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Matthew as the Author of a Lost Source?

When Papias wanted to describe the contents of the text that he ascribed to the Apostle Matthew, he used the plural (logia) of the word logion that could be translated as “oracle.” The term could be used to refer to the Jewish Scriptures as oracles (e.g., Acts 7:38; Romans 3:2; 1 Clement 53:1; Polycarp, Epistle 1.7) or the words spoken by Christian preachers as oracles (e.g., 1 Peter 4:11; Hebrews 5:12). Papias may have meant that the oracles were spoken by Jesus or spoken about Jesus. If he meant the former, he could have been referring to a collection of Jesus’s sayings. If he meant the latter, he could be referring to oral traditions about Jesus (e.g., note Papias’s interest in the “living voice”) or written texts about Jesus (e.g., the prophecies in the Jewish Scriptures or the Christian Gospels?). He seems to refer to the contents of his own five-volume work as the “oracles of the Lord” and treat the “oracles of the Lord” as interchangeable with the reports of the things that Jesus said and did in his account of the origins of Mark’s text. Nevertheless, Friedrich Schleiermacher ( “Über die Zeugnisse des Papias von unsern beiden ersten Evangelien,” TSK 5 [1832]: 735–68) supposed that Matthew’s logia referred to the source of the five major discourses in Matthew 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 23-25. Since then, a number of scholars have identified Papias’s source with one of Matthew’s hypothetical sources such as “Q” (the alleged common source behind the shared non-Markan material in Matthew and Luke that mostly consists of Jesus’s sayings) or “M” (the source or sources behind the material that is unique to Matthew’s text including the infancy narrative, some sayings, some parables, some miracle stories, and so on). Matthew’s logia has even been identified with a non-extant source that Patristic writers refer to as the “Gospel according to the Hebrews.” I will try to enlarge the biography of scholars supporting each position below as I locate them:

Identifying Matthew’s Logia with Q or M

Identifying Matthew’s Logia with the Gospel according to the Hebrews

  • Beatrice, Pier Franco. “The ‘Gospel according to the Hebrews’ in the Apostolic Fathers” Novum Testamentum 48.2 (2006), 180-181.
  • Edwards, James R. The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009, 6-7.
  • Sloan, David. “What if the Gospel according to the Hebrews was Q?” SBL 2017.
  • Note a number of scholars would argue that the mistaken inference that canonical Matthew was translated from the Hebrew language may be based on confusing it with a Jewish Christian Gospel such as the Gospel according to the Hebrews:
  • Also, note the argument that the “Gospel according to the Hebrews” is a varying recension of the canonical Gospel of Matthew. See Jeremiah Coogan, “The Ways that Parted in the Library: The Gospels according to Matthew and according to the Hebrews in Late Ancient Heresiology” JEH 73 (2022), 1–18; Edwin K. Broadhead, The Gospel of Matthew on the Landscape of Antiquity (WUNT 378; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017), 222–24, 302–03

Matthew’s Hebrew Style?

Papias of Hierapolis wrote that Matthew compiled the “oracles” in a “Hebrew dialect” (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.16). Later church authorities assumed that Papias meant that Matthew wrote his text in a Semitic language (most likely Aramaic) and that it was translated into Greek. This creates a problem, since our Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew does not appear to be a translation and relies on Greek sources like Mark’s Gospel. Perhaps Papias could have been right about Matthew’s authorship and wrong about the original language of the Gospel, but a different approach has been championed by Josef Kürzinger and Robert Gundry in the following works:

They argue that Papias used rhetorical terminology in his comments about Mark and Matthew. Rhetoric was valued in education and the Stoic philosopher Epictetus was born in Hierapolis (55-135 CE). For instance, look at the example of how Mark recorded Peter’s teachings on the words and deeds of Christ in Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15. Many translators render the Greek pros tas chreias as Peter directing his teachings “toward the needs” of select audiences, but these two scholars take it to mean that Peter adapted his teachings into the form of chreiai, concise anecdotes of the sayings or deeds of a famous person. As a mere reporter, Mark failed to present these disconnected anecdotes in a rhetorically effective arrangement (suntaxin). Matthew, on the other hand, carefully compiled the “oracles” at his disposal (3.39.16). Moreover, the notice that Matthew compiled them “in a Hebrew dialect” (Hebraidi dialektō) is a comment on Matthew’s style or form of argumentation (they comment on the lack of the article in comparison to other instances when this is translated as a language in Acts 1:19; 2:6, 8; 21:40; 22:2; 26:14), since Matthew takes care to stress how Jesus fulfills the Hebrew Scriptures and employed Jewish exegetical methods and arguments to convince his audience.

Although there has been ongoing debate about the extent to which Papias utilized rhetorical terminology (e.g. does taxis refer to a rhetorical or a chronological “order”), most New Testament and Patristic scholars continue to hold that the most natural translation of the combination of the title of an ethnic group (i.e. Hebrew) with the word dialektos is “Hebrew language.” For extensive arguments against Kürzinger and Gundry in English and German scholarship, see the following:

Did Matthew Rely on Peter’s Testimony?

