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Did Matthew write the Gospel of Matthew?

Postby jimwalton » Sat Jul 11, 2015 7:53 am

Matthew, like all of the Gospels, is anonymous. It was the nature of the genre, as it is with modern novels, not to put one’s name in the body of the work. Its anonymity doesn’t mean it’s not authentic. The evidence for Matthew’s authorship is strong and convincing, but not airtight. As with many issues such as this, we have to infer to the most logical conclusion rather than insist on ultimate proof.

The superscription "According to Matthew" is on every edition that has been found, from the earliest (starting around AD 200) and through the centuries. There is no copy of Matthew without his name on it. Papias of Hierapolis, writing in about AD 125-130 attributed it to Matthew, as did Irenaeus, also in the second century. For that matter, the early church fathers were unanimous in attributing it to Matthew. There has been no debate over authorship until modern times.

Here are some factors that show that Matthew could easily have been the author of Matthew:
• The author seems to have been a highly educated Jew.
• The author was familiar with technical aspects of the Jewish law.
• The author was a conservative-minded Jew.
• The gospel uses material that details Messianic titles (such as “The Prophet,” and “the Righteous One”) that were already archaic in the time of Jesus. This would give credence to an early writing date by a close follower.
• The interest of the Gospel in the Law, in ecclesiastical matters, in oral interpretation of law and custom, would come most readily from a man trained in the legal disciplines, or from one who had been in constant touch with men so trained. Matthew the Jew, who was also a tax collector, fits that profile.
• The preservation of sayings of Jesus about the Law, and about some of its interpreters and interpretations, would be precisely the kind of interest we might expect from someone who was probably a Levite.
• The gospel’s parables reflect interest in the spiritual history of Israel as God’s chosen people.
• Mark is not necessarily a source. Recent scholarship has called into question both the traditional view that Matthew got his material from Mark, and even got it from Q. Some scholars now are positing that Matthew was written before Mark. Though Matthew is often accused of stealing much of his content from Mark, the contrast between Matthew and Mark is characteristic of their stories from start to finish.
• The archaic expressions, interest in ecclesiastical matters, carefully recorded statements of Jesus about the Law, a conservative type of eschatology, together with an already dying method of commentary, all serve to convince us that we are dealing with an author very similar to what we would expect Matthew to be like.

Here are some factors that make people think Matthew was not the author:
• If Matthew were truly an eye-witness, he would not have needed source material.
• There are indications, some believe, that the work is the product of the second or third Christian generation.

Modern scholarship doubts Matthew's authorship on that basis that the author seemed to have used source material (perhaps Mark or the mysteriously speculated "Q" document, still unproven), and one of Jesus' disciples would not have needed source material, having been an eyewitness. Besides that, Mark wasn’t even an eyewitness! The truth remains, however, that even as an eyewitness, he could have written the stories the way they were circulating at the time and not have felt that to be a compromising of his integrity as an author or as an eyewitness. There is substantial evidence that Matthew could easily have been the author.

Here are the MANUSCRIPTS OF MATTHEW and references to Matthew that we have in the first five centuries:

1st century:
    • Ignatius of Antioch (ca. AD 30-110) quotes Mt. 12.33 in his Letter to the Ephesians (14.2), Mt. 19.12 in Letter to the Smyrnaeans (6.1), and Mt. 10.16 in Letter to Polycarp (2.2).
    • Clement of Rome (ca. AD 30-100), in 1 Clement 13.2, quotes Mt. 7.2.; in 1 Clem. 15.2 quotes either Mt. 15.8 = Mk. 7.6; in 1 Clem 16.1 alludes to Lk. 22.26 = Mt. 23.11; in 1 Clem. 46.8 alludes to or quotes from Mt. 18.6 = Mk. 9.42.

2nd century:
    • The Didache (AD 100-105) quotes Mt. 6.5, 9-13
    • Polycarp (ca. AD 69-160), in his Letter to the Philippians, quotes Mt. 7.1, 2; 6.13; 26.14; 5.44
    • P104 (AD 150, Mt. 21.34-37; 21.43, 45?)
    • P4 fragment of a flyleaf with the title “Gospel of Matthew” (late 2nd, early 3rd)
    • Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) quotes Matthew 11.27 in Trypho 100 and Mt. 16.21 in Trypho 100.
    • The unknown author of The Letter of Barnabas (writing in ca. AD 130) quotes Mt. 22.14.
    • Tatian (AD 165-180) writes a harmony of the four gospels: Mt. Mk. Lk. Jn. He quotes Mt. 1.18-25a
    • Irenaeus, AD 180: “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.” (Against Heresies 3.1.1). This shows that by 180 AD we have solid historical literary evidence that early church leaders confirmed that the four NT Gospels were indeed written by Matthew and John, two apostles and Mark, a close associate of Peter and Luke, a close associate of Paul, two other apostles. (1) all gospels were written in 1st c., (2) Matthew was written when Peter and Paul were founding the church in Rome, (3) Mark wrote in the 60s, (4) Luke wrote Luke, with Paul.
    • Muratorian Fragment (AD 175-200): Indicates Luke & John were authored by them, and implies there are two other gospels (missing from the fragment; the manuscript is mutilated at the beginning; its first complete sentence mentions Luke as “the third book of the gospel”).

