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Gospel of Matthew



The gospel according to Matthew has always occupied a position of highest esteem in the faith and life of the Christian Church. This, in part, may be due to the fact that it heads the four gospels and is the first book of the NT, forming a bridge between the Old and New Covenants; but on the contrary, it would seem that the Early Church placed it in first position in the NT Canon, precisely because of the profound influence of its contents on the Church and the world; so much so, that many have termed it the greatest book ever written. William Barclay writes, “When we turn to Matthew, we turn to the book which may well be called the most important single document of the Christian faith, for in it we have the fullest and the most systematic account of the life and the teachings of Jesus” (The First Three Gospels, p. 197). The writings of the Early Church Fathers reveal that it was the most frequently quoted and perhaps the most widely read gospel during the first two centuries of the church’s history. In particular, it is the most complete record of the life, works and words of Jesus Christ in existence. After the Lord’s death and resurrection, there was much interest in knowing who Jesus really was and what He said and did. In fact, many believe the gospel was written to fulfill this need. For this reason the gospel lessons or pericopes from Matthew to be read in the churches have been favored by the church’s liturgies. More lessons were chosen from Matthew’s gospel than from any other.

It also has had much influence on lit., music and the fine arts both in and out of the Church. Matthew’s formulations of favorite texts, such as the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and the passion narrative have been widely used in Christian lit. and in the Church’s preaching and teaching. J. S. Bach used Matthew’s VS of the Lord’s passion for his great oratorio known throughout the world as the St. Matthew Passion. The theology of Matthew, particularly the ethical content, has dominated the Church’s teaching perhaps even more than the theology of the gospel of John. Another reason for its wide acceptance has been the apostolic authority associated with Matthew’s name, an eyewitness and apostle of our Lord. In the years both before and after the writing of the gospel, the Church had great need for the authoritative Word of our Lord to instruct the faithful and to refute those who would divide the Church. It also became popular because of the full and orderly way in which it describes events and records the pronouncements and teachings of the Lord. The unique combination of the Lord’s life and teaching, and the theological theme of Jesus as the Messiah, became the final touchstone for its use and authority in the Church. The first gospel became a favorite of the Church because of its close relationship to the OT. Converts readily saw that it interprets the OT as a Christian book. Whether or not it was the first gospel committed to writing, its position in the NT testifies to its importance and influence in the eyes of Christians through the years, particularly during the first two centuries. Furthermore, it was an ecumenical gospel, upholding both Jewish and Gentile Christianity. All things considered, the first gospel is perhaps the most powerful document ever written.

The gospel is still doing for the church what it has always done. Because it bridges the OT and NT, it is still basic to both church and the world for the understanding of the teachings of Jesus Christ and of historical Christianity. The amount of lit. produced on the gospel of Matthew during recent decades indicates that the gospel still commands the attention of the Church and Biblical scholars. Everyone welcomes new insights into its treasured message. The Gospel contained in Matthew was certainly proclaimed in great detail by the NT prophets and apostles (Eph 2:20; 3:5) long before it was written down, and those who would learn what was preached and taught during the apostolic era have generally turned to the first gospel. To get behind all later formulations and systems of Christianity, the gospel merits the attention of Christians everywhere. In our time, with its social turbulence similar to what the Early Church experienced, the first gospel could restore broken bodies and spirits as in the days of Jesus and the apostles. When asked by a member of a Bible class which of the four gospels one should read first for a thorough understanding of Christianity, a well-known preacher and Bible scholar recently said, “Naturally, one should read all four gospels. Which one first? For many years I always pointed to Luke, but in our time I believe I would suggest that one read Matthew first and then the rest of the gospels in the order listed in the Canon of the NT.” See Gospels.

The title.

The title of this gospel in most modern Bibles reads, “The Gospel According to St. Matthew.” This wording is an exact tr. of the title in many Gr. MSS which reads Εὐαγγέλιον Κατα Μαθαι̂ον, “The Gospel According To Matthew.” But the oldest Gr. copies of the gospel have the shortened form, “According to Matthew” (Κατα Μαθαι̂ον). Most scholars believe the original text had no title at all. When the early Christians wished to distinguish one gospel from another, they called the first gospel not the “Gospel of Matthew,” as we often say, but “The Gospel According to Matthew,” to distinguish it from the other VSS of Mark, Luke and John. There is only one Gospel, but four VSS or accounts of it. The term “Gospel According to Matthew” is, therefore, not the “Good News of Matthew,” but Matthew’s VS of the “Good News from God.” The Gospel is “God’s Story” of salvation and life, the best news story the world has ever heard. The earliest Church Fathers, for example, Irenaeus (a.d. 180), spoke of the fourfold Gospel canon in this manner; that is, that there is only one Gospel according to four different authors (Against Heresies III. 11, 8). The Church Fathers identified the four gospel writers with the four living beings or beasts named in Revelation 4:6, 7; cf. Ezekiel 1:10—the lion was Mark, the ox was Luke, the flying eagle was John and the the creature with the face of a man was Matthew. This symbolic identification is made in both Christian lit. and art.

The author.

All four of the canonical gospels are anonymous. None of them begins with words like these, “Matthew, the apostle, to the Jewish Christians of Palestine,” as Paul introduces his apostolic letters (cf. Rom 1:1-4). Thus, paradoxically, the title “According to Matthew” does not mean that Matthew personally wrote the traditional first gospel. And the passing years have not made it clear who wrote it. There has been a great deal of discussion and lit. on the question. The question has not greatly troubled Christians, however, because they know they have an inspired authoritative gospel nevertheless. Of course, the fact that some question the authorship of Matthew does not mean, on the other hand, that he did not write the gospel.

From the earliest times the ancient Church has been clear, consistent and unanimous in attributing the first gospel to the Apostle Matthew. During those days there was no evidence at all that any other author ever claimed to have written the book, nor was it ever attributed to anyone except Matthew. No doubt the early view of Matthaean authorship grew out of the statement in Matthew 9:9: “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.” The record of Matthew’s call in all three synoptics strengthened the view. Scholars believe that the identification became more positive from the fact that Mark and Luke call him by the name of Levi, the son of Alphaeus, the publican or tax collector.

The identification was aided by the fact that Jesus attended a dinner in Levi’s home and explained the Gospel to the Pharisees with the words, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:14-17; Luke 5:27-32). The clincher was found in Matthew 10:3, where “Matthew the tax collector” is named among the twelve apostles (cf. Mark 3:18; Acts 1:13). It is interesting that after his name appears in the lists of the apostles, Matthew disappears from the history of the Church as recorded in the NT. Incidents which are attributed to him later prob. are legendary. He is known mainly for his writing of the first gospel—otherwise he would be almost entirely unknown.

Both of Matthew’s names are Heb. Could it be that he was the son of a man named Levi, “Matthew ben Levi,” and that he was a Levite? Perhaps, as in Peter’s case, Jesus gave him the name Matthew as a Christian-Jewish name, because it means “gift of Yahweh.” He certainly was a Jew because the gospel which bears his name is Jewish in character, and was written mainly for Jewish Christians. If so, he was a chosen vessel, “made to order” for his audience. Luke calls him Levi (Luke 5:27), and Mark adds “the son of Alphaeus” (Mark 2:14). It has been pointed out that Matthew-Levi’s call was not only daring on the part of Jesus because there was an inherent hatred of tax collectors among the Jews, but also an event in the life of the new kingdom since it was a symbol of the power of God’s grace and Jesus’ love for sinners. Only God could change a tax collector named Levi into a Christian apostle named Matthew. Tax collectors, or publicani, were both numerous and dishonest. Moreover, they were in the employ of the hated foreign government which dominated the land and sent taxes collected from both poor and rich alike to far-away Rome. Tax collectors collaborated with the enemy; in fact, they became the real enemy because the people did not actually see the government of Herod and Rome. They saw more often the tax collector. Rome did not collect her own taxes. The system was to farm out the taxes and let the collector collect as much over the rate as he could. Rome was satisfied with her quota—the tax collector could keep the balance as a fat commission. A man without a conscience could easily become rich and exploit beyond measure under such a system. Besides, there were many kinds of taxes, and those collected in the line of custom or duty on foreign goods brought into or through the country were the most lucrative. People were not informed of the customs rates and the collector could collect as much as he could get from each caravan or individual. No doubt this is the type of tax collecting in which Matthew-Levi was involved in Capernaum of Galilee. It is not surprising, therefore, that tax collectors among the Jews—and particularly Jews who collected from their own countrymen—were numbered with harlots, thieves and murderers, not only by Biblical writers but by secular writers as well (Matt 21:31, 32; Mark 2:15, 16; Luke 5:30: Cicero, De Officiis, I. 42). That such people came into the kingdom demonstrated well the power of the Gospel to reconcile men to God and to each other. For such a converted Jewish tax collector to write a gospel to Jews and Gentiles alike, as the gospel portrays, would give the gospel a special appeal and acceptance to “sinners.” In fact, it is more truthful to state that only such a person could write a gospel like Matthew-Levi’s gospel. And since he was also an apostle of the Lord, it was natural for the Early Church to attribute it to Matthew the publican; the Church would simply “know” that he wrote it.

This is a most plausible explanation of the authorship of the first gospel, since the evidence from the NT itself for Matthaean authorship is somewhat less than direct. This is, no doubt, the reason the Patristic evidence, esp. after the first two centuries of the Christian Era, persists. Origen states that “the first gospel was written by Matthew, who was once a tax collector, but who was afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew tongue” (Eccl. His., VI. 14. 5). Irenaeus writes: “Matthew also published a book of the Gospel among the Hebrews, in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding the Church” (Against Heresies, III, 1. 1.). Eusebius reports a similar view: “Matthew, who preached earlier to the Hebrews, committed his gospel to writing in his native tongue, and so compensated by his writing for the loss of his presence” (Eccl. His., III, 24. 5). Later Jerome speaks in the same vein in his Prologue to the Gospels: “Matthew, the tax collector with the cognomen Levi, is the first of all to have published a gospel in Judea in the Hebrew tongue. It was produced for the sake of those Jews who had believed in Jesus and who were serving the true Gospel at a time when the shadow of the Law had not disappeared.” Jerome also writes: “Matthew, who is also called Levi, and who was changed from a tax collector into an apostle, was the first in Judea to compose a gospel of Christ in Hebrew for those of the circumcised who believed. But who later translated it into Greek is not known” (Illus. Men, 36).

