Matthew And Midrash: An Evaluation Of Robert H. Gundry’s Approach -- By: Douglas Moo
JETS 26:1 (March 1983) p. 31
Matthew And Midrash:
An Evaluation Of Robert H. Gundry’s Approach
In a statement that summarizes a major thrust of his commentary,1 Robert H. Gundry claims that “comparison with the other gospels, especially with Mark and Luke, and examination of Matthew’s style and theology show that he materially altered and embellished historical traditions and that he did so deliberately and often” (p. 639). This conclusion renders inadequate traditional evangelical solutions to the problem of discrepancies among the gospels. Harmonization, besides sometimes being forced and unconvincing, ignores the fact that the changes Matthew introduces are not accidental but deliberate. And to suspend judgment over so large a number of discrepancies is intellectually dishonest. Still worse is the refusal to allow the clear data of the text to inform our understanding of the intent and authority of the gospels.
When the force of this data is recognized, according to Gundry, we are faced with alternatives of jettisoning belief in an inerrant Bible or of reorienting our conception of what Matthew was doing in his gospel. Rejecting alternatives to inerrancy as misguided and inadequate, Gundry opts for the latter. Matthew, he argues, never intended that all the events he narrates be understood as historical in the modern sense.
However, as long as Matthew’s fabrications are regarded not as a deliberately misleading falsification of historical facts, nor as accidental errors, but as homiletical embroidery of traditional material of a kind widely accepted in Matthew’s day, charges of error are unfounded. It is our insistence on reading Matthew as empirical history in a modern, positivistic sense that creates difficulties. Matthew furnishes to the discerning reader abundant clues that his gospel does not fit into this contemporary mold but is to be understood as an example of the ancient Jewish genre of midrash or, more specifically, midrash haggadah. This genre featured extensive unhistorical embellishment of Biblical narratives for the purpose of edification. In similar manner, Gundry suggests, Matthew has recast the historical tradition of Jesus’ ministry in order to meet certain pressing needs in the first-century Church. While Mark and Luke preserve historical tradition, Matthew sermonizes on it. Differences between Matthew on the one hand and Mark and Luke on the other can not then be labeled contradictions, since the purposes of the narratives are fundamentally different.
Such is a very brief and undoubtedly inadequate description of Gundry’s novel approach to the relation of Matthean redaction and Biblical authority. It is of
*Douglas Moo is assistant profess...
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