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Apostolic Authority and the Selection of the Gospels (Ecumenical) ^ | December 17, 2010 | Dr. Jeff Mirus

Posted on 12/25/2012 11:07:04 AM PST by narses

In his fine book Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy, the Protestant New Testament professor C. E. Hill debunks the widespread contemporary myth that the four gospels we know today were imposed by one or more dominant figures in the fourth century, presumably in order to vindicate their own ideas of orthodoxy. Recalling that the fourth gospel, St. John’s, was not written until the end of the first century, we can see that it is a remarkable service for Hill to successfully sift all the evidence which points to the acceptance of exactly four authoritative Christian gospels as early as the first quarter of the second century.

In general, the further we go back in time the less evidence we have, as we would expect. For this reason—and undoubtedly to make a better story—Hill starts near the end of the second century and works backwards. For example, he details all the reasons we may be certain that Irenaeus of Lyons, writing his work Against Heresies around AD 180, was already clearly aware that the Christian Church relied on four authoritative gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—to the exclusion of all others. That fact alone knocks nearly two hundred years off the worst of the conspiracy theories.

Hill is well-acquainted with a wide body of scholarly writing on this subject, and he knows the extravagant assertions of those scholars who seem to wish to make their academic reputations by undermining our faith in the authority of the gospels, eagerly arguing that gospels “multiplied like rabbits” (as one very silly scholar has put it) and that it was only very late that the Church somehow selected the Four in preference to other widely-known and equally-valid claimants. And so Hill patiently takes up the evidence from one historical figure after another, each earlier than the last, to show that in 170, no 160, no 150, no 140, no 130, no 120 and even earlier, the Four were universally regarded as exclusively authoritative.

To show that Irenaeus was not alone around the year 200, Hill introduces us to references to the gospels in widely divergent works by Hippolytus, Tertullian, Origen, Dionysius of Alexandria, Cyprian of Carthage and several others in the early third century. And then in successive chapters we encounter Clement of Alexandria, Serapion of Antioch, Theophilus, and the famous Muratorian Fragment; Justin Martyr, Trypho, Crescens, Celsus, Marcion, and Aristides; and finally Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome (the fourth pope), Bishop Papias, and John the Elder. Suddenly, almost without time for a breath, we find ourselves right alongside John the Evangelist.

But Hill does not debunk the various outlandish theories only by a close examination of early writings which mention the gospels. In the very first chapter, he challenges the myth of gospels multiplying like rabbits by looking at the known fragments of papyrus which contain texts either from the four canonical gospels or from other claimants. He finds that the papyri attest to the Four being enormously more widespread than the relatively few others, with fragments running nearly 40 to 1.

He also examines the existence of derivative gospel works, such as harmonizations (which attempt to unite all the gospels into a continuous chronological narrative) and tabular arrangements (which lay out the relevant passages from each gospel concerning any given incident in four separate columns). Such works are not only used widely today; they were attempted very early. And it turns out that all of the extant examples include Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—and no others. Hill also takes note of the difference between books which Christians read for personal interest and those which were permitted to be used in the liturgy (again, just the four, always and everywhere). And he observes that the four gospels were generally published in codex form (books), whereas apocryphal works were typically published as (inferior and cheaper) scrolls.

In all, C. E. Hill makes a compelling—almost certainly an irrefutable—case that the four gospels as we know them were simply those that were handed down from the beginning, and that Christians never regarded themselves as having a choice about “which gospels” to accept. Rather, it was partly the acceptance of the gospels which made one a Christian in the first place. On the last page of the book, he puts it this way:

In one sense, of course, the answer to the question: ‘Who chose the Gospels?’ is, everybody who has known something of that indemonstrable power and majesty and, like Aristides, Justin, Irenaeus, Clement , and countless others, has chosen to live by their telling of the story of Jesus. But second-century Christian leaders would have said that neither individuals nor churches had the authority to ‘choose’ which of the many Gospels they liked, but to receive the ones given by God and handed down by Christ through his apostles. (246) In the end, then, Professor Hill concludes that Christians have always accepted the gospels—and indeed should still accept them—based on the testimony of the apostles themselves, that is, on Apostolic authority. It is true that he also comments on the “self-attesting” power of the gospels, and cites evidence from the early apologists that for them Scripture possessed this sort of luminous power, a conviction arising from the grace and light which characterizes the Word of God. Other writings simply lack this power. But Hill does not push this farther than it will take each individual believer or unbeliever. He notes its importance, but unlike many Protestants he does not appear to regard it as sufficient or decisive.