Most scholars believe, however, that the traditional view of the Matthaean authorship rests squarely upon a sort of a double quotation from Eusebius in his famous Church History (III, 39. 16) who quotes another Church Father by the name of Papias who says: “Matthew compiled (or arranged) the logia (oracles) in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them (or translated them) as best he could.” The gospel was entitled “According to Matthew,” they say, because it contains the tr. of his collection of the sayings of Jesus, the Logia. By the term logia Papias was not speaking, it is believed, of a life of Christ or even a gospel, but a complete record of the sayings of Jesus. Scholars gave this unknown document the name “Q” or “Source.” Many believe now, however, that such a view is highly improbable since the term logion had been a technical term in Gr. for many years to designate a divine oracle or an inspired utterance, like the oracles at Delphi, and that there is a difference between logia and logoi (words). Other scholars, like E. J. Goodspeed, believe that the term “oracles” as used in Romans 3:2; Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 4:11, refers not to a set of OT passages or quotations about the Messiah which Matthew compiled, or prophecies which Christ fulfilled, but to an early Heb. gospel containing both the words and deeds of Jesus which Matthew had written down from the fixed oral tradition, either in Jerusalem or Antioch. It assumed that Matthew, being an apostle and one interested in Jesus’ words and deeds, must have been the first evangelist to write. Often men do not take into account that Papias himself discusses Mark before Matthew in the passage quoted. These assertions were expanded into a theory that Matthew wrote the first gospel but that he wrote it in a short form in Heb. or Aram. which then was used when the canonical gospel of Matthew was composed. For these reasons modern scholarship has for the most part abandoned the traditional Matthew authorship and believe the first gospel was ascribed to Matthew only because he was the author of one of its sources and not the author of the entire gospel itself. These scholars, however, believe this situation explains why the first gospel came to bear Matthew’s name.

While the view that Matthew originally wrote a gospel to the Hebrews in the Heb. language, as scholars have deduced from remarks by Church Fathers like Papias and Eusebius, may still be acceptable to some, this view also has been repudiated by most modern scholars. Even older conservative scholars had their doubts about this theory. They said it would be better to believe that Matthew wrote a gospel in Heb. and another in Gr. The “translation by inspiration” theory also has little acceptance today. The gospel tradition must have circulated in the Early Church in Aram., but the written gospels we know are Gr. books. Advocates of the Aram. gospel theory were compelled to develop a complicated hypothesis for which there is no real evidence in or outside the gospels themselves. If Heb. gospels or written information about the life and words of Jesus were in existence in the first days of the Church, and if Paul’s Gr. mission churches quickly outnumbered the Aram, churches, any Heb. originals may have disappeared early. A recent authority writes: “The thesis, which has been advocated again and again, that Matthew was the author of a chief source of Matthew (the Logia-Source, or of an Aramaic Matthew) and from that the entire Matthew was named is, therefore, a completely unfounded hypothesis. We must admit that the report about the Matthew composed by Matthew in the Hebrew language is false, however it may have originated” (Feine - Behm - Kuemmel, p. 85). Most NT scholars today believe that the internal evidence of all four gospels indicates that they were composed in Gr. but contain Aram. materials, some from oral and some from written sources.

The interpretive method known as “form criticism” also has been employed to ascertain the author and explain the nature of the first gospel. Following G. A. Kilpatrick’s view (1946) that the first gospel is a product of the Christian community and that the author is really an editor, Dr. Krister Stendahl (The School of St. Matthew, 1954), prominent NT scholar and theologian, has in recent years developed a theory that the writer or editor of the first gospel was a Christian rabbi who was interested in creating a manual for catechetical teaching in the Church. The rabbi was not working alone; an entire school of scribes and teachers was at work in the church of Matthew, a school which was the counterpart of the elders of Judaism. Not an individual, nor the community, but a group is the author. Is not the gospel characterized by a teacher addressed as “Rabbi” by a group of disciples around Him? The purpose of the Matthew school was to write a polemic to convert the unbeliever to the validity of Jesus as the Messiah. The structure of the Gospel into ordered sections of discourses and narratives indicates that the school attempted to create a manual or textbook for teaching and administration in the Church. The school is said to have influenced not only the shape, but also the actual materials of the gospel itself. While this theory throws much interesting light on the first gospel, it still results in an unknown author, and offers no more valid explanation of the character and purpose of the gospel than other views.

New Testament studies and criticism during the past 150 years, particularly in synoptic gospel studies, should be much appreciated and should not be denigrated in any manner, for much light has been thrown upon the NT; but a penetrating evaluation of all the theories, hypothesies and conclusions, sometimes offered without solid evidence, gives birth to the thought that the traditional view of Matthaean authorship of the first gospel should not be entirely excluded. The following considerations might be offered:

(a) The quotations from the Church Fathers relative to the authorship of Matthew may be used on both sides of the question. It is possible that Matthew may have written a gospel in Heb. of some type for Heb. Christians and converts, and then later wrote such a gospel in Gr., the gospel which bears his name in the canon. At least, he could have compiled a group of Aram. sayings or OT prophecies which were applied to our Lord for instructing Jewish Christians. Scholars believe that if he wrote a Gr. gospel (the one we have) then he could have used Mark and through Mark included elements of Peter’s gospel, particularly in the Antioch area, which would have drawn the Heb. and Gr. elements of the Church closer together. This aspect would coincide with one of the purposes of Matthew’s gospel.

(b) It must be admitted, however, that no fragment of an Aram. Matthew has ever been found and a Gr. edition is more plausible than a Gr. tr. Matthew’s gospel does not give evidence of being a tr., which is one of the weak evidences for the Aram. theory. The discussion of “Papias through Eusebius” should not overshadow the statement of Irenaeus which was written earlier than Eusebius’ statement: “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundation of the church” (Against Heresies, III, 1.1). It seems from this statement that Matthew was considered the author, at least of a gospel for the Jewish-speaking Christians, and that the appearance of a Gr. Matthew would be readily accepted, although one must admit this is in the area of conjecture. At least there is some historical tradition that Matthew actually wrote gospel material.

(c) It is not incredible that Matthew in writing a Gr. gospel would use a gospel like Mark which, if he wished to embody the Petrine material from Rome, would lend itself well to one of his purposes of drawing the Heb. and Gentile churches together. One must face openly, however, the extreme doubts of some modern scholars (doubts which have caused them to forsake the Matthaean authorship) that an eyewitness of the Lord’s words and life would lean heavily upon a non-apostolic person like Mark for his gospel.

(d) One must account for the unanimous early tradition which speaks for the Matthaean authorship of the first gospel. Matthew certainly had something to do directly with the gospel which carries his name. While it may be true that in ancient times books and documents sometimes were connected with famous names to gain for them recognition and authority, it remains a fact that Matthew was not one of the great figures of the Early Church. Hardly anything is known of him. He occupies little space in NT history. If he did not write the first gospel, it is most difficult to explain his connection with the gospel to which his name is attached. One might ask why Matthew is the only one of the synoptics who is denied authorship. The title Κατα Μαθαι̂ον is very old, perhaps as early as a.d. 125, and should imply authorship rather than nonauthorship. Scholars may come to the general conclusion some day that the Early Church did not ascribe the first gospel to Matthew because he was the source of one of its sources, but because he actually wrote it. It should be remembered that many theories which explain the origin of the gospels were brought forth not to ascertain authorship but to account for their similarities and dissimilarities.

(e) Although it may not be considered the strongest argument for authorship, the suggestion of the late Dr. E. J. Goodspeed, noted NT scholar, is worthy of note. He believed that Matthew’s occupation as a tax collector highly qualified him to be the official recorder of the works and words of Jesus and this is the practical reason why Jesus called him to be a disciple. Here was a man used to keeping books and records day after day. The entire contents of the gospel bear the marks of a tax collector. The tax collector, it is said, is one man who wrote everything down. “There was doubtless one special thing that Matthew did bring with him. To the rest of the disciples, to the men who worked on the fishingboats, a pen and a book would be strange and unfamiliar things; but Matthew’s work would make him familiar with the act of writing and recording. He left all, but he brought with him a talent that one day in some way he would use for his new Master” (Barclay, p. 208). The character of the gospel reveals the background and thinking of a tax collector. The story of the unforgiving debtor deals in millions of dollars. Throwing a small debtor into prison for a few hundred dollars is part of the vocabulary of a publican. Besides, this arrangement would be in keeping with the practice of the ancient prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah who had such writers and recorders (Isa. 8:16, 17). A man like Matthew could hardly keep from writing things down, completely and accurately.

(f) If the apostle Matthew, one of the Twelve, is not the author of our canonical Matthew, then the author is unknown to us. Two questions in this regard must be faced. How did it happen that the real author was forgotten so soon? The other is, how did Matthew become known as the author? If the tradition which attributes the gospel to Matthew cannot be fully explained or accepted, the alternate author or authors is just as difficult to determine. While Matthew 13:52 might be a veiled hint of a single author who was a learned rabbi or scribe, “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old,” his identity is still unknown. Although an unknown author of the first gospel may not disturb faithful Christians as long as such a proposal does not obviate the inspiration and authority of the gospel, there is no reason why an eyewitness and an apostle did not write the gospel according to Matthew. Another conclusion, it would seem, posits the interesting paradox that the first gospel is one of the greatest Christian treatises in the world which no one has written. See Matthew.

Structure and outline.

An examination of the outline and structure of the gospel of Matthew reveals that it has been both orderly and artistically arranged. Although he has certain theological and didactic aims, Matthew employs the same general historical and chronological framework as Mark and Luke, esp. Mark. Yet he marshals his material in a topical rather than an exact day-by-day record. In the first gospel we do not look for an exact chronology of events, but the events of the Lord’s life written in such an order so as to teach certain lessons. Matthew was an evangelist rather than a historian. He always had the Church in mind. A rather deliberate artistic arrangement of the material in groups or units of three, five, and seven, is discernible, however. Some scholars, like Dr. Goodspeed, believe the gospel is arranged according to the pattern of many ancient Jewish works, for example, the five “books” or main divisions of the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and the Magilloth.

