Author of Matthew: Eyewitness to Jesus or Gentile Pretender?

Jews in Jerusalem

Photo by Blake Campbell on Unsplash

In this post I conclude my case for the traditional view that the author of the Gospel according to Matthew (“Matthew,” or the “first Gospel”) was one of the original Jewish disciples of Jesus, namely “Levi” or “Matthew,” the tax collector, mentioned in Matthew 9:9 and 10:3Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, and Acts 1:13.

The aim of my case is to respond to Bart Ehrman’s claim in How Jesus Became God that the Gospels were composed by Christians “of a later generation” who wrote after (or almost after) Jesus’s original disciples had died, thereby casting doubt on the link between the Gospel accounts and the historical Jesus.

In my last post, I laid out internal and external evidence for the traditional view of the authorship of Matthew. In this post, I will respond to some popular objections to that view.

Would Matthew Rely on Mark?

As I recently described in this post, the most widely held view of how the three synoptic Gospels were composed—the Four-Source theory—claims that the author of Matthew used Mark as his most significant source in composing the first Gospel. To some scholars, this fact suggests an objection to the traditional view that Matthew was composed by one of Jesus’s original Jewish disciples.

According to this objection, if the author of the first Gospel were really Jesus’s original disciple, Matthew, it seems he would not have chosen to rely on the Gospel of Mark since, according to the traditional view, the author of Mark was not an eyewitness to Jesus’s ministry while the disciple Matthew was. Wouldn’t Matthew prefer his own eyewitness account to the account of a non-eyewitness? Continue reading

Who Wrote the Gospel according to Matthew?

Levis jeans red tab

Photo credit: Grailed

Last time, I looked at the going theory of how the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were composed. I did this to lay some groundwork for my continuing multi-post response to some of the skeptical claims Bart Erhman makes in How Jesus Became God. Specifically, in this series I aim to answer his skepticism about traditional views of the authorship of the four Gospels of the New Testament.

Ehrman thinks the Gospels were composed by Christians “of a later generation” who wrote after (or almost after) Jesus’s original disciples had died, thereby casting doubt on the connection between the Gospel accounts and the historical Jesus.

In contrast, I think there are good reasons to believe traditional accounts according to which the Gospels were composed by original disciples of Jesus or those close to them. I’ve already argued this point for Mark. Today, I’ll begin to argue it for Matthew. (It will take me two posts to complete the argument.)

As for my examination of Mark’s authorship, I won’t try to definitively settle the question of who wrote Matthew; given the nature of the evidence, I’m not sure that’s even possible. Rather, I’ll just try to show the plausibility of the traditional view.

Internal Evidence

The Gospel according to Matthew was written anonymously—the author nowhere references himself or herself in the document. However, the style and content of the Gospel give us some clues about the author. Continue reading

How to Write a Gospel: Borrow + Edit = Scripture

Woman Four Fingers

Photo by Tom Plouff on Unsplash

Do the four Gospels of the New Testament accurately represent the historical ministry of Jesus? The case that they do would seem more plausible if the Gospels were authored by eyewitnesses of Jesus’s ministry, or at least by those closely connected to them.

The traditional view is that, in fact, the Gospels’ were authored by such people. As I suggested in my last post, it seems plausible to attribute the Gospel according to Mark (“Mark”) to a close associate of the Apostle Peter. Similarly, traditionalists hold that the Gospel according to Matthew (“Matthew”, or the “first Gospel”) was composed by one of Jesus’s original disciples, Matthew the tax collector, mentioned in Matthew 9:9 and 10:3Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, and Acts 1:13.

In chapter 3 of How Jesus Became God, Bart Ehrman rejects this traditional view. He claims that the authors of the Gospels were Christians “of a later generation” who wrote after (or almost after) Jesus’s original disciples had died, thereby casting doubt on the connection between the Gospel accounts and the historical Jesus.

In this post, I continue a series in which I respond to Ehrman’s skeptical claims. (If you’d like to read from the beginning, the series starts here.) In my next post, I plan to defend the traditional view of the authorship of Matthew.

However, first I need to lay a little groundwork by explaining the dominant view of the literary relationships between the canonical Gospels, which I will do in this post. The Gospels are very similar in many ways, and yet they are so different…How should we explain those facts? Continue reading

Who Wrote the Gospel according to Mark?

Basilica di San Marco, Venice

Basilica di San Marco, Venice. Photo credit: Ricardo André Frantz, 2005.

According to the traditional view, the four Gospels in the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (the “canonical” Gospels)—were written either by eyewitnesses to Jesus’s ministry or by those closely connected with eyewitnesses. For example, on the traditional view the Gospel according to Mark (“Mark” or the “second Gospel”) was written by a personal secretary to the Apostle Peter—one of Jesus’s original disciples.

In Chapter 3 of How Jesus Became God, Bart Ehrman raises doubts about this traditional view. As I noted in my last post, Ehrman argues that the authors of the Gospels were Christians “of a later generation” who wrote after (or almost after) Jesus’s original disciples had died. But, if the authors of the Gospels were not closely connected to Jesus or his disciples in time and space, as Ehrman suggests, then it looks less plausible to attribute the content of the Gospels to the historical Jesus.

In this post I will begin responding to Ehrman’s argument about the authorship of the Gospels by considering who wrote Mark. Continue reading

The Historicity of the Gospels: Bart Ehrman’s Skeptical View

The Four Evangelists, by Jacob Jordaen

The Four Evangelists, by Jacob Jordaens (Louvre Museum)

In Chapter 3 of How Jesus Became God, Bart Ehrman begins with a story from his days as a student at Moody Bible Institute in the 1970s. He tells how, as part of the practical Christian ministry component of his education, he served as a youth pastor at a church in a suburb of Chicago and developed a close mentoring relationship with the senior pastor there.

