Dave Black on Matt 6:33

Dave Black reflected on his blog about what Jesus might have meant when he said “seek first the kingdom of God.”  I thought it was really good and wanted to share with you here:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

7:15 AM Jesus repeatedly emphasized that following Him meant radically changing our priorities. What did He mean when He said, “Seek first the kingdom of God”? Here are some ideas:

1) Seek first the kingdom of God vocationally. Ask tough questions about your employment. Are you where God wants you to be? If so, are you using your occupation to advance God’s kingdom?

2) Seek first the kingdom of God maritally. Have a Great Commission Marriage. Put the kingdom first in your married and family life.

3) Seek first the kingdom of God geographically. The issue of where we live has everything to do with the kingdom. Let’s be open to God’s guidance. Unlike our secular counterparts, we can no longer select a place to live based merely on comfort, affordability, good schools, etc.

4) Seek first the kingdom of God ecclesiologically. I strongly urge you to find a church home that shares your urgency for the kingdom and global missions. Traditional wisdom dictates that we are to seek a church on the basis of buildings, programs, convenience, and, regrettably, personalities. As a result, church life becomes inwardly-focused, and we fail to become the presence of the kingdom in society. When Becky and I joined our church in Roxboro, NC, we did so largely because of its clear and consistent vision to be a part of the kingdom initiative of God. It seeks to manifest the values of Jesus’ upside-kingdom. It gives high priority to missions. Our goal is to strive as authentically as  possible to incarnate the life and teachings of Jesus in our corporate and individual lives.

5) Seek first the kingdom of God financially. Jesus calls us to avoid the rat race of consumerism and materialism. Let’s reexamine our lifestyles to see how we can free up dollars for the kingdom.

6) Seek first the kingdom of God physically. Obesity and self-indulgence characterize many American evangelicals. It never occurs to us that avoiding overeating is a way to serve the kingdom. As disciples we are called to set aside physical comfort and devote our bodies to God as living sacrifices. I struggle constantly to keep my weight under control. But I must maintain good physical condition if I am to be able to walk long distances in Ethiopia.

7) Seek first the kingdom of God ministerially. Every believer is a fulltime “minister.” Churches can do much more to utilize qualified volunteers who essentially pay themselves to serve. We must change the emphasis in our churches from hiring professional staff to equipping “laypeople” to be the church.

8) Seek first the kingdom of God institutionally. Let’s ask, “How can we use our corporate resources most effectively and sacrificially for the kingdom?” Take our church buildings. Surely we can do a better job in constructing and utilizing church properties so as to channel more resources into missions and service to the needy. I once read of a congregation of 4,000 in Oregon that, instead of building a new sanctuary, established a separate corporation to build a self-supporting convention hall that the church uses free of charge. Another example: Missionary organizations can separate overhead costs from money raised for missionaries. In other words, money contributed to missionary causes would go entirely to these causes, while all overhead costs (including salaries for executives) would be raised separately.

9) Seek first the kingdom of God intellectually. Has Christ’s lordship had any effect on your thought life? What you read? Your attitudes? Sometimes it is easier to read books about the Scriptures than to read the Scriptures themselves. What makes us think that commentaries or websites are more important than the Word of God? We neglect the Bible to our own peril. I often remind my students that 99 percent of what I know about God and the Christian life I learned from reading my Bible rather than books about the Bible. God does not ask us to forego reading books by human authors (goodness, I’ve written my share of them), but His lordship is not visible in our lives until we prioritize His Word.

These are some practical ways by which we can seek first the kingdom of God. I’m sure many others could be mentioned. Seeking first the kingdom of God means that our time, our money, our very selves are available to God, to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to the world. It’s not a matter of simply attending church or participating in endless rounds of programs. It’s about changing the world by becoming what Jesus intended the church to be: a servant to the world. “The church is only the church when it exists for others,” said Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Christ calls us to pour our lives into the needy world that surrounds us. He promises us that as we do this, we will find that His yoke of service is easy and His burden is light. If you live this way, you will find His promise — as Becky and I have — to be true.