In Matthew each of the five “books” contains a narrative section (Jesus ministering) which is followed by a “lesson section” (Jesus teaching). Some have observed that Matthew was attempting to create a “New Testament Pentateuch” by this schematic arrangement. An outline of the five-book plan of alternate “deeds” and “words” sections may be constructed as follows:

Fivefold Narrative-discourse Arrangement of Matthew’s gospel

The idea is that as the five books of the Pentateuch contain the laws for the OT people, so the five discourses lay down the ethics which are to guide the life of the Christian. Each one of the divisions is concluded by a repeated formula: “When Jesus had finished these sayings” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). Some believe these sections were meant to be read in the Christian meetings of worship. The formula might be understood: “Here ends the first, second, third, fourth and fifth book of the teachings of Jesus the Messiah.”

In attempting such a simplified division of the first gospel, however, it should be remembered that in certain instances the material is only generally divided according to this scheme and sharp, rigid sections are not to be expected. The arrangement is neither superficial nor forced but remains more or less topical. For example, some of Jesus’ shorter discourses are woven into the narrative sections. It seems strange also to designate the infancy narrative as mere prologue and the important passion, death and Resurrection section as conclusion or epilogue. It is necessary to point out that the first gospel itself says nothing directly about this arrangement. The Markan sequence and geographical framework alone seem to be the basis of the gospel. No deviation can be found up to Matthew 13:35. There is no evidence that Matthew wished to be a “new Moses.”

The gospel also has been divided into three major parts around which the topical materials may be gathered. In this outline, as has been pointed out above, the infancy narratives and the death and Resurrection form the prologue and the epilogue:

Threefold Division of Matthew’s Gospel Prologue: Infancy narratives (chs. 1, 2)

First major part: Jesus in Galilee (4:12-13:58)

Second major part: Jesus the Messiah (chs. 14-20)

Third major part: Jesus in Jerusalem (chs. 21-25)

Epilogue: Death and Resurrection (chs. 26-28).

Others see in the design of Matthew a double outline or line of thought which can be detected from the formula “from that time Jesus began.” The first part of the double outline is primarily biographical, similar to that found in Mark and Luke, with two main points of departure. Point one: Matthew 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach,” which activity led to His great preaching ministry and brought Him into prominence. Point two: Matthew 16:21, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem,” which section shows His decline in public favor and His ultimate death on the cross. It seems that the author wishes to emphasize these two poles of Jesus’ life and works and Jesus’ entire life is to be conceived as having one divine purpose.

Within this first structure the second part of the double outline is to be found in the topical representations of Jesus’ words and activity, divided into various blocks of material in terms of five, three or seven, as we have seen. Each one of these sections concludes with the phrase, “when Jesus had finished” (11:1), and if one includes the introductory narrative and the story of the passion there are seven divisions in all.

An acceptable and usable outline of the contents of Matthew’s gospel, which takes into consideration a dominant theme of Matthew, that of Messianic fulfillment (see Section on Theological Purpose), is outlined below:

Jesus the Messianic Fulfiller

I. Introduction (1:14:16). Genealogy. Seven fulfillments of prophecy.

II. First Group of Messianic deeds and words. The annunciation of the kingdom and the call to repentance (4:17-7:29).

III. Second group of Messianic deeds and words (11:2-13:53). The contradicted Messiah seeks the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

IV. Third group of Messianic deeds and words (11:2-13:53). The contradicted Messiah conceals the kingdom from those who have rejected it (those who “have not” [Matt 13:12]) and further reveals it to those who have accepted it (those who “have” [Matt 13:12]).

V. Fourth group of Messianic deeds and words (13:54-19:1). Toward the new Messianic people God, the Church: The Messiah separates His disciples from the mass of old Israel and deepens His communion with His own.

VI. Fifth group of Messianic deeds and words (19:2-26:1). The Messiah gives His disciples a sure and sober hope.

VII. Conclusion (chs. 26-28). The passion, death, and Resurrection of the Messiah. The risen Lord in the perfection of His power: the universal commission to the disciples (M. H. Franzmann, The Word of The Lord Grows, p. 175).

A general outline of the subject matter of Matthew’s gospel, without specific reference to any schematic structure, is as follows:

General Outline of Contents

Theme and theological purpose.

The theme of the first gospel is stated in the lead sentence of the book, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1). One is reminded of the Book of Genesis which is divided into sections by the use of a similar phrase, “the generations of” or “book of the generations of” (Gen 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; etc.). In the OT the phrase marks a new stage in the development of the promises of the Messiah, carried on until David where the line ends. Matthew begins his genealogy at this point and shows in detail how Jesus of Nazareth fulfills the OT prophecies. In this manner Matthew imitates the structure of the OT, and perhaps in more than one way provides a definite bridge between the prophets and the NT fulfillment. All things considered, this is the dominant theme of the gospel, namely, the fulfillment of OT prophecy, and this forms at the same time Matthew’s main theological purpose. The purpose is indicated by the genealogy itself; Matthew begins the line with Abraham to show that Jesus is a true Jew while Luke traces him back to Adam as the true son of man (Luke 3:38). If Jesus’ lineage can be traced back to Abraham through David then He is the Messiah, the divine Son of God (Matt 22:42). If not, theologically speaking, Jesus could not be the One who died and rose again and be the “Sent One.”

The first gospel testifies that God is the Lord of all history and salvation and that Jesus Christ is His Son. Jehovah’s work and Word are so closely related in both the OT and the NT that God’s great works are described simply as the action of His Word (the Logos), His only Son. Nowhere is this theme more clearly illustrated than in the gospel according to Matthew, the gospel of fulfillment. God’s promise in the Covenant of the Messiah and Savior in the OT is fulfilled in the words and deeds of Jesus Christ in the NT. An outstanding example is Jesus before the high priest: “But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to him, ‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven’” (Matt 26:63, 64).

To illustrate his theme, Matthew literally crowds his gospel with the entire Christological and Messianic aspects of the OT until he has quoted almost every book in the OT, over fifty quotations in all not counting the many echoes and allusions to the OT. His OT polemic is not limited to a few scattered references but is by far the most complete collection of passages bearing on the theme “Christ in the Old Testament” than any other writer, including Paul, in the NT. He quotes chiefly Isaiah, the Messianic and evangelical prophet, and the Psalms, but his quotes are representative of the entire OT in the law, the prophets, and the Psalms. One-fifth of his quotations are from Isaiah. Perhaps no other OT book influenced Matthew as Isaiah did. A study of the use of the OT in Matthew gives some credence to the belief of those who think that the statement of Papias about the Logia of Matthew refers to a collection of OT quotations on Christ the Messiah.

After his famous genealogy, he launches into the lowly birth of the Suffering Servant quoting Isaiah in fulfillment: “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel’” (Matt 1:22, 23). After that, prophet after prophet and book after book is quoted by Matthew to illustrate that Jesus is the Messiah foretold by the OT Word. The glory of the Messiah, the ministry of the Messiah, the crucifixion of the Messiah, the resurrection of the Messiah, and the exaltation of the Messiah all receive due attention in Matthew so that his purpose is unmistakable. The Son of man has come for both salvation and judgment and in Him the present is the substance of the past and the future. No book in the NT sets forth the person of Jesus, His life and His teaching, so clearly as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets in Matthew. Some eleven times in the gospel he introduces prophecy with the impressive formula “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,” the cumulative effect of which is remarkable.

In all this prophecy and fulfillment, the Word does not once lose its character of history. Christianity is portrayed as a historical religion. Events are recorded as happening in the way they did because God had willed that it should be so. Even isolated events, the seeming unexplained, happened “according to the Scriptures.” Thus the Word has a history, being the culmination of God’s previous promises and mighty acts. It is history because a real Man comes into history to deal with real men in time and deals with their predicament of sin; it creates history in that the Word is strong and mighty, still fulfilling God’s will on earth.

Matthew’s gospel also represents a full expansion of the apostolic kerygma. In keeping with the view that Matthew used as source material the oral Aram. tradition, his gospel indicates that he followed the outline of this oral preaching (kerygma). The first generation of Christians, between the Resurrection and the writing of the gospels, had no complete written gospels; the only Scripture they had was the OT. The message which is indicated in the speeches of Peter in Acts (3:11-26; 10:36-43) and in certain sections of Paul’s epistles (1 Cor 15:3ff.) followed an outline something like this:

Apostolic Kerygma

1. God’s promises in the OT have been fulfilled.

2. The long-awaited Messiah, born of David’s line, is here with the kingdom.

3. He is Jesus of Nazareth.

4. In His ministry on earth, He went about preaching and doing good through mighty works of healing and power.

5. He was crucified according to the promise and will of God the Father.

6. He was raised from the dead and exalted at God’s right hand.

7. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

8. Therefore, all should listen to His message, repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.

This kerygma or “message” was the earliest gospel. Matthew’s gospel gives an expanded VS of it in great detail. One notices how much space he gives to the passion narrative. This is why the gospel was so popular in the Early Church. The earliest gospel was not, therefore, the Sermon on the Mount. This was one of Matthew’s special contributions to the teaching and life of the Church—the ethical teaching of Jesus. We should be reminded that this or the fulfillment of the historical interest was not Matthew’s primary objective, but a means to an end. The gospel is not a biography. It is impossible to write a life of Christ. Too few events are extant and only two to three years of Jesus’ life at the most are portrayed by all of the gospels together. The primary concern was not historical completeness but revelation and theology. In this concern, Matthew seems to exclude almost all material that is not theologically essential to the Messiahship of Jesus. The purpose was completeness of the divine revelation and the culmination of all earlier OT writings. It is not amazing, therefore, that the early Christians considered the OT a true source of the life and works of Jesus and thus placed the OT canon beside the Gr. Scriptures. The NT has definite continuity through Jesus Christ with the Messiah and Israel of the OT.

