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. Dr. Scaer writes about the use of Matthew’s Gospel as an instructional work in the earliest Christian period. This chapter explores the differences between the oral and written tradition and their respective functions in the life of the early Church.
Scaer, David P. Discourses in Matthew: Jesus Teaches the Church. St. Louis: Concordia, 2004. Kindle Electronic Edition.
Chapter 1, “Introduction” Loc. 543-813.
Scaer does admit that “Presenting the New Testament books as catechetical writings requires an adjustment in the minds of scholars and readers” (Scaer 2004, Loc. 543). Especially scholars who consider Mark to be the first of the Gospels and all to be familiar with the fall of Jerusalem wish to see more time between Jesus’ resurrection and the community which could articulate the ideas at the end of Matthew (Scaer 2004, Loc. 549). The liturgical life found at the end of the first century developed very quickly, likely suggesting apostolic governance rather than a gradual emergence of community (Scaer 2004, Loc. 560). “Differences in the simplicity and complexity of the New Testament books can be explained by the place of each in the catechetical process and should not suggest a higher or lower level of theological development” (Scaer 2004, Loc. 571).
Scaer goes on to address the development of longer periods of catechesis common by the second century. His opinion is that much of the longer catechesis was required for those who were not familiar with the Old Testament (Scaer 2004, Loc. 598). The Gospels provide a time of learning about Jesus, while the Epistles provide more systematic instruction for those who know Jesus (Scaer 2004, Loc.620).
By the second century Christianity was seen “as a group of people who taught and believed something” (Scaer 2004, Loc. 641). This is further evidence of a strong catechetical structure. The Gospels recognize Jesus as the teacher and the disciples as his learners (Scaer 2004, Loc. 647).
Scaer also observes the importance of understanding the Gospel documents in light of prior knowledge. “During the period when the New Testament documents were written and first circulating, oral tradition remained a lively force in the early Christian communities” (Scaer 2004, Loc. 679). The facts of the Gospel were known before the written documents circulated. The writings were therefore weighed and considered in light of other information, just as modern readers have other ideas against which they weigh the Gospels. As we read texts multiple times we gain deeper insight (Scaer 2004, Loc. 685). Scaer considers that the Gospels were written and published to introduce the readers to ideas which were already clearly present in Christian thought and teaching (Scaer 2004, Loc. 717). Over time the Gospels took on an additional liturgical use and were not primarily viewed as catechesis. The preaching from the texts remained, as it does today (Scaer 2004, Loc. 738).
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