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by Adam Clarke
Preface to the Gospel of St. Matthew With a Short Account of His Life
The general title of this latter collection of sacred books, which, as well as the former, all Christians acknowledge to have been given by immediate inspiration from God, is in the Greek Η ΚΑΙΝΗ ΔΙΑΘΗΚΗ, which we translate The New Testament: but which should rather be translated The New Covenant; or, if it were lawful to use a periphrasis, the New Covenant, including a Testamentary Declaration and Bequest: for this is precisely the meaning of this system of justice, holiness, goodness, and truth. St. Paul, 2 Corinthians 3:14, calls the sacred books before the time of Christ, Η ΠΑΛΑΙΑ ΔΙΑΘΗΚΗ, The Old Covenant; which is a very proper and descriptive title of the grand subject of those books. This apostle evidently considers the Old Testaments and the New, as two covenants, Galatians 4:24; and, if comparing these two together, he calls one παλαιαν διαθηκην, the old covenant, the other καινην, the new; one πρωτην, the first, the other νεαν, that which is recent; in opposition to the old covenant, which was to terminate in the new, he calls this κρειττονα, better, more excellent, Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 8:6; and αιωνιον, everlasting, Hebrews 13:20, because it is never to be changed, nor terminate in any other; and to endure endlessly itself. The word covenant, from con together, and venio, I come, signifies a contract or agreement made between two parties; to fulfill the conditions of which, they are mutually bound. The old covenant, in its essential parts, was very simple. I Will Be Your God. Ye Shall Be My People - the spirit of which was never changed. The people were to take Jehovah as the sole object of their religious worship; put their whole trust and confidence in him; serve him in his own way, according to the prescribed forms which he should lay before them. This was their part. On his side, God was to accept them as his people, give them his Spirit to guide them, his mercy to pardon them, his providence to support them, and his grace to preserve them unto eternal life. But all this was connected with the strict observance of a great variety of rites and ceremonies, at once expressive of the holiness of God, the purity of the Divine justice, and the exceeding sinfulness and utter helpless state of man. A great part of the four latter books of Moses is employed in prescribing and illustrating these rites and ceremonies; and what is called the new covenant is the complement and perfection of the whole.
The word Διαθηκη, from δια and τιθημι, I lay down, signifies not only a covenant agreement, but also that disposal which a man makes of his secular matters during his life, which is to take place after his death. It answers to the Hebrew ברית berith, from בר bar, to purify, because, in making covenants, a sacrifice was usually offered to God, for the purification of the contracting parties; and hence the word ברית berith is frequently used to express not only the covenant itself, but also the sacrifice offered on the occasion. See below under Gospel; and see the notes on Genesis 6:18; Genesis 15:18; (note); Exodus 29:45; (note); Leviticus 26:15; (note); and Deuteronomy 29:12; (note), where every thing relative to this subject is minutely considered.
The term new covenant, as used here, seems to mean that grand plan of agreement or reconciliation which God made between himself and mankind, by the death of Jesus Christ; in consequence of which, all those who truly repent, and unfeignedly believe in the great atoning sacrifice, are purified from their sins, and united to God. Christ is called της Διαθηκης καινης μεσιτης, the Mediator of the new covenant, Hebrews 9:15. And referring to the ratification of this new covenant or agreement, by means of his own death, in the celebration of his last supper, Christ calls the cup, το ποτεριον η καινη Διαθηκη εν τῳ αιματι μου, this cup is the new covenant in my blood: i.e. an emblem or representation of the new covenant ratified by his blood. See Luke 22:20. And from these expressions, and their obvious meaning, the whole Christian Scriptures have obtained this title, The New Testament, or Covenant, of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Those writings, and the grand subject of them, which, previously to the New Testament times, were termed simply The covenant; were, after the incarnation, called the Old covenant, as we have already seen, to distinguish them from the Christian Scriptures, and their grand subject, which were called the New covenant; not so much because it was a new agreement, but rather a renewal of the old, in which the spirit, object, and design of that primitive covenant were more clearly and fully manifested.
