Friday, January 28, 2011

Inerrancy and Interpretation, Part 2

For my second posting in this series, I will be having a look at an article by Douglas Moo titled “Matthew and Midrash” (JETS, March 1983) in which he critiques Robert Gundry’s assessment that Matthew contains midrash. As noted yesterday, I am not persuaded that Gundry is correct in finding midrash in Matthew, so I will make no reference to Moo’s critique of that specific claim. What I will be looking for are places where Moo argues that Gundry’s thesis is contrary to a doctrine of inerrancy.

In that sense the likeness of Gundry’s “midrash” solution to my own example yesterday, with respect to the death of Judas, is manifest. Moo’s descriptions of Gundry’s answer as “reorienting our conception of what Matthew was doing” and that Matthew “never intended that all the events he narrates be understood as historical in the modern sense” could just as ably describe my solution to the Judas problem. Finally, I too would maintain that “charges of error are unfounded” if Matthew’s intention was not to relate strict narrative history. So, if Moo critiques Gundry on philosophical and doctrinal grounds, any criticisms will apply as ably to my answer and require me to offer a defense. Although my idea is not as radical or as sweeping as Gundry’s -- he takes Matthew as a wholesale midrash, whereas I find such instances to be isolated -- it would be open to the same basic criticisms.

But as it turns out, there isn’t much criticism to be had that would apply to my thesis. Initially, Moo acknowledges the identifying the “inerrant meaning of a Scriptural passage within the parameters of its literary genre” as sound practice and says, “If Gundry is right, the accuracy of Matthew’s interpretation of Jesus cannot be assessed by modern historical standards. It is not, then, because of any theological conviction than I must criticize the approach Gundry has taken…” He then proceeds to criticize Gundry on grounds that would have no bearing on what I offer with regard to Judas: E.g., Gundry takes certain source-critical theories for granted; he regards too many word as distinctive to Matthew; he critiques Gundry on points regarding “the nature of Matthew’s editorial work.” Moo also critiques Gundry for a leap in reasoning from “Matthean theological emphasis” to “Matthean creativity” – much as we have criticized authors like Randel Helms and Dennis MacDonald for their theories. None of these considerations would have any application to my presentation regarding the death of Judas.

It is not until Moo is 2/3 of the way along that anything of any bearing comes to pass. He writes, “Only two factors appear to constitute genuine objections to the historicity of gospel events: contradiction in the accounts, and obvious anachronisms.” The matter of Judas’ death, of course, would be considered an example of the former. At this point, if any criticism on the grounds of inerrancy were to appear, we’d expect to see it. But none is to be found. Instead, Moo points out that Gundry does not admit to reasonable harmonizations, and later acknowledges that “Gundry’s identification of Matthew’s gospel as a midrash must be assessed on its own merits.” To this we heartily agree. Moo also notes how variably “midrash” is defined in the scholarly literature, which in turn makes it more difficult to identify an item of literature as midrash. I’d agree to this as well: I am not even sure my example of Judas’ death would be called “midrashic” or that I would even term it in some genre-related fashion. It is, generally, a technique involving allusion; that is all that I would put forward as certain.

Following this, Moo’s criticism regards how Gundry supposes readers would have recognized what Matthew was doing. For me, the recognition would be triggered by the allusion to Ahithophel. There are more criticisms after this specific to Gundry’s technique and method, but none would apply to my own findings – and as far as can be seen, inerrancy is never mentioned as a reason to reject Gundry’s thesis.

So, it seems that although someone recommended Moo’s article in the context of showing that regarding Matthew as midrash was contrary to inerrancy doctrine, it seems that this is not true at all.

Under the circumstances, my next move will be to see if I can find any other relevant criticisms from other parties. As this may take some time, my next Ticker entry will likely be a break from this series, and will continue again on Tuesday if needed.

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