Peter as Apostate Apostle in the Gospel of Matthew?

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by Neil Godfrey

Peter2Robert Gundry in a newly published book, Peter: False Disciple and Apostate according to Saint Matthew, describes himself as “a conservative evangelical Christian” with an interest in “the understanding that makes best sense of Matthew’s text when it comes to Peter.” His argument is that

Matthew portrays Peter as a false disciple of Jesus, a disciple who went so far as to apostatize; that Matthew does so to warn Christians against the loss of salvation through falsity-exposing apostasy; that this warning fits the Matthean theme of apostasy-inducing persecution; and that the danger of apostasy fits the further Matthean theme of the ongoing presence of false disciples in the church . . . till the end. 

That’s quite a daring proposal for most of us who have long viewed the Gospel of Matthew as the one gospel that does more than any other to exalt the role of Peter in the foundational history of the Church. Some of us have wondered if the Gospel of Mark was meant to be having a dig at the disciples for their faithlessness, and some have seen the Gospel of John as subtly suggesting that Peter’s spiritual qualities were somewhat inferior to those of “the Beloved Disciple”. But the Gospel of Matthew (henceforth “Matthew”) is famous for Jesus pronouncing that he was giving Peter the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven and “upon this rock I will build my church”.

So any suggestion that Matthew viewed Peter as an apostate is going to have some explaining to do.

First question: if Matthew thought Peter was a false apostle then why didn’t he say so directly?

Gundry’s answer:

To be sure, Matthew does not pronounce an explicit judgment on Peter as a false disciple. He simply presents evidence of Peter’s falsity. This avoidance of an explicit judgment conforms to the prohibition of weeding out tares, representative of false disciples, from among wheat, representative of true disciples, though the tares, which were originally indistinguishable from the wheat, became recognizable as tares even before harvest-time, representative of the consummation (Matt. 13:24-30, 37-43). That is to say, the avoidance of explicit judgment while presenting evidence of falsity keeps Matthew from disobeying Jesus’ prohibition of judgment (Matt 5:22; 7:1-2). By contrast, Jesus pronounces judgment against Judas Iscariot as a false disciple, for he has the judgmental authority to do so (see Matt 26: 24-25).

Second question: What about Jesus giving Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and saying “Upon this rock (with the name Peter meaning “rock”) I will build my church,”  in Matthew 16?

Gundry’s response (abridged and paraphrased):

Jesus declared Peter to be “blessed” for having God reveal to him that Jesus was “the Christ”.

He saith unto them, But who say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven. — Matthew 16:15-17

Being blessed is no big deal. The word really means “privileged” for a start. Earlier Jesus included Judas Iscariot among the “privileged ones”. Recall that Jesus spoke in incomprehensible parables but his twelve disciples were “privileged” for understanding them:

But blessed [privileged] are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. — Matthew 13:16

Some students make much of the two slightly different Greek words translated as “rock” in Matthew 16. Πέτρος  (petros) is the word for “Peter” and πέτρᾳ (petra) is used for “rock” in the following:

And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. — Matthew 16:18

One church I once belonged to taught that “petros” meant a smallish stone while “petra” was a massive rock, so Jesus was setting himself above Peter by saying that Peter was a mere pebble while Jesus, the massive rock, would become the foundation of the Church. A number of scholars have argued that the pun really only works in Aramaic where there would be only one word — petra — used, not the two as in the Greek. Gundry dismisses the Aramaic argument by pointing out that Matthew was writing for audiences who knew only Greek. He further points out that in Greek literature name and word variants such as we find in Matthew 16:18 were irrelevant when it came to literary puns. That is, we should not read a lot into the different words petros and petra. Besides, the debate as to whether the two words are significantly different in meaning is still unresolved.

What Gundry identifies as significant in verse 18 is that Matthew switches word genders and persons. Petra is feminine; petros masculine. “You are Peter” is second person and “upon this rock” is third. Gundry’s conclusion is that Jesus is switching referents: first he speaks to Peter of Peter, but then shifts to speak of a third party, a “bedrock” suitable for a foundation of a building. Matthew’s audience had not very long earlier heard read to them Jesus speak of the rock upon which his followers were to build:

Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and if fell not: for it was founded upon the rock. And every one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand: — Matthew 7:24-26

The foundation or bedrock is the words of Jesus. Matthew speaks of “these words” in both 7:28, 19:1 and 26:1.

Not only do both passages feature building on bedrock. So too do both passages feature the demonstrative pronoun: “these” in 7:24, where it is distinctive of Matthew over against the parallel in Luke 6:47, and “this” in Matthew 16:18. Given the shifts both from the masculine gender to the feminine gender and from the second person to the third, Matthew’s audience will have naturally equated “this bedrock” with “the bedrock” which consisted of “these words” of Jesus. 

And the phrase “the gates of Hell/Hades shall not prevail against it” also recalls the parable in Matthew 7 where Jesus gave the assurance that anyone who built upon the foundation of “these words of His” would never be shaken when the storms came.

So contrary to what some have understood, Gundry is suggesting that the “petra” foundation represents neither Peter nor even the person of Jesus, but the “words of Jesus”.

What about the keys, though?

Judas Iscariot was also said to have been given the power to bind and loosen things on earth and heaven (Matthew 18:18) just as the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses’ seat and wielded power to shut people out of the Kingdom (16:5-12; 23:13). (The word for “shut off”, κλείετε, is cognate to for “keys”, κλεῖδας.)

Gundry argues that the evidence is even more damning as we read further in Matthew 16.

From that time began Jesus to show unto his disciples, that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up.

And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall never be unto thee.

But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art a stumbling-block unto me: for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men.

