Did the Gospel Authors Think They Were Writing Scripture?

To explore this further, let us just consider just one of our gospels, namely the Gospel of Matthew.

If by the first century Chronicles was regarded as the final book in the Hebrew canon, as some scholars have argued, then Matthew’s gospel would certainly be a fitting sequel.  An Old Testament canon ending with Chronicles would have placed Israel in an eschatological posture, looking ahead to the time when the messiah, the son of David, will come to Jerusalem and bring full deliverance to his people.

 

One of the most common misconceptions about the New Testament canon is that the authors of these writings had no idea that they were writing Scripture-like books.  I dealt with this misconception on a general level here, showing that there was a clear apostolic self-awareness amongst the New Testament authors.

While this apostolic self-awareness may be easy to show for authors like Paul, what about the gospels which, technically speaking, are formally anonymous?  Do their authors exhibit awareness that they were writing something like Scripture?  To explore this further, let us just consider just one of our gospels, namely the Gospel of Matthew.

The first step is to get our expectations clear.  We should not expect that Matthew would say something like, “I, Matthew, am writing Scripture as I write this book.” Gospels are a very different genre than epistles, and we would not expect the authors to provide the same type of direct and explicit statements about their own authority as Paul does in his letters. Indeed, the gospel authors are decidedly behind the scenes and only rarely make appearances within the flow of the story.

However, the formal anonymity of the gospels need not be taken as evidence that their authors did not view these texts as bearing authority. Armin Baum has argued that the historical books of the New Testament (gospels and Acts) were intentionally written as anonymous works in order to reflect the practice of the Old Testament historical books which were themselves anonymous (as opposed to other Old Testament writings, like the prophets, which included the identity of the author).[1]

Thus, the anonymity of the Gospels, far from diminishing their scriptural authority, actually served to increase it by consciously placing the Gospels “in the tradition of Old Testament historiography.”[2]

Matthew itself contains fewer internal clues than other gospels that it is passing along apostolic tradition (Matt 9:9, 10:3).  Nevertheless, there are still indications that this gospel was written with the intention to be a scriptural-like book.

Most notable in this regard is the unique way that Matthew begins his gospel, with an opening “title” (v.1) followed by a genealogy (v.2-17). Davies and Allison argue that Matthew’s very first phrase, Βίβλος γενέσεως, is not so much a reference to the genealogy that follows but to the book as a whole.[3]

They comment, “Genesis was a Βίβλος , and its name was γενέσίς . One is therefore led to ask whether the introductory use of Βίβλος γενέσεως would not have caused Matthew’s readers to think of the Torah’s first book and to anticipate that some sort of ‘new genesis,’ a genesis of Jesus Christ, would follow.”[4]

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