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Study Resources :: Intros to the Bible :: The Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew


Since the times of the early church fathers, the apostle Matthew has always been accredited with the authorship of the first gospel (canonically). Even the title "According to Matthew" (KATA MAQQAION) is found in the earliest manuscripts, and was the most highly regarded and quoted of the gospels by the church fathers. [1] Matthew is also called Levi (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27), and was the son of Alphaeus (Luke 5:27). He was a tax collector (telwnhV), probably stationed on a main trade route near Capernaum where he would have collected tolls for Herod Antipas from commercial traffic. [2] Additionally, being a tax collector might better qualify Matthew for his role as an official recorder of the life and actions of Christ. [3] After the resurrection there is no other mention of him in the New Testament.

According to the resources available to us, Papias (the Bishop of Hieropolis in Phrygia ca. AD 130) was the first to associate the apostle Matthew with this document. Eusebius, the early church historian, records Papias' account: "Matthew collected the oracles (ta logia) in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as best he could." [4] This quote also introduces some problems. What was Papias referring to when he stated that Matthew wrote in the Hebrew dialect? Some have understood this not as a reference to the Hebrew as we have in the Old Testament, but instead the Syro-Chaldaic, [5] or Aramaic. On the other hand, most scholars insist that Matthew was originally written in Greek because many parts of the Gospel are extremely (if not identically) similar to Mark's, which was indubitably written in Greek. Others have also concluded that Matthew wrote two Gospels-one in a Palestinian language and the other in Greek. Ralph Martin's conclusion is that "Papias' tradition can at best relate only to a collection of material later used in the composition of the entire Gospel." [6]

Not until the eighteenth century did the question of authorship become an issue. More recently, since Matthew does rely heavily on Mark's Gospel (see "Date and Location of Composition" below), some scholars have discarded the idea that the author was one of the twelve apostles. On the other hand, Papias also said that Mark was the interpreter of Peter, [7] and therefore, the apostle Matthew would not have a problem with deferring to the early leader of the church. [8]

Date and Location of Composition

Various estimates have placed the date of Matthew's composition anywhere from AD 50 - to AD 100. But before a date can be decided, its relation to the Gospel of Mark must first be addressed. If Mark was written first, then Matthew must have a later date (and vice-versa). The most widely accepted hypothesis is that both Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source for various reasons. Matthew even reproduced about ninety percent of Mark, while Luke reproduced about sixty percent. [9] Without going into much detail on the dating of Mark's Gospel, [10] it was probably written somewhere between AD 50 and AD 55. Consequently, Matthew's Gospel could have reasonably been written anywhere between AD 55 and AD 60. This date allows time for Matthew to have access to Mark's Gospel, and suggests that he completed the Gospel before the destruction of the temple in AD 70, because it would seem strange for the author not to mention this event in light of chapter 24. [11] This dating also allows time for Luke to use Matthew's Gospel in composing his own Gospel, as well as its sequel (Acts, ca. AD 62).

Though dating the Gospel maybe difficult or complicated, it is even more problematic to determine where Matthew wrote the Gospel. Most scholars conclude that Matthew was written in either Palestine or Syria because of its Jewish nature. Antioch of Syria is usually the most favoured because many in the early church dispersed there (Acts 11:19, 27). Another reason for favouring Antioch is that the earliest reference to Matthew's Gospel was found in Ignatius' (the Bishop of Antioch) Epistle to the Smyrnaeans (ca. 110).

Purpose and Audience

It is quite obvious and widely accepted that Matthew was written to the Jews. For one, he focuses on the fulfillment of the Old Testament, even quoting from it sixty-two times, which is more than any other Gospel writer. Secondly it is interesting that Matthew does not explain Jewish culture like the other evangelists (cf. Mark 7:3, John 19:40), which also adds to the argument that he is writing to Jews. Matthew uses the phrase, "kingdom of heaven," (the only author, in fact, to use this phrase) which can be considered as a "reverential Jewish expression" [12]-a term appropriate to a Jewish audience. His purpose in writing to the Jews was to show them that Jesus of Nazareth was the expected messiah and both his genealogy and his resurrection were legitimate proofs of this.


The overriding theme shows Jesus as the messiah, but there are also several minor themes, some of which directly relate to the major theme. These other themes include the kingdom of heaven, the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders, Jesus as the fulfiller of the law, and the king who will return in the clouds.

Literary Structure, Coherence, and Unity

The structure of Matthew's Gospel is very remarkable. The Gospel can be divided into three parts: the prologue (1:1-2:23), the body (3:1-28:15), and the epilogue (28:16-20). Matthew constructed his body around five distinct discourses: the Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29), the Commissioning of the Apostles (10:1-42), Parables about the Kingdom (13:1-52), Relationships in the Kingdom (18:1-35), and the Olivet Discourse (24:1-25:46). [13] Each discourse also ends with a recognizable closing statement (7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, 26:1), for example: "When Jesus had finished saying these things...." Even more interesting are the intricate parallels between the first and fifth discourses, and the second and fourth discourses. This leaves the third discourse (Parables about the Kingdom) as the focal point. Though we are not sure about the comparison of Jesus' baptism with his death, there is a rather striking parallel between Emmanuel (1:23; lit. "God with us") and Jesus' last words, "And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age" (28:20). [14]


[1] A.W. Argyle. The Gospel According to Matthew. (London: Cambridge University Press, 1963), p. 1.
[2] Michael J. Wilkins "Disciples" in Joel B. Green, et al Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), p. 180.
[3] Robert Mounce. Matthew. (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), p. 1.
[4] Hist. Eccl. 3.39.16 cf. 3.24.6 and 6.25.4
[5] The endnote in C. F. Cruse's of version of Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History (reprinted 1998) states the following, "The author here, doubtless means the Syro-Chaldaic, which sometimes Scripture and primitive writers called Hebrew."
[6] Ralph P. Martin. New Testament Foundations: Volume 1. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), p. 240.
[7] Hist. Eccl. 3.39.15
[8] Robert Mounce. Matthew. (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), p. 2.
[9] A.W. Argyle. The Gospel According to Matthew. (London: Cambridge University Press, 1963), p. 1.
[10] See Introduction to the Gospel According to Mark.
[11] Robert Mounce. Matthew. (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), p. 3
[12] R. E. Nixon. "Matthew"; in Donald Guthrie, et al., The New Bible Commentary: Revised. (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1970), p. 814.
[13] As R. T. France points out, it is important to know that in Matthew's case, "the main divisions are still debated" amongst commentators. Matthew. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985), p. 56.
[14] See R. E. Nixon. "Matthew"; in Donald Guthrie, et al., The New Bible Commentary: Revised. (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1970), p. 813.

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