I’ll tell ya, I really like how Dave thinks!  To be sure, he is such a blessing to those who know him, are in his classes and or read his blog.


passage of the day: John 3:16-21

This really is such an amazing passage, there is so much here to take in:

John 3:16-21:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

While I think there can be a few different ways to go with this passage, I like to look at it from the perspective of the missio dei.  I think it has much to contribute to how we know and understand the mission of God.  In fact, I like to look at a lot of the Bible as a whole in the light of salvation history and missio dei.  I don’t own the book but I know Howard Marshall in his NT Theology talks about how New Testament Theology is missionary theology.   I think he is exactly right!  And I think the whole thrust of John’s letters is missional through and through.  Sure there is Christology and other issues but I would say the overall theme of the book is a missional one – it is seen in God giving his only Son, that everyone who believes in his name may not perish but have eternal life.  

What is the missional focus?  God so loved the world he gave his one and only Son.  He sent him not to condemn, but to save.

I think the missional focus of the Fourth Gospel can be supported by the Letters of John.  First John tells us, 

1 John 4:9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.

1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4:14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.

So i think there is strong support for the missional elements of John (and I am sure the rest of the Gospels too).  It amazes me really.  Hebrews 3:1, too calls Jesus “the apostle and high priest of our confession.”   An Apostle is a missionary, one sent on the behalf of another to accomplish some purpose.  In the case of Jesus is was not to condemn the world, but to save it and see that all have a chance at eternal life.
This missional focus of John I think should be reflected in the mission of the church – that we go out not to condemn but to save.  Those who listen and believe on the name of his one and only son, they shall have eternal life and condemnation will not be on them.  To those who chose not to listen, they will be condemned already, and why?  This is the judgement, the verdict… Jesus has come into the world and those who like that will be drawn to him.  Those who don’t will resist and run to the darkness.
Would those who try to resist eventually be overcome because “light wins?”  Light always wins out over the darkness.  Jesus and his mission will be accomplished because like leven in the dough, the light will spread and the darkness will be overcome by the light (Christ).
Lots of interesting possibilities there!  It’s wonderful really.  🙂


on the Gospel of Mark

Congratulations to Joel Watts on his new book published by Wipf & Stock.  Looks like it should be a pretty interesting read!

Here is a description from the website:

Watts.MimeticCriticism.22895What if the story of Jesus was meant not just to be told but retold, molded, and shaped into something new, something present by the Evangelist to face each new crisis? The Evangelists were not recording a historical report, but writing to effect a change in their community. Mark was faced with the imminent destruction of his tiny community—a community leaderless without Paul and Peter and who witnessed the destruction of the Temple; now, another messianic figure was claiming the worship rightly due to Jesus. The author of the Gospel of Mark takes his stylus in hand and begins to rewrite the story of Jesus—to unwrite the present, rewrite the past, to change the future.

Joel L. Watts moves the Gospel of Mark to just after the destruction of the Temple, sets it within Roman educational models, and begins to read the ancient work afresh. Watts builds upon the historical criticisms of the past, but brings out a new way of reading the ancient stories of Jesus, and attempts to establish the literary sources of the Evangelist.

I really like that line “to unwrite the present, rewrite the past, to change the future.”  Awesome!  Just from this description I could see a lot of implications for the local church and implications for how it will bring transformation to preaching and teaching as well.  I look forward to when I can get it and read it.  🙂

Good job Joel!

ps. he is doing a giveaway.

Does Jesus Claim to be the Messiah?

Here is a 5 minute video with Dr.s Walter Kaiser, Michael Brown, and Darrell Bock (all contributors to The Gospel According to Isaiah 53) discussing whether Jesus claimed to be the Messiah foretold in Isaiah 53.

About the book:

Publisher’s Description: The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 presents the redemptive work of the Messiah to the Jewish community, exploring issues of atonement and redemption in light of Isaiah chapter 53. It is clear that Jesus fulfills the specifications of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. This book has many potential uses in its presentation of the gospel for Jewish people. Pastors who study it will find unparalleled help in preparing Bible studies and sermons, so that their listeners will become better equipped to tell Jewish people about Jesus. It will be beneficial as supplemental reading for classes on Isaiah, the Prophets, and Jewish evangelism. And believers will be trained to share Isaiah 53 with Jewish friends and family.

