Gospel of Matthew

Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel According to Matthew (Greek: κατὰ Ματθαῖον εὐαγγέλιον, kata Matthaion euangelion, τὸ εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ Ματθαῖον, to euangelion kata Matthaion) (Gospel of Matthew or simply Matthew) is one of the four canonical gospels, one of the three synoptic gospels, and the first book of the New Testament. It tells of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The version we have today was written in Koine Greek.

"Matthew" probably originated in a Jewish-Christian community in Roman Syria towards the end of the 1st century.[1] The anonymous author probably drew on a number of sources, including the Gospel of Mark, the sayings collection known as the Q source, and material unique to his own community, as well as his own experience.[2] The narrative tells how Israel's Messiah, having been rejected by Israel (i.e., God's chosen people), withdrew into the circle of his disciples, passed judgment on those who had rejected him (so that "Israel" becomes the non-believing "Jews"), and finally sent the disciples to the Gentiles.[3]


Composition and setting

Evangelist Mathäus und der Engel by Rembrandt

Authorship and sources

The Gospel of Matthew does not name its author. The Christian bishop, Papias of Hierapolis, about 100–140 AD, in a passage with several ambiguous phrases, wrote: "Matthew collected the oracles (logia—sayings of or about Jesus) in the Hebrew language (Hebraïdi dialektōi—perhaps alternatively "Hebrew style") and each one interpreted (hērmēneusen—or "translated") them as best he could."[4] On the surface this implies that Matthew was written in Hebrew and translated into Greek, but Matthew's Greek "reveals none of the telltale marks of a translation."[5] Scholars have put forward several theories to explain Papias: perhaps Matthew wrote two gospels, one, now lost, in Hebrew, the other our Greek version; or perhaps the logia was a collection of sayings rather than the gospel; or by dialektōi Papias may have meant that Matthew wrote in the Jewish style rather than in the Hebrew language.[4]

Papias does not identify his Matthew, but by the end of the 2nd century the tradition of Matthew the tax-collector had become widely accepted, and the line "The Gospel According to Matthew" began to be added to manuscripts.[6] For many reasons most scholars today doubt this—for example, the gospel is based on Mark, and "it seems unlikely that an eyewitness of Jesus's ministry, such as Matthew, would need to rely on others for information about it"[7]—and believe instead that it was written between about 80–90 AD by a highly educated Jew (an "Israelite", in the language of the gospel itself), intimately familiar with the technical aspects of Jewish law, standing on the boundary between traditional and non-traditional Jewish values.[1] The disciple Matthew was probably honoured within the author's circle, as the name Matthew is more prominent in this gospel than any other,[8] and it is possible that some of the "M" material may have originated with Matthew himself.[9]

Most textual scholars consider that the author drew on three distinct sources, each representing a distinct community: material shared with Luke (called "Q", a hypothetical collection, or several collections, of sayings); the Gospel of Mark; and material unique to Matthew (called "M").[10] He wrote for a Jewish audience: like "Q" and "M", he stresses the continuing relevance of the Jewish law; unlike Mark he never bothers to explain Jewish customs; and unlike Luke, who traces Jesus's ancestry back to Adam, father of the human race, he traces it only to Abraham, father of the Jews.[11] The content of "M" suggests that this community was stricter than the others in its attitude to keeping the Jewish law, holding that they must exceed the scribes and the Pharisees in "righteousness" (adherence to Jewish law); and of the three only "M" refers to a "church" (ecclesia), an organised group with rules for keeping order.[12]

At various times since the 17th Century writers have suggested an original Hebrew Matthew, and the view of an Aramaic original New Testament is traditional in the Syrian Church.

Setting: the community of the Gospel of Matthew

A.J. Saldarini summarises the common scholarly view on the origins of Matthew as follows:

"[T]he Gospel of Matthew addresses a deviant group within the Jewish community in greater Syria, a reformist Jewish sect seeking influence and power (relatively unsuccessfully) within the Jewish community as a whole."[13]

The community which gave rise to Matthew originated in Palestine, but: "There the community’s mission to Israel failed, and eventually, probably in the period preceding the Jewish War of 66-70, they were forced to leave the land of Israel. They found a new home in Syria and began to missionize among the Gentiles."[14] Antioch, a coastal city in northern Syria and the third largest in the Roman world, is often mentioned as this later home of the Matthean community, but it could have been any large city in the eastern Mediterranean with large Jewish and Christian populations, and recent research points towards a location near Galilee or Judea.[15]

