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November 9, 2007 / Daniel

Richard Bauckham @ Wheation

Last night I went to Dr. Bauckham’s lecture on campus about the selection of the canonical gospels.  Bauckham has recently written an excellent book on this topic called Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.  The lecture was fascinating.  Here are some of my notes on it.  Part of them comes from Bauckham’s handout.

The existence of other gospels leads us to the question, Did we get our canon right? How do we know which books should be considered as authoritative and authentic?  Postmodernity is attracted by the lure of the forbidden.  We want to know why the church was being so “restrictive.”   Like the Gnostics, postmoderns seek for secret hidden knowledge by reading these gospels that have been rejected by the church.   However, the early church did have good reasons for accepting the gospels that they did.

The primary test for the canonicity of a document was apostolicity.  This was determined by 3 things.

1.  The document was from the apostolic age (pre-100 AD).  

2.  The document was from the circle of the apostles.  In other words, the author had access to eyewitnesses.

3.  The document was in conformity with the mainstream church’s tradition of teaching. 

Bauckham also discussed whether the fourfold canon of the gospels was prior to Marcion’s desire to limit the canon to just Luke (an edited version with no references to Israel) or if the fourfold canon was a reaction to Marcion?  He believes that it was more likely that the fourfold canon developed before Marcion. 

He also brought up the distinctives that the canonical gospels have as opposed to the Gnostic gospels. 

1.  They’re biographical.  The Gnostics weren’t interested in history.  They wanted to escape from time and space since the material world was evil. 

2.  They continue the Old Testament story of Israel.  By and large, the Gnostics were not concerned with Israel.  There is rarely a mention of Old Testament fulfillment of prophecy since the god of Israel was the evil creator god that made the material world.  To the Gnostics, Jesus was from a higher god, who is outside of time and space.

3.  They hold Jewish monotheism.  The Gnostics tended to be polytheistic.

4.  They have a verifiable historical context.  The Gnostics were unconcerned with history.  Gnosticism offered a mythical salvation, not a historical one.

Another interesting point that Bauckham made was that the Gnostic gospels tend to ignore or even reject the humanity of Jesus.  Contrary to the dubious claims of Dan Brown, it was the canonical gospels that made Jesus out to be a real breathing man, flesh and bone. 

There was a lot of good stuff in the lecture.  I’ll post a link when the school puts it on their site. 



Leave a Comment
  1. Dennis / Nov 12 2007 3:06 am


    That’s a great post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. jeff miller / Nov 18 2007 5:48 am


    Thanks for this post. Everytime I here someone use the term “gnosticism” I suggest they read “Rethinking Gnosticism: An Argument for Dismanteling a Dubious Category” by Michael Williams. It is a great way to gain perspective on a subject which becomes very important for some researching the 1st and 2nd century setting.

    Thank You again,

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