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My Article on the Christology of the Gospel of the Ebionites

I have an article entitled “The Utility of Adoptionism as a Heuristic Category: The Baptism Narrative in the Gospel of the Ebionites as a Test Case” Scottish Journal of Theology (2023): 1-11. The article has been posted online without the page numbers for anyone who wants a “first view” of it. Here is my abstract:

“Although the Christology of the Ebionites in general, and the so-called Gospel of the Ebionites cited by Epiphanius of Salamis in particular, has been commonly classified as adoptionist, the utility of the term ‘adoptionism’ has been recently called into question. This article will focus on the fragment about Jesus’ baptism in Panarion, 30.13.7–8 to determine whether it depicts Jesus’ adoption to divine sonship. Although the text does not use adoptionist terminology and imagery, Jesus does acquire a new christological identity in the pericope when he is possessed by the spirit and metaphorically begotten by the deity. This should be relabelled as a possessionist Christology. However, Epiphanius wrongly interpreted the text through the lens of Cerinthus’ Christology, in which Jesus is only temporarily inhabited by the Christ aeon between his baptism and his crucifixion.”

Note also the similar conclusions reached by Jeremiah Coogan’s “Rethinking Adoptionism: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category” in the same journal, which is also currently available online.


The Earliest References to Matthew’s Gospel: The Gospel of Thomas?

Scholars are divided over whether some of the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas (henceforth Thomas) were drawn directly from the Synoptic Gospels or from independent oral traditions. The debate can be complicated further by looking at the following questions:

  • Did this collection of sayings grow over time and were the sayings originally compiled in Greek?
  • Do the parallels between Thomas and the Synoptic Gospels demand that the compilers of the sayings in the former text directly copied them from the latter texts or could they have been indirectly influenced by the Synoptic Gospels if they heard these sayings proclaimed in an oral setting where the preachers did not expound upon their wider literary contexts? Can the variations between parallel sayings be explained on redactional grounds (e.g., deliberate editing of Synoptic passages for literary or theological reasons) or do the variations suggest that there were common oral traditions behind Thomas and the Synoptic Gospels (e.g., is the wording of some sayings in Thomas more primitive than the wording of their Synoptic parallels in some cases but not others)?
  • Were the sayings in Thomas drawn from a variety of sources, so that some may be derived from the Synoptic texts and others from alternative oral or written traditions?
  • Did the Coptic translators of Thomas come under increasing influence from the Synoptic Gospels or can Synoptic influence by detected even in the Greek fragments of Thomas?
  • Is the genre of Thomas modelled on earlier collections of Jesus’s sayings or are their theological reasons for why Thomas presents a bare list of sayings apart from any narrative of his life, death, and resurrection?

To see the monographs, commentaries, and articles that have been written on these questions, check out the bibliography on the Gospel of Thomas over at the e-clavis Christian Apocrypha website and especially the works listed under the subtitle “3.81 Thomas and the Synoptic Tradition (Including Q).” I am persuaded that Simon Gathercole and Mark Goodacre have demonstrated that Matthew’s and Luke’s redactional traits have been reproduced in certain sayings in Thomas (though see also the articles compiled in the journal New Testament Studies debating their work), so I want to take a closer look at the depiction of Peter, Matthew, and Thomas in the first half of logion 13 of Thomas. This passage has been read in dialogue with Papias’s tradition on the Gospel of Mark, written by Peter’s interpreter Mark, and the Gospel of Matthew. That is, in response to Jesus’s question to compare him to someone else, the authoritative sources behind the Gospels of Mark and Matthew offer completely adequate responses, while Thomas as the alleged compiler of “secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke” at least recognizes that he is utterly incapable of telling Jesus who he is like. Whether the descriptions of Jesus as a righteous or just messenger and a wise philosopher are adequate summarizes of Mark’s and Matthew’s Christology may be another question. However, in my forthcoming book on the traditions about the evangelist Matthew, I push back on reading this logion in light of Papias. It should be noted that this passage is echoing the Synoptic scene in Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asks the disciples to tell him who the crowds think he is and only Peter accurately confesses that he is the “Christ” (Matt 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21). Thus, the presence of Peter is to be expected even if the writer of this logion had no knowledge of the tradition about Peter’s interpreter Mark. Matthew is not named in this scene, nor are other disciples for that matter, but the writer of this logion may have searched the Synoptics for other prominent named disciples. He could have chosen James and John as the other two closest disciples to Jesus who accompany him on the mountain where he is transfigured shortly after this episode, but Matthew is another prominently highlighted disciple in Matt 9:9. Thus, the logion just contrasts two other prominent members of the Twelve with Thomas, who has the real insight into Jesus’s teaching. It is not necessary to assume that the writer of this logion knew what Papias had to say about the Evangelist Matthew, but, if my view is right, this writer was dependent on the Gospel of Matthew in reproducing the evangelist’s redactional change to the text of Mark 2:14 in Matt 9:9 (i.e. the tax collector is changed from Levi to Matthew).

