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The Gospel of Matthew

Authorship: External Evidence

“Now this is reported by Papias about Mark, but about Matthew this was said, Now Matthew compiled the reports [or “oracles”] in a Hebrew manner of speech, but each interpreted them as he could” (Papias, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.16)

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Compare me to something and tell me what I am like.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘You are like a just messenger.’ Matthew said to him, ‘You are like a wise philosopher.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like.'” (Gospel of Thomas 13)

“So Matthew, among the Hebrews in their own dialect, brought forth a writing of the gospel when Peter and Paul in Rome were evan­geli­zing and founding the church…” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1)

“Those who are called Ebionites [a Jewish Christian sect] agree that the world was made by God; but their opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.26.2)

“The Gospels containing the genealogies, he [Clement] says, were written first” [or] “He [Clement] said that those gospels with genealogies were openly published.” (Clement of Alexandria, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.6)

“… first, written was Matthew, once publican but later apostle of Jesus Christ, who published it for the believers from Judaism, composed in Hebrew letters…” (Origen of Alexandria, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.25.4)

“Now in what they [the Ebionites] call a Gospel according to Matthew, though it is not the entire Gospel but is corrupt and mutilated—and they call this thing ‘Hebrew’!” (Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13.2)

“Matthew, also called Levi, apostle and aforetimes publican, composed a gospel of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek, though by what author is uncertain. The Hebrew itself has been preserved until the present day in the library at Cæsarea which Pamphilus so diligently gathered. I have also had the opportunity of having the volume described to me by the Nazarenes of Berœa, a city of Syria, who use it.” (Jerome, On Illustrious Men 3)

Authorship: Internal Evidence

  • The Gospel is formally anonymous and opens up with a genealogy tracing Jesus’s descent back to Abraham and David (Matt 1:1-17).
  • The Greek text of the Gospel does not appear to be a translation from Aramaic or Hebrew. Its main narrative source, Mark’s Gospel, was a Greek text. Matthew may have either been indebted to a second Greek document in the Q sayings source or inherited the sayings that it shared in common with Luke from a mixture of oral and written sources. It seems to largely depend on written sources rather than on an eyewitness informant.
  • The name of the tax collector “Levi” in Mark 2:14 is changed to “Matthew” in Matthew 9:9 and “the tax collector” is appended to Matthew’s name in the list of twelve apostles in Matthew 10:2-4.

Date

  • Matthew’s Gospel has to postdate Mark’s Gospel since it was literarily dependent on the latter. There is also debate on whether the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are literarily independent of each other, with their common material derived from a shared source labelled “Q” (from Quelle or “source”), or whether Luke was dependent on the text of Matthew.
  • Matthew may have been aware of the fire that burned down the temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 22:7).
  • Scholars debate whether Papias of Hierapolis (ca. 110 CE) referred to Matthew’s Gospel, Q, another lost source text, or the so-called “Gospel according to the Hebrews” cited by various Patristic authorities.
  • There seems to be references to the text of Matthew in the Didache (8:2; 11:3; 15:3, 4) and the epistles of Ignatius of Antioch (Smyrn. 1.1; 6.1; Phil. 2.2; Eph. 5.2; 6.1; Rom. 9.3; Trall. 11.1; Poly. 1.2-3; 2.2).

Provenance

The external church tradition has Matthew’s Gospel originally written to the Jews in a Semitic language. It could have been written in Syria-Palestine, possibly in the city of Antioch because this was a popular center for Jewish/non-Jewish Christ followers and fits with the early reception of the Gospel there. The provenance is ultimately a mystery.

Key Themes

  • Matthew emphasizes that the saving mission of Jesus the Messiah is rooted in the antiquity of the Jewish Scriptures, from the opening genealogy tracing Jesus’s descent to Abraham and David (1:1-17) to the fulfillment of Scripture formulas (1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 26:54-56; 27:9). Key to Matthew’s interpretive method is “typology” in which Jesus recapitulates the experiences of past scriptural types (compare Matthew 1:22-23 to Isaiah 7:1-17; Matthew 2:6 to Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:15 to Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:17-18 to Jeremiah 31:15, and Matthew 2:23 to Isaiah 11:1/Zech 3:8 and 6:12 that contain the Hebrew word netser or “branch”).
  • Discipleship to Jesus is compatible with observance of the Torah and the righteousness of Jesus’s followers ought to exceed that of the Pharisees (Matt 5:17-20; 23:2-3). Matthew’s audience may have been Torah-observant Jewish Christ followers involved in a fierce debate with other Jewish groups such as the Pharisees (Matt 23:1-39) and engaged in a mission to the nations (27:18-20).
  • Matthew may combine Mark’s emphasis on Jesus’s vicarious death with the emphasis on Jesus as the authoritative teacher in other sources.
  • Matthew’s Gospel may have a higher Christology than its sources. Matthew cites the Septuagint on how a virgin will give birth to a child called Emmanuel or “God with us” (1:23), is present with the fellowship of believers who gather in his name (18:19), and has all authority in heaven and earth invested in him as well as advises his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (28:8-10). Matthew seems to explicitly identify the sage Jesus with Lady Wisdom (compare Matthew 11:28-30 with Sirach 51:25-26 and Matthew 24:34-35 with Luke 11:49).
  • Matthew seems to rehabilitate Peter and the disciples. Peter asks to walk on the water after seeing Jesus perform this feat, and although Jesus has to catch him when he begins to sink, the disciples respond by worshipping Jesus as the Son of God rather than being perplexed with hard hearts (Matt 14:26-32; cf. Mark 6:49-52). After Peter’s confession of Jesus’s messianic identity at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus gives him the keys of the kingdom and praises him (or his confession) as the foundational “rock” of the church (Matt 16:13-20; cf. Mark 8:27-31).

Case Study: Jesus as the New Moses

  • Jesus escapes the slaughter of the infants ordered by a tyrant (2:13-16).
  • Jesus spent his early years in Egypt (2:19-20).
  • Jesus performed sea and feeding miracles (8:23-28; 14:13-33) and the demonic “legion” drowned in the Sea like Pharaoh’s army (8:28-34).
  • Jesus acted as an interpreter of Torah in the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7). Jesus also offers his great commission to make disciples of all nations on a mountain (28:16-20).
  • The teachings of Jesus were organized into five thematic discourses that ended with a statement about “when Jesus had finished these words/parables/teachings” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1).

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