This is a rather long book and this is going to be a rather long series of reflections. Snippets really.
Part One, The Eclipse of the Fourfold Gospel, is filled with expert analysis of the criticism of the Gospels from Augustine to Schleiermacher. I am a bit disappointed Watson did not begin with more of an examination of Irenaeus and Origen and how they received the various differences in the Gospels; however, his examination of Augustine (chapter one) and Lessing (chapter two) more than make up for this. Indeed, the strength of these chapters lies not in the detailed history of Augustine’s textual comparison, but in the scholarly approach to each of the figureheads’ theological (or psychological) reading of the differences among the Gospels. Simply put, Augustine harmonized the Gospels with one another. Lessing and his descendents harmonized the Gospels with Reason.
Part One is the history of the interpretation of the individual passages of the Gospels, but of the reason we have four Gospels along with how do we understand them next to one another. Further, in this examination is a brief understanding of the rise of historical criticism. Without a doubt, my favorite portion thus far is Watson’s examination of Lessing. This is why I say the approach employed by both men is not simply theological, but must turn to the psychological.
Augustine was ready to throw away all of the Gospels if he could not harmonize them — if the story was not exactly the same. We see this same attitude today with those who rather than see the differences brought about by different methods of narrative recapitulation, call the differences contradictions. Lessing, rather, could see them plainly as differences and allow that the Gospels were not reporting historical fact. They were reporting the truth.
This is truly a fascinating read already, and the more so since I am now into chapter 2 where Watson has some forthright words about Q.