The Gospel and the Gospels -- By: Everett F. Harrison

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 116:462 (Apr 1959)
Article: The Gospel and the Gospels
Author: Everett F. Harrison


The Gospel and the Gospels

Everett F. Harrison

[Everett F. Harrison is Professor of New Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.]

[Editor’s Note: This article is the first installment of the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures on the subject, “The Fourth Gospel in in Relation to the Synoptics,” given November 18–21, 1958, at the Dallas Theological Seminary, by Dr. Harrison.]

Whereas each of the Gospels possesses its own individuality, the Gospel ascribed to John presents such marked dissimilarities from the other three that the question arises, How can there be so much divergence in writings all of which arose within the bosom of the early church and concern themselves with the same person, Jesus of Nazareth? John agrees in less than ten per cent of his material with the Synoptics, and even this slight area of concord is marked by less agreement in language than is found in the Synoptic Gospels at these points. John seems to belong to a different world.

The presence of more than one Gospel record is itself a phenomenon which requires explanation. A whole host of problems which have plagued the study of the New Testament would not have arisen at all if the church had released only one authoritative Gospel.

Actually, there were more than four Gospels in the first century. Luke tells us in his prologue that many had attempted accounts of the things fulfilled among the followers of Jesus, taking their inspiration from the tradition handed down by eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word.

The plurality of Gospels was presumably due to other factors than the desire of men to write. As the church grew and spread abroad, it must have faced an increasing demand for such accounts of Jesus’ life. The apostles could not meet this demand entirely by their oral testimony. Any local church which could lay claim to a Gospel as having originated there would naturally feel a partiality to that writing and would resist any suggestion to withdraw it from circulation in favor of one which originated elsewhere.

As unorthodox movements arose, it was characteristic of them to adopt one of the four Gospels as their standard. The

Ebionites had Matthew, the Marcionites Luke. Some of the Gnostics were partial to John. This must have been annoying to the church, but a Gospel could not be disowned simply because heretics were using it.

One notable attempt to cope with the problem of diversity was made in the second half of the second century. Tatian wrote the Diatessaron, making use of the four Gospels. It is not a Gospel harmony, for parallel passages were not put side...

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