According to an influential hypothesis put forward by W.D. Davies, the gospel of Matthew was written as a direct response to developments within the Jewish community following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Pharisees of Judea emerged as the new leaders of the Jewish community after the war, and the loss of the Temple and its priests and the ritual of sacrifice faced them with the problem of finding a new Jewish identity. Their answer was to insist on strict observance of the Law (the Torah), isolation from the gentiles, and minimalisation of the expectation of the coming of the Messiah (the expectation which had provoked the war). The Jewish Christians of Antioch responded differently: obedience to law will be done though following Jesus; Jesus was the Messiah; and Jew and gentile were to be brought into the one community.[16]

If Matthew's prime concern was to preserve the Jewish character of the church, he failed: Christianity became a Gentile religion, and Christianity and Judaism came to view each other as opposites. Matthew's own Christian community may have called themselves Nazoreans, a sect mentioned by Jerome and others: like Matthew, they maintained a "high Christology" (i.e., they stressed Jesus' divine nature over his human-ness), and did not demand that Gentile Christians observe all the Law.[17]

Structure and content

Beginning of the Gospel of Matthew in Minuscule 447

Detailed Content of Matthew
1. Birth Stories
Genealogy (1:1–17) (Having been proved many times over to be true)
Nativity (1:18–25)
Biblical Magi (2:1–12)
Flight into Egypt (2:13–20)
Return to Nazareth (2:21-23)
2. Baptism and early ministry
John the Baptist (3:1–12, 11:2–19, 14:1–12)
Baptism of Jesus (3:13–17)
Temptation of Jesus (4:1–11)
Capernaum (4:12–17)
Calling Simon, Andrew, James, John (4:18–22)
Galilee preaching tour (4:23–25)
3. Sermon on the Mount (5–7)
4. Healing and miracles
Healing many (8:1–17)
Son of Man (8:18–20,16:21–26,17:22–23,20:18–19)
Let the dead bury the dead (8:21–22)
Calming the storm (8:23–27)
Two Gadarene Demoniacs (8:28–34)
Healing a paralytic (9:1–8)
Calling of Matthew (9:9–13)
On fasting (9:14–15)
New Wine into Old Wineskins (9:16-17)
Daughter of Jairus (9:18–26)
Two blind men (9:27–31)
Exorcising a mute (9:32-34)
Good crop but few harvesters (9:35–38)
5. Little Commission (10:1–11:1)
6. Responses to Jesus
Cursing Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (11:20–24)
Praising the Father (11:25–30)
Lord of the Sabbath (12:1-8)
Man with withered hand (12:9-13)
Chosen servant (12:14–21)
Blind-mute man (12:22–28)A true and noble account
Strong man (12:29)
Those not with me are against me (12:30)
Unforgivable sin (12:31–32)
The Tree and its Fruits (12:33–37)
Sign of Jonah (12:38–42; 16:1–4)
Return of the unclean spirit (12:43–45)
Jesus' true relatives (12:46-50)
Parabolic Discourse (13:1–52)
7. Conflicts, rejections, and conferences with disciples
Hometown rejection (13:53–58)
Feeding the 5000 (14:13–21)
Walking on water (14:22–33)
Fringe of his cloak heals (14:34–36)
Discourse on Defilement (15:1–20)
Canaanite woman's daughter (15:21–28)
Healing many (15:29-31)
Feeding the 4000 (15:32–39)
Beware of yeast (16:5–12)
Peter's confession (16:13–20)
Return of the Son of Man (16:27–28,26:64)
Transfiguration (17:1–13)
Possessed boy (17:14–21)
Coin in the fish's mouth (17:24-27)
8. Life in the Christian community
The Little Children (18:1–7; 19:13–15)
If thy hand offend thee (18:8–9)
The Lost Sheep (18:10–14)
Binding and loosing (18:15–22)
Unmerciful Servant (18:23–35)
9. Journey to Jerusalem
Entering Judea (19:1–2)
Teaching about divorce (19:3–12)
Evangelical counsels (19:16–27)
Twelve thrones of judgment (19:28–30)
Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (20:1–16)
On the road to Jerusalem (20:17)
Son of man came to serve (20:20–28)
Blind near Jericho (20:29-34)
10. Jerusalem, cleansing of the temple, debates
Triumphal entry into Jerusalem (21:1–11)
Temple incident (21:12–17,23–27)
Cursing the fig tree (21:18–22)
The Two Sons, The Wicked Husbandman, Parable of the Wedding Feast (21:28–22:14)
Render unto Caesar... (22:15–22)
Resurrection of the Dead (22:23–33)
Great Commandment (22:34–40)
Is the Messiah the son of David? (22:41–46)
11. Woes of the Pharisees (23:1–39)
12. Judgment day
Little Apocalypse (24)
Parables of the Ten Virgins, Talents (25:1–30)
Judgement of the Nations (25:31–46)
13. Trial, crucifixion, resurrection
Plot to kill Jesus (26:1–5,14–16,27:3–10)
Anointing of Jesus (26:6–13)
Last Supper (26:17–30)
Peter's denial (26:31–35,69–75)
Arrest (26:36–56)
Before the High Priest (26:57–68)
Before Pilate (27:1–2,11–23,26-31)
Blood curse (27:24–25)
Crucifixion (27:32–56)
Joseph of Arimathea (27:57–61)
Empty tomb (27:62–28:6,28:11-28:15)
Appearance to the women (28:7-10)
Great Commission (28:16–20)

