Bob Gundry Responds to Larry Hurtado

Gundry on Hurtado concerning Matthew on Peter

As they say, “Better to be disagreed with than ignored.” So my thanks to Larry Hurtado for writing his disagreement with my book, Peter: False Disciple and Apostate according to Saint Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), and to Scot McKnight for posting on his Jesus Creed blog, Jan. 7, 2016, Hurtado’s disagreement, titled “Robert Gundry’s New Peter book” and posted one day earlier on Larry Hurtado’s Blog under the title, “The Apostle Peter: Damned Apostate?” Though Hurtado and McKnight have not ignored the book, however, Hurtado has ignored what I called “the heart of Matthew’s portrayal of Peter as a false disciple who apostatized” (p. 43). That is to say, Hurtado does not even mention the textual details in Matthew’s account of Peter’s denials of Jesus.

To be sure, Hurtado says that “a blog-posting doesn’t permit the space to engage Gundry’s discussion of all the many passages he addresses.” Fair enough. But I would still like to know why in his opinion Matthew inserts into his account of Peter’s first denial the phrase “before all,” missing in Matthew’s Marcan source, if not to put Peter in the class of those whom Jesus said in Matthew 10:33 (unparalleled in Mark) he would deny before his Father in heaven because they had denied him before other people.

In Matthew 5:20 Jesus says that those whose righteousness doesn’t exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees won’t enter the kingdom of heaven, and in 5:33–37 proceeds to include avoidance of oath-taking in the superior righteousness required for entrance. So I would like to know why in Hurtado’s opinion Matthew inserts into his account of Peter’s second denial the phrase “with an oath,” again missing in the Marcan source, if not to put Peter in the class of those who won’t enter the kingdom of heaven because their righteousness hasn’t exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees.

And I would like to know why in Hurtado’s opinion Matthew has Peter “going out, outside,” absent yet again from his Marcan source, and weeping “bitterly,” also absent from his Marcan source, if not to put Peter in the class of the damned who Jesus has said no fewer than six times earlier in Matthew, with no parallels in his Marcan source and only one in Luke, will “weep” in despair “outside” the kingdom of heaven.

Does Hurtado consider these differences “very small” (his phrase, though not in reference to any particular passages) and therefore insignificant? I would like to know. Surely he could have eliminated some of his generalities to make room for a bit of exegetical discussion on points central to my argument.

According to Hurtado, “Matthew 16:13–23 is obviously the crucial text for any view of Peter in Matthew.” Because of Matthew’s redaction of the Marcan account of Peter’s denials, one may quibble over “obviously” and “the crucial text” in Hurtado’s statement. Never mind, though. Whatever the level of cruciality, Hurtado fails even to mention, much less to assess from his own standpoint, either the oft-noted shift from second person to third in “you are Peter, and on this rock [not ‘on you’]” or the echo in “this rock” of “the rock” consisting of “these words” of Jesus in Matthew 7:24. This echo gets support from Matthew’s universally recognized gathering of Jesus’ words into five long discourses, and gets further support from Matthew’s concluding three of the discourses with references to “these words” of Jesus.

Nor does Hurtado, though citing Matthew 16:13–23 as crucial, deal with Matthew’s adding Jesus’ statement to Peter, “You are my snare [skandalon]” (absent from both the Marcan parallel and from Luke). Notably, everywhere else in Matthew “snare” refers to the damned (four times in 13:41–42; 18:7–9). Another “very small” difference?

Hurtado does ask, “But how is ‘makarios’ (‘blessed’) [in ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona’] a rebuke?” But I didn’t describe this beatitude as a rebuke. I described it as a statement of “privilege” and noted that the very similar beatitude concerning privileged revelation in Matthew 13:16 included among its addressees Judas Iscariot, who apostatized.

Hurtado then cites Jesus’ giving to Peter the authority to bind and loose on earth and says, “Gundry attempts to sidestep this [gift] by erroneously claiming that the Matthean ‘Great Commission’ (28:16–20) extends this binding and loosing to ‘all the other apostles . . . Judas Iscariot included.’” No, I wrote that Judas Iscariot is among those given this authority in Matthew 18:18, not among the eleven commissioned in 28:16–20 (obviously not, since according to Matthew 27:3–10 he had committed suicide). Hurtado’s elliptical dots deceptively mask my reference to 18:18.

