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Matthew & MarkThe Expositor's Bible Commentary
ZondervanCopyright © 2010 D.A. Carson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMATTHEW D. A. CARSON
1. The Criticism of Matthew
2. History and Theology
3. The Synoptic Problem
7. Place of Composition and Destination
8. Occasion and Purpose
11. Themes and Special Problems
12. Literary Genre
14. Structure and Outline
1. THE CRITICISM OF MATTHEW
The earliest church fathers to mention this gospel concur that the author was the apostle Matthew. Papias's famous statement (cf. section 3) was interpreted to mean, "Matthew composed the Logia [gospel?] in the Hebrew [Aramaic?] dialect and everyone interpreted them as he was able." In other words, the apostle first wrote his gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic, and it was subsequently translated into Greek. Matthean priority was almost universally upheld; Mark was considered an abbreviation and therefore somewhat inferior. These factors-apostolic authorship (unlike Mark and Luke) and Matthean priority-along with the fact that Matthew preserves much of Jesus' teaching not found elsewhere, combined to give this first gospel enormous influence and prestige in the church. With few exceptions, these perspectives dominated gospel study till after the Reformation.
The consensus could not last. An indication of its intrinsic frailty came in 1776 and 1778 when, in two posthumously published essays, A. E. Lessing insisted that the only way to account for the parallels and seeming discrepancies among the Synoptic Gospels was to assume that they all derived independently from an Aramaic "Gospel of the Nazarenes." Others (J. A. Eichorn, J. G. Herder) developed this idea; and the supposition of a "primal gospel," whether oral or literary, began to gain influence. Meanwhile J.J. Griesbach (1745-1812) laid the foundations of the modern debate over the "synoptic problem" (see section 3) by arguing with some care for the priority of both Matthew and Luke over Mark, which was taken to be a condensation of the other two. In the middle of the nineteenth century, many in the Tübingen school adopted this view. As a result, Matthew as an historical and theological source was elevated above the other Synoptics.
By the end of the nineteenth century, a new tide was running. Owing largely to the meticulous work of H.J. Holtzmann (1834-1910), the "two-source hypothesis" gained substantial acceptance. By the beginning of the twentieth century, this theory was almost universally adopted, and subsequent developments were in reality mere modifications of this theory. B. H. Streeter, advocating a "four-source hypothesis" that was essentially a detailed refinement of the two-source theory, argued that Luke's gospel is made-up of a "ProtoLuke" that was filled out with Mark and Q. This raised the historical reliability of Proto-Luke to the same level as Mark. Streeter's hypothesis still has some followers, and today most scholars adopt some form of the two-source theory or the four-source theory. This consensus has recently been challenged (see section 3).
These predominantly literary questions combined with the substantial antisupernaturalism of some critics toward the beginning of the twentieth century to produce various reconstructions of Jesus' life and teaching. During the 1920s and 1930s, the source criticism implicit in these efforts was largely passed by in favor of form criticism. Philologists first applied this method to the "folk literature" of primitive civilizations, especially the Maoris. H. Gunkel and H. Gressmann then used it to classify OT materials according to their "form." New Testament scholars, especially K. L. Schmidt, M. Dibelius, and R. Bultmann, applied the method to the Gospels in an effort to explore the so-called tunnel period between Jesus and the earliest written sources. They began by isolating small sections of the Gospels that they took to be units of oral tradition, classifying them according to form. Only the passion narrative was taken as a connected account from the beginning. Oral transmission was thought to effect regular modifications common to all such literature-e.g., repetition engenders brevity in pronouncement stories and provides names in legends, rhythm and balance in didactic sayings, and multiple details in miracle stories. The form critics then assigned these forms to various Sitze im Leben ("life settings") in the church.
The historical value of any pericope was then assessed against a number of criteria. For instance, the "criterion of dissimilarity" was used to weed out statements attributed to Jesus that were similar to what Palestinian Judaism or early Christianity might have said. Only if a statement was "dissimilar" could it be ascribed with reasonable confidence to Jesus. The net result was a stifling historical skepticism with respect to the canonical gospels. Many scholars used the same literary methods in a more conservative fashion (e.g., V. Taylor's great commentary on Mark); but the effect of form criticism was to increase the distance between our canonical gospels and the historical Jesus, a distance increased further in Matthew's case because of the continued dominance of the two-source hypothesis. Few any longer believed that Matthew the apostle was the first evangelist.
