Wednesday, November 19, 2014

1. Celsus of Rome (earliest testimony for the fourfold gospel):

After this he [Celsus] says, that certain of the Christian believers, like persons who in a fit of drunkenness lay violent hands upon themselves, have corrupted the original text of the Gospel (τῆς πρώτης γραφῆς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον), to a threefold (τριχῇ), and fourfold (καὶ τετραχῇ), and many-fold degree (καὶ πολλαχῇ), and have remodeled it (μεταπλάττειν), so that they might be able to answer objections." [Origen, Contra Celsum 2:27]  
While it is not unanimously acknowledged that Celsus is here referring to our canonical texts the reading of the passage as such is common.  Some examples:
  • Writing between 177 and 180, just a few years before Irenaeus wrote Book in of the Adversus Haereses, Celsus knew all four gospels and had a particular interest in their early chapters ... I take this to be a reference to differences between the "three or four canonical gospels" [Graham Stranton, Jesus and the Gospel p. 70], 
  • the silence of Celsus as to other (heretical) Gospels, and his exclusive, or almost exclusive, references to the contents of our canonical Gospels, go far to show that when he wrote his attack, about 176 A.D., they were held among Christians to be of exclusive and para mount authority. [Nicol, the Four Gospels in the Early Church p. 43].
The effort of scholars nevertheless is to implicitly deny what is explicit in the reference - namely that the three or four were corruptions of the one, long gospel.  So Hill :
  • [t]hough Origen uses the singular, 'the Gospel', he clearly means the four Gospels collectively(!)[Hill, Who Chose the Gospels? p. 134]
Celsus is saying in effect that one 'original gospel' became three and four and many gospel under the guidance of desperate Christian apologists - like Irenaeus.  

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