At that time, Moody was a bastion of Christian Fundamentalism—a late-19th- and 20th-century reaction to liberal currents in Protestant theology. Protestant liberals sought to adapt their theology to developments in the sciences and social sciences, including critical historical analysis of the Bible and evolutionary theory. Fundamentalists rejected this adaptation in favor of biblical literalism and an affirmation of the inerrancy of the Bible.

After his Fundamentalist beginnings, Ehrman pursued advanced degrees at Princeton Theological Seminary. He recounts how, during those studies, he came to doubt some of the central tenets of orthodox Christian theology, including the divinity of Jesus. He was impressed by the fact that Jesus is only rarely referred to as divine in the New Testament, and that Jesus only ever refers to himself as divine in the Gospel of John—the historicity of which is often viewed as dubious.

While wrestling with these doubts, he returned to Chicago to visit his former pastor, in the hope of receiving some guidance. The pastor responded by encouraging him to “hold on to the basics,” and by quoting Jesus’s claim in the Gospel of John, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Ehrman responded, “But what if Jesus never said that?” Continue reading

…and then the apostle Paul sent the slave back to his master

Paul writing from prison

Image credit: Dr. Jeffrey and Angie Goh

During the struggle for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the New Testament letter to Philemon was used by slaveholders and slave traders to justify their wicked practices (Thompson).

Sometime in the middle of the first century, the apostle Paul sent the letter to Philemon, a wealthy Christian slaveholder who hosted a church at his house in Colossae. The occasion for the letter was Paul’s encounter with Philemon’s slave, Onesimus, who had run away from Philemon, found Paul in prison, and become a Christian under Paul’s influence. Paul sent both Onesimus and the letter to Philemon to persuade him to welcome Onesimus generously and not harshly: “welcome him as you would welcome me,” Paul writes in verse 17.

The “Traditional” Reading

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, those who claimed to be Christians and favored slavery saw in the letter scriptural evidence that Paul did not object to slavery, and thus justification for their continued practice of it. On this “traditional” reading, Paul is concerned that he has been harboring a slave who has done something illegal according to Roman law (running away), and thus Paul is motivated by a legal obligation to send Onesimus back.

If this account is correct, then Paul felt some obligation to uphold the institution of slavery, indicating that he did not see it as wrong. Continue reading

Prayer at School

Prayer in public schools

Image credit: True Way Church

I recently got a spammy chain-letter-style Facebook message from a professing Christian with whom my only contact has ever been on social media. The message seemed to have been sent to his entire list of “friends”. Among other things, the message complained we have excluded God from our schools by banning prayer, and that events like school shootings and terrorist attacks are the result: God is a “gentleman,” said the message, so God will step out of the way, withholding his protection, if we ask God to.

The message was not the first time I’ve encountered this kind of position, and not the first time I’ve been bugged by it. There were too many troubling claims in the message to tackle all at once, so I thought, today, I’d address the question of prayer at school.

What, exactly, is the problem?

What position does my Facebook friend advocate, exactly? Continue reading

White Collar Sweatshops and Communism for the Rich: The View from Vietnam

Image credit: Odyssey

There is something deeply right and beautiful about the principle, “From each according to her ability, to each according to her need.” To the extent that this principle encapsulates the doctrine of communism, I’m a communist at heart.

I see this sort of economic arrangement in the following passage from the New Testament Book of Acts (2:44-45): “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” The picture here is of a community in which people give what they have generously, property is considered communal, and everyone’s needs are met.

The trouble with living out this sort of example is Continue reading

Finding Forgiveness in Vietnam

I came to Vietnam seeking forgiveness.

Around 1970, when my father was about to be drafted and sent to war in Vietnam, he and my mother hurriedly married and headed for Canada. Two years later I was born in North Vancouver, British Columbia, an American born abroad. After 18 years in Canada, I migrated to the San Francisco Bay Area—the place where my father spent much of his youth, and where many of his family members still lived at the time. Though on the surface this move was for university and athletics, in retrospect I believe I was drawn south by a deeper unconscious desire to understand my Americanness.

When I recently learned of a need for workers from my company to travel to Vietnam, this same desire caused my insides to leap. I volunteered as quickly as I could. Something inside me longed to push yet farther into my own history by visiting a country I knew little of, yet that had so profoundly shaped me and my family. There was something I needed in Vietnam. Continue reading

Saigon: City of the Scooter

Saigon Scooters

I’m working in Saigon (officially Ho Chi Minh City) for a couple of weeks on a project. Work has been pretty demanding, so I haven’t seen much of the city yet, but one thing is very clear: in Saigon, the scooter is king.

Every morning and evening our team is shuttled between our work site and our hotel in a private van—driven by someone else, thank heaven! On these journeys we are surrounded by streams of scooters going every which way. I would guess that the ratio of scooters to non-scooters on the road is at least 10 to 1.

In traffic, I feel like a blood cell, traveling out through an artery and back through a vein, surrounded by other blood cells and platelets, swirling and flowing around me. The traffic is dynamic, alive, and organic. It seems like chaos at first, but in fact there is an underlying order to it, and accidents are very rare. Everyone is following the path of least resistance, people drive slower, and it all somehow works. Things I’ve marveled at in traffic: Continue reading