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Matthew 2:23

And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: He will be called a Nazarene.

It is widely known that academics were unable to find this reference in the Hebrew Bible. Some time ago I raised the thesis that Matthew 2:23 refers to the oral tradition also mentioned in Luke 2:25-39, in which the word Nazareth occurs; "propheses" and Simeon, the two are equivalent to the "prophets" of Matthew 2:23.

What am I saying with this? Let's make it clear:

It is possible that there was an oral tradition in the Church of the Circumcision (Acts 20:20-27), this is the conclusion when understanding Matthew 2:23 and Luke 2:25-39

It is also possible that there was NOT this oral tradition, but I do not agree with this possibility.

"The Didache" refers to an early Christian document also known as the "Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles." It is generally dated between the years 70 and 150 AD, it does not show any clear access to the canonical Gospels...

Papias, who lived between the years 100 and 130 AD, is known to be familiar with the rumored origins of two writings that bear similarities to the Gospels of Mark (associated with Peter) and Matthew.

Aristides, who lived between the years 120 and 130 (or 140 AD), makes mention of a book entitled 'Gospel', whose full name is not specified, in which the figure of a virgin is described. This book, apparently, was known and possibly available to the public at the time.

Patristic Collection vol. 20 - Origen Against Celso Ed. Paulus

"Here is the first affront formulated by Celsus in his desire to defame Christianity: Disregarding established laws, Christians form secret conventions among themselves. Among the conventions, some are public, and all are in accordance with the laws; others are hidden, and they are all those whose implementation violates the established laws."

This certainly explains why the Gospels do not appear in Christian records until Justin Martyr in 150 AD. The Church of the Circumcision (Acts 20:20-27) served and worshiped in the Temple, what is the possibility of another Christological "god"? Celsus is also the first recorded pagan writer to have access to the 180 AD Gospels and criticize them.

Confirmed existence of the Gospels:

Justin Martyr, around 150 AD, makes reference to several books entitled "Gospels", including the memoirs of the Apostles and the reminiscences of Peter.

Justin Martyr died around 163 AD and it is conjectured that his disciple Tatian possibly received the literary inheritance of his writings.

Tatian 172 AD possibly produces the harmony of the Gospel 'From the Fours', but does not mention the names of the authors.

Irenaeus 180-190 AD – he is the first to name all four Gospels.

If this conjecture is correct, did the Gospels already exist in 70 AD? Were they hidden and for private use? As we understand when we read Celsus' comment regarding the Jewish Assembly, because the gospels have a divine Christology and so as not to create an "environment" of confusion and persecution on the part of the majority of unconverted Jews... Or do the gospels really Were they written after 70 AD?

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    One must examine all the evidence. (Not just a few of the Patristic Citations.) All the manuscripts (5,500 of them, not giving overdue weight to just two of them). All the Versions (translations) - Coptic, Syriac, Peshito, Old L:atin and others. All the Lectionaries (orders of service quoting texts). And all of the Patristic Citations (there are 96,000 of them). This takes a lifetime of study and a deep, deep familiarity with the entirety of the evidence. Thus is true Textual Criticism.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 23, 2023 at 17:17
  • This question could be considered opinion-based since answer may disagree with each other. But I think it provides an important opportunity for the site to provide a useful service to the community. I hope it will remain open. Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 1:44
  • Can anyone tell me if Irenaeus used reliable sources to name the gospels?
    – Betho's
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 2:33

2 Answers 2

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There are too many sub-questions here but I'll address a few:

  • "It is possible that there was an oral tradition in the Church of the Circumcision?" Not only possible but almost certain. In addition to it being highly unlikely that the Jerusalem church could exist for more than 30 years without oral traditions, we actually know some of these traditions from liturgical quotations in Paul's letters and statements like 1 Cor. 15:3-4: "I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures."

  • "If this conjecture is correct, did the Gospels already exist in 70 AD?" Plausibly no but probably yeas - at least the earlier ones - because absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Each of the authors may have be aware of one or more of the Gospels without quoting them.

  • The main question: "Is it possible to trace the origin of the Canonical Gospels chronologically?" Scholars have many varying opinions on this issue, so the answer to the headline question depends one whether one means "trace a hypothesis" or "trace a hypothesis convincing enough to create a consensus." In the latter sense the answer is clearly "no."

