All four gospels in the New Testament are anonymous. Both Mark and Luke, when describing the call of Matthew use his Jewish name Levi (Mk 2:14-17, Lk 5:27-32). Matthew’s gospel calls him Matthew at his call (9:9-13), and in the list of the apostles (10:1-4). The author probably wanted to show that Levi the tax-collector, by the grace of God, became Matthew the apostle. The attention to detail and the methodical arrangement of the material, would be typical of someone who had been a tax-collector. The Gospels present us with four portraits of Christ, the One who is Himself the Good News:
- Matthew – Christ the King
- Mark – Christ the Servant
- Luke – Christ the Man
- John – Christ the Son of God (emphasis on His unique deity and essential humanity)
There is a clear, consistent, unanimous witness from church history as to authorship. There has been no serious doubt over Matthew’s authorship. Matthew was not a significant figure in the early church, so there would be no reason for the tradition for his authorship, unless he wrote it. The title of the gospel is very old, perhaps as early as AD 125. Many claim that the gospel was originally written in Hebrew, then later translated into Greek. Although most modern scholars say it was written in Greek.
The Bishop of Hierapolis, Papias, around 130AD, wrote that he had received from John the Elder that: ‘Matthew composed the oracles in the Hebrew tongue and everyone translated them as he was able.’
It is likely that these sayings and teachings of Jesus were collected b y Matthew and edited, shaped and structured into our present Gospel.
Almost the whole of Mark is in Matthew and in the same order, and Matthew certainly drew upon a whole variety of written accounts (the ‘Q’ document plays a part here but I will not be going any further with that here). Matthew also has many unique features
Like the other Gospels, Matthew has its own themes of particular interest, especially as he is writing to a Jewish audience. The areas of special interest are:
- The Jews. Matthew wants to convince Jewish readers that Christ is their true King and Messiah (2:2). The Gospel opens with a genealogy beginning with Abraham, father of the Jewish race (whereas Luke begins with Adam – father of the human race). See 10:5-6 and the emphasis on the failure of the Pharisees in 23:1-39).
- The Scriptures. Matthew is concerned to explain that Christ’s coming fulfils Old Testament prophecies (see 2:15, 17, 23; 3:3: 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 22:31; 24:15; 27:9). It is likely that Matthew has structured his gospel on the pattern of the five-fold books of the Mosaic Law, thus there are five “discourses” (5:1-7:29; 10:5-42; 13:1-52; 18:1-35; 24:1-25:46). It is likely this deliberately mirrors the first five of the Jewish canon (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) because he was writing for Jews.
- The Church. More is said here about the ‘believing community’ than in any other Gospel (see the teaching passage in 18:1-35 and 16:18; 18:17 and 28:18-20).
- The Future. This aspect is seen particularly through many parables of the Kingdom (ch13) and the teaching on Christ’s return in chapters 24-25 and 26:64
In short, Matthews Gospel is an account of Jesus the King: in His birth, teachings, power, followers, return and victory.
The date of writing is unknown. It is probably before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, which is predicted in chapter 24. Some scholars have claimed that a manuscript in Magdalene College, Oxford, P64, containing fragments of Matthew’s gospel (ch 26) have been dated by analysing the handwriting to the middle of the first century.
There is great ongoing debate over the relationship between the three synoptic gospels, particularly over which was written first. Modern scholarship normally supports Mark as the earliest gospel, but the witness from the early church is that Matthew was the first gospel to be written.
The place of writing is also unknown. A suggestion would be a place where Judaism and early Christianity existed together, and were in close contact, perhaps either in northern Palestine or Antioch in Syria.
Purpose of book:
To prove that Jesus is the Messiah!
Matthew’s main purpose was to demonstrate that Jesus was the long-expected Jewish Messiah, showing that all God’s purposes have come to fulfilment in Jesus, so Jesus is the fulfilment of all the Old Testament hopes and predictions. To be the Messiah, he would need to be descended from David, completely keep and uphold the law of Moses, and establish the Kingdom of God.
As we have seen, Matthew introduces his gospel with a genealogy (not the most interesting start to modern minds!), but he he showing quite profoundly that Jesus Christ was Son of David and Son of Abraham (1:1), the fulfilment of the two great promises in the Old Testament: The Messiah had to be a son of Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), and Son of David (2 Sam 7:12-16, Ps 89:29-37). The Messiah had to be a descendant from David (Is 11:1; 9:7), so Matthew shows that “Son of David”, was used as a title to address Jesus (1:1,(20), 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, 20:30-31, 21:9,15).
