Alpha Christianity


Mark has its interpolations and its compositional strata; Luke must be construed as having been formed in three phases, of which the last (reflecting the separation of Christians from the synagogues, c85) must be dated much later than the first. Three-phase theories of John are now openly advocated. Of the Gospels, only Matthew shows no internal sign of a formation process, and was presumably written at one time, by one person. Who that person was cannot be addressed on this page.

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Chronology of Matthew

Gundry has argued, in our view cogently (Matthew 599-609, partly addressed, but even in those points not convincingly refuted, by Davies and Allison 1/127-132), that Matthew is a pre-70 production. That would agree with its failure to mention the destruction of Jerusalem. (When an Evangelist wants to allude, by way of prophecy, to the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, he does so in the manner of Luke 21:20). If Matthew is in fact pre-70, it cannot be long before 70; it appears to be part of the wave of writing that soon followed the deaths of Paul (c60) and Peter (c64), events which brought the Apostolic period to an end, and forced the Christians to cope with a new situation. This was a time when new authorities had to be created, including new Gospel authorities, to replace the now absent Apostles and the now outdated Gospel of Mark. Matthew and Luke, which though theologically antithetical are obviously closely related, are the Gospel portion of this activity. (The writing of at least the earliest pseudoPauline epistles reflect the Epistle portion). We copy here the chronology of the Gospels arrived at on the Luke page, and based on the model of a three-stage Luke:

The three phases of Luke intersect with Mark and Matthew, and with external events, in this way:

Caligula threatens desecration of the Temple, reflected in Mk 13:14f (summer 40)
Mark (finished c45)
Death of Paul and Peter: End of the Apostolic Age (c65)
Luke A (c66): The Theology of Poverty
Matthew (c68)
Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by Titus (70)
Luke B = Acts I (c72): The Gentile Mission / A Revisionist Paul
Birkat ha-Minim: formal separation of Christians from Jewish synagogues (c85)
Luke C = Acts II (c87): The separation reflected in an addition to Acts and some small additions to Luke

Structure of Matthew

There are several obviously intentional points of structure in Matthew, both of which were observed in the early 20c.

Ten Scripture Quotations, following an episode and marking it as a fulfilment of Scripture, which is then quoted. Eleven were recognized by Allen in 1907 (3ed 1912, lxi-lxii), but one of these (Mt 2:6) is simply a prediction by a character in the story, and not an editorial interpretation of a preceding story. Allen could find no Scriptural source for Mt 2:23; Gundry (ad loc) has shown that this is a distributive quote. The resulting ten are:

1:22, 2:15, 2:17, 2:23, 4:14, 8:17, 12:17, 13:35, 21:4, 27:9

They are not dispersed evenly throughout the Gospel, and have no structural function. They occur instead at points which the author was concerned to emphasize as Scriptural fulfilment. Some of them (and some OT quotations elsewhere in Matthew) show contact with the Hebrew text of the OT, and not exclusively with the otherwise standard Septuagint. It was perhaps this feature of Hebraisms in Matthew's OT predictions about Jesus which led Papias to assert, and others to accept, that Matthew's "oracles" of Jesus were originally in Hebrew, and were translated by Matthew and others. It is more probable that Matthew, like Luke after him (and in imitation of him) sometimes used "Scriptural" language to give extra solemnity and authority to a passage. Matthew's extensive representation of Jesus as foreseen by, and thus embedded in, Jewish tradition is part of his general Jerusalemic stance. In this and other points, Matthew among the Gospels leans furthest toward Jewish canonical and legal tradition.

Five Discourses, again marked by a common formula of completion, and separated by narrative material, were noticed in antiquity but brought to the attention of modern scholarship by Bacon in 1915. Those Five Discourses, together with the narrative ending and beginning of the Gospel, are as follows:

Infancy Narrative: Mt 1:1-2:23
First Matthean Discourse: Mt 5:1-7:27, exit formula at 7:28 (Sermon on the Mount, < Lk 6 Sermon on the Plain)
Second Matthean Discourse: Mt 9:37-10:42, exit formula at 11:1 (Apostolic Instructions, < Mk 6)
Third Matthean Discourse: Mt 13:1-52, exit formula at 13:53 (Parables of the Kingdom, < Mk 4)
Fourth Matthean Discourse: Mt 18:1-35, exit formula at 19:1 (Type, < Mk 9)
Fifth Matthean Discourse: Mt 24:3-25:46, exit formula at 26:1 (end Predictions, < Mk 13)
Betrayal and Passion Narrative: Mt 26:20-end

This pattern of indebtedness to both Mark and Luke in his Discourses helps to make plausible our suggestion that Luke A (including his Sermon on the Plain) preceded Matthew, and was known to Matthew. For the reverse movement, from Matthew to Luke B, see again the Luke page.

In making up his discourses, Matthew frequently uses passages derived from Mark, and appearing at the appropriate place in his consecutive following of Mark. But it is Matthew's habit not to eliminate the original passage, but rather to duplicated it, usually with slight variations, in its second Discourse location. This has led to the thought that these doublets represent borrowing from two sources, one being Mark and the other being what is usually called Q. This ignores Matthew's habit as a user of Mark, and as a scavenger of material for his Discourses.

Though Matthew follows Mark closely, he also continually revises Mark, and in his own sections he frequently departs from Mark, always in the direction of elaborating, or reinstating, Jewish rules and assumptions which the Markan Jesus had clearly abandoned. In the strict sense of the term, it would be fair to call Matthew reactionary. Its comfort with wealth and with large numbers generally, and its emphasis on the Kingship of Jesus, show a sense of worldly power which contrasts strongly, not only with the simplicity of Jesus, but even more strongly with the theology of poverty in Luke. In this light, Matthew and Luke are contemporaries, but also polar opposites, between them suggesting the variety of positions available to post-Apostolic Christianity. The history of Christianity does not move in a single linear sequence. It is a flow consisting of many rivulets.

Spheres of Influence

Given their very different standpoints within that flow, it is not surprising to find that Matthew and Luke define somewhat distinct spheres of influence. The Gamma Christians of the Gospel of Thomas, whose point of contact was with pre-Resurrection Christianity, show greater preference for Luke, who more completely preserves that tradition. So does the Gospel of John, which develops several Lukan ideas and narratives. For obvious reasons (the wish to produce a Christianity not indebted to Judaism), Marcion adopted Luke and not the more popular Matthew as his chosen Gospel. On the other hand, we have seemingly reliable reports that Matthew was translated into Hebrew for the use of some groups. The Didache, at the end of its evolutionary period, added material from Matthew, some of which it cites as "according to the Gospel." Massaux has shown in great detail how popular and influential Matthew was, already at the end of the 1st century. It is due to this popularity, and specifically to its ecclesiastical appeal, that we owe the fact that the Gospels are presently arranged in chronological order - with the exception of Matthew, who has been moved up to the place of honor at the beginning of the NT canon.

In those early times as more recently, the poor do not vote in these matters, which are decided at the highest administrative levels.

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