Article Info

published: 2/6/05
updated: 12/20/12

The Gospel of Matthew



Overview of the Book of on Matthew

bible

The Book of Matthew is the 1st book of the Christian New Testament and is one of the four gospels. It is traditionally held that Matthew the tax collector and Apostle of Jesus Christ is the gospel's author. Matthew is 28 chapters long, which is the longest of the four gospels when counting chapters, however the Gospel of Luke is longer when counting verses and words.

Those who ascribe to an early date for the authorship of Matthew suggest it was written in the 50's A.D. Those who ascribe to a later date may place it as late as the 80's A.D. The gospel was likely written from Palestine of Syrian Antioch.

There is widespread agreement that Matthew was written to Jews and that's its primary purpose is to convince Jews that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures. The organization of the gospel contains five discourses of Christ with a prologue and epilogue (Ch. 5-7; Ch. 10; Ch. 13; Ch. 18; Ch. 24-25).



Characteristics of Matthew

Ancient testimony is unanimous that Matthew wrote in Hebrew. Papias, a disciple of John (the Presbyter) and companion of Polycarp (Eusebius, H. E. 3:39), says, "Matthew wrote his oracles (logia) in Hebrew, and each interpreted them in Greek as he could." Perhaps the Greek for "oracles," logia, expresses that the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew was a collection of discourses (as logoi means) rather than a full narrative.

Matthew's Gospel is the one of the four which gives most fully the discourses of our Lord. Papias' use of the past tense (aorist) implies that "each interpreting" Matthew's Hebrew was in Papias' time a thing of the past, so that as early as the end of the first century or the beginning of the second the need for each to translate the Hebrew had ceased, for an authoritative Greek translation existed.

The Hellenists (Greek-speaking) Jews would from the first need a Greek version, and Matthew and the church would hardly leave this want unsupplied in his lifetime. Origen, Pantaenus, Eusebius (H. E. 6:25; 5:10; 5:8), and Irenaeus (adv. Haer. 3:1) state the same. Jerome (de Vir. Illustr. 3) adds, "who translated the Hebrew into Greek is uncertain."

He identifies Matthew's Hebrew Gospel with "the Gospel of the Nazarenes," which he saw in Pamphilus' library at Caesarea. Epiphanius (Haer. 29, sec. 9) mentions this Nazarene Gospel as written in Hebrew. (Hebruikois grammasin) Probably this Nazarene was the original Hebrew Gospel of Matthew interpolated and modified, yet not so much so as the Ebionite Gospel.

This view will account for the strange fact that nothing of the Hebrew Matthew has been preserved. Our Greek Gospel superseded the Hebrew, and was designed by the Holy Spirit (as its early acceptance, universal use, and sole preservation prove) to be the more universal canonical Gospel. The Judaizing Nazarenes still clung to the Hebrew one; but their heresies and their corruptions of the text brought it into disrepute with the orthodox. Origen (on Prayer, 161:150) argues that epiousion, the Greek word for "daily" in the Lord's prayer, was formed by Matthew himself; Luke adopts the word.

Eusebius (Lardher, Cred. 8 note p. 180) remarks that Matthew in quotations of the Old Testament does not follow the Septuagint, but makes his own translation. Quotations in his own narrative (1) pointing out the fulfillment of prophecy Matthew translates from the Hebrew. Quotations (2) of persons introduced, as Christ, are from the Greek Septuagint, even where differing from the Hebrew, e.g. Mt. 3:3; 13:14. A mere translator would not have done so.

An independent writer would do just what Matthew does, namely, in speeches of persons introduced would conform to the apostolic tradition which used the Septuagint, but in his own narrative would translate the Hebrew as he judged best under the Spirit.

These are arguments for Matthew's authorship of the Greek Gospel. Mark apparently alters or explains many passages found in our Matthew, for greater clearness, as if he had the Greek of Matthew before him (Mt. 18:9; 19:1 with Mark 10:1; 9:47); and if the Greek existed so early it must have come from Matthew himself, not a transistor.

The Latinisms (fragellosas, Mt. 27:26; kodranteen, 5:26) are unlike a translation from Hebrew into Greek, for why not use the Greek terms as Luke (Luke 12:59) does, rather than Graecised Latinisms? The Latinisms are natural to Matthew, as a portitor or gatherer of port dues, familiar with the Roman coin quadrans, and likely to quote the Latin for "scourging" (fragellosas from flagellum) used by the Roman governor in sentencing Jesus. Josephus' writing his history both in Greek and Hebrew (B. J. Preface 1) is parallel.

