Book Review (part 4) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

In this fourth installment of my review/recap of James Dunn’s Neither Jew nor Greek we will continue his outline of the primary sources from which early Christianity sprung. In the last post, I focused on Dunn’s discussion which he began regarding the four Canonical Gospels. In this post, I will recap the remaining three Gospels: Luke, Matthew, and John (§39.2b-d).

2-apostlesDunn turns to Luke’s Gospel, hypothesizing that Luke might indeed have been written before Matthew (which was the ‘golden child’ Gospel among the 2nd century Christians). Luke is the first of an intended two-volume series; Luke-Acts. Despite some dissenters, the most persuasive opinion regarding the “us/we” texts in Acts suggests that Luke personally was a travelling companion of the Apostle Paul. None of the alternative proposals for these texts have provided a better answer than identifying Luke as the narrator himself. The same use of the first person is also observed in Acts 1:3 (“I too decided…”). Dunn cites p75, Irenaeus, the Muratonian fragment, and the anti-Marcionite prologue of Luke as early evidence regarding the attachment of Luke’s name to the third Gospel. The recipient of Luke-Acts, Theophilus, seems to be a Greek-speaking patron for the two documents who likely intended to distribute them wider than simply for his own use. Regarding the dating of Luke, Dunn points again to the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21:24) as a perspective of retrospect upon the Jerusalem temple’s destruction. Since Luke is the first of two volumes and Acts has been dated between 80-90 CE, the Gospel was written slightly before that time range. Dunn suggests that Luke would have gathered a significant amount of Jesus material/oral teachings during his travels with Paul and during his two year period involving the Apostle’s Roman imprisonment. We can be confident that Luke writes as an individual with wider cosmopolitan interests and experiences (cf. esp. the purpose statement in Acts 1:8). Regarding introductory issues of Luke’s Gospel, Dunn basically tows the modern critical party line.

Matthew’s Gospel, like Mark’s, is anonymous. After a lengthy discussion about the statement from Papias, Dunn concludes that he either was mistaken or that he attributed the Gospel of Matthew unfairly. The author of this Gospel is certainly Jewish, either Jewish Christian or a Hellenistic Jewish Christian. Dunn observes that Matthew 9:9 redacts Mark 2:14 to change “Levi” into “Matthew.” A similar shift occurs in Matt. 10:3 where the author adds to the list of names of the Twelve that Matthew was “the tax-collector.” The Gospel came to be linked with the title ‘Gospel According to Matthew’ from a very early stage, thus making it the first Gospel to attribute its authorship to an authoritative apostle. However, if this was simply a forged attempt to assign apostolic authenticity, why not choose Peter, the most qualified and highest-ranking apostle? The best explanation of all of this data, according to Dunn, is the suggestion that Matthew indeed was the author (or a close disciple of Matthew desiring to honor his/her teacher, Matthew). The dating of this Gospel is similar to the situation surrounding Luke in that both of these Gospels used Mark as a source, and thus is to be dated later than Mark. Similarly, internal evidence seems to point to an awareness of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple (Matt. 22:7), Dunn suggests. Furthermore, it is possible to read Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse, which seems to equate the destruction of the temple with the end of the age, as an indicator that the document was not written too far after 70 CE. Dunn ends up concluding that Matthew 24 actually offers little help when it comes to dating. After considering the dissolution of the Essene and Sadducean sects from the temple’s destruction, Dunn rests on a date in the mid-to late 80s CE. Regarding location, he favors a situation in Syria, where the eventual successors of Judaism would have the most influence over and opposition against the followers of Jesus immediately following the destruction of the temple.

The discussion regarding the Fourth Gospel was quite interesting. Dunn finds a way to argue for the conservative authorial position (in principle) with what I think is a persuasive collection of data. This does not take away from what Raymond Brown and others have demonstrated regarding the Johannine Community exhibited in the “we/us/you all” texts. For example, John 21:24 notes how the Johannine Community (henceforth ‘JC’) points to the authority of the disciple who testifies to the events of Jesus’ life. This same disciple is described in 21:20 as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” The logical implication of 21:23 is that this very disciple had indeed died already, as the editorial remark corrects the misconception that he wouldn’t die. This same beloved disciple is identified as an eyewitness to the death of Jesus in 19:35, a passage worded very similarly to 21:24. Dunn notes that within the Gospel in its final form there is explicit testimony regarding its authorship as an eyewitness and its authority (“his testimony is true”). Since again the title ‘Gospel According to John’ came to be attached to the document quickly, the identity of this ‘John’ most likely falls to John, son of Zebedee, apostle of Jesus. Dunn is very clear to agree with the modern scholarly consensus that “the Gospel as it has come down to us was the final product of a lengthy process of developing tradition and possibly earlier drafts of versions.” Since most scholars regard both Matthew and Luke as similar products of multiple sources, this conclusion of John shouldn’t come as a surprise. The location of its authorship (in its final edition by the JC?) rests in Asia Minor, and Ephesus being the more precise city. Dunn argues that the unanimous and uncontested tradition attested by Eusebius, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Polycrates (bishop of Ephesus) suggests that the most probable conclusion regarding the location is the city of Ephesus. I would also add that Acts independently attests the location of disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus (Acts 18-19), and John’s Gospel shows a considerable amount of interest and dialogue between John the Baptist and Jesus. The dating of John possibly is indicative of such internal evidence as John 11:48 (“the Romans will take away our place and nation”). Dunn regards the three incidents where ‘synagogue-expulsion’ is mentioned as not as weighty in his decision, as they could have been local events. The famous manuscript p52, which contains a small section of John chapter 18, has recently been dated slightly later than formerly suggested, from 125 to around 150 CE. In the end, Dunn concludes that the most popular date for the Fourth Gospel is in the last decade of the first century CE, although he admits that this is tentative with regard to further theses of development.

So far, Dunn has been solid and hasn’t shown any signs of falling off the top of his game. Stay tuned or subscribe for further installments.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review (part 4) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

  1. Thank you for another excellent post.

    Do you think that the idea of Matthew and John being eyewitnesses and the authors of the Gospels bearing their names, yet using sources to write their Gospels, is problematic? The Sabbath school story about the Gospels that I got growing up was that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote their own version of events, from their own perspectives. Matthew borrowing heavily from Mark’s storyline seems to undermine that view, however. Or does it?

    1. Hi James,

      I don’t find this problematic at all. Matthew certainly was not an eyewitness to everything in his Gospel (birth narratives, trial, etc.) Neither was John (cf. John 18 with Jesus and Pilate alone). Another thing to consider is that from strictly a genre point of view, Gospels are Greco-Roman biographies, which were flexible accounts which often used sources that were rearranged to suit the literary needs of the author. Matthew also seemed to have a certain social situation to which he was writing, one which differed from the one to which Mark addressed. John too speaks to a different community. In that way, each Evangelist has his own agenda, and organizes their collection of Jesus materials to suit that purpose. They likely viewed the teachings of Jesus as authoritative in substance, while at the same time being useful for a variety of applications and situations (cf. the feeding of the 5,000 and its literary purpose in Matthew and John).

      Hope that helps. Thanks for dropping by!

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