3rd century:
    • Tertullian, AD 207: The 4 gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
    • P21 (AD 200, Mt. 12)
    • P64 (AD 200, Mt. 3, 5, 26). Dr. Carston Thiede argues that these fragments date to the 2nd half of the 1st century.

    • P77 (AD 200, Mt. 23)
    • P103 (AD 200, Mt. 13-14)
    • P1 (AD 250, Mt. 1)
    • P45 (AD 250, Mt. 20-21, 25-26)
    • P53 (AD 250, Mt. 26)
    • P70 (AD 250, Mt. 2-3, 11-12, 24)
    • P101 (AD 250, Mt. 3-4)

4th century (earliest relatively complete manuscripts):
    • Vaticanus (300-325)
    • P37 (AD 300, Mt. 26)
    • P102 (AD 300, Mt. 4)
    • P110 (AD 300, Mt. 10.13-15, 25-27)
    • Sinaiticus (330-360)
    • P25 (AD 350, Mt. 18-19)
    • P35 (AD 350?, Mt. 25)
    • P62 (AD 350, Mt. 11)
    • P86 (AD 350, Mt. 5)

5th Century:
    • Alexandrinus
    • Ephraemi
    • Bezae
    • 071 (1, 25)
    • P19 (AD 400, Mt. 10-11)

Conclusion:

There is no evidence from the first century that it was ever doubted that Matthew was the writer of Matthew, and we have little reason to doubt it either. On the contrary, there is substantial evidence that Matthew was the author. Matthew, the disciple, therefore, remains the best educated guess as the author of the gospel of Matthew.
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Re: Did Matthew write the Gospel of Matthew?

Postby Cicero » Wed May 10, 2017 9:44 pm

Where the external evidence is concerned, I think you are overestimating the reliability of the early Church fathers. The extent to which you find this persuasive will probably depend on how much of their work you have read, but I for one am unimpressed by the general quality of the claims they make and that's not just because I'm an atheist. Some of the historical stuff Justin Martyr and Tertullian put into their apologies, for instance, sometimes with the general agreement of their Christian contemporaries, is quite unequivocally silly and displays a lack of critical thought which, although it doesn't wholly invalidate your argument from the unanimity of tradition, very much reduces its strength.

More seriously, however, you overlook the fact that in the case of Matthew, the "external evidence" gets some very important facts wrong. For instance, Church tradition, as far as I know, unanimously agrees 1) that Matthew wrote before Mark, and 2) that Matthew wrote in Hebrew. I assume you are aware that both of these claims are demonstrably false; consequently even on the basis simply of the external evidence, I'd say the most logical view would be that Papias (the first writer to ascribe Matthew to Matthew) simply misidentified the document.

It is, then, the internal evidence which must decide this issue. Now the stylistic profile of Matthew does indeed fit what we would have expected of a Jew from that period, but in terms of genre, if nothing else, it objectively does not fit the distinctive profile which eyewitness accounts from antiquity tend to have. Such accounts will, for instance, signal their nature as such by the use of the first person pronoun and the integration of the (named) eyewitness into the narrative itself.

The decisive argument, however, is Matthew's heavy literary dependency on Mark. Whatever eyewitnesses may or may not do, their accounts always offer a distinctive, personalised, often idiosyncratic perspective on events. Matthew does show a willingness to alter Mark, but almost always for structural, stylistic reasons and rarely in order to add material of his own. An eyewitness would have added details. Matthew doesn't. In fact, Matthew makes no changes to Mark a writer in the second century with access to oral sources could not have made. Consequently, the balance of probabilities, in my view, is very strongly in favour of the view that the traditionally assigned name is a misattribution.
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Re: Did Matthew write the Gospel of Matthew?

Postby jimwalton » Wed May 10, 2017 10:11 pm

I've read some of the early church fathers, but not too much. I find them dreadfully boring. But I've never found them to be of low quality. I have books of their writings, so if you could point me to some examples of what you're talking about, we can talk more specifically. In general, the pieces that I have read come across as the deep thoughts of intelligent people. I find, through my somewhat limited reading of them, that they are sensible people trying to write knowledgeably about subject dear to them. So some example would help.

> Church tradition, as far as I know, unanimously agrees 1) that Matthew wrote before Mark

Let's examine this more closely.

