Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Who canonized the gospels?

I’m going to quote some concluding paragraphs from a new book on the canonization of the Gospels. I’m not going to reproduce all of the supporting material, which is copious–both in the book itself, as well as publications by the same author which he cites in footnotes to this and other chapters.

“Where does all this leave us? At a minimum, it seems best to conclude that Papias, writing probably in the 120s, knew all four of our Gospels, for there are sound reasons for acknowledging his use of them in the fragments of his writings that have survived. This would make Papias the earliest first-hand source for a recognition of all four Gospels. Was it he, then, who chose the Gospels?” C. E. Hill, Who Chose the Gospels? (Oxford 2010), 222.

“But Papias also reports earlier tradition. We cannot be sure exactly how early this tradition goes, but a reasonable assumption is that the information he derived from ‘the elder’ was learned sometime around the year 100 and in any case not very many years thereafter. All agree that the information he imparted included tradition about Mark and Matthew, and if Eusebius’ source in EH 3.24 indeed goes back to the same person, it would mean that all four Gospels were known to Papias’ elder at around the turn of the second century, very near the time when, according to most scholars, John’s Gospel was first released for circulation,” ibid. 223.

“The report in EH 3.24.7, on the other hand, allows for an even earlier endorsement of the four Gospels. For it says that the apostle John ‘welcomed’ or ‘received’ the three previous Gospels and ‘testified to their truth.’ He is said to have observed that they only lacked ‘the account of what was done by Christ at first and at the beginning of the preaching,’ which he then supplied in his own Gospel. This would make the aged apostle John the earliest ‘chooser,’ endorser, or ‘canonizer’ of the four Gospels. This is not to claim of course that the this testimony about John ‘choosing the Gospels’ is historically factual, only that it is an extremely early tradition,” ibid. 223-24.

“Origen, in the third century, knew of a similar tradition. In his Homilies on the Gospel of Luke he mentions in passing that he had read in an older writing (it is a pity he doesn’t name it) that ‘John collected the written Gospels in his own lifetime in the reign of Nero (54-68 CE), and approved of and recognized those of which the deceit of the devil had not taken possession; but refused and rejected those which he perceived were not truthful’ (Hom. Lk. 1, fr. 9). These two traditions have a few things in common. Both assign the ‘canonization’ to John; both say John ‘welcomed’ or ‘recognized’ (the same Greek word is used by each author) the other three; and both say John made some assertion of the ‘truth’ of the three previous Gospels (the elder positively, Origen by way of denying the truthfulness of others),” ibid. 224.

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