Book Review: The Gospels–A Short Introduction

The Gospels: A Short Introduction by Vincent Taylor

Published by Wipf and Stock Publishers

ISBN-10: 1606087096
ISBN-13: 978-1606087091

Amazon ǀ Wipf & Stock

Thanks to the kind folks at Wipf & Stock for this review copy!

This title was originally published in 1960 and recently reprinted. I did not know of this book before I saw it listed on the publisher’s web site, but according to reviews I’ve read elsewhere, Taylor’s brief introduction to the Gospels was an important contribution to the discussion of the Gospels at the time of its original printing. My impression of the book would echo, at least to a degree, the sentiments expressed by many others regarding the value of this volume.

The title, however, is a bit of a misnomer. I was interested in the book because the title seemed to suggest a broad, though brief, discussion of matters pertinent to study of the Gospels. Upon reading the book, I quickly discovered that this book is primarily focused on the issue of Gospel sources. Certainly one cannot take up a study of the Gospels without dealing with the issue of the authors’ sources, but this is the primary focus of the book. Gospel sources is not an area I have studied beyond introductory-level treatments and is not an aspect of the Gospels I find terribly interesting, so I was a little disappointed to find such was the object of Taylor’s study here. That is not to say, however, that this volume is not useful–it is indeed that.

Taylor arranges his discussion according to the following topics:

  1. Introductory Questions (authorship, date, sources, text and canon, character and authority of the Gospels)
  2. The Earliest Tradition (a discussion of methodologies; i.e. form-historical method, Dibelius and Bultmann)
  3. The Source Q
  4. Other Sayings-Collections Used by Matthew, Mark, and Luke
  5. Proto-Luke
  6. The Markan Source
  7. The Origin and Charactersitics of the Gospel of Mark
  8. The Sources Peculiar to Luke and Matthew
  9. The Gospel of Luke (characeristics, authorship, date, value of Luke)
  10. The Gospel of Matthew (characeristics, authorship, date, value of Luke)
  11. The Fourth Gospel: Its Structure and Character
  12. The Fourth Gospel: Its Purpose, Authorship, and Value

Taylor writes from a largely evangelical perspective and views the Gospels as inspired, but not in a sense that is overbearing. Being the works of human hearts and minds, Taylor forbids the view that the Gospel authors were “supernaturally protected from error,” but does not go into the nature of any apparent errors in the text. He states that “We must therefore use these works just as we should any other writings, but always with reverence, sympathy, and understanding” (p. 11).

The fact that this book is now nearly 50 years old aside, it is a handy volume to have. Taylor’s understanding of the issues surrounding Gospel sources is quite lucid and he writes (in this volume) with brevity, which is always welcome. The issues addressed have doubtless undergone further scrutiny and research since this book’s original publication, thus, in some respects, rendering some aspects of this book out of date. Nevertheless, this concise guide would be a handy reference for those studying sources, if for no other reason than its accessibility.

In sum, this is a good resource, though certainly one would employ a more current and expansive treatment when doing work beyond the introductory level.

Memorable quotes:

“The idea, for example, that the Evangelists were supernaturally preserved against mistake, cannot be justified in the light of the facts” p. 11

“One may dislike the phrase ‘that it might be fulfilled,’ but its deeper suggestion is that Christianity is not an accident, but a consummation” p. 78

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