Papias. None of his writings survived. They are dated by most scholars from AD 95 - 120. As far as I know, Eusebius doesn't record what Papias said about order of writing, but he does say Matthew wrote "Logia" (a term he later uses to refer to Mark's Gospel). The meaning of "logia" is much debated. It could refer to the five large blocks of Jesus' teaching that are unique to Matthew, but it could also refer to something else. It is the word, as I said, Papias uses for Mark's Gospel, so there is some evidence that he is referring to the Gospel of Matthew. Also, the early church interprets "logia" to refer to the Gospel of Matthew itself. When Irenaeus refers to this quote from Papias, Irenaeus uses the word "Gospel," interpreting "logia" for us. We have no record of anyone in the ancient world claiming a different author for Matthew's Gospel than Matthew.

Papias also says Matthew wrote in Hebrew. Well, sort of. What Papias says (according to Eusebius) is "Matthew wrote down the sayings of Jesus in Hebrew dialect (*en Hebraïdi dialektōi*—which may refer to either Hebrew or Aramaic), and everyone translated (*hērmēneusen*—or "interpreted") them to the best of their ability." We should at least be able to garner from this that Matthew wrote something, probably an "first draft" so to speak (an earlier edition) of what we call the Gospel of Matthew, in Hebrew or Aramaic, which was perhaps a collection of Jesus' teachings. Is that fair? It's not unreasonable to think there may have been multiple translations of this document, including into Greek, which could have resulted in any or all of what we know as Matthew's Gospel. So that Matthew wrote in Hebrew or Aramaic is not demonstrably false, unless you can demonstrate it.

Pantaenus. Again, we know about him from Eusebius (and also Jerome). He also speaks of Matthew writing the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew/Aramaic, so possibly Papias wasn't as incorrect as we think. It's another early testimony to Matthew's authorship.

Irenaeus. He also speaks of Matthew writing the Gospel of Matthew, and in Hebrew/Aramaic (Against Heresies, book 3, chapter 1).

There is also external evidence, from the Church Fathers, that Matthew wrote in the province of Judea, and, more specifically, from Jerusalem, which could explain the Hebrew/Aramaic.

Disclaimer: It is believed by virtually all scholars that the church fathers had in their possession only a Greek version of Matthew. And yet there are multiple references to a Hebrew Matthew, with no evidence that they had a copy of it. Even Jerome mentions that he had what people in his time were calling the "Original Hebrew Gospel of Matthew" (in those days significant manuscripts could be kept for from between 150-400 years), but he never seems to use it.

Tertullian (and also Augustine) mentions a Greek Gospel of Matthew.

I'm looking for the references of unanimous agreement that Matthew wrote before Mark, but not readily finding it. If you could point me to those texts, I would appreciate it.

> The decisive argument, however, is Matthew's heavy literary dependency on Mark.

I have no problem with thinking that there was a large repertoire of stories of Jesus rehearsed over and over by the Church (because they were true), and that these rehearsed stories found their way in almost identical form into the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Matthew is quite distinct from Mark in many ways, not the least of which is the inclusion of large bodies of teaching not in the other Synoptics (which, as I have speculated, could have been the *logia* to which Papias refers).

> An eyewitness would have added details.

It's difficult to determine what you consider to be the criteria for eyewitness accounts. The Gospels contain large collections of stories that could easily have come from an eyewitness source, and from Matthew in particular. The fact that they are similar in wording could be the result of the rhetorical oral culture. Peter, who is said to have told the stories to Mark, would have been there with Matthew, and in the course of the 3 decades between having been said and having been written, the stories took a set form.

We don't know too much about the travels of the disciples after Pentecost. We get the idea that Peter stayed in Jerusalem for a while, but we don't know for how long, where else he went, and exactly when he ended up in Rome. We know even less about Matthew's travels, but the Church Fathers say he wrote Matthew from Jerusalem, so just maybe he and Pete spent a lot of quality time together. How much time did they spend together, preaching and teaching? We have no clue, really. The evidence shows at least some, possibly years, but I don't want to just indulge in idle speculation.

Mark's family also lived in the vicinity of Jerusalem (Acts 12.12, 25). We dare not speculate too much, but these gents reasonably could have spent considerable time together (see 1 Peter 5.13). For all we know (and again...I know...speculation), Matthew could have been a major source for these stories. Again: what is the criteria for an eyewitness?

So saying, I don't think it's as decisive as you are obviously concluding. Recent scholarship (though still a VAST minority plugging a much derided idea) has called into question both the traditional view that Matthew got his material from Mark, and even got it from Q. Some scholars now are positing that Matthew was written before Mark. Though Matthew is often accused of stealing much of his content from Mark, the contrast between Matthew and Mark is characteristic of their stories from start to finish. I think it's still a matter of hoping more evidence surfaces, and trying to make the best sense out of the material we have. I know the scholars working on this stuff have good reasons for Markan priority, but sometimes new theories rise up with evidence to supplant standard scholarship.

