Shall We Judge the Four Gospels by their Title Page?
Your copy of the Bible probably includes a page separating Malachi (the last book of the Old Testament) from Matthew (the first book in the New Testament)—a title page to introduce the New Testament material that follows. Some have attempted to subvert the teachings of Christ by suggesting that the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John belong in the Old Testament instead of in the New Testament (see Billingsley; n.d.; see also Brewer, 1941, pp. 85-90 for additional documentation of those who hold such a position). In doing so, they have promoted an erroneous theory that we can summarize in the following statement: “In the year 1486, Roman Catholics added a title page in between the books of Malachi and Matthew, to introduce the New Testament. The title page is not part of the inspired Word of God, and thus erroneously implied that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are part of the same Covenant that contains the book of Acts.”
Certainly it is true that God did not inspire any men to compose a title page for placement in between the books of the Old Testament and the New Testament. Erroll F. Rhodes of the American Bible Society noted:
The first printed edition of the Bible was a copy of the Latin Vulgate printed about 1455 by Johan Gutenberg. Following traditional usage, it had neither title pages nor page numbers, and the books of the Bible with their traditional introductory prefaces were printed in continuous sequence. The first known example of a title page is the 1486 edition of the Bible in Latin published by Pruss of Strassburg, which carried the words Textus Biblie (n.d.).
However, just because a human, or a group of humans, made an assertion, does not make the assertion false. Even Bible writers noted that certain things written by uninspired men were true (e.g., Acts 17:28; 1 Titus 1:12-13; see Colley, 2004). In this particular case, uninspired publishers, convinced that Matthew was the first book of the New Testament, simply used a title page to illustrate their conviction. Because their conviction was accurate (based on Scriptural principles; see Jackson, 2004), many other publishers have maintained the tradition of including a title page between Malachi and Matthew.
Of course, people understood long before the introduction of a title page separating Malachi from Matthew, that Matthew marked the beginning of New Testament material (see A.P. Staff, 2003). In fact, during the nearly twenty centuries since the writing of the New Testament, the placement of the Gospel accounts among the New Testament books instead of among the Old Testament books has gone virtually unquestioned. God knows that humans are generally capable of determining for themselves, based on a large amount of evidence, which books belong in the Old Testament, and which ones belong in the New Testament.
Furthermore, since uninspired men created the title page, whatever meaning the page might imply is irrelevant to the argument over the proper canonical placement of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. God inspired individual books, not a single bound volume, so any argument for or against the New Testament canonization of the Gospel accounts, based on a title page, is nonsensical. The title page is not evidence for either side of the argument. Christians generally have accepted the placement of a title page between Malachi and Matthew, because they have understood that Malachi is Old Testament material, while Matthew is New Testament material. Matthew is a New Testament book, whether or not it is prefaced by a title page.
Billingsley, Dan (no date), “Twenty Five Reasons Why the Old Testament Teaching of Christ in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—Including Matthew 19—is Not New Testament Doctrine,” Fundamental Bible Studies.
Brewer, G.C. (1941), Contending for the Faith (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
Colley, Caleb (2004), “Did Jude Treat Noncanonical Writings As if They Were Inspired?,” [On-line], URL: https://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2235.
Jackson, Wayne (2004), “Are the ‘Gospel Accounts’ a Part of the New Testament?,” [On-line], URL: http://www.christiancourier.com/questions/gospelaccountsNT.htm.
Rhodes, Erroll F. (no date), American Bible Society, quoted in Billingsley, Dan (1997), “An Open Letter to Members of Churches of Christ.”
A.P. Staff (2003), “The Canon and Extra-Canonical Writings,” [On-line], URL: https://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/1972.
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