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Early Gospels in Circulation: An Even Messier Scenario
October 4, 2023
When it comes to the early Christian Gospels, most people simply assume that there were four Gospels from the first century (those in the NT), and no others, and that they were written as they are found now, and that they circulated in that form, and that later Gospel writers (say in the second century) who used earlier written sources about Jesus must have borrowed their stories from those Gospels. Their other stories they just made up, or heard about from oral traditions, or both.
In my last post I suggested why I don’t think that view is particularly plausible, and tried to imagine something a bit more realistic; there I proposed a “messier scenario” in which there were numerous early Gospels, some earlier than others (e.g., Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the earliest that survive, but that doesn’t mean they were the earliest). In this view, Gospels later than the canonical four (e.g., Papyrus Egerton 2) may or may not have used the canonical four for their information (with additional legendary materials); but they possibly used others as well that were in circulation then but no longer now, along with oral traditions that must have been in abundance then but no longer survive now.
It’s important to make this point because so many people – including so many scholars – always seem to think that we must
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