Friday, May 29, 2009

Matthew Biased Toward OT Prophecies?

How would you respond to allegations that the gospel writers had done a bit of "map-bending" in their gospel accounts to force the events in Jesus' life to conform to OT scriptures. For example, Matthew seems to have recorded that Jesus rode on a donkey and a colt on Palm Sunday, while the other synoptics recorded only one. Matthew seems to have recorded 2 donkeys to fit the prophecy in Zechariah. Also, in Matthew, Jesus is shown as a second Moses - the slaughter of the innocents parallels the circumstances around Moses' birth, and the escape to Egypt is also a parallel to Moses' situation. I might have missed it, but I don't think these things are in the other gospels. This would seem to undermine the credibility of the gospel. How would you answer this?


Daniel Kim said...

I would first ask this question: "Why do you think that undermines the credibility of the gospels?"

Matthew was written for the Jewish audience, so it contains a lot of references to OT prophecies as well as references only Jews would understand. Other gospels that were not written for the Jewish readers would not include them, because it would be meaningless to a large part of their intended audience. As a consequence, Matthew contains these fulfillment passages with references to the OT prophets and Moses, because his Jewish audience would understand them.

So I would first ask that question -- why do you think that the fact that other gospels don't contain the OT prophecies fulfillment would hurt the credibility of the gospels? Let's go by that logic for a moment... What would be the conditions in which the gospels are shown to be "credible" in this case, then? Have the other gospels also include the OT prophecies, although they wouldn't make sense to their readers? Or maybe have Matthew exclude the OT prophecies?

Whether or not there were 1 or 2 donkeys that were originally untied before Jesus rode into Jerusalem seems like a very small side issue that is largely irrelevant, so I'll just let that pass, unless you think it's a big deal. (by the way, a human being can only ride on one donkey at a time... so it would not be false to say that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, even if there were two)

So let's continue this conversation by answering the qeustion: "why do you say that this would seem to undermine the credibility of the gospel?"

If someone answers that by saying, "because it makes it seem like the person made it up." How would you answer? Maybe others reading this post can give your input.

Wynn said...

Sorry, I wasn't being very clear. It's not the fact that Matthew cited a lot of OT prophecies and the others do not. The allegation is basically that the gospels are not completely historical. Rather, they were twisted to fit the prophecies of the OT when they don't quite fit. I've heard this specific criticism from two of my professors now. They look at some of the stories found in Matthew (such as the escape to Egypt, slaughter of the innocents, and the passover story), and they compare it to the others. They see that the Matthew story is different in such a way that would make it conveniently fit the prophecies, such as the one in Zechariah, which he cited. Therefore, they conclude that Matthew fudged the story a little bit to make that connection with the OT prophecies to validate his claims that Jesus is the Messiah.

Daniel Kim said...

Yes, I think I understood the allegation first time around..

The question still stands.. The Jewish nature of Matthew entails that Matthew contain some aspects of its account that would make it specifically understandable to the Jews. That doesn't mean that it's not historical. So maybe I should rephrase the question:

If a historical account contains some kind of a "filter" or an "overarching theme" through which it selectively reports something, then does that make it less historical? Let's take our history books right now. What is the overarching theme through which it picks and chooses what to report? I think it's wars and conflicts. Our history books are infatuated with wars and conflicts. There are other types of history books which focuses on grassroots movements (abolition, civil rights, women's rights, etc..). Because of these 2 different perspectives, they will report different things for the same time period. Does that make these historical accounts unreliable? How about if I said, "Hey, they have this infatuation with wars, so maybe they twisted history to fit nicely into the overarching theme." Would that be a fair assessment?

Daniel Kim said...

Also, please provide an example of the "differences" in Matthew, that would fit the OT prophecies better.. I already talked about the 1 vs. 2 donkeys, so maybe something else.. but if you're still not clear on the number of donkeys, then we can discuss that further as well.

Mark B said...

I think it's also worth saying that although Matthew cites a lot of OT prophesies particularly with reference to specific actions of Jesus, all of the gospels refer back to OT prophecies to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus himself on many occasions declared in the presence of many witnesses that he was fulfilling what was written about him in the scriptures.

Since Matthew was written with a Jewish audience in mind, one would expect evidence that would help skeptical Jews to believe. Thus, Matthew's gospel puts particular weight on how Jesus' life agreed with the Jewish scriptures.

Wynn said...

Some of the examples I found would be about the birth narrative, like differences in the reason that Mary and Joseph had for leaving. And there's also Matthew 2:15. Matthew cites Hosea 11:1 as a prophecy fulfilled by Jesus' family living in Egypt. This event is found only in Matthew, and it seems to fulfill the prophecy in Hosea, but if you take the context of Hosea 11:1, the prophet seems to be talking about Israel coming out of Egypt, not Jesus. How would you answer that?

But, I think I see what you're saying now, and I think you're right - the differences between them could be accounted for when you consider what each author might want to emphasis, and the differences are pretty minor. Thank you for your answer - it's been immensely helpful.

dan said...

I'd like to add that this is addressed in an article by Paul Copan in the Apologetics Study Bible, in which he brings up the Hosea example. Any synopsis of mine wouldn't do it justice, but thankfully it's on google books here: here

joongwlee said...

I was curious about the # of donkeys so I looked it up in the ESV Study Bible (which is very thorough in word analysis) and this their explanation: "Matthew alone mentions two animals. The unbroken young colt's mother moving alongside would be the best way to calm it during the noisy entrance into Jerusalem. and he sat on them. “Them” refers to the cloaks (which is the closest antecedent in Gk.), not to the two animals."

Daniel Kim said...

Let's summarize. It's true that Matthew alone mentions 2 animals, possibly for the reason quoted above.. But Wynn's professor is saying that Matthew made up the 2 animals in order to fulfill the OT prophecy in Zech since he quoted it..
Let's just quote Zech 9:9 here.
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Now, for the professor to say that this passage is talking about 2 donkeys would be a rather plain misreading of the text.

If anyone is even vaguely familiar with Jewish parallelism, they would not read the passage above and conclude that somehow there are multiple animals.. So to claim that Matthew read the passage in Zech and thought, "uh oh, there are 2 animals in Zech.. I better make up 2 animals" -- that would be a rather silly claim.