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  • A Synopsis Survey: Which Gospel Is Given Precedence?

    Am starting to frame-up some ideas for another paper. The tentative question:

    If Matthew’s Gospel was indeed the first Gospel to be published, while the sequence of events was relatively fresh in the minds of many of its readers, then would Matthew not have been particularly concerned with presenting the life of Jesus in an accurate chronological order?

    Based on my understanding of the church fathers: (1) Matthew wrote within five to ten years of the resurrection and coincident with the events of Acts 10–11. (2) Mark then wrote for the benefit of Cornelius and friends, but he wrote based on Peter’s sermons; therefore, Mark can be expected to be more thematically organized.1 (3) Luke then wrote perhaps a decade later.2

    So how would one investigate or attempt to demonstrate that Matthew offers the most accurate chronology? At this point, I don’t know whether this working theory is valid (or provable) or not, but I’d like to poke at it.

    Let’s start by gathering some resources. What synopses are available and to which Gospel do they give sequential or chronological precedence? A limited survey is provided below.3 What are the key passages which distinguish the different synopses (other than the speeches, which may well be repeated)?

    • Benjamin Davies (1890) arranges the parallel Gospels by giving priority to Mark and Luke’s sequence, and shifting Matthew’s pericopes accordingly.4 Significantly, from Matthew’s perspective:5
      1. the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mt 8:14) is pulled ahead of the cleansing of the leper (Mt 8:2) to align with Mk and Lk;
      2. the sabbath violations (plucking grain and healing of the withered hand; Mt 12) are pulled well ahead of the visit of John’s disciples (Mt 11) to align with Mk and Lk;
      3. the healing of the centurion’s servant (Mt 8:5) is placed well after the call of Matthew (Mt 9:9) to align with Lk;
      4. the calming of the sea, Gadarene demon Legion to swine, Levi’s feast, Jarius’s daughter, and hemorrhaging woman (Mt 8:18–9:34, less 9:2–9) are all pushed well after the visit of John’s disciples (Mt 11; and well after Matthew’s recruitment) to align with Mk and Lk.
    • Ross Finney (1907), based on Huck, arranges parallel columns in Mark, Matthew, Luke order, and shifts Matthew’s account similar to Davies, at least for the four periscopes noted above.
    • Stevens and Burton (1911), in their harmony of the four Gospels, integrate Matthew per the order above.6
    • A. T. Robertson (1922), in his harmony of the four Gospels, integrates Matthew per the order above.7
    • Bernard Orchard (1976) presents each of the Synoptic Gospels in its own sequential order, while identifying parallels and such with various connecting lines (solid, dash, etc.). When there are sequential differences a pericope is listed in each context; for example, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law is listed twice, per both the Matthean order and Markan/Lukan order. This is the most visual format for assessing the differences in sequences, relative to the Matthean sequence (or chronology).8 In his subsequent work (1982), he identifies parallels in italics, rather than with lines.9
    • Dwight Pentecost (1981), for compiling his harmony, prioritizes the Markan and Lukan order, over Matthew’s order.10
    • Kurt Aland (1985), similar to Orchard, presents the Gospels in their own sequential order, while listing similar pericopes alongside the other, in varying font styles (small, bold, etc.). 11
    • Burton Throckmorton (1992) likewise presents the Gospels in their own sequential order, while listing similar pericopes alongside each other, in varying font styles (bold, regular, italic).12
    • Cox and Easley (2007), for compiling their harmony, prioritize the Markan and Lukan order, over Matthew’s order.13
    • Yueh Goffin (2011) organizes the parallel periscopes according to Matthean order.14 Of note, from Mark and Luke’s perspective:
      1. the cleansing of the leper (Mk 1:40; Lk 5:12) is pulled ahead of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law.
      2. the sabbath violations (Mk 2:23; Lk 6:1) are pushed much later.
      3. the healing of the centurion’s servant (Lk 7:1) is pulled forward.
      4. the calming of the sea, Gadarene demon Legion, etc. (Mk 4:35; Lk 8:22) are pulled forward.

    Tentatively, the next step will be to consider whether these four (and other) disconnects can be adequately explained by the understanding that Mark composed his Gospel based on Peter’s sermons.