The particular title to each of the four following books, in most Greek MSS. and printed editions, is ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ κατα ΜΑΤΘΑΙΟΝ - ΜΑΡΚΟΝ - ΛΟΥΚΑΝ - ΙΟΑΝΝΗΝ, which we translate, the Gospel according to Matthew - Mark - Luke - John; i.e. the gospel or history of our blessed Lord, as written and transmitted to posterity by each of these writers. Our word Gospel, which should be always written godspel, or godespel, comes from the Anglo-Saxon, and is compounded of good, and history, narrative, doctrine, mystery, or secret; and was applied by our ancestors to signify the revelation of that glorious system of truth, which had been, in a great measure, hidden or kept secret from the foundation of the world.
Among Saxon scholars, the word Gospel has been variously explained. Mr. Somner explains it thus, Sermo Dei mysticus; Dei historia. "The mystic word of God; the history of God, or God's history." But he supposes that it may be compounded of good, and, a message; and very properly observes, that the verb signifies, not only to preach, or proclaim the Gospel; but also to foretell, or predict; to prophesy, to divine: and in this latter sense the word spell was anciently used among us, and still signifies an incantation, or a charm; which implies a peculiar collocation and repetition of certain words, which were supposed to produce supernatural effects by means of spiritual influence or agency; which agency was always attracted and excited by such words, through some supposed correspondency between the words, and the spiritual agency to be employed. The word, in this sense, occurs in King Alfred's Saxon translation of Boethius, De Consolatione Philosophiae, chap. 38., Then deceitful men began to practice incantations. It is possible that our ancestors gave this title to the preaching of Christ crucified, from observing the astonishing effects produced by it, in changing the hearts and lives of sinners. And very innocently might they denominate the pure powerful preaching of the death and resurrection of Christ, God's charm: that wonderful word, which, accompanied with the demonstration and power of the Holy Ghost, produced such miraculous effects among men.
As the word spellian signifies to teach or instruct, hence our word to spell, i.e. to teach a person, by uniting vowels and consonants, to enunciate words; and thus learn to read. And hence the book out of which the first rudiments of language are learned is termed a spelling book, exactly answering to the spell-book of our ancestors, which signified a book of homilies, or plain discourses, for the instruction of the common people. We may see (note on Genesis 1:1; (note)) that god among our ancestors, not only signified God, the supreme Being; but also good or goodness, which is his nature: godspell, therefore, is not only God's history, doctrine, or plan of teaching; but also the good history, the good doctrine; and hence spellian to preach or proclaim this doctrine; spel -boc the sermons that contained the rudiments of it, for the instruction of men; and spel -boda, the orator, messenger, or ambassador, that announced it.
The Greek word Ευαγγελιον, from ευ good, and αγγελια a message, signifies good news, or glad tidings in general; and is evidently intended to point out, in this place, the good message or the glad tidings of great joy which God has sent to all mankind, preaching peace and reconciliation by Christ Jesus, who is Lord of all: proclaiming that he, as the promised Messiah, has, by the grace of God, tasted death for every man - for he has died for their offenses, and risen again for their justification; and that, through his grace, every sinner under the whole heaven, may turn to God, and find mercy. This is good news, glad tidings, a joyful message; and it is such to all mankind, as in it every human spirit is interested.
It is used in this sense by Achilles Tatius, lib. v. c. 12, Ταυτα ακαυσας ὁ Σατυρος, προστρεχει προς την Μελιττην ευαγγελια φερων : Having heard these things, Satyrus ran to Melitta, bringing the good news.
But, besides this general meaning, the word Ευαγγελιον, has other acceptations in the New Testament, and in the Greek writers, which may be consulted here with great propriety and effect.
- It signifies the reward given to those who brought good news. Thus Homer represents the disguised Ulysses claiming a reward ευαγγελιον, a vest and mantle, should he verify to Eumeus the glad tidings of his master's safety. Ευαγγελιον δε μοι εϚω . Let me have a reward for my good news. Odyss. xiv. v. 152.
Ω γερον, ουτ 'αρ 'εγων Ευαγγελιον τοδε τισω,
Ουτ 'Οδυσσευς ετι οικον ελευσεται .
Ib. v. 266
Old friend! nor cloake nor vest thy gladsome news Will ever earn: Ulysses comes no more!
