Gems From Matthew’s Gospel
JEHOVAH GOD inspired the former tax collector Matthew to pen a thrilling account of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Subscriptions in a number of manuscripts later than the tenth century say that this Gospel was written about the eighth year after Jesus’ ascension (c. 41 C.E.). This does not conflict with the internal evidence, since the account ends with Jesus’ commissioning of disciple makers in 33 C.E. and says nothing about Jerusalem’s destruction at Roman hands in 70 C.E.
In his Historia Ecclesiastica (Ecclesiastical History), the fourth-century historian Eusebius quotes Papias and Irenaeus of the second century and Origen of the third, all of whom ascribe this Gospel to Matthew and say that he wrote it in Hebrew. Was this really Aramaic? Not according to documents mentioned by George Howard, professor of religion at the University of Georgia. He wrote: “This supposition was due primarily to the belief that Hebrew in the days of Jesus was no longer in use in Palestine but had been replaced by Aramaic. The subsequent discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, many of which are Hebrew compositions, as well as of other Hebrew documents from Palestine from the general time period of Jesus, now show Hebrew to have been alive and well in the first century.” Evidently, Matthew wrote his Gospel to benefit Hebrew Christians but may also have translated it into common Greek.
We urge you to read Matthew’s Gospel. As we look at a few of the gems it contains, note background material that clarifies the account.
Birth and Early Ministry
Matthew’s Gospel opens with the genealogy and birth of Jesus. When Mary was found pregnant, her fiancé, Joseph, “intended to divorce her secretly.” (1:19) But how could he do so, since they were only engaged? Well, to the Jews a betrothed woman had the same obligations as married women. If she had sexual relations with someone, she could be stoned as though an adulteress. (Deuteronomy 22:23-29) Because of the binding nature of engagement, therefore, Joseph planned to divorce Mary, although no ceremony had united them in wedlock.
Early chapters of Matthew’s Gospel contain Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In it, Christ warned that one would be accountable to “the Supreme Court” for addressing a brother with “an unspeakable word of contempt.” (5:22) Such speech amounted to calling one’s brother an empty-headed numskull.
But what was “the Supreme Court”? It was Jerusalem’s 71-member Sanhedrin. What background was needed to qualify for membership in it? Says McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia: “The applicant had to be morally and physically blameless. He had to be middle-aged, tall, good-looking, wealthy, learned . . . He was required to know several languages . . . Very old persons, proselytes, eunuchs, and Nethinim were ineligible because of their idiosyncrasies; nor could such candidates be elected as had no children, because they could not sympathize with domestic affairs . . . ; nor those who could not prove that they were the legitimate offspring of a priest, Levite, or Israelite. . . . A candidate for the Great Sanhedrim was required, first of all, to have been a judge in his native town; to have transferred from there to the Small Sanhedrim . . . , thence again to have been advanced to the second Small Sanhedrim . . . before he could be received as member of the seventy-one.”
So Jesus meant that “whoever addresses his brother with an unspeakable word of contempt” bears guilt comparable to that of one convicted and sentenced to death by the Jewish Supreme Court. What a warning not to malign our brothers! Let us bridle our tongue so that we never merit condemnation in the Highest Court, before Jehovah, “the Judge of all the earth.”—Genesis 18:25; James 3:2-12.
Jesus an Effective Teacher
This Gospel also portrays Jesus as a teacher able to answer questions skillfully. For example, in response to a query, he explained why his disciples did not fast. (9:14-17) They had no reason to fast while he was alive. But as he foretold, they fasted and mourned when he died because they did not know why his death was allowed. After receiving the holy spirit at Pentecost, however, they were enlightened and no longer fasted in sorrow.
Still dealing with the same subject, Jesus added that nobody patches an old garment with unshrunk cloth because its strength makes a tear worse. He also said that new wine is not put into old wineskins. A wineskin, or skin bottle, was a tanned animal hide with all but perhaps a leg opening sewed up. Fermenting new wine generates carbon dioxide that exerts enough pressure to burst old, dry wineskins. Comparably, the truth Christ taught was too powerful for old, inflexible Judaism. Moreover, he was not trying to patch up or perpetuate any worn-out religious system with its fasting customs and other rites. Rather, God used Jesus to institute a new system of worship. Surely, then, we should do nothing to support interfaith movements or perpetuate false religion.
Heed Counsel From God’s Son
According to Matthew’s account of the transfiguration, God called Jesus His approved Son and said that we should listen to him. (17:5) So we ought to heed all of Christ’s counsel, such as his warning that anyone stumbling a person putting faith in him would be better off sunk in the sea with a millstone hung around his neck. (18:6) What kind of stone was this? Not a small one, for Jesus meant an upper millstone four to five feet [1.2 to 1.5 m] in diameter. Turning it on a large lower stone called for an animal’s strength. No one could survive in the sea with such a great weight around his neck. In effect, then, Jesus was counseling us to avoid the guilt of stumbling any of his followers. With similar intent, the apostle Paul wrote: “It is well not to eat flesh or to drink wine or do anything over which your brother stumbles.”—Romans 14:21.
God’s Son gave indirect counsel when he pronounced woe on the scribes and the Pharisees and said that they resembled whitewashed graves. (23:27, 28) It was customary to whitewash graves and tombs so that people would not accidentally touch them and become unclean. By alluding to this practice, Jesus showed that the scribes and the Pharisees appeared righteous outwardly but were “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Heeding this implied counsel will cause us to shun deviousness and act “out of faith without hypocrisy.”—1 Timothy 1:5; Proverbs 3:32; 2 Timothy 1:5.
Our Exemplar an Integrity Keeper
After recording Jesus’ prophecy about ‘the sign of his presence,’ Matthew tells of Christ’s betrayal, arrest, trial, death, and resurrection. On the stake, Jesus refused wine mixed with gall, a substance having a narcotic effect. (27:34) Women customarily gave such wine to criminals to deaden the pain of impalement. Mark 15:23 says that the wine was “drugged with myrrh,” which would improve the flavor. Apparently, both gall and myrrh were in the wine Christ refused. As he reached the climax of his earthly course, he did not want to be drugged or stupefied. Jesus desired to be in full command of his senses in order to be faithful to death. Like our Exemplar, may we always be concerned about keeping our integrity to Jehovah God.—Psalm 26:1, 11.