The story goes that Martin Luther King Jr. used to carry around a copy of Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited everywhere he went. In that book, Thurman tells a story about his grandmother, who had been a slave in the American South before the Emancipation. She would often have her young grandson read aloud to her from the Bible, mostly from the Gospels, sometimes from the Prophets, but never, said Thurman, from the New Testament Epistles.
Why? Because the Epistles contain verses that, on their face, suggest a blithe acceptance of slavery. For example, 1 Peter 2:18 states, “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.” At least four other passages in the Epistles express a similar sentiment: Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, 1 Timothy 6:1, and Titus 2:9.
While such passages don’t endorse the institution of slavery (rather, they assume the existence of it and direct the behavior of slaves given that assumption), they also don’t condemn it, as any morally-aware person should. My guess is that Thurman’s grandmother once experienced these passages as bludgeons, notoriously used by white preachers and slave masters to keep Black slaves in line.
While most contemporary Christians would like to disown these verses, the hard fact is they remain part of the New Testament, sprinkled there like a virulent sneeze on a birthday cake. For any Christian who understands the New Testament as authoritative scripture, the challenge becomes how to situate them within the only acceptable view of slavery—that it’s a moral abomination.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what, exactly, the message of the gospel is. Of course, the term ‘gospel’ means “good news.” The puzzle for me is that, at least the way it is often presented by Christians, the gospel is not obviously good news.
This typical version of the gospel focuses on Good Friday: Jesus died on the cross, taking upon himself God’s judgment and punishment for human sin, so that we sinful humans could be spared and forgiven by God. According to this “Good Friday gospel,” the good news is that we humans have been given a second chance, that God has forgiven us.
Good News, Bad News
But, while it is clearly good news to escape the judgment of God and be forgiven our sins, to accept this as good news we must first swallow a huge piece of bad news—namely that our sins are such that we deserve death (after all, Jesus died for us) and that we require God’s forgiveness. So, at best, this Good Friday gospel is “mixed news.” Continue reading →
In this post I conclude my case for the traditional view that the author of the Gospel according to Matthew (“Matthew,” or the “first Gospel”) was one of the original Jewish disciples of Jesus, namely “Levi” or “Matthew,” the tax collector, mentioned in Matthew 9:9 and 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, and Acts 1:13.
The aim of my case is to respond to Bart Ehrman’s claim in How Jesus Became God that the Gospels were composed by Christians “of a later generation” who wrote after (or almost after) Jesus’s original disciples had died, thereby casting doubt on the link between the Gospel accounts and the historical Jesus.
In my last post, I laid out internal and external evidence for the traditional view of the authorship of Matthew. In this post, I will respond to some popular objections to that view.
Would Matthew Rely on Mark?
As I recently described in this post, the most widely held view of how the three synoptic Gospels were composed—the Four-Source theory—claims that the author of Matthew used Mark as his most significant source in composing the first Gospel. To some scholars, this fact suggests an objection to the traditional view that Matthew was composed by one of Jesus’s original Jewish disciples.
According to this objection, if the author of the first Gospel were really Jesus’s original disciple, Matthew, it seems he would not have chosen to rely on the Gospel of Mark since, according to the traditional view, the author of Mark was not an eyewitness to Jesus’s ministry while the disciple Matthew was. Wouldn’t Matthew prefer his own eyewitness account to the account of a non-eyewitness? Continue reading →
Last time, I looked at the going theory of how the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were composed. I did this to lay some groundwork for my continuing multi-post response to some of the skeptical claims Bart Erhman makes in How Jesus Became God. Specifically, in this series I aim to answer his skepticism about traditional views of the authorship of the four Gospels of the New Testament.
Ehrman thinks the Gospels were composed by Christians “of a later generation” who wrote after (or almost after) Jesus’s original disciples had died, thereby casting doubt on the connection between the Gospel accounts and the historical Jesus.
In contrast, I think there are good reasons to believe traditional accounts according to which the Gospels were composed by original disciples of Jesus or those close to them. I’ve already argued this point for Mark. Today, I’ll begin to argue it for Matthew. (It will take me two posts to complete the argument.)
As for my examination of Mark’s authorship, I won’t try to definitively settle the question of who wrote Matthew; given the nature of the evidence, I’m not sure that’s even possible. Rather, I’ll just try to show the plausibility of the traditional view.
The Gospel according to Matthew was written anonymously—the author nowhere references himself or herself in the document. However, the style and content of the Gospel give us some clues about the author. Continue reading →
Do the four Gospels of the New Testament accurately represent the historical ministry of Jesus? The case that they do would seem more plausible if the Gospels were authored by eyewitnesses of Jesus’s ministry, or at least by those closely connected to them.
The traditional view is that, in fact, the Gospels’ were authored by such people. As I suggested in my last post, it seems plausible to attribute the Gospel according to Mark (“Mark”) to a close associate of the Apostle Peter. Similarly, traditionalists hold that the Gospel according to Matthew (“Matthew”, or the “first Gospel”) was composed by one of Jesus’s original disciples, Matthew the tax collector, mentioned in Matthew 9:9 and 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, and Acts 1:13.
In chapter 3 of How Jesus Became God, Bart Ehrman rejects this traditional view. He claims that the authors of the Gospels were Christians “of a later generation” who wrote after (or almost after) Jesus’s original disciples had died, thereby casting doubt on the connection between the Gospel accounts and the historical Jesus.
In this post, I continue a series in which I respond to Ehrman’s skeptical claims. (If you’d like to read from the beginning, the series starts here.) In my next post, I plan to defend the traditional view of the authorship of Matthew.
However, first I need to lay a little groundwork by explaining the dominant view of the literary relationships between the canonical Gospels, which I will do in this post. The Gospels are very similar in many ways, and yet they are so different…How should we explain those facts? Continue reading →
I’ve been given much. It’s been given to me to hear, understand, and embrace the gospel of Jesus. I’ve been given a wonderful family; dear friends; a healthy church community; opportunities to receive a good education, to work at a solid job, and to write; and a mind and motivations to make good on those opportunities. I bet you’ve been given some similar things.
According to Luke 12:48b, Jesus requires much from people like us: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
I’ve always read this verse as imposing a requirement to produce for Jesus. All the things I’ve been given I should somehow offer back for the purposes of his kingdom and glory. I should use my gifts to further his ends—faithfully loving him, loving my neighbors (be they family, friends, or strangers), serving my church community, providing for my family, and sharing the good news in deed and word.
To be clear, in reading the passage this way I’ve not been snared by a works theology, believing that I must earn my standing before God (this standing, too, is a gift of grace in my view). Rather, I’ve simply believed that Jesus has goals, that following Jesus is in large part about furthering those goals, and that everyone ought to pull their own weight—serving in accordance with their God-given opportunities and abilities. And, I still don’t think this reading of the verse is wrong; it just might be too narrow. Let me explain. Continue reading →