Following World War II a major change took place. Anticipated by George D. Kilpatrick's study, which focused on the distinctives in Matthew's theology, the age of redaction criticism as applied to Matthew began with a 1948 essay by Günther Bornkamm. He presupposed Mark's priority and then in one pericope sought to explain every change between the two gospels as a reflection of Matthew's theological interests and biases. Redaction criticism offered one great advantage over form criticism: it saw the evangelists not as mere compilers of the church's oral traditions and organizers of stories preserved or created in various forms but as theologians in their own right, shaping and adapting the material in order to make their own points.
It became important to distinguish between "traditional" material and "redactional" material, i.e., between what came to the evangelist already formed and the changes and additions he made. In other words, while tradition may preserve authentic historical material, redactional material does not do so. It rather serves as the best way of discerning an evangelist's distinctive ideas. In his meticulous study of one pericope, Bornkamm sought to demonstrate a better method of understanding Matthew's theology-a method that could best be discerned by trying to understand how and why Matthew changed his sources (esp. Mark and Q).
Countless studies poured forth in Bornkamm's wake, applying the same methods to virtually every pericope in Matthew. The translation of redaction-critical studies by G. Bornkamm, G. Barth, and H. J. Held exercised profound influence in the world of New Testament scholarship. In 1963, the first full-scale redaction-critical commentary on Matthew appeared, in which Pierre Bonnard handles his tools fairly conservatively, frequently refusing to comment on historical questions and focusing on Matthew's theology and the reasons (based on reconstructed "life settings") for it. His work, which is immensely valuable, became the forerunner of several later English commentaries (notably David Hill's).
Nevertheless, a rather naive optimism regarding historical reconstruction developed that influenced many writers, who tended to think they could read off from Matthew's redaction the theological beliefs either of Matthew's community or of the evangelist himself as he sought to correct or defend some part of his community. The last four or five decades displayed a wide variety of such reconstructions. Kilpatrick argues that the book is catechetical, designed for the church of Matthew's time. Stendahl thinks the handling of the OT quotations reflects a "school" that stands behind the writing of this gospel, a disciplined milieu of instruction. The major redaction-critical studies attempt to define the historical context in which the evangelist writes-the community circumstances that call this gospel into being (it is thought) between AD 80 and AD 100-and pay little useful attention to the historical context of Jesus. One need only think of such works as those of Trilling, Strecker, Cope, Hare, Frankemölle, and Kunzel, to name a few.
Not all redaction critics interpret Matthew's reconstructed community the same way; indeed, the differences among them are often great. Moreover, some critics have argued that much more material in the Gospels (including Matthew's) is authentic than others have thought. Yet the wide diversity of opinion suggests at least some methodological and presuppositional disarray.
Today arguments that depend almost exclusively on redaction-critical judgments are no longer in vogue. In line with developments that have been taking place across the field of New Testament studies, Matthean scholars reflect the enormous diversity of competing special interests. Redaction criticism competes with numerous other foci of interest, including narrative criticism (with its interest in plot development and characterization), close analysis of this book's literary genre, the nature of oral witness, postfoundational epistemology, an emphasis on the theology of Matthew without bothering to try to sort out historical claims, attempts at delineating the social structures reflected in this gospel (and perhaps calling forth this gospel), and much else. The diversity of approaches is then matched by a diversity of conclusions. Two fairly recent general introductions to Matthew make the point tellingly. They both competently survey the field, but Carter holds that Matthew contains some historically reliable information even though the focus of his work is elsewhere, while Westerholm insists that Matthew is drawing theological and pastoral lessons but sees a much higher place for historical fidelity. Similarly, the most recent commentaries are sharply divided. The major work by Ulrich Luz, reflected also in his brief Studies in Matthew, argues that Matthew is not biography but fictional narrative, while the commentary by R.T. France holds the opposite view.
A modern commentary that aims primarily to explain the text must to some extent respond to current questions, the more so if it adopts a fairly independent stance, for many of these questions significantly affect our understanding of what the text says.
2. HISTORY AND THEOLOGY
Few problems are philosophically and theologically more complex than the possible relationships between history and theology. The broader issues in the tension between these two cannot be discussed here: e.g., How does a transcendent God manifest himself in space-time history? Can the study of history allow, in its reconstructions of the past, for authority and influence outside the space-time continuum? To what extent is the supernatural an essential part of Christianity, and what does it mean to approach such matters "historically"? What are the epistemological bases for a system professing to be revealed religion? Even the titles of recent books about Jesus show the chasm that separates scholar from scholar on these points.