Matthew draws the readers attention to the way Peter is bluntly contradicting Jesus’ intention to suffer in Jerusalem. The pupil rebuking his Master! Peter is Satan — and Jesus had earlier in the Wilderness Temptation likewise commanded the real Satan to “Get behind me”. “Stumbling block” sounds like a mere speed bump but the Greek word is σκάνδαλον (skandalon), a “snare”, a “trap”.

Unhappily for Peter, every other Matthean occurrence of σκάνδαλον refers to those who are condemned to a furnace-like hell of eternal fire (13:41-42 . . . ; 18:7-9); and σκάνδαλον occurs here in the emphatic initial position. Frankemölle notes bluntly that for Matthew, σκάνδαλα belong in hell.

There is a Youtube video of Gundry introducing his thesis but I have not yet heard it. Readers, you will probably view it before I do.



(All quotations from Gundry’s Peter are from Kindle)

I was first made aware of Gundry’s book via Michael Bird’s article Did Matthew think that Peter was a False Disciple? on Euangelion.



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79 thoughts on “Peter as Apostate Apostle in the Gospel of Matthew?”

  1. an σκάνδαλον for me with the mythisist hypothesis is the amount of Aramaic in the gospels and the puns that only work in Aramaic, which could possibly indicate an earlier source closer to the events.

    I once emailed Richard Carrier asking how he explained this. He was kind enough to reply and pointed me to a chapter of his book*

    I read the chapter but I am afraid I struggled to grasp the argument.

    *as is his way, although I don’t think it counted towards the drinking game 🙂

    1. Gundry discusses the wordplay in Aramaic and his reasons for not factoring it into his discussion on Peter. He points to evidence that Matthew was written for an audience unfamiliar with Aramaic (e.g. the removal of Aramaicisms from Mark’s Gospel). I don’t see the relevance to mythicism, however — despite Casey’s efforts to make it of decisive significance. The presence of certain wordplay tells us nothing about who or how the game originated. I am speaking generally, of course, not having seen your own argument.

      1. I’m probably to new to this to have an argument. However, I did read something about a number of puns only working in Aramaic and thinking that it would be odd for someone writing a story/myth in Greek for a greek audience and to specifically quote the subject in Aramaic.

        Its not impossible of course, the writer may have been adding authenticity or quoting from an Aramaic story spun from whole clothe.

    2. If some early believers spoke Aramaic, then Aramaic puns in the lore would be expected whether they believed in a first century Jesus, some ancient Jesus, or a celestial Jesus.

  2. There are Aramaic words in say Hebrew. And vice versa. Recent inscription evidence furthermore show both furthermore existed in Jerusalem well before and well after Jesus.

    We’ve argued enough with Maurice Casey on this kind of stuff. Where do YOU discern an “early” marker in proto Arabic?

    1. As with my reply to Gareth, Gundry argues that puns in another language do not affect his point that Matthew depicted Peter as an apostate before an audience who did not know Aramaic and were following a Greek text.

      1. In any case, the author is able to make a strong argument on this or other grounds, to support one of my own favorite contentions: that the Bible often hints at huge sins even in our holiest holy men. Including Peter; the first pope as it is claimed.

        For me, just seeing Peter turn on Jesus, telling him he is wrong on a major doctrinal matter, and then hearing Jesus call Peter “Satan,” is all the evidence I feel I need, to start looking for a hundred other condemnations by the Bible itself, of our highest Christian leaders.

        As for specifically Peter? Don’t forget Paul’s attack on Cephus, commonly understood to be Peter.

        All have sinned. And that includes all our highest Christian holy men; and their allegedly most inspired doctrines, as it turns out.

        And as for Jesus himself? Don’t forget all those warnings about a “false Christ.” And Jesus’ own evasive answers as to whether he was the Christ.

        Ironically, the Bible itself ends up condemning Christianity.

    1. I don’t know…Lucian considered a lot of early Christian books FORGED by whoever Peregrinus Proteus really was…which would definitely make it man-made to a large degree.

      1. Perergrination means walking from place to place.

        Might be a descriptive name for a wandering peripatetic. Or wandering, nameless, shifting rumors. Or pseudonyms.

          1. The key source here is Lucian’s mid-2nd century work The Death of Peregrinus Proteas.

            Written very close to its material, with Lucian as an eye-witness.

            It could also be very easily data-matched against the Matyrdom of Polycarp.

            Peregrinus Proteas would have been one of the first liars/forgers. Still working out if his forgery extended to being the second century Christian Josephus, Hegessipus.

            One researcher I’m aware of links him also to Ignatius…pretty much Ignatius and his “grand tour” to martyrdom being Peregrinus’ EARLY stage.

            1. I agree there was endless duplicity going on. Though I’ll also consider it might have been simple confusion and smarmy-Ness by unctuous clerics.

              Many of the Latin and Greek names look like quasi scholarly descriptive names. Describing sources known to be uncertain. “Poly carp” breaks down to “Many wrists” or hands, or fruits. Might be a label for many writers, whose names and reliability could not be pinned down by later generations.

              Still, I enjoy Lucian. And believe our religion was mostly concocted out of some mixture of ignorance and deceit.

              I particularly though like the “pure deceit” thesis by Lucian and Atwill (sp?), for its rhetorical impact, its confrontationalism.

              1. Jesus & apostles: “miracle” scams? Google: Morton Smith, Hugh Asher, Mark Hoffman, Craig Keener, Michael Labahn, Dan Merkur, Carl Ruck, Graham Twelftree, Sean Williams. Cf. Morris Cerullo & Benny Hinn exposed on-line [Matthew 8.20]. (Hope this intervention is not “trolling” or “right-wing”, Mr W.)

    2. The challenge is in understanding the original message of a text millennia old from an alien culture. The difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that the text soon after its composition was combined with other narratives by an organization that used the combined (often contradictory) texts to interpret what became orthodox dogma.

