weren't all that good to begin with. The Fourfold Gospel arose out of a large consensus of the eastern and western churches and not because a cohort of bishops with the backing of Roman power decreed it by force.
One book on this subject that has come out and I'm looking forward to reading is Charles E. Hill, Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Conspiracy (Oxford: OUP, 2010). According to the blurb:
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.