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Bible Commentaries

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

- Matthew


A Commentary On



Publisher Charles Allen Bailey


Executive Editor - Joe L. Norton, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1995
Contending for the Faith Publications
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All scripture quotations,
unless otherwise indicated, are taken from
The King James Version, KJV


This volume is dedicated to my parents, Roy Lee and Zella Criswell, who raised me in the Lord and whose missionary work influenced me to share the gospel with all nations. To my wonderful wife, Beth, without whose support I would have been unable to travel abroad, and to my son, Brooks, may this work be a lasting testament to my love and devotion.


The gospel of Matthew stands as a hallmark to the truth that Jesus is "The Messiah." It reveals the fulfillment of the prophet’s longing (1 Peter 1:10) and illustrates that Jesus is both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). From Bethlehem’s cradle to Calvary’s cross, Matthew weaves his narrative from threads stained crimson by redemption’s blood (1 Peter 1:19, Revelation 13:8). God now beautifully displays His tapestry of salvation, a concept that was once shrouded in prophecy

Matthew’s account of Jesus introduces a grand theme that carries throughout the gospel narratives. For Jew and Gentile alike, Jesus is the consummation of God’s love for the world (John 3:16). He is the Messiah that fulfills all of man needs. For those who thirst, He is water (John 4:10). For those who hunger after righteousness, He is food (Matthew 5:6). Thus, it is by no accident that in the obscure village of Bethlehem, being translated in the Hebrew tongue "House of Bread," the Bread of Life is born (John 6:35). Amidst straw and cattle, Manna becomes man, Eternity steps into time, and the "Divine Logos" becomes The Final Word (Hebrews 1:1, John 1:1). About this One, angels appear to shepherds to announce the birth of the Lamb (Luke 2:13, John 1:29; John 10:14).


To sit at Matthew’s feet is to acknowledge that Jesus is the "King of the Jews" (Matthew 27:37). While this gospel initially stands as an apologetic to Jewish converts, it is not so limited. Matthew confirms that Jesus’ reign extends to the whole world, for thereunto are the disciples commissioned (Matthew 28:18-19). In this gospel we see Jesus with regal power, forever reigning on David’s throne (Acts 2:30). Matthew alone notes Jesus’ royal line of ancestry by which he rightful wields David’s scepter.

Unlike Luke’s narrative that traces Jesus’ genealogy from Adam, thus giving evidence for a Gentile audience, Matthew appeals to Jews, identifying Jesus as the "Son of David, the Son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1). The Jewish mind will immediately understand the importance of these two central figures of Old Testament history. Abraham is the father of the Jews (Genesis 12:3). From his seed come the promised child and the birth of National Israel. David is King of Israel "par excellence" whose reign crowns Israel’s golden age. No Jew will lightly discount the claims of one whose lineage holds such transcendence. The fact that Matthew immediately brings his reader’s mind to these two "sages" suggests his audience is "Jewish."

Another factor that points to a Jewish audience is Matthew’s repeated reference to Jewish prophecy. From Isaiah’s prophecy of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1:23) to David’s forecast of Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:35), Matthew makes it clear that Jesus fulfills the Law (Matthew 5:17). In the first "Gospel," at least forty Old Testament passages come to fruition in the life of this "Man from Galilee." Nine times this gospel writer uses the phrase "that it might be fulfilled" as he affirms his case.

Perhaps the most outstanding section of Matthew’s gospel is Jesus’ first recorded sermon. The "Sermon on the Mount," as we know it, speaks clearly to those of Jewish background. It demonstrates that one cannot attain true righteousness by the Law of Moses but only by obedience to Jesus; furthermore, what God demands must surpass the hypocritical religiosity and traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). While even a modern Gentile audience can grasp the truths of this Mountain Masterpiece, a Jewish audience will surely do so more easily.

Another factor that indicates a Jewish equation is Matthew’s word choice. While many Jews of the first century speak only the Greek language, for Rome dominates the ancient world, Matthew never strays far from his linguistic roots. Rarely does he translate technical Hebrew words into the Greek; and, unlike his counterparts, he often omits explanations of local references and customs Gentiles might expect or even need. An interesting exception, however, is Matthew 1:23. Here the apostle quotes Isaiah 7:14. In the Hebrew, the prophet uses the word almah (disputably translated by some as "young woman") to describe the "virgin birth." Matthew, however, substitutes the Greek word parthenos (a word that specifically means "virgin"), erasing any doubt about Mary’s purity.

Generally, there is a distinctly "Semitic" touch to Matthew’s Greek, a distinction a Jewish reader will appreciate. Rather than translate, he transliterates certain Aramaic terms like "raca" and "korbanas" (Matthew 5:22; Matthew 27:6). In addition, such Jewish customs as "hand-washing" and "phylacteries" go unexplained (contrast Mark’s explanation of this practice in 7:3-4). Furthermore, he includes other Jewish focal points such as fasting (6:16-18), Sabbath observance (12:1-14), temple offerings (5:23-24), and the temple tax (17:24-27).