      Ongoing research and learning can indeed pay off over time to help us better understand what the texts originally meant.

      1. I dunno…understanding Lucian’s point, even with the distance of time, isn’t that hard.

        He’s telling of a huckster, a forger and a suicide-waiting-to-happen fleecing a lot of early Christians (either Ebionite or Essenic). He tells us this huckster definitely has the brains and education to pull off an interesting little swindle.

        And the Christians of that time seem to be THAT guillable…

        Doesn’t sound like things have changed much since Lucian’s time, thinking of a few televangelists…

          1. It was actually cited as a way of explaining that the original message of an alien culture in a text a millenia or more old isn’t that hard.

            Human motivations haven’t changed much over that time.

            So forging hucksters haven’t changed since the 2nd century, therefore it isn’t truly THAT hard to work it out.

            That particular point makes it EASIER to cut through the crap and get down to the nitty-gritty and take a LATERAL thinking approach to it all.

            1. George, how about a game? Before typing your own response how about first outlining in brief what you believe to be the point and argument of the person to whom you are responding?

              1. There was a point to be made that we’re still talking about material that was at least half-forged in the period before the 150s.

                With perhaps another layer of forging in the 180s/190s. Even with a distance of 1900 years and a different culture, it’s not a hard point to get.

                So…if we’re talking about Peter at all, we’re still talking about a character who may be fiction OR allegory ANYWAY.

                I’ll address the topic of this particular post…and home in on this part:

                “What Gundry identifies as significant in verse 18 is that Matthew switches word genders and persons. Petra is feminine; petros masculine. “You are Peter” is second person and “upon this rock” is third. Gundry’s conclusion is that Jesus is switching referents: first he speaks to Peter of Peter, but then shifts to speak of a third party, a “bedrock” suitable for a foundation of a building. Matthew’s audience had not very long earlier heard read to them Jesus speak of the rock upon which his followers were to build:”

                I’m also going to take a LATERAL approach and bring up what may well have been the EARLY edition of Matthew, the Gospel of the Hebrews.

                There’s NOT many fragments of the Gospel of the Hebrews to work with…but those that DO remain clue us into who the Risen Lord is…simply by mention of the linen cloth he hands to someone.

                The youth in the linen cloth who permeates Gnostic Christian views of the story…and who is only given a few showings in the Catholic/Orthodox version.

                There’s the third-party Jesus is actually talking about when he switches from Peter TO the third-party.

                Interestingly, the “Risen Lord” of the Gospel of the Hebrews says his brother is James. Let’s assume for just one minute Acts has YET to be written…and also assume Acts is written by Peregrinus Proteus to distort the ACTUAL story.

                Who then would the “Risen Lord” be?

                Especially if the “resurrection” is a metempsychosis.

                According to Alexandria, the youth in the Linen Cloth is Mark, according to Ephesus it’s John.

                Or a youth with both names. John Mark.

                Peter then doesn’t get what goes on. Hence how Jesus castigates him.

                Peter also thinks Jesus is the Messiah, and the Gnostics/Marcionites/Markan Christians interpret another point to mean that many would come saying JESUS was the Messiah.

                The messiah would actually be the Youth in the Linen Cloth. Also the mustard seed, also the disciple Jesus loved.

                Peter will only ever be associated with thinking Jesus was the messiah.

                And yes, James the brother of the Lord is actually James the brother of John (Mark) if we work this out correctly.

                SO…the observation in the relevant bit I actually quoted from the post points to someone other than Peter as a bedrock. And independently verifies that a GNOSTIC version of Jesus was at play in this originally.

        1. The Bible was written by thousand of voices and hands over thousands of years. And translated and edited in, among other eras, the time of the Greeks, the Gnostics, and more recently Shakespeare. Its language and message is therefore today relatively complex. It is often called poetic or literary. But polysemic would be a less laudatory term.

          Importantly, its multilayered language attempts to simultaneously accommodate dozens of competing theologies.

          Including finally, even a veiled rational criticism of earlier simple beliefs. And early figures. Lke say, Peter.

          1. For “rational” you could read “cynic,” or even “atheist,” surprisingly.

            Is there an atheistic voice, argument, supported by the Bible? That is my thesis for now.

            It starts with say, parts of Ecclesiastes and Job. And parts of “Jesus'” /Paul’s condemnation of Cephas/Peter. To be sure, only parts at first.

            How? Why? Don’t forget, some of those monks read Greek. And had a pretty sophisticated education for their day.

  3. This is another possible clue of the fact that the first gospel dictated ABSOLUTELY the game rules about who ‘had’ to be the ‘good’ guys and who the ‘bad’ guys in the story of Jesus, game rules to which each successive evangelist had to follow (more or less consciously), at price otherwise to rehabilitate a bad as Judas (as does the gnostic Gospel of Judas) and then pay in terms of ‘credibility’.

    Before reading this post, I had always thought that the basic story is something as this:

    1) the first gospel Mark (or another gospel) introduced a story where the ‘bad guys’ are the same first followers of Jesus

    2) against Mark, the heirs (or presumed heirs) of these first followers of Jesus, corrected the Markan story to rehabilitate the same first followers of Jesus

    3) at end, the more cynical compromise wins.

    The big question was: was there a thin historical link between the first followers of Jesus and the presumed heirs of these (=Matthew) ? Mistery.

    Now, in virtue of the evidence given by Robert Gundry, the more likely answer is: NO.

    1. Well, there must have been some kind of link between the first followers of Jesus and the evangelist(s) who wrote Matthew, because otherwise how could the latter have heard the name Jesus and become in any sense a Christian? But it appears that the link was very thin indeed. (Note that when I say “first followers of Jesus”, I’m assuming that these would be people who founded a religious movement on the basis of revelatory visions, but the same logic applies if there were a human teacher named Jesus).