Jesus the Lamb of God

This is a sermon I preached recently that I wanted to share (it didn’t go exactly the way it is written, but more or less)(yeah, it went faster than it feels):

Central proposition: As the Lamb of God, Jesus brought to fulfillment the long awaited prophecies about the Messiah who would bring deliverance and set up God’s kingdom in the world.

Let’s read together John 1:29-34.

This morning I want to focus on mainly verse 29 where John the Baptist declares to his disciples and those passing by: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

Sometimes, when we read the Bible, if we come across a verse that stands out to us or seems to be saying something important, it is often a good idea to take some time and reflect deeper on what is being said. It can be good from time to time to camp out on a verse and take some time to think it though and understand its implications. The second half of John 1:29 is one of those verses. “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

Perhaps you have heard or read this verse before, probably you’ve read it lots of times and even heard the song with the words, ‘Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.’ Even though we may have heard this verse before I want to take some time and reflect on what this statement means and what it means for our lives, why it is important. It is important we understand the greatness of John’s declaration about Jesus.  It is an amazing statement, if not a bold one.

I wonder what kind of an effect it had on those who first heard them? John the Baptist declared to those who would listen that this Jesus from Nazareth, a local and a mere carpenter, was someone of worldwide and infinite significance.

Things were tense in first century Israel and the people were at a near frenzy with anticipation of a coming messiah deliverer who would set them free from a long and tough Roman oppression. They had just come out of the troubled Hasmonean Dynasty and were still picking up the pieces following the Maccabean Revolt not too many years prior. The people of Israel just wanted to be left alone to live their lives and worship their God and be Jewish.

Tensions were mounting. Various rebel leaders and self proclaimed messiah deliverers had come and gone such as Judas the Galilean mentioned in Acts 5:37 who lead a revolt among the people and yet was killed. Israel was tired of Roman oppression and was crying out to God for deliverance. Sound familiar?

Then along comes John the Baptist, an obscure unknown prophet-like man in weird clothes who ate locusts. He showed up declaring in effect, that all the prophecies and revelations of the Old Testament that looked forward to a Savior and a deliverer had finally been fulfilled in another relatively obscure fellow Jesus of Nazareth — whom John prophesied was “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”

I can imagine this was somewhat shocking to the people of Israel and can explain why the Jewish leadership sent some emissaries out to interrogate John about his claims.  He probably was not helping calm the expectations of the people but only served to build on the anticipation.

God heard their cry and knew their situation. It is true the people of Israel needed deliverance and that God would bring it. However, the deliverance God was bringing to his people was a different kind of deliverance than what they were expecting or hoping for. What did John the Baptist mean by calling Jesus the LAMB of God? Was he talking about his gentle, meek disposition? Was he referring to the fact that he was innocent and pure?  Perhaps.

More likely, however, while Jesus does have his moments as a meek and gentle man, John’s reason for calling him the Lamb of God goes much deeper than a mere description of his personal disposition. In this strong declarative statement about Jesus by John the Baptist we are going to see that John, the author of the Fourth Gospel, was certain portions of the Old Testament in the light of Jesus’ work on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.

As the Lamb of God Jesus fulfilled the role of the suffering servant who was led like a lamb to the slaughter as a sin-offering (Isaiah 53:7, 10).

As the Lamb of God Jesus bore our sins on the cross. There are different things that come to mind when one hears the phrase “lamb of God.”

One of the first is the reference to the lamb in Isaiah 53. This is often a debated point between Jews and Christians. The Jews and even those who spend a lot of time studying the Old Testament argue that within Judaism the prophecy in Isaiah 53 was not interpreted messianically.

So, some are quick to not want this passage to necessarily refer to Jesus’ work on the cross but I think it is impossible not to and rather appropriate to do so. When Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead everything about how the Hebrew Scriptures were understood was radically changed. Before some things were unclear in their meaning and hard to understand, but now they are made clear and known to all – that much of the Hebrew Scriptures were fulfilled in the person Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Much of the Old Testament is now understood through this revelation.