In every instance of my argument, observes Hurtado, I have “to urge an interpretation, an inference” (emphasis original) rather than something “explicit.” Is that observation an argument? It sure looks like one. For if not, Hurtado needn’t have made it. But if so, am I to understand that he and others don’t engage in interpretation and inference? What other than an interpretation is his inferring a restoration of Peter from Peter’s presence among the eleven to whom Jesus issued the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16–20? A doubtful inference at that, because in Matthew 10 Judas Iscariot, a false disciple and apostate if there ever was one, received along with others Jesus’ commission to evangelize Galilean Jews. Doubtful also because of the uniquely Matthean emphasis on the continuance of false disciples, tares and bad fish as they’re called in 13:24–30, 36–43, 47–50, among true disciples until the end of the age. Hurtado completely ignores this chronological point.

Pursuing his distinction between what is explicit and what is inferred, Hurtado asks why in 10:1–4 Matthew didn’t explicitly designate Peter an apostate as he did explicitly designate Judas Iscariot an apostate. The answer is twofold: Matthew is following his Marcan source on both Peter and Judas Iscariot (Mark 3:13–19); and, as pointed out clearly in my book, to avoid violating Jesus’ prohibition of making judgments (7:1, unparalleled in Mark) Matthew leaves his own portrayal of Peter as an apostate implicit. Unlike Matthew, though, Jesus does have judgmental authority (7:23). So Matthew simply follows Mark again in quoting Jesus’ explicit pronouncement of judgment on Judas Iscariot as an apostate (Mark 14:21; Matthew 26:24).

Given Peter’s leadership in the early church, “under what plausible circumstances would the author of Matthew have hoped to make credible a picture of Peter as a damned apostate?” Hurtado asks that question and infers the absence of such circumstances, the lack of such a hope, and the nonexistence of such a picture. By the same token and because of what Hurtado cites as 1900 years of a largely pro-Petrine understanding of Matthew’s Gospel, a guy named Gundry couldn’t have hoped to make credible a Matthean picture of Peter as a damned apostate, and therefore didn’t try to do so. But Gundry did! I know he did, because he’s me.

Arguing otherwise concerning Matthew, and doing so without serious exegetical probing, Hurtado presumes to know more about Matthew’s psychology and the local circumstances under which he wrote than any of us actually do know. Hurtado accepts the prominence of persecution as a theme in Matthew. So especially in view of the uniquely Matthean reference in 24:10 to persecution-induced apostasies, it’s a failure of imagination to reject out of hand the possibility that such apostasies in the evangelist’s setting led him, in view of Peter’s denials of Jesus, to make Peter what Hurtado calls “the poster-boy of the disciples who fail under opposition.” Furthermore, though not all that seems to be new is in fact new, the notion that nothing new, such as my interpretation of Matthew’s Peter, can be trusted as true—that notion would require the rejection of a good deal of the progress made in modern biblical scholarship, and would shut off further progress.

I date the writing of Matthew “prior to the mid-60s,” as Hurtado notes. Under the usually accepted theory of Marcan priority in synoptic relationships, such a dating requires “an astonishingly early date for Mark,” he goes on to note and then correctly observes the lack in my book of any discussion of Mark’s date of writing. On the other hand, Hurtado notes neither my arguments favoring an early date for Matthew nor my reference to at least eleven scholarly commentators on Matthew—all of them modern, most of them current, and none of them me—who date Matthew’s writing in the 60s. As for the date of Mark’s writing, see the extensive discussion in my Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 1026–45, esp. 1041–45. (Incidentally, Matthean priority would require a revision to the effect that Mark and especially Luke recognized in Matthew what they considered a disagreeably condemnatory portrayal of Peter, eliminated as much of it as they thought possible, and added countervailing material.)

In general, then, Hurtado has majored on prolegomena and minored on exegesis. Because material open to exegesis exceeds material relevant to prolegomena, exegesis seems to me to carry more weight.

Many thanks to Scot McKnight for his magnanimity in posting my response to Hurtado’s review.

Robert Gundry

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.