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Introduction to Matthew

Matthew shows the universal relevance of Jesus – to all people of all nations. Jesus cared about all people and offered a gospel for all people, while demonstrating His authority over all nations.

Tom Faletti

February 13, 2024

A NOTE BEFORE WE BEGIN

 

This study material can be very enriching for personal study and growth. It was originally developed with small-group Bible Study in mind.  Therefore, it will occasionally offer instructions that may be useful for small-group study.

 

Introductions

 

Before you begin a small-group Bible Study, you should take some time to build community, beginning with ensuring that everyone knows everyone else’s name.

 

Here are some questions you could ask everyone in the group to answer:

 

What is your name?

 

What is your connection to this church/parish/group?

 

Why is the Bible important to you?  Why are you interested in studying it?

 

If the study extends beyond a break, such as a break for the summer, and then reconvenes, you could renew the introductions with questions such as these:

Introductions after a summer break:

 

What is your name, and why did you return to this group?  (Or if you are new, why did you decide to join us?)

 

What is one insight about faith or life that you gained this summer or were reminded of?

 

Introduction to the Gospel of Matthew

 

Overview

 

Matthew seeks to show the universal relevance of Jesus – to all people of all nations.  As a man, Jesus interacted with people of many nations, cared about all people, and offered a gospel for all people.   As the Son of David, Son of Man, and Son of God, Jesus demonstrated that his authority extends over all nations.

 

Who is the author?

 

The author of the Gospel of Matthew is unknown.  From early on, the name Matthew was affixed to the top of it, but there is no information about the author in the text and no suggestion that it is linked in any way to the tax collector named Matthew who appears in this Gospel.

 

Eusebius, who wrote a history of Christianity in the early 300s, said that Papias wrote in the first part of the second century (perhaps around 125, plus or minus 20 years) that he had learned from “the elder” that Mark wrote down accurately, but not in order, what he learned from Peter, and that Matthew arranged logia – a Greek word that means “sayings” or “oracles” – in Hebrew that others translated.

 

The Gospel of Matthew is not a book of “sayings” – though it does have many sayings in it.  The Gospel of Matthew is in Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic, and there is no evidence that it was ever in another language before it was in Greek.  So Papias was not referring to the present Gospel of Matthew.

 

After looking at all the evidence, most scholars across all Christian traditions have concluded that Matthew was written by an anonymous writer, not the Matthew mentioned in Papias, wjo drew from Mark and from those “oracles” attributed to Matthew, as well as other material, and that the Gospel acquired the name “Matthew” because it included some material from the Matthew that Papias mentioned.

 

Additional facts guide us to this conclusion.  The book doesn’t say it was written by the apostle Matthew: the title “Gospel of Matthew” was added later.  The apostle Matthew was probably dead by the time this Gospel was written down, 50-plus years after Jesus died.  And if the author of the Gospel of Matthew had been the apostle Matthew, who was an eyewitness to Jesus’s ministry, he wouldn’t have drawn so much of his material from Mark, who mostly was not an eyewitness.  The evidence clear supports the conclusion that Matthew was written by someone who was not an eyewitness but compiled stories and material handed down from eyewitnesses.

 

(Further information about these conclusions can be found in a variety of sources.  Here are some examples of scholars from a variety of positions on the theological spectrum who have reached the same conclusion: H. L. Ellison, “Matthew,” in The International Bible Commentary, edited by F. F. Bruce, p. 1121; Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 158, 208-211; William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, pp. xx-xxi; Myron Augsberger, Matthew, volume 1 of The Communicator’s Commentary (Mastering the New Testament), Lloyd J. Ogilvie, general editor, pp. 14-15; and Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The New Testament, Revised Standard Edition, Second Catholic Edition. Ignatius Press, 2010, p. 3.)

 

Christians who are not familiar with how the Bible came together might react: What?  Are you saying Matthew didn’t write Matthew?  This reflects a gap in knowledge about how the Gospels came into being.  People didn’t sign their names on their writings the way people do today.  The Gospels were compiled through a by which people passed on the stories of Jesus orally at first, before they were written down 50 years later.  That we don’t know the name of the author doesn’t affect our faith in any way.  God inspired someone to write this book, which is a masterpiece presentation of the life and teachings of Jesus.  It doesn’t matter whether we know their name; God does.  We will call the author “Matthew,” because the tradition leads us to no other name.

 

What were his sources?  Where did he get his material from?

 

The author of the Gospel of Matthew appears to have gotten his material from several sources.

