New Testament books (letter)

New Testament books (letter)

Fr G.H. Duggan SM

The editors of the Jerome Biblical Commentary - Fathers R. Brown, R. Murphy O. Carm and J. Fitzmeyer SJ - decided that the commentaries on the books of the New Testament would follow what, in their opinion, is the chronological order in which the books were written. So the commentary on the Gospel of St Mark precedes that on the Gospel of St Matthew, and the commentary on the Gospel of St John comes near the end of the volume.

This ordering of the material is, so far as I know, unique and it can be sharply criticised on many counts.

First, the chronological order they have adopted may have been fashionable in 1966, or even in 1991, but will, in due course, be overturned.

Secondly, their placing of St Mark before St Matthew was almost certainly dictated by their acceptance of the "Two Document Hypothesis", which was condemned by the Pontifical Biblical Commission on 26 July 1912 and decisively refuted by Dom John Chapman in his book Matthew, Mark and Luke (pp. 13-83) and Claude Tr├ęsmontant in his book The Hebrew Christ (pp. 128-214).

This hypothesis makes Matthew and Luke dependent on two sources - Mark and a document called "Q". Of "Q", Chapman wrote, "It has no style, no vocabulary, no characteristics, and no wonder - for it never existed but in the minds of modern biblical scholars."

As for the Gospel of St John, it is true that Christian tradition has put it late, but as Tr├ęsmontant has observed, there never was a closely reasoned case for the late dating. Bishop John A.T. Robinson, in his books Redating the New Testament and The Priority of John, has presented a convincing case for a date before 70, and recently Klaus Berger of Heidelberg has published a closely-argued case for 66AD.

Finally, one may ask if it was fair of the editors to impose their private opinion on the Catholic reading public, few of whom would feel competent to question or challenge it.

FR G.H. DUGGAN SM, DD
Marist Community
Silverstream, New Zealand

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