One of the most common misconceptions about the New Testament canon is that the authors of these writings had no idea that they were writing Scripture-like books. I dealt with this misconception on a general level here, showing that there was a clear apostolic self-awareness amongst the New Testament authors.
While this apostolic self-awareness may be easy to show for authors like Paul, what about the gospels which, technically speaking, are formally anonymous? Do their authors exhibit awareness that they were writing something like Scripture? To explore this further, let us just consider just one of our gospels, namely the Gospel of Matthew.
The first step is to get our expectations clear. We should not expect that Matthew would say something like, “I, Matthew, am writing Scripture as I write this book.” Gospels are a very different genre than epistles, and we would not expect the authors to provide the same type of direct and explicit statements about their own authority as Paul does in his letters. Indeed, the gospel authors are decidedly behind the scenes and only rarely make appearances within the flow of the story.
However, the formal anonymity of the gospels need not be taken as evidence that their authors did not view these texts as bearing authority. Armin Baum has argued that the historical books of the New Testament (gospels and Acts) were intentionally written as anonymous works in order to reflect the practice of the Old Testament historical books which were themselves anonymous (as opposed to other Old Testament writings, like the prophets, which included the identity of the author).
Thus, the anonymity of the Gospels, far from diminishing their scriptural authority, actually served to increase it by consciously placing the Gospels “in the tradition of Old Testament historiography.”
Matthew itself contains fewer internal clues than other gospels that it is passing along apostolic tradition (Matt 9:9, 10:3). Nevertheless, there are still indications that this gospel was written with the intention to be a scriptural-like book.
Most notable in this regard is the unique way that Matthew begins his gospel, with an opening “title” (v.1) followed by a genealogy (v.2-17). Davies and Allison argue that Matthew’s very first phrase, Βίβλος γενέσεως, is not so much a reference to the genealogy that follows but to the book as a whole.
They comment, “Genesis was a Βίβλος , and its name was γενέσίς . One is therefore led to ask whether the introductory use of Βίβλος γενέσεως would not have caused Matthew’s readers to think of the Torah’s first book and to anticipate that some sort of ‘new genesis,’ a genesis of Jesus Christ, would follow.”
Thus, the opening phrase of Matthew is best understood as “Book of the New Genesis wrought by Jesus Christ.” Such a beginning suggests that Matthew is intentionally writing in a scriptural style—he viewed his book, and wanted his audience to view his book, as continuing the biblical story.
The fact that Matthew appears to be molding his gospel after the pattern of Old Testament books is confirmed by the fact that he turns immediately to a genealogy, placing the Jesus story into the story of Israel, with a special emphasis on David.
The genealogy, of course, is a well-known Old Testament genre that is frequently used to demonstrate the historical unfolding of God’s redemptive activities among his people. In this regard, Matthew’s closest parallel is the book of Chronicles which also begins with a genealogy that has an emphasis on the Davidic line.
If by the first century Chronicles was regarded as the final book in the Hebrew canon,as some scholars have argued,then Matthew’s gospel would certainly be a fitting sequel. An Old Testament canon ending with Chronicles would have placed Israel in an eschatological posture, looking ahead to the time when the messiah, the son of David, will come to Jerusalem and bring full deliverance to his people.
If so, then Matthew’s opening chapter would be a clear indication that he is intending to finish this story. He is picking up where the Old Testament ended, with a focus on David and the deliverance of Israel. Regardless of whether one accepts that Chronicles was the final book in the Hebrew canon, the close connections between Matthew and Chronicles remain.
Indeed, on this basis, Davies and Allison conclude that Matthew “thought of his gospel as continuation of the biblical history—and also, perhaps, that he conceived of his work as belonging to same literary category as the scriptural cycles treating of the OT figures.”
 Armin D. Baum, “The Anonymity of the New Testament History Books: A Stylistic Device in the Context of Greco-Roman and Ancient Near Eastern Literature,” NT 50 (2008): 120-142.
 W.D. Davies and D.C. Allison, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997), 150–153.
 Davies and Allison, Matthew, 151.
 Davies and Allison, Matthew, 153.
