Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why I believe in Matthean priority over Mark

Most scholars have accepted Mark's gospel to be the earliest written, which then became the source, along with another missing gospel named "Q" for the gospels of Matthew and Luke. From what research I have done in the gospels so far however, this opinion seems flawed. Evidence points to the fact that Matthew was the first gospel to be written. Here are some reasons why I believe this to be the case

- Matthews gospel was not written, as some suppose at the end of the first century. It was written before the fall of Jerusalem. Matthew, who was so quick to point out when Old Testament prophecies had been fulfilled, would surely have noted, after Jesus prediction of the fall of Jerusalem, that it had indeed come to be.

- Many support a late dating of the gospel of Matthew due to the fact that it contains much liturgy that was to developed to have been so early, such as the trinitarian formulation in the great comission. This is only accepted based upon the idea of the evolution of theology over time. The developed theology of Matthew could not possibly have arisen so soon after the resurrection. This idea is supported by the fact that, for example, Mark is written so simply that the writer must have been ignorant of the more complex doctrines taught in Romans or Hebrews. This is easily explainable because Mark was written for an audience that was not yet informed in the faith. Hebrews was written for the more mature believer. One way that we know a developed theology did arise fairly early is through the writings of the apostle Paul. Even in Paul's undisputed epistles, he contains statements that most recognize to be traditions of earlier Christian origin. This places a developed theology all the way back to possibly the 40s AD.

- It is often supposed that ideas about Christ as pre-existent only appear in the later Johannine writings and somewhat in Paul due to helenistic influence, only later to be more dogmatized in the non-Pauline epistle to the Colossians. This idea is said to be foreign to the gospel writers. If this were the case, and the gospels were written so late in the first century, would not Paul's influence have effected their theology by that point? Thus, their own assumptions contradict themselves. I of course do not agree that this is the case, as I believe Matthew has a very high Christology. The fact that Matthew calls Jesus "Immanuel" is enough to testify to this.

-The consensus of the early church was that Matthew's gospel was written first. This should not be quickly dismissed. In the second century Matthew's gospel is quoted far more often then Mark. In fact Mark was barely referenced, as Luke was also more common. If Mark at one time was the only written gospel, would it not have been circulated much faster and in greater numbers? It is also interesting to note, that from the earliest times, the gospels, particularly Matthew were the center of church worship. This would suggest that Matthew had actually been written before the Pauline epistles. If Paul's epistles were the only existing document of church doctrine, it would have been natural for the church to have given them the central place in worship.

- The Pauline epistles themselves do not contain much information about the actual life of Jesus apart from his death and resurrection. They simply assume that those he is writing to already have knowledge of these events, as is obvious in the creedal formulations he quotes. Even when discussing the crucifixion, he gives no information about how that crucifixion actually took place. How did these early Christians have this knowledge that is presupposed? It is unlikely that oral tradition alone would have provided this knowledge between the years of Jesus' resurrection and the supposed late date of the gospels. Early Christianity was permeated in Jewish culture, thus one would expect aspects of early worship to be similar. At the center of synagogue worship was the reading of the Torah. Most likely the Christian community would have likewise centered its worship on readings from a text about the life of their Messiah. This explains how written documents are necessary, even when the majority of people are illiterate. While the Christians did value the Old Testament as inspired, a simple reading of the Torah during a worship service would not have caused the persecution that arose.

-While oral traditions about the life of Jesus were most likely present in the early church and would have been helpful to an extent, they hardly would have been sufficient for the widespread acceptance of the message. It would have been difficult for mere oral traditions to sustains churches over a wide geographic area.

-The didache is clearly dependent upon the gospel of Matthew, and some even see it as a commentary on Matthew. The dating of this document is anywhere from 50-150 AD. If an early date is accepted, then Matthew had clearly been written early, and not only that, but also had gained wide acceptance.

