Goodacre on Matthew’s “Orthodox Redaction of Mark”

Goodacre on Matthew’s “Orthodox Redaction of Mark”

Mark Goodacre has posted an interesting piece, considering whether much of Matthew’s redaction of Mark could be seen as “an attempt to fix some of the potentially troubling ideas and implications in Mark.” He pushes forward three examples: the question of Jesus’ father, Jesus’ baptism by John, and the introduction of post-resurrection appearances, concluding,

Matthew’s orthodox redaction of Mark was so successful that we now find ourselves reading Mark through Matthew’s — and also Luke’s — eyes.  His skill as a redactor with “orthodox” beliefs was that he rescued Mark from the potential to have been read and interpreted quite differently.

While on the one hand, I think Goodacre is probably right in that Matthew sees himself as “correcting” or “improving” Mark (otherwise, why write another gospel if Mark was sufficient), I’m not sure that Matthew’s handling of Jesus’ father doesn’t run in exactly the opposite direction from what Goodacre suggests. That is, rather than being concerned that Mark’s audience might not think Jesus actually had a human father, Matthew (as James McGrath also points out) seems more concerned with explaining that Jesus wasn’t really illegitimate—actually putting forward a somewhat ambiguous story to the effect that Jesus wasn’t the product of a human father, that Mary had been a virgin when she gave birth (explaining this as a fulfillment of prophecy).

There’s no question that Matthew is indeed concerned about setting the record straight in his account, starting with the statement, “Now the birth of Jesus was like this” or “But the birth of Jesus happened like this” (Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἡ γένεσις οὕτως ἦν.)—the sort of opening that already suggests he’s trying to explain something out of the ordinary, something easily misunderstood. Given how twitchy (and somewhat ambiguous) Matthew is about his account with respect to Jesus’ illegitimacy (cf. the mention of several women in the genealogy associated with sexual irregularities), it seems that Matthew is far more concerned with establishing Jesus as a of a respectable, legitimate (though irregular) birth than with the notion of Jesus as having a human father.

That said, given what Matthew adds and changes, it seems that he advocates for a reading of Mark with Jesus as literally the son of God, not having had a human father, explaining away any accusations of Jesus having been a bastard. Thus, Matthew (who, as Goodacre rightly asserts, “shows a rich understanding of what is happening in Mark”) reads Mark as having a high Christology, interpreting Mark through the bracketing “son of God” statements (1:1, 15:39) and probably interpreting the ἐγώ εἰμι of 14:62 as a declaration of divinity in the mouth of Jesus (Markan irony all the way). Then Matthew sets out to make this high view of Jesus even more evident in his own gospel.

1 Comment
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