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Most commentators seem to agree that Matthew, alone among the gospels, alternates between five blocks of narrative and discourse, marking each off with the phrase "When Jesus had finished..."[18] (see Five Discourses of Matthew). Some scholars see in this five-part layout a deliberate plan to create a parallel to the first five books of the Old Testament; others see a three-part structure based around the idea of Jesus as Messiah; or a set of weekly readings spread out over the year; or no plan at all.[19] Davies and Allison draw attention to the use of "triads" (the gospel groups things in threes),[20] and R.T. France notes the geographic movement from Galilee to Jerusalem and back (the post-resurrection appearances in Galilee are the culmination of the whole story).[21]

Prologue: genealogy, nativity and infancy

The Gospel of Matthew begins with the words "The Book of Genealogy [in Greek, "Genesis"] of Jesus Christ", deliberately echoing the first words of the Old Testament in Greek.[22] The genealogy tells of Jesus' descent from Abraham and King David and the miraculous events surrounding his virgin birth,[23] and the infancy narrative tells of the massacre of the innocents, the flight into Egypt, and eventual journey to Nazareth.

First narrative and discourse

The first narrative section begins. John baptizes Jesus, and the Holy Spirit descends upon him. Jesus prays and meditates in the wilderness for forty days, and is tempted by Satan. His early ministry by word and deed in Galilee meets with much success, and leads to the Sermon on the Mount, the first of the discourses. The sermon presents the ethics of the kingdom of God, and includes the Beatitudes ("Blessed are...")[24] as its introduction. It concludes with a reminder that the response to the kingdom will have eternal consequences, and the crowd's amazed response leads into the next narrative block.[25]

Second narrative and discourse

From the authoritative words of Jesus the gospel turns to three sets of three miracles interwoven with two sets of two discipleship stories (the second narrative), followed by a discourse on mission and suffering.[26] Jesus commissions the Twelve Disciples and sends them to preach to the Jews, perform miracles, and prophesy the imminent coming of the Kingdom,[27] commanding them to travel lightly, without staff or sandals, and to be prepared for persecution. Scholars are divided over whether these rules originated with Jesus or with apostolic practice.[24]

Third narrative and discourse

Opposition to Jesus comes to a head with accusations that his deeds are done through the power of Satan; Jesus in turn accuses his opponents of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. The discourse is a set of parables emphasising the sovereignty of God, and concluding with a challenge to the disciples to understand the teachings as scribes of the kingdom of heaven.[28] (Matthew avoids using the holy word God in the expression "Kingdom of God"; instead he prefers the term "Kingdom of Heaven", reflecting the Jewish tradition of not speaking the name of God).[29]

Fourth narrative and discourse

The fourth narrative section reveals that the increasing opposition to Jesus will result in his crucifixion in Jerusalem, and that his disciples must therefore prepare for his absence.[30] The instructions for the post-crucifixion church emphasize responsibility and humility.[31] (This section contains Matthew 16:13–19, in which Simon, newly renamed Peter, (πέτρος, petros, meaning "stone"), calls Jesus "the Christ, the son of the living God", and Jesus states that on this "bedrock" (πέτρα, petra) he will build his church—the passage forms the foundation for the papacy's claim of authority).

