Who chose the four gospels?

It is known that there were more than four of them. Who chose them? What were the main factors in that decision?

Posted: May 5th 2009

George Ricker www

By the third or fourth century of the common era, it appears church leaders had settled on Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as the four gospels that would be included in the canon that came to be the established Bible. There were many others that could have been included. The decision about which books to include and which to leave out was not made by any single person and probably had more to do with tradition and the perceived needs of the church at that time than any other factor.

Posted: May 9th 2009

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flagellant www

There are, of course, many gospels and New Testament books that didn’t make it into the bible.

We have to recognize that the mélange of books, comprising 'God’s Holy Word’, is just a selection of those considered for inclusion. The early compilers seem to have been more concerned with authority than with accuracy: one needed to reinforce 'The Gospel’ – 'The Good News’ – rather than tell the truth; things were made up if it helped the message.

Here’s a fascinating insight, about The Apocrypha – hence apocryphal – concerning the make up of the New Testament.

Posted: May 8th 2009

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What is little understood – and I only know the basics – is that there was not one early christian church, there were a number of different sects that believed different things and used different books to support their beliefs.

My understanding is that there was considerable chaos until the Romans adopted Christianity. At that point schisms became matters of imperial concern (because they caused internal strife), and the council of Nicaea was convened to fix the problem. They started the tradition of settling theological matters through ecumenical councils, and pretty much defined the orthodoxy of christianity.

Posted: May 7th 2009

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SmartLX www

It was the Romans, during the time of the same Empire that had occupied Israel (though over a century later), who put the final rubber stamp on the awesome foursome.

This was the basic problem when selecting gospels: the more the better from a standpoint of corroboration, but the fewer the better from a standpoint of consistency.

Mark was among the earliest and most widely adopted gospels. Matthew and Luke copied quite a lot of Mark, sometimes verbatim, and came to be seen as compatible. (Many scholars also think they both drew upon another document, now lost, known as the Q document) John came later and was a little more different, but it still hit all the right notes.

As for the rest, and there were lots, most were excluded for contradicting those four (especially Mark) in irreconcilable ways. Eventually people like Irenaeus of Lyons came up with poetic and omen-like reasons to stick with four: the four winds, the four “corners of the earth”, God’s four-faced throne-bearers as described in Ezekiel and Revelations.

The other surviving gospels are available in libraries and online if you want to read them. I don’t know whether Christian libraries are a good place to look, because their Church status in most or all cases is “heresy”.

Posted: May 5th 2009

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