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Article Info:
published: 3/17/04
updated: 8/14/14

Matthew the Apostle



Matthew by Rembrandt
Matthew by Rembrandt

In Christianity, Matthew the apostle and evangelist is mentioned in Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13, though his place is not constant in this list, varying between the 7th and the 8th places and thus exchanging positions with Thomas. The name occurring in the two forms Matthaios, and Maththaios, is a Greek reproduction of the Aramaic Mattathyah, i.e. "gift of Yahweh," and equivalent to Theodore.

Before his call to the apostolic office, according to Matthew 9:9, his name was Levi. The identity of Matthew and Levi is practically beyond all doubt, as is evident from the predicate in Matthew 10:3; and from a comparison of Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27 with Matthew 9:9.

Mark calls him "the son of Alpheus" (Mark 2:14), although this cannot have been the Alpheus who was the father of James the Less; for if this James and Matthew had been brothers this fact would doubtless have been mentioned, as is the case with Peter and Andrew, and also with the sons of Zebedee.


Matthew's Background

Whether Jesus, as He did in the case of several others of His disciples, gave him the additional name of Matthew is a matter of which we are not informed. As he was a customs officer (ho telones, Matthew 10:3) in Capernaum, in the territory of Herod Antipas, Matthew was not exactly a Roman official, but was in the service of the tetrarch of Galilee, or possibly a subordinate officer, belonging to the class called portitores, serving under the publicani, or superior officials who farmed the Roman taxes.

As such he must have had some education, and doubtless in addition to the native Aramaic must have been acquainted with the Greek His ready acceptance of the call of Jesus shows that he must have belonged to that group of publicans and sinners, who in Galilee and elsewhere looked longingly to Jesus (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34; 15:1). Just at what period of Christ's ministry he was called does not appear with certainty, but evidently not at once, as on the day when he was called (Matthew 9:11,14,18; Mark 5:37), Peter, James and John are already trustworthy disciples of Jesus. Unlike the first six among the apostles, Matthew did not enter the group from among the pupils of John the Baptist.

Later Life

These are practically all the data furnished by the New Testament on the person of Matthew, and what is found in post-Biblical and extra-Biblical sources is chiefly the product of imagination and in part based on mistaking the name of Matthew for Matthias (compare Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, chapter liv, note 3).

Tradition states that he preached for 15 years in Palestine and that after this he went to foreign nations, the Ethiopians, Macedonians, Syrians, Persians, Parthians and Medea being mentioned. He is said to have died a natural death either in Ethiopia or in Macedonia. The stories of the Roman Catholic church that he died the death of a martyr on September 21 and of the Greek church that this occurred on November 10 are without any historical basis. Clement of Alexandria (Strom., iv.9) gives the explicit denial of Heracleon that Matthew suffered martyrdom.

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G. H. Schodde

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia



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