(example/illustration) I once heard a story about some Jewish parents being upset a teacher was teaching about Christianity in one of their children’s classes. I can’t remember the context and do not know if this is real or not but to defend herself the teacher read from the passage she read in class. The parents immediately got upset and maintained their accusation against the teacher. Well, it turned out she was reading from Isaiah 53. The parents were in shock and they were silenced. It is hard to dispute that Isaiah prophecy is speaking of anyone other than Jesus Christ and his work on the cross.

Lets look at the passage briefly.  Let’s read Isaiah 53:4-7.

This part of the prophecy really begins at 52:13 and carries over. It comes in a series of prophecies about a person scholars call the Servant of the Lord that begins at Isaiah 42. This person was to come and bring salvation to Israel and the nations by overthrowing oppression and injustice and destroying evil. In the process he would free Israel from their oppressors and restore the glory of God to the nation of Israel so that the nations would not want to destroy them but come rather to the mountain of the Lord in Jerusalem and worship God or YHWH, the God of Israel. One thing was overlooked however, this section of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Servant of the Lord, who is the Messiah.

Somehow it had been overlooked that Israel needed a spiritual deliverance as well as a physical one. This prophecy seems to be so misunderstood that even today, some 2000 years later, many Jews are still angry at Jesus and feel that he abandoned them and Judaism. In fact, many are so upset at him they can hardly say his name. I think the Jews of the day knew Jesus was the Messiah but they were too full of their own pride and heritage to see the depths of their own sin and need for forgiveness and deliverance. So when he died on the cross their hopes of physical deliverance were shattered.

The Bible makes it plain. All people have sinned and in that sin are separated from God. We need salvation and deliverance from our sins and failures to live up to God’s expectations and purposes for our lives. When John called Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world he is telling us that Jesus was and is the means of our forgiveness and reconciliation with God. In the person of Jesus Christ we see this prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled and brought to fruition.

Though Jesus came to bring deliverance to the people of Israel and the nations esteemed him not and we despised him – yet willingly and intently he bore our sins for us. He carried the weight of them upon his body and took the to the cross. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us “God made him who had no sin to be sin offering for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

God laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all. Imagine how hard this must have been – one who knew no sin bore the sins of the world on his body. What a burden to carry. But he carried them nonetheless and he will help us carry ours if we let him.

In preparing this sermon I found one person who wrote:

“Our sin was laid on Him as a heavy burden. The heaviest thing in the universe is sin. Neither angels nor men can stand under the load of sin—it sinks them lower than the lowest hell. When sin was laid upon the Son of God, He bore it, but He sweat as it were great drops of blood, and He was exceeding sorrowful even unto death. To have born up the WEIGHT of the world would have been nothing compared with bearing THE SIN of the world.”

Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He not only bore our sins but he also took them away! 1 John 1:7 says the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. He took them away and washed us clean and made us new.

As the Lamb of God Jesus fulfilled the role of the suffering servant who was led like a lamb to the slaughter as a sin-offering.

As the Lamb of God Jesus fulfilled the role of the paschal or suffering lamb, whose blood saved Israel from the Egyptians (Exodus 12). Restate it: As the Lamb of God Jesus saved us from our sins that plague our lives.

Like the plagues that nearly destroyed Egypt and Israel altogether – the blood of the lamb saved us from our sins. This is another understanding of John’s statement about Jesus. It brings up images of the exodus from Egypt and the institution of Passover. Because Pharaoh refused to let God’s people go he brought on Egypt many devastating and painful plagues the nearly destroyed Egypt altogether. Even so, Pharaoh would not relent. So God said he would kill every firstborn son in Egypt from Pharaoh on down to the lowest servant. But God knew that Israel would need a covering to protect them from what was about to happen. Lets read briefly Exodus 12:5-13.

The blood of the Passover lamb protected the people of Israel from the plague that took all Egypt’s firstborn sons. In Jesus coming as the lamb of God he fulfills the role of the Passover Lamb in that his blood saves us from the effects of our sins before God and allows us to experience his mercy and forgiveness.

Here I want to note the Exodus nature of Jesus’ deliverance on the cross.

