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Archive for January, 2012

As I was writing the post for today, I was struck with how much material I am forced to leave out. Most of the subjects I write about are so complex that time and space limitations force me to summarize in ways that must appear simplistic to those who are aware of the issues. I make an attempt at least to summarize the various interpretations. Then, I go on to provide my conclusion. My purpose is not to provide a comprehensive discussion or even defense of all the issues involved. That would require posts much too long to be of benefit or even interest to most of those to whom this blog is addressed. So if you find yourself asking if I am not oversimplifying some of the issues, please know that you are right, and I am painfully aware of that. If you wish to bring up any of these issues in response, please feel free to do so. I will be happy to address them within the limits of my knowledge, as long as we do not get bogged down with them. That being said, today I want us to consider the gospel of Matthew.

Matthew is the only one of the gospels consistently linked to one of the twelve apostles (we will deal with John a little later). Tradition says that it was written by Matthew, the tax collector, one of the twelve apostles. Let me remind you that nowhere does the gospel itself ever make this claim, so there is no question of honesty or inspiration involved in the question. We are simply looking at the evidence.

The earliest source we have for the authorship of Matthew once again is Papias, whom we referred to in the discussion about Mark. Here is what Papias says about Matthew. “So Matthew composed the oracles in the Hebrew language and each person interpreted them as best he could” (Michael W. Holmes. The Apostolic Fathers).

Remember that Papias probably wrote @ AD 120-140, certainly early enough for ancient (and accurate) traditions to have been preserved. At the same time, we must recognize that this quotation reveals very little. It is even hard to understand just what Papias is trying to say. At the very least it indicates that whatever Matthew wrote was not simply a coherent gospel that was transmitted pretty much as written. Papias indicates that whatever lies behind Matthew as we have it was first written in Hebrew (or perhaps Aramaic) and that it was translated in a variety of ways.

Many scholars discount what Papias says and date Matthew to late in the first century, anywhere from AD 80-100. Part of the reasoning for a later date is the recognition that Matthew apparently used the gospel of Mark as one of his sources (as did Luke). Also, the Greek gospel of Matthew as we have it does not show signs of being a translation from Hebrew.

First of all, while it would be unwise to accept what Papias says uncritically, it is just as wrong simply to reject his account out-of-hand. Papias is, after all, the earliest witness we have. I see no reason to deny that the apostle Matthew in some form lies behind the gospel as we have it. At the same time, there is every reason to believe that the origin of the gospel is more complex than that. As I said in an earlier post, the fact that our gospel used Mark as one of his sources does not mean it could not go back to an eyewitness. People who write eyewitness accounts (including me) rely on other sources to fill in where necessary.

Matthew, in the form we have it, also preserves a very Jewish flavor. It is a coherent presentation of the theme of what Matthew refers to as “the Kindom of God.” For this reason, it is likely that Matthew goes back to someone very knowledgeable of Jewish religion and customs.

While the gospels tell us that Matthew was a hated tax collector, that very occupation would require him to be able to converse and write in both Aramaic and Greek. As with most male Jews, he would probably have some knowledge of Hebrew as well. What Papias refers to as the “oracles” (“logia” in Greek) may refer to a collection of the sayings of Jesus written by Matthew. Look at a red-letter edition of Matthew. Jesus says more in Matthew than any of the other gospels. It is also organized in sections. We have the Sermon on the Mount, many of the parables are arranged together, as with many of the miracles. It is as if Matthew is divided into sections that are topical, not chronological.

So here in summary is my position. I do believe that our gospel goes back to a Hebrew or Aramaic document written by the apostle Matthew. At the same time, at some point Matthew or someone else took this material, and I am guessing between AD 70-80 wrote in Greek the gospel we have now. To repeat what I said earlier, this should not be a matter of faith. Once again, I have left myself open to strong disagreement from both conservative and liberal positions. So be it. This is simply how I see the evidence at this point. Next year I may well understand it differently.

