Thursday, August 3, 2017

Demolishing Triablogue: Jason Engwer fails to defend traditional authorship of Matthew's gospel

Jason Engwer responds to Richard Bauckham's denials of Matthian authorship of Matthew's gospel.  I show why Jason is guided more by a subjective desire to promote a conservative view than in objectively evaluating the evidence:
Monday, May 29, 2017
Posted by Jason Engwer at 5:31 PM
Richard Bauckham Is Wrong About Matthew's Authorship
He's mostly right about gospel authorship issues. He thinks Matthew may have had some sort of role in the origins of the gospel attributed to him,
An admission that makes it even more difficult to identify with reasonable certainty any particular part of Matthew as an eyewitness account, for example, Matthew 28, the resurrection story, which could be hearsay just as easily as Luke's resurrection account is secondhand.
accepts the traditional authorship attributions of Mark and Luke, and attributes the fourth gospel to a close disciple of Jesus named John.
Which makes it even more difficult to decide which parts of John's gospel are truly from an eyewitness, or secondhand or worse, such as John's resurrection stories in 20 and 21.
But he doesn't think Matthew is responsible for the first gospel as we have it today, and he thinks the John who wrote the fourth gospel wasn't the son of Zebedee.
...Regarding Matthew, Bauckham argues (108-12) that it's highly unlikely that a first-century Jew living in Israel would have had two Semitic personal names as common as Matthew and Levi. It's very unlikely, then, that Matthew is the Levi referred to in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27. And if Levi were another name for one of the Twelve, Mark surely would have explained that in his list of the Twelve, where so many other details are included (108). Since the author of the gospel of Matthew uses a passage about another man to tell his readers about Matthew's calling (Matthew 9:9), the author must have been somebody other than Matthew. "Matthew himself could have described his own call without having to take over the way Mark described Levi's call." (112) Bauckham also thinks the replacement of "his house" (Mark 2:15) with "the house" (Matthew 9:10) suggests that the author of the gospel of Matthew was only applying Mark 2:14 to the apostle Matthew and didn't think the rest of the passage was applicable (111).

What about the unlikelihood of somebody being named both Matthew and Levi? There are extremely rare names and combinations of names, sometimes even unprecedented ones, in every culture. Why do we conclude that people with such names exist? Because the prior improbability that somebody would have such a name is just one factor among others that have to be taken into account as well, and those other factors can outweigh the prior improbability that somebody would have that name. How reliable is a source who reports that somebody had such a name? How likely is it that such a report would exist if the person under consideration didn't have the name in question? And so on. In his book, Bauckham often accepts a highly unusual name if there are ancient sources attesting it, even just one source. He does it in his section on Matthew's authorship, where he mentions some ancient Jews who are referred to with two names, including at least one that's "unusual" or "very unusual" (109-10). The many comments he makes elsewhere in his book about how popular or unpopular various names were assumes that some unpopular names existed, even ones attested only once. Even if naming somebody both Matthew and Levi would have been "virtually unparalleled", "very unlikely indeed", etc. (109-10), we should go on to look at the other evidence pertaining to Matthew's names and Matthean authorship of the first gospel. We should try to determine the significance of the improbability Bauckham is appealing to in light of the evidence as a whole.

D.A. Carson refers to some problems with how Bauckham goes on to handle the remainder of the evidence:

"Yet whatever the onomastic improbability, the identification of Levi (Mark's gospel) with Matthew (here [in Matthew 9:9]) seems less implausible than Bauckham's explanation: the unknown evangelist knew that Matthew was a tax collector (like Levi), and knew he was one of the Twelve, and so simply transferred the story across (on the assumption that the conversion of one tax collector would be very much like the conversion of another?)." (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Revised Edition, Vol. 9: Matthew & Mark [Gran Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010], 263)