I'm not arguing that Matt was written first (but, hey, you never know). I'm just saying it may not be as decisive as you think to motivate you to conclude Matthew is a misattribution.
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Re: Did Matthew write the Gospel of Matthew?

Postby Cicero » Thu May 11, 2017 3:04 pm

> I find them dreadfully boring.

It depends who you read. If you’re reading Irenaeus, yes, but some Church Fathers are fun. I challenge you to read the analysis of the Mosaic food laws in the epistle of Barnabas (particularly 10:6 and 10:8) without laughing out loud.

Fun though they may be, however, their relationship with the truth is tenuous. They show a willingness to make unsubstantiated historical claims which I find truly disturbing. I’ll give just a single example (the most ludicrous of many similar instances) to illustrate what I mean. In Justin Martyr’s first apology there is a certain point where he starts talking about the nativity accounts and makes the following mind-bogglingly stupid claim: "Now there is a village in the land of the Jews, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, in which Jesus Christ was born, as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing made under Cyrenius, your first procurator in Judaea." The idea that the Romans registered the names of newborn children is just so unspeakably ridiculous one wonders how old Justin had the nerve even to put this to paper. What this means is that JM is making an appeal to records he had not checked himself, i.e., he’s essentially making this up. In my experience this kind of thing happens so often with these people I’m not inclined to believe a word they say unless there is internal evidence that they are doing more than just talk off the top of their respective heads.

I’m confused by your stance on source criticism. I’d say the support for Matthean primacy is more or less on the level of the support for Jesus mythicism; if you agree that the balance of probabilities is strongly against this hypothesis I don’t understand why you felt the need to bring it up. Similarly, when you say:

> I have no problem with thinking that there was a large repertoire of stories of Jesus rehearsed over and over by the Church (because they were true), and that these rehearsed stories found their way in almost identical form into the Gospels of Matthew and Mark

you contradict the general view that Matthew used the actual written Gospel of Mark. If you wish to dispute this I’ll provide evidence, as I think this needs to be sorted out, but I’m not clear on what your position exactly is.

> We should at least be able to garner from this that Matthew wrote something, probably an "first draft" so to speak (an earlier edition) of what we call the Gospel of Matthew, in Hebrew or Aramaic, which was perhaps a collection of Jesus' teachings. Is that fair?

You’re not the first person to have made this suggestion, but it really doesn’t work. Matthew’s literary dependency on Mark and Q is too literal to be the result of translation at any stage in the redactional process, let alone translation into Hebrew and then back-translation into Greek. If you’ve read Matthew in Greek, you may possibly also appreciate the argument that Matthew is stylistically nothing like writings like the Septuagint, where the effects of translation from the Hebrew are obvious.

No Hebrew text underlies Matthew. Of this I am convinced. Furthermore, any attempt to reduce the “Hebrew draft” to parts of the Gospel which Matthew doesn’t share with Mark or the Synoptics leads to a very odd, lobsided Gospel focusing heavily on the nativity story and a number of parables. This minimalistic view, therefore, seems to me highly unrealistic.

As for the claim that Matthew wrote earlier than Mark, this is found in Irenaeus to begin with: "Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter
Edit: Finally, on the characteristics of eyewitness accounts. Most of the eyewitness accounts from antiquity with which I am acquainted explicitly signal the involvement of the author in the text throughout whenever relevant. Try reading Tacitus' biography of Agricola, for instance -- the differences with Matthew are obvious (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Agricola -- particularly paragraph 4, 43, 44)

Even apart from stylistic features, however, the fact that Matthew uses 80% of Mark's Gospel remains, in my view, virtually inexplicable under the assumption that he was an eyewitness. Your suggestion that their similarities might have been due to oral sources is one you're going to have a good deal of trouble defending, but even given that assumption it still doesn't explain why Matthew as an eyewitness adheres so rigidly to the precise wording of these oral traditions when he might have made far more significant contributions of his own.

Remember, this is about the balance of probabilities. The more elaborate your explanation the more the burden of the proof is on you.
Cicero
 

Re: Did Matthew write the Gospel of Matthew?

Postby jimwalton » Thu May 11, 2017 3:56 pm

> Fun though they may be, however, their relationship with the truth is tenuous.

I (nor anyone else for that matter) don't claim that the Church Fathers were inerrant. They didn't have papal infallibility : ). But why both with Barnabas? There is a difference between the pseudepigrapha and the writings of the church fathers. The Epistle of Barnabas was either written as pseudepigrapha, or it was really written by somebody named Barnabas in the 2nd century, about which we know nothing. It's an ambiguous text at best, and we don't value it with the writings of the church fathers.