      Gundry does not appear to be sympathetic to Robert M. Price’s view (perhaps not original to him) that we see in Matthew multiple strata with opposite attitudes toward Peter. The multiple strata view makes sense of the point-counterpoint style of some of the stories: Matthew walks on water! … but then he starts to sink. Jesus gives Matthew the keys to the kingdom! but then he gives them to the other apostles as well.

      After listening to Gundry’s talk, I also find that he doesn’t address the relationship between Matthew’s anti-Petrine attitudes and Mark’s anti-Petrine attitudes. If we assume the short ending of Mark, then it is equally true of Mark’s Peter that he ends up as an apostate and is never rehabilitated (although Mark 16:7 appears to hold out hope for him). So, this story arc is not original to Matthew. Matthew removes the mention of Peter by the angel in the tomb, but he does have the Great Commission which includes all of the apostles less Judas.

      The authorship of Matthew strikes me as the most mysterious of the bunch. I’m curious what Roger Parvus would have to say about it; hopefully we’ll find out at some point. I seem to recall hearing that there was evidence implying a more westerly Mediterranean (i.e. Italian) origin for Matthew vs. more eastern (i.e. Greek) origin for Luke, but I don’t recall the details. I don’t know enough about the prevailing norms of the time to judge whether it’s odd that a Christian living in Rome would write a gospel in Greek rather than Latin. Perhaps the sequence of events for composition of the gospels was something like this:

      0) Christian ideas of some sort, along with the text of Q (sayings, not necessarily attributed to Jesus), filter into the God-fearer and Jewish diaspora communities of Italy and Greece
      1) per Roger Parvus’ Simonian origin theory, a Simonian writes Ur-Marcus, the original version of the gospel, as an allegory of the ministry of Simon Magus. Ur-Marcus takes a dismissive attitude toward Jesus’ most famous early Jewish followers (“who were reputed to be pillars” according to Simon)
      2) proto-Christians in the gentile world become interested in this gospel but don’t understand the allegory and don’t like some of the theological points. A lightly edited version begins to circulate, which is very similar to Mark as we have it today.
      3a) However, despite the interest and curiosity it provokes, Mark seems to be missing a certain something. The first author of Matthew feels inspired to create an improved and expanded version of Mark by emphasizing the gospel’s Jewishness, including most of the text of Q verbatim, and providing a more inspiring beginning and ending. This first author is writing for a gentile or strongly Hellenised audience but has an agenda that is both pro-Tanakh and pro-Peter. He takes the opportunity to correct Mark’s dismissive attitude toward Peter.
      3b) A second author produces a major revision of Matthew, producing something similar to what we have now. This author is an anti-Petrine. Perhaps he identifies as “of James” or “of Apollonius”, etc. Or perhaps he simply associates the “of Cephas” faction with strict requirements for proselytes. I have to imagine that early gentile Christians were strongly motivated to find a theology that did not require genital surgery. Eventually, the consensus settled on a compromise soft judaising position (yes to the tanakh and the god of Jacob, no to circumcision and kosher), but perhaps, at the time the second Matthean author was working, Peter was still seen as an opponent of this consensus.
      4) The Matthew version of the gospel proves even more popular than Mark. Off in the eastern Mediterranean, a gentile (or strongly gentile-oriented) Christian author starts to hear about Matthew. However, he doesn’t have a copy; he only has (edited) Mark and Q. He decides to try his hand at the doing the same thing Matthew’s author did, but better: for one thing, it will be built from scratch to represent the emerging consensus, the soft judaisers. The result is Luke.
      5) To settle once and for all that the good guys are all on the same side, the same author or an associate writes Acts of the Apostles, telling the tale of the founding of the church with both Peter and Paul as the pillars of Catholicism, completely simpático on everything important, both soft judaisers.
      6) Per Roger Parvus’ Apellean/Ignatian theory, Apelles and Philumena, operating in their own mostly separate circles produce the original version of John based on visions. They have very limited interest Judaism, and basically no interest in Matthew or Luke, but they have evidently picked up some of the now ambient pro-Peter attitudes. Their agenda is not so much to derogate Peter as to place Somebody Else (Paul?) ahead of him. I don’t know what to make of their anti-Thomasine agenda. Not much later, the Apelleans are absorbed into proto-orthodoxy and their gospel is edited to soften its heterodox ideas.

      3b) could have happened before or after 4), although the original pro-Peter version of Matthew cannot have been all that popular given that no independent evidence of it remains. I’m also not sure about the sequence of 5) and 6), but that is irrelevant to the topic of Matthew.

      Even if I’m on the right track here, lots of questions remain. Who are the first and second authors of Matthew? I don’t care about the names, but what is the background that their ideas emerge from? What is the role of Alexandria in this story? Apollonius (along with Apelles) is associated with Alexandria and it seems to have been a major Christian center. Do any of the gospel versions show the influence of Alexandrian Christian ideas?

      1. After listening to Gundry’s talk, I also find that he doesn’t address the relationship between Matthew’s anti-Petrine attitudes and Mark’s anti-Petrine attitudes.

        I confess I haven’t heard the talk yet but in the book Gundry argues Matthew changes some of Mark’s “pro-Petrine/apostles” passages. To Gundry, Matthew is taking Mark’s pro-Peter gospel into an anti-Peter direction. Of significance is Mark’s conclusion where Peter in particular is to be told about the resurrection. (I know there are counter arguments but this is where Gundry is coming from.)

        1. That doesn’t seem very compelling. Mark does not strike me as pro-Peter. “Get behind me Satan” is original to Mark, not Matthew. Matthew arguably ends with Peter as an unreconciled apostate, but Mark definitely ends that way.