A secondary purpose of Matthew’s gospel, as was noted in the section on Structure and Outline, was to furnish the young church a manual of instruction in doctrine and church practice. Many believe it was not written for private reading and study so much as for the guidance of teachers in their teaching new converts. It is a teaching gospel, quite easy to remember and memorize. Perhaps it was the first textbook in Christian education to be used by the Church. It was designed also to be read aloud in the Christian worship services. Besides the Messianic fulfillment emphasis, the instruction from the gospel would present the ethical teachings of Jesus and the teaching of love and forgiveness, but these are included in the works and teachings of Jesus the Messiah.

Characteristics and special features.

Matthew’s gospel is, first of all, a mission-type gospel, or a preaching gospel. The over-all purpose is to inform, convince, and evangelize the hearers, both Jew and Gentile, regarding the Messiah. The Messianic theme makes for the unity of the gospel. Some have said the gospel is a defense against all Jewish unbelief. It appeals to deep-rooted Jewish Messianic beliefs in order to convince all that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah. Matthew argues from the OT much as most preachers of the Early Church did.

The Messianic theme of Matthew may be outlined as follows:

1. The prophecies of the Messiah fulfilled—the Coming (1:1-4:11)

2. The teachings of the Messiah—great discourses (4:12-7:29)

3. The Deity of the Messiah revealed—the miracle (8:1-11:1)

4. The kingdom of the Messiah revealed—the parables (11:2-13:53)

5. The redemption of the Messiah proclaimed—the cross (13:54-19:2)

6. The opposition of the enemy—debates with opponents (19:3-26:2)

7. The passion of the Messiah—suffering, death and resurrection (26:3-28:10)

8. Conclusion: The Great Commission (28:11-20)

If Matthew wrote at a time when Jewish and Gentile Christianity were separate and in opposition, his gospel shows that there is both unity and ecumenicity in the Lord Jesus Christ. For Matthew, Christianity was not a divisive sect which was inventing a Christ or misusing the OT, but he shows that the divine purpose of salvation for all men was fulfilled in Jesus Christ the Messiah. The gospel is both universal and particular. The first gospel is, therefore, a gospel which teaches universal grace. It is an ecumenical gospel (Matt 9:12, 13). The first gospel also teaches much about the power of the Gospel. The Messiah’s call to the Christian is earnest, drastic, and by grace. All of the basic theology taught in the first gospel certainly had its personal reference to Matthew himself. The manner in which he records his call (Matt 9:9-13) shows how he appreciated the Savior’s love for all men. He certainly must have thought of himself when he wrote down the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16). By his countrymen he was considered a renegade Jew who had turned his back upon Israel to make profit from the shady tax-collecting system of the Romans and the provincial government. No doubt he was a self-seeking materialist. For him the Lord’s call meant a sharp break with the past. The experience of being totally hated by his people, and then fully and completely accepted by grace left an indelible mark on Matthew the tax collector. On the one hand, he knew how sin could separate a man from God and his fellowman, and on the other, he realized how gracious was the call to repentance and service. Although he was a most unlikely candidate to be the author of a gospel, he was uniquely prepared to appeal to both Jew and Gentile for faith and commitment to the Messiah of the OT Scriptures.

The gospel of Matthew emphasizes the call to repentance and ministry. It is always a demanding absolute call. It involves the total man with his God. Matthew’s gospel is in unswerving opposition to any compromise with evil on the road back to God. No doubt this is why the discipline of winning the sinful brother, an evangelical duty which the Church has followed through the centuries, is found alone in Matthew’s powerful gospel (Matt 18:15-35).

Another prominent aspect of Matthew’s gospel is the emphasis on the obedience of faith. God initiates all dealings with His people on the basis of grace in Christ. Only God is good. The Christian gives himself wholly to the Savior and in faith and service. The sin of the Pharisee was as much halfheartedness as self-righteousness. Matthew, who from a human point of view should be the last to castigate righteous people in the eyes of men, pours the most scathing rebuke on the Scribes and Pharisees in the NT for their hypocrisy. He who once forsook the OT and its teachings, now becomes its most ardent supporter and interpreter. Men who have received the grace of God and entered into discipleship have learned from Matthew the true meaning of the Gospel and of the kingdom. Such discipleship is taught in the parable of the merciless servant (Matt 18). A man is set free to forgive and to free others. Matthew teaches that the Lord calls not only the sinner to repentence but also those who have become His disciples must daily repent (18:1-4). Every limitation of love is set aside when the Lord asks His disciples to love their enemies (5:44). Impetuous stubborn Peter, the impatient man of Galilee, is asked to forgive his brother not just seven times but seventy times seven (18:21, 22). Finally our Lord asks the disciples to make His cross their way of life in ministry and sacrifice (10:38).

The Messiah brings into being a new universal Church, the new Israel. Both Jews and Gentiles find refuge in it. Matthew is the only evangelist who uses the word church at all (16:18; 18:17). He speaks of the permanence of the Church and of discipline and forgiveness within it. The gospel opens with the promise that the Messiah is the Emmanuel who will be with His people and closes with the promise that this same Jesus, now the risen Christ, will be with His disciples of all nations until the end of time. The visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus early in the gospel, and Jesus’ long ministry in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (4:15) speaks of a universal Church. Yet this Christian Church universal in its membership, is no new church. It is the old Israel transformed and expanded (10:5).

The first gospel is known also for the extent and manner in which it presents the ethical teachings of Jesus. To the evangelist Matthew, as well as to Paul, there is a “law of Christ,” a principle of Christian love which becomes imperative for ethical living. Jesus is the great teacher who proclaims a revised law for the new Israel from the mountain in the Sermon on the Mount, even as Moses has spoken divine law on Mount Sinai. The Messiah calls His Church not only to repentance, but also to good works. The righteousness of the disciples must exceed that of the Pharisees. Christian life is free but it is moral and responsible, motivated by love. Even if the existing institution had corrupted and perverted the law, nevertheless it was divine revelation. The Messiah comes not to destroy it but to fulfill it and to supply what it lacked. Thus a large part of the Sermon on the Mount is replete with explanations of the law in which Jesus lays down the moral standards of love by which conduct of Christians is to be judged.

From a practical or methodological viewpoint, the gospel according to Matthew is a teaching gospel. It is characterized by lengthy discourses. It expands the action gospel of Mark which is more interested in what Jesus did than in what He said. The following is a list of prominent lengthy discourses in the gospel:

3:1-12 Preaching of John

5:1-7:29 Sermon on the Mount

10:1-42 The apostolic commission

13:1-52 The parables

18:1-35 The meaning of forgiveness

23:1-25:46 Denunciation and prophecy

28:18-20 The Great Commission

The gospel of Matthew features a large number of parables. The greatest single group of parables is in ch. 13. The illustrations are taken from everyday life and portray the nature and demands of the kingdom. Many of them are prophetic. Matthew says that the parables were intended both to reveal and conceal truth (13:10-13). Ten parables in Matthew are not found in any of the other gospels: tares, hidden treasure, net, pearl of great price, unmerciful servant, laborers in the vineyard, two sons, marriage of the king’s son, the ten virgins, and the parable of the talents. (There are two miracles in Matthew which are found only in Matthew’s gospel: two blind men, coin in the mouth of the fish.)

Matthew alone uses the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” (thirty-three times). Five times he speaks of the “kingdom of God.” Matthew’s gospel is also a royal gospel. The Messiah is pictured repeatedly as the great King. His lineage is traced back to King David; the Magi ask for the King of the Jews; he is called the “Son of David”; He enters Jerusalem in triumph; Pontius Pilate asks Jesus if He is the King of the Jews; over His cross the words are written, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews”; and in the climax of the gospel He claims all power over heaven and earth. One must conclude that the author of the gospel deliberately presents Jesus as the King.

Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus Christ as the Messiah may be patterned after the experiences of the people of Israel. Our Lord’s relationship to Egypt is particularly significant. As the children of Israel went down into Egypt in infancy and came out of it in the Exodus, so Matthew portrays Jesus in His infancy going down to Egypt and coming out of it in fulfillment of the prophecy spoken in Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt have I called my son” (2:15). Another parallel is Jesus’ temptation and fasting in the desert forty days and forty nights and Israel’s wandering in the desert for forty years (4:1, 2).

Matthew’s gospel may be characterized as an ecclesiastical gospel. Its interests are centered in the Church more than those of any of the other gospels. The Church is portrayed as an actual living body of worshipers and servants of Christ. The Sermon on the Mount and the parables in the gospel portray the ideals and life of the Christian congregation. This Church is interested in winning all of its erring members (Matt 18) and our Lord says the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt 16). The gospel speaks of prayer, giving, Christian rules for marriage and divorce, the sacraments, the teaching and preaching ministry. In fact, Matthew has much to say about the entire life and practices of the Christian Church.

While Matthew’s gospel is known for its lengthy discourses or teaching episodes, a main feature for which it is known is its complete form of the Sermon on the Mount. It contains the spiritual and moral principles of the new Israel. The ethic Jesus expounded was based upon the inner spirit, selfless love, and responsible evangelical living. It is also an interpretation of the old Mosaic law but not an abrogation of it (5:17). All Christians know the formula and authority of the Lord’s ethical teaching: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old....But I say to you” (5:21, 22).

Matthew’s gospel also is definitely a Jewish gospel. The outlook and flavor is Jewish, written by a Jewish Christian to guide the thought and worship of Jewish Christians in Palestine and Syria. The other gospel writers tend to explain Jewish words and phrases (Mark 7:1-13), but Matthew assumes his readers understand Jewish terms and customs.

Another specific feature unique to Matthew’s gospel is the manner of teaching the gospel through what has been called the extreme or critical case method. For example, it illustrates the Gospel by selecting those instances in which Jesus went to extreme limits to illustrate by word and deed the gracious word of God. In the Sermon on the Mount the poor will inherit the earth and the blessings of the kingdom are promised to the beggar, to the poor in spirit (Matt 5:3). What superb teaching to point out that the boundless grace of God is as wide and deep as the need of man! The miracles of Jesus are selected in the same manner. Three illustrate the boundless compassion of Jesus. He heals the leper whom no one can help (8:1-4); He assists the Gentile who is outside the commonwealth of Israel (8:5-13); He restores to health the woman which the culture of the day placed in second place as a creature of God (9:18-22). Troubled Christians throughout the centuries have considered the gospel credible because Jesus called a hated tax collector, a man whom the Jewish authorities always named the sinner and excluded from Jehovah’s grace, to be His disciple and apostle (9:9-13).

