Nowhere does this Gospel say who wrote it, though the title given to it in the second century reflects the traditional belief that Matthew was the author. Whether or not Matthew actually produced the finished product, it seems clear that his writings (referred to in second century documents) must have at least provided a major source of material for the book.
Origin of Matthew’s Gospel
It appears that Mark’s Gospel, written during the first half of the decade of the sixties, was the first of the Gospels. Its purpose was to preserve Peter’s account of Jesus’ ministry for the Christians in Rome.
Other people had also prepared written accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus, and from these Luke began to write an account of Jesus’ life to present to a high ranking government official (Luke 1:1-4). A few years later, probably in the decade of the seventies, Matthew’s Gospel appeared. It was written mainly for Greek-speaking Jewish Christians, probably those of the churches of Syria and neighbouring regions to the north of Palestine (see GOSPELS). Matthew had a clear purpose in writing. He therefore chose and arranged his material carefully, to fit in with his overall plan. He saved himself the work of writing fresh narratives of the ministry of Jesus by using most of the material from Mark’s Gospel, along with material from some of the same sources as Luke had used. But Matthew used this material differently from Mark and Luke, by making it serve his central purpose. He added a lot of material not contained in the other Gospels, and the characteristic flavour of his Gospel comes from this additional material.
A teaching purpose
Included in the material found solely in Matthew are many quotations from the Old Testament.
He introduces most of these by a statement showing how the Old Testament was fulfilled in Jesus (Matt 1:22; 2:15,17,23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9). Matthew was particularly concerned to show that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the son of David, the fulfilment of God’s purposes in choosing Israel (Matt 1:1,17; 2:6; 9:27; 11:2-6; 15:22; 16:16; 21:9; 26:63-64). In Jesus the kingdom of God had come (Matt 4:17,23; 5:3; 12:28; 18:1-4; 24:14; see KINGDOM OF GOD), though Jesus the king was not the sort of king most people had expected (Matt 2:6; 4:8-10; 21:5; 25:31,34; 26:52-53; 27:11). Unbelieving Jews often attacked those of their fellow Jews who were Christians. Matthew’s Gospel gave reassurance to these Christians that they were not people who had wandered away from the teaching of the Jewish religion, but people who had found the true fulfilment of it. Jesus did not contradict the Jewish law; rather he brought out its full meaning (Matt 5:17). The Gospel of Matthew therefore showed the Jewish Christians the nature of the kingdom into which they had come, and the requirements it laid upon them. They were to have high standards of behaviour (Matt 5:3-12; 5:22,28,42,44; 20:21-27) and were to be energetic in spreading the good news of the kingdom to others (Matt 5:13-16; 10:5-8; 24:14; 28:19-20). The unbelieving Jewish traditionalists, on the other hand, were consistently condemned (Matt 3:9; 23:1-36). They missed out on the kingdom, with the result that the gospel was sent to the Gentiles, and many believed (Matt 8:11-12; 11:21-24; 12:21; 12:38- 42; 21:43). Jesus had laid the foundation of his church, and no opposition could overpower it (Matt 16:18). Because of its basic purpose of instruction, Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus records more teaching and less action than the accounts of Mark and Luke. His material is not in chronological order. It is arranged according to subject matter around five main teaching sections, each of which concludes with a statement such as ‘When Jesus had finished these sayings . . .’ (Matt 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). The first of these sections concerns behaviour (Chapters 5-7), the second deals with spreading the message of the kingdom (Chapter 10), the third consists of parables of the kingdom (Chapter 13), the fourth concerns attitudes to others (Chapter 18), and the fifth discusses the coming of the end (Chapters 24-25).
