The first question, if one accepts the traditional authors of the Gospel, is why an apostle and eyewitness like Matthew would primarily rely on a non-apostle and non-eyewitness like Mark for his record of the life of Jesus? Of course, not all New Testament scholars accept the theory of Markan priority, which means that Mark’s Gospel was used as the major source for Matthew and Luke. There are still some advocates of Augustine’s theory that Mark was Matthew’s abbreviator or Griesbach’s theory that Mark was the conflator of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but most scholars have been convinced by the case for Markan priority.
However, if we accept the tradition from Papias, the early second century bishop of Hierapolis, that Mark was the interpreter of the apostle Peter (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15), then Matthew may have been following Mark’s record out of deference to the authority of Peter. This argument is found in several commentaries and I first came across it when I was a teenager reading Lee Strobel’s popular Case for Christ. Lee Strobel asks why an eyewitness like Matthew would follow the source of a non-eyewitness like Mark, to which the scholar Craig Blomberg responds that “it would make sense for Matthew, even though he was an eyewitness, to rely on Peter’s version of events as transmitted through Mark” (27). Moreover, Papias could potentially be enlisted in support of such a scenario. Some scholars (e.g., Kürzinger, Gundry, Watson) argue that Papias’s comment on Mark was immediately followed by his comment on Matthew in Papias’s lost book. The logic is that Mark did not carefully arrange the sayings and deeds of Jesus in their proper “order” (taxis), because he was only writing down what he had heard from Peter’s preaching, which is why Matthew chose to make an ordered arrangement (suntaxin) of his traditions about Jesus (Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15-16).
This may be a plausible scenario, but there have been some objections in response to it. First, there are questions about the historical accuracy of Papias’s reports: was his source the Apostle John or another figure called the Elder/Presbyter John, how reliable were the Elder John and Aristion, how reliable were Papias’s other informants (e.g. those who visited Hierapolis, the daughters of Philip, etc.) and the stories that they passed on to Papias, and does Papias’s claims about Mark and Matthew correspond to the internal evidence of those Gospels? Second, it is possible that it was Eusebius who juxtaposed these two quotations from Papias together and Papias may have been originally writing about Mark and Matthew in separate contexts. Third, there is the issue about why this Gospel would follow Peter’s recollections about Matthew’s call narrative. On this point, if Levi is the same person as Matthew, why does this individual have two Semitic names (see how the early church wrestled with this here)? If Levi and Matthew were originally distinct individuals, why would Matthew not narrate his own call to discipleship?
What do you think about the strengths and weaknesses of this argument?
In the last several posts, we have looked at various theories behind why Levi was changed to Matthew in Matthew 9:9 (cf. 10:3). Was it felt to be necessary to include Levi in the list of twelve apostles? Did the evangelist connect the name Matthew to the Greek word for disciple? Were these verses designed to buttress the credibility of ascribing the Gospel to the Apostle Matthew? Was there a memory that the Apostle Matthew had really been a tax collector? Or is the change based on a simple scribal error? In the next few posts, I want to weigh the following arguments in defense of Matthew’s authorship of the Gospel:
- The Apostle Matthew would not have had a problem with copying Mark’s Gospel since it was a record of the preaching of the chief Apostle Peter.
- Although Matthew’s Greek text does not appear to be a translation of a Hebrew or Aramaic original and seems to rely on Greek sources like Mark’s Gospel, it is possible to understand Papias’s testimony as referring to the Hebrew rhetorical style of argumentation evident in Matthew’s Gospel. Alternatively, Papias was mistaken about the Gospel’s original language (i.e. Aramaic), but was right about its authorship.
- As a tax collector, the Apostle Matthew would have been bilingual and able to compose the Greek text of the Gospel.
- The Apostle Matthew may have been behind one of the major sources that was translated and incorporated into the Greek text of the first canonical Gospel.
In a previous post, we saw that there was a western reading that named James as the tax collector in Mark 2:14 due to the scribe’s confusion over the fact that both Levi and James are identified as the son of Alphaeus. This textual variant is crucial to the theory of Benjamin Bacon’s Studies in Matthew (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1930), 39-40. He supposes that this reading was known to the scribe who transmitted the list of the twelve that we find in Matthew 10:2-4 and, in adjusting the list to Mark’s narrative account, he inserted the marginal note “the tax collector” between the names of “Matthew” and “James the son of Alphaeus.” The scribe understood the latter figure to be the tax collector, but the Gospel writer read the note and assumed that “the tax collector” was appended to Matthew’s name and this is the basis for changing the tax collector’s name to Matthew in 9:3. A few of the problems with this theory is that it presupposes that this textual variant is very old, pre-dating the Gospel of Matthew, and that the author of Matthew’s Gospel inherited a list in which the name Matthew immediately preceded the name James. The theory would not work if it was the writer of Matthew’s Gospel who simply revised Mark’s list (Mark 3:16-19) and switched the order of Matthew and Thomas, thus being the one to place Matthew right before James on the list.