The Earliest References to Matthew’s Gospel: 2 Peter?

There are several reasons why numerous scholars consider 2 Peter to possibly be the latest writing that was included in the New Testament. This includes its lack of early attestation, its concerns about the delay of Jesus’s second “coming” (parousia), its dependence on the epistle of Jude, and its commendation of a collection of Paul’s letters as scriptural. I cover these points in my introductory post on 2 Peter. Back in 2018, an edited volume on the relationship between 2 Peter and the other New Testament writings was published under the German title Der zweite Petrusbrief und das Neue Testament (WUNT 397; Mohr Siebeck, 2018) and I contributed an article to it (see my posts on the book here, here, here, here, and here). The editor, Wolfgang Grünstäudl, has dated 2 Peter even later in the second century than many commentators because he judges it to be dependent on the Apocalypse of Peter and he has persuaded Jörg Frey. Here are a few excepts from my chapter “Did Mark’s Gospel Influence the Authorial Fiction in 2 Peter” in the edited volume where I look at the relationship between 2 Peter and the Synoptic tradition:

  • “Richard Bauckham [Jude, 2 Peter, 148] helpfully lists certain allusions to Synoptic traditions in 2 Pet 1:16–18 (Mark 9:2–7/Matt 17:1–5/Luke 9:28–35), 2:20 (Matt 12:45/Luke 11:26) and 3:10 (Matt 24:43/Luke 12:39; cf. 1 Thess 5:2) and less plausible echoes in 1:16 (Mark 9:1/Matt 16:28), 2:9 (Matt 6:13), 2:21 (Mark 9:42; 14:21; cf. 1 Clem. 46:8), and 3:4 (Mark 9:1/Matt 16:28; Mark 13:30/Matt 24:34/Luke 21:32). Grünstäudl [Petrus Alexandrinus, 34] expands on 2 Peter’s Matthean affinities (2 Pet 1:17/Matt 12:18, 17:5; 2:6/10:15; 2:9/6:13; 2:14/5:27–29; 2:20/12:45; 2:21/21:32; 2:22/7:6; 3:4/24:3, 27, 37, 39; 3:4, 9/24:48 and 25:5; 3:13/19:28), but some of his examples seem closer to other non-Matthean parallels (e. g., 2 Pet 2:6/Jude 7; 2 Pet 2:22/Prov 26:11 and Ahikar 8.18 [Syriac]; 2 Pet 3:13/Isa 65:17 and 66:22) and an intertextual relationship may not be necessary to account for most of them.” (78-79)
  • “The petition for deliverance in the Lord’s Prayer (2 Pet 2:9a; cf. Matt 6:13; Luke 11:4; Did. 8:2) and the thief logion (2 Pet 3:10; cf. Matt 24:43; Luke 12:39; 1 Thess 5:2; Rev 3:3; 16:15; Gos. Thom. 21) could have been drawn from oral catechetical traditions or the source(s) of the Synoptic double tradition, though the latter could also be primarily based on the construal of the metaphor in 1 Thessalonians given the respect for the Pauline epistles in 2 Pet 3:15f.” (79)
  • “There is almost verbatim agreement between 2 Pet 2:20b… and Matt 12:45/Luke 11:26… 2 Pet 2:20b may be a re-contextualization of the verse in Matthew’s Gospel, but it may also have been in contact with a hypothetical sayings source underlying Matt 12:45/Luke 11:26. Alternatively, as a short, memorable aphorism, its precise wording could have remained intact in the oral transmission.” (79-80)
  • “[Robert] Miller’s [“Is There Independent Attestation for the Transfiguration in 2 Peter?“, 623] crucial point is that Matthew imports the line “in whom I am well pleased” (ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα) from the baptism to the transfiguration (cf. Matt 3:17; 17:5), a piece of Matthean redaction reduplicated in 2 Peter, though the author substitutes εἰς ὅν for ἐν ᾧ due to accidentally conflating the wording of Matt 17:5 with 12:18.” (81-82)

