More on Brown’s Christology

One thing I appreciate about Raymond Brown’s evaluation of the christology of the evangelists is his ability to analyze the differences between the synoptic writers. Though I don’t accept Markan priority like he does, it is still an interesting and often helpful exercise to compare/contrast the themes and literary art of each evangelist. For example, in Matthew, the disciples pray, “Lord, save us; we are perishing.” But in Mark, the disciples seem to criticize him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?”

In Mark, Jesus doesn’t seem to know who touched him in the crowd of people, nor does he seem to know who has received the benefit of his power. In Matthew, however, Jesus wastes no time and heals the woman whose thoughts he already knows. There is value in pondering why these differences exist in each case. What purpose is being served by the omission or the inclusion of this or that detail.

I’m not sure how to take Brown’s assumption that Matthew is reading into the Ministry of Jesus the post-resurrection faith of the disciples. He uses the example of Peter’s confession of Jesus. Matthew has Peter saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Mark, on the other hand, has Peter only say, “You are the Christ.” Brown, of course, sees Matthew as adding to Mark’s account, and reading into the story the disciples’ post-resurrection faith. Evidently, what is recorded in Mark’s Gospel is historic, and what is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel is what one might call editing. Or maybe Brown would even say that Mark’s account is even nuanced by the Evangelist.

I recognize that the evangelists are not simply writing historical narratives. I learned this when I studied the infancy narrative of Jesus. Just as the Prophets often spoke of what was happening currently or of what was to come in terms borrowed from earlier stories (like the Exodus, for instance), so also did the evangelists see in the life of Jesus certain narratives being replayed and repeated.

But this brings up a difficult question–if Matthew is not simply recording historical events and words, either of Jesus or of the disciples, then where does one draw the line? How can we be certain that any of the evangelists is recording things as they actually happened or as they were actually spoken? It sure leaves a lot of unanswered questions. I guess I would ask, is it possible that Brown is right? Is it possible that Matthew is putting something onto the lips of Peter in Matthew 16 that he did not actually say at that point? And if so, then why? I find that hard to swallow.

For one reason or another, the Holy Spirit chose to include what He did in each Gospel. Once you start down the path of trying to determine what is authentic and what is not, you open up a “pandora’s box.” Still, it is intriguing to say the least to see how each evangelist records the events and the words of Jesus and the disciples. It is something I need to do more often when studying texts for the purposes of preaching and teaching.

I’m almost done with Brown’s Introduction to Christology. I have received a few other books from the library that I am itching to read.


About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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