Having four canonical versions of one Gospel story is often seen as a problem for Christian faith: where Gospels multiply, so do apparent contradictions. In Gospel Writing, Francis Watson argues that differences and tensions between canonical Gospels represent opportunities for theological reflection, not problems for apologetics. Watson presents the formation of the fourfold Gospel as the defining moment in the reception of early Gospel literature—and also of Jesus himself as the subject. As the canonical division sets four Gospel texts alongside one another, the canon also creates a new textual entity more than the sum of its parts. It must play its part within an intricate fourfold composition, transforming its meaning and significance. In elaborating these claims, Watson proposes nothing less than a new paradigm for Gospel studies—one that engages fully with the available non-canonical material to illuminate the historical and theological significance of the canonical.
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“In reality, Reimarus shows little or no knowledge of Jewish eschatology at the time of Jesus” (Page 68)
“To speak of ‘contradictions’ is to use the wrong interpretative category” (Page 90)
“individual integrity of the gospels while seeing them as deviating from the original truth embodied in Jesus” (Page 75)
“The only question is whether they are telling the truth or whether they are lying or mistaken” (Page 77)
“The close agreement between Harnack’s Q and his essence of Christianity is no coincidence” (Page 112)
A wonderfully wide-ranging book, full of learning and insight. One of the most significant books on the Gospels in the last hundred years, this work will undoubtedly shake up the current study of the Gospels.
—Simon Gathercole, lecturer for the faculty of divinity, University of Cambridge
Francis Watson offers here a striking and powerful argument for the importance of reading Scripture as a canon. The argument is constantly historical as well as theological, exploring the character of the early church’s decision to accept a fourfold symphonic Gospel . . . All should celebrate the manner in which Watson sets a new agenda for those who ask why we continue to read the Gospel in this form.
—Lewis Ayres, professor of Catholic and historical theology, University of Durham
The scope of this major contribution is breathtaking. Watson expertly moves from Augustine to Lessing to Q to Thomas to the Synoptic Problem to the sources of John’s Gospel to the Gospel of Peter to the emergence of the fourfold Gospel canon to Origen to early Christian art and liturgy. The upshot is a slew of new observations and intriguing proposals that open up fresh lines of inquiry. Required reading for all students of the Gospel tradition.
—Dale C. Allison Jr., Richard J. Dearborn Professor of New Testament Studies, Princeton Theological Seminary