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The Women in Matthew’s Genealogy: Answer to a Reader

Yesterday I received this question in response to a post: QUESTION: I have also heard that hints of the possibility of Jesus’ illegitimacy can be found in Matthew’s hereditary narratives. It is a bit of a stretch but Matthew names 4 women in them and all 4 are somewhat” loose” women, giving the hint that illegitimacy can still produce remarkable people. Any thoughts on this? RESPONSE: Ah, great question.  Here is what I say about it in my textbook on the New Testament: There is one other interesting and frequently-noted feature of Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (actually, not of Jesus, but of Joseph). That is the fact that it makes explicit reference to women among Jesus’ ancestors. That is highly unusual. Women scarcely ever appear in most ancient Israelite and Jewish genealogies;, which invariably trace a person’s lineage from father to son (or vice versa) all the way back through the family line; see, as I pointed out earlier 1 Chronicles 1-9. Where are the women? For ancient genealogists, as a rule, they were not [...]

2020-04-03T01:47:45-04:00November 21st, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

Speaking in Tongues and Virgin Births: Readers’ Mailbag September 3, 2017

I will deal with two questions in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag.  The first has to do with why some conservative Christian theologians insist that the “gifts of the Spirit” (such as speaking in tongues and doing miracles) are no longer available to believers today (doesn’t the Bible indicate that they are?), and the second about whether the Gospel of Matthew mistranslates or misunderstands the passage of Scripture that allegedly indicated that the messiah would be born of a woman who was still a virgin. I need to unpack the first question before giving it, since it may not make sense on first reading.  The questioner is asking about the scene in the book of Acts, chapter 2, where, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit comes upon the apostles allowing them to speak in foreign tongues.   Peter explains to the crowds that this is a fulfillment of what had been prophesied in Scripture. Today conservative theologians are split on the question of whether the Spirit still empowers believers to speak in tongues and do other [...]

2020-04-03T02:03:05-04:00September 3rd, 2017|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Did Matthew Write in Hebrew? Did Jesus Institute the Lord’s Supper? Did Josephus Mention Jesus? Weekly Readers’ Mailbag July 9, 2016

Was the Gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew?  Did Jesus have a Last Supper?  And does Josephus mention Jesus’ brother James?  These are the three questions I will be addressing in this week’s Reader’s Weekly Mailbag.   If you have any question for me to address, let me know!   ************************************************ QUESTION: Just a short question: is there any possibility that Matthew gospel’s was written in Hebrew or Aramaic ? RESPONSE There was a long tradition throughout early and medieval Christianity that maintained that Matthew – commonly called the “most Jewish” of the Gospels – was written in Hebrew (or Aramaic).  Given its heightened Jewish concerns (see, for example, 5:17-20, verses found in no other Gospel), wasn’t it probably written to Jews in their native language? There are two preliminary points to be made.  First, a number of scholars doubt if Matthew, or his community, was Jewish.  It is widely thought, instead, that Matthew portrays a Jesus who insists that his followers keep the Jewish law precisely because they were not accustomed to doing so, that [...]

2017-11-06T21:17:38-05:00July 9th, 2016|Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Readers’ Mailbag on Revelation: November 6, 2015

Last week I started a new feature on the blog, a weekly “Readers’ Mailbag,” where I answer two or three fairly random questions that have come in to me, ones that I do not simply want to answer in a sentence, as in most of my replies to “Comments” on my posts, but also not as fully as a thread or even a full post.  Most of these questions do indeed deserve full posts, or threads, and I may in fact get around to devoting some to them.  But for now I will be content with giving short answers that are hopefully packed with content. Feel free to ask me questions for this weekly feature.  I don’t know how I can get to all the viable questions by doing this just once a week (last week I received a dozen interesting questions).  Some weeks possibly I’ll do the mailbag twice.  But this week I do it just once, addressing three questions.   QUESTION:  Since Revelation was probably written around the year 95 why does it [...]

Why Was The Gospel of Matthew Attributed to Matthew?