In summary, I sided with Miller against Bauckham in finding a secure reference to Matthew’s account of the transfiguration in 2 Peter 1:17. 2 Peter did not repeat most of Matthew’s details (e.g., the three disciples, the heavenly visitors, Peter’s offer to set up dwellings, the cloud, the command to “listen”), but noted that there were plural witnesses to this mountaintop experience and retained the acclamation of Jesus’s divine sonship as it ties into the theme of the certainty of the messianic son’s eschatological return to rule. The other parallels, while far less secure, could contribute to the overall case for the dependence of 2 Peter on Matthew’s Gospel. I did not find clear evidence of dependence on the other two Synoptic Gospels. I also do not think that 2 Peter 1:12-15 is a subtle allusion to the Patristic tradition that Mark would help the readers remember what Peter taught them after his “departure” by writing a Gospel, but was referring to the contents of the letter itself serving as a perpetual reminder of Peter’s teachings after his demise (86-87).

Side note: I closed this chapter by noting an incongruity that still puzzles me (87-88). The Petrine Epistles, and other apocryphal texts ascribed to Peter, seem to presuppose Peter’s literacy. Papias’s informant, the Elder John, imagines a scenario where Peter required Mark as his “translator” (hermeneutes), for Greek was not his native language (Eccl. Hist. 3.39.15), and Acts 4:13 seems to concede that Peter was illiterate. Yet Eusebius informs us that Papias knew 1 Peter (2.15.2; 3.39.17). Did Papias imagine that Peter was miraculously empowered to write 1 Peter given his lack of formal education? Or did he infer that just as Peter relied on a translator when preaching to a Greek-speaking audience, he relied on an unidentified secretary to transcribe the letter, even though this also seems to demand that Peter had access to some rhetorical training to dictate the contents of the letter to an amanuensis?

The Earliest References to Matthew’s Gospel: The Didache?

There is a significant amount of debate over whether the text known as ““The Lord’s Teaching through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations,” or simply the “Teaching” (Didache), was dependent on Matthew’s Gospel. The debate is complicated by the likelihood that the Didache was a composite text, edited over time by different hands who may have lived in the same cultural milieu as this Gospel writer. Thus, some scholars insist that the Didache was dependent on Matthew’s Gospel (cf.  MassauxKöhler, Wengst, Tuckett, Jefford, Balabanski, Kelhoffer, Andrejevs), others that it independently attests to common oral traditions ( KoesterAudet, Kloppenborg, Hagner, Draper, Niederwimmer, Rordorf, Milavec, Sandt and Flusser, Young), and one scholar that Matthew was dependent on the Didache (Garrow – though he does argue for a final “gospel layer” added to the Didache that does reveal its editor’s knowledge of Matthew’s Gospel). In my forthcoming book on Matthew, I look at whether the four references to the “gospel” in Did. 8:2, 11:3, and 15:3-4 refer to the Gospel of Matthew and briefly examine the Lord’s prayer as a test case (8:2). The basic theories are that the Didache depends on Matthew’s “Gospel” for the Lord’s prayer, that the Didache defines the “gospel” as the message that Jesus proclaimed and that both it and the author of Matthew’s Gospel were indebted to a common liturgical tradition, or Garrow’s proposal (The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence on the Didache, 165-77) that Matt 6:1-18 drew on Did. 8:1-2 and Mark 11:25/12:40-44 for its whole section on religious piety (i.e. almsgiving, prayer, forgiveness, fasting) and that the reference to the “gospel” in Did. 8:2 was added later by someone who wanted to line up the communal prayer known to the Didache’s readers with the passage in Matthew’s Gospel.

Christopher M. Tuckett wrote the chapter “The Didache and the Writings that Later Formed the New Testament” in The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (ed. Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 83-127. I will not cover every example that he discusses in his section on the Didache and Matthew (95-125), but will just summarize his analysis of Did. 16 (110-19). There are a handful of parallels between this chapter and the eschatological discourse in Matt 24. The points below should be set in dialogue with Kloppenborg’s article that argues that Did. 16.6-8 only parallels Matthew’s special material that Matthew inherited from a source and Milavec’s rebuttal that Did. 16 is not relying on Matt 24 as most of Matthew’s content is unparalleled and Did. 16:8 uses the title “Lord” (meaning the Lord God) rather than “Son of Man” as well as the stereotypical imagery of “clouds of heaven” as the mode of divine transport (see the links above).