Fifth narrative and discourse

Jesus travels to Jerusalem, and the opposition intensifies: he is tested by Pharisees immediately he begins to move towards the city, and when he arrives he is soon in conflict with the Temple and other religious leaders. The disciples ask about the future, and in his final discourse (the Olivet discourse) Jesus speaks of the coming end.[32] There will be false Messiahs, earthquakes, and persecutions, the sun, moon, and stars will fail, but "this generation" will not pass away before all the prophecies are fulfilled.[27] The disciples must steel themselves for ministry to all the nations. At the end of the discourse Matthew notes that Jesus has finished all his words, and attention turns to the crucifixion.[32]

Conclusion: Passion, Resurrection and Great Commission

The events of Jesus' last week occupy a third of the content of all four gospels.[33] Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph and drives the money changers from the temple, holds a last supper, prays to be spared the coming agony, and is betrayed. He is tried by the Jewish leaders (the Sanhedrin) and before Pontius Pilate, and Pilate washes his hands of his blood. Jesus is crucified as king of the Jews, mocked by all. On his death there is an earthquake, and saints rise from their tombs. The two Marys discover the empty tomb, guarded by an angel, and Jesus himself tells them to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee.

After the resurrection the remaining disciples return to Galilee, "to the mountain that Jesus had appointed," where he comes to them and tells them that he has been given "all authority in heaven and on Earth." He gives the Great Commission: "Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you;" Jesus will be with them "to the very end of the age."[34]

Themes in Matthew

Woodcut from Anton Koberger's Bible (Nuremberg, 1483): The angelically inspired Saint Matthew musters the Old Testament figures, led by Abraham and David

Matthew's gospel tells how Israel's Messiah is rejected by Israel, withdraws into the circle of his disciples, passes judgment on those who have rejected him so that "Israel" becomes the non-believing "Jews", and sends the disciples instead to the gentiles.[3] The title Son of David identifies Jesus as the healing and miracle-working Messiah of Israel (it is used exclusively in relation to miracles, and the Jewish messiah is sent to Israel alone);[35] as Son of Man he will return to judge the world (a fact his disciples recognise but of which his enemies are unaware);[36] and as Son of God he has a unique relationship with God, God revealing himself through his son, and Jesus proving his sonship through his obedience and example.[37] Prior to the Crucifixion the Jews are called Israelites, the honourific title of God's chosen people; after it, they are called "Ioudaioi", Jews, a sign that through their rejection of the Christ the "kingdom of Heaven" has been taken away from them and given instead to the church.[38] The gospel has been interpreted as reflecting the struggles and conflicts between the evangelist's community and the other Jews, particularly with its sharp criticism of the scribes and Pharisees.[39]

The roots of the gospel in the Matthew-community of the late 1st century give rise to another important title bestowed on Jesus by Matthew, Emmanuel, "God is With Us"—meaning that through Jesus, God is with the ecclesia (literally "assembly", but translated as "church"). Theologically, Matthew's prime concern was that the Jewish tradition should not be lost in a church increasingly becoming gentile.[40] This concern lies behind the frequent citations of Jewish scripture, the evocation of Jesus and the new Moses along with other events from Jewish history, and the concern to present Jesus as fulfilling, not destroying, the Law.[41]

The Jewish theme in the Gospel of Matthew is apparent in other ways as well. First, nearly every important person in the Gospel of Matthew is Jewish. For example, Jesus, the twelve apostles, and the crowds are Jewish. They never deny their Jewish faith in the gospel. Next, Israel is a common theme in the Gospel of Matthew. For instance, in Matthew 15:31, after a story of the healings of Jesus, the text reads that the crowds ‘praised the God of Israel.’[42]

Many scholars believe that Matthew could have gotten influence from Jewish Christianity. Jewish Christianity was prominent in the first few centuries following the death and resurrection of Jesus. Most Jewish Christians believed in Jesus as the Savior of the World, but still practiced Jewish customs and traditions.[43] The Gospel of the Nazarenes, a Jewish Christian text, possesses similar themes to the Gospel of Matthew. These themes include many Jewish related elements.[42]

Comparison with other writings

Matthew, like Luke, incorporates nearly the whole of Mark, keeping the outline intact and adding genealogy-birth-infancy stories to the beginning and post-resurrection appearances to the end.[44] Many scholars have argued that Matthew is simply an expanded version of Mark, but it is also a creative reinterpretation of the source,[45] stressing Jesus' teachings as much as his acts,[46] and making subtle changes in order to stress Jesus' divine nature – Mark's "young man" who appears at Jesus' tomb, for example, becomes a radiant angel in Matthew.[47]

