It is undeniable that Jesus’s crucifixion is central to the theological worldviews of Paul and Mark, but there is a question about whether it received the same emphasis among all early Jesus associations in the first century CE. On the one hand, the creedal statement that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures in 1 Corinthians 15:3 may have been formulated at an early stage of the Jesus movement, Paul may have inherited the imagery about Jesus’s atoning death in Romans 3:25 from a tradition, and there may have been some kind of pre-Markan passion narrative that had been developed early on to make sense out of Jesus’s ignoble demise.
On the other hand, there is no theological reflection on Jesus’s death in extant Jewish sources such as the epistle of James and the Didache. I go back and forth on whether the common material in Matthew and Luke that they did not inherit from Mark goes back to a second source (i.e. Q) or whether one evangelist was copying the other, but if the Two Source Hypothesis is correct, there may have been a source that primarily consisted of Jesus’s sayings. It is not that hints about Jesus’s death are absent from it altogether, but it may interpret Jesus’s death in light of the Deuteronomistic theme that Jesus is the last in a long line of rejected prophets (e.g., Matthew 23:37-39/Luke 13:34-35) and Jesus’s disciples are encouraged to take up their own crosses (Matthew 10:38/Luke 14:27). Perhaps the lack of attention to Jesus’s death is due to the genre of these three sources (e.g., sayings source, wisdom instructions, church order). Yet, interestingly, the death of Jesus is also interpreted through a Deuteronomistic lens in Luke-Acts (e.g., Luke 9:31; 13:33; Acts 7:52). Luke even omits Mark’s ransom saying, though a statement about the flock that was purchased with Jesus’s blood is put on Paul’s lips in Acts 20:28. Both Matthew and Luke balanced out Mark’s focus on the cross by preserving much more of Jesus’s teachings, with Matthew in particular representing Jesus as a new Moses and organizing Jesus’s teachings in five major discourses.
What I contest is that Mark and Paul concentrated on the cross for the same reasons. For Paul, Jesus defeated the cosmic powers enslaving humanity (Galatians 1:4; 1 Corinthians 2:8; cf. Colossians 2:14-15), liberated persons subject to the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13), reconciled the world to God (2 Corinthians 5:9; Romans 5:10), and enabled his followers to die to the power of sin by participating in his death (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 21). He accomplished all this by dying on a cross. Paul may have worked out his theology of the cross by reflecting on how the Messiah could suffer the fate of one who was cursed by the Law by hanging on a tree and by viewing the death of Jesus as the solution to how non-Jewish “sinners” could be reconciled to the God of Israel. Paul thought that the death of Jesus had universal implications.
For Mark, the three passion predictions are accompanied by Jesus’s instructions to his disciples to imitate his example of service and suffering (Mark 8:31-9:1; 9:30-50; 10:33-45), so this emphasis may have been shaped by the evangelist’s own experience of social marginalization and persecution. Mark 10:45 presents Jesus’s death as a ransom for many, but this imagery may be drawn out of the Jewish Scriptures as Yahweh pays a ransom to redeem Israel (e.g., Isaiah 43:3; Zechariah 10:8-11). The Lord’s Supper is also reported in Mark 14:22-25 (cf. Matthew 26:26-28) and 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, but Paul differs in not contextualizing the supper during the Passover (i.e. it is an unspecified night when Jesus was handed over, though Paul identified Jesus as the Passover lamb in 5:7), qualifying the covenant as a “new” one (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:6-18), and adding the command to do this in remembrance of me. Paul may have transformed Jesus’s last Passover meal (cf. Mark 14:12-16) into a recurring cultic memorial meal, but even if Paul’s wording was more primitive that Mark’s tradition, it must be remembered that Paul also took the words about the bread and cup from a tradition that he claims to have “received” from the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23). Mark may provide independent attestation for this tradition, which explains the differences in wording, and yet another form of the tradition appears in Didache 9:1-4. Indeed, it is Luke 22:19-20 that has aligned Mark’s wording to Paul’s, though there is debate over whether the longer reading is original (i.e. check out the debate over the so-called Western non-interpolations). Mark thus draws on images of the exodus and covenant renewal to explain the death of Jesus, but his followers must follow him on the way to the cross if they are to share in his vindication and in eschatological salvation.