  • 16:1 (pp. 111-12) – the command to watch over your life may reflect the rewording of Mark 13:33 in Matt 24:42 in the call to watch in light of the unknown timing of the Lord’s return, but Mark 13:35 expresses a similar idea. The warning to not let your lamps go out or loins be ungirded is similar to Luke 12:35, but there is debate over whether Luke took this from a source, drew on stock proverbial imagery, or redactionally created this verse combining both images. The advice to be ready as one does not know when the Lord will return reminds one of the thief in the night image (Matt 24:44/Luke 12:40; cf. Matt 24:42; Mark 13:35 [but I would note that this saying has widespread attestation in early Christian literature]).
  • 16:3-5 (pp. 117-18) – there are echoes of Matt 24:10-12, including the increase of false prophets and lawlessness, love turning into hate, and many falling away, and the verses may be redactional. The picture of sheep becoming wolves is reminiscent of Matt 7:15 which has false prophets as wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing and, in the parallel with Matt 24:24/Mark 13:22 (see the next point), Matt 24:24 again uniquely refers to false prophets. This suggests that the Didache drew on three verses in Matthew’s Gospel about false prophets.
  • 16:4 (p. 114) – the prediction of a “world-deceiver” who performs signs and wonders and commits iniquities not done since the world began uses similar language to Matt 24:24/Mark 13:22 and Matt 24:21/Mark 13:19. While the verbal parallels are insignificant and the verses may just share typical apocalyptic imagery, the point is that Did. 16:4 parallels material held in common between Matthew and Mark rather than just Matthew’s unique material. The Didache’s singular figure differs from the plural false prophets in the Synoptics, but the former text may be selectively reusing Synoptic language to present a different eschatological scenario (114n99)
  • 16:5 (p. 115) – the assurance that those who endure in their faith will be saved after the fiery trial that causes many to fall away echoes Matt 24:13/Mark 13:13 (cf. Matt 10:22). Again, the verbal parallel is minor and encouragements to persevere appear in other apocalyptic texts (cf. Dan 12:12; 4 Ezra 6:25), but this is another instance of a parallel with material shared between Matthew and Mark.
  • 16:6 (p. 118) – Parallels with Matt 24:30a and 31 include the verb “appear,” the “sign(s),” the words “in heaven,” and the “trumpet.” The question is whether Matthew’s special material is redactional. Did. 16:6 differs in that it has three signs of truth including the opening of heaven, the trumpet, and the general resurrection, while Matt 24:30-31 has one sign of the Son of Man appearing in heaven causing the nations to mourn and the angels sent with a trumpet blast to gather the elect, but Did. 16:6 may selectively draw on Matt 24:30-31 to paint a new eschatological picture.
  • 16:8 (pp. 115-16) – this verse agrees with Matt 24:30/Mark 13:26 against Dan 7:13 LXX in adding “they will see” and altering the order of the Son of Man’s coming and the clouds, plus it reproduces Matthew’s redactional changes in having the Son of Man come “on” the clouds “of heaven.” Against Glover’s view that Did. 16:8 and Matt 24:30 independently conformed the wording of Jesus’s prediction to Dan 7:13 LXX, this does not account for their agreements against Dan 7:13 LXX. Koester’s inference that the words “on the clouds” were in a pre-Markan source cannot be demonstrated. Kloppenborg contends that the differences between Did. 16:8 and Matt 24:30 outweigh the similarities (e.g., why would Did. 16:8 not use the title “Son of Man” and omit “with power and great glory”?) and that Matt 24:30 changed Mark’s “in clouds” under the influence of the Didache’s source, but the Didache did not need to reuse all of Matthew’s wording if its author was re-envisioning Jesus’s eschatological coming, the ending of the Didache may have been cut off with possible further parallels to Matt 24 cut off along with it, and the evangelist’s own tendency to align scriptural allusions to the Septuagint accounts for Matthew’s rewording of Mark 13:26 to line it up with Dan 7:13 LXX rather than a hypothetical source.
  • The conclusion is that Did. 16 has parallels with Matthew’s unique material, Matthew’s shared material with Mark, and Matthew’s editing of Mark’s text (119).