What's mentioned in Matthew 9:9 isn't what we'd expect of the calling of every tax collector, most of them, or even one other tax collector. How many tax collectors would be in their booth at the time of the calling and would be sitting while Jesus walked by? How many would immediately leave their work and follow Jesus upon being told "Follow me"? How many would experience all of those things? It's doubtful that the author of the gospel of Matthew would have thought that the story of the calling of this tax collector would be so applicable to another tax collector. Bauckham is wrong in commenting that "The story, after all, is so brief and general it might well be thought appropriate to any tax collector called by Jesus to follow him as a disciple." (111), since the story isn't "so brief and general". The appropriate response to Bauckham's claim that "Matthew himself could have described his own call without having to take over the way Mark described Levi's call." (112) is that anybody could have.
But the question is whether it is likely that Matthew, having personally experienced what Mark is talking about, would have surpressed his own first-hand ability to tell the history, and favored more the same history that was sourced in a hearsay account. No, it isn't.  
There wouldn't have been anybody, whether Matthew or somebody else, who would have needed to use Mark's account about the calling of another man to describe the calling of Matthew.
I find the Matthew-author's drawing on Mark for Matthew's own calling to be especially unlikely if Matthew really did experience those events himself.   But since you agree that not everything in that gospel come from apostle Matthew himself, your further disagreements with Bauckham at this point are immaterial to my purpose. 
And it's very unlikely that the author of the first gospel would have wanted to tell Matthew's story in that manner. Why give such a significant figure in early Christianity such secondhand treatment,
Are you sure Matthew was any more significant than any other first-century Christian?  According to the NT, he is not accorded any special place the way other apostles like John, James and Peter are.  His becoming significant later in church tradition is irrelevant and after-the-fact, and even then he himself did not gain any significant notoriety, it was only his name being attached to a gospel, that caused "him" to become more prominent in later tradition.
especially if the author of the gospel was associating his work with Matthew as much as Bauckham thinks he was? The scenario Bauckham is proposing is highly improbable.

But he makes a good point about Mark's list of the twelve apostles. You'd think Mark would mention that Matthew was also known as Levi, if Mark had held that view. Luke's list of the Twelve isn't as detailed as Mark's, so the lack of clarification in Luke's list is less important, but it's significant that Luke, like Mark, doesn't explain to his readers, inside his list of the apostles or elsewhere, that Matthew and Levi are different names for the same person.

However, there's other evidence Bauckham doesn't discuss that suggests that Mark and Luke viewed Levi as one of the Twelve. It follows that though Mark and Luke don't tell us who among the Twelve had the alternate name of Levi, they thought somebody among the Twelve did.
That's unlikely, their lists often specify that one named person had a second or alternate name:
  16 And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter),
 17 and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, "Sons of Thunder ");
 18 and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot;
 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.
 (Mk. 3:16-19 NAU)

  13 And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles:
 14 Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew;
 15 and Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot;
 16 Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Lk. 6:13-16 NAU)

 Seems reasonable to conclude that if Mark or Luke thought somebody had some type of secondary or new name, they would have specified so.  There was no second person named "peter" such that the two would need to be distinguished in writing, yet Peter still had a secondary name.
That weakens Bauckham's argument about what's "clear" from Mark's list of the Twelve and how Mark "surely" would have included the detail that Matthew had that other name if he'd known about it (108).
It's nice to see Christian apologists disagreeing with each other like this.  It makes you seem rather ignorant to pretend that we spiritually dead people are accountable to figure out the problems that not even spiritually alive people can resolve.  One thing is for certain, you cannot blame atheist denials of gospel authorship on their mere spiritual deadness, there's plenty of academic room in the evidence to justify the majority Christian scholarly position that Matthew's gospel was anonymously written.
In Mark and Luke's passages about the calling of Levi, the language, themes, and placement of the text are reminiscent of the calling of other apostles, which suggests that whoever is being called in the passage is an apostle as well. Compare Mark 1:16-20 to 2:14-17. Compare Luke 5:1-11 and 5:27-32. In both gospels, the calling of Levi is narrated in close proximity to the calling of those other apostles, with similar language and themes, leading up to the nearby choosing of the Twelve by Jesus and the listing of them by the gospel authors (Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:13-16). Jesus is walking by and looks at the individual(s) in question and says "Follow me" and is immediately followed, which involves leaving a profession (fishing or tax collecting), in both contexts in Mark (1:16-20, 2:14). That theme of leaving a profession makes sense for the calling of an apostle in the sense of being one of the Twelve, since that sort of apostleship would require so much devotion. Similarly, both of Luke's passages have the individuals in question "leaving everything" to follow Jesus (5:11, 5:28). That theme of the apostles leaving everything is repeated elsewhere (Mark 10:28, Luke 18:28). Their leaving the professions they were involved with was important, "so that they would be with him [Jesus] and that he could send them out" (Mark 3:14). So, the passages in Mark and Luke about Levi have a series of connections both backward to the call of Peter and his associates and forward to what's said of the Twelve. Even without reading Matthew, the accounts about the calling of Levi in Mark and Luke look like the calling of a member of the Twelve.
But Jesus required the "leave everything" committment of ALL of his followers:

 37 "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Matt. 10:37 NAU)

 26 "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. (Lk. 14:26 NAU)
 Matthew makes pretty explicit that the degree to which the apostle left everything is the same degree he expected any other follow to leave everything:
 28 And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
 29 "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.
 30 "But many who are first will be last; and the last, first. (Matt. 19:28-30 NAU)
Therefore, while you are correct that the story says Levi left everything just like the apostles did, this doesn't put Levi on any higher level than any other follower.