Undoubtedly there are points of agreement between Mark and Paul on the subject of Christology. For instance, they both identify Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and the exalted Lord after his resurrection. However, while I would hesitate to claim that these were consensus positions shared by everyone who identified themselves as followers of Jesus in the first century CE, it seems to me that these views were quite widespread in the early Christ movement. Within Paul’s letters, he seems to occasionally cite earlier creedal formula. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, he stresses that he passed on to the Corinthians what he received about how the Christ died, was buried, and was raised according to the Scriptures. When introducing himself to the Roman Christ congregations whom he had neither founded nor met, he begins the letter with another common creedal formulation about how Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh and powerfully appointed as the Son of God (i.e. synonymous with the Davidic king in 2 Samuel 7:14 and Psalm 2:7) after his resurrection from the dead in Romans 1:3-4. Jesus is invoked as lord in an Aramaic prayer preserved in 1 Corinthians 16:22 (cf. Revelation 22:20; Didache 10:14). Finally, the Christological proof-texting of Psalm 110 to explain how the god of Israel exalted Jesus to the status of lord at the deity’s right hand is attested all over the place (e.g., Mark 12:36/Matthew 22:44/Luke 20:42-43; Acts 2:34-35; 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12-13; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22).
However, the differences may outweigh the similarities. Contrary to some commentators, I do not see any notion of Jesus’s heavenly pre-existence in Mark, while I would maintain that this view is held by Paul (e.g., 1 Corinthians 8:6; 15:47; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:6; cf. Colossians 1:15-17). This latter conceptualization of Jesus may have drawn on the depictions of God’s Wisdom or Logos (e.g., Proverbs 8:22-31; Sirach 24:3-7; Wisdom of Solomon 6:22; 7:25-26; 9:1-2, 9) and other intermediary figures could be envisioned as pre-existent beings (e.g., 1 Enoch 48:6). I largely agree with Daniel Kirk’s assessment, on the other hand, that the depiction of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels fits the category of an “idealized human agent.” Even more spectacular deeds such as walking on water may fit this categorization of the Markan Jesus. Jesus is anointed by the spirit for his messianic office at his baptism and enthroned in heaven after his post-Easter exaltation. Further, the Markan Jesus often refers to himself as the son of man. This may go back to an Aramaic idiom that Jesus used to refer to himself in reference to other humans, but Jesus as Mark describes him may have also been following the script of Daniel 7 in which a human-like figure represents the saints of Israel who suffer under the imperial beasts before being vindicated on the clouds. This seems to me to make sense of Mark’s present, suffering, and eschatological son of man sayings. Paul, however, avoid this terminology even when drawing on a similar tradition in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, where he shifts to his favourite term “lord” when describing Jesus’s parousia or “coming.” Mark’s son of man Christology may be unrelated to Paul’s conception of Jesus as a new Adam. For example, the brief temptation scene in Mark 1:13 likely does not present Jesus as a new Adam peacefully leading the wild animals in a new Eden; the picture that it paints is that of a conflict between Jesus and the angels on the one side and Satan and the wild beasts on the other.