As to Justin Martyr, I suspect he's saying there's a record of the taxation, though it does sound like he's saying what you are claiming. But because both the chapter before and the chapter after it, as well as chapter 34, are talking about how Christ fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, and so we take his point to be that he probably meant that you can look up the record of the taxation. You're right that there's going to be no record of Jesus' birth.

Are you suggesting that anyone who is not infallible is not a reliable writer? It's what you seem to be implying, and if that's the case, you can't believe what anyone writes. to dismiss the writings of the church fathers because they don't get everything right is a little absurd. It still stands that there is no evidence to the contrary that anyone but Matthew wrote it.

> I’d say the support for Matthean primacy is more or less on the level of the support for Jesus mythicism

I agree with you that the case of Matthean primacy is weak, at least for now. I'm not trying to imply that I believe it, per se. But since it's reasonable to think that Matthew, Peter, and Mark may have shared considerable time together (upwards to 2 decades) ministering in Jerusalem, it's quite possible that their shared stories formed both of their Gospels.

> Matthew’s literary dependency on Mark and Q is too literal to be the result of translation

Of course, Q is still speculative. No copy of it, or ancient reference to a source document, has ever been found. Quite possibly some of the disciples in Jerusalem, including Peter and Matthew, were the source of the Jesus stories. Similarities don't necessarily imply derivation, but may merely be a recognition of a common source, viz., Jesus' teachings.

> No Hebrew text underlies Matthew. Of this I am convinced.

How can you say this with such certainty? Certainly no Hebrew text of Matthew has ever been found, but the earliest extant manuscript of Matthew is from about AD 150 (P104), so we obviously haven't found anything earlier.

> however, the fact that Matthew uses 80% of Mark's Gospel remains, in my view, virtually inexplicable under the assumption that he was an eyewitness. Your suggestion that their similarities might have been due to oral sources is one you're going to have a good deal of trouble defending, but even given that assumption it still doesn't explain why Matthew as an eyewitness adheres so rigidly to the precise wording of these oral traditions when he might have made far more significant contributions of his own.

It was an oral culture, but a transitional era from orality to written, just as we are a transitional culture from written to digital. We know from 1 Corinthians 15.3-7 that oral creeds were circulating. There are other such creeds strewn about in Acts 1-5, 10 and 13. Paul quotes an oral tradition of Jesus in 1 Cor. 11.23-26 (the Gospels hadn't been written yet). Also in 1 Cor. 7.10-11; 9.14; Acts 20.35, and 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17. There were obviously oral sources, so that's my defense.

> Remember, this is about the balance of probabilities. The more elaborate your explanation the more the burden of the proof is on you.

I don't feel like I'm reaching out on a limb or stepping blindfolded over a cliff. I think the conclusions I'm making are probable, and possibly even likely.
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Re: Did Matthew write the Gospel of Matthew?

Postby Cicero » Fri May 12, 2017 4:48 pm

My reference to Barnabas wasn't meant seriously :)

> As to Justin Martyr, I suspect he's saying there's a record of the taxation

It’s just possible that JM means the taxation. It doesn’t really matter; even then he got his facts wrong, as Cyrenius was governor of Syria, not procurator of Judea (even according to Luke) so he can’t have checked his sources anyway. Now I agree with you that it's absurd to dismiss everything someone says just because they get some stuff wrong. But as I say, when the Church Fathers get key facts wrong so often (as I said, this is just a single example) I have my reservations about relying too much on them as sources. True, their unanimity on the authorship of Matthew doesn't help my case, I just don't weigh their testimony very strongly against it either.

> How can you say this with such certainty? Certainly no Hebrew text of Matthew has ever been found, but the earliest extant manuscript of Matthew is from about AD 150 (P104), so we obviously haven't found anything earlier.

My claim is not based on external evidence. In fact, even if any Hebrew text of Matthew is ever found, it will be a translation based on the original Greek and not the other way round. It’s not hard to tell whether an ancient text is a translation, and Matthew isn’t one. If your knowledge of Greek is such that you can comfortably follow a stylistic argument I’ll present the evidence for this claim; otherwise I suggest we focus on other aspects of this debate.

> Similarities don't necessarily imply derivation, but may merely be a recognition of a common source, viz., Jesus' teachings.

This, I think, is our main disagreement. Your view is one I hear often, and although it sounds reasonable when summarized like that, it doesn’t survive confrontation with the literary details of the Synoptics.

There are three basic reasons why Matthew must have used Mark and Q in a written form very similar to their present forms, as opposed to being based on common oral tradition.

1) Frequent, extensive verbatim agreement, not only in sections about Jesus’ teaching but even in John’s teaching and narrative. Passages like the following agreement between Matthew and Luke cannot be explained without written literary dependence: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit (Luke: fruits) in keeping with repentance. And do not think (Luke: begin) to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’

In the Greek, every single word other than the ones for which I have bracketed a Lukan alternative is identical. Considering how volatile word order can be in synthetic languages I find this argument particularly persuasive.

