Analysis & Research - The Early Need

What kind of biographical work is Matthew’s Gospel?

When scholars assess the genre classification of the Gospels, the concern is generally over which ancient “biographical works are most analogous to the Gospels” and “what level of historical accuracy did audiences in the period of the early empire expect from biographies?”1 For example, Craig Keener “establishes that biographers, especially during this era, ‘intended their works to be more historical than novelistic,’ and therefore he classifies biography as a sub-type of historical literature, a form of literature in which ‘historians envisioned their genre as based on facts.’”2 More succinctly, Keener classifies the Gospels as “historical biographies.”3

I applaud the interest in establishing the historicity of the Gospels. However, for this blog post, my question is whether the historical biography categorization itself inappropriately implies that the Gospel authors were at some temporal distance from the events which they record. For Keener, this is indeed his underlying assumption, as he dates Mark to the mid-60s and Matthew to the 70s.4 However, is there a biographical sub-genre which would be more appropriate, without the baggage of implied temporal distance from the subject?

The Gospels are clearly not auto-biographies, but could Matthew’s Gospel be better classified as an authorized biography? Ted Schwarz characterizes an authorized biography as one which “has the subject’s cooperation. He or she will grant you one or more interviews and will also help you interview friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and others who are familiar with that person’s life and work.”5

Is this not consistent with how Matthew’s Gospel was perceived by the early church?

This suggests an opportunity for future research, now that the Trustworthy Gospel book is complete! Is anyone aware of a list of Greco-Roman biographies which would be characterized as authorized biographies, being written with the cooperation of the subject(s)? Looks like I’ll be diving back into the writings of Plutarch, Suetonius, Tacitus, and my other friends.

  1. Craig S. Keener, Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019), 104. ↩︎
  2. Daniel B. Moore, A Trustworthy Gospel: Arguments for an Early Date for Matthew’s Gospel (Eugene, OR: Wipf  and Stock, 2024), 112. With quotations from Craig S. Keener, Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019), 157, 186. ↩︎
  3. Keener, Christobiography, 329. ↩︎
  4. Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 42–44; Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014), 44, 126. ↩︎
  5. Ted Schwarz, The Complete Guide to Writing Biographies (Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 1990), 10. ↩︎

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