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.


Dustin said...

I wonder if you're notified about comments on articles this old. Anyway, one of my biggest problems with the idea of Matthean priority is that Luke seems entirely unaware of Matthew's nativity story. Luke has no mention of Herod being alive during Jesus' birth, no slaughter of the innocents, no Magi, and no flight to Egypt. In addition, Luke places it during the governorship of Quirinius, which was in 6 AD, long after Herod's death (though his later comment that Jesus was "about 30" in Luke 3 may contradict this, indicating some confusion on his part). I find it really odd that if Luke had Matthew as a source, he seemed to completely ignore Matthew's nativity and give a new account that he specifically dates to a later period. I find it more likely that he was unaware of Matthew's Gospel, or at least this part of it.

Jordan Cooper said...

I don't think Luke needed to use the nativity story which was present in Matthew for him to have been aware of it. Matthew used these elements of the story for the purpose of showing Jesus as the "new Moses." Thus, he included the slaughter, paralleling the slaughter of children during the infancy of Moses. He included the flight to Egypt to show Jesus as paralleling the Israelite's captivity and wandering before entering the land of Palestine.
The primary purpose of Luke, unlike Matthew, was not to point to Christ as the fulfillment of God's covenantal dealings with Israel. Thus, he did not need to include these details. Luke worked from several sources including Matthew, Mark, possibly the gospel according to the Hebrews and maybe other early documents. He could not have included everything.
Regarding Luke's dating, it is not clear that Luke is indeed talking about the time period when Quirinius was governor. He uses the term "hegemon" (a general term for a ruler) as opposed to "legatus" (governor)to refer to Quirinius. Thus, though he was in charge of the census, he was not necessarily governor at this time.

Dustin said...

Well part of the problem with the census is that it simply doesn't really make any sense before 6 AD, and we have no record of one happening before then. Before 6, Judea was a client kingdom, not a province. To my knowledge, Rome never took a census of a client kingdom. It wouldn't really make much sense to do so, since a major point of having it be a client kingdom was so that it would handle its own affairs itself.

In addition, we have no record whatsoever that I am aware of of Quirinius governing Syria in any sense before 6 AD. Josephus also made no mention of such a census despite making a big deal out of the census of 6 AD. This either means that the Jews didn't care about the first census, which would be weird given their reaction to this later one, or Josephus for some reason decided that such a thing was irrelevant for some reason, which is also very odd considering the content of his works.

Finally, Luke clearly thought that his audience to be familiar with whatever census he was referring to. We don't have any record of any pre-6 AD census, which indicates to me that any such event was much more obscure. Why refer to an obscure event in such a way that would be easy to mistake for a slightly later and much more famous event? This would be an unusually poorly put passage for Luke if this were the case. Luke also gives indication in Acts 5:37 that he expected his audience to only think of one census when someone referred to "the census," and that's the one of 6 AD.

As far as I can tell, the main reason that people think there was an earlier census comes from the idea that Luke and Matthew had to have agreed about the date. If one doesn't assume that from the outset, what evidence is there of any earlier census?

Jordan Cooper said...

Justin Martyr does mention Quirinius as having been procurator, an office different from governor. Where he got this information from is uncertain. Even without this reference however, just because no other source mentioned Quirinius as procurator does not mean that he never was. It is bad historiography to assume that because something cannot be verified in another source, it must be false. Much of what Josephus said is not in other sources from the time. Does that mean we cannot believe these parts of what Josephus says? No, of course not. The standards for applying historical scrutiny are always harsher upon the New Testament documents than other historical sources. Just because they are religious does not mean they are not reliable history. All history has an agenda behind it. Josephus clearly does.
Luke does mention that this is the first census under Quirinius. Thus, he assumes that there were two different census taken under Quirinius. Perhaps his role in the first led to his being elected governor. If Josephus mentioned a census calling it the "first census", it would probably be assumed that there was a second. Why not with Luke?
Luke mentioning the other census as "the census" in the book of Acts points to the fact that this was the most obvious of the two. This was most likely because it stirred the Jews up, hence its being recorded in Josephus unlike the first.
The fact that Luke refers to it as "the census" only helps point out that he is talking about something different in Luke. This is why he qualifies himself by calling it "the first."
It was not a poor choice of Luke to mention this census just because there was a more famous later census. His readers most likely knew of both. This is why, to avoid confusion, he mentions it being the first. You ask what evidence there is for being an earlier census. My answer is the book of Luke.
You are right that I assume Matthew and Luke agree on the date. I come to the text with the presupposition that it is free from error. I openly admit that. You also come to historical texts with certain presuppositions. For example, you presuppose that reading historical documents can show you actual past events, you presuppose that a text can err, you presuppose that what you perceive on the page you read corresponds to what is actually there. None of us are free from presuppositions. Mine include the inerrancy of the Biblical text.

