Evidence that Matthew the Apostle did NOT write the Gospel of Matthew

Copied from:  Rejecting Pascal’s Wager

Having seen (in the last post) that the author of Mark could not have been the John Mark, the interpreter of Peter and the companion of Paul and Barnabas, we will see here that:

  • Matthew could not have been written by the apostle of that name.


Matthew did not write Matthew

 
The gospel of Matthew is an anonymous work. Nowhere in the gospel does the author identify himself. The attribution of its authorship to the apostle Matthew cannot be traced earlier than Irenaues in 180 CE. The earlier attestation of Papias (c. 130-150 CE) refers to a different document and cannot be taken as an actual reference to the gospel we now know as Matthew. [We provide a more detailed analysis of this tradition elsewhere in this website.]

Today it is considered a settled issue among critical historical scholars that author of the first gospel, whoever he was, was definitely not the apostle Matthew. [1] [For ease of reference we will continue to refer to this “anonymous author of the third gospel” as “Matthew”.] Let us review the main reasons why:

 

Matthew’s Use of Mark

The most important issue is in Matthew’s use of Mark. We have demonstrated elsewhere that Matthew copied extensively from the second gospel in the canon. We have also shown that the author of the gospel of Mark was neither an eyewitness, nor a native of Palestine nor even a close acquaintance of an apostle. Thus the reliance of a supposed eye-witness on the accounts of a non-eyewitness at least three times removed from the original eye-witnesses (i.e. eye-witnesses – oral tradition – written sources – Mark) is , in the words of Raymond E. Brown, a conservative Catholic theologian, simply “implausible”. [2]

The changes in details that Matthew made of Mark is not that of any eye-witness, but betrays one with a theological agenda. As J.C. Fenton noted in his commentary on Matthew:

[A] study of Matthew’s use of his sources does not show us a man correcting one source from first hand knowledge of events. In the author of this Gospel, we have an editor, an arranger of material, rather than someone who is revising in the light of accurate historical information. [3]
 

Let us take a few examples here. The most obvious is in the call to discipleship of Matthew.

Mark 2:14-15 (Luke 5:27-29)
And as he passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he sat at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were sitting with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him.
 
Matthew 9:9-10
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me,” he told him. And he rose and followed him. And as he sat at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples.

Note that the only change is the name of the person called, from Levi to Matthew. If the gospel of Matthew really was written by the apostle of that name, one would expect a vivid eye-witness account of his own personal call to discipleship. Yet, all we have is a slavish and wooden word-for-word copying of Mark. This is, according to Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar, “difficult to believe” if the author was actually Matthew. [4]

In the episode on the triumphal entry, Mark (11:1-11) [also Luke 19:29-35 and John 12:12-16] had Jesus entering Jerusalem riding on a young donkey. Matthew (21:1-7) had Jesus perform the impossible task of sitting on two donkeys! This, of course, cannot be an eye-witness account. The change was made because the author of this gospel misunderstood Zechariah 9:9 to mean that Jesus had to ride in on two donkeys. [We have analyzed this in detail elsewhere.] Similarly in the crucifixion scene, his changing Mark’s (15:23) myrrh to gall (Matthew 27:34) was clearly done to “fulfil” an Old Testament prophecy (Psalm 69:21). [5] Another important piece of evidence is the case of the story of John the Baptist’s martyrdom. The story is told in Mark 6:17-30 but retroactively. This can be seen from Mark 6:14-16 where Herod feared that Jesus was John the baptist raised from the dead. The story that followed this retroactive tale was the feeding of the five thousand(Mark 31:44) which chronologically follows Herod’s hearing about Jesus (Mark 6:14). Matthew’s fondness for adding connective links between the individual episodes provided in Mark led him to make a mistake here. Although he copied Mark’s remark about Herod having already killed John (Matthew 14:2), he did not notice that in Mark the feeding of the five thousand did not take place immediately after John was buried, but later than that and therefore erroneously added the connecting link “Now when Jesus heard this [about the burial of John], he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart.” (Matthew 14:13). This was the beginning of the feeding of the five thousand in Mark. Any eye-witness would never have made such a mistake. But a non eye-witness hurriedly copying his source certainly might! [6]

 

The Form, Content and Structure

Many other details in the gospels excludes the possibility that its author was the apostle Matthew.

  • Both the Greek literary style and the gospel’s use of earlier Greek sources (Mark and Q means that the gospel was originally written in Greek. Something unlikely to have come from a Palestinian Jew like Matthew. [7]
  • As many scholars have pointed out the structural form of the gospel is systematic and artificial. Matthew had essentially inserted five chunks of sayings materials (Matthew Chapters: 5-7; 9-10; 13; 18; 23-25), mostly from Q, into the Markan narrative. Such a structure is non-biographical and weighs against the gospel being the work of an eye-witness. [8]

The theology in Matthew is such that would be relevant only to Christians living around the turn of the first century. For instance his emphasis on church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20) does not make sense within the context of the times of Jesus. This makes sense only at a time when the church was more fully developed. [9]

Conclusion on the Authorship of Matthew

The first gospel in the canon could not have been written by the apostle Matthew because:

  • It relied heavily in the work of a non-eyewitness (Mark)
  • The changes it made to the accounts in Mark are not what one would expect from an eye-witness
  • It was written in Greek and relied on Greek sources (Mark and Q)
  • It’s structure is artificial and speaks against it being autobiographical.
  • It’s theology is more suited to the situation facing the church around 80-100 CE.

Back to the top

References

1. Barr, New Testament Story: p277
Bentley, Secrets of Mount Sinai: p142
Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: p210-211
Ehrmann, The New Testament: p84
Kümmel, Introduction to the New Testament: p120-121
Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament?: p162
Martin, New Testament Foundations I: p238-240
Parmalee, Guidebook to the Bible: p103
Schenelle, The New Testament Writings: p219-220
Wilson, Jesus: The Evidence: p34
2. Brown, op. cit.: p210-211
Ehrmann, op. cit.: p84
Kümmel, op. cit.: p120-121
Schenelle, op. cit.: p219-220
3. Fenton, Saint Matthew: p14
4. Ehrman, op.cit.: p84
5. Fenton, op. cit.: p18
6. Kümmel, op. cit.: p107
7. Koester, op. cit.: p316-318
Kümmel, op. cit.: p121
Sanders & Davies, op. cit.: p10
8. Barr, op. cit.: 253
Fenton, op. cit.: p15
Kümmel, op. cit.: p106-107, 121
9. Martinop.cit.: p242
Kümmel, op. cit.: p121

[Home] [The Central Thesis] [Christianity] [The Bible] [Jesus] [Paul] [God] [History] [Pascal’s Wager] [Bibliography] [Links]
© Paul N. Tobin 2000For comments and queries, e-mail Paul Tobin

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s