Saturday, February 5, 2011

Matthew's Book of Jesus' Sayings

Early in the second century, Papias of Hierapolis (from the Roman province of Asia) reported that, while Mark wrote down the things that Jesus said and did, Matthew made an ordered arrangement of Jesus' sayings, "which each person interpreted as best he could." This suggests that Matthew's book of Jesus' sayings was somewhat different in style from Mark's Gospel. Papias evidence also suggests that Matthew's book of Jesus' sayings had not been lost, but rather had been used by other writers for their own purposes. Obviously, the first place we should look for Matthew's book of Jesus' sayings is in the Gospel of Matthew itself.

Indeed, we can discover the content of Matthew's book of Jesus' sayings, since it is possible to remove from the Gospel of Matthew those parts that are clearly taken from the Gospel of Mark. We are not going to far if we say that most of the text that remains from the Gospel of Matthew was originally derived from Matthew's book of Jesus' sayings.

The writer of the Gospel of Matthew did not substantially change most of the text of the material borrowed from the Gospel of Mark. In general, he even followed the same sequence, inserting the Markan material in blocks in the same order as it is found in the Gospel of Mark. So, if the writer of the Gospel of Matthew dealt with Matthew's book of Jesus' sayings in the same way as he dealt with the Gospel of Mark, one can expect that he did not change it very much, at least in terms of the actual content. This gives us confidence that we can reconstruct the text of Matthew's book of Jesus' sayings from the Gospel of Matthew, just by removing the Markan elements in the Gospel of Matthew, and noting the way in which the author of the Gospel of Matthew dealt with these Markan elements.

Having carried out this task, the content of Matthew's book of Jesus' sayings is likely to have been as follows:
  • Preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus' baptism.
  • Temptations of Jesus.
  • Sermon on the Mount.
  • Healing and teaching.
  • Teaching in Jerusalem.
  • Jesus' passion.
  • Jesus' burial and resurrection.
In regard to the Sermon on the Mount, while Jesus could have delivered this teaching all at the one time, it is more likely that the account has been supplemented by teaching that was delivered on other occasions. In any event, Jesus would have gone over the same teaching many times in his three years of ministry, in different places, and in different circumstances.

The inclusion of the range of material listed here is not surprising, even though it was called a "book of sayings." As F.F. Bruce observed, in his The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable? (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1960), pp.38-40, the "sayings" attributable to Matthew seem to follow the pattern of the Old Testament prophets. These works usually included an account of the prophet's call to prophesy, and then went on record their prophecies and the circumstances in which the prophecies were delivered. Similarly, it would be inexplicable for an early Christian to have omitted any reference to Jesus' passion and resurrection, and to have omitted the speeches and teaching surround these events.

While the Gospel of Matthew has been traditionally attributed to Matthew, there is nothing in the text itself that indicates this. Instead, it is clear, and relatively uncontroversial, that Matthew, one of the twelve disciples, did not write the work called the "Gospel of Matthew." Almost half of the work consists of direct borrowings from the Gospel of Mark, and it is unlikely that an eyewitness of the events would choose to borrow so extensively from a work written by someone else who was not himself a direct eyewitness.

However, it is likely that Matthew wrote the text identified here as "Jesus' sayings," which represents most of that part of the Gospel of Matthew that has not been drawn from the Gospel of Mark. It was probably on the basis of the substantial use of Matthew's work that led to the Gospel of Matthew, in its current form, being attributed to Matthew.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

There are two basic models used to explain the origin of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life. The first model is that the Gospel stories arose out of the collective memory of the Christian community. Under this model, it is argued that the Gospel stories circulated in the Christian community, creating a kind of "Jesus tradition," which was later encapsulated by the Gospel writers, probably at a time when all the original eyewitnesses had died.

However, the evidence does not support this model. It is much more likely that the four Gospel accounts were more directly linked to specific eyewitness accounts of the events described.

The case for the Gospels representing eyewitness testimony has been made most recently by Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006). This work sets a new standard in the analysis of the Gospel accounts. Written from a scholarly evangelical perspective, it evaluates the evidence supporting the argument that the Gospels were written from eyewitness accounts.

This case begins with the argument that Papias, a Christian writer from the early second century AD (from Hierapolis in the old Roman province of Asia), said that he had been told that Matthew had written down a book of Sayings of Jesus in the Hebrew dialect (that is, in the Aramaic language spoken in Palestine), "but each person interpreted them as best he could."  Matthew's Book of Jesus' Sayings stands in place of the mysterious Q source that scholars have been seeking to find (by textual analysis of Matthew, Luke and the Gospel of Thomas) for the last one hundred years. 

Papias also indicated that Mark was the interpreter of Peter, and that Mark's purpose in writing his Gospel was to faithfully reproduce the substance of what Peter said about Jesus' life and words.
Matthew's Gospel was not itself an eyewitness account, but it was based upon two eyewitness accounts. It appears to have been an edited work, being constructed from Matthew's Book of Jesus' Sayings and from Mark's Gospel. There is no doubt about the influence of Mark's Gospel upon the Gospel of Matthew, since most of Mark's Gospel is reproduced in Matthew. The Markan elements in the Gospel of Matthew are found in the same order as they are found in Mark, with some measure of summarising of the material having been carried out by the "Matthean editor."

It can be argued that most of Matthew and Mark were based on eyewitness accounts. This increases our confidence that they are likely to represent substantially what the two observers at first hand, Matthew and Peter, believed to be a fair testimony to Jesus' life and words.

The situation with the Gospel of Luke is slightly different. The author, most probably Luke, indicated that he approached the matter as a historian would have done, collecting as much evidence as he could from the available sources. A study of the text of Luke indicates that the two main sources for the Gospel of Luke were the book of Matthew's Book of Jesus' Sayings and the Gospel of Mark. However, Luke was not limited to these sources, but referred to other accounts as well, which in turn were based on eyewitness accounts. Since it appears that Luke spent time in Palestine during Paul's imprisonment in Palestinian Caesarea (ca. AD 60), it is likely that he collected his sources for his gospel at that time, and that he wrote his two works, the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, when he was in Rome, again accompanying Paul.

Traditionally, the Gospel of John has been attributed to John, the son of Zebedee, one of Jesus' twelve disciples. However, the Gospel of John does not positively identify the author, but rather the author calls himself the "Disciple Jesus loved." It is unlikely that this disciple was the John who was the son of Zebedee, since the Beloved Disciple had a home in Jerusalem (to which he took Jesus' mother after the crucifixion). He is also likely to have been the unnamed disciple who met Jesus with Andrew (John 1:35-42), and the unnamed disciple who went into the high priest's house (John 18:15), and one of the two unnamed disciples who met Jesus at Lake Tiberius (John 21:1-2). Since the fisherman son of Zebedee is unlikely to have had a home in Jerusalem (in addition to his home in Galilee), and to have known the high priest, and to have the facility in Greek and Greek philosophy evident in the Gospel of John, one should abandon the traditional ascription of this work to the John, the son of Zebedee, and instead look for another man named John, who was also a disciple of Jesus.

The work itself supports this argument, since it includes elements, such as Jesus' dialogue with Nicodemus, that indicate the author's access to the higher levels of Judean society, beyond that found in the other three Gospels. The work itself is suggestive of an author who moved in the same circles as Nicodemus.

This brief analysis serves to show that a reasonable argument can be made that all four Gospels were based upon eyewitness testimony, with the fourth Gospel being written in its entirety by an eyewitness.