I have now gotten to a point where I can discuss why the four Gospels were specifically given the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.   Recall the most important points of my preceding posts on the blog so far:  the Gospels were all written anonymously and they circulated anonymously, for years and decades; we have no certain evidence that they – these particular Gospels -- were called by their familiar names until around 180 CE, in sources connected with Rome (Irenaeus and the Muratorian Fragment); my hypothesis is that an edition of these four Gospels was published in Rome sometime between Justin in 150-60 CE (he quotes the Gospels but does not name them) and Irenaeus in 180-85 CE.  That edition gave these Gospels their now-familiar names. If all that is correct, then there is no reason to think that people widely associated them with their familiar names before that.   The reason this became a widespread tradition is that it was started by a single editor – possibly based, of course, on things being [...]

2020-04-03T14:17:44-04:00December 1st, 2014|Canonical Gospels, History of Christianity (100-300CE)|

Ancient Forerunners of Modern Gospel Critics

In my previous post I argued that critical scholars who insist that the Gospels are not historically accurate accounts of what happened in the life of Jesus – even though they do contain some historically accurate information, which needs to be carefully and cautiously ferretted out of their narratives – are not trashing the Gospels.  They are trashing unfounded fundamentalist assumptions about the Gospels.  In this post I’d like to argue that this view -- that the Gospels are not sacrosanct-historically-accurate-to-the-very-detail accounts of what really happened in the life of Jesus -- is not merely a modern notion that emerged during the Enlightenment.  It is that, to be sure; but it’s not merely that.   In fact, I would argue that this is the earliest attested view of the Gospels from earliest Christianity. Let’s assume for this argument a view that most scholars hold and that I could demonstrate if I wanted to spend a lot of time doing so, that Mark was the first of our Gospels and that Matthew and Luke both had access [...]

2020-04-03T16:44:52-04:00July 14th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Canonical Gospels|

Jesus’ Birth: Some Comparisons

Here is another illustration of how the Comparative Method works with Luke, as described in my textbook on the New Testament. A personal anecdote. It was precisely the differences between Matthew and Luke in the birth narratives that led me to formulate the comparative method. Unlike the other methods I discuss in my book, this is one that is not widely discussed in scholarship. In fact, I had never heard of it until, well, I came up with it. But it occurred to me while thinking of the birth narratives (and genealogies) that it didn’t *matter* if Matthew and Luke had the same source for their narrative. If they did have, one could do redaction criticism on them; but they don’t have. Does that mean comparing their two accounts cannot yield results? I decided that in fact interesting results *did* matter. Their similarities and differences were important in and of themselves, and that this could be formulated into a method of study. (It may be that others had come up with a similar approach before: [...]

2020-04-03T17:17:48-04:00March 5th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

Jesus at the Movies: Infancy Narratives

I’m having a terrific time with my undergraduate course this semester, a first-year seminar that I call “Jesus in Scholarship and Film.” Last month I posted my syllabus for the class on the blog. This past week was the first time we’ve done any film in the class, and it was very interesting. For the class I had the students do a writing assignment, in which they compared the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke in detail (Mark and John, of course, don’t *have* anything about Jesus’ birth). They were to find both similarities and differences, and then they were to decide if any of the differences were irreconcilable. This was to set up what they were going to see in the film clips that I was set to show. The similarities are pretty interesting if you come up with a full list: Jesus is born in Bethlehem; his mother Mary is a virgin; after his birth he is visited by a group of men (shepherds in Luke; wise men in Matthew) who have been [...]

2020-04-03T18:10:24-04:00September 27th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Jesus and Film, Public Forum|

Was the Author of Matthew Matthew?

In my previous post I showed that the claim that Matthew, the tax-collector, was the author of the Gospel of Matthew (as we continue to call it) cannot be traced earlier than about 180 CE.  It is not found in Justin, who lived in Rome in 150 CE and who quotes the Gospel – along with Mark and Luke – without indicating who wrote them.  And the evidence of Papias (120-140 CE) is more than just ambiguous: he actually does not appear to be referring to *our* Gospel of Matthew when he says that  the disciple Matthew collected the sayings of Jesus in the Hebrew language. In this post I want to give two reasons for thinking that the Gospel was not in fact written by Jesus’ disciple Matthew (and at every point it needs to be remembered that the Gospel does not *claim* to be written by Matthew; quite the contrary, not only is it anonymous: it speaks of Matthew as one of the characters in the story in the third person). FIRST point.   [...]