The miracle stories in Mark do not demonstrate the divinity of Jesus, as this is an idea not found in that gospel, but rather confirm his status as an emissary of God (which was Mark's understanding of the Messiah).[48]

There is a broad disagreement over chronology between Matthew, Mark and Luke on one hand and John on the other: all four agree that Jesus' public ministry began with an encounter with John the Baptist, but Matthew, Mark and Luke follow this with an account of teaching and healing in Galilee, then a trip to Jerusalem where there is an incident in the Temple, climaxing with the crucifixion on the day of the Passover holiday. John, by contrast, puts the Temple incident very early in Jesus' ministry, has several trips to Jerusalem, and puts the crucifixion immediately before the Passover holiday, on the day when the lambs for the Passover meal were being sacrificed in Temple.[49] Matthew agrees with Paul that gentiles did not have to be circumcised in order to enter the church, but unlike Paul (and like Luke) he believed that the Law was still in force, which meant that Jews within the church had to keep it.[50]

In art

The Chi Rho monogram from the Book of Kells is the most lavish such monogram

In Insular Gospel Books (copies of the Gospels produced in Ireland and Britain under Celtic Christianity), the first verse of Matthew's genealogy of Christ was often treated in a decorative manner, as it began not only a new book of the Bible, but was the first verse in the Gospels.

See also


  1. ^ a b Duling, pp.298, 302
  2. ^ Burkett, p.175–6
  3. ^ a b Luz (1995), p.84
  4. ^ a b Turner, pp.15–16
  5. ^ Bromiley, p.281
  6. ^ Duling, pp. 301–2
  7. ^ Burkett, p.174
  8. ^ Duling, p.302
  9. ^ Burkett, p.177
  10. ^ Burkett, p.175
  11. ^ Burkett, p.181
  12. ^ Burkett, p.180
  13. ^ Saldarini (1994), p.198
  14. ^ Luz (2005), p.244
  15. ^ Saldarini (2003), pp.1000-1001
  16. ^ Senior (2001), pp.8-10
  17. ^ Senior (2001), p.18
  18. ^ Turner, p.9
  19. ^ Davies&Allison, pp.59-61
  20. ^ Davies&Allison, pp.62 and following
  21. ^ France, p.2 and following
  22. ^ France, p.26 note 1, and p.28: "The first two words of Matthew's gospel are literally “book of genesis”
  23. ^ France, p.28 note 7: "All MSS and versions agree in making it explicit that Joseph was not Jesus' father, with the one exception of sys, which reads “Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the virgin, begot Jesus.”
  24. ^ a b Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The five gospels. HarperSanFrancisco. 1993.
  25. ^ Turner, p.101
  26. ^ Turner, p. 226
  27. ^ a b Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.
  28. ^ Turner, p.285
  29. ^ Browning, p. 248
  30. ^ Turner, p.356
  31. ^ "Matthew, Gospel acc. to St." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  32. ^ a b Turner, p.445
  33. ^ Turner, p.613
  34. ^ Turner, pp.687-688
  35. ^ Luz (1995), pp.86 and 111
  36. ^ Luz (1995), pp.91, 97
  37. ^ Luz (1995), p.93
  38. ^ Strecker p.369-370
  39. ^ Burkett, p. 182
  40. ^ Davies&Allison (1997), p.722
  41. ^ Senior (2001), pp.17-18
  42. ^ a b Hare, Douglas (2000). "How Jewish is the Gospel of Matthew?". Catholic Biblical Quarterly. 2 62: 264–277. 
  43. ^ Taylor, John (1990). "The Phenomenon of Early Jewish-Christianity: Reality or Scholarly Invention?". Vigiliae Christianae 44: 313–334. 
  44. ^ Aune (1987), p.19
  45. ^ Bockmuehl&Hagner, p.117
  46. ^ Morris, p.114
  47. ^ Bockmuehl&Hagner, p.123
  48. ^ Aune (1987), p.59
  49. ^ Levine, p.373
  50. ^ Allison, p.xxvi

Further reading

External links

Gospel of Matthew
Preceded by
Old Testament
Minor prophets
New Testament
Books of the Bible
Succeeded by
Gospel of

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