Luke 1:1-2 “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 it seemed fitting for me as well,having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (NASB)
Introduction and review: Today’s post is a continuation from yesterday’s post on “P1 The reliability of Luke’s Gospel and early church history testify about the four Gospels.” What follows below will also serve to give the reader reasons as to why we can trust the canonical ordering of the Four Gospels as they appear in our New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The reader is also invited to view a current 11 part series on discovering Jesus’ identity, with part 4 today being about how His identity is revealed in Matthew’s Gospel at: http://pastormahlon.blogspot.com/2013/12/p411-discovering-identity-of-jesus.html
The testimony of post-apostolic church history on the four Gospels of the New Testament
1. Papias of Heiropolis (130 A.D) states “So then Matthew recorded his oracles in the Hebrew tongue, and each interpreted to the best of his ability”. Papias then writes concerning Mark’s Gospel: “Mark became the interpreter of Peter and he wrote down accurately, but not in order, as much as he remembered of the sayings and doings of Christ”.
2. Irenaeus of Lyons (180 ): “Matthew published his gospel among the Hebrews in their tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding the church there. After their departure Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his gospel, while he was living at Ephesus in Asia.”
3. The Muratorian Canon, the earliest canonical list of the New Testament we have, begins: “…at which he (?S. Mark) was present and thus set them down. The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke….the Fourth Gospel is that of John…” Admittedly in this quote, none of the fragments we have of the Canon have the first words. Most scholars assume the book before Luke is Mark.1
4. The great church historian Phillip Schaff notes: “The Problem of the relationship of the Synoptists (Matthew, Mark and Luke) was first seriously discussed by Augustine (d. 430) in his three books De Consensus Evangelistarum..He (Augustine) defends the order of our Canon. First Matthew, last John and the two Apostolic Disciples in the middle. His view prevailed during the Middle Ages and down through the eighteenth century. The verbal inspiration theory checked critical investigation. The problem resumed with Protestant freedom by Storr (1786), more elaborately by Eichhorn (1794) and Marsh (1803).” Schaff mentions several others, ending with Baur in his day and time in 1847. Schaff makes this statement: “There is no good reason to doubt that the canonical arrangement which is supported by the prevailing oldest tradition correctly represents the order of composition” (280) 2
Conclusion: Why it matters to know the history of how our Four Gospels came into being
So why is it crucial for us as Bible believing Christians to know the history of how our New Testaments (and the four Gospels in particular) came into being?
1. For one thing there is constant, persistent attack occurring against the validity of the Four Gospel accounts as historical, inerrant and infallible records of the life and mission of Jesus Christ.
2. Secondly, we are told in the scripture in 1 Peter 3:15 “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear”.
3. Then finally, such historical investigation does not serve to “prove” the Bible true, but rather to affirm what we already know to be the case: that the scriptures are the inspired, inerrant, infallible, sufficient & clear words of God.
1. Henry Bettenson: “Documents of the Christian Church”. Bettenson is an example of a scholar who makes the assumption that the Gospel of Mark appears before Luke in the Muratorian Canon fragment. Bettenson’s work is also where I derive the quotations of the church fathers included in this post.
2. Phillip Schaff “History of the Christian Church, vol 1”, page 281