Rather, the early and universal acceptance of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—as well as their natural and continuous ascendancy over all rivals put forth by writers of either fiction or heresy—simply depends on Apostolic authority. This is an important validation of the gospels against modern theorists—including mere popularizers such as Dan Brown—who love to suppose a late imposition of canonicity as a brazen grab for power.

A minor weakness in the final argument is that Hill does not consider how this Apostolic authority might actually have manifested itself in the case of a serious dispute. It is very fortunate that there has never been a serious, widespread dispute among believers about the identity of the authentic Christian gospels. But in one small place the author badly handles the issue of what might have happened in the event of an actual dispute so great that a living authority would need to be found to settle it. This, of course, is the very authority issue that Protestants are incapable of addressing, since they do not fully understand how Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium fit together into a seamless whole to guarantee a proper understanding of Divine Revelation. In one place, and only one, Hill puts the question thus:

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. (228) Happily, Hill uses this to strengthen his undoubtedly correct argument that the gospels were accepted universally from the beginning based on Apostolic authority. But, again, this one paragraph begs the question of how the gospels would have fared if large numbers of Christians had become confused about what was demanded by Apostolic authority. In fact, exactly this problem did arise with regard to some other Scriptural books. Most notably, Jerome and Augustine argued bitterly over the canonicity of seven of them. So how was it that Augustine won? And how was it that, when the great Jerome translated the Greek text into the Vulgate, he included those books which he had formerly insisted were apocryphal?

Hill does not answer that question and, as I said, he is fortunate that his subject does not require him to do so. For this reason, I can give my strongest recommendation to this well-written, scholarly, entertaining and even feisty book on the gospels. But the question cannot be avoided forever. I intend to answer it in a sequel to this review, and the answer will shed a whole new light on the nature and exercise of the very authority which C. E. Hill rightly describes as essential to the Christian reception of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

TOPICS: Catholic; Charismatic Christian; Ecumenism; Evangelical Christian
Religion Forum threads labeled “Ecumenical”

Ecumenical threads are closed to antagonism.

To antagonize is to incur or to provoke hostility in others. Unlike the “caucus” threads, the article and reply posts of an “ecumenical” thread may discuss more than one belief, but antagonism is not tolerable.

More leeway is granted to what is acceptable in the text of the article than to the reply posts. For example, the term “gross error” in an article will not prevent an ecumenical discussion, but a poster should not use that term in his reply because it is antagonistic. As another example, the article might be a passage from the Bible which would be antagonistic to Jews. The passage should be considered historical information and a legitimate subject for an ecumenical discussion. The reply posts however must not be antagonistic.

Contrasting of beliefs or even criticisms can be made without provoking hostilities. But when in doubt, only post what you are “for” and not what you are “against.” Or ask questions.

Ecumenical threads will be moderated on a “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” basis. When hostility has broken out on an “ecumenical” thread, I’ll be looking for the source.

Therefore “anti” posters must not try to finesse the guidelines by asking loaded questions, using inflammatory taglines, gratuitous quote mining or trying to slip in an “anti” or “ex” article under the color of the “ecumenical” tag.

Lord, in this holy season of prayer and song and laughter, we praise you for the great wonders you have sent us: for shining star and angel’s song, for infant’s cry in lowly manger. We praise you for the Word made flesh in a little Child. We behold his glory, and are bathed in its radiance.