          Matthew doesn’t have the mention of Peter in the empty tomb, but does have the great commission. Neither of those is an explicit rehabilitation of Peter, but the latter seems a little stronger to me because the mention of Peter in Mark is never followed up on (the women run away and don’t tell anyone). That mention might have been removed just from Matthew just to save space. Per Price, Matthew sometimes abridges his Markan material just because he doesn’t want his gospel to be as long as Mark and Q together. On the other hand, also per Price, I have no trouble believing that there was an anti-Petrine editor of Matthew – I just don’t see that attitude as contrasting with Mark.

          1. Gundry’s reply would include the following points:

            1. The message to tell Peter of the resurrection can be interpreted as tell “even Peter” — thus giving hope for other backsliders; — if so, then Matthew’s omission of this detail and of any mention of Peter at the end is very telling.

            2. Mark has Peter (Simon) leading the disciples seeking Jesus early one morning — Mark 1:35-38 — a positive detail omitted by Matthew.

            3. Peter is not admitted to witness the raising of Jairus’s daughter in Matthew.

            4. Matthew omits Mark’s Peter marveling at Jesus’ curse of the fig-tree etc.

            5. Matthew denies Peter any privileged status in Jesus’s Olivet prophecy.


      2. Well, there must have been some kind of link between the first followers of Jesus and the evangelist(s) who wrote Matthew, because otherwise how could the latter have heard the name Jesus and become in any sense a Christian? But it appears that the link was very thin indeed. (Note that when I say “first followers of Jesus”, I’m assuming that these would be people who founded a religious movement on the basis of revelatory visions, but the same logic applies if there were a human teacher named Jesus).

        Greg, according to Roger Parvus, the proto-catholics were simply Diaspora hellenists that add themselves later into the Christian moviment, only when they realized (II CE) that the first Gospel puts in doubt the goodness of the God of the Jews. So in that sense I assume that they had no relationship with the original Christianity, therefore they claimed, by writing Matthew, to have ‘historical’ links with Peter & co. But now Gundry suggests to me that they do not even claimed the link with Peter, to reclaim their precedence over the community behind the first Gospel.

        1. Well, this seems like it might be mostly a disagreement over semantics: I would call this a minimal connection rather than no connection. At some point, there has to be somebody who had some kind of connection to the earliest Christian communities who told diaspora Hellenists about some kind of Christian ideas; otherwise, how could they ever have become Christians in any sense. Moreover, it’s interesting that all of the Gospel writers find Peter an interesting enough character that they feel the need to depict him in some depth, even if it’s a derisive portrayal. The same is true to a lesser extent of John and James Boanerges. On the other hand, the evangelists have an almost total lack of interest in James as a putative blood relative of Jesus: they know of a disciple named James, but he’s either a different person or else they dispute that he’s a relative. Same story with Thomas: the authors of the Synoptics take no notice of him. My point is, the Greek-oriented Christian communities that produced the gospels had at least enough connection to the early Levantine church to know the names of some key leaders and have opinions about their merits or lack thereof.

          1. …it’s interesting that all of the Gospel writers find Peter an interesting enough character that they feel the need to depict him in some depth, even if it’s a derisive portrayal.

            My implication from this your observation is that the Gospels written after the first Gospel (as Matthew) were so totally dependent on the first Gospel to be forced to represent negatively Peter even when that same Peter would prove more useful later as an icon of the proto-orthodox camp (I assume Matthew still proto-orthodox in essentia).

            But the fact that Gundry recognizes in Mark a pro-petrine Gospel leads me to doubt that Mark was the first gospel. Now I think that Mark and Matthew are two proto-catholic gospels, Matthew coming first and suffering despite him the influence of a first heretical gospel, while Mark coming after Matthew and disinfecting Matthew from the heretical influences by adding a new character only now co-opted to the proto-orthodox cause: Saint Paul (that in Mark appears behind the same paulinized Jesus).

            1. Right, that might be the extent of the minimal connection: someone who had heard of Peter, James, and John wrote Ur-Marcus and then everyone else in Gentile/Hellenist-oriented Christianity didn’t know anything about them beyond what they read in Mark (and in some cases they also had Galatians and 1 Colossians).

              1. P.S. And quite possibly the author of Ur-Marcus knew little if anything about Peter, John, and James except for what he read in the Paulines, so ultimately it all traces back to Simon Magus. I dig Parvus and Tom Dykstra both.

              2. Ur-Markus…

                This is where I’m going to have to detach from modern scholarship a bit…because the ancient testimony is most likely a bit more clearer.

                Switch off temporarily to the idea of Irenaeus’ lot were FIRST. Then look at the references to ANY group of heretics where the name was a variant of Mark. Take the term Marcionite to be either “Little Mark” or “those of Mark.”

                Where it seemed a little more clearer that there was Jesus AND a Christ as separate entities. Where the youth in the Linen Cloth was more prominant.

                Where Mark had observed and written about things we now find in John and Luke (suggesting Irenaeus may have CENTO’d a longer gospel into smaller, separate gospels, backed by the fact the Syriac churches used a long gospel long before four were ever forced on them)

                Where Mark was actually John in the story.

                Your Ur-Mark is already in ancient testimony.

                It’s just not in Irenaeus’ possession.

                I actually go one step BACK from Simon Magus. It’s a title, not a name and if you now even basic Hebrew and again detach from later slanders by proto-Catholic/Proto-Orthodox OR even the Clementines…

                …the title is probably more attached to that concept of EIGHT being a perfect number (an idea which Justin Martyr shared with Markan Christians).

                Shmone is Hebrew for eight. Shimon/Simon doesn’t SOUND much different.

                And as attested by remaining ancient sources, you went to a Simonian church and even USED the name “Simon,” you were thrown out as not knowing a thing about the group.

                So take that back one further, the name of THE Simon wasn’t Simon.

