I recently in a book read that there is much criticism among biblical scholars as to the authenticity of the Great Commission passage. It is alleged that Mt 28:18-20 is unauthentic, a product of second generation Christianity, reflecting a theology characteristic of the end of that generation rather than its beginning. Why do many scholars believe this statement? -- Mike Griffis (San Diego)
An academic question requires an academic answer. I think probably the book you are reading is itself at least a generation or two old. Yes, it used to be more fashionable to assign late dates to the books of the New Testament, and to parts of these books, like the Great Commission section of Matthew, but this is no longer so much in vogue. The words "I am with you always'' suggest the world might not end in the first generation. This is significant because scholars used to believe all early Christians expected an imminent end of the world. While the New Testament does exhort us to be ready, I have difficulty developing such a doctrine from the pages of the New Testament. Clearly some people expected it, others did not, and many simply did not say.
It was difficult for N.T. scholars to believe that Jesus or the early church could have conceived of the world continuing for generations beyond their own time. And yet there are many hints in the N.T. For example, Ephesians 3:21 speaks of "glory in the church throughout all generations." Scholars sometimes point to the Trinitarian formula (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) as a later liturgical development. And yet the trinity appears many times in the N.T. -- though never explicitly designated "the Trinity." Admittedly, the wording is different to what we read in Acts 2:38, "in the name of Jesus Christ."
On the other hand, the Lord never told us to utter certain words -- a baptismal formula -- when we immerse those we evangelize. The Trinitarian formula may have a second or third generation feel to it, but that does not disqualify it as being authentic or true to the original words Jesus spoke on the mountain in Galilee. At any rate, I think nearly all conservative scholars accept the ending of Matthew as original. It is not a "late addition." It certainly does not reflect the gentler times of a church settling down and making peace with the world, for it is her charter, her "mission statement," her marching orders. And the battle for the world is still being waged.
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