Jesus continually upheld the law, saying, “not an iota, not a dot would pass from the law until all is accomplished” (5:18), and “those who did the commandments and taught them would be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (5:19). He said that the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees, who sat on Moses’ seat should be practised and observed (23:2), and that the Jewish temple tax should be paid (17:24-27). He also taught his disciples to fast (6:16), and to bring their offerings (5:23-24).
Matthew has a great emphasis on the Kingdom, using the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” thirty-eight times, to avoid the phrase “Kingdom of God” which would be more offensive to Jews. The Messiah was coming to set up his Kingdom. This kingdom is both here now, as well as not yet here. We enter into the Kingdom of God when Jesus becomes King over our lives, but still await its consummation. Matthew continually uses the phrase “The Christ”, meaning the Messiah (1:16, 1:17, 2:4, 11:2, 16:16, 16:20, 22:42, 23:10, 26:63, 26:68, 27:17, 27:22).
He also shows that Jesus came in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. He uses a standard formula quotation, “This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet….”. This appears five times in the birth narratives: (1:22-23 – fulfilling Is 7:14; 2:5-6 – fulfilling Mic 5:2; 2:15 – fulfilling Hos 11:1; 2:17 – fulfilling Jer 31:15; 2:23 – fulfilling Is 11:1). It also occurs five times through the rest of book, (4:14-16 – fulfilling Is 9:1-2; 8:17 – fulfilling Is 53:4; 12:17-21 – fulfilling Is 42:1-4; 21:4 – fulfilling Is 62:11; Zech 9:9; 27:9-10 – fulfilling Zech 11:12-13, Jer 32:6-9).
Matthew is the Gospel of the King, showing that the prophetic hope that the Messiah would unite in himself the three important offices of prophet, priest and king, has been fulfilled. The lengthy discourses given by Jesus show his prophetic ministry. His atoning death on the cross shows him to be both priest and sacrifice. Jesus is frequently described as being a king: his genealogy is the kingly line (1:6-11), the Magi ask for King of Jews (2:2), Jesus calls himself king (17:25), the king rides on a donkey into Jerusalem (21:1-11), Pilate asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (27:11), and the sign over cross reads, “Jesus the King of the Jews” (27:37).
The Gospel is very Jewish. The genealogy traced from Abraham is arranged in three groups of fourteen generations in true rabbinic style (1:1-17). Matthew refers to Jewish customs and phrases without any explanation: the tradition of elders (15:1-2), phylacteries (23:5), whitewashed tombs (23:27-28) and the day of preparation (27:62). He also refers to the Holy City and The Holy Place (4:5, 24:15, 27:53), and to the Mosaic Law (5:17-19,21,27,31,33,38,43, 7:12, 11:13, 12:5, 15:6, 22:36,40, 23:23).
Matthew also shows that the gospel is firmly rooted in the Old Testament, using many other direct quotation of prophecies. There are also many allusions, echoes, single words and phrases. He quotes almost every book of the Old Testament, but mostly from Isaiah and the Psalms.
He then shows how Jesus came to the Jews, but his kingdom was rejected by them, and was opened up to the Gentiles. Jesus sent out the twelve, saying, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go to lost sheep of house of Israel” (10:5-6).
However there are confrontations with the Jewish leadership, especially over the Sabbath (12:1-14). In the parable of the vineyard (21:33-43), Jesus warns that, “the Kingdom will be taken away and given to a nation producing the fruits of it”. Matthew uniquely records the lengthy denunciation of the Pharisees (ch 23). Then in the great commission (28:19-20), we are called to make disciples of all nations, where before he sent them only to lost sheep of house of Israel (10:5).
There is strong theme of the Gospel being for Gentiles as well: the Gentile Magi came to worship Jesus (2:1-12), and Jesus’ family took refuge in Gentile Egypt (2:13-15). A Roman Centurion, seeking help, showed faith and received Jesus’ blessing (8:5-13). The Gentile cities of Tyre, Sidon, Sodom and Nineveh were favourably contrasted with the Jewish cities of Chorazin, Capernaum and with “this generation” (11:20-24, 12:41). The word about Jesus is for all the world, from east to west (8:11), for the Gentiles (12:21), and will be proclaimed throughout all the world (24:14).
Writings from the early church suggest that Matthew was probably the most widely read gospel, and is the most frequently quoted. It records lengthy teaching (discourses), so it is suggested that it was used to disciple young converts to the Christian faith.
Great prominence is given to the teaching of Jesus, introduced by expressions such as: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying ..” (4:17), “And He opened his mouth and taught them saying ..” (5:2), “And Jesus want about all the cities and villages teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom ..” (9:35), “And when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities ..” (11:1), “And coming to his own country, he taught in their synagogue ..” (13:54).