The Gospel According to Matthew (Introduction)

Introduction to Matthew: It is appropriate that Matthew is placed first in the New Testament because it is the most Jewish of the gospels and forms a natural bridge from the Old Testament.  Matthew’s gospel contains more quotes and allusions to the Old Testament than any other New Testament book.  A Jew himself, Matthew’s purpose was to demonstrate to his fellow Jews through a chronicle of the life of Jesus of Nazareth that He was the Christ—the long awaited Messiah prophesied in the Scriptures who would sit on the throne of His father David as King.  As the gospel to the Jews, Matthew records Jesus’ descent from Abraham and emphasizes Him as the “Son of David” (see Mat 1:1,20, 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, 20:30-31, 21:9,15, 22:42).  Because Jesus did not fulfill Jewish expectations that the Messiah would deliver them from their bondage to their Roman oppressors, Matthew demonstrates that the many events of Christ’s life, including his rejection, took place in order that what was written in their prophets might be fulfilled (see Mat 1:22-23, 2:15,17-18,23, 8:17, 12:17-18, 13:14-15,35, 21:4-5, 26:54,56, 27:9).  And because the promised Messiah did not establish His kingdom on earth, Matthew especially emphasizes Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom that He did come to establish.  Here also Matthew’s Jewish emphasis is evident in that, whereas the other gospel writers refer to the “kingdom of God”, Matthew uses the euphemism “kingdom of heaven” out of reverence for the divine name.

As the Jewish religious leaders had “rejected God’s purpose for themselves” (Luk 7:30) and delivered up Christ for crucifixion, there was from the very beginning of the Church already a Jewish political bias against Jesus to overcome.  This was greatly exacerbated as the gospel went forth and was gladly received by the despised Samaritans and Gentiles, causing the Jews as a whole to begin to jealously reject it, and testing the faith of many of those Jews who believed Jesus to be the Messiah.  Thus Matthew’s apologia to the Jews is also peppered with the universality of the gospel message (Mat 1:5, 2:1, 8:5-13,28, 11:21, 15:21-28, 21:41-43, 24:14, 26:13) and ends with the Great Commission in which Jesus commands His disciples to “make disciples of all the nations” (Mat 28:18-20).

Author:  The unanimous testimony of the early church was that the apostle Matthew authored what we know as the gospel that bears his name.  Some have recently argued that Matthew could not have written it since as an eyewitness himself he would not have been so reliant upon Mark who was neither an apostle nor an eyewitness.  However, such thinking does not take into account that the records Mark gathered about Christ’s ministry and that Matthew may have drawn upon as he wrote his own gospel were those of the apostles themselves, likely including Matthew, and other eyewitnesses who met in Mark’s home (see Acts 12:12-14 and cf. Acts 1:13-15).  As these preliminary records were shared from place to place and became broadly familiar to the Christian community, it would be completely natural for Matthew to draw upon them as he composed his gospel since he was one of the sources behind them!

Also known as Levi, the son of Alphaeus (Mar 2:14), Matthew was a “publican” who had the unpopular, though profitable (cf. Luk 19:2) job of gathering taxes for the Jewish nation’s Roman overlords.  He was likely well-educated in order to hold such a position, and his gospel reflects an interest in numbers.  Matthew himself records that Jesus called him while “sitting in the tax office” and that he “rose and followed Him” (Mat 9:9).  Luke adds that he “left everything behind” (Luk 5:28) and gave a big reception or banquet to which he invited “a great crowd of tax-gatherers and others” (Luk 5:29).  This caused the Pharisees and Scribes to grumble that He ate and drank with tax-gatherers and sinners, and Jesus to respond that “it is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick” and that He did “not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luk 5:31-32).  Apart from his being chosen as one of the twelve apostles (Mat 10:3) and that he was among those who gathered in the upper room after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:13), nothing more about him is mentioned in Scripture.

Originally Written In Aramaic?  Based upon a statement by the historian Eusebius in 323 a.d. that he attributed to Papius (c. 140 a.d.) that Matthew wrote “sayings” in Aramaic, some have proposed that he originally wrote his gospel in Aramaic.  However, while it is likely that Matthew would have written down initial records in the Aramaic Jesus spoke, it is clear that his gospel was originally composed in Greek and is not a translation from Aramaic.  There is also not a shred of manuscript evidence to support such an Aramaic gospel; all evidence in fact indicates that after having been written in Greek it was then translated into Aramaic and Hebrew.

Recipients and Location:  It is clear from its Jewish emphasis that Matthew’s gospel was written to Jews in order to convince them that Jesus was their promised Messiah.  On this basis some have argued for a Judean setting, which is certainly possible.  However, considering that Jews were found in large numbers in many locations throughout the Roman empire this is by no means necessary.  Some early tradition associates the book with Syrian Antioch.  This is also possible considering that Antioch was at the center of the Jewish-Gentile controversy[1] where the sitz im leben (setting in life) that seems to have given rise to Matthew’s gospel as an apologia to the Jews was the very strongest.

Structure/Outline: Matthew emphasizes the spoken word of Christ which composes 60% of his gospel and appears to be arranged chronologically only in a broad sense and more thematically in regard to some of the details of Jesus’ ministry.  Of special note is the way Matthew presents much of Jesus’ teachings in five long, mostly uninterrupted discourses identified by the concluding remark “when Jesus had finished these words”: the Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5-7); the sending out of the twelve (Mat 10); Jesus’ teaching in parables (Mat 13); the nature of the kingdom (Mat 18); and the Olivet Discourse (Mat 24-25).  The following outline loosely describes the progression of Matthew’s apologia to his fellow Jews, who, as the gospel was spreading more and more to the Gentiles, were rejecting in increasing numbers their Savior and Messiah King:

Matthew 1-2 The Arrival of the Anointed (Christ/Messiah) King: Jesus’ Genealogy and Birth Narrative
Matthew 3 John the Baptist Prepares the Way For Christ to Establish His Kingdom
Matthew 4 Jesus’ Temptation (Demonstrating His Righteousness to Be King) and the Beginnings of His Kingdom Ministry
Matthew 5-7 The Sermon on the Mount: The Higher Law of Christ’s Kingdom
Matthew 8-9 Jesus’ Healing Ministry and Miracles (Demonstrating His Power to be King)
Matthew 10 The Sending Out of the Twelve to Announce the Arrival of the Kingdom
Matthew 11-12 Increasing Opposition; Beginning of the Rejection of Christ as King
Matthew 13 Jesus’ Teaching in Parables to be Understood Only By Those in the Kingdom
Matthew 14-15 Continuing Opposition and Rejection; The King’s Withdrawals and Ministry to Those Who will Hear, including Gentiles; The Feeding of the 5000 and the 4000
Matthew 16 Peter’s Great Confession that Jesus is the Christ; Jesus’ Teaching that the Christ Must Suffer; The Cost of Discipleship
Matthew 17 The Transfiguration: The Glory of the Humble King
Matthew 18-20 The Humble Christ’s Kingdom Contrasted with Men’s Expectations
Matthew 21-23 The Triumphal Entry; Jewish Leaders Reject the King; The King Rejects the Jewish Leaders
Matthew 24-25 The Olivet Discourse: The Second Coming of the King
Matthew 26-27 The Last Days; The Nation Rejects Her King: Jesus’ Arrest and Crucifixion
Matthew 28 The Resurrection and Great Commission of the King

 

 


1. Recall that Antioch was where the followers of Christ were first called Christians; prior to that time all the believers were Jews and were identified as such.  However, with the influx of so many Gentile converts Christ’s followers could no longer rightly be referred to as Jews and so came to be called Christians.

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