The great proof of Matthew's authorship of the Greek is that the Hebrew has left no trace of it except that which may exist in the Nazarene Gospel, whereas our Greek Matthew is quoted as authentic by the apostolic fathers (Polycarp, Ep. ii. 7; Ignatius, ad Smyr. 6; Clemens Rom. i. 46; Barnabas, Ep. 4) and earliest Christians. Paul in writing to the Hebrews, Peter to the Jews of the dispersion, and James to the twelve tribes, write in Greek not Hebrew.

How unlikely that Matthew's name should be substituted for the lost name of the unknown translator, and this in apostolic times; for John lived to see the completion of the canon; he never would have sanctioned as the authentic Gospel of Matthew a fragmentary compilation "in arrangement and selection of events not such as would have proceeded from an apostle and eye witness" (Alford).

The Hebraisms accord with the Jewish character of Matthew's Gospel, and suit the earliest period of the church. At a later date it would have been less applicable to the existing state. Early Christian writers quote the Greek, not the Hebrew, with implicit confidence in its authority as Matthew's work. The original Hebrew of which Papias, etc., speak none of them ever saw. If it had not been so, heretics would have gladly used such a handle against it, which they do not.

The Syriac version of the second century is demonstrably made, not from its kindred tongue the Hebrew, but from the Greek Matthew; this to too in the country next Judea where Matthew wrote, and with which there was the freest communication. The Hebrew Matthew having served its local and temporary use was laid aside, just as Paul's temporary epistles (Col. 4:16; 1 Cor. 5:9) have not been transmitted to us, the Holy Spirit designing them to serve but for a time.

Our Greek Matthew has few, if any, traces of being a translation; it has the general marks of being an independent work. A translator would not have presumed to alter Matthew's original so as to have the air of originality which it has; if he had, his compilation would never have been accepted as the authentic Gospel of the inspired apostle Matthew by the churches which had within them men possessing the gift of "discerning spirits" (1 Cor. 12:10).

As Mark's name designates his Gospel, not that of Peter his apostolic guide, and Luke's name his Gospel not Paul's name, so if a translator had modified Matthew's Hebrew, his name not Matthew's would have designated it. All is clear if we suppose that, after inaccurate translations of his Hebrew by others such as Papias (above) notices, Matthew himself at a later date wrote, or dictated, in Greek for Greek speaking Jews the Gospel in fuller form than the Hebrew. His omission of the ascension (as included in the resurrection of which it is the complement) was just what we should expect if he wrote while the event was fresh in men's memory and the witnesses still at Jerusalem. If he had written at a later date he would have surely recorded it.

Aim

There is a lack in it of the vivid details found in the others, his aim being to give prominence to the Lord's discourses. Jesus' human aspect as the ROYAL. Son of David is mainly dwelt, on; but His divine aspect as Lord of David is also presented in Mt. 22:45; 16:16; proving that Matthew's view accords with that of John, who makes prominent Jesus' divine claims.

From the beginning Matthew introduces Jesus as "Son of David," but Mark 1:1 as "the Son of God," Luke as "the Son of Adam, the son of God" (Luke 3:38), John as "the Word" who "was God" (John 1:4). In the earlier part, down to the Baptist's death, he groups facts and discourses according to the subjects, not according to the times, whereas Mark arranges according to the times, in the places where they differ. Papias' description of the Hebrew Matthew as a studied arrangement (suntaxis) of our Lord's "discourses" accords with this view.

Canonical authority

Justin Martyr, the epistle to Diognetus, Irenaeus, Tartan, Origen, etc., quote Matthew as of undisputed authority. The genuineness of the first two chapters, disputed by some, is established by their presence in the oldest manuscripts and versions. The genealogy was necessary in a Gospel for Jews, to show that Jesus' claim to Messiahship accorded with His descent through king David from Abraham, to both of whom the promise of Messiah was given; while its insertion is proof of early date.

Design

For the Jews; to show Jewish, readers (to whom were committed the Old Testament "oracles of God") that Jesus is the Messiah of the Old Testament, fulfilling Old Testament prophecies, as born of a virgin in Bethlehem (Mt. 2:6); fleeing to Egypt and called out of it; heralded by John Baptist (Mt. 3:3); laboring in Galilee of the Gentiles (Mt. 4:14-16); healing (Mt. 8:17); teaching in parables (Mt. 13:14 ff). Matthew has 65 Old Testament quotations, of which 43 are verbal; Luke has 43, of which only 19 are verbal.