Matthew shows that our Lord taught by the extreme method in the ethical area. There are no limits of love because Jesus asks His disciples to love even their enemies, which implies that no man can consider another man his enemy (5:44). A classic example is Jesus’ instruction to Peter which went far beyond the apostle’s own estimate of love when He said he should forgive his brother seventy times seven (18:21, 22).

A close reading of the first gospel reveals a great emphasis on Jesus’ disciples and discipleship. Matthew gives much space to the teaching by our Lord of the disciples and apostles. One of His first acts after His baptism and temptation is the calling of His disciples into ministry. Immediately the teaching is clear that salvation does not originate in the institutional structure of Judaism, but in the deep communion and faith between the Lord and His disciples, the Church. Most of our Lord’s discourses, which form the backbone of the gospel, are addressed to His disciples. It is interesting that Matthew records much about their call, their training, their failures, their forgiveness and reconciliation. The most remarkable revelations of the Messiah—the Transfiguration, the miracles, the Resurrection, the passion—are shown to the disciples alone. Even the last words of the Messiah in Matthew’s record asks His disciples to make disciples of all men (28:19).

Matthew’s use of the OT.

Matthew’s gospel is saturated with the OT. Over fifty clear quotations, some including several passages, have been lifted bodily from the OT, particularly from the prophets. In addition to the verbatim quotations, there are many allusions, echoes, single words and phrases to be found. Much of the language and thought of the gospel is shaped by the form and figure of the Heb. Scriptures. The OT casts a long shadow over Matthew’s gospel. No other evangelist or NT writer, including Paul or the author of Hebrews, drew upon the OT writings as Matthew did. Most of the quotations come through the LXX, the ancient Gr. tr. of the OT, although by no means all. Many believe this collection of OT passages represents the Logia of Matthew which is mentioned by Papias, but this is not at all certain. The Logia could have been a prior and shorter gospel which Matthew wrote in Heb. Furthermore, it is difficult to ascertain whether or not the Logia was a collection of OT proof texts or a compendium of the sayings of Jesus. It is possible that the Logia was an early Heb. gospel written by Matthew which was used with Mark as source material for the gospels.

The list of quotations below, although by no means complete, will offer the interested reader a general picture of Matthew’s use of the OT in terms of documentation or “proof texts” for his Messianic thesis. The list represents the more familiar whole verse quotes, which, when placed in a single group, form an imposing array of Messianic witness. Parts of the vv. are quoted to indicate the contents of the quotations.

Relation to Mark and Luke.

In view of the nature of NT studies during the last cent. and a half, any discussion of one of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) quickly involves the other two. Modern scholars are so certain that Mark wrote his gospel first that the matter is no longer subject to question. They are just as certain that the writer of Matthew (also Luke) used Mark’s gospel as the basic format and source for his gospel. As we have seen (see 3. THE AUTHOR.), scholars also conclude from this that Matthew the apostle could not have written the first gospel because it is highly incredible that an apostle would lean so heavily on the writing of one who was not one of the Twelve. Why should Matthew borrow from Mark what he himself had evidently seen as an eyewitness? But if Matthew did not use Mark, why is his gospel so similar to Mark’s? All serious Bible students are aware that 606 of Mark’s 661 vv. are found in Matthew. In fact, practically all of Mark’s gospel with the exception of some fifty vv. are to be found in both Matthew and Luke.

The question of the relationship of Matthew to Mark (and Luke) confronts one immediately with the celebrated question of modern NT scholarship, the synoptic problem—a problem which scholars must live with because no one has come forth with an absolute answer. How does one explain both the similarities and the dissimilarities of the three gospels? If one finally thinks he has the answer to the similarities, the question of the dissimilarities stares him in the face and vice versa. Matthew and Luke hardly ever agree against Mark in parallels. There are also a number of passages common to Matthew and to Luke which Mark does not have at all—generally sayings or parables of Jesus. What was the source of this material? Assuming for a moment that all three synoptics were written independently, how does one explain, for example, the minute verbal resemblances between Matthew and Mark? Is it possible that a gospel like Matthew arose and circulated by itself free of other sources and that Mark copied much of Matthew? What single theory will account for all relationships between the first three gospels?

At this point students of the gospels began to develop theories to explain the synoptic problem. All three gospels give a common outline of the story of Jesus. There is a remarkable parallelism between them; the same incidents about Jesus are told in much the same language. One must infer that all three gospels must have drawn materials from a source or sources which the others also possessed. To discover these sources is the task set by the synoptic problem. An old solution, but one that is not to be discarded (since all theories rely upon it in one way or another) is the oral gospel theory. Because of the agreements among the gospels, a common source of oral tradition about Jesus, it is said, must lie behind them. They all seem to be cut from a single piece of cloth. The oral tradition, embodying the early preaching and teaching of the new Church, was available to all gospel writers. On the other hand, each of the writers used the oral source in his own way and according to his own purpose; this would explain the dissimilarities. According to this theory of the origin of the gospels, one studies Matthew as Matthew and is not concerned with the other gospels. Each one must be studied in his own right. This view seems very acceptable, but in fact the Church throughout its history has never ceased to harmonize the gospels and study them together just because they are so much alike, and also because they are different because all three synoptics deal with the same Lord and all His people wish to know the whole story. Besides, students of the gospels also soon discovered that the oral tradition view could not explain the minute parallels in language of the synoptics. The relation of Matthew with Mark and Luke (or any combination of the three) is best explained if one attributes the similarities and dissimilarities to common use of one or more written sources. As the Jewish Christians spread out from Jerus alem and the Gentile Christians were brought into the Church through the missionary efforts of the apostles, and many questions about Jesus would arise, there would naturally be a demand for the gospel in written form. Perhaps Matthew himself, as we learn from Papias, published one of these early gospels or the Logia of Jesus. Scholars then began to investigate the possible written sources behind the gospels. The pattern of thought generally ran something like the following: The old view that Matthew was the earliest gospel and Mark simply made a summary of it is quite impossible or, the more recent “Aramaic Gospel” view, that Matthew was first written in Heb. and then tr. into Gr. (either by Matthew himself or some other Heb. author) after Mark was written. Should Mark be an abridgment of Matthew it would also have to be an abridgment of Luke since the two are closely related. By far the simplest and most natural view of the problem is that which looks upon Matthew and Luke as independent writings, but both of them being based upon Mark who wrote first (since he is the shortest and most fundamental), as one of two sources. Since Matthew and Luke both contain gospel material which Mark does not have, then Matthew and Luke must have used still another source for the common material they both have. Since the common source of Matthew and Luke centers a great deal on the sayings and preaching of Jesus, scholars have called this common source “Q” from the Ger. word “Quelle” meaning spring.

Thus came into being the so-called “Two-Document” or “Two-Source” hypothesis. This explains, scholars say, the fact that Mark is totally contained in the other two synoptics, that it was written first, and the other gospels are an expansion of it. The theory accounts for the common material—Matthew used nearly all of Mark and Luke about one half of Mark; for the linguistic parallels (it is said Matthew repeats about fifty percent and Luke fifty-five percent of Mark’s phraseology) and for the common order of events. The second source, known as “Q,” accounts for the material Matthew and Luke have which is not found in Mark. Matthew and Luke have in common nearly 200 vv., often in about the same language, which Mark does not have. Since this common material is mostly in the sayings of Jesus, it could have been (and prob. was) something like the Logia attributed to Matthew. While the two-source theory is acceptable, and even many conservative Bible scholars have accepted it, it must be admitted that it is a theory and not a fact, since no document entitled “Q” has ever been found. It has to be “constructed” from the common material of Matthew and Luke. Also Matthew inserted some material not found in any of the sources mentioned. The same is true of Luke. When the materials which Matthew and Luke use from Mark and “Q” are isolated, each of these writers still contains much subject matter peculiar to himself. Matthew has more than 300 vv. no one else has. Furthermore, the document “Q” (if it is identified with Matthew’s Logia) can mean different things. Is it a Heb. gospel? A catalog of OT testimonies or proof texts that Jesus is the Messiah? A collection of “oracular utterances”? Sayings of Jesus? Weaknesses of the two-document theory always have been not only the document “Q,” but also the fact that it does not an swer the questions it sets out to explain; instead it raises still others.

Because of these difficulties, scholars, notably Burnett Streeter, expanded the written source theory into a “four-document” hypothesis including a separate written source “L” which Luke alone used and a special source known as “M” which Matthew used. This expanded theory also posited that the four sources came from different great centers of the Early Church: Mark from Rome, “M” from Jerusalem, “L” from Caesarea, and “Q” from Antioch. It is self-evident that four sources, three of which have never been found, is more speculative than two sources. There is also the question whether or not the relationships between the synoptics are only documentary. It is also possible that Matthew did not know Mark as a complete document but relied instead upon the fixed oral tradition of the Early Church, such as one finds in apostolic preaching as Peter’s address on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:22-36) and in Paul’s speech in Antioch (13:23-41).