Be with us as we sing the ironies of Christmas, the incomprehensible comprehended, the poetry made hard fact, the helpless Babe who cracks the world asunder. We kneel before you shepherds, innkeepers, wisemen. Help us to rise bigger than we are. Amen.

1 posted on 12/25/2012 11:07:09 AM PST by narses
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To: narses; mgist; raptor22; victim soul; Isabel2010; Smokin' Joe; Michigander222; PJBankard; ...

Freep-mail me to get on or off my pro-life and Catholic List:

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Please ping me to note-worthy Pro-Life or Catholic threads, or other threads of general interest.

2 posted on 12/25/2012 11:07:57 AM PST by narses
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To: narses

**** Jerome and Augustine argued bitterly over the canonicity of seven of them. So how was it that Augustine won?****

People are very jealous of their scriptures. That is why so few were accepted in the NT, and some in the OT were looked on with suspicion.

In an age when over 200 so-called gospels and revelations, all false, were floating around it is easy to see why many were so cautious of any addition to their books. One false book added could pollute all the doctrines with it’s false message.

The people were so protective of their scriptures, when Jerome translated the Scriptures he caused a riot in the church overseen by Augustine. The problem was replacing one word (gourd) with ivy.

3 posted on 12/25/2012 12:13:34 PM PST by Ruy Dias de Bivar (REOPEN THE CLOSED MENTAL INSTITUTIONS! Damn the ACLU!)
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To: narses

Thank You for posting this article, and a Blessed Christmas to you.

The Nag Hammadi Gnostic “Gospels” have been all over the TV this Christmas Season, on the History Channel, TLC, NetGeo, Biography, etc, and the Media seems to want to perpetuate the notion that, not only were the Gospels written Centuries after Christ, but that the Four were chosen to exclude “Other Gospels” that had secret knowledge and were much more revealing than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Of course, honest scholarship shows that the Four Gospels were in use many years before the Council of Nicea, and their acceptance by the Christian Community goes way back.

My question to these “scholars” who place a late date on the Gospels is this:

If the Four Gospels were written centuries after Jesus, why was not the most TRAUMATIC event in the History of the Jewish People not even mentioned? That event, is of course, the Total Destruction of Jerusalem, The Temple, and Dispersion of the Jewish People. Jesus does allude to this very briefly and obliquely, as a prophecy of something that has yet to occur. If the fulfillment of the prophecy HAD taken place before the Gospels were composed, would not the author say “See? I told you so!”? That would infer that at least a rough outline of these Inspired works existed before 70AD.

It Would be as though a History of 21st Century New York was written but forgot to mention 9/11.

I am not a Scholar, but I read several chapters of the Bible every day, and conduct a daily prayer thread on FR. And I have total confidence that the Gospels that are in Our Bible are REAL.

4 posted on 12/25/2012 12:32:18 PM PST by left that other site (Worry is the Darkroom that Develops Negatives.)
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To: left that other site


5 posted on 12/25/2012 12:42:13 PM PST by Spunky (We lost so now I am thinking of joining them and getting an Obamaphone.)
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To: left that other site

My pleasure. Merry Christmas.

6 posted on 12/25/2012 1:01:18 PM PST by narses
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To: left that other site
Common sense there. A quality so necessary and so rare: thank you for that.

A Merry Christmas to you, FRiend!

7 posted on 12/25/2012 1:19:25 PM PST by Mrs. Don-o (May the Lord bless you, may the Lord keep you, May He turn to you His countenance and give you peace)
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To: Mrs. Don-o; Spunky; narses

Merry Christmas and a Big FR ((((HUG))) to you.

Watching Zeffereli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” on TBN right now.

Zeffereli was more true to the Gospel than a plethora of “Critical Scholars”!
merry Christmas

8 posted on 12/25/2012 4:38:17 PM PST by left that other site (Worry is the Darkroom that Develops Negatives.)
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To: narses
Catholic Scripture Study Bible - RSV Large Print Edition

"We are compelled to concede to the Papists
that they have the Word of God,
that we received it from them,
and that without them
we should have no knowledge of it at all."

