I am at the start of the new teaching semester, so the blog will be less active for the next four months. Here is what my schedule looks like:
- Dr. Ben Witherington III will be speaking at a conference hosted by Vose Seminary, so if you are in Perth, Australia on Friday, August 2 and Saturday, August 3 you should join us. There is more information about the lectures and the tickets for registering if you click on this link.
- I am teaching three classes, namely the Early New Testament Church (an introductory unit covering the books from Acts to Revelation), Introduction to Biblical Theology, and Romans. I also supervise graduate research projects in the New Testament and help plan student events and chapels.
- I am going to try to catch a few conferences this year, including the annual SBL meeting in San Diego for any friends and readers who want to meet me there. I will post information about my upcoming conference presentations at a later date.
- When I return to blogging, I want to say something intelligible about the authorship of Luke’s Gospel. It is probably a long-term goal, but I would like to eventually publish on the authorship traditions about all four New Testament Gospels and then write something accessible about this topic for the layperson in the pews.
Thank you for reading the blog.
I contributed a chapter on whether or not 2 Peter had any literary contact with the Gospel of Mark (or the Synoptic Gospels more generally) and with the church traditions about Mark in an edited volume on 2 Peter entitled Der zweite Petrusbrief und das Neue Testament (WUNT 397; Mohr Siebeck, 2018). One of the editors summarized the contents of the volume on my blog here, here, and here. Anyways, it has just been reviewed for the Review of Biblical Literature and I will just quote the highlights:
The authors of these essays obviously do not agree with one another in every respect, though all seem to agree that 2 Peter is pseudepigraphical and was written in the second century. Half of the essays explore 2 Peter’s relationship to other early Christian writings and collectively argue for a rather conservative estimate of the literary relationships between 2 Peter and these other writings, finding such relationships only with the Gospel of Matthew and the letters of Paul… The remaining essays mainly discuss prominent issues in the interpretation of 2 Peter: the value of 2 Peter and its compatibility with the rest of the New Testament, the text and style of 2 Peter, and its use of biblical traditions…Taken together, these essays reflect and advance current scholarly discussion of 2 Peter very well. Many of the authors have also made other substantial contributions to recent literature on 2 Peter. All serious students of 2 Peter will want to consult this essay collection.
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).
Update: here are all the posts that we have covered in this series, so that you can make your own judgment about the authorship of the first New Testament Gospel.
If you are interested in how Matthew’s text was interpreted and applied for the last two millennia of Christian history, here are a few resources that may be of interest:
- Ulrich Luz, Matthew: A Commentary (Hermeneia; 3 vols.; Minneapolis: Augsburg-Fortress, 2007); Studies in Matthew (translated by Rosemary Selle; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005); Matthew in History: Interpretation, Influence and Effects (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994)
- Manlio Simonetti, Matthew 1-13 (ACCS New Testament 1a; Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2001); Matthew 14-28 (ACCS New Testament 1a; Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2002)
- Ian Boxall, Matthew Through the Centuries (Wiley Blackwell Bible Commentaries; Hoboken: Wiley, 2019). See also his article for the online journal The Bible and Interpretation.
A number of Patristic and Medieval sources make references to the so-called “Gospel according to the Hebrews”. While there are some scholars who continue to argue for the Patristic view that a single Jewish Gospel was a significant source for the early Jesus tradition (e.g., Pritz, Edwards, Sloan), the majority position is that there were at least three different Gospels that the church authorities mistakenly lumped together (e.g., Vielhauer, Strecker, Klijn, Klauck, Frey). The three reconstructed Gospels are an eclectic Greek text cited by the Alexandrian Fathers (i.e. the Gospel according to the Hebrews), a Greek harmony of the Synoptic Gospels cited by the fourth century Epiphanius of Salamis (i.e. the Gospel according to the Ebionites), and an Aramaic Gospel that Jerome (mistakenly?) thought to resemble Matthew’s Gospel (i.e. the Gospel according to the Nazoraeans). The last approach that I support accepts the existence of the first two reconstructed Gospels, but denies the existence of the so-called Gospel according to the Nazoraeans by proposing that Jerome just knew an Aramaic translation of Matthew’s Gospel circulating among Christians known as the Nazoraeans and confused it with the source cited by earlier Greek Christian commentators as the Gospel according to the Hebrews (Luomanen, Gregory).
