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).
It has been a puzzle why Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27-28 named the tax collector Levi, while Matthew 9:9 named the tax collector Matthew. The early church authorities wrestled with this issue as well and seem to have arrived at two primary solutions:
- There seems to be a minority tradition in the early church that continued to distinguish Levi and Matthew as two separate individuals. Ben C. Smith has helpfully compiled the passages in this post on the Biblical Criticism & History Forum, though I think that I would dissent from a number of his conjectures about the admittedly complicated textual data (e.g. his hypotheses about the development of the lists of the Twelve), and Brent Nongbri notes in his blog post how Origen of Alexandria has conflicting opinions about harmonizing the Gospel texts about Levi the son of Alphaeus, James the son of Alphaeus, and Matthew.
- The identification of Levi as Matthew was the more common view, with Patristic authorities such as John Chrysostom (Hom. in Matt. 30.1) and Jerome (Comm. Matt. 1.9.9) arguing that the evangelists Mark and Luke used the less common name “Levi” out of their respect for the apostle Matthew while the evangelist Matthew humbly admitted to his past notoriety as a publican under his more well-known name “Matthew.” You can read their comments in Manlio Simonetti’s commentary on Matthew 1-13 for the InterVarsity Press Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Series on page 177.
A few blog posts have noted that Timo Paananen has submitted his doctoral dissertation on the fragments of the so-called “Secret Gospel of Mark” in the letter to Theodore ascribed to Clement of Alexandria. I have quickly skimmed through the introduction of what looks like an interesting thesis. When I have time, I will have to add it to the bibliography that I compiled for the e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha, which covers the whole spectrum of scholarship from those who defend the authenticity of the letter (and thus factor this apocryphal Gospel into their analysis of the development of the Gospel tradition) to those who dismiss it as an ancient or a modern forgery. You can see some of Paananen’s other articles on this topic at his academia.edu page.
As far as the English commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew, the three volume commentaries by W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison are among the most important works. In The Gospel According to Matthew, Volume II: Matthew VIII – XVIII (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991, reprinted 2006), they list the following possibilities for why Matthew 9:9 renamed the tax-collector Levi as Matthew on pages 98-99:
- The evangelist knew Levi by his more well-known name, Matthew, or was even identifying himself as the author of the narrative.
- The Gospel equates the “disciples” with the group of the Twelve, so the call of Levi had to be changed to the call of the Apostle Matthew. The name Matthew could have been picked at random.
- Matthew 10:3 preserves an accurate memory that Matthew was a former tax collector, which may be the reason for why Levi’s call narrative was transferred over to Matthew.
- The name Matthew was chosen due to assonance or the resemblance between the name “Matthew” (Maththaios) and “disciple” (mathētēs).
- The Gospel was pseudonymously ascribed to Matthew and 9:9/10:3 helped support the authorial fiction.
- The author changed the name from Levi to Matthew to signal that the Apostle Matthew was connected to the author’s community or was the source of its tradition.
Davies and Allison judge option 5 to be the least probable, options 1 and 3 as unnecessary even if they have not been disproved, and options 2 and 6 to be the most satisfactory while option 4 might have some truth (p. 99). However, they add that “One must remain quite uncertain.” Which of these options do you find to be the most convincing? Is there an option that Davies and Allison have missed?
I have published on the early church traditions about the evangelist Mark as the interpreter of Peter and John as the beloved disciple who reclined next to Jesus at the Last Supper and published his Gospel in Ephesus. Eventually I would like to turn to the traditions about the evangelist Matthew, one of the twelve apostles who wrote his Gospel to a Jewish audience in their own language. Here are the three pieces of the puzzle that have to be resolved.
- In Mark 2:14, Matthew 9:9, and Luke 5:27-28, Jesus called a tax collector to abandon his profession and follow him. However, in the Gospels of Mark and Luke the tax collector is named Levi, but in Matthew’s Gospel the tax collector is named Matthew.
- The names of the twelve Apostles are listed in Mark 3:16-19, Matthew 10:2-4, Luke 6:14-16, and Acts 1:13, but Matthew 10:3 added the description “the tax collector” after the Apostle Matthew’s name.
- The standard Gospel titles, and the early church traditions, unanimously ascribed the first canonical Gospel to Matthew. Moreover, they assumed that our Greek text was a translation of a Hebrew (or more likely Aramaic) original and some Patristic authorities identified this Semitic original with what they presumed to be the Gospel according to the Hebrews (e.g., Epiphanius, Jerome).