Dustin said...

Perhaps I should clear up how I'm looking at this. As is obvious, I don't assume the text to be perfect, and I don't assume that Luke agrees with Matthew's date from the get go, since that's the thing I'm trying to find out. My goal is to look at the evidence to try to figure out if it is more likely that Luke is referring to the census of 6 AD here or one prior. I am not trying to absolutely prove one way or the other. It's very hard to do that using only textual sources in ancient history, particularly if one of the options is a negative.

So now that that's out of the way, I do acknowledge that someone not mentioning event does not automatically mean that an event didn't happen. There have been plenty of events in ancient history of which we have no narrative. Heck, Herodotus skipped the entire last major battle of the Persian War. However, this doesn't mean that we just ignore strange absences. Herodotus' lack of discussion of this battle is really bizarre, but we have confirmed that it really happened archaeologically. With the census here, we could easily overcome the Josephus' silence with evidence on that level, or even something less, but I don't think we really have that at the moment.

If it helps, let's imagine a scenario where there was a rumor that a major company discussed a merger with another company during a business meeting. Suppose that somehow, you managed to get a hold of the minutes for the meeting, and they are reasonably detailed, but don't mention anything about any mergers. Would you think it would be reasonable to doubt the rumors because of this? I would. It's not absolute proof that this discussion didn't happen, and we should keep in mind the limits of it, but the absence in such a document is conspicuous enough to be a form of evidence, as limited as it is. It is in that sense that I brought up Josephus.

Anyway, there are a couple things to keep in mind when Luke calls this the "first" census. First of all, this doesn't mean that he wasn't referring to the 6 AD census as the first one. A second could have been later. Another issue is that it seems that the Greek may not clearly indicate that Quirinius conducted more than one census himself: "The use of the genitive absolute (see below) means one can legitimately put a comma between the main clause and the Quirinius clause (since an absolute construction is by definition grammatically independent): thus, this was the first census ever, which just happened to occur when Quirinius was governor."* I'm also not really sure that the phrase "the census" in Acts really differentiates it at all from the census mentioned in Luke 2. It still seems to be an odd and unclear way to differentiate, and if Luke meant "the first census, which was under Quirinius," then it really seems to read fine as a reference to the same census.

(continued in next comment)

Dustin said...

*I would have liked to have gotten this from a more neutral source than Richard Carrier, but I haven't really looked in depth into the exact issues of translation, so I don't know another source off the top of my head. If he is incorrect here, please let me know.

Anyway, the issues relevant to the census that I am aware of are as follows: from what I can tell, Luke never clearly claims that the census in Luke 2 was anything other than the one in 6 AD. Josephus doesn't mention any earlier census, which, while not absolutely proof or anything, is troubling for the idea of such a census, particularly since we don't have a clear claim of its existence in the first place. The lack of any mention of an earlier Syrian governorship of any sort for Quirinius is troubling on a similar level. More troubling to me is the issue of Rome taking a census of a client kingdom at all. It doesn't really make sense, since there would be no reason to take a census of a client kingdom, and no source that I'm aware of claims that anything like that ever happened in the entire history of the Roman empire. Again, nothing here shows an earlier census to be absolutely impossible, but I do think there are fewer historical issues if we allow the possibility of Matthew and Luke simply disagreeing here, and I think that it's simply more likely that Luke 2 refers to the 6 AD census than anything else.

P.S. I don't know what Justin Martyr says about Quirinius. Could you give me a specific reference and/or a quotation?

Jordan Cooper said...