- It is also worth noting that Matthew wrote at a point when the church had a much larger Jewish membership, which would account for an earlier date. Luke then based his gospel on that of Matthew, making it more accesible to gentile readers.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Paul and Palestinian Judaism Part 2

Part 2: Paul

Sanders treatment of second temple Judaism is by far the more important part of his work, as not many scholars have completely agreed with Sander's interpretation of Paul. It also only takes up a relatively small portion of the book. Sanders later revisited the subject of Paul in more detail in his book Paul, the law and the Jewish People.

Sanders works from the epistles of Paul which he sees as undisputed which include Romans, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians and 1 Thessalonians. Sanders sees the rest of the epistles ascribed to him and his speeches in acts as inauthentic. In Sander's view, Paul argued from solution to plight. Paul saw Christ as the solution, thus realized that there must be a plight man needs to be saved from. First came his conviction of redemption in Christ, then came his view of the law. In his description of himself in Philippians 3, Paul calls himself "blameless", thus under the law he did not have a deep inward struggle with sin and the law. When Paul preached, most likely he did this the same way. The content of his preaching was not the conviction of sins and then redemption in Christ, but began with the message of salvation through Christ.

Salvation in Paul is largely seen as a future event, which he mistakenly thought to be soon. Sanders sees Paul's motifs of salvation as more participationist than juristic. The reformation overemphasized the judicial categories of forgiveness, and escape from condemnation, while ignoring the real heart of salvation, which is a mystical participation in Christ. Paul shows this in his argument in his first epistle to the Corinthians when arguing against sexual immorality. It is wrong because it effects one's union with Christ, by one uniting to a prostitute. Sin is not merely the violation of an abstract law. This participationist language is also used in Corinthians in the discussion of the Lord's Supper wherein one participates in the body and blood of Christ.

Unlike later proponents of the New Perspective, Sanders sees justification as transfer language. It describes one entrance into the people of God. However, one's entrance into the people of God is not so much about one's legal status. Paul indeed adopted the earlier Christian view that Christ's death was expiatory and that man was forgiven of his sins. However, when Paul uses this language he is only expressing accepted Christian tradition, not his own point of view. Paul's own thought emphasizes the death of Christ as delivering us from the old aeon and bringing us into the new. His death involves a changing of Lordship. It causes us not to die to the penalty of sin, but to the power of sin.

For Sanders, Paul did not see the law as something which was impossible to fulfill. As was previously mentioned, he said himself that he was blameless under the law. The problem with the law was not that it did not offer righteousness, but that it offered the wrong kind of righteousness. Paul came to the realization that man must be righteous by faith in Christ, thus all other righteousness is excluded. Thus it cannot come by the law. He saw the problem that both Jews and Gentiles were to be righteoused by faith, thus law could not make one righteous, since it excluded gentiles.

Paul believed, as is evident in Romans 6 that men are under the Lordship of sin. He did not come to this conclusion by any inner struggle, but by the fact of the lordship of Christ. Since to be saved, one must come under the lordship of Christ, he must have previously been under the lordship of something else. That something else is sin. This takes him so far as to even overemphasize man's sinfulness in Romans 7 and almost equates the law itself with sin.

Does Paul accept the covenantal nomism pattern which he had recieved as a Pharisee? Sanders says in some sense yes, and in some sense no. In many ways, his categories were much different. For example, he discusses the new exodus, but does not see it in covenantal categories, but as the escape from one aeon to another. Paul does accept the basic idea that in the new covenant there is salvation, and those outside of the covenant will not recieve salvation. One enters into the new covenant by baptism, through grace, and must keep with repentance to stay within the covenant. This is seen as he often talks about justification by grace in the past tense but in Romans 2 is able to speak of a future justification by works. However, he differs in his description of personal transgression. Transgression for Paul is not seen as something which will exclude one from the covenant, but as something which effects one's mystical union with Christ. While Paul does sometimes speak in covenantal language, the covenantal nomism category does not fit his emphasis on the new creation. Essentially, while Paul accepts some aspects of Jewish soteriology, it is inconsistent with his participationist categories.