MATTHEW, GOOD NEWS ACCORDING TO
The inspired account of the life of Jesus Christ written, doubtless in Palestine, by the onetime tax collector Matthew, or Levi. It is the first book in the Christian Greek Scriptures and has since ancient times been viewed as the first Gospel written. Matthew’s account commences with the human ancestry of Jesus, followed by his birth, and concludes with Christ’s postresurrection commissioning of his followers to go and “make disciples of people of all the nations.” (Mt 28:19, 20) Hence, it covers the time between Jesus’ birth in 2 B.C.E. and his meeting with his disciples just before his ascension in 33 C.E.
Time of Writing. Subscriptions, appearing at the end of Matthew’s Gospel in numerous manuscripts (all being later than the tenth century C.E.), say that the account was written about the eighth year after Christ’s ascension (c. 41 C.E.). This would not be at variance with internal evidence. The fact that no reference is made to the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy respecting Jerusalem’s destruction would point to a time of composition prior to 70 C.E. (Mt 5:35; 24:16) And the expression “to this very day” (27:8; 28:15) indicates a lapse of some time between the events considered and the time of writing.
Originally Written in Hebrew. External evidence to the effect that Matthew originally wrote this Gospel in Hebrew reaches as far back as Papias of Hierapolis, of the second century C.E. Eusebius quoted Papias as stating: “Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language.” (The Ecclesiastical History, III, XXXIX, 16) Early in the third century, Origen made reference to Matthew’s account and, in discussing the four Gospels, is quoted by Eusebius as saying that the “first was written . . . according to Matthew, who was once a tax-collector but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, . . . in the Hebrew language.” (The Ecclesiastical History, VI, XXV, 3-6) The scholar Jerome (of the fourth and fifth centuries C.E.) wrote in his work De viris inlustribus (Concerning Illustrious Men), chapter III, that Matthew “composed a Gospel of Christ in Judaea in the Hebrew language and characters for the benefit of those of the circumcision who had believed. . . . Moreover, the Hebrew itself is preserved to this day in the library at Caesarea, which the martyr Pamphilus so diligently collected.”—Translation from the Latin text edited by E. C. Richardson and published in the series “Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur,” Leipzig, 1896, Vol. 14, pp. 8, 9.
It has been suggested that Matthew, after compiling his account in Hebrew, may have personally translated it into Koine, the common Greek.
Information Unique to Matthew’s Gospel. An examination of Matthew’s account shows that more than 40 percent of the material contained therein is not found in the other three Gospels. Unique is Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1:1-16), which takes an approach different from that set out by Luke (Lu 3:23-38). A comparison of the two indicates that Matthew gave the legal genealogy through Jesus’ adoptive father Joseph, while Luke apparently gave Jesus’ natural genealogy. Other incidents mentioned only in Matthew’s account are: Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s pregnancy, the appearance of an angel to Joseph in a dream (Mt 1:18-25), the visit of the astrologers, the flight to Egypt, the slaughter of the young boys in Bethlehem and its districts (chap 2), and the dream of Pilate’s wife regarding Jesus (27:19).
At least ten parables, or illustrations, found in Matthew’s account are not mentioned in the other Gospels. These include four in chapter 13, those of the weeds in the field, the hidden treasure, the “one pearl of high value,” and the dragnet. Others are the illustrations of the unmerciful slave (Mt 18:23-35), the workers in the vineyard (20:1-16), the marriage of the king’s son (22:1-14), the ten virgins (25:1-13), and the talents (25:14-30).
At times Matthew provides supplementary details. Although material from the Sermon on the Mount also appears in Luke’s account (Lu 6:17-49), Matthew’s Gospel is far more extensive in this respect. (Mt 5:1–7:29) Whereas Mark, Luke, and John mention the miraculous feeding of about 5,000 men, Matthew adds “besides women and young children.” (Mt 14:21; Mr 6:44; Lu 9:14; Joh 6:10) Matthew mentions two demon-possessed men encountered by Jesus in the country of the Gadarenes, while Mark and Luke refer to only one. (Mt 8:28; Mr 5:2; Lu 8:27) Matthew also tells of two blind men being healed on an occasion, whereas Mark and Luke mention only one. (Mt 20:29, 30; Mr 10:46, 47; Lu 18:35, 38) Of course, all the writers were correct in that at least one person was involved in each incident. But Matthew was often more explicit as to number. This perhaps is to be attributed to his former occupation as a tax collector.
