Nov 14, 2010

Review of Why Four Gospels?

Black, David Allen. Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels. 2nd ed. Gonzalez, FL: Energion, 2010. Pp. 120. $11.99 paper.

Whenever one is reviewing a revised edition, it can be helpful to begin with noting the nature and extent of the revision. According to the author, this edition has an expanded postscript (pp. 75–78) and updated bibliography and some overall rewriting and/or editing. A cursory comparison between the first and second editions does suggest a significant expansion of several pages to the postscript and an expanded bibliography which includes work dated even into 2010. I did not notice any significant changes however to the main body of the work, but my examination of this was fairly cursory. Both editions have about the same number of pages (118 vs. 120 pp.) but this might be a bit misleading since the second edition has a slightly larger format size (8.3 x 5.4 vs. 8.9 x 5.8 inches).
Now concerning the contents of the book itself, I would first begin by noting that I think a more apt title would have been How Four Gospels?, since much of the book explains how the four canonical Gospels came to be. Nonetheless, Black has written a readable and thoughtful presentation of his view of the origins of the Gospels (the Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis). This view is predicated on Matthean (contra the more popular Markan) priority, a healthy appreciation for the statements on Gospel origins for the Church Fathers, and a brief, but coherent, argument based on the contents of the Gospels themselves and the growth and development of the early church.

Here are a few things that I liked about the book. First and foremost, this book is easy to read. It is simple and yet not simplistic. In my opinion, too many books in biblical studies are unnecessarily obtuse. The bibliography is solid and I always appreciate the inclusion of a subject index.
Let me also suggest two minor critiques. I would have liked to see Black address what he thinks are the weakest points in his view. I would also like to see a Scripture index to go along with the subject index.

It remains to be seen whether Black’s presentation of the Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis is successful in convincing the vast majority of New Testament interpreters or even in generating more discussion about the disputed issues. That being said, those interested in the origins of the Gospels should take careful look at the case being presented in this book. 

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