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Matthew Ferguson’s Objections to the Traditional Authorship of Matthew

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.


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