We can also look at the later reception of Mark’s Christology. During the Patristic period, there were a number of reports about Jewish Christ followers who may have designated themselves as Ebionites or “poor ones.” Certain Ebionites rejected Jesus’s divinity and pre-existence, insisting that Jesus was an ordinary human being who had been exalted due to his exemplary obedience to the Law of Moses, and the belief in Jesus’s virginal conception was debated among them. Although the Patristic writers conclude that the Ebionites were readers of Matthew’s Gospel (or were later thought to be readers of the “Gospel according to the Hebrews”), their Christology seems much closer to Mark’s than to Matthew’s as Mark lacks the virgin birth and narrates how Jesus was elected to be the Messiah at his baptism. In forthcoming publications I will suggest that the heresiologists referred to diverse Jewish Christ followers as Ebionites and some of them could have been reading Mark and others Matthew, so the ones who rejected the virgin birth likely did not accept Matthew’s infancy narrative. Furthermore, many of the Ebionites detested Paul and Paul’s literary legacy. Cerinthus and Carpocrates may have also been readers of Mark’s Gospel when they denied that Jesus was pre-existent and zeroed in on Jesus’s baptism as the moment when he received a new Christological identity. In conclusion, there seem to be significant differences between the Markan and Pauline Christologies, but the inclusion of these texts together in the canon alongside other texts such as the Johannine literature assisted later Christian theologians in carving out a more systematic theology about Jesus’s divine and human natures.
While attending the latest Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, I noted that two different perspectives were presented on the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels and the Pauline Epistles. In one session devoted to reviewing a recent book on the origins of the Synoptic Gospels, one presenter mostly rejected the idea that the evangelists drew on oral tradition, arguing instead that their primary sources were Paul’s letters and classical literature. In another session around the same time, there was a paper that problematized the notion that Paul and Mark uniquely agreed with each other in promoting a law-free gospel (e.g., contra the “Paul within Judaism” perspective), downplaying Jesus’s Davidic sonship, and emphasizing Jesus’s crucifixion as a saving event. I agree with the second approach. I want to suggest that the Gospels of Mark and Matthew (and the oral and written traditions behind them) offer us a window into Jewish expressions of the Christ movement that were largely uninfluenced by Paul, though the author of the Gospel of Luke and book of Acts built a bridge between the Synoptic tradition and Pauline theology. In this series, I will highlight the differences between Mark and Paul on topics such as Jesus’s Christological identity and vicarious death, the role of the Torah in the Jesus movement, the leadership of the Twelve and the family of Jesus, or the meaning of the term “gospel.” Here is a brief bibliography for further research:
- Adamczewski, Bartosz. The Gospel of Mark: A Hypertextual Commentary. European Studies in Theology, Philosophy and History of Religions 8 (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2014
- Becker, Eve-Marie, Troels Engberg-Pedersen, and Mogens Müller, editors. Mark and Paul: Comparative Essays Part II: For and Against Pauline Influence on Mark. BZNW 199. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014.
- Bird, Michael F. “Mark: Interpreter of Peter and Disciple of Paul.” In Paul and the Gospels: Christologies, Conflicts, and Convergences. Edited by Michael F. Bird and Joel Willitts, 31-60. LNTS 411. New York: T&T Clark, 2011.
- Crossley, James G. “Mark, Paul and the Question of Influences.” In Paul and the Gospels: Christologies, Conflicts, and Convergences. Edited by Michael F. Bird and Joel Willitts, 10-29. LNTS 411. New York: T&T Clark, 2011.
- Díaz, Mar Pérez i. Mark, a Pauline Theologian. 1st ed. WUNT 2/521. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2020.
- Dykstra, Tom. Mark, Canonizer of Paul: A New Look at Intertextuality in Mark’s Gospel. OCABS, 2012.
- Ferguson, Cameron Evan. A New Perspective on the Use of Paul in the Gospel of Mark. Routledge Studies in the Early Christian World. New York: Routledge, 2021.
- Hiestermann, Heinz. Paul and the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2017.
- Kok, Michael J. “Does Mark Narrate the Pauline Kerygma of ‘Christ Cruciﬁed’? Challenging an Emerging Consensus on Mark as a Pauline Gospel.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 37 (2014): 139–60.
- Mader, Heidrun Elisabeth. Markus und Paulus: die beiden ältesten erhaltenen literarischen Werke und theologischen Entwürfe des Urchristentums im Vergleich. BZ 1. Leiden: Brill, 2020.
- Marcus, Joel. “Mark: Interpreter of Paul.” New Testament Studies 46 (2000): 473-87.
- Nelligan, Thomas P. The Quest for Mark’s Sources: An Exploration of the Case for Mark’s Use of First Corinthians. Eugene: Pickwick, 2015.
