Matthew and Levi (and James)

A kind of random question via e-mail sent me down a rabbit hole yesterday. The question was this: Does Origen say that Matthew and Levi were not the same person? The answer turns out to be more complicated than I thought.

For the uninitiated, the problem is this: In the parallel passages in the Gospel According to Mark 2:14 and the Gospel According to Luke 5:27-28, we have the calling of Levi the tax collector, son of Alphaeus:

Mark 2:14  Καὶ παράγων εἶδεν Λευὶν τὸν τοῦ Ἁλφαίου καθήμενον ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον, καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· ἀκολούθει μοι. καὶ ἀναστὰς ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ.

Luke 5:27-28 Καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐξῆλθεν καὶ ἐθεάσατο τελώνην ὀνόματι Λευὶν καθήμενον ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον, καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ἀκολούθει μοι. καὶ καταλιπὼν πάντα ἀναστὰς ἠκολούθει αὐτῷ.

The odd thing is that in the clearly parallel passage in the Gospel According to Matthew 9:9, the name of the tax collector is Matthew:

Matthew 9:9 Καὶ παράγων ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐκεῖθεν εἶδεν ἄνθρωπον καθήμενον ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον, Μαθθαῖον λεγόμενον, καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· ἀκολούθει μοι. καὶ ἀναστὰς ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ.

Most early Christian interpreters thus understood Levi and Matthew to be two names for the same person, who by the late second century was believed to be the author of the Gospel According to Matthew. So far, so good, apparently.

But there are a few textual problems: In some manuscripts of Mark (but not Luke), the name is not Levi, son of Alphaeus, but rather James son of Alphaeus (presumably in harmony with Mark 3:18; more on that below). According to the 28th edition of Nestle-Aland, the support for the reading Ιακαβον instead of Λευι (or Λευιν or Λευειν) is as follows: D Θ ƒ13 565 it. Not overwhelming by any means, but interesting.

But what about Origen? Well, now things get curious. Origen addresses the relevant passages in Mark on a few different occasions. First off, a fragment of his Commentary on Matthew (GCS, Origenes Werke 12.93; fragment 194):

Κατὰ δὲ τὸν Λουκᾶν· Πέτρος, Ἀνδρέας, ’Ιάκωβος, Ἰωάννης, Φίλιππος καὶ Βαρθολομαῖος, Ματθαῖος καὶ Θωμᾶς, Ἰάκωβος Ἀλφαίου καὶ Σίμων ὁ καλούμενος ζηλωτής, Ἰούδας Ἰακώβου, Ἰούδας Ἰσκαριώθ, »ὅς καὶ ἐγένετο προδότης«. Κατὰ δὲ τὸν Μᾶρκον· Σίμων ὁ καὶ Πέτρος, Ἰωάννης καὶ ’Ιάκωβος οἱ καὶ Βοανεργές, Ἀνδρέας, καὶ Φίλιππος, Βαρθολομαῖος, Ματθαῖος καὶ Θωμᾶς, Ἰάκωβος Ἀλφαίου, Θαδδαῖος, Σίμων καὶ Ἰούδας Ἰσκαριώθ. ἔν τισι δὲ τοῦ κατὰ Μᾶρκον εὐαγγελίου εὑρίσκεται »Ἰακωβον τὸν τοῦ Ἀλφαίου« < ἀντὶ τοῦ »Λευὶ τὸν τοῦ Ἀλφαίου« >· κατ’ αὐτὸν τὸν Μᾶρκον μετὰ τὴν θεραπείαν τοῦ παραλυτικοῦ »παράγων εἶδε Λευὶ τὸν τοῦ Ἀλφαίου καθήμενον ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον«. ἔοικεν οὖν διώνυμος εἶναι. ἐσημειώσατο δὲ ἐπιτηδείως τῶν ἀποστόλων τὰ ὀνόματα, ἵνα μηδενὶ πεισθῶμεν ἑτέρῳ παρὰ τοὺς εἰρημένους.

Origen lists the 12 apostles according to Luke 6:13-16 and then according to Mark 3:14-19. Both lists include Ἰάκωβος Ἀλφαίου (James, son of Alphaeus). But immediately after the lists, Origen notes that “‘James the son of Alphaeus’ is found in some [manuscripts] of the Gospel According to Mark.” The comment is puzzling. Does Origen know copies of Mark 3:18 that say “Levi” instead of “James”? And if so, why does he not comment on that, rather than stating what should be obvious to anyone who just read his lists, namely that Ἰάκωβος Ἀλφαίου appears in Mark? I’m not sure how the editor’s conjectural supplement (ἀντὶ τοῦ »Λευὶ τὸν τοῦ Ἀλφαίου«) really helps clarify anything.