  • A Survey of Modern NT Introduction Books: What Dates Are Being Taught for the First Gospel?

    What is being taught to students of the Bible, to future pastors and Christian teachers, concerning when the first Gospel was published?

    First, here is what is taught by some of the apologetic works which are addressed in my book:

    Bauckham (2017):1 Mark was published in the 60s CE, thirty years after the death of Jesus, and Matthew in the 80s.

    Keener (2014):2 Mark was published in the mid-60s and Matthew in the 70s.

    Here is what is taught by various recent NT introductory works:

    Blomberg (2014):3 A date for Mark “somewhere in the 60s,” with Matthew later, but still in the 60s.

    Brown and Soards (2016):4 Mark, “most likely between 68 and 73.” Matthew, “80–90, give or take a decade.”

    Burge and Green (2020):5 For Mark, a date before 70 is favored, although a date in the 50s is possible. They also note that “some scholars have even suggested a first draft in the late 40s.” For Matthew, publication was either before AD 70 or in the 80s or 90s, depending on whether one accepts predictive prophecy or Matthean authorship.

    Campbell and Pennington (2020):6 Matthew likely written AD 65–85. Mark likely mid-AD 50s to late 60s.

    Carson and Moo (2005):7 Matthew published not much before AD 70; Mark “sometime in the late 50s or the 60s.”

    deSilva (2004):8 For Mark, “a time before 70 CE is quite likely.” Matthew date tends towards a post-70 date, given (1) that it is subsequent to Mark, (2) that it is hostile towards the Jews, and (3) that it “seems to make a veiled reference to Jerusalem’s destruction.”

    Elwell and Yarbrough (2013):9 They note that since Mark is commonly viewed as being dated “between AD 65 and 70,” Matthew is often dated “between AD 80 and 100”; nevertheless, their opinion is that Mark was likely written in the 40s to 60s, and that Matthew was written sometime “before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.” They do acknowledge that Wenham assigns an AD 40 date to Matthew, but they contend that this is unnecessary.

    Gundry (2012):10 A date for Mark of AD 45–60, with Matthew slightly later, but before the destruction of Jerusalem.

    Hagner (2012):11 Mark tentatively published “very tentatively in about 65, but no later than 75, and possibly much earlier.” Matthew was possibly written a bit before 70 or perhaps about 80.

    Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles (2016):12 Acknowledge that “most contemporary NT scholars date the Gospel of Matthew to the mid- to late 80s.” However, they contend that Matthew may have been written “in the mid-50s or, perhaps more likely, in the early AD 60s.” While Mark was written in the mid- to late 50s.

    McClendon and Cartwright (2022):13 Mark was written “as early as the AD 50s.” Matthew was written “shortly before AD 70.”

    Powell (2018):14 Defers to the opinion of “most scholars,” that Mark was produced “sometime between 65 and 73,” and that Matthew was written “in the decades after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.”

    Wright and Bird (2019):15 Defers to the opinion of “most scholars [who] place the date of Mark’s composition around AD 65–75”; although, “it is not impossible” that it was earlier. Likewise, defers to the voices of the “many suppose” that Matthew has a setting in AD 80 to 100.

    QUESTION: What NT Introduction text does your school use and does it convey confidence in the witness testimony concerning Jesus, as contained in the Gospels, which the apostles were chartered to provide (Luke 24:46–48; John 15:27; Acts 1:8, 22; 2:32; 1 Pet. 5:1; 1 John 1:2; etc.)?

  • Interview with Midwest Christian Outreach: Tuesday, May 28, 12:00 pm Central Time

    We will be talking about my recently published book, A Trustworthy Gospel: Arguments for an Early Date for Matthew’s Gospel.

    Here is the link for the 5/28/24 Youtube webcast.

    Midwest Christian Outreach strives to: “give clear answers, and a solid defense of the orthodox biblical faith, to all types of unbelievers – atheists, agnostics, as well as members of cults and new religious groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, the International Churches of Christ, and so on. In addition to being missionaries to these groups it is also our purpose to train and equip those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ, His death, burial and physical resurrection, for their salvation to do the same.”