This is wonderful Dr Kruger. Beale uses genesis in Matt 1 as signaling the new creation has broken into the old creation with the coming of Christ. Taking both of your observations together, perhaps we could say that Matthew shows us the eschatological nature of Israel’s historical revelation and promise. Question: M Hengel contends that the superscriptions were always affixed to the Gospels so that they were never anonymous. Do you find his argument lacking?
Michael Kruger says
I find Hengel’s arguments pretty persuasive. Clarification: I think Hengel argues that the Gospel titles were very early, but not necessarily there from the very start. From the perspective of manuscript evidence, we don’t possess a single manuscript that attributes one of the four gospels to some other name, nor do we find any that lack titles entirely. That’s pretty impressive uniformity and is suggestive of an early date for the titles.
Paul Williams says
You ask: “Did the Gospel Authors Think They Were Writing Scripture?’
The answer is NO.
Concerning Luke you write:
‘Luke 1:1-4. Luke makes express claims to be passing down apostolic tradition. In his prologue, Luke claims that the traditions included in his gospel have been “delivered” to him by those “who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word.” Most scholars view the “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” as a clear reference to the apostles. And the term “delivered” is a standard reference to the way that authoritative apostolic tradition is passed along. Thus, Luke understood his gospel to be the embodiment of the authoritative apostolic “Word” that had been delivered and entrusted to him. Craig Evans comes to the same conclusion about the prologue, “Luke does not see himself primarily as a biographer, nor even a historian. The Lukan evangelist is a writer of Scripture, a hagiographer who is proclaiming what God has ‘accomplished among us.’”
I agree with everything you say in this paragraph with the exception of the unfounded claim by Craig Evans implying that the ‘Lukan evangelist is a writer of Scripture’ – a claim Luke nowhere makes. Luke is clearly writing in the style and genre of ancient biography (see the seminal work What Are the Gospels?
A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography by Richard A. Burridge).
There is no evidence that any of the NT writers considered they were writing a Scripture to be placed on a par with the Jewish Bible. That is a later Catholic belief.
Michael Kruger says
I am aware of Burridge’s work, of course, but that has nothing to do with my point. Even if the genre of the Gospels is biography that does not require that they were NOT also regarded as Scripture. Biblical authors shared many genres with the ancient world (historiography being another), but that did not preclude them from being regarded as Scripture. You also never interacted with the article I actually posted regarding Matthew.
Zach Hollifield says
Hi Dr. Kruger. For one interested in learning more about the development of the canon from a theological and historical perspective, which of your books would you have them start with? I haven’t read much in this field of study but would like to learn more about, and be able to articulate well, the orthodox position on canon to friends outside the faith and those within it who have taken the more “modern” view.
Michael Kruger says
I would recommend starting with Canon Revisited, and then read The Question of Canon next.
chris hutchinson says
Wonderful post. Love this stuff: the canonicity of the Gospels explained by Biblical Theology and parallels to the OT. One of the ways Scripture testifies to its own authority is the amazing complexity of the way it all fits together. The more I read it, the more I am convinced that no committee of men, even meeting in the same room at the same time, could have come up with so many interwoven cross-references which validate one another; much less 40 authors over centuries of writing. Thank you, Dr. Kruger.
Michael Kruger says
Thanks, Chris! Yes, I think BT arguments are powerful evidence for the unity of the canon…
Mark Hoffman says
Mark’s use of αρχη to begin his work and John’s ἐν ἀρχῇ both are clear allusions to Genesis, of course. Matthew’s Βίβλος γενέσεως picks up the expression used in Genesis 2.4 and 5.1. In each of these, I think we see indications, as you argue, that the authors were writing Scripture-like books. Matthew’s Βίβλος γενέσεως is a bit puzzling, however. Why does he not use the article as occurs in the Genesis usages? (ἡ βίβλος γενέσεως ) This is pure speculation on my part, but it could be related to Jewish traditions puzzling why Scripture began with the word בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית, in particular, a word that started with a beth, the 2nd letter of the alphabet, rather than an aleph. The result was a long explanation to account for it.
(https://philologos.org/__eb-lotj/vol1/one.htm#2) I.e., if Matthew were aware of this tradition, it is not surprising that his book begins with a beta (rather than an alpha like Mark!) in order for it to stand in closer connection to its character as Scripture, a new Genesis.