When Was Matthew Called Matthew?

For years I agreed with those scholars who claim that we have very early “evidence” that the Gospel of Matthew was actually written by Matthew, the tax-collector who was a disciple of Jesus. I no longer think so. Let me give some of the relevant information. The anonymity of this author – as is true for the other three NT Gospels as well, was respected by Christians for decades. When the Gospels of the New Testament are alluded to and quoted by authors of the early second century, they are never entitled, never named. Even Justin Martyr, writing around 150-60 CE, quotes verses from the Gospels, but does not indicate what the Gospels were named. For Justin, these books are simply known, collectively, as the “Memoirs of the Apostles.” It was about a century after the Gospels had been originally put in circulation that this book was called Matthew, and the others were called Mark, Luke, and John. This comes, for the first time, in the writings of the church father and heresy-hunter Irenaeus, around [...]

The Identity of “Matthew”

In a previous post I dealt very briefly with the question of whether the author of the Gospel of Matthew was Jewish. I want to say a few more things about the issue, although I’m not planning on providing anything like an exhaustive treatment. It’s a complicated issue. At the end of the day, my view is that we simply don’t know. In this post I want to say something about what we know about the identity of the author more generally. We call this author "Matthew” because that is the name traditionally associated with the Gospel. The Gospel is called “According to Matthew” in all of the surviving manuscripts that have a title (i.e., all the manuscripts that still have their first page.) It is never called anything else – although the *form* of the ascription to Matthew differs in different manuscripts: e.g., is it entitled “According to Matthew” or “The Gospel according to Matthew” or “The Holy Gospel according to Matthew,” or something else? But in all the ascriptions, the person named is [...]

2020-04-03T18:25:19-04:00June 23rd, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

The Women in Matthew’s Genealogy

Another bit drawn mainly from my undergraduate textbook, but of relevance to my current thread on the birth narratives of Jesus. There is one other interesting and frequently-noted feature of Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (actually, not of Jesus, but of Joseph). That is the fact that it makes explicit reference to women among Jesus’ ancestors. That is highly unusual. Women scarcely ever appear in most ancient Israelite and Jewish genealogies;, which invariably trace a person’s lineage from father to son (or vice versa) all the way back through the family line; see, as I pointed out earlier 1 Chronicles 1-9. Where are the women? For ancient genealogists, as a rule, they were not important enough to mention. But Matthew not only ends his genealogy by mentioning Mary, Jesus’ mother, but he also includes reference to four other women: Tamar (v. 3), Rahab (v. 5), Ruth (v. 5), and the “wife of Uriah” that is, Bathsheba (v. 6). Stories about all four of these women are found in the Jewish Scriptures (Tamar: Genesis 38; Rahab: Joshua2, [...]

2020-04-30T11:54:29-04:00December 21st, 2012|Canonical Gospels, Women in Early Christianity|

Matthew’s Genealogy: The Number “Fourteen”

Like my previous post, this one takes material over from my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. I pointed out in the previous post that Matthew presents a numerically significant genealogy of Jesus in order to show that something of major significance happen every fourteen generations:  from Abraham, the father of the Jews, to David, the greatest king of the Jews: fourteen generations; from King David to the Babylonian Captivity, the greatest disaster for the Jews: fourteen generations; and from the Babylonian Captivity to the Messiah Jesus, the ultimate savior of the Jews: fourteen generations. It’s a terrific genealogy.  But to get to this 14-14-14 schema, Matthew had to manipulate the names in a couple of places, for example, by leaving out some of the generations and by counting the final set of names as fourteen, even though there are only thirteen.   And so, we might wonder whether the number fourteen, in particular, was for some reasons significant for Matthew.  Why not 15, or 12? Over the years interpreters [...]

