Follow usTwitterFacebook


16 Nov 2014 Q&A No comments

Is there a difference among conservative, orthodox, and traditional Catholics?

Full Question Traditional, orthodox, conservative? What's the difference? Is there some formal definition of these as they relate to Catholicism? I am so c…

Read more

04 Oct 2016 News Comments (1)

Three cardinals sign statement defending magisterial teaching on the sacraments

Cardinals Burke, Caffarra and Pujats are among 4,000 signatories who affirm the Church's teachings on marriage and the Eucharist Six bishops, three of them car…

Read more

02 Feb 2016 Europe News No comments

Archbishop of Westminster mourns popular TV and Radio presenter, Sir Terry Wogan

Prayers and tributes have been flowing in following the death of popular TV and radio presenter,Terry Wogan. Sir Terry, aged 77, passed away in the early hou…

Read more

17 Aug 2016 Americas Europe News USA Vatican No comments

Compassion is not just an attitude but a call to action, says Pope

Jesus’ compassion toward people in need is not a vague sentiment, but a calling for Christians to bring that same compassion to others, Pope Francis has said. …

Read more

01 Oct 2014 Articles Comments (2)

Evolution of the Kingdom of Darkness

Evolution of the Kingdom of Darkness: how does the enemy reign? How does his kingdom spread? How is he preached, who are his apostles and what is his gospel? Si…

Read more

04 Jul 2016 Europe Middle East News United Kingdom USA Vatican Comments (4)

ISIS spy gives his life to Jesus Christ

According to CBN News, a miraculous encounter happened at Pastor Ghassan Thomas' church in Turkey, where he fled after Islamists threatened him and his family. …

Read more

05 Oct 2015 Middle East News No comments

ISIS destroys 2,000-year triumphal arch in Palmyra

Latest atrocity comes as Christian leader calls for western help ISIS militants have blown up the 2,000 year triumphal arch in Palmyra, it has been reported.…

Read more

11 Jul 2016 Middle East - Africa News USA Vatican No comments

South Sudan Church leaders condemn recent violence and pray for dead

South Sudan’s Church leaders said they are extremely disturbed about heavy fighting in the capital, Juba, which has raised widespread fears that the country is …

Read more

13 Oct 2015 News Vatican No comments

CDF prefect deplores leaking of letter

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the Milan-based newspaper Corriere della Sera that he would neither…

Read more
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

There Was No Ur-Gospel

Some years ago the mail brought me the latest issues of World, an Evangelical biweekly, and the Christian Research Institute’s Journal, a bimonthly from the ministry that airs “The Bible Answer Man” radio program.

I had to laugh as I placed the magazines side by side on my desk. It was a case of an editor’s worst nightmare: the covers were nearly identical, each touting a breakthrough story on the “Pensacola outpouring,” an emotion-laden and, apparently, lucrative mega-revival at an Assemblies of God Church in Florida.

Not only were the main stories the same, but the cover photographs were of the same preacher—and the photograph on the cover of the Journal appeared also on the lead page of the story inside World.

I  sympathized with the editors—and with their clerical staffs, who must have received lots of calls from curious readers wanting to know who borrowed from whom. The undoubted answer: neither. Aside from the common photograph, which was taken by an Associated Press photographer, the articles were crafted independently, neither magazine being aware of what the other was doing.

Yes, the magazines published at the same time. Yes, the stories read similarly. Yes, the stories took similar editorial stands (skeptical) regarding the authenticity of the phenomenon. But the writers didn’t borrow from one another—and they didn’t borrow from an unacknowledged third source.

That seemed self-evident to me. I didn’t need to search for editorial collusion. I didn’t need to search for an “ur-document” that formed the basis of the two articles. I didn’t need to search for anything beyond the obvious, which was that two similar magazines, covering the same story, ended up with similar-looking and similar-reading articles: just the kind of thing that happens every day in the sports pages of competing newspapers.

But what would certain contemporary biblical scholars say if they were to apply their methodologies to these magazines? We know what they say about the Gospels.

Do the synoptic Gospels have similar, even identical, passages? Aha!The writers, whoever they were (probably not the men to whom the Gospels have been ascribed traditionally, say these scholars) must have taken material from an unacknowledged (and, to us, undiscovered) source. Let’s call it Q (from the German Quelle = “source”).

The one thing these biblical scholars know for sure is that any account we read must have been taken from an earlier account that is lost to us. It can’t be the case that Matthew and Mark and Luke wrote their Gospels based on their own legwork, occasionally using the same witnesses’ testimonies and writing more or less independently. They must have plagiarized a now-lost document. We know it must be so because all old documents are derived from even older documents that we can find no trace of. Isn’t that how it works?

I am reminded of the salutary words written by A. H. N. Green-Armytage many years ago:

“There is a world—I do not say a world in which all scholars live but one at any rate into which all of them sometimes stray, and which some of them seem permanently to inhabit—which is not the world in which I live.

“In my world, if The Times and The Telegraph both tell one story in somewhat different terms, nobody concludes that one of them must have copied the other, nor that the variations in the story have some esoteric significance. But in that world of which I am speaking this would be taken for granted. There, no story is ever derived from facts but always from somebody else’s version of the same story. . . .

“In my world, almost every book, except some of those produced by Government departments, is written by one author. In that world almost every book is produced by a committee, and some of them by a whole series of committees.

“In my world, if I read that Mr. Churchill, in 1935, said that Europe was heading for a disastrous war, I applaud his foresight. In that world no prophecy, however vaguely worded, is ever made except after the event. In my world we say, ‘The First World War took place in 1914-1918.’ In that world they say, ‘The world-war narrative took shape in the third decade of the twentieth century.’

“In my world men and women live for a considerable time—seventy, eighty, even a hundred years—and they are equipped with a thing called memory. In that world (it would appear) they come into being, write a book, and forthwith perish, all in a flash, and it is noted of them with astonishment that they ‘preserve traces of primitive tradition’ about things which happened well within their own adult lifetime.”

And so it must have been with the World and Journal pieces. The writers may have borrowed from one another but, more likely, borrowed from an earlier, uncredited report of the Pensacola events. That earlier report is now lost to posterity—someone, perhaps, having accidently pressed the delete button without first having made a backup.

But no matter. The true account of the goings on in Florida can be retrieved, given enough sweat equity. We can go behind the embellishments of the magazine articles to the simple, unadorned truth of the source each magazine borrowed from. The ur-document can be reconstructed from the existing stories by working backwards. 

When we have reonstructed it, the ur-document will need a scholarly-sounding name. I propose that we call it N, from Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe’s reply to the German call to surrender Bastogne: “Nuts!”

But all that is a task for scholars armed with pinking shears and with more credulity than I can muster. Me? I’ll just read such magazines and accept them at face value, simple believer that I am.

Written By: Karl Keating


Leave a Reply

  1. most read post
  2. Most Commented
  3. Choose Categories