Book Review: Peter False Disciple and Apostate according to Saint Matthew

Robert H. Gundry
Peter — False Disciple and Apostate according to Saint Matthew
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015.
Available at Amazon.com.

By Chris Porter

In this short work Robert Gundry advances an intriguing hypothesis that the Matthean Gospel presents the Apostle Peter as a ‘False Disciple and Apostate.’ This proposal runs counter to the generally accepted grain with Matthew’s Gospel commonly judged as ‘more or less favorable toward Peter,’ as Gundry acknowledges (2). Here Gundry carefully argues for a position that is concerned ‘neither with the historical Peter nor with the received Peter’ (2) but rather with the presentation of Peter in the gospel. Rather he proposes that Matthew ‘does not pronounce explicit judgment on Peter… [but] presents evidence of Peter’s falsity.’ (2)

Given the reception history of Matthew this judgment will likely be seen as shocking or scandalous, as the majority of the book reviews thus far have shown. However, Gundry carefully builds his argument advancing the thesis and strongly attempts to defend it at every juncture. Deploying a redaction critical method he examines every reference to Peter in the gospel in four main chapters—delineated by the transfiguration and the denials. Next Gundry considers the omissions of Peter from the narrative in Matthew, comparing the apparent redactions from Mark; then finally the topics of False Discipleship and Persecution within the gospel.

Gundry’s presses his application of a redaction critical method carefully and concretely, comparing minute references to Peter such as the ‘first’ in Matthew 10:2 in light of the sayings in 19:30 and 20:16. But in these exegetical comparisons many of the perceived negative nuances are emphasized, while alternative readings are minimized. Such as the presence of ‘many’ (πολλοι) in 19:30 rather than ‘all.’ (9)

Furthermore, there are some odd conjectures within the exegetical method. Such as the insistence that μακάριος (blessed) in Matt 16:17 is a veiled rebuke rather than praised. Or the odd conjecture that Matthew 28:16 excludes Peter in ‘the eleven’ by including Judas Iscariot (24 comp. 60), despite Judas having committed suicide in the narrative before Matthew 28. These obtuse inferences certainly push the envelope of the exegetical method, and at times burst the bubble of ‘an unblinking exegesis of Petrine passages in Matthew.’ (108) Overall Gundry’s obtuse construction of Peter as Matthew’s narrative foil is difficult at best, especially given the overt Matthean construction of Judas as a strong narrative foil.

Nevertheless, Gundry’s exegesis does highlight the strained and difficult perception of Peter in Matthew, as supported elsewhere in the New Testament (Gal 2:1-10, 1 Cor 1-4 etc). As James Dunn highlights in his latest work Neither Jew Nor Greek ‘the evidence to be drawn from first-generation sources regarding Peter and his influence is at best patchy and leaves an ambiguous picture.’ (726) Gundry’s work assists in elucidating further information regarding Peter’s reputation, which from a sociological perspective was undoubtedly a ‘difficult reputation’ (Gary Alan Fine, Difficult Reputations: Collective Memories of the Evil, Inept, and Controversial (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).)

Ultimately the picture painted by Gundry in this book fills out this difficult reputation and gives some insight into the background for it. However, if Gundry’s aim was to provide an eyes wide open ‘unblinking exegesis’ then the exegesis that has resulted contains more eye strain and double vision than clear historical plausibility.

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