You look for any source that speaks of an earlier census. I still claim that Luke is such a source. Your argument for the use of the genitive disagrees with every major Bible translation. You have to have a darn good reason for disagreeing with several committees of Greek scholars on this issue. Most likely Luke is talking about multiple census' conducted by Quirinius.
There was certainly a good reason to take a census of those in Judea even though it was a client kingdom. The Jewish faith necessitates that they have control of their own land without any foreign rule whatsoever. Jews were hostile to Rome ever since 63 BC when Pompey invaded. This hostility did not simply begin with the Zealots in 6 AD. It is built within the fabric of the Jewish faith itself.
If I were a leader in Rome, I certainly would want to keep tabs on such a hostile people. Why would this be the only circumstance of Rome taking a census of a client kingdom? Because there was no other ancient culture with such a deep seated hatred and hostility to foreign rule.

Jordan Cooper said...

Oh and as for Justin's reference, it is in his first apology chapter 34.

Dustin said...

I’m going to look more into the issue of Luke’s phrasing, so I’m not going to comment on that at the moment.

As for the issue of Augustus taking a census so that he could keep tabs on a dangerous people, I don’t think that really makes much sense. The primary purpose of a census was for taxation. The Roman’s were generally a very practical people, so it would be really bizarre for them to waste a time and money getting information for the purpose of taxation without actually taxing anyone*, particularly a group that was already rather hostile to the idea of Roman influence who would react poorly to being treated as property of the Romans, as a direct Roman tax would imply. It would be the equivalent of the normally slow and careful Augustus poking a beehive with a stick. It would be completely out of character, offer no benefit for Rome, and in fact would cause him problems in the already problematic Eastern boarder of the empire.

In addition, you should keep in mind that the entire purpose of a client kingdom was for it to remain largely independent, settling most of their own affairs internally and acting as a buffer to those outside of the empire. They would largely do what Rome wanted in a broad sense, and Rome would approve their leadership, but how they collected their tribute and what they did internally was really their own business as long as it didn’t go to far from what Rome wanted or cause instability in the region. This isn’t to say that they’d never annex a client kingdom, but they did so slowly, and after the people in those countries already became somewhat Romanized (for instance, Nabatea was a client kingdom for over 150 years before it was annexed as the province of Arabia), or in the case of Judea in 6 AD, when the leadership was unstable enough where they felt that annexation would cause fewer problems than the continuation of its current leadership. Directly taxing such a place as a Roman province is little different than just making it a province, and there would be little reason to continue calling it anything else, since any separation would have only been nominal. As you’ve said, and as indicated by the events surrounding the 6 AD census, the Jews at this time really didn’t want Roman rule, meaning that an action that would indicate such, like direct taxation or a Roman census, would have the possibility of destabilizing the region. A revolt was the last thing the Romans wanted, and if they were going to risk one though something like that anyway, why not just straight up annex Judea in every sense? It would be little different.

On final issue with Judea is that Augustus rewarded Herod for switching to his side of the civil war from Antony’s. Taking undue control of Herod’s kingdom, such as directly taxing its citizens, so soon after this would send the message to all nearby kingdoms that Rome wouldn’t follow through with its promises, which would be a terrible thing for Rome’s relations with other countries. Even if Augustus really wanted to simply annex Judea entirely from the start, there’s a reason that he waiting to do this until he had the excuse of Archilaus problematic rule. It would simply be counter to Rome’s interest to take a census of Judea.

So in summary, it would make little sense to take a Roman census without taxation, and it would make little sense to take such taxation out of a client kingdom. Doing this of Judea at the time would not only lead to the risk of destabilizing the region, but it would make it more difficult for Rome to negotiate with other kingdoms in the future. Seriously, if you are correct that “no other ancient culture with such a deep seated hatred and hostility to foreign rule,” then it actually makes it that much less likely that Rome would take such an unnecessary risk. A pre-6 AD Roman census of Judea simply doesn’t make any sense, and there’s no significant evidence of it happening.

(continued in next post)

Dustin said...

*Julius Caesar set up a system where Judea would give a tribute of a portion of its crops to the Roman Empire, as seen in Josephus’ Antiquities 14.200-206. This is very different from the Roman tax system, where individuals had to pay money. A Roman census would not have no effect on this, so it wouldn’t make any sense to have one while this tax system was in place. To my knowledge, there is no indication that there was any significant change in this arrangement until 6 AD (though correct me if you do have a source). In addition, take a look at what Josephus says in Antiquities 18 about the 6 AD census:

“Yet was there one Judas, a Gaulonite, of a city whose name was Gamala, who, taking with him Sadduc, a Pharisee, became zealous to draw them to a revolt, who both said that this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery, and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty”

If this taxation was already in place, as the existence of a previous census would indicate, then why would this particular one cause so much of a problem? Why revolt over something that had been normal for at least a decade? This event is clearly presented by Josephus as the first of its kind, which goes against the idea of there being an earlier census.

