Matthean Priority/Authorship And Evangelicalism’s Boundary -- By: Gary W. Derickson

Journal: Masters Seminary Journal
Volume: TMSJ 14:1 (Spring 2003)
Article: Matthean Priority/Authorship And Evangelicalism’s Boundary
Author: Gary W. Derickson

Matthean Priority/Authorship And Evangelicalism’s Boundary

Gary W. Derickson

Gary W. Derickson is Professor of Biblical Studies at Western Baptist College, Salem, Oregon.

Evangelicals’ experimentation with critical methodology has resulted in questions being raised about long-held viewpoints regarding the priority of Matthew as the first Gospel to be written and about whether Matthew himself actually wrote the Gospel. Such questions recall instances in the recent past when what looked like a minor departure from a traditional belief soon became an issue of questioning the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. Historical-critical approaches to Scripture have, over time, proven to be a threat to evangelicalism’s traditional view of Scripture in both doctrinal and practical realms. The movement among evangelicals to embrace Markan instead of Matthean priority appears to be another first step away from the valued evangelical view of Scripture, because it assumes that someone other than an eyewitness of Jesus’ life composed the Gospel of Matthew. The church fathers were unanimous in naming Matthew as the first Gospel to be written and in identifying the apostle Matthew as its author. Their testimony indicates that it was the dominant Gospel in the early church and contains nothing about any literary dependence between writers of the two Gospels. The issue of apostolic authorship is at stake in one’s viewpoint on this matter. If at any point a Gospel writer, be it pseudo-Matthew or any other Gospel writer, has embellished eyewitness testimony to promote his own theological viewpoint, that is a violation of biblical inerrancy that lies outside the boundary of evangelicalism.

Historical Criticism, a First Step toward Errancy?

The place in order of composition among the four Gospels and authorship of the Gospel of Matthew was not questioned until the rise of critical scholarship. Evangelicals continued to accept both until recent decades when representatives of

the movement began to experiment with critical methods. Initially, conservative evangelicals rejected the ideas of the liberal critics.1 Nonetheless, the trend has been to adopt critical methods in order to “dialogue” with critical scholars under the assumption that their methods in and of themselves are not flawed, just their presuppositions. Additionally, only the antisupernatural presuppositions undergirding their methods should be rejected. This trend has become more and more apparent over the last decade as an attitude of “pushing the limits” of evangelicalism has grown. The question of the day seems to be: How liberal is too liberal and how muc...

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