    Each Tuesday, Don Veinot and Ron Henzel host an interview. Here’s is a link to today’s (5/21/28) interview with Dr. Mitch Glasser.

  • Apologetics Forum of Snohomish County

    For those in the broader Seattle area, do check out the speaker lineup at the upcoming events sponsored by the Apologetics Forum of Snohomish County.

    My thanks to Atonement Free Lutheran Church in Arlington for hosting a gathering last night, where we heard Dr. Phil Fernandes survey the apologetic methodologies employed by the most distinguished apologists over the past century. His “The Fernandes Guide to Apologetic Methodologies” is a substantive tome, exploring the work of Norman Geisler, J. P. Moreland, C. S. Lewis, Stuart Hackett, Paul Feinberg, Josh McDowell, Gary Habermas, John Frame, Cornelius Van Till, Blaise Pascal, and so on.

    I also appreciated the opportunity to speak briefly of my recent book and talk with folks over a book table. Great fun!

  • Wenham Attempts to Discredit Irenaeus by Mocking His Claim That Jesus Was Nearly Fifty Years Old

    Those who argue for an early date for Matthew’s Gospel must contend with Irenaeus’s claim that “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church.1 My approach for dealing with the timing posed by this statement has been to understand Rome as referring to the empire, rather than to the capital city. Hence, Matthew’s Gospel was published as Peter and Paul began preaching to those other than to the Hebrews, coincident with the events of Acts 10–11.

    Others, such as John Chapman, instead argue that “Irenaeus is not giving a history of the origin of the four Gospels”; rather, “he is simply explaining that the teaching of four of the principal Apostles has not been lost, but has been handed down to us in writing.”2 John Wenham echoes Chapman’s assertion, but also seeks to discredit Irenaeus by adding that “it is well known that chronology was not Irenaeus’s strong point. He believed that Jesus lived to be nearly fifty years old and that his public ministry lasted at least ten years!”3 In this, Wenham is referring to Irenaeus’s argumentation within Against Heresies 2.22.5-6. Yet, I contend that even this seemingly erroneous belief, as held by Irenaeus, proves just the opposite, that Irenaeus is actually quite serious about chronology.

    First, it is helpful to understand the issue which Irenaeus is addressing in his Against Heresies. In his opening monologue to book 1, Irenaeus methodically and carefully introduces the heresies of the disciples of Ptolemæus, heresies which he identifies as having derived from the teachings of Valentinus.4 Even in his opening words, it is worth noting his deference to Scripture.

    INASMUCH as certain men have set the truth aside, and bring in lying words and vain genealogies, which, as the apostle says, “minister questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith,” and by means of their craftily-constructed plausibilities draw away the minds of the inexperienced and take them captive, I have felt constrained, my dear friend, to compose the following treatise in order to expose and counteract their machinations. These men falsify the oracles of God, and prove themselves evil interpreters of the good word of revelation. They also overthrow the faith of many, by drawing them away, under a pretense of [superior] knowledge, from Him who rounded and adorned the universe; as if, forsooth, they had something more excellent and sublime to reveal, than that God who created the heaven and the earth, and all things that are therein. By means of specious and plausible words, they cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system; but they nevertheless clumsily destroy them, while they initiate them into their blasphemous and impious opinions respecting the Demiurge; and these simple ones are unable, even in such a matter, to distinguish falsehood from truth.5

    This heretical sect leveraged the terms and symbols found in the biblical writings to build their Gnostic religion, for they conceived of a perfect and pre-existent Æon (Αἰών) who impregnated another being, which led to the birth of Nous (also called Monogenes), along with Aletheia. These two then gave birth to Logos and Zoe, who then brought forth Anthropos and Ecclesia, who gave birth to twelve Æons, including Paracletus and Pistis, … Theletos and Sophia.6 For those of my readers who know some Greek, these terms ought to be familiar. Anyway, there are ultimately thirty of these Æons, or demiurges, within the “Plemora.” At a later time, Monogones produced Christ and the Holy Spirit, and so on.7 And then poor degenerate Sophia “suffered passion apart from the embrace of her consort Theletos” and spawned that which would ultimately bring into existence the physical world, with a little help from Christ.8 Thus, we get this classic Gnostic progression from the perfect spiritual to the evil physical, with a bunch of Christian-ese mixed in. This sect also leveraged an over abundance of biblical types to prove the legitimacy of their contrivances. For example, the twelve apostles are claimed as a type of the twelve Æons which were produced by Anthropos and Ecclesia. Similarly, the thirty years of Christ’s life stands as a type for the thirty Æons, and so on.9