Another theory for why the call story of the tax collector Levi (cf. Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27) was turned into the call of the Apostle Matthew in Matthew 9:9 and 10:3 is presented in the Hermeneia commentary by Ulrich Luz. In his commentary on Matthew 8-20, Ulrich Luz makes the following argument on page 32:
“But why was it Matthew and not another member of the Twelve – for example, Thomas or Bartholomew – who was honored with this story of a call? Did it happen simply by accident? Or because the name of Matthew had symbolic significance? Or because Matthew was the ancestor and founding apostle of the area of the church in which our gospel was written? That the author [of the Gospel] was so unfamiliar with the founding apostle of his own church that he had to provide him with a ‘foreign’ call story speaks against this thesis. He does not know anything else to report about him. To me a more probable supposition is that it was still known of Matthew that he was a tax collector; therefore the story of Levi’s call fit his situation. In short, it is improbable that the Matthean community venerated the apostle Matthew as its founding apostle and the guarantor of its tradition.”
Do you agree that there might have been a vague memory that Matthew had once been a tax collector before his apostolic calling, but the details of his life in that profession had long been forgotten and thus the call to discipleship of another tax-collector named Levi was transferred over to him? Luz goes on to argue that the ascription of the New Testament Gospel to Matthew was made solely as an inference from the name change in Matthew 9:9 (p. 33), but would this verse alone lead early Christians to believe that Matthew was the author of this text?
There are similarities between Jesus’s call of two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew and James and John, and Levi the son of Alphaeus in Mark 1:16-20 and 2:14. In both cases, Jesus saw the individuals in question and issued the call to become his followers and there was an immediate positive response. Nevertheless, while the first four individuals are listed among the Twelve, the name “Levi” was strikingly absent from the list while James the son of Alphaeus was included on it (cf. Mark 3:18). The difficulty was perceived by some later scribes in the western readings that either replace the name “Levi” with “James” in Mark 2:14 or replace “Thaddaeus” with “Lebbaeus” in Mark 3:18. See Wieland Willker’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek Gospels: Vol 2, Mark for the textual apparatus. According to Barnabas Lindars (“Matthew, Levi, Lebbaeus and the Value of the Western Text” NTS 4 [1957-58]: 220-22), the textual change at Mark 2:14 was guided by the “scribe’s desire for uniformity” to have only one son of Alphaeus (i.e. James) and the textual change at Mark 3:18 was intended to put Lebbaeus (the Latinized name for Levi) in the list of the Twelve.
The evangelist who wrote Matthew’s Gospel may have had another solution to the problem of why Levi was not included in the Twelve. One theory is put forward in Rudolf Pesch’s article “”Levi—Matthäus (Me 2.14/Mt 9.9; 10.3). Ein Beitrag zur Lösung eines alten Problems” [Levi-Matthew (Mark 2:14/Matthew 9:9; 10:3). A Contribution to the Solution of an Old Problem] ZNW 59 (1968): 40-56. On pages 50-53, Pesch argues that Matthew equates Jesus’s “disciples” with the group of the “Twelve.” Hence, the writer of Matthew’s Gospel could not have Levi as a disciple of Jesus who was not among the “twelve disciples” (cf. 10:1; 11:1; 20:17), so Levi’s name was changed to Matthew at 9:9 and “the tax collector” was appended to Matthew’s name at 10:3. Pesch parallels this with how Matthew 27:56 replaced Salome in Mark 16:1 with the mother of Zebedee’s sons, since Salome was unknown to Matthew and Mathew 20:21 already inserted the mother of James and John into an earlier Markan episode (pp. 54-55). As for why the Apostle Matthew was chosen, Pesch guesses that he was venerated by the evangelist’s community, perhaps as the source of their tradition, and, as Matthew’s name means “gift of Yahweh” , he could be treated as representative of sinners who receive the gift of grace (p. 56).
Pesch’s solution has been supported by John P. Meier, The Vision of Matthew: Christ, Church, and Morality in the First Gospel (New York: Paulist, 1978), 24-25 and Francis Wright Beare, The Gospel According to Matthew (Cambridge: Harper & Row, 1981), 225. The potential weakness to his theory is that, if one can demonstrate that there are specific verses in the Gospel of Matthew that indicate that the Gospel writer was aware that there were “disciples” of Jesus beyond the circle of the Twelve, this might undermine his argument for why the Gospel writer had to include “Levi” in the list of the Twelve under the name “Matthew.” Moreover, Pesch’s reasons for why Matthew was chosen would need much more substantiation.