The next question is how the evangelist Matthew ever became associated with these Jewish Gospels. I believe that this happened over stages:
- Papias’s tradition that Matthew compiled the oracles in the “Hebrew language” before they were translated into Greek hugely influenced the subsequent Patristic tradition (cf. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.16). For instance, the Jewish Christian Hegessipus reported that the apostle Bartholomew left a copy of Matthew’s Gospel in the Hebrew language in India (cf. Hist. Eccl. 5.10.3). Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon, repeated Papias’s statement about Matthew’s original language and supposes that this Gospel was popular among a Jewish Christian sect known as the Ebionites (Against Heresies 3.1.1; 3.11.7), though Irenaeus may have also assumed that the Ebionites tampered with Matthew’s text since they denied the virginal conception of Christ (1.26.2; 3.21.1; 5.1.3).
- The earliest citations of the “Gospel according to the Hebrews” by the Alexandrian scholars Clement (Stromata 188.8.131.52), Origen (Commentary on John 2.12; Homily on Jeremiah 15.4), and Didymus (Commentary on the Psalms) do not attribute the “Gospel according to the Hebrews” to Matthew.
- The fourth-century historian Eusebius clearly distinguishes Matthew’s Gospel from the “Gospel according to the Hebrews.” The latter is a “disputed” book, neither canonical nor heretical (Eccl. Hist. 3.25.5), and Eusebius corrects Irenaeus in noting that the Ebionites’ preference was for the “Gospel according to the Hebrews” (3.27.4). Eusebius also identifies Papias’s oral tradition about the woman accused of many sins as deriving from the “Gospel according to the Hebrews” (3.39.17; cf. Didymus, Commentary on Ecclesiastes 223.6–13).
- The fourth-century heresiologist Epiphanius accused the Ebionites of possessing a corrupted version of Matthew’s Gospel in Hebrew (Panarion 30.13.2), but a close look at the fragments from the text that he was citing show that he was actually quoting a Greek Gospel (cf. the Greek word play in 30.13.4-5) that harmonized the Synoptic Gospels. Epiphanius also notes that the more orthodox Jewish-Christian Nazoraeans had a Hebrew text of the Gospel of Matthew (29.9.4), which may either be an inference from Papias about the original Semitic language of Matthew’s Gospel or may be related to the next point.
- Jerome boasts that he had translated the “Gospel according to the Hebrews”, a text that many ascribed to Matthew, was used by the Nazoraeans, and was housed in the library of Caesarea (Dialogues against the Pelagians 3.2). Either Jerome had access to a distinctive Gospel that modern scholars dub the “Gospel according to the Nazoraeans” (i.e. three-Gospel-hypothesis) or to the Nazoraeans’ Semitic translation of Matthew’s text (two-Gospel-hypothesis), along with other Jewish traditions, and he confused it with the “Gospel according to the Hebrews” that he knew from other church authorities and hoped to locate in the library of Caesarea.
If you are interested further in these later Jewish Christian Gospels, here is a brief bibliography for you to research further:
- Edwards, James R. The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.
- Ehrman, Bart D. and Plese, Zlatko. The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
- Evans, Craig. “The Jewish Christian Gospel Tradition” in Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries. Edited by Oskar Skarsaune and Reider Hvalvik. Peabody: Hendrikson, 2007.
- Frey, Jörg. “Die Fragmente judenchristlicher Evangelien” in Antike christliche Apokryphen in deutscher Übersetzung. I. Band: Evangelien und Verwandtes. Teilband 1. Edited by Christoph Markschies and Jens Schroter. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012.