The Earliest References to Matthew’s Gospel: Ignatius of Antioch?

If you want an introduction to Ignatius, the early second century bishop of Antioch who sent letters to various Christ congregations while on route to Rome where he would be martyred, check out the work of William R. Schoedel, Allen Brent, and Paul Foster. Paul Foster has also written the chapter “The Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch and the Writings that Later Formed the New Testament” in The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (ed. Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 159-186. He covers the reception of Matthew’s Gospel in Ignatius’s letters on pages 173-181. He begins with an overview of the debate over whether Ignatius was directly dependent on Matthew’s Gospel (e.g., Massaux, Köhler) or not (e.g., Koester, Sibinga, Hagner) (173). Adopting Koester’s method of searching for traces of Matthew’s redactional work in the letters of Ignatius, thus confirming Ignatius’s dependence on Matthew’s Gospel itself rather than Matthew’s sources, Foster arrives at the following results:

The explanation that Jesus was baptized by John “in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by him” in Smyrneans 1.1 reminds one of Jesus’s response to John that his baptism was necessary “to fulfil all righteousness” (3:15). Matthew’s phrase may be redactional as he likely added the dialogue to deal with Mark’s “embarrassing” account of Jesus’s baptism by John, Luke does not reproduce the dialogue so it is unlikely that it was part of Q if Q contained a baptism account, and righteousness is a favourite term that Matthew uses in singly attested traditions (e.g., Matt 5:20) and adds to his sources (Matt 5:6/Luke 6:21; Matt 6:33/Luke 12:31) (174-75). Foster rejects Koester’s alternative proposal that Ignatius was indirectly influenced by Matthew’s redaction in that the phrase may have been lifted from Matthew’s text and repeated in another oral context where the bishop heard it (175-76). He also rejects Sibinga’s argument that a pre-Matthean form of the phrase (i.e. “all things to be fulfilled”) is attested in the Gospel of the Ebionites (cf. Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13.8), which agrees with Ignatius in using the passive form of the verb, for Epiphanius may not have cited the verse accurately, the wider passage that he cites seems to harmonize the Synoptic baptism narratives (cf. 30.13.7-8), and Ignatius is closer to Matthew in using the term “righteousness” (176).

In Trallians 11.1 and Philadelphians 3.1, Ignatius warns his readers to stay away from people who were not planted by the Father. The saying is phrased differently in each passage and the agreements with Matthew 15:13 are restricted to the words for “plant” (phyteia) and “father” (patēr) and the negative clause (177). Foster allows that Matthew could have either inserted a free-floating saying into a Markan context or redactionally created it himself (cf. compare Matt 15:1-20 with Mark 7:1-23) and points out that Ignatius does not cite the saying in Matthew’s literary context (177), so he sides with Koester against Massaux and Köhler that these passages do not prove Ignatius’s dependence on Matthew’s Gospel rather than another written or oral source (e.g., perhaps he heard it in a homily) (177-78).

Ignatius advises the bishop Polycarp to be as shrewd as a snake and innocent as a dove (Polycarp 2.2), which is paralleled in Matthew 10:16 but also logion 39 in the Gospel of Thomas (178). The first part of the logion has parallels to Luke 11:52, which may also have been in the Q source (cf. Luke 11:52/ Matt 23:13). Thus, depending on one’s judgment regarding whether the Gospel of Thomas provides independent attestation for these sayings that show up in a different form in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke or was conflating the Synoptic verses will impact the decision over whether Ignatius could have known a pre-Matthean form of the saying or depended on Matthew 10:16 (178-79).

Finally, Ignatius’s expression ho chōrōn chōreito (“the one who receives, let him receive” ) in Smyrneans 6.1 shares three words in common with Matthew 19:12d, except Matthew has the participle ho dunamenos (“the one who is able”) followed by the infinitive chōrein (“to receive”). This gnomic saying follows a difficult proposition in both cases, but Matthew was encouraging acceptance of Jesus’s teaching on divorce and celibacy while Ignatius wanted his readers to accept that cosmic judgment would be based on one’s response to the blood of Christ (179). Foster again agrees with Koester that the short saying could have circulated orally in a homiletic context (180).

