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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

- Matthew

by Albert Barnes

Introduction to Matthew

The word “Gospel” means “good news,” or “a joyful message.” It commonly signifies the message itself, but it is here used to denote “the book” containing the record of the message. The title “saint,” given to the sacred writers of the New Testament, is of Roman Catholic origin, and is of no authority.

It has been generally believed that Matthew wrote his Gospel in his native tongue; that is, the language of Palestine. That language was not pure Hebrew but a mixture of the Hebrew, Chaldaic, and Syriac, commonly called “Syro-Chaldaic” or “Aramaic.” Our Saviour undoubtedly used this language in his conversation and his disciples would naturally use this language also, unless there were good reasons why they should write in a foreign tongue. It is agreed that the remainder of the New Testament was written in Greek. The reason for this, in preference to the native language of the writers, was that Greek was the language then generally spoken and understood throughout the eastern countries conquered by Alexander the Great, and particularly in Judea, and in the regions where the apostles first labored.

The Christian fathers, without any exception, assert that Matthew wrote his Gospel for the use of the Christians in Palestine, and say that it was written in the Hebrew dialect. It should be remarked, however, that many modern critics of much eminence do not suppose the evidence that Matthew wrote in Hebrew to be decisive, and believe that there is sufficient proof that, like the other writers of the New Testament, Matthew wrote in Greek. See Lardner’s Works, vol. v. p. 308-318, London edition, 1829.

The Gospel of Matthew exists now, however, only in Greek. The original Hebrew, or Syro-Chaldaic, if it were written in that language, has been. designedly laid aside or undesignedly lost. The question, then, naturally arises, Who is the author of the greek translation which we possess? And is it to be regarded as of divine authority?

It has been conjectured by some that Matthew himself furnished a Greek translation of the Hebrew. This conjecture, in itself probable enough, is destitute, however, of testimony to support it. Athanasius, one of the early fathers, says that it was translated by “James, the brother of our Lord according to the flesh.” Papias, another of the early fathers, says that “each one translated it as he was able.” If James translated it, there can be no question about its inspiration and canonical authority. Nor does it affect the question of its inspiration, even if we are ignorant of the name of the translator. The proper inquiry is whether it had such evidence of inspiration as to be satisfactory to the Church in the times when they were under the direction of the apostles. None acquainted with ancient history will doubt that it had such evidence.

Epiphanius says that the Gospel by Matthew was written while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome. This was about 63 a.d., about the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. It is now generally supposed that this Gospel was written about this time. There is very clear evidence in the Gospel that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. The destruction of the Holy City is clearly and minutely foretold, but there is not the slightest intimation in it that these predictions had been accomplished - a thing which we should naturally expect if the Gospel was not written until after these calamities came upon the Jews. Compare Acts 11:28. It has been only recently uniformly regarded as having been written before either of the other evangelists. Some of late have, however, endeavored to show that the Gospel by Luke was written first. All testimony, and all ancient arrangements of the books, are against the opinion; and when such is the fact, it is of little consequence to attend to other arguments.

In all copies of the New Testament, and in all translations, this Gospel has been placed first. This, it is probable, would not have been done had not Matthew published his Gospel before any other was written.

Matthew, the writer of this Gospel, also called Levi, son of Alphaeus, was a publican (tax-gatherer) under the Romans. See the Matthew 9:9 note; Luke 5:27 note. Of his life and death little is known with certainty. Socrates, a writer of the 5th century a.d., says that Matthew went to Ethiopia after the apostles were scattered abroad from Judea, and he died a martyr in a city called Nadebbar, but by what kind of death is altogether uncertain. However, others speak of his preaching and dying in Parthia or Persia, and the diversity of their accounts seems to show that they are all without good foundation. See Lardher’s Works, vol. v. pp. 296, 297.

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