Dissatisfaction with source theories in recent years has led to the development of form criticism. This is an attempt to get behind all written sources to the oral preaching and teaching of the Church which, it is said, developed according to certain patterns or forms which can be determined by applying to the text of our gospels certain pre-determined criteria of literary criticism. A second purpose of the “form” approach is to push on to the shape of the text in the oral tradition before it became “gospel.” From the oral tradition it was only a short step for the form critic to an analysis of the historical or cultural context in which the forms grew. This is commonly called the Sitz im Leben (“situation in life”) and from it one could reason back to the community which produced the form. It was concluded from this rather complex and subjective process that the gospels, or the written sources used in them, were really a collection of isolated pieces (parables, miracles, addresses, etc.) which had circulated in the early Christian community before being written down. A special characteristic of form criticism is the belief that these pieces or literary forms were the creation of the worshiping and teaching Church and that the forms were “put together” by editors or redactors rather than authors who wrote under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Others, like Kilpatrick and Stendahl, came to the conclusion that not the Christian community but certain schools or groups of teachers and scholars were responsible for creating and shaping the forms. The method also led to great doubts about the historicity of some of the forms and stories which make up the gospels. The redactors were more interested in a certain theological interest than in the historical context of the form. In the hands of radical scholars, the form critical method often took on such negative and destructive el ements that it has fallen into disrepute in some quarters in recent years, “done in” by its friends more than its enemies. It is fast losing ground as an acceptable method of explaining the origin of Matthew and the other gospels. It leaves behind some answers to the familiar questions of the synoptic problem (the similarities and differences of the gospels are due to use of the forms according to theological interests) but raises other still more significant problems, e.g., what role did an apostolic eyewitness like Matthew, or Jesus Himself, play in creation of the forms? If the answer is “None,” or “Very little,” then the inevitable question is, “Why was the gospel material created in the first place?” and one is back where he started. Some scholars believe that the question of the relation of Matthew to Mark and Luke is a problem of authors rather than of documents. If one could discover in some way the possible living contact and interchange between the writers of the first three gospels, perhaps the right answer could be found. How much did they rewrite and rearrange written sources? Is it at all possible that the three authors could have had contact with each other and fashioned their writings to include the new material they heard from each other?

It must be admitted that none of the theories really explain all of the synoptic problem. Helpful for the explanation of the relationship between Matthew and Mark, however, is the theological purpose of these two evangelists. Although they use the same gospel material, they put it to different uses, organize it into different frameworks, and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, write a gospel for a specific theological and historical purpose. Mark’s gospel of action and movement certainly had a different aim than the didactic gospel of fullfillment of Matthew. The intended readers or audience of each gospel also determined the nature of the gospel. This is why four VSS of the one gospel is a gift of God to a diverse people of God today just as in ancient times. Each gospel should be accepted as it is and studied as the Word of God in its own right, relevant “now” as “then.”

Time and place of writing.

The date of the composition of Matthew’s gospel is unknown, and scholars have set the time anywhere between a.d. 50 and 115. Some scholars believe that any date before a.d. 70 is untenable because the statement in the parable of the marriage fast (22:7) about an angry king destroying a city refers to the fall of Jerusalem: “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” Such a conclusion seems to be too strong for such weak evidence from an incidental remark in a parable. Since the gospel does not in any way indicate the actual fall of Jerusalem and the fact that the destruction of Jerusalem is predicted in Matthew 24, a date before a.d. 70 is the more probable. One must believe that the prophecy in Matthew 24:1-28 is history written beforehand to select a later date.

On the other hand, Feine believes that the opposite is true: any date before a.d. 70 is excluded because of Matthew’s dependence upon Mark. Mark, he says, was written later than is normally assumed, and if Matthew used and reworked Mark for his gospel, this would place the date considerably later than 70. Besides, Matthew reveals in his reworking of Mark that the ecclesiastical situation was more fully developed when Matthew wrote (cf. Matt 18:15-20; 28:19ff.) making a date between a.d. 80 and 100 much more probable. Modern scholars add to this line of evidence the belief that Matthew wrote for Gr.-speaking Christians outside of Pal. (although most of the readers were of Jewish origin), and this also speaks for a later date. They also are of the opinion that the Judaism explicit in the first gospel is characteristic of the period after the destruction of Jerusalem when the Jews were still crushed from defeat and the destruction of the Temple. A few scholars have set the date as late as a.d. 115 when it is believed Ignatius of Antioch apparently quotes the gospel or is at least familiar with the Matthaean traditions. But such argumentation should rather speak of a date at least before a.d. 96 since Clement of Rome apparently knew of the first gospel. The use of the gospel by both Clement and Ignatius does not mean that the gospel was written at that time; Matthew could have written much earlier and they quote him much later.

A more reliable date of the composition of Matthew’s gospel should be sought in connection with the place of writing. It is not likely that it was written early before the first dispersion of the Christians from Jerusalem (Acts 8:4), for then the Church in Jerusalem would not have needed a written gospel. The apostles were present to answer all questions and to impart all authoritative teaching from the Lord. If the testimony of Irenaeus, which places the writing of Matthew at the time of Nero while Paul and Peter were in Rome, has any validity, it is possible that Matthew may have composed a gospel originally for non-Palestinian converts who did not have access to the apostles and who could be dependent for their knowledge of the words and works of Jesus upon a written document. While the witness of Papias perhaps may be questioned, since there is no evidence of an Aram. original, it is still possible that such pieces of gospel were extant, and that the writer made a tr. or wrote a Gr. edition for the Gentile churches. Any Heb. original would have disappeared at an early time and the Gr. gospel would become the traditional gospel of the people. Thoughtful scholars believe that the place of composition of Matthew must be found in some area of the Middle E where Judaism and early Christianity existed together and were in close contact, possibly in the initial stages of unity. They believe that the area which suits the requirements best is the territory N of Pal. among the Jews of the Diaspora and the Gentile converts of the early mission churches. Since Antioch in Syria was a center of early Jewish-Gentile Christianity, this area is a logical choice for the place of writing of the first gospel. Ignatius was in Antioch and his writings reveal he was fond of the gospel. In Antioch both Jews and Gentiles would speak Gr. and yet understand the OT. They used the LXX VS of the OT and Matthew quotes the OT much through the LXX.

The old traditional view of the time and place of writing has been that Matthew was the first evangelist to write a gospel and that he wrote in Pal., possibly in Jerusalem itself, shortly after the events of 27:8 and 28:15 in about a.d. 60. Setting the date at the same time but at a different location now seems more plausible. Antioch in Syria where the Jewish-Gentile church flourished in about a.d. 60 not only accounts for the concerns about the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem but also takes into consideration both the Jewish particularism and the Gentile universalism of the first gospel. Matthew’s gospel, we must remember, was written in Gr. for Gr.-speaking Jews by a Gr.-speaking Jew, but it also has wide appeal for the Gentile Christians just as Luke’s gospel did. Matthew’s gospel therefore, must have been written for a mixed group of Christians outside of Pal. The church to which it was directed is described by Luke in Acts 11:19-26. Although absolute evidence is lacking, Antioch in Syria about a.d. 60 is both a probable and a plausible time and place of writing of the first gospel.

Readers and destination.

It is almost certain that Matthew wrote for Jewish Christians in order to establish them in their faith in Jesus of Nazareth as to the Christ promised in the OT. Where did these Christians live? The quotations of the gospel in patristic writings indicate that the first gospel was no doubt a favorite of the Syrian Jewish church. If the gospel were written in Antioch, as many believe, this would bear out this testimony. It would be a mistake, however, to think that this second purpose excluded the Gentiles. No doubt Matthew had in mind converted Jews, but both converted and unconverted Gentiles would be equally benefited and strengthened in faith. Jewish names and concepts are not explained in the gospel since they would be readily understood. On the one hand, it reflects the unbelief of Israel in Jesus’ time, and on the other, it emphasizes the Gentiles superseding the Jews because they had rejected the Messiah. The national Jews needed repentance and the witness of the Messiah, but Matthew’s position is no narrow nationalism. Jesus the Messiah is Savior of the Jews, but also of the whole world. To illustrate that his gospel is in no way particularistic, Matthew closes his message with the mandate that the apostles should make disciples of all nations (28:19). The gospel is neither anti-Jewish nor anti-Gentile. Men in the past on both sides of the question have believed.

The contents of the gospel indicate that while its message is beamed at Gr.-speaking Jews who had been converted to Christianity, the gospel also had a message for the Gentiles. While the mission of the Messiah emphasizes the primacy of the Jewish people (“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” [15:24]; “go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” [10:6]) and indicates the Jewish flavor of the gospel, it is clear that the kingdom also is meant for the Gentiles because of the pointed parables condemning the Pharisees and open door to the Gentile poor and downtrodden. All of this indicates the historical situation of the first gospel as the time of transition or amalgamation of the Jewish and Gentile elements in the Early Church. Perhaps one can say that the Jewish Christian Church was being absorbed into the Gentile Church. Matthew’s main theme, “Jesus is the Messiah,” is followed closely by a second emphasis, “the Messianic Kingdom for the world.”

Matthew’s gospel is admirably suited to a church which was still Heb. but at the same time increasingly aligning itself with the Gentile world. The gospel breathes an atmosphere of Messianism, yet it has a message for all the world. The covenant is fulfilled in Abraham and his seed, but in him all the families of the earth are to be blessed (Gen 12:3). Accordingly, the first readers of the gospel of Matthew were the amalgam of the Jewish-Gentile church in northern Pal., Syrian Antioch, and surrounding territories. While it is possible most of the readers were of Jewish extraction, and would feel at home with the OT and Jewish emphasis, the Gentiles also would welcome such a gospel because they, too, accepted the OT. One may imagine that among both Jew and Gentile the lively proclamation of the gospel would not go many m. without some sort of written proof that Jesus was the Messiah, proof from the OT Scriptures. If Jesus was the Messiah, it would be foretold in the OT. Preaching would give way to the proof of the written gospel (Acts 9:22).

The view that Matthew’s readers lived in Pal. and that he wrote from Jerusalem was based on the premise that men thought he wrote in Heb., but now scholars are quite certain that he wrote in Gr., and that the readers were not limited to Pal. All things considered, Antioch in Syria is the most plausible place of writing (see above), and the audience is the Syrian church composed of both Jews and Gentiles. Was not a basic doctrine of Jesus and His apostles that all men are saved by grace? That God is no respecter of persons? For this reason, the readers of the gospel of Matthew was the Church described in Acts: “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to none except Jews. There were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number that believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:19-21). The early Jewish-Gentile Church is clearly defined also by the Apostle Paul. His statement to the Galatians indicates that the kingdom calls all men and that it is a continuum and culmination of the kingdom of God in the OT (all Christians are Abraham’s offspring): “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:27-29; cf. Eph. 2:11-22).

The text of Matthew.

