Introduction to Matthew

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The author of this book was beyond a doubt unknown, though according to church tradition he was an apostle of Jesus. However, given that Matthew uses Mark as a source, and how unlikely it is that an eyewitness would use the work of a non eye-witness (no one has ever claimed Mark was an eye-witness, but was allegedly a disciple of Peter in Rome), it is unlikely the gospel writer was an eyewitness. This likelihood becomes even more remote when "Matthew" tells the story of his own call (Mt 9:9ff), which he takes over nearly verbatim from Mark. Further, the oldest manuscrpits of the gospel lack the ascription "Kata Matathaion," suggesting that the gospel was originally composed anonymously.

As to the time of its composition, there is little in the Gospel itself to indicate. It was evidently written after the destruction of Jerusalem (Mt 22:7ff), and definitely after the composition of Mark. The probability is that it was written between the years A.D. 80 and 90.

The cast of thought and the forms of expression employed by the writer show that this Gospel was written for Jewish Christians of Palestine. His great object is to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah, and that in him the ancient prophecies had their fulfilment.

The Gospel is full of allusions to those passages of the Old Testament in which Christ is predicted and foreshadowed. The one aim pervading the whole book is to show that Jesus is he "of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write." This Gospel contains no fewer than sixty-one references to the Old Testament, forty of these being direct verbal citations, thus greatly outnumbering those found in the other Gospels. The main feature of this Gospel may be expressed in the motto, "I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil."

As to the language in which this Gospel was written there is much controversy. Many hold, in accordance with old tradition, that it was originally written in Hebrew (i.e., the Aramaic or Syro-Chaldee dialect, then the vernacular of the inhabitants of Palestine), and afterwards translated into Greek, either by Matthew himself or by some person unknown. This theory, though earnestly maintained by able critics, we cannot see any ground for adopting. From the first this Gospel in Greek was received as of authority in the Church. There is nothing in it to show that it is a translation. Though Matthew wrote mainly for the Jews, yet they were everywhere familiar with the Greek language. The same reasons which would have suggested the necessity of a translation into Greek would have led the evangelist to write in Greek at first. It is confessed that this Gospel has never been found in any other form than that in which we now possess it.

The leading characteristic of this Gospel is that it sets forth the kingly glory of Christ, and shows him to be the true heir to David's throne. It is the Gospel of the kingdom. Matthew uses the expression "kingdom of heaven" (thirty-two times), while Luke uses the expression "kingdom of God" (thirty-three times). Some Latinized forms occur in this Gospel, as kodrantes (Matt. 5:26), for the Latin quadrans, and phragello (Mt 27:26), for the Latin flagello. It must be remembered that Matthew was a tax-gatherer for the Roman government, and hence in contact with those using the Latin language.

As to the relation of the Gospels to each other, we must maintain that Matthew and Luke both used Mark, and an additional source of the saying of Jesus (Q), but that each of Matthew and Luke wrote independently of each other.

Out of a total of 1071 verses, Matthew has 387 in common with Mark and Luke, 130 with Mark, 184 with Luke; only 387 being peculiar to itself.

The book is fitly divided into these four parts:

  1. The genealogy, the birth, and the infancy of Jesus (1; 2).
  2. The discourses and actions of John the Baptist preparatory to Jesus' public ministry (3; 4:11).
  3. The discourses and actions of Jesus in Galilee (4:12-20:16).
  4. The sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus (20:17-28).


This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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