                And the joke of it all is…because someone told us this next character was fourth-century instead of first…we ignore the fact there was an IMPORTANT Mark over IN Samaria…who had enough impact to have left a liturgical document. Memar Marqeh. The Word of Mark. (thanks to someone this week mentioning the Hebrew word memRA)

                Plus what the Coptic Church is aware of about Mark.

                The proto-Catholics slandered Mark by calling groups associated with variants of his name. In their own gospels, the proto-Catholics reduced Mark to a bit player and probably emasculated his gospel.

                And…again going back to the ancient testimony from what’s known about the Markan groups…they actually interpretted this line differently.

                “Many will come saying “I am the Christ”.

                They interpretted it as meaning “May will come saying I (Jesus) am the Christi.”

                So an original Mark it was clearer by a smidgen that Jesus wasn’t the Christ.

                No birth-story back-story.

                Ends with an empty tomb and a Youth in a Linen Cloth in it.

                Simply going by Irenaeus’ hostile testimony witness to its contents and pulling in one or two extra bits of independent testimony.

                No need for a theoretical Ur-Mark or a Q. Just working with the available information that was already extant. And taking an intelligence-assessment approach to the material.

              3. One other thing from ancient testimony, using Irenaeus’ own information about the Markan Christians, for this “Ur-Markus.”

                Markan Christians (groups associated with the Mark name with Marcus, Marcion, Marcellus) were of the opinion that the writer of the letters ALSO wrote the gospel.

                Heretics are noted to have denied even under oath that the apostle was MARK.

                Paul was Mark.

                But not to the “proto-Catholic” johnny-come-latelies.

  4. So Jim West:
    Gundry writes, according to his own testimony, as an evangelical Christian of the conservative camp.
    Hence, no one should approach his work as though he were a Jesus-mythicist or an angry atheist with an axe to grind against the ‘bad Peter’. Quite the contrary, his purpose in these pages is to really listen to what Matthew says and to take it seriously.

    According to West’s logic, then, I have no right to read this book because my ‘sin’ is to imagine how much it’s expected under the Jesus Myth theory the fact that Matthew follows Mark in making Peter a symbol of apostasy (therefore giving up in advance the claim of being a gospel came by historical witnesses of an historical Jesus by historical links between a historical Peter and ”Matthew”, but being only God-inspired).

    1. Jim West’s fatuous assumptions suggest that only a conservative Christian and non-Catholic can be relied upon to do honest scholarship on the Bible.

    2. But West may be a secret sympathizer. There is the useful emerging argument that suggests, for the sake of addressing evangelicals in their own language, that if they honor the Bible, or Matthew, then they should honor its criticisms of itself, and Peter, and so forth.

      We are just following the Bible here. Thus you can speak to very firm Bible thumpers. Using their own principles, you can even sincerely present yourself as an evangelical, to guide evangelicals to a Mythicism they would not consciously or immediately embrace.

      Mythicism here is usefully and honestly presented to evangelicals, as fundamentalist biblicism. We are just following Matthew, after all.

      Here after all, we are just following the Bible.

      This is a useful orientation in order to reach evangelicals. Beginning with their own core principles. But then eventually, when they are ready, showing them how those very same principles lead them to the Mythicist position.

  5. I’m trying to make sense of what it means for Paul to say the cross was a stumbling block for the Jews. Regarding what we know about the historical Jesus, Paul says the cross was a stumbling block for most Jews, because they expected a messiah would be a military conqueror. But Jesus was never thought of in this way, so when he was identified as a messiah by his followers they must have had something else in mind. Paul, as a Jew, had no problem with a crucified messiah, and accordingly said ”Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3).” The scriptures Paul saw Christ as fulfilling in the passage in 1 Cor 15:3 were most likely Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. For example, in Acts, the conversion of Ethiopian Queen Candace’s eunuch is an example where the original Christians were seeing the messiah through the lens of Isaiah 53. The eunuch “who had charge of all her treasury” was on the road to Jerusalem and was reading the “suffering servant” passage from Isaiah (53:7–8), when Philip approaches him saying “Do you understand what you are reading?”. (Acts 8:30). After interpreting the text, Philip convinces the eunuch to declare “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” and immediately baptize himself. So there must have been some Jews who interpreted the messiah as suffering and dying, through the lens of Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. Because Paul saw Jesus’ death as crucial to his messiahship, Paul saw Jesus’ death as atoning for the sins of the world (1 Cor 15:3), and to be the “firstfruits (1 Cor 15:20)” of the general resurrection. Paul was close to the first Christians who knew Jesus, so maybe his views reflect what the original followers about Jesus also thought about him as well. Maybe the historical Jesus thought that it was his place to suffer and die, to fulfill Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. Maybe the cross was not a stumbling block to the original Jewish followers of Jesus because they did not see him as a military messiah, and that they, and Jesus, believed he was supposed to suffer. Maybe this is why Jesus thought the end of the world was coming, because he thought it would come with his death where he would be the “firstfruits” of the general resurrection. It’s just hard to believe Paul came up with this interpretation all on his own.

    1. And this goes along with what we see in Mark.

      Likely the clearest Prophecy about Jesus is the entire 53rd chapter of Isaiah. Isaiah 53:3-7 is especially unmistakable: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

      The only thing is, as Spong points out, Isaiah wasn’t making a prophesy aboout Jesus. Mark was doing an exegetical reading of Isaiah. So, Mark depicts Jesus as one who is despised and rejected, a man of sorrow acquainted with grief. He then describes Jesus as wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. The Servant in Isaiah, like Jesus in Mark, is silent before his accusers. In Isaiah it says of the servant with his stripes we are healed, which Mark turned into the story of the scourging of Jesus. This is, in part, is where atonement theology comes from, but it would be silly to say II Isaiah was talking about atonement. The servant is numbered among the transgressors in Isaiah, so Jesus is crucified between two thieves. The Isaiah servant would make his grave with the rich, So Jesus is buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a person of means.

