Gibbs, Jeffrey A. Matthew 1:1-11:1. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006.
“Matthew’s Intention” pp. 8-58. “Matthew as Scripture” pp. 8-12, “Matthew as ‘Independent Narrative’: The Synoptic Problem” pp. 12-30.
Gibbs observes that Chrsitians would gather to hear the Word of God, and that Matthew was apparently read. He now asks whether the earliest Christians considered Matthew’s Gospel to be a part of Scripture like the Old Testament. We have no definitive answer from the first century, so Gibbs asks a related question. ‘Did the First Evangelist consciously set out to author a document that possessed an authority and a character that would cause it to be received and regarded as God’s Word” (Gibbs 2006, 9)? On one level, Gibbs says, Matthew’s intent is realtively unimportant but the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of the text as Scripture is. Yet it is important to consider why someone would recognize a document to be authoritative. The fact that a text would be read in churches does not make it authoritative Scripture (Gibbs 2006, 10). However, Gibbs find Matthew writing with the intention of showing the fulfilled goals of the Old Testament. “The story that claims to complete the Scriptural story is also desiring to be Scripture itself” (Gibbs 2006, 11, emphasis his). Further, Gibbs points out that Matthew as a distinctly Christological narrative intends to give an authoritative, detailed account of Jesus’ work. Finally, Gibbs observes that the earliest readers apparently accepted the canonical Gospels as having “the highest spiritual authority in the early Christian churches” (Gibbs 2006, 12).
Gibbs turns next to the Synoptic Problem, which he summarizes in simple terms. “Did the first canonical evangelist intend to write a revision of the work of the second? In terms of their origins and composition what is the relationship . . . between all three of the Synoptic Gospels” (Gibbs 2006, 12)? Gibbs considers this important as it can shed light on the intention of the author, thus leading to the ability to interpret the text fairly. To begin his evaluation, Gibbs turns to Papias, as quoted in Eusebius. Papias makes no connection between Matthew and Mark as to the composition of the Gospels.
The concept of “priority” in the composition of the Gospels is, however, more complex than that of timing. As to Matthean priority, “the modern use of that phrase carries the suppostiion that Mark used Matthew, the First Gospel, as his written source” (Gibbs 2006, 14, emphasis his). The idea of one evangelist using another evangelist’s work as a written source emerges no earlier than Augustine, and only questionably so at that time. The current ideas of “priority” are relatively recent, becoming widely accepted by the early 20th century. Gibbs observes that they are based on an assumption of direct literary dependence to explain material presented by different authors, an assumption Gibbs questions (Gibbs 2006, 17). For the sake of fairness, Gibbs does provide a brief description of the standard arguments for Markan priority, all predicated on the idea of direct literary dependence. Gibbs points out weaknesses corresponding to each argument. In the end, though, Gibbs rejects the idea of direct literary dependence, so finds the arguments of Markan priority to have no reliable foundation (Gibbs 2006, 20).
Gibbs acknowledges the need to identify a source for any composition of a factual nature. His solution is that “a combination of oral tradition, some smaller written materials, and the influence of the common teaching of the Jerusalem apostles suffices to explain the data as we have them in Matthew, Mark, and Luke” (Gibbs 2006, 21). Less than a third of the material in the Synoptic Gospels is presented in the same order and in all three Gospels. Other material, which is present in only two, normally appears in a different order and in different contexts. This so-called Q material is not used in the predictable way. Gibbs also observes that precise verbal agreements, which we might expect when a literary sources was essentially transcribed, exist only in small clusters of words (Gibbs 2006, 22). A sample of his comparison is provided (Gibbs 2006, 23-25). The texts for which literary dependence is alleged actually have only about a 60% agreement. The textual agreement is simply not strong, though the conceptual agreement is quite strong (Gibbs 2006, 27). Gibbs concludes that “each of the Gospels should be read on its own terms, for its own message, in a holistic way” (Gibbs 2006, 28). The Gospels are not pieces of a whole but each one is a whole in itself. The material which was included in the Gospel accounts was likely discussed freely during the 30s while the apostles had not scattered from Jerusalem. They understood the same things about Jesus (Gibbs 2006, 29). Oral transmission can certainly explain the agreement in content but the relative fluidity in wording which is found (Gibbs 2006, 30).