Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Ancient Testimony to Matthew's Gospel"

"Ancient Testimony to Matthew's Gospel" Wenham, pp. 116-135

It is appropriate to consider ancient sources of information about pieces of ancient literature.

p. 117 "The fathers regularly make the following points:
1.) Matthew the tax-collector, otherwise known as Levi, one of the twelve, was the author.
2.) His was the first gospel to be written.
3.) He wrote for Hebrews in the Hebrew language (and in the Hebrew script)."

Wehnam goes on to quote and summarize testimony of Papias, Irenaeus, Pantaenus, Origen, Eusebius, Epiphanius, and Cyril of Jerusalem. He observes that similar testimony continues through the early and later fathers.

p. 119 "To begin with, the references to Jewish Christian gospels in the fathers and in later writers form a notoriously complex study concerning which no consensus has yet emerged." Church fathers often did not refer to a book specifically by name. They also had a tendency to refer to one book by any of several names. Citations were often made from memory, as paraphrases, so it is sometimes difficult to find the kind of evidence which modern historians would like. pp. 120-121 "But, while it is possible to find arguments that whittle away the whole tradition, it needs to be remembered that these arguments only open up the possibility that all came from a single erroneous source, they constitute no proof." We cannot find an autograph manuscript of any New Testament text, nor could we definitively prove that a purported autograph from the middle of the first century was either truly original or falsified. We are left then with tradition. p. 121 "As far as we know, there was only one tradition known to scholars and historians of the early and medieval church which they considered worth recording, and we need not lightly assume that it all sprang from an erroneous statement of one denigrated Phrygian bishop which obliterated knowledge of the true facts."

Papias, who lived and worked near the end of the first century and beginning of the second century may well have written his observations about the origin of the Gospels very shortly after the apostolic period, possibly during the lifetime of John. Papias' information about the origin of Matthew's gospel purports to come from John the "presbyter" who may be identified with the apostle or may be identified with a follower of one or more of the apostles. He clearly identifies that Matthew wrote a gospel.

p. 125 "Four means have been used to discredit his testimony:
1.) insistence of Matthew's derivation from Mark;
2.) emphasis on the ambivalence of Eusebius;
3.) attempted explanations of how Papias got it wrong;
4.) attempted reinterpretations of Papias.

Matthew's Use of Mark
p. 125 "Modern critical opinion has for a long time been almost unanimous that Papias was wrong - certainly about the first gospel being originally in Hebrew and probably about Matthew being the author. This derives principally from the vast measure of assent given to the theory that our Greek Matthew was based on the Greek Mark. This makes it impossible to believe that Matthew is a translation from a Semitic original, and difficult to believe that it is the work of an eyewitness apostle."

The ambivalence of Eusebius
Eusebius was not enthusiastic of Papias, attributing to him millennarian attitudes and tending to erode impressions of Papias' intelligence. Eusebius takes this to an extreme as he attempts to show that Papias' identification of a separate apostle John and a presbyter John was in error. Yet Papias has said what he has said. p. 128 "Papias claimed (and why should we doubt him?) that he made it his practice to get his information from those who had got it direct from the apostles, a good deal of it before the last of those who had accompanied Jesus were dead, and some of it may well have come from the apostle John himself." p. 128 "There is no alternative tradition about the authorship of Matthew's gospel, as there is in the case of hebrews, nor was there doubt of its apostolic authorship, as htere was in the case, for instance, of 2 Peter."

Attempts to explain how Papias got his ideas wrong
Scholars in the past 150 years have emphasized that the composition of a gospel by one of the apostles seemingly of lesser importance is unlikely. They have also tried to tie Papias' statemtn of what Matthew wrote to something other than a gospel account, something more like a collection of the sayings of Jesus which may have been lost by now.

Attempst to reinterpret Papias' expression Ἑβραίδι διαλέκτῳ
Papias was a rhetorician. It is quite possible that he would have taken the term "in the Hebrew dialect" to mean "following a Hebraic style." Yet Eusebius may well have taken the term to mean "in the Hebrew language," i.e., "in Aramaic." This is a debate which is not easily resolved. There is evidence that Matthew is written in a rather sophisticated style, consistent with a text written in Greek, not translated from Hebrew. Yet there are Hebraic elements evident in the composition. The tax collector Levi would certainly have been someone of adequate education to make good notes and communicate effectively in Aramaic, Greek, and Latin. There is therefore no reason to reject any of the possible scenarios of composition.

While there was only one written gospel there would be no reason to attach a name to it. As soon as there were two a name would become important. Books in antiquity were generally titled with the name of the author in genitive, for example, "of Plato" followed by a brief title, for example, "Physics." However, the gospels never circulated with titles of this sort. They appear to have assumed the word "gospel" then they were identified by a prepositional phrase, "according to Matthew." This may well have been a scribal practice, typical for putting a label on a scroll to identify the contents readily. The titles are uniform for as long as we have found titles. There is no evidence that any of the gospels ever circulated under any other name. This should bear some weight in a discussion of the origin of a text.

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