- Gregory, Andrew. The Gospel According to the Hebrews and the Gospel of the Ebionites. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.
- Gregory, Andrew. “Jewish Christian Gospels” in The Non-Canonical Gospels, 54-67. Edited by Paul Foster. London: T&T Clark, 2008.
- Gregory, Andrew. “Hindrance or Help: Does the Modern Category of ‘Jewish-Christian Gospel’ Distort our Understanding of the Texts to which it Refers?” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 28 (2006): 387-413.
- Klijn, A. F. J. Jewish-Christian Gospel Tradition. Leiden: Brill, 1992.
- Klauck, Hans Josef. Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction. Translated by Brian McNeil. London: T&T Clark, 2003.
- Kok, Michael J. “Did Papias of Hierapolis Use the Gospel according to the Hebrews as a Source?” Journal of Early Christian Studies 25.1 (2017): 29-53.
- Luomanen, Petri. Recovering Jewish-Christian Sects and Gospels. Leiden: Brill, 2012.
- Nicholson, Edward B. The Gospel according to the Hebrews: Its Fragments Translated and Annotated with a Critical Analysis of the External and Internal Evidence Relating to It. London: C. Kegan Paul, 1879.
- Perkins, Pheme. “Jewish-Christian Gospels: Primitive Tradition Imagined.” In The Apocryphal Gospels within the Context of Early Christian Theology. Edited by Jens Schröter. BETL 260. Leuven: Peeters, 2013, 197-247.
- Pritz, Ray A. Nazarene Jewish Christianity: From the End of the New Testament Period until its Disappearance in the Fourth Century. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988.
- Sloan, David B. “What if the Gospel According to the Hebrews was Q.” Online: http://reconstructingq.com/gospel-of-the-hebrews.pdf.
- Vielhauer, Philipp and Strecker, Georg. “Jewish Christian Gospels” in New Testament Apocrypha I: Gospels and Related Writings, 560-660. Edited by Wilhelm Schneemelcher. Translated by R. McL. Wilson. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991.
Since we have been looking at the traditional authorship of one of the four New Testament Gospels, I want to highlight a few of my previous posts on the emergence of the standard Gospel titles “The Gospel according to [name of the evangelist]” here and here. I tend to support the view that, though there is evidence for the titular use of the term “gospel” in earlier Christian sources (perhaps even in Mark 1:1), the standard titles were added when the four Gospels were collected together as an authoritative collection. This is often dated around 125 CE, though I suspect that it may have been more around the mid-point of the second century CE. For the manuscript evidence for the titles, check out Simon Gathercole, “The Titles of the Gospels in the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts” ZNW 104 (2013): 33-76; “The Earliest Manuscript Title of Matthew’s Gospel (BnF Suppl. gr. 1120 ii 3/p4” Novum Testamentum 54.3 (2012): 209-235.
Over the last few months, I have tried to post on all of the main arguments for and against the traditional authorship of the first New Testament Gospel. Do you believe that it was written by the former tax-collector and Apostle Matthew? I want to conclude on the theological note that, whatever conclusion you may reach, this does not have any bearing on the belief in the divine inspiration of the Gospel text or its value in shaping Christian beliefs and practices in light of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, I want to close by highlighting the admirable caution of a few of the more conservative commentators on this question:
“This is an important corrective to that sort of conservative apologetic which appears to hang the weight of its argument for the veracity of the gospels on the defense of their traditional authorship. Theologically, a belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture does not depend on our knowledge of the authors or the process of composition, helpful as this may be for the interpretation of the text.” (R. T. France, Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989], 79.
“None of the arguments for Matthew’s authorship are conclusive. Thus we cannot be entirely certain who the author of the first gospel is. But there are solid reasons in support of the early church’s unanimous ascription of this book to the apostle Matthew, and on close inspection the objections do not appear substantial. Though Matthew’s authorship remains the most defensible position, very little in this commentary depends on it.” (D. A. Carson, Matthew [The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995], 19.
