Why should we believe in the Reliability of the Gospels when the Preeminent Conservative Christian New Testament Scholar states that the Non-Eyewitness Author of the Gospel of Matthew Invented Stories in his Gospel?

 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.  And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.

—the Gospel of Matthew

  As he [Jesus] was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and  sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him.

—the Gospel of Mark

According to preeminent conservative Christian New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, chapter 5), the author of the Gospel of Matthew was not Matthew the Apostle, but an anonymous Christian author writing a Gospel based on accounts/stories which allegedly originated from the Apostle Matthew.  Bauckham believes that this anonymous author knew that the Apostle Matthew was a tax collector, but, did not know the details of Matthew’s calling to be one of the Twelve; he did not know the story of how Jesus came to call upon Matthew to be one of his disciples.

Bauckham believes that the unknown author of the Gospel of Matthew very much wanted a story about the calling of Matthew for the Gospel he was writing; a gospel which he intended to attribute to…the Apostle Matthew (The Gospel “according to” Matthew).  So this anonymous author decided to borrow a story about the calling of another tax collector, Levi, as found in the Gospel of Mark, and insert it into his gospel, creating the fictional calling of Matthew the tax collector and Apostle as found in Matthew chapter 9.

Yet…Bauckham has the audacity to repeatedly assure us in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses that the “eyewitnesses” to the individual stories or vignettes in the Gospels served as “guardians” to the historical integrity of these stories, zealously protecting the historical accuracy of the stories down to the very day that the Evangelists wrote the stories in their Gospels, and, continuing to protect the accuracy of these stories as the Gospels circulated among the churches in the first century.  But to paraphrase Neil Godfrey of Vridar Blog (see his full comments here)Where were Bauckham’s ‘guardians of historical accuracy’ when the author of Matthew was concocting a fictional tall tale about Jesus’ calling of the Apostle Matthew???

Scandalous!  Truly scandalous.

And yet Christian pastors in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and other conservative Christian denominations are still preaching from their pulpits, printing in their church newsletters, and publishing books (such as, “Making the Case for Christianity”), claiming that the Gospels are historically reliable sources of eyewitness testimony!  If the laity of conservative Christian churches only knew how much wool is being pulled over their eyes!

The consensus of New Testament scholars regarding the non-eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is not biased as the LCMS authors of Making the Case for Christianity want us to believe!  One only has to read the scholarship of conservative Christianity’s premier scholar, Richard Bauckham, to see just how correct the consensus of scholars truly is!  The four canonical Gospels of our Bibles are NOT reliable sources of historical information.  Conservative Christian scholars and pastors need to stop their charade that the Gospels are “eyewitness testimony” and start telling their congregations the truth!

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7 thoughts on “Why should we believe in the Reliability of the Gospels when the Preeminent Conservative Christian New Testament Scholar states that the Non-Eyewitness Author of the Gospel of Matthew Invented Stories in his Gospel?

  1. And what is the truth:

    The evidence that eyewitnesses or their close associates wrote the Gospels is very poor to non-existent. And if this is the case, the probability that the supernatural stories (miracles) told in the Gospels such as walking on water and casting demons into swine herds were actual historical events is very low. The evidence suggests that these stories are most probably legends.

    Therefore, a never heard of before or since supernatural event, the resurrection of a dead man, is even more improbable. Without the support of eyewitness testimony, the alleged Resurrection of Jesus is highly, highly improbable.

    The evidence and probability tell us that Jesus is dead.

    If you still want to believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected, go ahead, but believe it by faith. Don’t claim to have “good evidence” for this ancient belief because there is no good evidence. And definitely don’t write a book and state “the evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus is as solid as any fact in the ancient world” as did the LCMS authors of “Making the Case for Christianity”. This statement is either pathetically ignorant or a blatant attempt at deception.