- Smith, David Oliver. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul: The Influence of the Epistles on the Synoptic Gospels. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2011.
- Telford, W. R. The Theology of the Gospel of Mark. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
- Wendt, Heidi. “Secrecy as Pauline Influence on the Gospel of Mark.” Journal of Biblical Literature 140.3 (2021): 579–600.
- Wischmeyer, Oda, David C. Sim, and Ian J. Elmer, editors. Paul and Mark: Comparative Essays I Two authors at the Beginnings of Christianity. BZNW 198. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014.
I just noticed that, if you look for my book Tax Collector to Gospel Writer: Patristic Traditions about the Evangelist Matthew on amazon, you can click on “look inside” to get a free preview of the introduction. It is only six pages, but it shows why the traditional authorship of the “Gospel according to Matthew” is problematic on historical grounds and gives a brief outline of my argument about how the traditions about Matthew originated and developed in the first few centuries CE. I hope that you will check it out and see if you might be interested in the rest of the book!
Olegs Andrejevs has noted the sessions in the SBL Annual Meeting Unit “Interrelation of the Gospels.” Tony Burke has compiled two lists of SBL sessions and books on the study of Christian apocryphal literature. Nijay Gupta shared his conference schedule and gives advice for first-time participants. Lionel J. Windsor shared his abstracts for his two SBL papers. J. Richard Middleton notes the SBL panel on his book Abraham’s Silence. If anyone else is posted what sessions they are planning to attend, I will add the link here.
I plan to go to the following sessions at SBL and the program book is available online if you want to look up the abstracts:
First, I am on the panel for the Interrelations of the Gospels/New Testament Textual Criticism joint session on Saturday from 9:00-11:30 am. The abstract that I submitted focuses more on source criticism than textual criticism, but I will discuss some textual variants that are reproduced in the Gospel of the Ebionites such as the reading “you are my beloved son, today I have begotten you” in Luke 3:22 or the insertion of the light from heaven between Matthew 3:15-16. Then, I plan to attend the Historical Jesus session on the question of whether the so-called “Third Quest” is over from 4-6:30 pm. My former PhD advisor is presiding over that session and I tend to agree with him that the division of historical Jesus research into various quests does not accurately reflect the scholarship going on in various periods.
On Sunday, I will attend Michael Zeddies paper “More Misunderstanding about Mar Saba 65” for the Christian Apocrypha Session in the morning. Zeddies has written a few articles arguing that Origen is the author of this letter and I have written an article that partly interacts with its portrayal of Carpocrates. I have updated my e-Clavis Christian Apocrypha bibliography on this letter to note the contributions to the debate over the authenticity of this text by Litwa, Adamson, and Landau and Smith. I want to attend John Van Maaren’s paper on “Mark: Interpreting Paul within Judaism” for the Pauline Epistles session in the afternoon, since I am a fan of his work on Mark’s attitude towards the Torah (see here and here) but I have contested the link between Paul and Mark in this article. Moreover, though I have learned much from the scholars in the “Paul within Judaism” school, I am less sure than they are that Paul remained Torah-observant or believed that it was mandatory for the Jewish Christ followers in his own congregations to do so. I may also see if I can drop in on the panel reviewing Robyn Walsh’s book The Origins of Christian Literature, which reaches quite different conclusions than my own on the genre and audiences of the Gospels and their use of earlier oral and written traditions. Finally, I will try to catch Mark Goodacre’s paper in “The Beloved Disciple for Readers of the Synoptics”, which again reaches the completely opposite verdict that I did in my book with regards to whether the fourth Gospel identifies the beloved disciple as John, the son of Zebedee (see also his podcast).