Summary of contents
The opening section of Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus (1:1-17), the story of his birth (1:18-25), the escape from Herod (2:1-18) and the subsequent move to Nazareth (2:19-23). Many years later, Jesus was baptized by John (3:1-17), after which he suffered temptations by Satan (4:1-11). He then returned to Galilee, where he began his public ministry and gathered together his first disciples (4:12-25). The section concludes with the Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29). As Jesus continued to cast out demons, heal the sick, calm storms and welcome sinners, people saw that he was different from other Jewish teachers (8:1-9:17). Some saw that he was the Messiah (9:18-34). Jesus then appointed twelve apostles and sent them out as his assistants in spreading the news of his kingdom. First, however, he reminded them of the cost of being his disciples (9:35-10:42). After commending John who had prepared the way for his kingdom (11:1-19), and urging others to enter the kingdom (11:20-30), Jesus showed that his kingdom was concerned with more than legal correctness (12:1-21).
This stirred up the Jewish traditionalists against him, causing Jesus to warn them that they were only preparing a more severe judgment for themselves (12:22-50). A number of parables emphasized that Christ’s kingdom was the only way to life. To reject it meant eternal destruction (13:1- 52). Though rejected by some and feared by others (13:53-14:12), Jesus continued to bring help and healing to many (14:13-36). He emphasized the need for inner cleansing (15:1-20) and showed that faith is the way to blessing (15:21-16:12). The disciples knew that Jesus was the Messiah (16:13-20), but Jesus warned that death lay ahead for him and perhaps for them (16:21-28). After his transfiguration (17:1-8), he repeated that the Messiah would be cruelly treated and killed (17:9-27). Those in the Messiah’s kingdom therefore needed to be characterized by a humble and forgiving spirit (18:1-35). After dealing with questions concerning family responsibilities (19:1-15), Jesus showed how wealth hindered entrance into God’s kingdom (19:16-30).
The blessings of that kingdom came by God’s grace (20:1-16), and therefore there was no room for selfish ambition (20:17-34). Jesus then entered Jerusalem as the messianic king (21:1-11), cleansed the temple (21:12-17), and in a series of disputes with the Jews showed how their rejection of the Messiah was leading them to national catastrophe (21:18-22:46). In particular he condemned the religious leaders (23:1-39), and privately he told his disciples to be prepared both for the coming destruction of Jerusalem and for the climax of history when he returns (24:1-51). Three stories illustrated the need for constant readiness (25:1-46). While the Jews plotted to capture him, Jesus prepared for the crucifixion that he knew awaited him (26:1-19). After the Last Supper in Jerusalem and a time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (26:20- 46), he was arrested, condemned by the Jewish Council, handed over to the Roman governor and crucified (26:47-27:66). But he rose from death (28:1-15) and, before finally leaving his disciples a few weeks later, entrusted to them the task of spreading his gospel worldwide (28:16-20).
He uses the name Matthew, not Levi, in his account of Jesus’ call (Matt 9:9-13), and in his list of the twelve apostles he states his previous occupation (Matt 10:3). The book reflects a tax collector’s gratitude to Jesus for calling such a person to be an apostle. (See also MATTHEW, GOSPEL OF.) At the time he first met Jesus, Matthew lived and worked in Capernaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Mark 2:1,13-14). He had a good income (Matt 9:9) and owned a house large enough to accommodate a good number of people (Luke 5:29). But he left all this to join Jesus in the urgent and risky business of spreading the good news of the kingdom of God (Matt 10:5-23). Though the Bible gives no details of Matthew’s later activities, he was involved in the establishment of the church after Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 1:13).
When the Gospel writers Mark and Luke give the list of the twelve apostles, they name Matthew but do not record his occupation (Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15). When they mention the tax collector who responded to Jesus’ call and invited his fellow tax collectors to a feast to meet Jesus, they call him not Matthew, but Levi, which was his other name (Mark 2:14-17; Luke 5:27-32). It seems as if, to be kind to Matthew, they deliberately avoid mentioning that he was once a tax collector. Jews in general despised those of their people who collected taxes on behalf of Rome. They regarded them as dishonest and unpatriotic people who had lost their self-respect (see TAX COLLECTOR). Matthew’s response to the call of Jesus changed his attitude to life completely. This is seen in the Gospel traditionally associated with Matthew. The book itself does not state whether Matthew was the person who actually wrote it, but there is good evidence to suggest that, no matter who wrote it, it came from material that Matthew had prepared. And far from hiding the fact that he was once a tax collector, Matthew states it clearly.