Jordan Cooper said...

A few questions:

First- if Luke really is saying that he is referring to the "first census" under Quirinius, what would he mean by that?

Second- if Luke and Josephus are referring to the same event, why is Josephus necessarily right about the date rather than Luke?

Third- what is your interest in refuting Luke's account in unhistorical?

Dustin said...

1. If you mean that he was referring to first census and that Quirinius was also governor at this time, then he probably just means the 6 AD census, since it fits that description. If he means "first under Quirinius," then it's quite possible that he meant that there was also a later census under him. In any case, even if he meant that it was a census prior to 6 (which I don't think he's clearly doing), then this is still problematic for the reasons I explained in my last post.

2. Well my main issue is that I'm not sure that there's disagreement between the two. Luke references an event that appears to be one that Josephus dates to 6 AD. As for backing up that date, Cassius Dio mentions this for 6 AD:

"These were the events in the city that year. In Achaia the governor died in the middle of his term and instructions were given to his quaestor and to his assessor (whom, as I have stated, we call envoy) for the former to administer the province as far as the Isthmus and the other the remainder. Herod of Palestine (note: Herod Archelaus), who was accused by his brothers of some wrongdoing or other, was banished beyond the Alps and a portion of the domain was confiscated to the state."

While that doesn’t directly state a census happened, that is the usual thing that happened when Rome set up a province, and the rest matches what Josephus said. In addition, there is a change in the coinage of Judea that reflects the change in authority in 6 AD. I would say that as well as the issues of taking a census of Judea before 6 are pretty good indication of a 6 AD census.

3. It’s not as much that I’m refuting Luke’s account as unhistorical here as I am saying that he and Matthew don’t seem to agree on the dating of Jesus’ birth. We may have gotten a bit off track, but my main point here is that Luke seems to have either been unaware of what Matthew wrote about Jesus’ birth or disagreed with it. It could also be that he got his events mixed up, perhaps conflating the census with the oath of loyalty to Augustus made during Herod’s reign, but that wasn’t really the point I was arguing here.

Dustin said...

Alright, I sent the following email to Daniel B. Wallace, who is a Christian who believes in the infallibility of scripture, has a Ph.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary, and has written a very popular textbook on intermediate Greek:

"So I was discussing the issue of Luke 2:2 with my brother, and he suggested that this passage stated that this passage says that this is the first census that Quirinius conducted, which would imply that they were later ones under Quirinius. Some NT translations I've seen seem to phrase the verse in a way that supports that. However, I've found articles that say things like "The use of the genitive absolute (see below) means one can legitimately put a comma between the main clause and the Quirinius clause (since an absolute construction is by definition grammatically independent): thus, this was the first census ever, which just happened to occur when Quirinius was governor." I don't know Greek, so I can't easily judge the validity of that. I ran across your article on Luke 2:2 on, and while you didn't address this interpretation, it sounds like you support the latter. Could you directly tell me whether the reading my brother suggests is likely correct, or if it's better read as is suggested in the quotation above?"

And I got the following response:

"In grammar, many things are possible but few are likely. It is possible that this text is referring to the first census ever, which happened during Quirinius' governorship. But if so, that would be quite unsatisfactory in the context since the evidence is slim that Quirinius was governor of Syria before AD 3. At bottom, we are not sure what is going on here, since Luke both shows awareness of the AD census elsewhere and his historical accuracy overall is stellar."

I found that a bit vague, but he seems to acknowledge the possibility of Quirinius being mentioned in a separate clause from the mention of this being the first census. I then found out that he's the senior editor of the NT section of the Net Bible, which translates the verse as "This was the first registration, taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria." Considering the biases of Wallace and the others working on the Net Bible, I would say that this is strong evidence that this is a legitimate way of reading this particular verse, which would mean that Luke is not clearly stating that Quirinius was involved in any other census.

You may want to look at this short article that he wrote about this verse and how he deals with it:

Jordan Cooper said...

Interesting. I will take a look at this article. I trust Dan Wallace, as he was the writer of my Greek text book.