St. Chrysostom, in his sixth Homily on the Acts, gives this as a common meaning of the word. "The Gospel is this: Thou shalt receive good things: as men are accustomed in their common conversation to say to each other, τι μοι των ευαγγελιων ; What reward wilt thou give me for my good news? etc." It is used in the same sense by the Septuagint. 2 Samuel 4:10. When one told me, saying, Behold, Saul is dead, thinking to have brought good tidings, I took him and slew him in Ziglag, who thought ω εδει με δουναι Ευαγγελια, that I would have given him A Reward for his tidings. Cicero uses it in the same sense; see his epistles to Atticus, lib. 2. ep. 3. O suaves epistolas tuas uno tempore mihi datas duas: quibus Ευαγγελια quae reddam nescio, deberi quidem, plane fateor. "O, how delightful are your epistles! two of which I have received at one time, for which I know not what recompense to make: but, that I am your debtor, I candidly confess."
Other examples might be produced in which the word is used in all the above senses; but these may be deemed sufficient. I would not have been so copious, had not a certain great man denied that the word had the above meanings.
2dly, The Gospel of the Son of God. Romans 1:9.
3dly, The Gospel of the kingdom of God. Matthew 4:23; Matthew 9:35; Matthew 24:14; Mark 1:14.
4thly, Sometimes it is simply called The Gospel. Mark 13:10; Mark 16:15.
5thly, The word or doctrine (λογος ) of the Gospel. Acts 15:7.
6thly, The Gospel of peace. Ephesians 6:15.
7thly, The Gospel of glory, το Ευαγγελιον της δοξης . 1 Timothy 1:11.
8thly, The Gospel of salvation, το Ευαγγελιον της σωτηριας Ephesians 1:13.
- In 1 Corinthians 9:23, it means the blessings and privileges promised in the New Testament.
- It means the public profession of the doctrine taught by Christ, Mark 8:35; Mark 10:29; 2 Timothy 1:8; Philemon 1:13.
Matthew, supposed to be the same who is also called Levi, son of Alpheus, was by birth a Jew. As to his office, he appears to have been a tax-gatherer, under the Romans. He was a native of Galilee, as the rest of Christ's apostles were; but of what city in that country, or of which tribe of the people of Israel, is not known.
As he sat at the custom house, by the seaside, in or near the city of Capernaum, Jesus called him; and as soon as he could make up his accompts with those by whom he had been employed and intrusted, he became a willing, faithful disciple of Christ. After this, St. Mark tells us, he made an entertainment in his own house, where Christ and several of his disciples were present, together with many tax-gatherers, and others, of no very respectable character, in the sight of the Pharisees.
It is probable that Matthew took this occasion of calling together his relatives and acquaintances, that he might take a friendly farewell of them; and give them the opportunity of seeing and hearing that Divine Person, whose words he had already found to be spirit and life to his own soul, and to whose service he had now solemnly dedicated himself.
He was placed by our Lord in the number of his apostles, and continued with him during his life. After the ascension of Christ, he was at Jerusalem, and received the Holy Ghost with the rest of the disciples on the day of pentecost.
Matthew, with Andrew, Peter, and the two sons of Zebedee, are the only disciples whose call is particularly mentioned. It is uncertain when, where, or how he died. There does not appear to be any clear evidence, in the writings of the primitive fathers, that he suffered martyrdom.
St. Matthew's gospel is generally allowed to be the most ancient part of the writings of the New Covenant. Many modern critics contend that it was written about the year of our Lord 61, or between this and 65. Others, that it was written so early as 41, or about the eighth year after the ascension; and this is supported by the subscriptions at the end of this gospel in many MSS.; but it must be observed, that all these MSS. are posterior to the 10th century. Michaelis has adopted a middle way, which carries much of the appearance of probability with it, viz.: that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew about the 8th year after the ascension of our Lord, or a.d. 41; and that the translation of it into Greek was made about a.d. 61, or later.
Whether this gospel were written originally in Hebrew or Greek, is a question by which the most eminent critics have been greatly puzzled and divided. The balance, however, is clearly in favor of a Hebrew original. The present Greek text was doubtless published at a very early period; who the translator was, cannot, at this distance of time, be determined; probably it was the evangelist himself.
As Matthew was one of the twelve disciples, his history is an account of what he heard and saw, being a constant attendant on our blessed Lord. This consideration, of itself, would prove that, allowing him only to be a man of integrity, he would make no mistakes in his narrative. Add to this, the influence and superintendence of the Holy Spirit, under which he constantly acted, and which our Lord had promised to his disciples, to guide them into all truth, and bring what soever he had spoken to them, into remembrance, John 14:26. These two considerations stamp the narrative with the utmost degree of credibility.
the Sixth Week after Easter