Whereas the first Exodus led Israel out of Egypt, the house of slavery, the house of bondage, the second exodus is a spiritual deliverance from the slavery and bondage to sin leading God’s people in to a new kind of freedom, a life of freedom from the power and effects of sin and its hold on the human heart. By Jesus coming into the world as the Lamb of God he finished what Moses was ultimately unable to do: lead Israel into true and lasting freedom. The completion of this second Exodus (or as some call it, a new Exodus) took place when Jesus gave his life on the cross and then three days later rose from the dead. Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, delivered us from a different and more powerful kind of bondage – bondage to sin and its enslaving power over hearts and lives.

It is the shed blood of Christ on the cross and his resurrection from the dead that sets us free from sin and its control over hearts and lives. With this second exodus Jesus brought a different and altogether more important form of deliverance than what Israel had been expecting. He brought spiritual deliverance that as it said in Isaiah 53:5 brings us peace, peace in our hearts and if we apply it properly peace in our relationships with others.  This is the effect of the cross – it brings us peace vertically and horizontally, it brings peace with God and with others.

Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! As the Lamb of God Jesus fulfilled the role of the suffering servant who was led like a lamb to the slaughter as a sin-offering (Isaiah 53:7, 10).

As the Lamb of God Jesus took away our sins on the cross and has delivered us from the power and hold of sin and death.

In so doing he also will fulfill the role of the victorious apocalyptic Lamb who in the end, will destroy evil in the world and firmly establish the Kingdom of God.

As the Lamb of God Jesus will fulfill the role of the victorious apocalyptic lamb who will destroy evil in the world (Rev 5-7; 17:14).

Through the cross and resurrection Jesus overcame the powers of sin and death in the world and set in process his efforts to overthrow evil and injustice.

In Revelation 5 we Jesus portrayed as the Lion of Judah who has conquered, then as a Lamb with seven horns who has won the right to open the scroll, and call forth the redeemed and bring them into the Kingdom. Here we see the Lamb who leads the flock of God, who delivers them from their foes and rules them in the Kingdom of God. These portrayals of Christ as Lion and as Lamb are not paradoxical but parallel, since seven horns signify immense strength – the Lamb is a powerful Ram!

But he is presented as a Lamb because he “stands as one that has been slain.” He stands for he is the Living one who died and is alive forever (Rev 1:18); and he was slain in sacrifice, specifically as God’s Passover Lamb, to bring about the new Exodus for the liberty and life of the kingdom of God.

He is the slain yet victorious Lamb whose blood ‘ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people’ (Rev. 5:6,9). What we are seeing here an apocalyptic representation of the Christ adapted to the Christian doctrine of redemption; the all-powerful Christ wins salvation for the world through his sacrificial death.

It is the exact opposite of what Israel expected of the Messiah. Whereas they expected a kingly ruler to come and overthrow Roman oppression through victorious battle – Jesus waged a different kind of battle through giving his life on the cross. This was the true victory that he accomplished for us. Through his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead Jesus has delivered us from that which plagues us and will also protect us from the coming end-time plagues God will use to finally destroy the wicked and establish his kingdom rule. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God brought us spiritual deliverance through submission to death as the Passover Lamb and his resurrection from the dead and ascension to the Father in Heaven.

Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! As the Lamb of God Jesus will fulfill the role of the victorious apocalyptic lamb who will destroy evil in the world (Rev 5-7; 17:14). He will protect us from the end-time judgment of the world and lead us into his eternal kingdom.

Will we follow? John the Baptist made this declaration about Jesus and then his disciples followed after Jesus.

Will we? Will we come after him and be his disciples following him as the Lamb of God, following him into a different way of living than what many often expect? Many want a victorious life free from any difficulty – but Jesus doesn’t lead us down that road. He calls us to a different way of living. He calls us a life centered on the cross and resurrection. Will we follow?


Sunday Quote 2: on the triumphal entry

Pope Benedict XVI in his new book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection (Ignatius, 2011)(which is smaller than I expected (more compact)) writes the following regarding the “triumphal entry”:

For now let us note this: Jesus is indeed making a royal claim.  He wants his path and is action to be understood in terms of Old Testament promises that are fulfilled in his person.  The Old Testament speaks of him – and vice versa: he acts and lives within the word of God, not according to projects and wishes of his own.  His claim is based on obedience to the mission received from is Father.  His path is a path into the heart of God’s word.  At the same time, through this anchoring in the text in Zechariah 9:9, a “Zealot” exegesis of the kingdom is excluded: Jesus is not building on violence; he is not instigating a military revolt against Rome.  His power is of another kind: it is in God’s poverty, God’s peace, that he identifies the only power that can redeem (5).