On Monday, I am divided on whether I want to catch the “John within Judaism” session or the Q session in the morning. I would like to see how the panellists deal exegetically, theologically, and ethically with John’s portrayal of “the Jews” (hoi Ioudaioi), which I have also looked at in my review of a book on Raymond Brown’s scholarship, but there are some papers that I really want to listen to in the other session (especially since James McGrath and I are both giving papers on narratives about John the Baptist). In the afternoon, I will pop over to the “Bible, Myth, and Myth Theory” Session to listen to Rob Heaton’s paper entitled “Authentic Quotation, On-the-Fly Invention, or One Version of a Pan-Patristic Legend? Epiphanius and the So-Called Gospel of the Ebionites.” I will be interested to hear his case that Epiphanius may have invented this document. This conclusion challenges the minority of scholars who think that Epiphanius was citing the Gospel according to the Hebrews (cf. Alfred Schmidtke, R. A. Pritz, William L. Petersen, P. L. Schmidt, Pier Franco Beatrice, James R. Edwards, and David R. Sloan), which Edwin Broadhead and Jeremiah Coogan have recently understood to be a varying recension of Matthew, and the majority who consider it to be a separate Greek text that harmonizes the Synoptics at points and has affinities with the pseudo-Clementine literature (see my e-Clavis Christian Apocrypha bibliography).
Finally, I am again on a panel for the Matthew session where I will present my theory about why Matthew is seated at the toll booth in the Gospel of Matthew, when Levi was sitting there in the Gospels of Mark and Luke. I suspect that most people will have gone home by this point in the conference. Anyways, this is my tentative schedule. However, I may rather end up going to touristy destinations with my family in Denver and visiting with friends in the book exhibit hall and at the various receptions, so my schedule may look very different when I get there!
I previously wrote about what I was presenting at the SBL conference in Denver, but here is an update which includes the times and locations of the sessions:
Interrelations of the Gospels / New Testament Textual Criticism
Joint Session With: New Testament Textual Criticism, Interrelations of the Gospels
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Mile High 1E (Lower Level) – Convention Center (CC)
Theme: Textual Criticism and the Interrelations of the Gospels
Elizabeth Schrader, Duke University, Presiding
David B. Sloan, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Western Non-interpolations and the Interrelations of the Gospels (20 min)
Tag(s): Text Criticism (Interpretive Approaches), Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Source Criticism (Interpretive Approaches)
Discussion (10 min)
Timothy B. Sailors, Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen
Divergent Readings in Gospel Texts: Difficulties in Distinguishing between Redaction-Critical and Text-Critical Alterations (20 min)
Tag(s): Redaction Criticism (Interpretive Approaches), Text Criticism (Interpretive Approaches)
Discussion (10 min)
Michael J. Kok, Morling College Perth
The Gospel of the Ebionites and the Synoptic Gospels (20 min)
Tag(s): Gospels (Early Christian Literature – Apocrypha), Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament)
Discussion (10 min)
Gregory M. King, Universität Wien; Campus Danubia
The Fourth Gospel as Source and Recipient of Harmonization in the Four-Gospel Tradition: John 1:27 as Test Case of a Scribal Habit (20 min)
Tag(s): Text Criticism (Interpretive Approaches), Scribes (Epigraphy & Paleography), Gospels – John (Biblical Literature – New Testament)
Discussion (10 min)
Roundtable Discussion (30 min)
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Centennial C (Third Level) – Hyatt Regency (HR)
Theme: Matthew and the Historical Jesus
Nathan C. Johnson, University of Indianapolis
Jesus and the Other Messiahs in the Memory of Matthew (20 min)
Tag(s): Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Social-Scientific Approaches (Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology) (Interpretive Approaches), Historical Criticism (Interpretive Approaches)
Discussion (10 min)
Michael Barber, Augustine Institute Graduate School
Rethinking the Use of the Gospel of Matthew in Jesus Studies (20 min)
Tag(s): Gospels – Matthew (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Historical Criticism (Interpretive Approaches), Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament)