      Then, as Dr. Robert Price says

      The substructure for the crucifixion in chapter 15 is, as all recognize, Psalm 22, from which derive all the major details, including the implicit piercing of hands and feet (Mark 24//Psalm 22:16b), the dividing of his garments and casting lots for them (Mark 15:24//Psalm 22:18), the “wagging heads” of the mockers (Mark 15:20//Psalm 22:7), and of course the cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34//Psalm 22:1). Matthew adds another quote, “He trusts in God. Let God deliver him now if he desires him” (Matthew 7:43//Psalm 22:8), as well as a strong allusion (“for he said, ‘I am the son of God’” 27:43b) to Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20, which underlies the whole story anyway (Miller, p. 362), “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and
      let us test what will happen at the end of his life: for if the righteous man is God’s son he will help him and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture that we may find out how gentle he is and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”

      As for other details, Crossan (p. 198) points out that the darkness at noon comes from Amos 8:9, while the vinegar and gall come from Psalm 69:21. It is remarkable that Mark does anything but call attention to the scriptural basis for the crucifixion account. There is nothing said of scripture being fulfilled here. It is all simply presented as the events of Jesus’ execution. It is we who must ferret out the real sources of the story. This is quite different, e.g., in John, where explicit scripture citations are given, e.g., for Jesus’ legs not being broken to hasten his death (John 19:36), either Exodus 12:10, Numbers 9:12, or Psalm 34:19-20 (Crossan, p. 168). Whence did Mark derive the tearing asunder of the Temple veil, from top to bottom (Mark 15:38)? Perhaps from the death of Hector in the Iliad (MacDonald, pp. 144-145). Hector dies forsaken by Zeus. The women of Troy watched from afar off (as the Galilean women do in Mark 15:40), and the whole of Troy mourned as if their city had already been destroyed “from top to bottom,” just as the ripping of the veil seems to be a portent of Jerusalem’s eventual doom.

      So, it is possible that the original understanding of Jesus was as a suffering, dying messiah, and so the cross was never a stumbling block to the Jews who originally followed Jesus – even though this is not the understanding of “messiah” that most of the Jews of that time had.

          1. Paul says “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3).” The scriptures being referenced here clearly seem to be Isaiah 53. For instance, we read that “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).” It seems this perspective from Isaiah 53 is also reflected elsewhere when Paul writes “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (Rom 4:25).” But if you think there is another scripture besides Isaiah 53 or Psalm 22 that Paul could be referring to in 1 Cor. 15:3, then please name that scripture.

            1. Consider though an apocryphal source: 2 Mac. 6-7. Noted by Price.

              Note Eleazor and the seven tortured, dying and resurrecting sons of God. Whose torture and death saved us all c.167-70. BC

              1. You know, Bee, I’m not sure how others would take that Macabean source, but I’ll go with with it.

                It actually is more consistent with what comes across in Gnostic understandings of the Gospel. The idea of someone whose torture and death saved someone in particular.

                Why in Markan Christian groups (as Irenaeus attested underneath the slander) there was a separate Jesus from the Christ. Whoever the Jesus was ended up tortured and dying, leaving the separate Christ alive or “resurrected” through the substitution.

                You know, Bee…that 167-70 example isn’t so much square-peg/round hole…it actually slots better. That makes a change from most attempts to back-write Jesus into the OT where it does come across as trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

                And I’d say the Macabean example was to a degree known to the original writer of the gospel. It would have been fresher in his mind…

              2. Following Boyarin’s analysis, which I posted a link to above, I think Isaiah 53 is the most natural referent for 1 Cor 15:3, although I don’t remember if Boyarin mentions 1 Cor 15:3 specifically.

            2. John, have you ever tried looking through the apocrypha to see if Paul was using any of it?

              I’m definitely thinking at least on a conceptual basis Paul was using some principles that would have shown up in Greek-era apocrypha.

              I’ve noted over the years that the most references to a Son of God were usually in the Apocrypha. Just as the Logos/Memra was a direct result of even remotely being influenced by Greek modes of exegisis on the nature of God…trying to de-anthropomorthize the Hebrew usually LED to having to replace it with an angel or hypostasis. The closer to the Greek idea of God, the more a SECOND Power in Heaven comes into view.

              More the “Jesus” that Paul is on about in his letters anyway.

              1. The apocryphal though have long been dogmatically marginalized. Especially by Protestants of course, who took them out of their Bible.

                Some scholars are therefore giving them more attention. At least one of them whose name I wish I could remember, hit international news about 6 or 10 years ago, claiming they, not the OT, were the origin of. Christianity.

                It makes sense. They were newer, and more creative. And show lots of Greek influence, in spite of their conscious opposition to it.

              2. The Apocrypha aren’t in the Jewish scriptures for a reason…they’re not of benefit to future generations. Hence, Protestants work with the canon of Jewish scripture.

                But the fact they were highly-prized by the proto-Catholics and perhaps before them, some early Gnostic and pre-Christian Gnostic groups does have some bearing.

                The canonized Jewish scriptures and the Prophets in that Canon really don’t have the foggiest about a messiah anything like Jesus and Jesus has to be square-peg/round-holed into them at the best of times.

                But the Greek-era works, the pre-Christian Gnostic groups based around Seth, Enoch and Melchezedik, then yes, easily fits those.

                Unfortunately, it doesn’t prove a historical Jesus…nor a Jewish one.

                One would also have to wonder if the Samaritan Dosithean stream was more amenable to such works.

                Bee…who said the Apocryphal works were in opposition to Greek influence? I’m thinking they’re more a back-door way to Greek ideas just glossed up as Hebrew ideas.