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, Larsen) 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 or Presbyter John, how reliable was this figure’s testimony and how reliable were Papias’s other informants (e.g. the followers of the elders or presbyters who visited Hierapolis, the daughters of Philip, Aristion, etc.), and do the claims about Mark and Matthew recorded by Papias correspond to the internal evidence of those Gospels? That is, is it likely that Peter is the sole source behind the content of Mark’s Gospel or that the material in Matthew’s Gospel was originally written in the Hebrew (or more likely Aramaic) language as Papias supposed? 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 in the prologue of his work. Third, there is the issue about why the Evangelist Matthew would copy nearly verbatim Mark’s account of Matthew’s own call narrative, even if this was the version of the story that was retold by Peter, rather than share his own memories of what happened on the day that he met Jesus. Why does Matthew not share more memories of the time that he spent with Jesus throughout the Gospel? Further, if Levi is the same person as Matthew, why does this individual have two popular Semitic names (see how the early church wrestled with this here)?

The Case for Matthew’s Authorship

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.

James the Tax Collector?

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 variant in a manuscript of Mark’s Gospel 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. However, a later copyist of Matthew’s Gospel read this marginal note and assumed that “the tax collector” was appended to Matthew’s name, so this is the basis for then changing the tax collector’s name to Matthew in 9:3. Bacon’s argument thus depends on a very early dating of the variant reading of Mark 2:14 to influence these later scribal changes, the possibility that a scribe changed the tax collector to Matthew despite the lack of manuscript evidence for an earlier copy of the Gospel that did not have Matthew at the toll booth, and that the evangelist had another list of the Twelve in addition to the list inherited from Mark 3:16-19.

A Vague Memory of Matthew as a Tax Collector?

In my article and my book on the topic, I build on the theory presented in the Hermeneia commentary by Ulrich Luz that Levi’s call narrative in Mark 2:14 was transferred over to Matthew in Matthew 9:9. In his commentary on Matthew 8-20, Ulrich Luz judges that the later ascription of the “Gospel according to Matthew” to Matthew was an erroneous extrapolation from the name change in Matthew 9:9 (p. 33), but he makes the following argument for why the name was originally changed 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.”

Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Second Edition; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017) adds that the evangelist, wanting to communicate how Matthew the tax collector was called by Jesus to become an apostle, only needed to borrow the set-up to Mark’s story of the call of Levi. Mark 2:15 goes on to say that Jesus dined at “his” (i.e. Levi’s) house in Capernaum, but the writer of Matthew 9:10 was aware that Matthew was not the owner of this house and thus deleted the possessive pronoun when copying the Markan source (111).

Why was Levi’s Name not in the List of the Twelve Apostles?

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 “the Less”) 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 mostly 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, though both think that the choice of Matthew rather than another one of the Twelve to replace Levi is arbitrary. Other scholars have critiqued Pesch’s main argument that the “disciples” of Jesus are restricted to the Twelve in Matthew’s Gospel.

Does Matthew 9:9 and 10:3 support a Pseudonymous Author?

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)

“There was a certain man named Jesus, and he was about thirty years of age, who chose us [i.e. the twelve apostles].” (Gospel of the Ebionites, Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13.2)

We, John, Thomas, Peter, Andrew, James, Philip, Batholomew, Matthew, Nathanael, Judas Zelotes, and Cephas, write unto the churches of the east and the west, of the north and the south” (Epistula Apostolorum 2)

“Matthew” as a Learning Disciple

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 redactionally inserting a quotation from Hosea 6:6 on the priority of mercy over sacrifice, Jesus prefaces the quote by instructing his interlocutors to go and “learn” (methete) what this verse about mercy means. 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.”

A second article that advances Kiley’s argument further is Jean-Pierre Sonnet, “Matthieu, disciple (Maththaios, mathētēs) d’une
langue à l’autre” Nouvelle revue théologique 143.4 (2021), 530-546. The English translation can be found on the author’s academia.edu page. The author notes the importance of alliteration throughout the Gospel and the repetition of the math syllable in the beginning, middle, and end of the narrative. He provides some examples of alliteration and word plays in different languages in this narrative, which was designed to be read aloud and listeners may have been paying attention to the smallest letter (cf. 5:18). In addition to Kiley’s point about the word play in Matthew 9:9 and 9:13, he points out the name Matthan in the genealogy in the start of the Gospel and the verb mathēteuō appears at the end of the Gospel when Jesus commissions the Eleven to make disciples (1:15; 28:19). He also counts 73 references to the noun mathētēs and the evangelist’s self-description as a scribe who had been made a disciple of the kingdom of heaven (13:52).

What do you think: did the Gospel writer highlight the disciple Matthew to make these clever word plays?

The May 2019 Biblical Studies Carnival has been Posted

Claude Mariottini has posted the biblical studies carnival for May 2019. Enjoy.