Opinions may be divided roughly into two groups: early date and late date. Beyond that are questions such as which Gospel was written first and other details. Here are a few charts to illustrate:

Range of dates with Markan priority (Paul's letters in blue):

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Early date with Matthean priority: enter image description here

Late date with Markan priority:

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Late date with Acts preceding the Gospels

enter image description here

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  • Thanks. Your answer offers a great summary of some of the most common viewpoints, +1 Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 2:36
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The vast majority of the Christian literature composed before the 4th century has been lost, so we must take great care not to conflate the absence of evidence with evidence of absence. Reconstructing the past requires making deductive inferences from the remaining evidence that we do have.

The timing & authorship of the Gospels have significant implications and, as a result, have prompted widely divergent theories.

This site has detailed posts regarding:

  • Mark: see here an extensive argument that Mark was composed circa AD 55
  • Luke: see here a list of evidences that Luke was composed no later than AD 62
  • John: see our sister site, Biblical Hermeneutics, for an argument that John was composed by an author living in the first century
  • Acts (not a Gospel but has implications for the OP's question) -- see here a thorough discussion on Biblical Hermeneutics showing why the presentation & arguments in Acts only work if it was composed circa AD 62

I'll offer specific thoughts regarding Matthew below.

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Deductive argument

The following is a deductive argument I published on my channel--a more extensive presentation of the argument is found here.

KEY

Ax: attributed by X

WK: the text was well-known

CA: the text was considered authoritative

AA: attributed to an authority

S: a substantial stir or debate

I: by Irenaeus

AF: by Apostolic Fathers


Formal logic

P1: AI = Matthew

P2: WKAF

P3: CAAF

P4: ~AAAF => ~(WKAF ^ CAAF)

P5: (AAAF ^ ~S) => (AAF = AI)

P6: ~S

C1: AAAF (P2,P3,P4)

C2: AAF = AI (P5,P6,C1)

C3: AAF = Matthew (P1,C2)


English interpretation of formal logic

P1: The text was attributed to Matthew by Irenaeus

P2: The text was well-known to the Apostolic Fathers

P3: The text was considered authoritative by the Apostolic Fathers

P4: If the text was not attributed to an authority by the Apostolic Fathers, it could not have been both well-known and considered authoritative by them

P5: If the text was both attributed to an authority by the Apostolic Fathers and there was no substantial stir or debate on authorship, the attribution by the Apostolic Fathers was the same as the attribution by Irenaeus

P6: There was no substantial stir or debate on authorship

C1: The text was attributed to an authority by the Apostolic Fathers (this follows deductively from premises 2, 3, and 4)

C2: The attribution by the Apostolic Fathers was the same as the attribution by Irenaeus (this follows deductively from premise 5, premise 6, and conclusion 1)

C3: The text was attributed to Matthew by the Apostolic Fathers (this follows deductively from premise 1 and conclusion 2)


Concluding thoughts

The deductive argument above is logically valid--this means that if the premises are true, the conclusion is proven.

The direct evidence allows us to trace attribution to Matthew to the late 2nd century--and perhaps a bit earlier. But we can determine deductively, from the surviving evidence, that the belief that Matthew wrote Matthew was already held by prominent Christian leaders in the late first century.

If the Apostolic Fathers--people taught by the apostles themselves--believed that Matthew wrote Matthew--that is exceptionally good historical documentation that Matthew really did write the gospel that bears his name.

This would make Matthew--along with Mark & Luke (see above)--first generation Christian documents.

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  • Dear downvoter, any thoughts on how this post could be improved? Commented Dec 23, 2023 at 18:33
  • Yaron Z. Eliav suggests that Jesus' prophecy about the destruction of the Temple in Mark 13:1-2 could be interpreted as referring only to the Herodian buildings around the Temple, not the main Temple itself. If the prophecy is limited to the adjacent buildings, it could indicate that Mark wasn't predicting the Temple's destruction in 70 AD, impacting interpretations of Mark's motivation and challenging the idea that the Gospel was written after the event.
    – Betho's
    Commented Dec 23, 2023 at 20:36
  • @Betho's my argument makes the case that Mark was written approx AD 55 without relying on any presuppositions about prophecy, so I don't take any issue with the idea that Mark was written before 70. Commented Dec 23, 2023 at 20:38
  • I like your argument. I am studying your quotes and sources. Clement of Alexandria was not a historian in the modern or ancient sense, and he was not primarily concerned with recording historical events objectively. Instead, he was more focused on advocating and promoting his particular vision of Christianity.
    – Betho's
    Commented Dec 23, 2023 at 20:44
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    I see all of these dates (especially Luke-Acts) as later than you suggest, but I upvoted your post for its usefulness and research. I also see it proof that opinion-based questions are often important here. Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 1:41

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