            3. I’m not sure why some scholars are still so resistant to the idea that the New Testament writers were sometimes making exegetical use of the Hebrew scriptures to create the New Testament literature. After all, everyone agrees that Matthew presented Jesus as the new Moses. And it is often so obvious. Mark comes right out at the beginning of his gospel and says: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ ; AS IT IS WRITTEN IN THE PROPHETS.” Mark then immediately INTERPRETS John the Baptist as a forerunner of the Messiah (a la Elijah in II Kings 1:8). Mark then clothes John similar to Elijah (Mark 1:6. II Kings 1:8.) He then says John ate locusts and wild honey,the food of the wildernes in which Elijah lived. The Jordan baptism and the endowment with the spirit is a repetition of 2 Kings 2, where, near the Jordan, Elijah bequeaths a double portion of his own miracle-working spirit to Elisha, who henceforth functions as his successor and superior. ****** I mean, it’s just so obvious that this exegetical use of the Hebrew scripture is going on. lol

              1. If there’s one thing I get out of your point above, John…it’s that John the baptist could have been created whole cloth just by swiping an earlier, OT description of Elijah.

                Now would he then be a fiction all the way back to the earliest Marcionite/Markan Christian gospel…or would he only be inserted when the proto-Catholics came along?

              2. I’m betting it was a rewrite of parts of the Old Testament, plus Greek and apocryphal material, that formed the main origins of the New Testament.

                All three.

                Scholars don’t like to look at it because they or believers can’t face it.

            4. See also the series I posted on Levenson’s Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son for further evidence of Jewish belief in an atoning human sacrifice. Another work I have yet to post on is The Messiah: A Comparative Study of the Enochic Son of Man and the Pauline Kyrios by James Waddell.

              1. I’ll be quite interested to read that post, Neil…especialsly because of the connection to Enoch.

                The Enoch and Seth material that cropped up after 167 b.c.e. is perhaps the earliest real reference to a Son of God. Daniel, by contrast and comparison, references a Son of Man. Unfortunately, it’s Daniel’s material setting up the expectation of WHEN any messiah will crop up…where the Weeks prophesy is turned from Weeks to years.

                I’m aware some researchers even place Daniel after 167 b.c.e., though Jewish rabbis can cite some of the Prophets of earlier times mentioning him.

                I’m definitely of the opinion Daniel figured BIG in the earliest forms of Christianity, especially around the Daniel 9:26 Messiah.

                Enoch and Seth material, though, could be written in the 167 b.c.e period when Greek influence had taken a hold…and therein I’d see attachments to Plato’s idea of a Son of God and cosmic cross.

              2. “Waddell does however show that Paul was familiar with the conceptual elements of the Enochic messiah, and that Paul developed his concept of the Kyrios out of the Son of Man traditions in the Book of the Parables of Enoch.”

                I’d call that a “bingo” on my current line of enquiry.

              3. Just a note. In one of the Levenson articles it says:

                I have presented Levenson’s central ideas more comprehensively in a series of posts that have been archived at Levenson: Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son.

                – the link doesn’t go anywhere

            5. After reading the Levenson articles, I think the scriptures Paul is referring to in 1 Cor 15:3 are the ones regarding Isaac, the beloved son of Abraham, and the suffering servant in Isaiah who went, like Isaac, willingly to his slaughter, and finally another miraculous son, the son of David, the future messianic king laden with hopes of restoring the nation and establishing justice and peace throughout the world.

              I guess the others that will have to be added in are the apocrypha, which I’m not familiar with yet – lol

              1. Curiously, there is a “throne of St. Mark” that used to be in Alexandria, ended up in Venice…that has depictions of that very thing…of the Binding of Isaac.

                As the Markan Gnostic Christians especially thought that Paul was actually Mark…it would not surprise me in the slightest such a connection to Isaac in 1 Cor. 15:3.

                Nor would it surprise me if the Binding of Isaac is more the correct thematic lead-in to a “resurrection.” That working on the idea of the resurrection as a form of metempsychosis.

              2. I should perhaps be quieter about that throne of St. Mark…Neil’s not a fan of Huller’s work.

                Although on this point I think Huller was on to something. One scene on that chair clearly referenced the Binding of Isaac and a lamb/sheep stuck in a thicket.

                And the St Mark throne is STILL technically archaeological data.

                In this case, John McDonald, fitting in with what you’re saying about Isaac and 1 Cor. 15:3.

              3. The sacrifice of a son is the major motif in all these sources. And all are obvious roots for Christianity. But especially 2 Mac. 6-7. Where we see it in effect, seven times over.

  6. After this lecture for the Evangelical Theological Society, Gundry was forced to resign from the ETS. For not honouring the Inerrancy of the Bible.

    I find that rather ironic; the position of the ETS is that St Peter denied Jesus multiple (somewhere between 3 and 9) times, and then Jesus forgave Peter and made him His successor on earth. And Gundry ‘denies’ Peter once, and is expelled forever……..

    Btw, Gundry still confirms the inerrancy of the Bible. The difference being that he sees the ‘truth’ of the text in a different way, (surprisingly?) rather similar to Bart Ehrmann’s understanding of ‘truth’. Namely that the text reflects actions and words that might well have occurred like that, but it is not necessary that they verifiably did so.

    1. Or maybe the truth is that the Bible itself finally noted so many sins in our highest holy men, that finally it did not forgive them in the end.

      Note for example that Jesus seemed to forgive Peter for a few sins, and to give him the keys. But then? Peter turned on Jesus on a few doctrinal issues.

      So Jesus finally, in the end, effectively retracts his forgiveness. Calling Peter ” Satan” in Mat. 16.23. Which seems quite strong, and so, irretrievably final.

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