Written by Steven O’Reilly
[ click on link, above, to read entire article… ]
Many faithful lay Catholics, I suspect, look at the conclusions that Catholic scripture scholars and theologians have come to in their studies over the last 50 plus years and have come to a conclusion of their own: theology is too important to be left to the theologians. That is not to say there are not good scholars and theologians who are perfectly fine. While that is no doubt true, it is also true in past decades that theologians have been sort of like the toddlers the adults shoo into the backroom to play while the adults entertain their adult guests. At some point in the evening, an adult goes to check on the toddlers and discovers to his or her horror that the little ones have torn up the sofa, smashed family heirlooms and colored the walls and paintings with crayons and indelible-ink markers. The shouted reaction of course is:”Oh my God, what have you done to my house!”
That is something of the reaction I recently experienced while debating an atheist via an internet list site. We were discussing the historicity of the Resurrection. Attempting to rebut my use of the Gospel of Matthew as a historical book written by an eyewitness to relevant events, the atheist cited an authority to show that I, a Catholic, could not use Matthew as a reliable historical source written by an eyewitness. What was his authoritative source? Was it some scholar-atheist? No. Was is some wacko, liberal protestant theologian? No. It was none of above. No, the atheist had cited an article found on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). To be more specific, he provided a link to the bishops’ introduction to the Gospel of Matthew (see the USCCB’s introduction to this gospel here).
The introduction to the gospel on the USCCB website states that the true author of the Gospel of Matthew is an “unknown author.” Perhaps not to disturb the faithful too much, the article gently tells its reader: “we shall continue” to call Matthew the author of the gospel simply “for the sake of convenience.” Wow. Thanks, your Excellencies and Eminences. Thank you for ‘allowing’ me to still “call” St. Matthew the author of the Gospel of Matthew. That is very convenient. Now, you might ask, ‘ah, but surely the introduction affirms-at least- that the author derived his teaching directly or indirectly from Matthew?’ No, actually not, as the writer of the article goes on to say that any connection between the gospel and traditions associated with St. Matthew the Apostle are “far from certain.”
So, there it is. The writer of the article does not know who wrote “Matthew” or even if St. Matthew, the apostle, or any traditions deriving from him actually ended up in the gospel that goes by his name. We could just as well, I suppose, theoretically, posit with equal probability that someone named “Bob” wrote the gospel. How does that sound, the “Gospel according to Bob?” To me, that does not sound as good as “The Gospel According to Matthew“- so I, for one, am glad the early Christians chose that name out of convenience instead of “Bob.” But, perhaps I am biased because my middle name is “Matthew.” Now, of course, I jest. Certainly, I am well aware that scripture scholarship has gone down this road for a long time, and that most Catholic scholars would approve of the introduction found on the USCCB website. What perturbed me though was that it was found on the website of the U.S. Catholic bishops. The website of shepherds who are supposed to mind and protect the sheep, i.e., the bishops are supposed to be the “adults” of my prior analogy.
We do not know who was commissioned to write the introduction found on the USCCB website. The scholar’s name is not provided as far as I can tell. Ironically enough, he is an “unknown author.” However, fear not! For the “sake of convenience” we will call the author of the article “the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or USCCB.” So, there you have it: the USCCB does not know who wrote the Gospel of Matthew. However, dear Catholic, you do not need to accept such drivel which masquerades as the fruit of true Catholic scholarship. Not only should you not accept it, you should object to it. Consider the following from the USCCB’s introduction to the Gospel of Matthew (emphasis added below):
The questions of authorship, sources, and the time of composition of this gospel have received many answers, none of which can claim more than a greater or lesser degree of probability. The one now favored by the majority of scholars is the following.
The ancient tradition that the author was the disciple and apostle of Jesus named Matthew (see Mt 10:3) is untenable because the gospel is based, in large part, on the Gospel according to Mark (almost all the verses of that gospel have been utilized in this), and it is hardly likely that a companion of Jesus would have followed so extensively an account that came from one who admittedly never had such an association rather than rely on his own memories. The attribution of the gospel to the disciple Matthew may have been due to his having been responsible for some of the traditions found in it, but that is far from certain.
The unknown author, whom we shall continue to call Matthew for the sake of convenience, drew not only upon the Gospel according to Mark but upon a large body of material (principally, sayings of Jesus) not found in Mark that corresponds, sometimes exactly, to material found also in the Gospel according to Luke. This material, called “Q” (probably from the first letter of the German word Quelle, meaning “source”), represents traditions, written and oral, used by both Matthew and Luke. Mark and Q are sources common to the two other synoptic gospels; hence the name the “Two-Source Theory” given to this explanation of the relation among the synoptics….