Matthew wrote in the Koiné or common Gr. which was spoken in the Mediterranean world during the 1st cent. This simplified Attic Gr. Koiné was not literary, but a language spoken by the common people. The gospel of Matthew must have been readily understood by the early Christians, most of whom were ordinary people. The evangelists turned the Koiné into a literary vehicle when they committed the oral gospel to writing. Matthew’s style is quite elegant, clear and fluid. His Gr. is neither poor Koiné nor highly-polished Gr. If he used Mark, it seems that he often improved the style and language. Matthew’s language has no distinctive traits. It is smoother than Mark’s but less varied than Luke’s style.

By “text” is meant the ancient MSS written in Gr. which are copies of the original autograph of the gospel. Not a single autograph (text which the author originally wrote) of any of the gospels is known to exist, only copies of copies. Since there are several thousands of such ancient Gr. MSS of the NT which have been found, dating from the 3rd cent. onward, plus lectionaries, quotations from Early Church Fathers and many different trs. or VSS—the text of the NT may be reliably established. There are, of course, many variant readings (differences in the wording of the various types or families of MSS) which came about through the centuries in the copying of the text, but Matthew’s gospel has been affected little. Almost without exception the exact text of Matthew’s gospel can be arrived at without great difficulty. The text of Matthew is in splendid condition. Although there may be differences in the wording in certain passages in the trs. (simply because the trs. were made from different or earlier and later MSS), the more recent Eng. versions are uniform and represent the original text quite accurately. This is due to the fundamental acceptable results of modern textual criticism (judgment or evaluation of the best readings). Amazing discoveries of still more ancient Gr. texts (which are closer to the originals) during the past hundred years have aided in establishing the text of the gospels.

Not even the variants of the text of Matthew’s gospel are extensive, as a check of the well-known Nestle-Aland Text of the Gr. NT (where all the differences in wording in the MSS are listed at the bottom of each page) will reveal. Modern Eng. trs. have used the most ancient MSS and the more correct readings and their trs. are considered to be more accurate, if the text is rendered without bias, than old Eng. VSS.

An example of this is the ending of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:13) in the KJV. The most ancient Gr. texts end with the petition, “Deliver us from evil,” but the KJV added the words of the familiar doxology: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.” The reason for this is that the KJV was tr. from late Gr. copies of the originals known as the Koiné (common) or Byzantine Text which comes from the 4th cent. on. The Koiné text is known as a conflated text, that is, it adds variants rather than choosing between them so that nothing of the sacred text be lost. Text critics believe the doxology of the Lord’s Prayer was added because of liturgical considerations from 1 Chronicles 29:11-13. It is another indication that the first gospel was used much in the worship of the Early Church.

Another example is the KJV wording of Matthew 5:44: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” The best ancient texts read: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” omitting “bless those who curse you” (added from Luke 6:28), and “do good to those who hate you” (from Luke 6:27). One can easily see from such a comparison that while all the words of KJV in 5:44 are “Scripture,” not all of them were written by Matthew. There are any number of such conflations in the gospels which resulted from attempts to harmonize them in parallel passages and make them more uniform (even in exact words). Such concerns are the source of many harmless variant readings in the text of the gospels. The discovery of ancient MSS such as Codex Vaticanus (B), Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph) and Codex Bezae (D), and Papyrus 46 (Beatty Papyri), have brought such conflations to light. The text is so well attested by ancient MSS which get behind the variants that no fundamental teaching Christian faith and morals depends upon a disputed text. While the Church might debate issues in Biblical theology, it is not often that anyone can say the reading of the text clouds the issue.

All interested students of the NT would find it most stimulating and profitable to make a study of the history of the text and the methods of textual criticism, particularly to discover the reasons why variants (not errors) crept into the text. It is evident that some variants resulted from copying or repeating from memory and adding phrases from other gospels, from deliberate changes to clarify the text for the next reader, from intentional changes to satisfy doctrinal concerns, and, as was mentioned above, to harmonize the gospels. Besides those examples cited, important variants in Matthew’s text are 1:16, dealing with the virgin birth of Jesus (which no doubt arose from doctrinal concerns); 5:32 and 19:9, which deal with our Lord’s teaching on divorce; 5:22 where the phrase “without a cause” is omitted in ancient texts; and several others dealing with less disputed subjects. The fascinating subject of textual study has solved these and many other variations in the NT to the satisfaction of concerned Christians. The results of text studies have given further evidence that the “word of the Lord remains for ever” (1 Pet 1:25).


T. H. Robinson, The Gospel of Matthew (1927); A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. I (1930); R. C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (1943); W. C. Allen, “St. Matthew,” International Critical Commentary (1947); C. R. Erdman, The Gospel of Matthew (1948); G. D. Kilpatrick, Origins of the Gospel According to St. Matthew (1950); S. E. Johnson and G. E. Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” Vol. VII (1951); M. C. Tenney, The Genius of the Gospels (1951); A. Hunter, Introducing the New Testament (1951); H. C. Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament (1951); E. C. Colwell, What Is the Best Text of the New Testament? (1952); M. C. Tenney, The New Testament—A Survey (1954); K. Stendahl, The School of St. Matthew and Its Use of the Old Testament (1954); F. C. Grant, The Gospel of Matthew (1955); A. H. O’Neile, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1955); M. Franzmann, The Word of the Lord Grows (1956); N. B. Stonehouse, The Witness of Matthew and Mark to Christ (1958); E. Blair, Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (1960); E. J. Goodspeed, Matthew: Apostle and Evangelist (1959); M. Franzmann, Follow Me: Discipleship According to St. Matthew (1961); R. V. G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1961); J. L. Price, Interpreting the New Testament (1961); G. Bornkamm, Tradition and Interpretation in Matthew (1963); A. W. Argyle, The Gospel According to Matthew (1963); B. M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament (1964); D. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction: The Gospels and Acts (1965); W. Barclay, The First Three Gospels (1966); H. Riesenfeld, The Gospel Tradition (1970).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(euaggelion kata Maththaion (or Matthaion)):

1. Name of Gospel--Unity and Integrity

2. Canonicity and Authorship

3. Relation of Greek and Aramaic Gospels

4. Contents, Character, and Purpose

5. Problems of Literary Relation

6. Date of Gospel


1. Name of Gospel--Unity and Integrity:

The "Gospel according to Matthew," i.e. the Gospel according to the account of Matthew, stands, according to traditional, but not entirely universal, arrangement, first among the canonical Gospels. The Gospel, as will be seen below, was unanimously ascribed by the testimony of the ancient church to the apostle Matthew, though the title does not of itself necessarily imply immediate authorship. The unity and integrity of the Gospel were never in ancient times called in question. Matthew 1; 2, particularly--the story of the virgin birth and childhood of Jesus--are proved by the consentient testimony of manuscripts, VSS, and patristic references, to have been an integral part of the Gospel from the beginning (see Virgin Birth). The omission of this section from the heretical Gospel of the Ebionites, which appears to have had some relation to our Gospel, is without significance.

The theory of successive redactions of Mt, starting with an Aramaic Gospel, elaborated by Eichhorn and Marsh (1801), and the related theories of successive editions of the Gospel put forth by the Tubingen school (Baur, Hilgenfeld, Kostlin, etc.), and by Ewald (Bleek supposes a primitive Greek Gospel), lack historical foundation, and are refuted by the fact that manuscripts and versions know only the ultimate redaction. Is it credible that the churches should quietly accept redaction after redaction, and not a word be said, or a vestige remain, of any of them?

2. Canonicity and Authorship:

(1) Canonicity.

The apostolic origin and canonical rank of the Gospel of Matthew were accepted without a doubt by the early church. Origen, in the beginning of the 3rd century could speak of it as the first of "the four Gospels, which alone are received without dispute by the church of God under heaven" (in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, VI, 25). The use of the Gospel can be traced in the apostolic Fathers; most distinctly in Barnabas, who quotes Mt 22:14 with the formula, "It is written" (5). Though not mentioned by name, it was a chief source from which Justin took his data for the life and words of Jesus (compare Westcott, Canon, 91 ff), and apostolic origin is implied in its forming part of "the Memoirs of the Apostles," "which are called Gospels," read weekly in the assemblies of the Christians (Ap. i.66, etc.). Its identity with our Matthew is confirmed by the undoubted presence of that Gospel in the Diatessaron of Tatian, Justin’s disciple. The testimony of Papias is considered below. The unhesitating acceptance of the Gospel is further decisively shown by the testimonies and use made of it in the works of Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and by its inclusion in the Muratorian Canon, the Itala, Peshitta, etc.

See Canon of the New Testament; Gospels.

(2) Authorship.

The questions that cluster around the First Gospel have largely to do with the much-discussed and variously disputed statement concerning it found in Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 39), cited from the much older work of Papias, entitled Interpretation of the Words of the Lord. Papias is the first who mentions Matthew by name as the author of the Gospel. His words are: "Matthew composed the Logia (logia, "words," "oracles") in the Hebrew (Aramaic) tongue, and everyone interpreted them as he was able." Papias cannot here be referring to a book of Matthew in which only the discourses or sayings of Jesus had been preserved, but which had not any, or only meager accounts of His deeds, which imaginary document is in so many critical circles regarded as the basis of the present Gospel, for Papias himself uses the expression ta logia, as embracing the story, as he himself says, in speaking of Mark, "of the things said or done by Christ" (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 24; compare particularly T. Zahn, Introduction to New Testament, section 54, and Lightfoot, Supernatural Religion, 170 ff). Eusebius further reports that after Matthew had first labored among his Jewish compatriots, he went to other nations, and as a substitute for his oral preaching, left to the former a Gospel written in their own dialect (III, 24). The testimony of Papias to Matthew as the author of the First Gospel is confirmed by Irenaeus (iii.3, 1) and by Origen (in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, V, 10), and may be accepted as representing a uniform 2nd-century tradition. Always, however, it is coupled with the statement that the Gospel was originally written in the Hebrew dialect. Hence, arises the difficult question of the relation of the canonical Greek Gospel, with which alone, apparently, the fathers were acquainted, to this alleged original apostolic work.