“I am therefore presently inclined to accept the possibility of Matthean authorship on some level, although with admitted uncertainty. Perhaps the most probable scenario that incorporates the best of all the currently available evidence is the presence of at least a significant deposit of Matthean tradition in this Gospel, edited by the sort of Matthean school scholars have often suggested (though I believe the final product is the work of a single scholar, not a ‘committee’). Yet the discussion of this Gospel’s authorship ultimately involves neither the authority nor accuracy of the Gospel, because it does not name its author (the titles were added to all four Gospels later). Thus even most of the more conservative scholarly commentators, while varying in their views of Matthean authorship or influence, acknowledge that the matter is uncertain.” (Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009], 40)
Matthew Ferguson is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Classics at the University of California, Irvine. I have interacted with him frequently about how a classicist might approach the question of the authorship of the Gospels. He has blogged on the authorship of Matthew’s Gospel with posts such as “Matthew the τελώνης (“Toll Collector”) and the Authorship of the First Gospel” and “Did the Author of Matthew Intend to Imply that the Disciple Matthew Was the Brother of James son of Alphaeus?“. Obviously, he is testing out these ideas on his blog and he would need to publish these views in a peer-reviewed publication to persuade the scholarly community, but what do you think of his case against the traditional authorship of the Gospel of Matthew? I have reviewed many of the points that he mentions in my own blog series on this question, but I would summarize his three new contributions as follows:
1. Based on the work of Catherine Hezser, who is one of the foremost experts on ancient literacy and the author of Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine, Ferguson describes the system of tax payment in the Roman provinces of Arabia and Syria-Palestine as “simple and crude” and points out that a local Jewish toll-booth collector would have mainly been working in Aramaic and Hebrew.
- Ferguson makes some strong counter-arguments against the assertions of Gundry and Power’s about Matthew’s ability to compose the Greek text of the Gospel as a literate tax collector here. I leave it to other experts on literacy in the ancient world to weigh in on this point.
2. Donald Ariel’s survey of the coins found in Jerusalem discovered that significant amounts of denarii are only found after 69 CE and there was a major change in currency after Vespasian’s triumph over Judaea and ascension to the imperial throne. Ferguson insists that the description of the coin as a denarius in Mark 12:15, Matthew 22:19, and Luke 20:24 reflects this post-70 reality, but Matthew could have changed Mark 12:15 to the correct currency if he had been a tax-collector in the pre-70 period.
- This is another interesting challenge to the opinion expressed in the previous post about money in Matthew’s text. Have other experts weighed in on the coinage in ancient Jerusalem and is it impossible that Jesus’s interlocutors just happened to have this coin on this occasion, even if it was rarely used? And allowing that this point may be correct, does this prove the additional arguments that the story itself is a post-70 CE creation and demonstrates the evangelists’ ignorance on the pre-70 economic situation? Could a post-70 Mark have edited this detail in an otherwise traditional story because his readers were more familiar with this currency, which perhaps could be the same reason that Matthew stuck with his source on this detail?
3. Ferguson offers a new reason for why Matthew 10:3 switched around the names of Thomas and Matthew, thus placing Matthew beside James the son of Alphaeus. The Gospel writer was uncertain yet cautiously inferred that Levi the son of Alphaeus (cf. Mark 2:14), now understood to be Matthew, was James’ brother. Like Peter/Andrew and James/John, the Gospel writer paired up Matthew/James.
- I checked Richard Bauckham’s research on Jewish names in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (87n.17) and he disagrees with Tal Ilan that the same Alphaeus (ranked 61 in popular names) is named in Mark 2:14 and 3:18. Ferguson grants that “Matthew” is not explicitly identified as James’ brother and, indeed, the Gospel writer deletes “son of Alphaeus” in 9:9 and does not write “the brother of him” after Matthew in 10:3 as he does for Andrew and John in 10:2. Could there be a simple stylistic reason for altering the order of the list of names, such as alternating between names to which are attached clarificatory comments (e.g., the first four names) and names which are left on their own (e.g., the next three names)?
