David A. Black, Why Four Gospels? Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001. 118 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-8254-2070-9. $10.99.
This is a short book on Matthean priority; thus a short review. For the uninitiated, Matthean priority is the traditional view that Matthew's gospel was the first to be written; hence prior to Mark, Luke and John.
Black is not writing for scholars. This is a popular book, requested by his students as a handy, non-technical discussion of the issues surrounding the synoptic question. In this, the book succeeds. Some students of the synoptic problem might suppose that Black is defending William Farmer's case for Matthean priority (so-called Two-Gospel Hypothesis of J. J. Griesbach). Not exactly. Black's variation on the Griesbach theme is dependent on work of Bernard Orchard who coined the term "Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis."
Black's presuppositions are clear: concrete supernaturalism, really true miracles, deity of Christ, inspiration of the gospels. He places himself antithetically to the Enlightenment (pp. 7-8, 35-37) which eroded the church's historic belief in the inerrancy of Scripture by focusing on alleged "contradictions" in the gospels. The result of Enlightenment (post-Enlightenment) higher criticism is that the gospels are a mere human product.
Black suggests that Matthew's gospel was composed for the Jerusalem church before 42 A.D. (or 44 A.D., cf. pp. 68, 67). Paul used this gospel on his first two missionary journeys. But realizing his Gentile audience needed something appropriate to their interests, Paul asked Luke to compose his gospel using Matthew as a model. He finished his work sometime before Paul's imprisonment (62 A.D.). Peter had come to Rome during Paul's incarceration. He delivered some "speeches" on the life of Jesus using Matthew and Luke (both of which he had at hand) and supplementing them (as well as selectively choosing passages from them) with his own eyewitness testimony. Peter's companion, Mark, wrote down these "speeches" so as to form the gospel which bears his name. John's gospel rounds out the fourcomposed late in the first century.
Black constructs his case, in part, on the strength of the external evidence from the early church fathers. This patristic data is neatly summarized (pp. 37-42) by quotations from ten sources ranging from Irenaeus to Augustine. The keystone is Clement of Alexandria who relates the Peter-Mark cooperation (as per the paragraph above).
Black then turns his attention to a critique of the Markan hypothesis, i.e., Markan priority (pp. 47-59). Noting that the "academic guild" dismisses the external evidence from the fathers ("basically legendary and unreliable"), the theory of Markan priority is erected to account for the existence of the gospels as we have them. Black notes that biblical higher critical prejudice against the fathers is not found among "classical Greek and Roman scholars" (p. 48).
The book concludes with a summary of "The Making of the Gospels" (pp. 66-90). Black makes a credible case for the gospel order as we have it. His case is bolstered by the testimony of the church fathers. Significant historical testimony indeed! save to those who believe that before Kant, Reimarus and Lessing all "history" was invented. In sum, Black's case is as credible as the alternative. It may be even more credible!
James T. Dennison, Jr.