2) The occasional presence of literary commentary: in a number of places in the Gospels agree on both the placing and the wording of a parenthetical comment. This is very hard to explain if oral tradition is involved.

3) The synoptics agree on the ordering of pericopes. The Synoptic Gospels largely agree with each other on the ordering even of pericopes with no clear chronological connection. It is highly implausible that oral tradition would have resulted in one such authoritative ordering.
it's quite possible that their shared stories formed both of their Gospels.

Do you accept that this is a theory which can easily be tested? If Matthew and Mark had a shared source, you cannot explain why, say, Matthew and Mark should both use the same adjective when there are other synonyms available (just a random example). I'm just not clear on how you can make this view to work.

> I think the conclusions I'm making are probable, and possibly even likely.

It was not my intention to beg the question. I interpreted some of your previous argument as focusing unduly on the "it may not be as decisive as you think" line of argument, which I don't think is relevant. Everything about early Christianity (and ancient history in general) is speculative at least to some degree. But I may have misinterpreted you.
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Re: Did Matthew write the Gospel of Matthew?

Postby jimwalton » Fri May 12, 2017 5:26 pm

Thanks for an excellent discussion. For the sake of full disclosure, I'm trying hard to discuss honestly and well, and not just be a stubborn and contentious person. I'll dig in a little bit.

> Cyrenius was governor of Syria, not procurator of Judea (even according to Luke) so he can’t have checked his sources anyway.

There is no end to the material about Quirinius. I have run into several intriguing research studies. The first is the actual Greek text. The text of Luke 2.2 literally says, "This census *proete* Quirinius [was] ruler of Syria." The text certainly can mean, "This census was the *first* while Quirinius was governing Syria," but one would normally expect an article before ἀπογραφὴ (census) and again before πρώτη (first; before) if that were Luke's intention. But we could also translate "This census was before [one] when Quirinius was governor." The census in AD 6 under Quirinius was particularly infamous because it provoked the rebellion by Judas the Galilean. So it would be natural for a biography or historian to refer to an earlier census with reference to the later, much better-remembered one. The grammar allows this possibility. Not to beg the question, but I guess it's possible that we've been following a misleading translation.

Also, Luke never calls him a governor, but a *hegemon*, and specifically notes that the census to which he refers is the *first* in which Quirinius was involved. Luke was clearly aware of the second in AD 6, to which he refers in Acts 5.37.

The second perspective comes from Dr. John Rhoades, assistant professor of theology and philosophy at Concordia University. He feels there are substantial reasons to question Josephus's account—that he misdated the census of Quirinius. He claims there's reason to assume that Sabinus is the same person as Quirinius, and he was already present in Judea during the last days of Herod the Great. He basically gives a three-point argument that additional data fit the reign of Herod the Great better than the context of AD 6. In summary:

1\. Name, provenance, being identifiable by reference to his father, and the context and content of both his teaching and his activity all combine to support the conclusion that the three accounts of an insurrectionist named Judas actually all reflect the same figure active during the last days of Herod the Great.

2\. Although the high priesthood data is still difficult, having Joazar active in bringing about the cooperation of the taxation fits the time of Herod the Great better than assuming a variety of unrecorded appointments in order to account for the multiple deposals. Herod exalted Joazar to the high priesthood in opposition to the supporters of Judas, and his deposal by either Sabinius/Quirinius or Archelaus after the disturbances associated with Herod’s death makes sense, while an AD 6 deposal by Quirinius does not.

3\. By identifying Quirinius and Sabinus, we not only have the man responsible for the census located in Judea during the last days of Herod the Great and an explanation for the earlier reference to Coponius at Antipater’s trial, but also a very plausible rationale for the extraordinary behavior of Sabinus.

To be totally honest, it's hard to know what to make of all this stuff, but it is a good warning to me not to claim that we can know for certain the Luke got his facts wrong and can't have checked his sources. There could be more to this issue than we have deciphered.

> In fact, even if any Hebrew text of Matthew is ever found, it will be a translation based on the original Greek and not the other way round.

I don't understand how you can declare this with such certainty unless you are just assuming that there is no original Hebrew text of Matthew, which seems unwarranted. We know that we don't have any of the original writings of Papias. We know that only a fragment of "The Shepherd" by Hermas exists. We know that we don't have any of the original documents (the autographs) of the NT. As much as Q is discussed as authentic, not copy or fragment of it has ever been found. Is it just possible that a pre-Greek version of Matthew in Hebrew used to exist but doesn't any more? In those days important manuscripts were often kept in circulation for from 150-400 years. Since Papias, Pantaenus, and Irenaeus all mention a Hebrew/Aramaic precursor to Matthew's Gospel, that carries weight to me, and I honestly don't understand how you can conclude with certainty that it never existed.