Book Review: Why Four Gospels?

It’s with thanks to the generosity of both Dave Black and Publisher Henry Neufeld of Energion Publications for a gratis review copy of Dr. Black’s revised edition of Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels (Energion, 2010).

Robert H. Stein, in his book Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation, 2nd Edition (Baker Academic, 2001), wrote the following:

….the plausibility of the Griesbach hypothesis is greatly weakened by the difficulty of not being able to provide a credible explanation of the activity of Mark that is consistent and coherent (148).

Well, I guess he hasn’t read Dave Black’s Why Four Gospels? yet, has he? 🙂

If there were ever a sensible and indeed plausible presentation of the Griesbach Hypothesis, also known as “Matthean priority,” or more currently, the Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis, this work put forth by David Alan Black would be it.  One of them at least since it is the first and only one that I have read.   Well, it is a variation of the Griesbach Hypothesis anyways.  Additionally, the Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis term is based off a statement by Irenaeus in his Against Heresies (3.2.8) and the Vatican II’s Dei Verbum (vi).

This book was born out of Dave Black’s conversations over the years with students who asked him to compose a brief, clear, and easily understandable summary of his beliefs regarding the historical origins of the Gospels (v).

Apparently students experienced angst over proponents of higher criticism continually undermining the historical reliability of the Gospels.  He put together a handout for private use but in time his views became known and eventually lead to this short monograph.  By short, I mean there is only 78 pages of reading with an extensive and updated bibliography (covering 19 and 1/4 pages)!!

Much to Dr Black’s credit, he says more regarding the historical origins of the Gospels and their composition in 78 pages, than does someone like Stein, whose book has 279 pages of reading.  Really.  Much is said in this little book.

I noted that Black’s view is a variation of the Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis.  His view is a combo of his own views and those of his colleague and friend Bernard Orchard of the Gospel Research Institute in London (vi).  But really, it seems, at the heart of things is Dr. Black’s appreciation and respect for the early Church Fathers and the importance of their testimony with regard to determining the composition of the Gospels.  He writes in the preface:

The protestant church culture in America, of which I am a part, often overlooks the immense contribution that the science of patristics makes to the way we understand the Scriptures.  Now I certainly do not wish to replace a text-centered hermeneutic with an approach that is enslaved to the dogmata of councils and creeds.  My claim in this book is not that the fathers of the church solve the synoptic problem.  It is that any approach that rejects their testimony is, by definition, illegitimate (ix).

Black is quick to assert that he is not suggesting we should have an uncritical acceptance of early Christian interpretation of Scripture.  It’s just we need to be more open to hearing what the early church fathers have to say and take their input seriously.

The concern is that there are those who claim to take account of what the fathers have to say, yet at the same time, undermine them or altogether ignore their input (mainly Markan Priorists).

The main question is if we say the Fathers have a voice and their input has value then why do Evangelicals so often disregard their witness to the Gospels?  Black is averring that all too often Evangelicals ignore the voice of the Fathers and instead take to later more modern approaches to determining the formation of the Four Gospels, when this shouldn’t be the case.

Indeed, up until nearly 200 years ago, with the onset of the Enlightenment period, the understanding that the Gospels were written and “published” in the order in which we have them, was not often disputed.  With the Enlightenment, however, theories began to abound as to their construction and formulation such that we now have discussions about a mystery document called Q, or if there was an Ur-gospel.  We debate about how could Mark leave out so much stuff if he was not first, and so on.  Dr. Black’s book offers a viable alternative to all these discussions, and his alternative is heavily reliant upon the principle witness of the Church Fathers.