Foster concludes that there is only one “certain example” of Ignatius’s dependence on Matthew’s Gospel (i.e. Smyrn. 1.1/Matt 3:15) (180). Other examples are less certain, but they may help in advancing a cumulative case for Ignatius’s knowledge of the Gospel of Matthew (181), whereas Ignatius’s knowledge of the other three Gospels cannot be established with any degree of certainty (181-84). In the The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, W. R. Inge had listed some further parallels that he gives either a “c” rating (Eph. 5.2/Matt 18:19-20; Eph. 6.1/Matt 10:40; Pol. 1.2-3/Matt 8:17) or a “d” rating (Eph. 17.1/Matt 26:7; Magn. 5.2/Matt 22:19; Magn. 9.3/Matt 18:52; Rom. 9.3/Matt 10:40-41), but he finds most of the suggested parallels apart from perhaps the first one to be “totally unconvincing” (180). Christine Trevett noted that 36 possible allusions to Matthew’s text have been proposed by scholars, though only 18 of these receive sustained attention, but many of them are rather “extremely faint allusions” (174). Interestingly, the dependence of Ignatius and the Gospel of the Ebionites on Matthew 3:15 came up for debate after I presented my paper at SBL. It could be objected that Ignatius does not place the saying in the context of a conversation with John and the Gospel of the Ebionites lacks the key term “righteousness,” but I think that the difficulty that interpreters may have had with explaining how Jesus’s baptism exemplified “righteousness” lead Ignatius to recontextualize it (i.e., all the saving events of Jesus’s life that truly happened including his baptism fulfil all righteousness) and the author of the Gospel of the Ebionites to drop “righteousness” (i.e. Jesus’s baptism fulfils the things prophesied).

The Earliest References to Matthew’s Gospel: The Apostolic Fathers?

I have already covered Papias in this series, who is included among the Apostolic Fathers. In the next few posts, I will be relying on the edited volume The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (edited by Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). This updates the work of the Oxford Society that published The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905). Gregory’s and Tuckett’s volume should also be compared to the recent study by Stephen E. Young, Jesus Tradition in the Apostolic Fathers: Their Explicit Appeals to the Words of Jesus in Light of Orality Studies (WUNT 2.311; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011). Young’s consistent finding is that the Apostolic Fathers were relying on oral traditions rather than on the written Gospels when recounting the sayings of Jesus, but I agree with Gregory’s and Tuckett’s volume that there are references to Matthew’s text in writings such as the letters of Ignatius and the Didache. I will discuss this further in the upcoming posts.

The Earliest References to Matthew’s Gospel: Papias of Hierapolis?

I have written a whole series on Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis, in dialogue with Stephen Carlson’s recent research on Papias. This includes the following posts:

In the third chapter of my forthcoming book Tax Collector to Gospel Writer: Patristic Traditions about the Evangelist Matthew, I re-examine Papias’s fragment on Matthew in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History 3.39.16, consider another fragment on the Gospels that has been (mis)attributed to Papias, and survey the different options for what Papias may have been referring to as Matthew’s oracles that were compiled in the Hebrew language before they were translated. I do not want to give too much away, but I do make a case for why Papias may have been referring to the Gospel of Matthew, despite his interesting description of its contents as “oracles” (about the Lord) and his mistaken judgments about its authorship and original language, rather than another text such as a sayings collection like Q, a testimony book, or a lost Gospel like the Gospel according to the Hebrews.

The Earliest References to Matthew’s Gospel: John?

For a recent case that the author of John’s Gospel was dependent on Matthew’s Gospel, see James W. Barker, John’s Use of Matthew (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015). As a revised PhD thesis, it has a helpful survey of the discussions of John’s relationship with the Synoptic tradition from the Patristic period to modern scholarship. While the debate has focused on whether John’s similarities to the Synoptic Gospels is based on common traditions (e.g., oral traditions, shared passion narrative) or whether John knew one or more of the Synoptic Gospels (usually Mark and Luke), fewer scholars have defended John’s dependence on Matthew’s Gospel. The chapter ends on page 14 with a list of 16 parallels that are commonly noted:

