Matthew

Apostle. The name means “gift of Yahweh.” He is mentioned in the lists of the Twelve (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13), but only Matthew's gospel gives us any further information. Matthew 10:3 describes him as a tax collector, and the name “Matthew” occurs in the story of the call of the tax collector who is named Levi and, in Mark, “the son of Alphaeus” (Matt. 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27). There are some difficulties about the identification of this Levi with the Apostle Matthew, but it should probably be made and it would then be likely that he had two names, “Matthew” being a sort of “Christian name.” He seems to have been an official of Herod Antipas collecting dues near Capernaum on goods passing along the road from Damascus to the Mediterranean ports. He appears to have been a man of wealth, as he provided a banquet in his house (Luke 5:29) with a large number of tax collectors present. The first gospel has been traditionally associated with the Apostle Matthew, and, whether he was directly the author or not, it is likely that he lies close behind it. The particular skills which he would have had in his profession would equip him well for recording and arranging systematically material about the ministry and teaching of Jesus, and the keen numerical interest in the gospel has sometimes been connected with his previous way of life.


MATTHEW măth’ u (Μαθθαι̂ος, G3414, “gift of Yahweh.” Possibly a later form of the Heb. name Amittai, meaning “true”). A Jewish tax collector (publican) or revenue officer of Capernaum, also named Levi, called by Jesus to be one of His disciples, also one of the twelve apostles (Matt 9:9; 10:3; Mark 2:14; Acts 1:13).

The name Matthew is not found in the OT, in the Apoc. or in the Gr. papyri. The name first appears in the first gospel, which the Church always has designated as “the Gospel According to Matthew.” It records his calling as follows: “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” (Matt 9:9). In the roll of the apostles in Matthew’s gospel, he is listed as “Matthew the tax collector” (Matt 10:1-4) and is eighth in order after Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, and Thomas. In the other two rosters of the twelve apostles (Mark 3:18; Acts 1:13), he is simply designated “Matthew.” No doubt he is to be identified with a tax collector named “Levi,” the name by which Mark and Luke call him, since the circumstances of calling are the same: “After this [Jesus] went out, and saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he left everything, and rose and followed him” (Luke 5:27). Additional information about Levi-Matthew or Matthew-Levi is given by Mark when he adds the words “the son of Alphaeus”: “And as [Jesus] passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and said to him ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” (Mark 2:14). Levi’s father is not to be confused with another Alphaeus, the father of James (Matt 10:3; Acts 1:13). It should be noted that Matthew is not designated as “Matthew, son of Alphaeus” in the lists of the apostles in the NT.

If the Apostle Matthew, one of the Twelve, did not write the gospel of Matthew, then the author is still unknown to us. Assuming Matthew wrote the first gospel, no doubt he gives his name as Matthew and not Levi (in his gospel) in order to point out that he was one of the Lord’s apostles and at the same time to identify himself with his familiar name since he was known as Matthew and not as Levi among the Christians. There is no indication that he wished to hide his identity as a tax collector, since he boldly calls himself “Matthew the tax collector” (Matt 10:3). There were many “converted sinners” like Matthew in the Early Church. The two separate names should cause no difficulty for Bible students since double names were common among the Jews, even among Jesus’ disciples; Simon Peter, Thomas Didymus, Bartholomew Nathanael, and Saul became Paul. There can be little doubt that Levi and Matthew are one and the same person. Possibly Levi changed his name to Matthew which means “gift of Yahweh” (another form of Amittai which means “true”) when he became a member of Jesus’ disciples. It is still a common practice for converts on the mission fields to assume new names at their baptism. Matthew’s former occupation as a tax collector certainly aided him in keeping excellent records and writing a detailed orderly gospel.