When it comes to understanding or exploring the historical origins of the Gospels and their composition and arrangement, which fathers are to be consulted? The principle Patristic witnesses to the Gospels are: Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, The Muratorian Fragment, The Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke, The Old Latin Prologue to Mark, Eusebius, Papias, Jerome, and Augustine.  These are the most significant witnesses to how the gospels were composed and arranged because they represent the widest possible distribution (or representation?).  Black avers that this widespread witness lends significant support to the Fourfold-Gospel hypothesis but almost no support to Markan Priority (32).

Chapter 1 then, discusses the stages of the development of the four Gospels.  Based on the witness of the Fathers there is a four phase approach to their construction: the Jerusalem phase (AD 30-42; Acts 1-12); The Gentile Mission phase (AD 42-62; Acts 13-28); The Roman phase (AD 62-67); and the The Johannine Supplement.  In sum, Matthew is the foundational and primary Gospel but each was written to a specific historical situation.

Matthew was for the Jews in showing Jesus as Messiah and a document supporting the existence of the Christian church; Luke is a revision of Matthew with a view to a Gentile audience not concerned with Jewish matters – at the encouragement of Paul; Mark is verbatim of Peter’s lectures to a Roman audience “Caesar’s Knights” and was done to validate Luke’s account since Luke was not a direct eyewitness of Christ (per Paul’s request).  John comes behind all this and without concern for chronology acts as a supplementary Gospel based on the others.

Chapter 2 discusses in more detail the origins of the Gospels by citing the principle patristic witnesses noting that in conclusion:

….the patristic and historical evidence shows that all three Synoptic Gospels appeared in the lifetime of the apostles Peter and Paul, the twin founders of the western church, and also devotes much space to explaining how Mark came to exist.  This, of course, suits perfectly the Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis but utterly fails to support the priority of Mark at any point, since the latter hypothesis generally requires all three Gospels to have been published after the death of Peter around 66/67.  How do Markan priorists deal with this evidence?

Black goes on to provide to provide and evaluation of Markan priority offering in-depth and sustained critique noting most significantly the general Markan priorists’ unwillingness to take the principle Patristic witness seriously.   Perhaps the the fundamental problem for Markan priority is that is assumes too much, which is in part, due to the lack of taking the witness of the principle fathers seriously at their word.  Their concerns were not our concerns – they did not have the same general concern about the literary interdependence of the Gospels and knew that Mark wasn’t intended to be like Matthew and Luke (nor to replace them)  or the fact that Peter neither encouraged or discouraged the publication of his Roman lectures as it is now known as “The Gospel of Mark.”   All this lends support for the Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis as put forth by Dave black.  This view also virtually eliminates the need for Q or such “proto-gospels” and such.

Finally, chapter 3 discusses the making of the Gospels, how they were composed, discussing the composition of Matthew, Luke’s use and revision of Matthew; Mark’s synthesis, and John’s supplementary approach.  This brings me to need to point out what is most crucial in synoptic studies, which is the question “why Mark’s Gospel?” In a nutshell, Mark’s Gospel simply a verbatim copy from shorthand, the lectures Peter gave to a Roman audience recounting the life of Jesus – he did it to give approval to Luke’s Gospel since Luke was not a direct eyewitness to the life of Jesus – then folks asked Mark to publish the lectures – it was not done to make a new Gospel or even to supplement or be like the other Gospels – but since it was published it now serves as the link between the two Gospels.  That’s pretty much the reason for Mark.

There is a prologue and nearly 20 page bibliography.

Strengths: The biggest strength in this work is how much ground Dr. black covers in so little space – I guess you could say he cuts through a lot of the blather and gets right to the issue and does it effectively.

Weaknesses: I have trouble pointing out any serious weaknesses. Perhaps a Scripture index would be of some benefit?  Agree or disagree it is a well done book.  Anyone who reads it will be better for having done so.

Conclusion: I heartily recommend this book to any person lay or scholar who is interested in Gospel and or Synoptic studies – if you are for Markan priority I think it is even more important you read this book – why?  Because too often Markan priority people make comments like the quote I gave above from Stein and to save yourself from embarrassment read this book – it’ll at the very least make you a more informed Markan priorists.

I was taught on the Gospels from a Mark Priorist professor – I didn’t really know any better so I had been one myself until now… well, at least I have a more informed understanding of Matthean priority and know the position put forth by Dave Black is a very strong position worth considering.  I still have some questions but I’ll have to end this already way too long review for now.