But Origen continues and draws Mark 2:14 into the discussion: “According to Mark himself, after the healing of the paralytic, ‘As he walked along, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth’ [Mark 2:14]. There thus seem to be two names. But the names of the apostles are carefully identified so that we might not be persuaded of some other thing by the words that have been spoken.”

So, Origen seems to understand that there is a single son of Alphaeus with two names, Ιακαβος and Λευι. But in another passage (Contra Celsum 1.62), Origen appears to point in a different direction. Deflecting the charge that the followers of Jesus are just a bunch of sailors and tax collectors, Origen argues as follows (following the SC text of Borret):

Ἔστω δὲ καὶ ὁ Λευὴς τελώνης ἀκολουθήσας τῷ Ἰησοῦ· ἀλλ’ οὔτι γε τοῦ ἀριθμοῦ τῶν ἀποστόλων αὐτοῦ ἦν εἰ μὴ κατά τινα τῶν ἀντιγράφων τοῦ κατὰ Μάρκον εὐαγγελίου.

“It may well be that Levi who followed Jesus was a tax collector, but he was by no means among the number of his apostles, except according to some manuscripts of the Gospel According to Mark.”

So, here Origen appears to argue that Levi the tax collector was not an apostle. Since both Matthew and James the son of Alphaeus were clearly among the apostles, it would seem that in this instance Origen distinguished Levi as someone different from both James the son of Alphaeus and Matthew (but is he referring to the textual variant that we know in Mark 2:14? Or does Origen know of a version of the list of apostles that has Λευὶ τὸν τοῦ Ἁλφαίου for Ἰάκωβον τὸν τοῦ Ἁλφαίου in Mark 3:18?). To make matters even more confusing, in the preface to his commentary on Romans, Origen seems to take the opposite view (that Matthew and Levi are different names for the same person). In an explanation of the double name of Saul/Paul, Origen lists off others who have more than one name, including Matthew (PG 14.836):

Sed nec Evangelia quidem hunc eumdem renuunt morem. Nam et Matthaeus ipse refert de se, quod cum transiret Jesus, invenit quemdam sedentem ad telonium, Mathhaeum nomine. Lucas vero de eodem dicit, quia cum transiret Jesus, vidit publicanum quemdam nomine Levi, et dixit ei: Sequere me.

“Nor do the gospels reject this custom. For even Matthew says about himself, “When Jesus was passing by, he encountered a certain man sitting at the tax booth named Matthew.” But Luke says about this same person that when Jesus was passing by, “he saw a certain tax collector named Levi and said to him ‘Follow me.’”

So, here we have Origen making it quite explicit that Matthew and Levi are the same person. It’s puzzling. Origen seems not to have a firm view on the matter but adjusts his view to the circumstances of whatever argument he is making.

Finally, to all this should be added the evidence of Heracleon (as quoted in Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 4.9), who lists off followers of Jesus that were not martyred: “Matthew, Philip, Thomas, Levi, and many others,” clearly envisioning Matthew and Levi as two distinct individuals.

So, it looks like there was some flexibility in the identification of Levi and Matthew among at least some Christian authors of the second and third centuries.

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6 Responses to Matthew and Levi (and James)

  1. We could just go by what E.P. Sanders thought, namely, there may never have been a list of names, and even if one existed, no one agrees on the names. He argued the number twelve itself was symbolic anyway for the restoration of Israel, and that was the point of having twelve. Sanders always made a whole lot of sense to me.

    • Yeah, it’s true. When I was writing this up, I was wishing I had my copy of Studying the Synoptic Gospels or The Historical Figure of Jesus with me. It has been years since I gave the question any thought, but I remember thinking the views of Sanders on both the identification of “the 12” and the names of the gospels were very sensible.

      • DOUG TOZIER says:

        Why should it matter whether there is a list, if the writers had been inspired by an omniscient god? Wouldn’t the names have been correctly transmitted with or without any actual knowledge of them? Sounds like excuses for poor story telling which resulted in inexcusable mistakes. How can we trust any of the stories if the facts aren’t accurate?

  2. Pingback: The Identities of Levi and Matthew in the Early Church « The Jesus Memoirs

  3. gryanhart says:

    Your essay on “Matthew and Levi (and James)” is excellent. It got me wondering whether the alternative text featuring “James son of Alphaeus” might be an authentic living tradition going back to authorial GMark rather than a scribal error. With this in mind, an alternative solution to the synoptic puzzle emerged. I explore it in the linked essay:

    I’d love to hear your response to my proposed solution!

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