 

  • Half of the verses in this Gospel have parallel verses in the Gospel of Mark, which is believed to have been written earlier (the evidence suggests Mark was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70).  (References to the number of verses in this and the next paragraph are calculated based on information in Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 111).

  • Perhaps one-fifth of the verses in Matthew appear in Luke but not in Mark.  Scholars have proposed the existence of an earlier source that both Matthew and Luke had access to and drew from as they wrote their Gospels.  That source is usually called Q – short for the German Quelle, meaning “source.”  There is no manuscript available today that contains the material from Q, so it would be unwise to make many claims about it, even though it is reasonable that Luke and Matthew, with so many verses in common, both had access to such a document.

  • Matthew has a significant amount of material comprised of sayings or teachings by Jesus that does not appear in the other Gospels.  This material could have come from the source Papias identifies as “Matthew,” which would have been written in Aramaic/Hebrew and might have come from apostle Matthew.  Note, though, that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek, not Aramaic or Hebrew, so the author of this Gospel or someone else would have had to translate that original “Matthew” material into Greek.

  • Matthew also has other material unique to his Gospel that he might have written himself or gather from other sources.  Matthew, like any good writer, also frames and explains material in the context of his readers’ own situations, so we see some things in Matthew that appear to be commentary from the perspective of the mid-80s, when Jewish Christians were being forced out of Jewish synagogues, Christian churches were developing more of a structure, and these churches were a multifaceted mix of Gentiles, Jews who still tried to maintain Jewish practices, and Jews who had given up practicing Judaism.

 

When and where was the Gospel written?

 

The best thinking is that the Gospel of Matthew was written perhaps between 80 and 90, give or take 5 or 10 years.  I will often shorthand that to “around 85,” but 85 is not a precise date.  Some scholars propose a date as early as before 70 or after 100.  If it came after Mark as the majority of scholars think, it would have to have been written after 70 since Mark is thought to have been written around 70.  Furthermore, Matthew seems to show great awareness that Jerusalem has been destroyed, which happened in 70.  The ways he hints at tensions between Jews and Christians at the time it was written suggests that it might have been written between 80 and 90, when Christians were being pushed out of synagogues.  And it was written before 110, because Ignatius, a bishop from Antioch, quotes phrases from it in a letter dated around 110.

 

Scholars do not know where Matthew wrote this Gospel.  Proposals range from Judea to Syria to Antioch to Phoenicia.  There may be vague hints in the text that Matthew might have been based in a large city in Syria.  For example, in Matt. 4:24, he adds Syria to Mark’s description; he uses the word “city” far more than the word “village”; and Ignatius, who was aware of his Gospel by 110 was from Antioch (Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 212).  This leads a majority of scholars to lean toward Antioch in Syria as the locale.  Antioch had a large Gentile Christian population and also a large Jewish population, some of whom embraced Christianity while others did not; and tensions had grown high by the time Matthew was writing.  So Antioch fits the evidence.  But it is a conjecture, not a fact.

 

What community or audience was Matthew writing to?

 

For centuries, the assumption was that since Matthew quotes so frequently from the Old Testament, he must be writing to a community of Jewish Christians.  In the past century, this has given way to a more nuanced interpretation that pictures him writing to a community that is a mixture of Jewish and Gentile Christians.

 

What do scholars think were Matthew’s main purposes?

 

Scholars differ on what Matthew’s purposes were.  Was he providing a handbook for local church leaders?  Was he trying to teach his community and stir up their commitment?  Was he trying to make the case for Jesus to people who were open to the message?  Was he responding to attacks from Jews who were opposed to Christianity?  Was he trying to clarify who Jesus really is – including his roles as Messiah, Son of David, etc.?  We can see all these things in Matthew’s work, so perhaps he was trying to do all these things, not just one thing.

 

The theme that perhaps is woven most consistently through Matthew’s Gospel is the theme of the “kingdom of heaven” – what is it; how things work there; what demands it places on us; and what will happen when it reaches its fulfillment.

 

Matthew also makes considerable effort to point to Old Testament passages that are fulfilled by Jesus, which is one of the factors that led scholars from the beginning to assume that Matthew’s audience was Jewish.

 

Matthew works hard to establish that Jesus is the Son of David, a term linked in Jewish minds to a hoped-for Messiah, but he later demonstrates that the Messiah must be more than just the Son of David.  He presents Jesus identifying himself as the Son of Man, a term from Daniel associated with a decisive, final act in which God saves the Jewish people.  He ends with material where Jesus takes the role of king, but scholars who try to make out this Gospel as being primarily about Jesus as King are overemphasizing one facet of Matthew’s multifaceted presentation.