Ferguson’s posts have provided much food for thought as I have been looking at the arguments for and against the authorship of Matthew’s Gospel. I will be interested to see if he plans to revise his views for publication.
Over the course of this series, I have been posting on the arguments for and against the traditional authorship of Matthew’s Gospel. I came across the following argument in a handful of commentaries, but Leon Morris has a helpful summary in The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Leicester: IVP, 1992, 14n.46):
That the author of this Gospel was a tax collector is perhaps supported by his interest in money. He uses the general word for money, nomisma, and the words for ‘gold’ 5 times, ‘silver’ ten times (two words), and ‘talent’ 14 times, a total of 29, whereas Mark refers to ‘silver’ once and Luke has it 4 times; they have none of the other words for big currency. Matthew also has references to coins such as the assarion, the chalkos, the denarius, the didrachma, the kodrantes, and the stater. Mark and Luke mention some of these coins, but not as many as Matthew
Of course, this is not Morris’s only argument for the tradition and he repeats many of the points that I have already covered in the last several posts. However, what do you think about this particular argument? And are there any other arguments in favour of Matthew’s authorship that I have missed in this series?
In defending the traditional authorship of the first canonical Gospel, many scholars will appeal to Matthew’s occupation as a tax collector as showing that he had the training in literacy to compose the Gospel. Here are two examples.
In Robert Gundry’s The Use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew’s Gospel: With Special Reference to the Messianic Hope (Leiden: Brill, 1975), Gundry writes the following about the evangelist Matthew on page 183:
As an ex-publican, whose employment and post near Capernaum on the Great West Road would have required and given a good command of Greek and instilled the habit of jotting down information, and perhaps as a Levite, whose background would have given him acquaintance with the OT in its Semitic as well as Greek forms, Mt the Apostle was admirably fitted for such a function among the unlettered disciples.
Gundy defends his position that both Matthew’s notes were one of the sources of the entire Synoptic tradition and that Matthew was the author of the canonical Gospel as follows:
- Notebooks were common in the Graeco-Roman world and pupils took notes of their teacher’s lectures, which then circulated in the school without the name of the lecturer attached and could be drawn on as the basis for a publication (cf. F. G. Kenyon, W. Bousset; p. 182).
- According to G. Milligan and B. Gerhardsson, writing shorthand may have been introduced as early as the fourth century BCE and was current at the time of Jesus. Shorthand can be observed in the Oxyrhynchus papyri (p. 182).
- Based on the work of B. Gerhardsson, the Rabbis used techniques to aid memorization and their traditions were recorded in shorthand notes (p. 182). Gundry differs from Gerhardsson in emphasizing note-taking more than memorization (p. 182-83n.6).
- The evangelist Matthew was following both Peter’s recollections in Mark’s text and his own previous notes underlying the Synoptic tradition (p. 184).
- He supports Josef Kürzinger’s reinterpretation of Papias’s tradition on Matthew (p. 185).
This argument has been forcefully restated by B. Ward Power’s The Progressive Publication of Matthew: An Explanation of the Writing of the Synoptic Gospels (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010). In addition to defending a version of the Griesbach hypothesis (i.e. Mark’s use of Matthew and Luke) and the authorship and early dates of the Synoptic Gospels, Powers reviews the scholarship on ancient note-taking (pp. 29-31) and makes the following bold statement about the evangelist Matthew on page 29 (emphasis original):
To have this evidence about the apostle Matthew- his background, training, and employment in the Roman administration; his response to the call to follow Jesus; his appointment to the role and responsibility of apostle – and to believe that he would not write down what Jesus was doing and teaching requires a far bigger leap of faith than believing that he did. It would be psychologically impossible that such a man as Matthew, trained and experienced in writing records and reports – he was a Roman official and such work was requisite for him since it went with the job – would not have recorded things Jesus said. He had the ability, the means, the opportunity, the motivation, and he wouldn’t have done it? Impossible!