  • Simon Peter as the son of Jonah (John 1:42; Matt 16:17)
  • light of the world (John 8:12; Matt 5:14)
  • citation of Zechariah 9:9 in the triumphal entry (John 12:15; Matt 21:5)
  • slaves and masters (John 13:16; Matt 10:24)
  • put away swords (John 18:11; Matt 26:52)
  • high priest named Caiaphas (John 18:13, 24; Matt 26:3, 57)
  • releasing a prisoner at Passover is customary (John 18:39; Matt 27:15)
  • crown of thorns (John 19:2; Matt 27:29)
  • Pilate sits on the judgment seat (John 19:13; Matt 27:19)
  • Jesus’s name on the titulus (John 19:19; Matt 27:37)
  • Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple (John 19:38; Matt 27:57)
  • burial of Jesus in a new tomb (John 19:41; Matt 27:60)
  • lack of specification that Mary Magdalene went to anoint the corpse (John 20:1; Matt 28:1)
  • appearance of angel(s) to Mary Magdalene (John 20:12; Matt 28:2-3, 5)
  • Mary Magdalene sent to the “brothers” (John 20:17; Matt 28:10)
  • forgive and retain/bind and loose (John 20:23; Matt 18:18; cf. 16:9).

The burden of his case is to highlight traces of Matthew’s redactional activity that have been reproduced in John’s Gospel (18-19). His first case study is that Jesus grants Peter the authority to bind and loose in Matthew 16:19 and the disciples that authority in 18:18, which may mean that they can determine what behaviours are prohibited or permissible in the context of the congregation, but the latter saying is part of a redactional transition leading to a discussion about forgiveness in 18:21-25 (49-53). John may know the saying in its wider literary context in Matthew’s Gospel and qualifies it in 20:23 with another saying that grants the disciples the authority to either forgive or withhold forgiveness (53-56). His second case study is that John depends on Matthew for the specification that Jesus rode a “donkey” into Jerusalem rather than just a “young animal” (pōlos) (64-76) and for connecting this to the prophesy in Zechariah 9:9, even though his citation of the text diverges from Matthew’s to some extent and he does not follow Matthew in placing two animals in the scene (84-90). In his last case study, he notes that Matthew 10:5 distinctly prohibited the disciples from entering a Samaritan village while John 4:1-42 narrates Jesus’s own ministry in Samaria, but argues that John may have assumed that Jesus directed the disciples to go elsewhere because he himself was already reaping a harvest in Samaria (98-104). Barker describes John’s method as “opposition in imitation,” meaning that John imitated and reinterpreted the preceding Synoptic texts, but did not intend to replace them (35).

The view that John knew all three Synoptic Gospels and intended to supplement them with his own account was widely held during the Patristic period (e.g., Muratorian Canon 9-33; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.24.7, 11-13; 6.14.7). I still lean towards the view of many twentieth century scholars that John was largely drawing on traditions that were independent of the Synoptic tradition, but I recognize that the pendulum has swung towards the position that John at least knew the Gospel of Mark and there are also striking parallels between the Gospels of John and Luke that need an explanation (e.g., John’s dependence on Luke, Luke’s dependence on John, or common oral traditions). Barker has presented a strong case for John’s dependence on Matthew and readers should check out his book to see all the arguments that he adduces in support of it, but I am not sure I am yet persuaded. I wonder if Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23 are just two independent sayings, if Matthew and John could have understood Mark’s Greek term to refer to a donkey and independently connected it to Zechariah’s prophecy, if the evangelists just had varying perspectives on the Samaritans, and if the small handful of other parallels could be accounted for on the basis of common oral traditions. If you are convinced that John depended on Matthew’s Gospel, however, that would set another limit for dating the latter Gospel. I have briefly summarized some of the points that scholars look at when they try to date the fourth canonical Gospel in its final form (see here).

The Earliest References to Matthew’s Gospel: Luke?

It has been a long time since I last posted on the literary relationship between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (i.e. the Synoptic Problem), but I have revised my introductory posts on this topic:

I have not read all the latest research on the Synoptic Problem and am happy to receive input if I have not accurately summarized the main arguments in the debate or missed some new developments. What I will do is provide a bibliography of recent key books in support of the Farrer Hypothesis so that readers can evaluate for themselves the case for Luke’s dependence on both the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. I have focused on recent books in support of the Farrer Hypothesis in my bibliography below to keep it at a reasonable length, but Mark Goodacre has provided a bibliography with links to important articles written by earlier proponents of this solution to the Synoptic Problem (e.g., Farrer, Goulder). If the Farrer Hypothesis is right, Matthew’s Gospel has to be dated before the publication of Luke’s Gospel.

