Charles E. Hill (2011), Who Chose the Gospels?, Oxford University Press, 295pp.
Review originally appeared in the February edition of the Record of the Free Church of Scotland.
In recent years, there has been a surfeit of books claiming to discuss so-called lost gospels about Jesus. Some, such as the bestselling The Da Vinci Code, have been written at a popular level, whereas others have been academic products, whether as articles or books. In addition, some of these lost gospels, such as the Gospel of Thomas, have been republished, and have been reported in magazines such as Time and Newsweek. It is often claimed that these gospels were curtailed because a certain group in the early church (that is, those who accepted our current Four Gospels) won the day by oppressive means and so defined the orthodox view regarding the Gospels.
Is there any historical evidence for these claims, or to put the question another way, is there any historical evidence against them? According to this book, the evidence is that the historical data is not on the side of those who argue for the validity of the additional gospels. The author takes us back to the world of the first centuries of the Christian era. He explains how the modern claim that the early church was willing to accept the additional gospels is not based on the available evidence.
Readers will find out about various papyri and codices that have been discovered, which make it clear that the church accepted the Four Gospels at an early stage. They will also discover Irenaeus, the second-century Church Father who wrote in defence of the Four Gospels and clearly assumed that his view was orthodox already (he wrote long before many of the later additional gospels were written) and that he was writing in defence of the faith.
If one is concerned about some of the implications of the Jesus Seminar and other writings suggesting that numerous additional gospels have equal validity, he or she should read this book. Among the endorsements is one from D.A. Carson, who says, ‘For those willing to examine the documentary evidence, there is no better guide than this book.... Hill is meticulous, even-handed, careful to distinguish between historical datum and speculation, and a good writer to boot.’
The author teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando. He has written a well-researched book that takes seriously the historical evidence that the early church accepted the Four Gospels and rejected all others. Of course, we accept the reliability of the Four Gospels because they are divinely inspired, but it is useful to know that the historical evidence agrees with that reality.