This section will therefore ask some preliminary methodological questions. How appropriate and reliable are the various methods of studying the Gospels if we are to determine not only the theological distinctives of each evangelist but also something of the teaching and life of the historical Jesus? We must begin by avoiding many of the historical and theological disjunctions notoriously common among NT scholars. Consider, for example, the essay by K. Tagama, who arrives at his conclusion that the central theme of Matthew is "people and community" by insisting that all other important themes are mutually contradictory and therefore cancel one another out. But contradiction is a slippery category. As most commonly used in NT scholarship, it does not refer to logical contradiction but to situations, ideas, beliefs that on the basis of the modern scholar's reconstruction of early church history are judged to be mutually incompatible.
Such judgments are only as convincing as the historical and theological reconstructions undergirding them; and too often, historical reconstructions that in many cases have no other sources than the NT documents depend on illicit disjunctions. Did Jesus preach the nearness of the end of history and of the consummated kingdom? Then he could not have preached that the kingdom had already been inaugurated, and elements apparently denying this conclusion obviously spring from the church. Or did Jesus preach that the kingdom had already dawned? Then the apocalyptic element in the Gospels must be largely assigned to the later church. (On this particular problem, see comments at 3:2; 10:23; ch. 24.) Was Jesus a proto-rabbi, steeped in OT law and Jewish tradition? Then Paul's emphasis on grace is entirely innovative. Or did Jesus break Jewish halakah (rules of conduct based on traditional interpretations of the law)? Then clearly Matthew's emphasis on the law (e.g., 5:17-20; 23:1-26) reflects the stance of Matthew's church, or suggests that Matthew wishes to legislate for his church, without helping us come to grips with the historical Jesus. Better yet, Matthew's gospel may even be considered a Jewish-Christian reaction against "Paulinism."
All such disjunctive reconstructions are suspect. Historical "contradictions," as David Fischer has shown, too often reside in the eye of the historian. Strange combinations of ideas may coexist side by side in one generation, even though a later generation cannot tolerate them and therefore breaks them up. So we need to be cautious about pronouncing what ideas can be "historically" incompatible. Acts and the early Pauline epistles show us considerable diversity in the fast-growing infant church, as a number of NT studies attempt to explain.
Reconstruction is a necessary part of historical inquiry. Sometimes meticulous reconstruction from a number of reliable documents shows that some further document is not what it purports to be. But as far as the gospel of Matthew (or any of the canonical gospels) is concerned, we must frankly confess we have no access to the alleged "Matthean [or Markan, Lukan, etc.] community" apart from the individual gospel itself. The numerous studies describing and analyzing Matthew's theology against the background of Christianity and Judaism contemporary with Matthew's "community" in AD 80-100 (e.g., Allison, Carter, Stanton) beg a host of methodological questions. This is not to deny that Matthew's gospel may have been written within a community about AD 80 or may have addressed some such community; rather, is it to argue the following points.
1. What Matthew aims to write is a gospel telling us about Jesus, not a church circular addressing an independently known problem.
2. There is substantial evidence that the early church was interested in the historical Jesus and wanted to know what he taught and why. Equally there is strong evidence that the Gospels constitute, at least in part, an essential element of the church's kerygmatic ministry, its evangelistic proclamation - each gospel having been shaped for particular audiences.
3. It is therefore methodologically wrong to read off some theme attributed by the evangelist to Jesus and conclude that what is actually being discussed is not the teaching of Jesus but an issue of AD 80, unless the theme or saying can be shown to be anachronistic.
4. Matthew's reasons for including or excluding this or that tradition or for shaping his sources must owe something to the circumstances he found himself in and the concerns of his own theology. But it is notoriously difficult to reconstruct such circumstances and commitments from a gospel about Jesus of Nazareth.
5. Moreover, virtually all the themes isolated as reflections of AD 80 could in fact reflect interests of any decade from AD 30 to 100. In the early thirties, for instance, Stephen was martyred because he spoke against the law and the temple. Similar concerns dominated the Jerusalem Council (AD 49) and demanded thought both before and after the Jewish War (AD 66-70). The truth is that such themes as law and temple and even many christological formulations (see section 11) offer very little help in identifying a "life setting" for the church in Matthew's day. Although Matthean scholarship may advance by trying out new theories, no advance that forces a Procrustean synthesis based on methodologically dubious deductions constitutes genuine progress.
For those who are strongly influenced by the rather extreme voices of the "Jesus Seminar," whose members still rely heavily on source criticism and redaction criticism, a few things must be said. This approach to the Gospels has been scrutinized elsewhere (e.g., Carson and the literature cited there); and only a few points need be made here.
Excerpted from Matthew & Mark Copyright © 2010 by D.A. Carson. Excerpted by permission.
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