Discussion (10 min)
Caleb S. Cooke, Duke Divinity School
Will the Real Elijah Please Stand Up? Matthean Redaction and Social Memory (20 min)
Tag(s): Gospels – Matthew (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Gospels – Mark (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament)
Discussion (10 min)
Emily Fero-Kovassy, Australian Catholic University
God the “Father in Heaven”: A Matthean Expression of Jewish Notions of God (20 min)
Tag(s): Gospels – Matthew (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament)
Discussion (10 min)
Michael J. Kok, Morling College Perth Campus
A Lost Source Identifying Matthew as a Toll Collector? (20 min)
Tag(s): Gospels – Matthew (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Redaction Criticism (Interpretive Approaches), Historical Criticism (Interpretive Approaches)
Discussion (10 min)
The Gospel of the Ebionites and the Synoptic Gospels
David B. Sloan and James R. Edwards have revived the antique hypothesis that there was a single “Gospel according to the Hebrews” underlying the diverse Patristic testimonies about it and that it was a significant source behind the Synoptic tradition. Specifically, Sloan and Edwards equate this reconstructed text with either Q or L, two hypothetical sources in B. H. Streeter’s classic solution to the Synoptic Problem, respectively. In this paper, I will first defend the most common scholarly view that the text known to Epiphanius which modern scholars entitle as the “Gospel of the Ebionites” should be differentiated from the “Gospel according to the Hebrews” that is initially cited by the Alexandrian Christian scholars Clement, Origen, and Didymus. The general academic consensus is that Epiphanius’s Gospel was a Greek text that, at points, harmonizes passages from the Synoptic Gospels. Second, I will focus on the baptism story in the “Gospel of the Ebionites” in order to demonstrate that it replicates Matthean and Lukan redactional elements, thus making it unlikely to be the source of the Synoptic double tradition or the Lukan Sondergut. The ways in which it expands on or omits details in the Synoptic Gospel narratives can be explicated on redaction-critical principles. The counter-proposal that one or more of the Synoptic evangelists redacted the baptism account in the “Gospel of the Ebionites” is less plausible.
A Lost Source Identifying Matthew as a Toll Collector?
Taking Markan priority as a starting point, scholars have long been puzzled by the redactional replacement of Levi the son of Alphaeus with Matthew at the toll booth near Capernaum (cf. Matt 9:9; contra Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27). Richard Bauckham (2006) has demonstrated that there are no adequate contemporary parallels for a Second Temple Jewish individual to have two popular Semitic names like Levi and Matthew. It is further implausible that the Apostle Matthew was the author of either the Gospel that was named after him or one of its major sources, for the Matthean redactor evidently did not have any firsthand knowledge about how Matthew actually met Jesus, but just copied the Markan pericope about a toll collector named Levi. The Gospel was originally written anonymously rather than pseudonymously (contra Kilpatrick 1946). Other explanations for why Levi was switched for Matthew in Matt 9:9 include that the Gospel writer restricted the circle of disciples in Jesus’s lifetime to the twelve apostles (e.g., Pesch 1968), there is a wordplay between the name Matthew and the Greek noun mathētēs or “disciple” (e.g., Kiley 1984; Sonnet 2021), or the name was changed by a later scribal copyist (e.g., Bacon 1930). Building on the arguments of Bauckham (2006) and Ulrich Luz (2001), I have argued that the Matthean evangelist may have had access to a lost source that identified Matthew as a “toll collector,” so he or she borrowed the details from Mark’s chreia about Levi to narrate Matthew’s own call to discipleship (cf. Kok 2020). More specifically, the evangelist may have relied on a non-Markan list of the twelve apostles that labelled Matthew as a “toll collector” (cf. Matt 10:3) and redacted Mark 2:14 accordingly. This inherited tradition about the Apostle Matthew’s former profession stands in tension with the evangelist’s redactional Tendenz to portray toll collectors in a very negative light (cf. Matt 5:46; 18:17). The tradition may preserve a memory that would have otherwise been forgotten that one of the Twelve commissioned by the historical Jesus was a toll collector.
