Monday - January 18, 2016
Did the Gospels according to Matthew and John originate with those apostle-eyewitnesses? There are compelling reasons to believe they did, as we shall see. However, before his death in 1998 Fr. Raymond E. Brown, as well as other biblical scholars, popularized this idea: All four canonical Gospels originated with second generation Christians – not with eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus [Biblical Exegesis and Church Doctrine, p. 14]. Today most biblical scholars seem to agree, with the majority estimating that the evangelists, whoever they were, wrote roughly 40 to 65 years after Christ’s death (about A.D. 73 to 98).
Most of these “late-date, no eyewitness” scholars make use of the Historical-Critical Method of biblical exegesis as Fr. Brown did. Although HCM was approved by Pope Pius XII in 1943, its conclusions are largely influenced by the up-front hypotheses or assumptions of the individuals using it. The importance of writings of the Early Church Fathers is minimized. For example, Fr. Brown made the suggestion (to me, baffling) that “Church Fathers” may not have had historical information and therefore may not have been able to answer historical questions [Biblical Exegesis and Church Doctrine, p. 20].
But does it really matter who wrote the Gospels and when they wrote them? Isn’t it enough for Christians just to believe in Jesus and have faith that the Gospels are credible?
Before answering, consider the case of a Catholic priest I knew some years ago who shall remain nameless. This priest called my attention to, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church . . .” (Mt 16:18-19) and to Mark’s omission of those words in his account of the same scene at Caesarea Philippi (Mk 8: 27-30). For this priest, this omission meant that Jesus probably never said those words; therefore he believed Jesus probably did not give Peter primacy and that no Pope since then has had authority over the Church and its other bishops.
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