I will admit to you that Matthew's reliance so heavily on the text of Mark (as assented by a large majority of biblical scholars) is a strong evidence against Matthean authorship—probably the strongest argument out there. And I know that is the deal-breaker for you. I was showing that, in my mind, there are possible explanations for that (Mark, Peter, and Matthew teaching in the same city for several decades, and possible Peter and Matthew being the source of the apparitional "Q"). It's true that deep scholarly analysis shows that Matthew uses Mark as a source. Another possibility in my mind is that Matthew is the direct source of the large blocks of teaching found uniquely in his Gospel (possibly the "logia" of Papias's reference), and that another editor assembled the rest of the Gospel using other material from Matthew ("Q") as well as material from Mark (which might also have had some of its source in the same material to which Matthew contributed, having been in Jerusalem). That would still make Matthew the tradent behind the material, so that the Gospel could realistically be called "According to Matthew." At the same time, I quite aware of how much I am speculating. To me it's just not a settled matter just because modern scholars see large blocks cut and pasted from Mark to Matthew. And I think the unanimous attestation by the early church fathers cannot easily be ignored.

I was just studying today in 2 Thessalonians 2, where Paul makes direct reference to oral as well as written material in his teaching.

> Do you accept that this is a theory which can easily be tested?

No I don't. It can't be tested. But in an oral culture, renditions of events achieve a form where the wording becomes known and routine. And since there were 3 decades for the stories to take shape, such conformity isn't surprising to me.

> Everything about early Christianity (and ancient history in general) is speculative at least to some degree.

To some extent I agree. Rather than insisting on absolute truth, we are better to reason our way to probable truth. All historiography is interpretive, and therefore subjective. But we can reason together that, given the available information, the best explanation should have a reasonable degree of certainty against competing interpretations in such a way that we have a rational basis for believing such an event actually happened or that such a person existed. Absolute certainty may be perpetually outside of our grasp, but adequate certainty could be considered as reliable history.

We are looking for interpretations of history that seem to correspond best to all the information we have, cohere with as wide a circle of known "facts" as possible, and eliminate as much bias as is achievable.
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Re: Did Matthew write the Gospel of Matthew?

Postby Cicero » Sun May 14, 2017 4:32 pm

> Absolute certainty may be perpetually outside of our grasp, but adequate certainty could be considered as reliable history.

I readily accept this correction.

Re: Quirinius… I was actually disparaging JM, not Luke, but I'm willing to discuss that too.

I'm confused by your argument here because, although your point on the absence of the article is valid, your suggested alternative is subject to the exact same difficulty. I hope you’ll forgive me the mortal sin of writing Greek without diacritics, but I don’t have a proper font installed... Luke says αυτη απογραφη πρωτη εγενετο. If he had meant "this census was the first…" I agree that he would have written αυτη η απογραφη πρωτη εγενετο (though not η πρωτη, I think). However, if he had meant "this census was before..." he would still definitely have said αυτη η απογραφη.

The only grammatically correct translations of αυτη απογραφη πρωτη εγενετο are those which do not involve the English phrase "this census". For instance, "this was the first census..." or (even better) "this happened as the first census..." None of these translations rescue Luke's historicity on grammatical grounds. I’d say the most plausible intended meaning is something like “this census happened as the first of its kind”.

As for the theory that the mistake is Josephus’. I had never heard this before, but I find it improbable to the highest degree that Josephus erred on this majestic scale. It’s one thing to casually refer to Quirinius like Luke does, it’s quite another to spend several chapters talking about his actions, mentioning him in relation to Archelaus and giving precise dates relative to Caesar’s victory at Actium. You can’t write a coherent history if you’re as ill-informed as that. Also, I’m at a loss as to how this is supposed to fit in with our other information on Quirinius; Josephus isn’t our only source for this man’s career.

> in an oral culture, renditions of events achieve a form where the wording becomes known and routine.

Your flight into unfalsifiability I find a little difficult to understand. Are you saying there are no detectable differences between oral and written transmission? Can you find me as much as single example from ancient (or modern) history where verbal agreement on that scale is found based on nothing but oral tradition?

As for the Hebrew Matthew hypothesis, perhaps you simply missed my point, but do you understand what I mean about being able to tell from stylistic features whether a text is a translation? Matthew writes beautiful, exciting, rhythmic, majestically cadenced Greek prose—in my opinion one the finest pieces of literature in the NT—which I can only contrast with the unwieldiness of an obviously translated document like the LXX. Do you dispute the validity of this argument altogether, or do you merely regard it as weak? I cannot deduce your exact response to this argument from what you have written.

