Our Thursday posts focus on material from the New Testament. As part of our fourfold priority of history, integrity, truth, and Scripture we consider it important to read and review significant scholarly work with both the Old and New Testaments. The modern use of the biblical texts, often addressed in small chunks with little or no context, is not a recent development. Dr. Scaer observes that the structure of Matthew’s Gospel was originally fitted to ongoing education, with a natural progression of ideas and details. Yet in the very early period, it took on a different use, more akin to the way we use it today.
Scaer, David P. Discourses in Matthew: Jesus Teaches the Church. St. Louis: Concordia, 2004. Kindle Electronic Edition.
Chapter 3, “The Gospel of Matthew as Scripture” Loc. 1584-3099
Systematic, or dogmatic theology engages in its work from a presupposition of certain texts which are authoritative, canonical Scripture. Scaer observes that the systematic theologian starts from a position of inspiration of Scripture (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1595). “Theologians of all stripes must in some sense also accept church tradition as a reliable factor in determining what is and what is not Scripture” (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1605). Though definitions and criteria have differed from time to time, there is always some assessment of authority made. Yet the recognition of inspiration seems to come after the fact of composition. “In any case it would be presumptuous to claim that the authors knew they were writing Scripture, thus it seems unlikely that the first recipients of these documents would have accorded them the same honor they presumably gave to the Old Testament” (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1623). “Yet internal evidence from Matthew - as well as certain external evidence - would seem to suggest that the evangelist intended to write his Gospel as Scripture and that the other evangelists soon followed suit” (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1634). The preparation of documents rather than a continued reliance on oral tradition would suggest an intent to create a definitive account for future use (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1646).
Scaer observes that the New Testament refers to the authoritative texts as”Scripture” (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1661). It was the texts, not the authors, which were considered important. Canonization was simply a recognition that a text was used routinely and considered authoritative. Scaer observes that Matthew not only references the Old Testament a great deal, but also gives instructions for interpretation, suggesting early authorship (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1686). Scaer suggests also that early composition of the Gospels would be important, especially for congregations far from Palestine (caer 2004, Loc. 1697). The reading of Scripture was a staple of Christian worship, in Paul’s lifetime including both the Law and Prophets and Paul’s letters (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1747). The Gospels very naturally would be added to this pattern (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1767). Scaer considers it very unlikely that the Gospels would not have had pride of place during the first century (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1800). His conclusion is that the Gospels were originally intended to serve as catechetical readings which would be read repeatedly in church congregations (Scaer 2004, Loc. 831).
Scaer next turns his attention to the production of the Gospel texts. He observes that since the Gospels were intended for broad circulation from the start they may well have been represented from the start by several texts, all of which may have had variants and all of which may have been considered accurate(Scaer 2004, Loc. 1894). He emphasizes the role of orality and dictation, as well as the very real possibility that Matthew’s Gospel was largely a transcription of catechetical lectures or sermons. This is quite consistent with the way many books were written in antiquity.
Matthew also shows signs of being intended for use in gatherings of Christians, as a liturgical book. The book is self-consciously authoritative (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1955). Scaer views the Gospels as having a universal applicability. Rather than being limited to one congregation or group of Christians, they are for all believers everywhere (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1976). Though this idea has fallen out of favor in recent years it shows signs of awakening again (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1999). Drawing on the work of D. Moody Smith, Scaer considers that the authors of the Gospels were self-consciously writing Scriptures for all Christians everywhere (Scaer 2004, Loc. 2041). This view may also resolve difficulty in explaining the adoption of the Gospels, a new literary form, into the canon (Scaer 2004, Loc. 2071). Scaer goes on to discuss the way gatherings of Christians identified canonicity by considering what documents in use were reliable (Scer 2004, Loc. 2095).
Scaer concludes that both Matthew and Paul wrote with an expectation that they were writing Scripture. The texts were early recognized as authoritative (Scaer 2004, Loc. 2129). The documents were used in liturgy long before being recognized as canonical (Scaer 2004, Loc. 2168).
Scaer goes on to observe that they very opening of Matthew, “biblos geneseos,” indicates an understanding of the text as authoritative, tying it in with the Old Testament (Scaer 2004, Loc. 2213). As a document claiming authority, Matthew’s Gospel is very detailed in its portrayal of the work of Jesus, showing the essential elements of Christian life (Scaer 2004, Loc. 2225). Scaer also points out the oral nature of the document. Because reading aloud to an assembly was a common practice at the time we can expect that Matthew was presented orally (Scaer 2004, Loc. 2250). Scaer discusses the role of the lector in antiquity at some length. Not only was there importance assigned to those who read texts, but the copyists were important. It is clear that there were many copies of Christian documents made almost immediately (Scaer 2004, Loc. 2331). This is a natural way to disseminate ideas. Scaer sees it also as a natural progression from orality to a literary knowledge of the Gospel (Scaer 2004, Loc. 2379). He further argues that Matthew’s Gospel was influential not only on the postapostolic church bu also on the other New Testament authors (Scaer 2004, Loc. 2437). He sees this especially in Paul’s references to the gospel which do not explain the content. He also sees a strong reference in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (Scaer 2004, Loc. 2460). The scriptures were the written gospels which provided the accounts of Jesus’ acts (Scaer 2004, Loc. 2539).
In closing this chapter, Scaer considers the arguments of Bernard Orchard that the letters to the Thessalonians depend on Matthew (Scaer 2004, Loc. 2573). Scaer adds that 2 Peter 3 and 2 Peter 1:17-18 may show knowledge of Matthew. 2 Peter refers to a sure documentary testimony of Jesus (Scaer 2004, Loc. 2609).
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