You will say his specific calling from the tax-collector booth sets him apart.  But I would argue that if Jesus was consistent, he would have extended the same type of "leave everything" call to anybody at all that he wanted to be part of his ministry, especially given Luke 14:26.  It wasn't any easier for lesser ranking disciples, was it?
NAU  Luke 10:1 Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. (Lk. 10:1 NAU)
Some passages in Mark and Luke about people other than apostles refer to themes like following Jesus and leaving possessions and making other sacrifices to follow him. But those other passages have less similar language and themes and less significant placement in the text of the gospels.
No, EVERYBODY that wishes to follow Jesus must leave everything to the same degree required of the apostles.  Luke 14:26, supra.
Something like Jesus' call to discipleship in Mark 8:34-38 or his interactions with Zaccheus in Luke 19:1-10 is somewhat reminiscent of the calling of the apostles, but also significantly different. Jesus walks by Zaccheus and looks at him (verse 5), and Zaccheus gives up possessions to follow Jesus (verse 8), for example, but Jesus is only staying in Zaccheus' house briefly (verse 5), there's no reference to his leaving his profession, the passage is far removed from the appointing of the apostles earlier in the gospel, etc.
Paul's justification by faith doctrine in Romans 4 is far removed from the legalistic salvation Jesus taught in Matthew 19:17 ff, but you always fix arguments based on distance with a healthy presupposition of bible inerrancy, don't you?  If you can reconcile justification by faith alone with what Jesus said in Matthew 25:37, what prevents you from reconciling the calling of the apostles with the calling of Zaccheus?
Likewise, Jesus' exchange with the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-31, Luke 18:18-30) involves a call to discipleship and to giving things up to follow Jesus, but the man doesn't follow Jesus, the passage is far removed from the context of the calling of the apostles, and so on.
See above, you don't have the first clue about the way Jesus "called" others to ministry, you only get a small sampling from the gospels, and you pretend as if the literary purpose of the author is equal to the historical reality.  That Jesus required everybody who followed him to make such extreme sacrifices, does indeed create a difficulty in getting Levi = Matthew from the mere fact that Levi's calling is similar to the calling of other apostles.
Both passages contrast the rich young ruler's rejection of Jesus' call and the apostles' acceptance of it (Mark 10:28-31, Luke 18:28-30). While the calling of individuals like Peter and Levi is similar to Jesus' interactions with other people elsewhere in Mark and Luke, there are substantial differences as well. The calling of Levi is significantly similar to the calling of Peter and his associates in a way in which other passages in these gospels aren't. So, independently from the gospel of Matthew, Mark and Luke give us reason to place Levi among the Twelve.
Origen, the greatest textual scholar of the early church, felt that it was only by a textual variant that Levi could be said to be numbered among the Twelve:

It is manifest to us all who possess the Gospel narratives, which Celsus does not appear even to have read, that Jesus selected twelve apostles, and that of these Matthew alone was a tax-gatherer; that when he calls them indiscriminately sailors, he probably means James and John, because they left their ship and their father Zebedee, and followed Jesus; for Peter and his brother Andrew, who employed a net to gain their necessary subsistence, must be classed not as sailors, but as the Scripture describes them, as fishermen. The Lebes also, who was a follower of Jesus, may have been a tax-gatherer; but he was not of the number of the apostles, except according to a statement in one of the copies of Mark’s Gospel.
NPN, Origen: Against Celsus (Contra Celsum), 1:62.