~ Martin Luther

Apostolic Authority and the Selection of the Gospels (Ecumenical)
How Rediscovering the “Plot” of Sacred Scripture is Essential to Evangelization
The Word of God is a Person Not Merely a Text
Are Catholics into the Bible?
Are the Gospels Historical?
What is Biblical Prophecy? What Biblical Prophecy is NOT, and What It Really IS
Biblical Illiteracy and Bible Babel
The Pilgrims' Regress - The Geneva Bible And The "Apocrypha"

The "Inconvenient Tale" of the Original King James Bible
The Bible - an absolutely amazing book
Christian Scriptures, Jewish Commentary
Essays for Lent: The Canon of Scripture
Essays for Lent: The Bible
1500 year-old ‘ Syriac ‘ Bible found in Ankara, Turkey
How we should read the Bible
St. Jerome and the Vulgate (completing the FIRST Bible in the year 404) [Catholic Caucus]
In Bible Times
Deuterocanonical References in the New Testament

Translations Before the King James: - The KJV Translators Speak!
EWTN Live - March 23 - A Journey Through the Bible
"Our Father's Plan" - EWTN series with Dr. Scott Hahn and Jeff Cavins on the Bible timeline
The Daunting Journey From Faith to Faith [Anglicanism to Catholicism]
Reflections on the Soon to Be Released New American Bible (Revised Edition)[Catholic Caucus]
New American Bible changes some words such as "holocaust"
Is the Bible the Only Revelation from God? (Catholic / Orthodox Caucus)
History of the Bible (caution: long)
Catholic and Protestant Bibles

Because I Love the Bible
Where Is That Taught in the Bible?
When Was the Bible Really Written?
Three Reasons for Teaching the Bible [St. Thomas Aquinas]
The Smiting Is Still Implied (God of the OT vs the NT)
Where Is That Taught in the Bible?
Friday Fast Fact: The Bible in English
Bible Reading is Central in Conversions to Catholicism in Shangai, Reports Organization
Verses (in Scripture) I Never Saw
5 Myths about 7 Books

Lectionary Statistics - How much of the Bible is included in the Lectionary for Mass? (Popquiz!)
Pope calls Catholics to daily meditation on the Bible
What Are the "Apocrypha?"
The Accuracy of Scripture
US Conference of Catholic Bishops recommendations for Bible study
CNA unveils resource to help Catholics understand the Scriptures
The Dos and Don’ts of Reading the Bible [Ecumenical]
Pope to lead marathon Bible reading on Italian TV
The Complete Bible: Why Catholics Have Seven More Books [Ecumenical]
Beginning Catholic: Books of the Catholic Bible: The Complete Scriptures [Ecumenical]

Beginning Catholic: When Was The Bible Written? [Ecumenical]
The Complete Bible: Why Catholics Have Seven More Books [Ecumenical]
U.S. among most Bible-literate nations: poll
Bible Lovers Not Defined by Denomination, Politics
Dei Verbum (Catholics and the Bible)
Vatican Offers Rich Online Source of Bible Commentary
Clergy Congregation Takes Bible Online
Knowing Mary Through the Bible: Mary's Last Words
A Bible Teaser For You... (for everyone :-)
Knowing Mary Through the Bible: New Wine, New Eve

Return of Devil's Bible to Prague draws crowds
Doctrinal Concordance of the Bible [What Catholics Believe from the Bible] Catholic Caucus
Should We Take the Bible Literally or Figuratively?
Glimpsing Words, Practices, or Beliefs Unique to Catholicism [Bible Trivia]
Catholic and Protestant Bibles: What is the Difference?
Church and the Bible(Caatholic Caucus)
Pope Urges Prayerful Reading of Bible
Catholic Caucus: It's the Church's Bible
How Tradition Gave Us the Bible
The Church or the Bible

9 posted on 12/25/2012 4:47:19 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation; svcw; Theo

Many great links here for those interested on the Apostolic founding of Christendom.

10 posted on 01/06/2013 6:05:04 PM PST by narses
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