Endorsements have now been added for my book Tax Collector to Gospel Writer: Patristic Traditions about the Evangelist Matthew on the Fortress Press website. I have copied them below:
“Michael Kok takes readers through a fascinating piece of detective work as he seeks to answer the question of why a presumably initially untitled gospel came to be associated with the name of Matthew as its author. In exploring this question, no relevant stone is left unturned as Kok reevaluates the clues left by writers of early Christian texts, along with evidence from gospel manuscripts. The result is a highly engaging investigation and explanation of how this unnamed gospel subsequently became the gospel of Matthew.” (Paul Foster, University of Edinburgh)
“Nothing can be the last word because scholarship never stands still. But if you want the best word so far, this is your book: a meticulous, well-informed, and creative contribution on an important, truly fascinating question: How did Matthew become the author of Matthew?” (Dale C. Allison Jr, Princeton Theological Seminary)
“Already an established authority on the early reception of the Gospel of Mark, Michael J. Kok turns his attention to the contested authorship and reception of the Gospel of Matthew in From Tax Collector to Gospel Writer. With a thorough command of the wide-ranging primary sources and the latest scholarship, Kok tells a detailed and engaging story of how the canonical Gospel of Matthew and the apocryphal Gospel of the Hebrews came to be attributed to Matthew the tax collector. Told with erudition and aplomb, Kok’s fascinating and informative study is essential reading for anyone interested in gospel origins and their reception.” (Stephen C. Carlson, Australian Catholic University)
My article “Justin Martyr and the Authorship of Luke’s Gospel” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 18 (2022): 9-36 has now been published. It is open-access, so you can read my article and see if you find it persuasive or not. Here is my abstract:
“Justin Martyr was aware that many Christians in his day were describing certain texts about Jesus as euangelia, though his general preference was to categorize these writings as apomnēmoneumata and attribute them to the apostles and their assistants as a collective group. He likely included the third canonical Gospel among the “memoirs of the apostles.” However, there are no indications in his writings that he had any knowledge of the ascription of this Gospel to the Evangelist Luke. He also may not have identified Paul as one of the apostles. The tradition of Lukan authorship is not attested in any sources that predate Justin’s literary activity, including the writings of Papias of Hierapolis and Marcion of Pontus. The title “Gospel according to Luke” was likely attached to the text at the same time as the emergence of the fourfold gospel canon in the latter half of the second century and the rationale that Luke was the companion of Paul in the we-sections of the book of Acts was defended by Irenaeus of Lyon.”
I cover some of the following points in the article:
- The origins of the titular usage of the noun “gospel” and the standard Gospel titles (i.e. the Gospel according to Luke).
- The question on whether any traditions about the Evangelist Luke predate the writings of Justin Martyr, such as whether there are fragments from Papias’s lost work that suggest that he knew the third Gospel or whether Marcion believed that the Gospel that he inherited was authored by Luke.
- The evidence that Justin knew the third Gospel, but just identified it as one of the memoirs that he assigned to the apostles collectively.
- The reason why the reference to the memoirs of the apostles and those who followed them (Dial. 103.8) does not mean that Justin identified the third evangelist as a follower of an apostle.
I will expand on some of these points in a forthcoming book on the Patristic traditions about the Evangelist Matthew, which will also have an updated discussion on Papias in light of Stephen Carlson’s recent work that was not available to me when I wrote this article. My goal has been to publish on the authorial traditions about all four New Testament Gospels and I hope to one day popularize my research for the person in the pews.
After re-examining the building blocks of my thesis on the reception of the Gospel of Mark that I completed in 2013 and published in 2015, I would like to offer the following reconstruction. In the first decades of the Jesus movement, Christ followers were producing collections of Jesus’s sayings, pronouncement stories, miracle narratives, an oral or written passion narrative, creedal statements, hymns, and letters sent to established congregations. Our earliest extant narrative life of Jesus that I will just refer to as “Mark” for the sake of convenience drew on these earlier oral and written traditions, shaping them to advance theological points about how Jesus’s messianic identity was concealed until it was fully revealed at the cross, how would-be disciples ought to follow him on the path of service and suffering before sharing in his vindication in the coming kingdom, and how Jesus would return on the clouds and judge the priestly establishment sometime after the destruction of the temple. It was written anonymously somewhere in Syria-Palestine (I see Rome as the less likely option) before it spread far and wide, reaching the other Synoptic evangelists who could plausibly be located in Antioch and Ephesus respectively. They accepted that it was a reliable narrative of Jesus’s ministry from the baptism of John to the empty tomb.