Since all three of the synoptic gospels record the calling of Matthew-Levi, one can conclude that his calling to be one of Jesus’ disciples was not only a great event in his life, but also a remarkable event in and for the early Christian Church. Tax collectors or publicans were considered the lowest estate among the Jews together with thieves and harlots. Revenue officers became servants of the hated occupation government of Rome and also of the provincial government under such men as Herod the Great. Both were known for high taxes, graft, extortion, and stern methods. Sometimes revenue men like Levi purchased the tax franchise for a district and collected revenue of all kinds at a high commission also. Besides, Matthew Levi was a Jew, and this made matters worse because he was considered a renegade and a turncoat by his people. That he should be called to be a member of the twelve disciples was an outstanding symbol of the Christian Church in which all people were called to the kingdom by repentance and faith. Matthew makes a special point of quoting Jesus regarding this point as a special preachment following the Lord’s parable of the two sons (Matt 21:28-32): “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.’”

The first three gospels also record faithfully the fact that immediately after his calling Matthew held a dinner for his tax collector friends and Jesus and His disciples. This was a high point in the new kingdom and the beginning of the missionary thrust of the Early Church. Levi knew what it meant to be an outcast from his people, and even though he had attempted to turn back, the way would be blocked. He knew the bitterness of separation from his people and the sordid life of the “underworld” in which he lived and operated. Thus, while all three synoptics record the words after the Jesus’ publican dinner, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick,” only Matthew adds these significant words of Jesus to the Pharisees: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt 9:12, 13). In this connection, it is also interesting that Luke alone records that it was Matthew’s house and not Jesus’ house in which the dinner was held (Luke 5:29-32). This has led Bible students to conclude that Matthew, deep down, was a conscientious man with deep spiritual troubles and a spiritual concern for his sinful colleagues. He wanted to share the Gospel of the kingdom and his wonderful experience with his fellowmen. The fact that he dropped everything readily and followed Jesus seems to indicate that he may have heard Jesus preach and possibly had witnessed some of His miracles. No doubt, as the theme of his gospel indicates, he was another example of Andrew’s words to Peter, “We have found the Messiah.”

The daring initiative which Jesus took in calling a tax collector into the kingdom, along with many of his friends and followers, must have increased the sharp opposition of the Pharisees. It is possible that Matthew, bearing the brunt of the Pharisaical criticism also became one of their bitterest critics in return. His gospel contains some of the sharpest, most scathing rebukes of the Pharisees, and we learn from his gospel a great deal of what Phariseeism really was like (Matt 23:1-37). His gospel highlights Jesus’ difficulties with the Pharisees, their tempting wicked questions, and the manner in which He would “put them down.” He records those parables of Jesus which defend the kingdom against the Pharisees and condemns them for their self-righteousness.

There have been attempts to identify Matthew’s father Alphaeus with the father of James the less, but Matthew and James are never joined together in the list of the apostles, as, for example, James and John. Matthew’s father was an unknown Alphaeus much as Matthew himself was unknown in the Church. At least, after his calling he disappears from the scene and is not mentioned by the gospel writers except in the listing of the apostles.

It is still apparent that Matthew is known most of all in the Church for writing the first gospel, which the Church attributed to him from the second cent. on. If so, this unlikely candidate becomes the author of one of the greatest books ever written. While later scholarship says there are other possible authors of the first gospel, there is no real reason why Matthew-Levi did not write it. His purpose in writing was to bring the Christ of the OT to his fellow countrymen, and show from OT witness that Jesus of Nazareth who called him from his tax collector’s post was indeed the Messiah, the Savior of the world and king of the Jews. Reading of the gospel from this point of view becomes indeed a wonderful experience. The divine Word reaches out to all people, both Jew and Gentile. Because of this patent purpose of the first gospel, Early Church Fathers said that Matthew wrote originally in Heb. for non-Palestinian Heb.-speaking converts to the new Church. The early Jewish Christians who were driven from Pal. into surrounding countries certainly would want reliable knowledge of Jesus Christ in a written text. Guided by the Holy Spirit, he furnished the Church and the world with one of the most influential Christian documents the world has seen.

Bibliography

A. Fahling, The Life of Christ (1936); M. C. Tenney, The New Testament: An Historical And Analytic Survey (1954), 151-164; M. Franzmann, Follow Me: Discipleship According To Saint Matthew (1961), 1-33; M. H. Franzmann, The Word of The Lord Grows (1961); The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7, D. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction: The Gospel and Acts (1965), 19-48.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


G. H. Schodde