August 18, 2008

Matthew: Object Permanence

When my son was very little, his Grandaddy loved to play "In the pocket, out of the pocket." Psychologists tell us that infants & toddlers love this game (and "Peek-a-boo") because to their limited perceptive abilities, the object (or person) really, actually disappears! In other words, it takes us time to discover, as children, that things don't cease to exist just because we can't see them.

This is what I meant in my last post about Matthew. Scholars talk about Matthew in the days of Jesus' ministry. And scholars talk about Matthew writing his Gospel some decades later. But how often do scholars attempt to reconstruct what Matthew was doing in between those occassions? Most (by far) mentions of the word "Matthew" in scholarly writing simply refer to the text, or if the reference is to the man himself, it is almost always purely as the author of his text.

Certainly scholars know he lived for the decades in-between. But the impression is that he's just a label or a vessel or a scribe for his writing. "Matthew" is timeless. "Matthew" wrote a gospel. You get the impression MATTHEW the man didn't actually exist. He was born, he collected taxes, he followed Jesus, and years later, at some point, he suddenly wrote a gospel.

That view - whatever else it is - presents a tremendous lack of object permanence.

Enough about scholars for a minute; let's pick on preachers! One really great example of this tendency is Philip "the evangelist". Preachers who want to promote evangelism use Philip as a prime role model. He preached in Samaria. He baptized the Etheopian eunuch. Oh yeah? Yeah... and then the spirit took him up to Caesarea where he settled down and raised a family! We have no record at all that Philip ever "evangelized" anyone again, after those two occasions. But we DO have a record that Philip raised four very impressive young girls. Twenty-four years had passed, since the eunuch, when Paul & Luke came to Caesarea.

Did Philip evangelize in Caesarea? Maybe. But it never gets mentioned. "Philip" dissappears from the text, so he ceases to exist in our awareness and discussion of the ongoing events.

Whatever else it is - it's a lack of awareness about object permanence.

So what will it be? In the pocket? Or out of the pocket? Does Matthew exist in 37 AD or does he not? Howabout in 44 AD? 50? 52? 57? Does it matter? Can we even know? Well... it does matter, and we can only know so much, admittedly. But leaving this question all alone is unacceptable. Matthew was somewhere. And his actual life is a much bigger piece of the puzzle (to solving the "Synoptic Problem") than any textual variance.

For whatever reasons, NT scholars are predominantly text-centered.

We need more historical reconstruction of the events.

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