    Further, they assert that the passion of the twelfth Æon, Sophia, was proved by “the passion of the Savior [which] was brought about by the twelfth apostle [i.e., Judas, by their reckoning], and happened in the twelfth month. For they hold that He preached [only] for one year after His baptism.10

    This stuff is more creative than the Gospel of Thomas!

    Before we dive into Irenaeus’s rebuttal to the claim that Christ preached for only one year after his baptism, let’s hit on a couple more points.

    Why do we commonly believe that Jesus was only in his early thirties when he was executed? This is based on (1) Luke 3:23, where Luke specifies that “Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age” and (2) John’s identification of three Passovers during Jesus’s ministry (John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55), and possibly a 4th (John 5:1), which suggests that his ministry lasted for three to four years.11 Of course, it must be recognized that the Gospels do not definitively assert that these are the sum total of the Passovers which transpired during His ministry. Notably, the Synoptic Gospels only identify a single Passover, on Jesus’s final visit to Jerusalem, except that Luke also reports that in His youth, “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover” (Luke 2:41). Thus, we can hardly speak with confidence concerning how many years His ministry spanned, given the lack of concern expressed by the Synoptics; although, I personally affirm the ‘three or four years of ministry’ view.

    Next, based on what we find in Irenaeus’s extensive writings and in his deference to the Scriptures as his primary means for confronting the various heresies, we must acknowledge that Irenaeus was meticulous in his writings, well acquainted with the Scriptures, and committed to the reliability and authority of such. More specifically, in Against Heresies 2.22.34, Irenaeus demonstrates (1) his awareness of the context of Luke 3:23, as Irenaeus explains that Jesus was “thirty years old when He came to be baptized”12 and (2) his awareness of the Passovers within John, for he faults the heretics for not having “examined the Gospels to ascertain how often after His baptism the Lord went up, at the time of the Passover, to Jerusalem.”13 He then proceeds to quote or refer to the events surrounding the Passover references, drawing from John 2:23; 5:1; 6:1; and 11:54/12:1.

    After having cited the above Scriptures, Irenaeus then turns to another line of argumentation to also demonstrate that Jesus’s ministry lasted more than the single year claimed by the heretics. Irenaeus quotes the rebuke from the Jews in John 8:57—”Thou are not yet fifty years old, and hast Thou seen Abraham?”14—as proof that the Jews thought that Jesus was closer to fifty than to thirty or forty years old. Accordingly, Irenaeus claims that the heretics are doubly wrong. My assessment of Irenaeus is that he has presented a scripture-grounded reasonable argument based on his understanding of John 8:57, which indeed illustrates an interest in chronology.

    At the same time, I think that Irenaeus may have misunderstood the challenge which the Jews were presenting. For among the Levites, there was significance in whether someone had reached the age of thirty versus the age of fifty. From thirty to fifty, the Levites were obliged to do “the service of ministry and the service of bearing burdens in the tent of meeting” (Num. 4:46–47 ESV).15 “And from the age of fifty years” they were to “withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more. They minister to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but thy shall do no service.” (8:25–26). Perhaps this also allowed more opportunity for the fully mature Levites to pursue their responsibilities in studying and teaching the Law (Lev. 10:11; Chr. 35:3).16 Accordingly, I suspect that the Jews were asserting that Jesus hadn’t even crossed the threshold into being full mature; indeed, he was far from hitting the maturity milestone.

    Nonetheless, my bottom-line is that Wenham’s mocking dismissal of Irenaeus over his purported disdain for chronological precision is misplaced. Perhaps Wenham’s charge can be justified elsewhere in Irenaeus’s writings, but this particular passage in Against Heresies is certainly not evidence of a disdain for chronology. Rather, it is just the opposite.