What Has Happened to the Titles of the Gospels?

I started reading a new book by Jonathan Pennington called Reading the Gospels Wisely. I didn’t get very far before I ran into this footnote which I thought was quite interesting.

“It is lamentable that Bible readers would begin to think of these four stories as merely ‘Matthew’ or ‘John’ without their ancient and important qualifying superscripts, ‘The Gospel according to …’ Modern translations of the Bible are mixed in how they treat the titles for the Gospels. Virtually all older English translations had the full ‘The Gospel according to …’ This form has survived in several translations, including the NKJV (1979), the NASB (1977), the NEB (1976), and the NRSV (1989), while others have abbreviated the titles simply as ‘Mark,’ ‘John,’ etc., as in the HCSB (2004), the Living Bible (1971), and the NIV (1973). When the fuller phrase is retained, it is often minimized by is smaller font size and its appearance only at the very beginning of the book but not in the abbreviation of the book throughout (e.g., ESV). An earlier stage of this truncation was the loss of ‘Saint’ before the evangelists’ names; thus ‘The Gospel According to St. Matthew’ became ‘The Gospel according to Matthew’ and now just ‘Matthew.’ In the history of printing Bibles the only conceivable stage left of this moniker degradation would be ‘A Story about Jesus,’ followed by ‘Another Story about Jesus,’ and so on. My unscientific survey of modern commentaries on the Gospels reveals this truncating trend even more dramatically. Older commentaries, even if thoroughly higher critical in approach, retained the full title. See, for instance, Ezra Gould’s 1986 ICC volume, title, ‘A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Mark.  ‘Saint’ is dropped in Lane’s 1974 NICNT and ‘according to’ becomes more generically ‘of’ in France’s 2002 NIGTC. But France and Lane appear even old-fashioned compared to most post-1980 commentaries, which, regardless of confessional stance, use only the evangelist’s name. Thus, Wessel’s 1984 EBC, Guelich’s 1989 WBC, Marcus’s 200 Anchor, and A.Y. Collin’s 2007 Hermeneia all use simply ‘Mark.’ (4n3)

I think I’m going to love this book. Consider these endorsements:

“This is a book that could transform many people’s reading of the Gospels. Jonathan Pennington has a wide knowledge of the specialist literature, and he skillfully distills what matters most for the task of reading the Gospels wisely. He is especially concerned that we read the Gospels in ways that are appropriate to the sort of texts they are. What comes across is a powerful sense that the Gospels are not only historical but also life-changing.”

Richard Bauckham, University of St. Andrews; Ridley Hall, Cambridge

“Many books on the Gospels slog through source criticism, form criticism, and redaction criticism–important topics to be sure. How refreshing it is, however, to find a book with a new approach, one that reads the Gospels as literature and sees their importance theologically. This book is like a cool drink of water in what is too often the desert of Gospel studies. While I don’t agree with everything Pennington says, his arguments must be reckoned with, and they further the conversation in productive and stimulating ways. I believe this is the best introductory book on the Gospels. Both students and professors will find it to be invaluable.”

Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Reading the Gospels can be tricky, but it is important to read them with a full appreciation of their theology. Jonathan Pennington’s study helps you get there–and get there well, as well as wisely.”

Darrell Bock, research professor of New Testament studies, Dallas Theological Seminary

“Few academic enterprises of recent generations have been as chaotic and contradictory as the study of Jesus and the Gospels. Bultmann, Bornkamm, Borg, Burridge, Blomberg, Bauckham–and those are just some Bs–whom to believe? This learned yet lively volume attempts to transcend past miscues and cash in on lasting insights going back to patristic times. Pennington shows how the fourfold canonical Gospel ought to be read: as the proper entrée to becoming Jesus’s disciple for the sake of loving God by the work of the Spirit. Few works explain more.”

Robert W. Yarbrough, professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri

Reading the Gospels Wisely is by Jonathan T. Pennington and is from Baker Academic. It is a paperback with 288 pages and sells for $24.99.

Jonathan T. Pennington (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is associate professor of New Testament interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew and has published a number of biblical language learning tools, including New Testament Greek Vocabulary and Old Testament Hebrew Vocabulary.
 
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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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One Response to What Has Happened to the Titles of the Gospels?

  1. Kevin Fiske says:

    Thanks for the post, Louis! I’ve had my eye on this one for awhile…looks to be an excellent read.

    Like

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