Matthew takes for granted that his readers, as Jews, know Jewish customs and places; Mark for Gentile readers describes these (Mt. 15:1,2 with Mark 7:1-4, "with defiled, that is, unwashed hands," Mt. 27:62 with Mark 15:42, "the preparation, that is the day before the sabbath," Luke 23:54; John 19:14,31,42). The interpretations of Immanueel, Eli, lema sabachthani, Akeldama (Mt. 1:23; 27:8,46) were designed for Greek speakers. In contrast with Judaic traditions and servility to the dead letter, the law is unfolded in its spirit (Mt. 5; 23).

The epistle of James answers closely to the Sermon on the Mount (which Matthew alone gives fully) in its spiritual development of the law (James 5:12; 1:25,2); the relation of the gospel to the law is the aspect which Matthew, like James, presents. What James is among the apostolic epistles that Matthew is among the evangelists. It is the Gospel of Judaeo-Christianity, setting forth the law in its deep spirituality brought to view by Jesus its fulfiller. Mere Judaic privileges will not avail, for unbelief shall cast the children of the kingdom into outer darkness, while the saved shall come from every quarter to sit down with Abraham through faith (Mt. 8:10-12).

Records found only in Matthew. Christ's geneaology from Abraham to Joseph through the male line; the succession to the throne, from Abraham through king David to Joseph, 42 generations, with omissions. Mt. 1: Joseph's dreams. Mt. 2: Christ worshipped by the wise men, Herod's massacre of the children at Bethlehem, Herod's death, and Christ's return to Nazareth. Mt. 5--7: the Sermon on the Mount in full. Mt. 9: healing of two blind men. Mt. 11: call to the heavy laden. Mt. 13: parables of the hidden treasure, the pearl, and the drag-net. Mt. 16: Peter's confession of Christ, and Christ's confirmation of Peter's name (compare at an early time John 1:42). Mt. 17: Christ's paying the tribute with money from a fish. Mt. 20: cures two blind men while going from Jericho. Mt. 22: parable of the wedding garment. Mt. 25: parables of the ten virgins, talents, and sheep and goats at the judgment. Mt. 27: dream of Pilate's wife, appearance of many saints after the crucifixion. Mt. 28: soldiers bribed to say that Christ's disciples had stolen His body.

Divisions

Introduction; Christ's genealogy, birth; visit of the wise men; flight to Egypt; return to Nazareth; John the Baptist's preparatory ministry; Christ's baptism and consecration to His office by the Holy Spirit, with the Father's declared approval (Mt. 1--3). Temptation; ministry in Galilee; call of disciples (Mt. 4). Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5--7). Events in order, proving His claim to Messiahship by miracles (Mt. 8--9). Appointment of apostles; doubts of John's disciples; cavils of the Pharisees; on the other hand His loving invitations, miracles, series of parables on the kingdom; effects of His ministry on Herod and various classes; prophecy to His disciples of His coming death (Mt. 10--18:35). Ministry in Judea and Jerusalem (Mt. 19--20). Passion week: entry into Jerusalem; opposition to Him by Herodians, Sadducees, Pharisees; silences them all; denunciation of the Pharisees (Mt. 21--23). Last discourses: His coming as Lord and Judge (Mt. 24--25). Passion and resurrection (Mt. 26--28).

Recommended for You


More on Christianity


More Religious Texts


World Religions - Main pages


Christian beliefs

Christian denominations

Christian fast facts

Christian history

Christian holidays

Christian biographies

Christian practices

Christian symbols

 

Christian writings

Bahai writings

Buddhism writings

Hinduism writings

Islam writings

Jehovah's Witnesses writings

Judaism writings

Mormonism writings

Taoism writings

Buddhism

Christianity

Confucianism

Hinduism

Islam

Jehovah's Witnesses

Judaism

Mormonism



Sources
  1. Kenneth Barker, ed., The NIV Study Bible (Zondervan, 1985), pp. 1440-41.
  2. David W. Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs: A Guide to More Than 700 Topics Discussed by the Early Church Fathers (Hendrickson, 1998).
Online Text of the Gospel of Matthew Online Guides to the Gospel of Matthew Books on the Gospel of Matthew