3. Relation of Greek and Aramaic Gospels:

One thing which seems certain is that whatever this Hebrew (Aramaic) document may have been, it was not an original form from which the present Greek Gospel of Matthew was translated, either by the apostle himself, or by somebody else, as was maintained by Bengel, Thiersch, and other scholars. Indeed, the Greek Matthew throughout bears the impress of being not a translation at all, but as having been originally written in Greek, and as being less Hebraistic in the form of thought than some other New Testament writings, e.g. the Apocalypse. It is generally not difficult to discover when a Greek book of this period is a translation from the Hebrew or Aramaic. That our Matthew was written originally in Greek appears, among other things, from the way in which it makes use of the Old Testament, sometimes following the Septuagint, sometimes going back to the Hebrew. Particularly instructive passages in this regard are 12:18-21 and 13:14,15, in which the rendering of the Alexandrian translation would have served the purposes of the evangelist, but he yet follows more closely the original text, although he adopts the Septuagint wherever this seemed to suit better than the Hebrew (compare Keil’s Commentary on Matthew, loc. cit.).

The external evidences to which appeal is made in favor of the use of an original Hebrew or Aramaic. Matthew in the primitive church are more than elusive. Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, V, 10) mentions as a report (legetai) that Pantaenus, about the year 170 AD, found among the Jewish Christians, probably of South Arabia, a Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew, left there by Bartholomew; and Jerome, while in the Syrian Berea, had occasion to examine such a work, which he found in use among the Nazarenes, and which at first he regarded as a composition of the apostle Matthew, but afterward declared not to be such, and then identified with the Gospel according to the Hebrews (Evangelium secundum or juxta Hebraeos) also called the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles, or of the Nazarenes, current among the Nazarenes and Ebionites (De Vir. Illustr., iii; Contra Pelag., iii.2; Commentary on Mt 12:13, etc.; see Gospel According To the Hebrews). For this reason the references by Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius to the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew are by many scholars regarded as referring to this Hebrew Gospel which the Jewish Christians employed, and which they thought to be the work of the evangelist (compare for fuller details See Hauck-Herzog, Realencyklopadie fur protestantische Theologie und Kirche, XII, article "Matthaeus der Apostel"). Just what the original Hebrew. Mathew was to which Papias refers (assuming it to have had a real existence) must, with our present available means, remain an unsolved riddle, as also the possible connection between the Greek and Hebrew texts. Attempts like those of Zahn, in his Kommentar on Matthew, to explain readings of the Greek text through an inaccurate understanding of the imaginary Hebrew original are arbitrary and unreliable. There remains, of course, the possibility that the apostle himself, or someone under his care (thus Godet), produced a Greek recension of an earlier Aramaic work.

The prevailing theory at present is that the Hebrew Matthean document of Papias was a collection mainly of the discourses of Jesus (called by recent critics Q), which, in variant Greek translations, was used both by the author of the Greek Matthew and by the evangelist Luke, thus explaining the common features in these two gospels (W.C. Allen, however, in his Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Matthew, disputes Luke’s use of this supposed common source, Intro, xlvi ff). The use of this supposed Matthean source is thought to explain how the Greek Gospel came to be named after the apostle. It has already been remarked, however, that there is no good reason for supposing that the "Logia" of Papias was confined to discourses. See further on "sources" below.

4. Contents, Character and Purpose:

(1) Contents and Character.

As respects contents, the Gospel of Mt can be divided into 3 chief parts:

(1) preliminary, including the birth and early youth of the Lord (Matthew 1; 2);

(2) the activity of Jesus in Galilee (Matthew 3-18);

(3) the activity of Jesus in Judea and Jerusalem, followed by His passion, death, and resurrection (Matthew 19-28).

In character, the Gospel, like those of the other evangelists, is only a chrestomathy, a selection from the great mass of oral tradition concerning the doings and sayings of Christ current in apostolic and early Christian circles, chosen for the special purpose which the evangelist had in view. Accordingly, there is a great deal of material in Matthew in common with Mark and Lk, although not a little of this material, too, is individualistic in character, and of a nature to vex and perplex the harmonist, as e.g. Matthew’s accounts of the temptation, of the demoniacs at Gadara, of the blind man at Jericho (4:1-11; 8:28-34; 20:20-34); yet there is much also in this Gospel that is peculiar to it. Such are the following pericopes: Matthew 1; 2; 9:27-36; 10:15,37-40; 11:28-30; 12:11,12,15-21,33-38; 13:24-30,36-52; 14:28-31; 16:17-19; 17:24-27; 18:15-35; 19:10-12; 20:1-16; 21:10 f,14-16,28-32; 22:1-14; 23:8-22; 24:42-25:46; 27:3-10,62-66; 28:11 ff. The principle of arrangement of the material is not chronological, but rather that of similarity of material. The addresses and parables of Jesus are reported consecutively, although they may have been spoken at different times, and material scattered in the other evangelists--especially in Luke--is found combined in Matthew. Instances are seen in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), the "mission address" (Matthew 10), the seven parables of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 13), the discourses and parables (Matthew 18), the woes against the Pharisees (Matthew 23), and the grand eschatological discourses (Matthew 24; 25) (compare with parallel in the other gospels, on the relation to which, see below).

(2) Purpose.

The special purpose which the writer had in view in his Gospel is nowhere expressly stated, as is done, e.g., by the writer of the Fourth Gospel in Joh 20:30,31, concerning his book, but it can readily be gleaned from the general contents of the book, as also from specific passages. The traditional view that Matthew wrote primarily to prove that in Jesus of Nazareth is to be found the fulfillment and realization of the Messianic predictions of the Old Testament prophets and seers is beyond a doubt correct. The mere fact that there are about 40 proof passages in Matthew from the Old Testament, in connection even with the minor details of Christ’s career, such as His return from Egypt (2:15), is ample evidence of this fact, although the proof manner and proof value of some of these passages are exegetical cruces, as indeed is the whole way in which the Old Testament is cited in the New Testament.

See Quotations In the New Testament.

The question as to whether the Gospel was written for Jewish Christians, or for Jews not yet converted, is less important, as this book, as was the case probably with the Epistle of James, was written at that transition period when the Jewish and the Christian communions were not yet fully separated, and still worshipped together.

5. Problems of Literary Relation:

The special importance of the Gospel of Matthew for the synoptic problem can be fully discussed only in the article on this subject (see GOSPELS, THE SYNOPTIC), and in connection with Mark and Luke. The synoptic problem deals primarily with the literary relations existing between the first 3 Gospels. The contents of these are in many cases so similar, even in verbal details, that they must have some sources in common, or some dependence or interdependence must exist between them; on the other hand, each of the 3 Gospels shows so many differences and dissimilarities from the other two, that in their composition some independent source or sources--oral or written--must have been employed. In general it may be said that the problem itself is of little more than literary importance, having by no means the historical significance for the development of the religion of the New Testament which the Pentateuchal problem has for that of the Old Testament. Nor has the synoptic problem any historical background that promises a solution as the Pentateuchal problem has in the history of Israel. Nothing save an analysis of the contents of these Gospels, and a comparison of the contents of the three, offers the scholar any material for the study of the problem, and as subjective taste and impressions are prime factors in dealing with materials of this sort, it is more than improbable, in the absence of any objective evidence, that the synoptic problem in general, or the question of the sources of Matthew in particular, will ever be solved to the satisfaction of the majority of scholars. The hypothesis which at present has widest acceptance is the "two-source" theory, according to which Mark, in its existing or some earlier form, and the problematical original Matthew (Q), constitute the basis of our canonical Gospel.

In proof of this, it is pointed out that nearly the whole of the narrative-matter of Mark is taken up into Matthew, as also into Luke, while the large sections, chiefly discourses, common to Matthew and Luke are held, as already said, to point to a source of that character which both used. The difficulties arise when the comparison is pursued into details, and explanation is sought of the variations in phraseology, order, sometimes in conception, in the respective gospels.

Despite the prestige which this theory has attained, the true solution is probably a simpler one. Matthew no doubt secured the bulk of his data from his own experience and from oral tradition, and as the former existed in fixed forms, due to catechetical instruction, in the early church, it is possible to explain the similarities of Matthew with the other two synoptics on this ground alone, without resorting to any literary dependence, either of Matthew on the other two, or of these, or either of them, on Matthew. The whole problem is purely speculative and subjective and under present conditions justifies a cui bono? as far as the vast literature which it has called into existence is concerned.

6. Date of Gospel:

According to early and practically universal tradition Mt wrote his Gospel before the other three, and the place assigned to it in New Testament literature favors the acceptance of this tradition. Irenaeus reports that it was written when Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome (ill.1), and Eusebius states that this was done when Matthew left Palestine and went to preach to others (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 24). Clement of Alexandria is responsible for the statement that the presbyters who succeeded each other from the beginning declared that "the gospels containing the genealogies (Matthew and Luke) were written first" (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, VI, 14). This is, of course, fatal to the current theory of dependence on Mark, and is in consequence rejected. At any rate, there is the best reason for holding that the book must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD (compare 2415). The most likely date for the Greek Gospel is in the 7th Christian decade. Zahn claims that Matthew wrote his Aramaic Gospel in Palestine in 62 AD, while the Greek Matthew dates from 85 AD, but this latter date is not probable.


Introduction to the Commentary on Matthew (Meyer, Alford, Allen (ICC), Broadus (Philadelphia, 1887), Morison, Plummer, Schaeffer in Lutheran Commentary (New York, 1895), etc.); works on Introduction to the New Testament (Salmon, Weiss, Zahn, etc.); articles in Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedia may be consulted. See also F.C. Burkitt, The Gospel History and Its Transmission; Wellhausen, Das Evangelium Matthaei and Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien; Sir J.C. Hawkins, Horae Synopticae; Westcott, Introduction to the Study of the Gospels; Lightfoot, Essays on Supernatural Religion, V, "Papias of Hierapolis" (this last specially on the sense of Logia).

See also the works cited in MARK, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO.

See also

  • Synoptic Gospels
  • Biblical Training

    The BiblicalTraining app gives you access to 2,100 hours of instruction (129 classes and seminars). Stream the classes, or download and listen to them offline. Share classes via social media, email, and more.