Still, there were problems with Mark in the perception of the later evangelists. It appeared to be unfinished, its arrangement of the sayings and deeds of Jesus lacked rhetorical sophistication, and its gaps at the beginning or end or ambiguous statements could be interpreted in support of a lower Christology than what they held. Therefore, they took over its content in their enlarged, revised, published lives of Jesus. Mark continued to be read, though, and Cerinthus in Ephesus based his claim that Jesus was not born of a virgin and was only set apart when the Christ aeon possessed him at his baptism on its pages (cf. Irenaeus, haer. 1.26.1; 3.11.7). In this polemically charged context, other readers dismissed Mark on the grounds of its lack of “order,” whereas the Elder John defended it as a trustworthy account by claiming that its author was the Evangelist Mark and his main source was the Apostle Peter. He was not the first one to associate the figure of Mark with Peter, as a letter had circulated in Asia Minor that identified Mark as Peter’s “son” (cf. 1 Pet 5:13). Papias recorded the Elder John’s tradition around 100 CE, but he also had access to another written life of Jesus that he attributed to Matthew and evaluated its arrangement of the material about Jesus more highly (cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.39.15-16).
Succeeding Patristic intellectuals built on the tradition about Mark recorded by Papias. Thus, Justin regarded this text as Peter’s memoirs (Dial. 103.6), Irenaeus dated the Gospel after Peter’s martyrdom in Rome (Adv. Haer. 3.1.1), and Clement pictures Mark writing his aide memoire for Peter’s hearers in Rome (cf. Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 2.15.1-2; 6.14.6). Yet many of their comments betray some misgivings about its contents compared to the other three Gospels that were canonized. It was copied infrequently and commented upon rarely. When Mark circulated in Alexandria, Carpocrates used it as the basis for his own Christology that was quite similar to Cerinthus’s and quoted Mark’s reference to a “mystery” (cf. Irenaeus, haer. 1.25.1, 5). Clement documented that Carpocrates’ son Epiphanes rejected the ownership of private property as inconsistent with the natural order of things. We know from Clement’s commentary on the passage about the rich man in Mark 10:17-31 that other Alexandrian Christians may have been taking the command to sell their possessions a little too literally. Perhaps this sheds light on why the Carpocratians allegedly had another edition of Mark’s text in which another rich man abandoned everything except for a garment that was fit for a corpse and was taught the mystery of the kingdom, but it may be problematic to rely too much on the Letter to Theodore as its authenticity remains a contentious issue. Nevertheless, the data on the Carpocratians shows that they relied on a variety of ancient Christian sources. While Irenaeus occasionally describes his theological opponents as seemingly reciting Mark’s distinctive wording, it is also true that they did not use Mark exclusively and that the Valentinians, for instance, drew on Paul and John much more extensively.
Although the traditions about Mark’s authorship and the placement of it in the fourfold Gospel ensured that it was be preserved today, its narrative would largely by neglected by Christian readers on all sides in favour of the other three canonical Gospels. Mark’s individual voice in the canon and contribution to Christian theology was, for the most part, rediscovered in the modern period since the onset of the source-critical study of the Synoptic Gospels. Luckily for us today, it was the Patristic tradition about Mark’s Gospel that enabled it to be preserved in the first place so that its voice can still be heard. This may be as far as the historian can go, but the Christian believer might see the hand of the Holy Spirit involved in its preservation as well. If you are interested in tracing the steps of my argument in more detail, you can check out the following posts:
- Introducing the Gospel of Mark (here)
- The Development of the Traditions about the Evangelist (here, here)
- The Reception of Mark in the Later Gospels (here)
- The Reception of Mark in the Patristic period (here, here, here)
- The “Heretical” Reception of Mark (here)
- Bibliography on the Reception of the Gospels (here)