Matthew’s Use of the Hebrew Scriptures. It has been estimated that Matthew’s Gospel contains about a hundred references to the Hebrew Scriptures. About 40 of these are actual quotations of passages. These include Christ’s own quotations from and allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures, among which are the following: a man’s enemies to be persons of his own household (Mt 10:35, 36; Mic 7:6); John the Baptizer identified as the “Elijah” to come (Mt 11:13, 14; 17:11-13; Mal 4:5); Jesus’ and Jonah’s experiences compared (Mt 12:40; Jon 1:17); commandment on honoring parents (Mt 15:4; Ex 20:12; 21:17); rendering lip service to God (Mt 15:8, 9; Isa 29:13); need for two or three witnesses (Mt 18:16; De 19:15); statements on marriage (Mt 19:4-6; Ge 1:27; 2:24); various commandments (Mt 5:21, 27, 38; 19:18, 19; Ex 20:12-16; 21:24; Le 19:18; 24:20; De 19:21); the temple made into “a cave of robbers” (Mt 21:13; Isa 56:7; Jer 7:11); rejection of Jesus, “the stone” that became “the chief cornerstone” (Mt 21:42; Ps 118:22, 23); foes of David’s Lord put under his feet (Mt 22:44; Ps 110:1); disgusting thing in the holy place (Mt 24:15; Da 9:27); Jesus’ disciples scattered (Mt 26:31; Zec 13:7); Christ apparently forsaken by God (Mt 27:46; Ps 22:1). There are also Jesus’ statements used in resisting Satan’s temptations.—Mt 4:4, 7, 10; De 8:3; 6:16, 13.
Interesting, too, is Matthew’s inspired application of Hebrew Scripture prophecies to Jesus, proving him to be the promised Messiah. This aspect would have been of particular concern to the Jews, for whom the account seems to have been originally intended. The prophecies include: Jesus’ being born of a virgin (Mt 1:23; Isa 7:14); his birth in Bethlehem (Mt 2:6; Mic 5:2); his being called out of Egypt (Mt 2:15; Ho 11:1); the lamentation over the death of slaughtered children (Mt 2:16-18; Jer 31:15); John the Baptizer’s preparing the way before Jesus (Mt 3:1-3; Isa 40:3); Jesus’ ministry bringing light (Mt 4:13-16; Isa 9:1, 2); his carrying of illnesses (Mt 8:14-17; Isa 53:4); his use of illustrations (Mt 13:34, 35; Ps 78:2); Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the colt of an ass (Mt 21:4, 5; Zec 9:9); the betrayal of Christ for 30 pieces of silver (Mt 26:14, 15; Zec 11:12).
An Accurate, Beneficial Record. Matthew, being a close associate of Christ during Jesus’ later years of life on earth and thus an eyewitness of his ministry, could understandably record a moving and meaningful Gospel. This we possess in the former tax collector’s record of the life of Jesus Christ. He was enabled by God’s spirit to recall in detail what Jesus said and did on earth. (Joh 14:26) Hence, Matthew accurately portrayed Jesus of Nazareth as the beloved Son of God having divine approval, as the one who came “to minister and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many,” and as the foretold Messianic King who was to arrive in glory. (Mt 20:28; 3:17; 25:31) When on earth, Jesus pointed to his works and could truthfully say: “The poor are having the good news declared to them.” (11:5) And today multitudes, both natural Jews and non-Jews, greatly benefit from such Kingdom good news as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel.—Mt 4:23, ftn.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF MATTHEW
The apostle Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life; written primarily with the Jews in mind, this Gospel demonstrates that Jesus is the foretold Messianic King
The first Gospel written, it was likely composed initially in Hebrew about eight years after the death and resurrection of Christ
Details of Jesus’ life fulfill Messianic prophecies
Baby boys are slaughtered; he is called out of Egypt (2:14-18)
He grows up in Nazareth; John the Baptizer prepares the way for him (2:23–3:3)
He proves to be a light in Galilee (4:13-16)
He performs many miraculous healings (8:16, 17)
He gladly helps the lowly ones (12:10-21)
His disciples are scattered (26:31)
Jesus is in the tomb for parts of three days (12:39, 40)
Jesus proclaims the good news of God’s Kingdom
After John’s arrest, Jesus proclaims: “The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near” (4:12-23)
He visits all the cities and villages of Galilee to preach the good news of the Kingdom (9:35)
He instructs his 12 disciples and sends them out to preach about the Kingdom (10:1–11:1)
He reveals truths about the Kingdom, telling the parables of the sower, the wheat and weeds, the mustard grain, the leaven, treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of high value, a dragnet, workers in a vineyard, two sons, wicked cultivators, and a marriage feast for a king’s son (13:3-50; 20:1-16; 21:28-41; 22:1-14)
He answers his disciples’ question about the sign of his presence, including in his answer a forecast of global preaching of the Kingdom good news (24:3–25:46)
Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of the religious leaders
Jesus gives fine counsel to his followers
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows why his disciples would be truly happy; he warns against wrath and urges them to make peace with one another and to love even their enemies; he tells of the danger of adulterous thoughts; he counsels against hypocrisy, teaches how to pray, warns against materialism, and advises seeking first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness; he cautions his hearers not to be overcritical, tells them to pray constantly, and urges them to realize that the road to life is narrow and that they should produce fine fruits (5:1–7:27)
He states the Christian standard for marriage and divorce (19:3-9)
The death and resurrection of God’s Son
On Passover night, Jesus institutes the Memorial of his coming death (26:26-30)
Betrayed and arrested, he is judged worthy of death by the Sanhedrin (26:46-66)
Jesus is buried; he is resurrected and appears to his followers; he commissions them to go and make disciples of people of all nations (27:57–28:20)