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  2. I know you are calling him the “preeminent” conservative scholar, but I don’t put as much stock in modern theorists. It’s pretty hard to say exactly how things went down in the 1st c. with the gospel writing, and the scholars don’t even have a consensus on the order of the gospels. Bauckham’s theory is based on the premise that Mark wrote the g.Mark first and then Matthew came along and wrote his. But personally I think Matthew was most likely written first, then Luke, and then Mark.

    For all we know, based on some things I read, either Matthew or Matthias could have been collected Jesus’ sayings before the gospels were written (didn’t Papias say that?), and then someone else came along and enlarged it, finalizing it as our modern Gospel of Matthew. And then later Mark came along and wrote his own as a concise abridged version of the gospels.

    Anyway to get back to your blogpost about the Matthew/Levi calling issue, I want to bring your attention to the Gospel of the Hebrews. It’s a pretty interesting document and we only have excerpts from it. It would be quite interesting to see what the whole document said. It looks like it was rejected as heretical or else it was just ignored and treated like a Hebrew language version of g.Matthew.

    Didymus the Blind said about the calling of Matthew:
    ((It seems that in the one according to Luke Matthew is named Levi, but it is not the same [person], but rather the Matthias who was installed instead of Judas and Levi are one [person] with a double name. This appears in the gospel according to the Hebrews. ))

    St. Jerome wrote:
    ((“Matthew, who is also Levi, and from a tax collector came to be an emissary first of all evangelists composed a Gospel of Messiah in Judea in the Hebrew language and letters, for the benefit of those of the circumcision who had believed,”))

    So this might help resolve Bauckham’s confusion about Levi and Matthew that is the basis for his skeptical claim that Matthew didn’t have anything to do with writing Matthew.

    The downside to the “conservative” modern Protestant scholars, despite their knowledge, is that coming from a semi-“Bible-only” tradition, they don’t rely very much on the early Christian writings that would bring out these kinds of facts. The upside of course is that they are able to give a second look at early Christian writings and the Bible with a more skeptical eye.

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      1. Gary,
        Yes, they do. They say that they got it from the “Gospel of/according to the Hebrews”. This is a lost very early Christian writing, and it’s an extremely interesting one for me. It was considered the Hebrew or Jewish version of the Gospel of Matthew by some, and has many divergences from canonical Matthew,

        Three books I know of and would especially find valuable from the early Christians would be:
        * The Gospel according to the Hebrews
        * Papias’ Explanation of Jesus’ Sayings
        * Hegesippus’ History of the Church

        Another interesting fact that came to me after reading your blogpost. Papias says Matthew compiled a list of Jesus’ sayings in Hebrew. Matthew in Hebrew is basically the same word as Matthai, which has led to some confusion over the centuries (the example of Levi being one, above). Matthew’s gospel as you aptly point out nowhere says that it was written by Matthew (although it’s reasonable IMO to think it was.)

        BUT IIRC, the Gospel of Thomas is a sayings gospel and it begins by noting that it was written by Matthai. And the early version of the Gospel of Thomas, the Greek language version, is much less gnostic than the coptic one. It makes me consider the possibility that the Gospel of Thomas by Matthai is the sayings gospel of Matthew that Papias refers to. I will have to review and double check all those issues though to be sure. It’s just a hypothesis at this point.

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        1. It all sounds very interesting but as you said, it is just hypothetical. Therefore, the fact remains that the evidence that there is any existing eyewitness testimony to the post-death appearances of Jesus is very, very weak.

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          1. Gary,
            IMO. At least one of Matthew, Matthai and/or Thomas, John, Peter and Paul presents eyewitness accounts in the NT of Jesus’ appearances. Only the last two tend to be very reliably considered by scholars, as I expect you have noticed, though.

            So in the case of Matthew’s gospel, it was easily written by Matthew, Matthai, another apostle eyewitness to the appearances, or by someone directly recording an eyewitness’s narrative.

            I believe that the NT represents the kinds of stories the mainstream Christian community was using to evangelize when eyewitnesses were still alive. Nor do I see why such a thing should be excluded as impossible.

            But…….. supposing that these are actually the stories being told by the eyewitnesses, would that make them factual reality? I am very skeptical.

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