2020-04-03T19:07:23-04:00December 19th, 2012|Canonical Gospels|

Matthew’s Genealogy

As I have pointed out, the reader who first comes to the New Testament, and so begins at the beginning, with Matthew chapter 1, first finds him/herself confronted with a genealogy. This may not seem like an auspicious beginning, but the genealogy is highly significant for understanding Matthew’s Gospel, since this genealogy is mean to emphasize Jesus' "credentials" precisely as the messiah. And so v. 1 indicates that Jesus he was "the son of David, the son of Abraham." (“son of” in this context obviously means: “descendant from”). And why highlight his relationship to David and Abraham in particular, before giving the details in the genealogy? It is because Matthew's ancient reader would realize full well that Abraham was “the father of the Jews,” and David was the greatest king in the history of Israel, whose descendant was to resume his rule, enthroned in Jerusalem, reigning over a sovereign state of Israel as God's anointed. This son of David would be descended from the Jewish greats and would, in fact, be the messiah. Thus Matthew [...]

2020-04-03T19:08:28-04:00December 18th, 2012|Canonical Gospels|

Genealogies of Matthew and Luke

One of the differences between the stories of Matthew and Luke in their infancy narratives is in their genealogies of Jesus (which for Luke, oddly enough, does not actually occur in his infancy narrative!). I know that genealogies are among the least favorite reading for many students of the Bible, and one may be a bit dismayed in starting to read the New Testament, with the very opening of the very first book, Matthew, to find a genealogy! But I tell my students to suck it up: this one is only sixteen verses long. If they want a REAL genealogy, they should go to the book of 1 Chronicles in the Hebrew Bible: NINE chapters (count them, nine) of genealogies. When I was in college I took a correspondence course on the Bible and for the course we had to memorize verses as part of the assignment. I think the designers of the course had in mind verses like John 1:1; 1:14; 3:16; Romans 3:23 and so on. For my verses I chose some out [...]

2020-04-03T19:08:36-04:00December 17th, 2012|Canonical Gospels|

The Infancy Narratives Compared

In two previous posts I’ve detailed what happens in Luke’s version of Jesus’ birth and then in Matthew’s.  I will assume those two previous posts in the comments that I want to make in this one.  The problem people have with reading these two accounts, usually, is the problem they have reading the Gospels (and the Bible as a whole) generally.  Or at least this has been my experience.  It’s the problem of assuming that one account is basically saying the same thing as some other account. People do that with the Bible all the time.   With the New Testament, people tend to read Matthew as if he’s saying the same thing as Mark; John as if it’s the same thing as Luke; Paul’s letters as if, at heart, they’re the same thing as James; Revelation as if it’s the same thing as John.  And on and on and on. One of the most important tasks I have as an undergraduate teacher of the New Testament is to get students to see that each of [...]

2020-04-03T19:08:51-04:00December 13th, 2012|Canonical Gospels|

Matthew’s Fulfillment Citations

One of the most distinctive aspects of Matthew’s infancy narrative is his insistence that everything that happened was a “fulfillment” of Scripture. Why was Jesus’ mother a virgin? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Isaiah 7:14: “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son”) Why was he born in Bethlehem? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Micah 5:2: “And you, Bethlehem…from you shall come a ruler” Why did Joseph and the family escape to Egypt? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt I have called my son”) Why did Herod have the boys two years and under killed? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Jeremiah 31.15 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation”) Why did Joseph and family relocate to Nazareth? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes … well what does he quote, exactly? “He will be called a Nazorean.” Huh?) These so-called “fulfillment citations” are found in Matthew and only in Matthew.  It is clear that Matthew [...]

2020-04-03T19:08:58-04:00December 12th, 2012|Canonical Gospels, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Matthew’s Version of the Birth of Jesus

Yesterday’s blog was about the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke; today I talk about Matthew. Even a casual reading shows that these are two very different accounts. Matthew has nothing about the birth of John the Baptist, the Annunciation, the census, the trip to Bethlehem, the shepherds, the presentation in the Temple. Matthew’s version, as a result, is much shorter. Most of his stories are found only in his account. And some of the differences from Luke appear to involve downright discrepancies, as I will try to show in another post. For now: Matthew’s version. Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus. Luke also has a genealogy, but it is given after Jesus is baptized in ch. 3, instead of where you would expect it, at his birth in ch. 1. I’ll explain my view of that in a later post. After the genealogy of Matthew in which Jesus is traced to David, the greatest king of Israel, and to Abraham, the father of Israel, we move right to the birth story. Mary has [...]

2020-04-03T19:09:12-04:00December 8th, 2012|Canonical Gospels|
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