With thanks to Dave Black and Energion Publications for this review copy. Last week I gave an overview of Black’s book, Why Four Gospels? Today we will begin looking at Black’s ‘hypothesis’.

Why Four Gospels?

Chapter one contains Black’s working hypothesis of how he believed the Gospels came to be written with Matthew as the first witness. Black holds strongly to the historicity of Acts. So much so he sees the geographical spread of the gospel, as outlined in Acts, as the historical and contextual impetus for each of the Synoptic Gospels. In his opinion each gospels was written as the direct result of certain missional events within the life of the church. It should be noted at this point that Black does not see these ‘events’ in the way a redaction critic might draw upon the sitz im leben of Matthew’s community. For Black, these events are directly related to the spread of the gospel into new people groups (are we seeing Black’s missionary heart shine through here?). Black offers the following historical model for the writting of each Gospel:

  1. The Jerusalem phase lead to the Hebrew (styled) gospel of Matthew written for the Jewish Christians.
  2. The gentile mission gave rise to Luke’s gospel
  3. The Roman phase brought about Mark’s gospel (based on Peter’s preaching)
  4. The Johanine supplement. John added details not covered in the other gospels as a way of telling the rest of the story.

Black argues clearly and logically why the above geographical model for his Gospel hypothesis should be taken seriously. However, in my opinion the hypothesis seems too neat; too logical. Having said that once I read chapter 2 (Where Black provides the evidence) I felt more comfortable with what he has proposed.

Perhaps what many people will find surprising is Black’s placing of Mark third in line. He argues that Peter preached from the Gospel’s of Matthew and Luke (hence the literary relationship) in order to give them apostolic credence. What I find most interesting about Black’s argument here is that it seems just as possible and hypothetical as the more widely accepted Markan priori theory to which most scholars and pastors hold.

Most of us who were schooled in the traditional approach to the Synoptic tradition, the Patristic evidence would have received little to no attention. Much more time is spent arguing for and against Q than is spent with the patristic evidence. This puzzles me! I am still not sure I agree with Black (although his words are chipping away at my thoughts). Like most people, this is a radical change of direction from what I was taught and everyone I speak too about it dismisses such an approach as naïve!

One has to admire Black’s positive approach to the Gospel hypothesis. In a scholarly world which seems historically negative, Black provides what I think is a strong case for, Matthean priori, the historicity of the Gospels, and Acts as a model for why the Gospel’s were written. I like that Black’s framework is, in a sense, biblical.

As a pastor I find people asking me all the time if they can trust the Jesus of the Gospels. Over the past 20 or so years (since perhaps the Jesus seminar) it seems to me people’s faith in the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John has been shaken and even eroded. I understand scholars must be faithful to their craft and theirs is a different task to that of the church and its shepherds. Nevertheless, these gospels belong to the church. Why are we not looking more positively at their witness and message?

I am left wondering, after reading this chapter, why so many scholars reject our closest witnesses (the Patristic evidence) on such matters? Why is there such historical scepticism with both the Gospels and the witnesses? Surely the closer the witness the more reliable it will be?

Next Tuesday we will discuss chapter two and examine Black’s evidence!