For scholars who do not accept the traditional authorship of Matthew’s Gospel, many infer that there must be some connection between the name change from Levi (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27) to Matthew in Matthew 9:9 (cf. 10:3) and the traditional ascription to Matthew. According to George D. Kilpatrick (The Origins of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, pp. 138-139), both the redactional changes to Matthew 9:9 and 10:3 and the creation of the title “The Gospel according to Matthew” (to euangelion kata Matthaion) occurred at the same time in order to pseudonymously ascribe the Gospel to Matthew. Kilpatrick also argues that the ascription of the Gospel to an apostolic author was a recognized literary convention (cf. 2 Peter), concluding:
“A private production claiming apostolic authorship was, as we know of the later Acts of Paul, liable to severe scrutiny. An official work whose pseudonymity was approved by the authorities of the church would not have to meet the guardians of canonicity.” (p. 139).
Ultimately, however, I do not find this explanation to be convincing. If the Gospel writer wanted to identify Matthew as the author, simply changing the name of Levi to Matthew in Matthew 9:9 (cf. 10:3) seems to be far too subtle of an approach. Matthew 9:9 does not seem to be making an explicit authorial claim as we find in the following examples:
“The is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24 ESV)
“These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded.” (Gospel of Thomas, prologue)
“But I, Simon Peter, and Andrew my brother, having taken our nets, went away to the sea, and there was with us Levi of Alphaeus, whom the Lord….” (Gospel of Peter 14.60)
Mark Kiley’s article “Why ‘Matthew’ in Matt 9:9-13” Biblica 65.3 (1984): 347-351 offers one of the more intriguing theories for why the name “Levi” was changed to “Matthew.” Kiley notices two changes that that passage makes to the Gospel of Mark as its source. First, there is the substitution of Matthew (Maththaios) for Levi. Second, when the evangelist defends Jesus’s practice of fellowship with tax collectors and sinners by inserting a quotation from Hosea 6:6 on the priority of mercy over sacrifice, Jesus prefaces the quote by instructing his listeners to “go and learn” (poreuthentes de methete). The act of learning should be what characterizes the life of a “disciple” (mathētēs). Kiley’s theory is that the assonance between the Greek words for Matthew and disciple are intentional and that Matthew typifies the ideal of “learning discipleship.” Do you think this article explains the two redactional additions in Matthew 9:9-13?
Claude Mariottini has posted the biblical studies carnival for May 2019. Enjoy.
When I was exploring the Patristic traditions about John for my last book, I also got to learn more about the traditions about John’s alleged opponent Cerinthus. I summarized the different portraits of Cerinthus in the Patristic literature in a blog post from 2017. I have now researched the scholarship on Cerinthus further and published my article “Classifying Cerinthus’s Christology” for the Journal of Early Christian History. Here is my abstract for anyone who is interested:
In the academic study of Christian origins, scholars have classified various christological systems of thought as “gnostic,” “docetic,” “adoptionist,” or “separationist.” This article will explore to what extent each of these taxonomic categories or ideal types corresponds to Cerinthus’s postulation of the temporary union of the human Jesus with the divine Christ. It will further defend the accuracy of Irenaeus’s description of Cerinthus’s theological and christological positions and how they differed from those of the Jewish-Christian Ebionites on the one hand and a demiurgical theologian such as Carpocrates on the other.
Some individuals in the New Testament had a Semitic and a Greek or Roman name. We can see this with “Saul” of Tarsus, who is more famously known as the Apostle “Paul”, or with “John” who was surnamed “Mark”. It was very rare, if not unparalleled, to have two Semitic names, which may count as evidence against identifying Levi as Matthew.
- The onomastic evidence is reviewed by William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 100-101n.29 and Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Second Edition; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017), 109-110 (cf. “A Note on Matthew and Levi” on pages 108-112).
- Some traditional commentators argue that Levi was the birth name and “Matthew” (meaning “gift of Yahweh”) was a nickname that Jesus bestowed on Levi when he became a disciple, much like Jesus gave Simon the Aramaic nickname “Kepha” (transliterated as Kephas or translated as Petros in Greek) or “rock.”
- The Anchor Bible commentary on Matthew by W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann alleges that “Matthew” was the personal name and “Levite” was his tribal designation, but “the widespread disuse of the definite article in Aramaic in the NT period” caused a Greek translator to mistake this for the personal name “Levi” (CLXXVIII). They add that there were too many Levites to be of use for the temple cult, so Matthew had to seek his livelihood elsewhere through the disreputable means of tax collecting, and this supposedly explains both Matthew’s religious knowledge and hostility to the religious establishment (CLXXVIII-CLXXXIV).