I just cannot seriously imagine a text as spine-chillingly perfect as the following (to give just one example) is a rehash of some Hebrew original.

ηγερθήσονται γὰρ ψευδόχριστοι καὶ ψευδοπροφῆται, καὶ δώσουσιν σημεῖα μεγάλα καὶ τέρατα ὥστε πλανῆσαι εἰ δυνατὸν καὶ τοὺς ἐκλεκτούς· ἰδοὺ προείρηκα ὑμῖν. ἐὰν οὖν εἴπωσιν ὑμῖν· Ἰδοὺ ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ ἐστίν, μὴ ἐξέλθητε· Ἰδοὺ ἐν τοῖς ταμείοις, μὴ πιστεύσητε· ὥσπερ γὰρ ἡ ἀστραπὴ ἐξέρχεται ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν καὶ φαίνεται ἕως δυσμῶν, οὕτως ἔσται ἡ παρουσία τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου·

Apart from these relatively minor points, it seems to me that broadly speaking, we agree on the basic structure of the evidence. The fact that Church tradition is unanimous Matthew wrote this Gospel is an argument in favour of this identification; the fact that Matthew is so reliant on Mark is an argument against it. We disagree only on the relative strength of these arguments.

Now you can argue for ever about the relative strength of arguments; life being short, I suggest we don’t. I think more decisive information, which will retrospectively be applicable to Matthew as well, can be found by moving on to a different Gospel and different methods; I suggest Mark because of its literary interdependence with Matthew. To take the first and most obvious argument which can be constructed on the basis of Mark, if this Gospel can be proven to be late, then Matthew must be even later, and once you get to the 80s the chance that many of the apostles were still around grows pretty slim.

I think it likely that Mark was written after the destruction of the temple because of the way he hints at this idea throughout. Expressions like “let the reader understand,” placed parenthetically within Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple, seem to me to be clear hints that the reader should make a connection in his mind to recent events. Moreover Mark hints at the destruction of the temple in a number of places in the surrounding chapters, for instance, by means of a widely recognized literary technique called inclusio (if I remember correctly) in the story of the fig tree, which involves sandwiching one story within another to make a point:

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. 15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’[c]? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’[d]” 19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples[e] went out of the city. 20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

The moral of the story being that the temple = the fig tree. Mark is providing his audience with an explanation for why the temple had to be destroyed. The idea that he was providing his audience with an explanation for why the temple would be destroyed in the future, particularly in this roundabout fashion, seems much less probable to me.

How would you otherwise explain this recurrent literary motif?
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Re: Did Matthew write the Gospel of Matthew?

Postby jimwalton » Sun May 14, 2017 4:42 pm

> Your flight into unfalsifiability I find a little difficult to understand. ... Can you find me as much as single example from ancient (or modern) history where verbal agreement on that scale is found based on nothing but oral tradition?

This is actually quite humorous, since it's impossible to have any records of oral tradition! How can we find verbal agreement without material to compare?

> Matthew writes beautiful, exciting, rhythmic, majestically cadenced Greek prose – in my opinion one the finest pieces of literature in the NT – which I can only contrast with the unwieldiness of an obviously translated document like the LXX. Do you dispute the validity of this argument altogether or do you merely regard it as weak?

I'm a little confused. If Matthew is so detectably majestic, how is a large proportion of it copied from Mark? Does it have stylistic integrity, or is it a patchwork quilt?

As far as the rest of the discussion about Matthew, as I originally laid out, I have previously had these conversations to no end, because in the end it's as you say, disagreeing on the relative strength of the arguments regarding evidence.

Possibly it came down this way: Suppose Matthew, living in Jerusalem, was actively telling and retelling the stories of Jesus. At one point he wrote down a bunch of it, especially the sayings (the 5 large blocks of speeches in Matthew), (possibly the logia to which Papias refers). As Mark and Matthew, along with others, circulated and spoke in Jerusalem and its environs, many of these stories took on set forms and were assembled into a document or series of documents ("Q"). Mark moved to Rome, spent some time with Peter, and used his exposure to Jesus (as a Jerusalemite and in a family of believers [Acts 12.12]), his exposure to Matthew, and his knowledge of Q to compose his Gospel. Matthew, reading Mark's Gospel a short time later, cribs blocks of it (since he was the source anyway) for his own Gospel, adding to it the logia that he had previously written down. Matthew's material is then possibly edited and enhanced by some later collaborators with other material from Mark, and we end up with Matthew's Gospel, "written" by Matthew, cribbed from Mark (of which Matthew may have been a source), including the logia, and possibly further redacted later by other contributors until it solidified into the Gospel we have today.

That could be why we have quotes from Matthew in the late 1st c., knowledge of the writing known to have Matthew as its tradent, and only later identified as "According to Matthew" by the late 2nd c.
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