(UPDATE 3/31/11): Here is a statement from Dr Black himself on why he wrote Why Four Gospels?

I wrote my book Why Four Gospels? not so much to argue for Matthean priority as to affirm the complete historicity and apostolicity of the Gospels. Early in my Christian experience I discovered that the Gospels were — and needed to be — central in my understanding not only of the Good News about Jesus Christ but of life itself. Only the cross of Jesus can supply meaning to life, and that is because the cross and the resurrection are an interwoven reality. Of one thing I am quite certain: Christianity is a historical faith. It is rooted and grounded in historical fact. No “leap of faith” is required to believe in Jesus. As I once heard Francis Schaeffer put it in Switzerland, you don’t have to put your brain in park or neutral to become a Christian. His cross is the center of all history. It is the crossroads of the universe. No one can avoid confrontation with it.

It is my prayer that skeptics may come to the Gospels with an open mind and heart, for there the living Christ is ready to meet Doubting Thomases in their pessimism and the travelers to Emmaus in their intellectualism.

thought for the day on Matthew’s Gospel

The formation of Matthew’s Gospel probably took place in the first decade of the church’s life, that is, before 44, and this not only before 1-2 Thessalonians and Galatians but probably before Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem “after fourteen years” (Gal, 2:1; cf. Acts 11:27-30; 12:25).

Dave Black’s Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels (Energion, 2010), 53.

Well now, seems to me like this might seem like a highly contentious claim among some circles.  Perhaps not contentious but bold and assertive.  Makes me wonder hos he feels about Strobel’s Case for Christ book – given that he argues most of Paul’s letters come before the Gospels and that, in fact, the provide an element of historical reliability for the gospels.

I’m all messed up now!  Thanks!  lol!

5 good reasons to own a synopsis of the gospels

can be found at James White’s blog here.


(1) You never have to ask yourself, “Is this story in Mark also found in Matthew, Luke, or John as well? Or “How does Luke’s account describe this same parable in Matthew?” A synopsis allows you to see the parallel accounts on a single page. Are you aware that the story of the feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels? Again, a synopsis format conveniently lets you see all four accounts together and their different details and emphases. Another example, the story of Jesus calming the storm has Matthew’s account with Jesus saying, “O men of little faith.” Mark has “Have you no faith?” Luke has “Where is your faith?” Reading this story in a synopsis would make these differences observable.

(2) Learn the theological emphases of each gospel. Reading the gospels “vertically” is the most common way–Matthew through John, one at a time. But reading them “horizontally”–Matthew, Mark, Luke, John at the same time–will allow you to compare the theological differences with much more effectiveness because you are viewing the accounts together.

(3) To be aware of the distinctives in the gospel stories. Can you tell me which gospel account of the birth narrative contains the story of the “Wise Men”? Matthew or Luke’s account (or both)? Answer: only in Matthew. What about the “Shepherds out in the field keeping watch over their flock by night?” Answer: only in Luke’s account. (And Mark and John do not contain a birth narrative). If you use a synopsis, all these facts would be conspicuous on a single page!

(4) Read all four gospels in chronological sequence. Have you read the gospels before and noticed that the writers are often “inconsistent” with the chronology of events in the life of Jesus? That is not because they were careless and making mistakes in recalling the life of Jesus. Rather, they were more often concerned with thematic development than with a mere chronicle (and historicity for these ancient writers did not always require chronological sequence.)

(5) Read a synopsis in one year by reading one pericope every day! By coincidence, the synopsis has 367 pericopes (That is, all four gospels combined contain 367 units.) If you read one pericope a day next year, plus two additional days (but it is a leap year), you will have read all 367 units of all four gospels in a full year.


Following the 5th reason is also a great way to keep up on one’s NT Greek if one gets it in the NT Greek edition! (there is a Greek/English edition too).

I also recommend Scot McKnight’s Interpreting the Synoptic Gospels (Guides to New Testament Exegesis) for a description of a good coloring system that helps in deciphering the differences between the accounts, which come out best only in the Greek.

HT: Dave Black