Jesus and the EyeWitnesses: A Study with a Skeptic Friend, Part 5—The Twelve Disciples

By far, most recent scholars accept the twelve disciples as a real group. The 12 are listed, not merely as individual sources for parts of the story, but as a singular and overall collective source of the entire story. They were people who lived on after the resurrection and continued to teach of the events they witnessed together. Most people who get into this subject, skeptic or faithful, hear often of the harmonization of the Gospels. One of the harmonies is the lists of the twelve, including their epithets.

Our friend agreed with this. We did spend some time, however, on the Matthew/Levi conundrum, something we were unaware of until our study, something we had never thought of. Many scholars point out a problem with identifying Matthew as Levi. These scholars argue that it makes no sense for someone to be named Matthew and Levi, that it just doesn’t fit. Some will say the two men must have been two different people, or someone writing the accounts had a mix up of sorts. Bauckham doesn’t believe that there was a disciple named both Matthew and Levi son of Alpheus, and he admits this is problematic. His explanation? “Matthew was a tax collector and wishing to narrate the call of Matthew in the gospel that was associated with him, but not knowing a story of Matthew’s call, transferred Mark’s story from Levi to Matthew.” If so, either way, one disciple/tax collector’s story was as good as another, since they all experienced the same Gospel. Our scholar goes on to explain: “The author of Matthew’s Gospel intended to associate the Gospel with the apostle Matthew but was not himself the apostle Matthew. Matthew himself could have described his own call without having to take over the way Mark described Levi’s call.”

We appreciated the author’s honesty here. Bauckham is choosing to acknowledge a problem brought to him by skeptics that others ignore in order to work it out, and I admire that. I think there are other explanations to consider, like the mystical explanation: Matthew means “gift of the Lord” and Levi means “to take.” The wordplay here could be intentional. God took this man and gave him to the church in a very transformative way. Perhaps this is one explanation for Matthew and Levi apparently being the same individual with different names.

Our friend met these explanations with a shrug of the shoulders. It was something to consider. The Matthew/Levi issue was new to them too. They seemed to be open to the understanding of the twelve apostles being regarded as a collective authority to an early Christian community. Their doubt seemed to be in a mixture of human error and bias.

The next post explores what the phrase “from the beginning” means and how the Gospel writers use this thing called an inclusio to identify who is the primary source in telling the Gospel story.

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2 responses to “Jesus and the EyeWitnesses: A Study with a Skeptic Friend, Part 5—The Twelve Disciples

  1. Pingback: Jesus and the EyeWitnesses: A Study with a Skeptic , Part 4—Names of Witnesses | CALEB COY

  2. When I read Mark 2:13-14, Luke 5:27-31, and Matt 9:9-13, these stories are so similar, I believe they are the same story. This would mean Levi and Matthew are the same person.

    In the Scriptures, it was common for Christians to change their name as a symbol of their transformed life in Christ. Examples include Peter/Cephas, Saul/Paul.

    In my research into Levi son of Alphaeus, I found that James the lesser is also called the son of Alphaeus. It is very possible that Matthew/Levi and James the lesser were brothers. That would make a lot of apostles who were brothers: Peter and Andrew, James and John, and now Matthew and James.

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