Do we have in the four Gospels in the New Testament reliable means of access to the real Jesus? Are the Gospels history, legend, myth, or mere propaganda? Many people in the contemporary world, perhaps especially in the media, and even in the contemporary church have come to think that the four Gospels in the New Testament are basically very unreliable sources for knowing anything about Jesus.
The question why our New Testament contains four Gospels and no fewer and no more is important and interesting. We know that there were other Gospels that did not become part of our New Testament. Today many people know about other Gospels as a result of the misleading statements about them in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code. It is easy to understand and appreciate the fascination with the non-canonical Gospels. They have appeal because they are unknown to most.
Bauckham briefly looks at the way in which apostolic eyewitness functioned as a criterion of authenticity. He focuses on in the period from the second to the third centuries. During that period issues around what we call the canon of the four Gospels were sorted out as authoritative Scripture for the church. This was a crucial process through which early mainstream Christianity was defining itself.