But they don't refer to any of the Twelve as Levi when they list the apostles, nor do they tell us elsewhere which apostle went by that name. They also leave out other information about apostolic names. Peter is referred to as Simon Barjona in Matthew 16:17, but not anywhere in Mark or Luke. Similarly, Luke doesn't tell us that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were referred to as Boanerges, a detail that Mark does include. And so on. Bauckham doesn't claim that Mark and Luke are exhaustive about apostolic names.
 Indeed, trying to figure out what's what in early Christianity is a fool's game.  If the answers were so clear and compelling, we wouldn't expect so many conservative Christians to be so deeply divided on the related historical and exegetical issues as they are, for example, you and Bauckham.  Which one of you has the Holy Spirit, and why can't you demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit in you by something other than the force of academic argument?  Could it be that although with your lips you yap about the need for the third person of the Trinity to enligthen you, that at the end of the day, you don't ever receive any enlightenment except that which comes from the same type of study that englightens one about science?
More significantly, Bauckham thinks the identification of Thaddaeus (Mark 3:18) with Judas the son of James (Luke 6:16) is "very plausible" (108), but neither Mark nor Luke offers that identification, even though Bauckham thinks Luke used Mark as a source and appeals to such sources in the opening of his gospel. That's an instance in which Luke knew about a potential confusion over apostolic names, but didn't offer a clarification.
Or Luke's Markan source wasn't as detailed as canonical Mark is today.
Still, Luke's failure to clarify something potentially seen as a discrepancy between what he wrote and what's in a source he used and that many of his readers would be familiar with (Mark) isn't the same as a failure to clarify something that people could misunderstand in his own writings (that Levi and Matthew are the same person).
Please stop talking like you think canonical Luke is exactly today the way it was in its original form.  You don't have the first clue whether anything specific to canonical Luke was what Luke himself wrote.
I'm just giving some examples of Mark and Luke's failure to provide details and clarifications they could have provided about apostolic names, even though the examples I've cited in this paragraph are less significant than not clarifying the relationship between Levi and Matthew.

What's most important to recognize in this context is that identifying Levi and Matthew as two different individuals still leaves you with a substantial lack of clarity in Mark and Luke.
Lack of clarity in the bible is a meaningless point, it hasn't stopped Christians from convincing themselves that their particular version of Christanity is the "right" one.
If Levi isn't Matthew, then which member of the Twelve is he, given the evidence cited above that he's portrayed as a member of the Twelve in the two gospels under consideration?
That's a problem for the apologist who insists the source is reliable, not the skeptic who puts no stock in the source to begin with.
Or if you deny that Mark and Luke meant to portray Levi as one of the Twelve, why did they use language, themes, and text placement that are so suggestive of Levi's identity as one of the Twelve?
Maybe because they mistakenly thought he was one of the 12?  You will say it is absurd that a false rumor could have spread among the original eyewitnesses and their followers, which would signify that you never read Acts 21:18-24, where an allegedly false rumor about Paul is held as true by thousands of converted Jews, so much that James thinks not even a speech by Paul, but only his paying expenses for other Jews to conduct a ritual, will suffice to dissuade them from this allegedly false rumor.
I don't see how a significant lack of clarity in Mark and Luke is a problem only for those who consider Levi and Matthew the same person. There's a substantial clarity problem for Bauckham's position as well.

What should we think of the change from "his house" in Mark 2:15 to "the house" in Matthew 9:10?
 Craig Blomberg says Matthew's Greek is more ambiguous than Luke's on this point:
9:10–11 On some later occasion, Matthew throws a party for Jesus (cf. Luke 5:29, in which the antecedent of “his” is less ambiguous than in the Greek of Matthew).
Blomberg, C. (2001, c1992). Vol. 22: Matthew (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; 
The New American Commentary (Page 155). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
It could easily be an attempt on Matthew's part to clarify the passage rather than an attempt to distance verses 10-13 from verse 9. As Bauckham notes (111), the "his" in Mark 2:15 is sometimes taken as a reference to Jesus rather than Levi, so Matthew may have changed "his" to "the" in order to avoid that confusion. Luke makes the passage clearer by referring to how "Levi gave a big reception for him in his house" (5:29). Perhaps Matthew intended to provide clarification. Or he may have just chosen different terminology than Mark without any intention of clarifying anything and without intending to distance verses 10-13 from verse 9 in the way Bauckham suggests. Furthermore, how would changing "his house" to "the house" have the implications Bauckham claims? To the contrary, the lack of qualification for "the house" motivates the reader to look at the surrounding context for indications of what house is in view. Why would the author send his readers to the surrounding context if he wanted them to avoid the conclusion that verse 9 provides the context they're looking for? The most natural way to take "the house" in verse 10 is as a reference to Matthew's house, since Matthew's booth had just been mentioned, and the reference in verse 9 to Jesus' traveling makes it more likely that he'd be in somebody else's house rather than his own. If the author of the gospel of Matthew had wanted to distance verses 10-13 from verse 9 as much as Bauckham suggests, he could have put one or more other accounts between the content of verses 9 and 10 or changed or added language to verses 10-13 to distance those verses from verse 9 rather than keeping them together and so undistinguished (e.g., he could have referred to "the house of Levi, a tax collector").
I agree that Matthew's context would suggest that the house is Matthew's. 

As far as I can tell, Origen's bias in favor of traditional gospel authorship makes it unlikely he would have trifled that it is only a textual variant that can support Levi = Apostle.  Engwer needs to explain Origen's unlikely trifle, if Engwer wishes to maintain that that Levi was an apostle.

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