However, the date of Luke’s Gospel, along with its second volume the book of Acts, is contested. A minority of scholars date it to the early 60s CE. One of the key arguments is that Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome (cf. Acts 28:30-31), so its author may not have known the outcome of Paul’s trial or the martyrdoms of Peter and James the brother of Jesus for that matter. Most scholars are not convinced that the author was unaware of Paul’s ultimate fate when he testified before the emperor (cf. 27:24) and its narrative concludes at a fitting point if its main purpose was to narrate the spread of the good news from Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth once it reached the heart of the empire (cf. 1:8). It may be better to date it based on its probable references to the events of 70 CE (e.g., Luke 19:41-44; 21:20). For instance, the latter verse rewords the more ambiguous oracle about a desecrating sacrilege in the temple in Mark 13:14, probably because the evangelist was aligning the prediction with what actually transpired when the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem. If it cannot be dated earlier than the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, many scholars argue that it cannot be dated any later than the end of the first century given its author’s alleged ignorance of Josephus’s Antiquity of the Jews published in 93-94 CE and Paul’s letters which may have circulated as a collection by the turn of the century. What has allowed a minority of scholars to redate the Gospel of Luke and book of Acts to the early second century is that they have reconsidered the possibility that Luke was dependent on a collection of Pauline epistles and on Josephus’s Antiquities. You can determine where you land on this debate by comparing the following accounts: the census under Quirinius (cf. Luke 2:1-3; Ant. 18.1-5), the wording about the bread and the cup in the Lord’s Supper (cf. Luke 22:19b-20 [omitted in the shorter Western reading]; 1 Cor 11:23-26), the Jerusalem Council and its aftermath (cf. Acts 15:1-21, 35-41; Gal 2:1-14), the episode where Paul is lowered over a wall in a basket (cf. Acts 9:23-25; 2 Cor 11:32-33),, the ordering of the rebels Judas of Galilee and Theudas (cf. Acts 5:36-37; Ant. 20.97-102), or the death of Herod Agrippa I (cf. Acts 12:20-23; Ant. 19.343-50). There is a further complication in that the debate over the relationship between the canonical text of Luke’s Gospel and Marcion’s Gospel has been reopened, so some scholars hold that Marcion redacted the canonical text, others that the canonical editor redacted Marcion’s text, and others that both Gospels were second-century recensions of an earlier proto-Luke. If the traditional view that Marcion edited the canonical Gospel of Luke is correct, than it cannot be dated any later than Marcion (see my introduction and bibliography on Marcion here). On the Farrer Hypothesis, Luke provides the terminus ad quem or the limit to which the Gospel of Matthew can be dated.

Bibliography on the Farrer Hypothesis

  • Eve, Eric. Relating the Gospels: Memory, Imitation, and the Farrer Hypothesis. LNTS 592. London: T&T Clark, 2021.
  • Eve, Eric. Solving the Synoptic Puzzle: Introducing the Case for the Farrer Hypothesis. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021.
  • Goodacre, Mark. Goulder and the Gospels: An Examination of a New Paradigm. JSNTSup, 133; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.
  • Goodacre, Mark. The Synoptic Problem: A Way through the Maze. The Biblical Seminar 80. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press/Continuum, 2001.
  • Goodacre, Mark. The Case against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002. (reviews listed here)
  • Goodacre, Mark and Perrin, Nick. Questioning Q: A Multidimensional Critique. Downers Gover, Ill: IVP, 2005.
  • Goodacre, Mark. “The Farrer Hypothesis” and “Farrer Hypothesis Response” in The Synoptic Problem: Four Views. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Bryan R. Dyer, 47-66, 127-138. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016.
  • Goulder, Michael. Luke: A New Paradigm. JSNTSup, 20; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989.
  • Müller, Mogens and Omerzu, Heike. Gospel Interpretation and the Q Hypothesis. New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2018. (only certain articles support the Farrer Hypothesis).
  • Nielsen, Jesper Tang and Müller, Mogens. Editors. Luke’s Literary Creativity. LNTS 550; London & New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.
  • Olson, K. A. “How Luke was Written.” MA Dissertation, University of Maryland, 2004.
  • Poirier, John C. and Peterson, Jeffrey. Editors. Marcan Priority without Q: Explorations in the Farrer Hypothesis. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015.
  • Watson, Francis. Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013.
  • Watson, Francis. What is a Gospel? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2022.

New Series: The Earliest References to Matthew’s Gospel

In anticipation of the release on my book on February 7 2023, I will start a new series on the earliest references to the Gospel of Matthew in antique Christian literature.