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Some people who do not have a Kindle or a Kindle app have asked if my novel was available in paperback. It is now. Right now you can buy it in one of two places. I have an e-store which you can access at:

https://www.createspace.com/3765929

 

You can also buy it through Amazon at:

http://www.amazon.com/Time-Ship-Gary-Cottrell/dp/0615588492/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1327664583&sr=8-5

 

The cost is $13.95 either place, although you can get free shipping through Amazon if your total order is over $25.00.

The Kindle is still $.99, so that is still the best way to go.

 

 

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Tyndale New Testament 1536

William Tyndale was almost certainly the most influential person in the history of the Bible in English. I believe his importance for the development of the English language goes far beyond that. In a future post, I hope to have more to say about Tyndale, but for today I would like to provide a link to an article that gives a very good short account of the importance of William Tyndale for the English language. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read this very fine article.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-teems/william-tyndale-bible-translation_b_1195439.html?ref=religion&ncid=edlinkusaolp00000008

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While we can never be certain about the authorship of the gospel of Mark, we can and should consider the evidence and come to a conclusion, even if it is a tentative one.

We can say with some confidence that the gospel was written no later than AD 70 and possibly as early as 60. It is therefore within the lifetime of people who had known Jesus. We also know that in the early second century Papias attributed the authorship to a man named Mark and said that he received his information from the apostle Peter.

I see no compelling reason to deny that someone named Mark wrote the gospel that bears his name. the titles to all four of our gospels go back as far as any of the manuscript evidence we have, and there exists no reason to question that it reflects a tradition older than our manuscripts. None of the ancient writings contest the authors of the gospels. Also, while Mark is a common name, there would seem to be little reason for someone to write the gospel and attach the name of Mark to it. There was no apostle named Mark. Indeed, the name is so obscure that we cannot say for certain to whom it refers. Therefore, it appears reasonable to assume that someone named Mark wrote the gospel attributed to him.

But who was Mark? Ah, that is a question that has fascinated Christians throughout the centuries. My conclusion (as I have already stated) is that we cannot know for certain. While recognizing that limitation, I would like to consider one possibility and the implications for the gospel of Mark if it is true.

The only Mark we know about in the New Testament is a man named John Mark. We talked about him in the previous post. At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, Mark would probably have been either a child or a teenager. Dating is uncertain, but by the time he has his confrontation with Paul in Acts 15.37-39 he was likely a young man. From what we read in Acts 12, he was living in Jerusalem.

There is a tradition that the Last Supper took place at the home of Mark’s parents. While most traditions having to do with locations should be dismissed as legends, an article some years ago in Biblical Archaeology Review actually supported the traditional location of the site of the Last Supper (although the building there dates from much later). I am setting you up to consider one specific incident in Mark.

The gospel of Mark is noted for being short and lacking in details; however, it contains a story that is found in none of the other gospels. In Mark 14.51-52 we read of a young man in the Garden of Gethsemane who loses his garment in his rush to get away from the soldiers sent to arrest Jesus. Earlier commentaries speculated that this was the gardener, who had come to see what the commotion was about. This seems unlikely. After all, he would have a legitimate reason to be there and should be in no danger. The question arises. What if this is Mark himself? Is it possible that Mark (and only Mark) inserts this story, because it was so important to him?

All this is speculation certainly, but it raises an intriguing possible answer to a question that I have never heard asked. If no one was awake in the Garden of Gethsemane, how do we know what Jesus prayed? Yes, I know He could have revealed that information after His resurrection, but we don’t see Jesus doing that in other respects.

We need to understand that in the ancient world, people did not read silently, nor did they pray silently. So, if Jesus was praying, He was probably praying aloud. What if the young Mark was disturbed when soldiers came to the Upper Room. He might have gone out to warn Jesus. Finding Jesus praying alone, Mark would have heard His words and recorded them for us.

I must admit this is all highly speculative, but it is intriguing to think about it, and it helps bring the story alive in ways that a dry study never could. Did John Mark write the gospel that bears his name? I do not know. I do believe it is possible, and I tend to think so.

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