The release date is still about 6 weeks away, but it will be worth keeping an eye on the discussion generated by Francis Watson’s Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective.

Prof. Watson is my supervisor at Durham, so I am somewhat familiar with the material and arguments of the book (almost 700 pages). Here is the synopsis provided by Eerdmans on the book’s webpage:

That there are four canonical versions of the one gospel story is often seen as a problem for Christian faith: where gospels multiply, so to do apparent contradictions that may seem to undermine their truth claims. In Gospel Writing Francis Watson argues that differences and tensions between canonical gospels represent opportunities for theological reflection, not problems for apologetics.

Watson presents the formation of the fourfold gospel as the defining moment in the reception of early gospel literature ā€” and also of Jesus himself as the subject matter of that literature. As the canonical division sets four gospel texts alongside one another, the canon also creates a new, complex, textual entity more than the sum of its parts. A canonical gospel can no longer be regarded as a definitive, self-sufficient account of its subject matter. It must play its part within an intricate fourfold polyphony, and its meaning and significance are thereby transformed.

In elaborating these claims, Watson proposes nothing less than a new paradigm for gospel studies ā€” one that engages fully with the available noncanonical material so as to illuminate the historical and theological significance of the canonical.


And here are a few endorsements from major figures in biblical and patristic scholarship:


Simon Gathercole (University of Cambridge)

“A wonderfully wide-ranging book, full of learning and insight. One of the most significant books on the gospels in the last hundred years, this work will undoubtedly shake up the current study of the gospels.

Lewis Ayres (University of Durham)

“Francis Watson offers here a striking and powerful argument for the importance of reading Scripture as a canon. The argument is constantly historical as well as theological, exploring the character of the early church’s decision to accept a fourfold symphonic gospel. . . . All should celebrate the manner in which Watson sets a new agenda for those who ask why we continue to read the gospel in this form.”

Dale C. Allison Jr. (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary)

“The scope of this major contribution is breathtaking. Watson expertly moves from Augustine to Lessing to Q to Thomas to the synoptic problem to the sources of John’s Gospel to the Gospel of Peter to the emergence of the fourfold gospel canon to Origen to early Christian art and liturgy. The upshot is a slew of new observations and intriguing proposals that open up fresh lines of inquiry. Required reading for all students of the gospel tradition.”

Those of us studying the Gospels, theological interpretation of Scripture, and early Christian exegesis have so much material to read and keep up with. This book is going to be one of those essential, landmark studies that will occupy a central spot on the wide bookshelf.

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