 

Unlike in the other Gospels, we see some discussion of “church” in Matthew, though it is very brief and embryonic. 

 

When scholars try to write an outline of Matthew to show the organization of the story (since the original did not have sections, chapters, or even verse markings), they find a clear structure that most scholars accept.  Matthew presents his story of Jesus in 6 narrative sections, interspersed with five teaching sections.  The five teaching sections are collections of teachings by Jesus, gathered together in clumps (for example, the Sermon on the Mount). Matthew is not trying to tell the life story of Jesus in order; he is trying to help us understand what Jesus is about and what he has taught us by organizing material for throughout Jesus ministry.

 

One key element of Matthew’s structure has not been mentioned in any of the commentaries I have consulted, so I will lay it out here in some detail.  Matthew seeks to show the universal relevance of Jesus – to all people of all nations.  At the beginning of the Gospel, there are Gentiles in Jesus’s family tree in Matthew’s version of Jesus’s genealogy.  At the end of the Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples to take the gospel to all nations.  In between, the itinerary of Jesus’s geographical movements shows his relevance to people of all nations:

 

  • Jesus is born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the south near Jerusalem; lives for a time as a refugee in Egypt; and then grows up in Nazareth in Galilee, in the north of Palestine.  He goes to the eastern side of Judea to John at the Jordan River to be baptized, and then returns to Galilee.

  • In Matthew 4:12-13, Jesus leaves Nazareth in Galilee and moves to Capernaum, by the Sea of Galilee, and begins to gather disciples.

  • In Matthew 4:24-25, Matthew tells us that Jesus’s healings are attracting attention in Syria (Gentile territory to the northwest of Galilee), the Decapolis (largely Gentile Greek cities east and southeast of the Sea of Galilee), Jerusalem and Judea (Jewish territory to the south), and beyond the Jordan (Jewish territory east of the Jordan River, south of the Decapolis, east of Samaria and running south to the area across the river east of Jerusalem and Judea).  Jesus will eventually visit all of these territories.

  • In Matthew 8:28, Jesus crosses over to Gadara, in the territory of the Decapolis, southeast of the Sea of Galilee, and then returns “home” in Matthew 9:1, presumably to Capernaum.

  • He travels to all the towns and villages of Galilee (9:35).  He sends out the Twelve to preach and heal (10:1) but restricts them (for the time being) to Jewish territory (10:5).

  • In Matthew 15:21, Jesus goes to Tyre and Sidon in the province of Syria, Gentile territory northwest of Galilee and performs healings and miracles before returning briefly to Galilee in Matthew 15:39.

  • In Matthew 16:13, Jesus goes to Caesarea Philippi, Gentile territory northeast of Galilee for some key incidents with his disciples as well as a healing.  By Matthew 17:22, he is back in Galilee.

  • In Matthew 19:1, Jesus goes to the Jewish territory of Judea across the Jordan, at the beginning of his journey to Jerusalem.

  • By Matthew 20:29, Jesus has reached Jericho, in Judea, less than 20 miles from Jerusalem.

  • In Matthew 21:1-11, Jesus enters Jerusalem.

 

What this itinerary shows us is that Jesus had an extensive ministry in both Jewish and Gentile territories.  Matthew wants us to understand that:

 

  • As a man, Jesus had an international background and cared about all people.  He was a man for all people.

  • His gospel is for all people.  The gospel is for all nations and needs to be preached to all nations.

  • As the Son of David, Son of Man, and Son of God, Jesus’s authority extends over all nations.

 

These are key themes that Matthew focuses on, every step of the way through his Gospel.

 

Look for these themes, and explore how you can apply them to yourself and to how you interact with the people and world around you.

 

Which of these themes of Matthew’s Gospel intrigue you the most, and why?

 

What do you hope to earn by studying Matthew’s Gospel?

 

What questions do you hope to have answered as you study?

 

If you could ask Matthew one question, what would you ask, and why?  How do you think he would respond?

 

Bibliography

Click here for the bibliography.

Copyright © 2024, Tom Faletti (Faith Explored, www.faithexplored.com). This material may be reproduced in whole or in part without alteration, for nonprofit use, provided such reproductions are not sold and include this copyright notice or a similar acknowledgement that includes a reference to Faith Explored and www.faithexplored.com. See www.faithexplored.com for more materials like this.

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