Perhaps an unexpected surprise in this decidedly Jewish gospel is Matthew’s portrayal of Israel’s rejection of Jesus. Matthew paints a vivid portrait of Jewish unbelief. This candor will naturally have a tremendous impact on Jewish readers as they come to understand "they" by wicked hands have crucified the Lord of glory (Acts 2:23). In no other gospel are the attacks against Jesus’ character and Jesus’ claims so bitter and vile. Even Jesus’s harbinger, John the Baptist, suffers martyrdom; and the Pharisee’s rejection of this godly man foreshadows their rejection of Jesus (Matthew 3:7). Amid such tragedy, however, Matthew’s story never loses sight of the fact that Jesus is King with all authority (Matthew 28:18).

While Matthews’ narrative is first a "Jewish apologetic," it seems plausible that from the outset Gentile believers also read this gospel. Then and now Matthew’s gospel is universal. The truth therein transcends culture, language, and time. The gospel of Jesus, whether recorded by the Synoptics or in the epistles, finds total relevance in every age. It is God’s power to save, to the Jew first but also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).

In reality, Matthew is a transitional book. It occupies the appropriate placement in the New Testament canon because it bridges the gap between the Old and New Testaments. It leads the Jew to the long-awaited Messiah but invites the Gentile as well. Franklin Camp aptly states,

The book was to show that the shadows of the Old Testament led to Jesus, and culminated at Pentecost and what was to follow. Thus Matthew has the Old Testament as its background and the book of Acts in the foreground (77).


The Publican

With little exception, scholars traditionally ascribe the first gospel to Matthew, the publican whom Jesus calls from his custom seat in Capernaum (Matthew 9:9-13). In all actuality, however, we know little of this man except his name and occupation. Luke calls him "Levi," and Mark calls him "Levi, the son of Alphaeus." Both writers record his giving a great feast in Jesus’ honor (Luke 5:29, Mark 2:14) at which time Jesus clarifies His mission: "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32).

Matthew’s publican background is significant because most Jews place tax collectors in the same fallen class as sinners. It is ironic that such a person becomes the main gospel apologist in inspiring faith among his own compatriots. That Matthew receives his call while an outcast again manifests the universality of Jesus’ mission.

By the time Jesus is born, Rome has already dominated Palestine for more than sixty years. Although Jews despise many Roman customs, one of the most hated is the system of taxation methodically and ruthlessly levied against the Jews. Various high-ranking officials, called publicani, purchase from the central government the right to collect the toll tax (a type of income tax) from a given province at a fixed rate for a period of five years. It is the common practice for these "publicans" to exact more than the required amount and then pocket the difference as profit. In order to distance themselves from the scorn of their fellowmen, publicani often hire citizens of the taxed province to do the actual collecting. The arrangement these men hold with the publican is similar to the relationship the publicani hold with Rome. When excess taxes are "extorted," the extra becomes personal profit.

As one might expect, this system soon becomes rife with greed and dishonesty. Publicans and their associates are looked upon with contempt by their fellow Jews and are viewed similar to sinners, prostitutes, and Gentiles (Matthew 9:10). In short, Publicans are traitors against the state of Israel and God’s theocracy. A common proverb among those who hate these pests of society is, "Take not a wife out of that family wherein is a publican, for they are all publicans, or thieves, robbers, and wicked sinners." (Lockyer 118). Jesus, however, finds in Matthew the noble qualities of service needed for his ministry. Perhaps the lesson in Matthew’s calling is that the Lord does not look at the outside but on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

The Person

The final reference we have in scripture to Matthew is Acts 1:13. Here Luke lists him among those in the upper room. Without doubt, on Pentecost Matthew receives "power from above" (Acts 2; Mark 9:1). In addition, by the evidence of his weighty narrative, it is clear he goes on to play a decisive role in the establishment of the early church.

The specifics of Matthew’s work are uncertain. Beyond his written gospel, we know little regarding his activity among the believers. Tradition holds that Matthew remains in Jerusalem for fifteen years after Pentecost after which he goes as a missionary to the Persians, Parthians, and Medes. Legend tells of his martyrdom in Ethiopia. Clearly, Matthew is active in maturing the church and spreading the "good news" of the kingdom. We owe much to this obscure man. His gospel reflects his modest character, for he refers to himself only in the third person and nowhere does he directly credit himself with the work.

The Penman

There is more than circumstantial evidence that Matthew is the author of this book. Many early writers ascribe the work to the apostle. Papias, who writes at the beginning of the second century, only seventy or eighty years after Jesus’ death, attributes the book to Matthew as do Eusebius, Origen, Epiphanius, and Jerome. J. W. McGarvey observes:

The history of literature shows that it is almost impossible to conceal the authorship of a work which makes any impression on the public mind, even when there is a studied effort to do so. In the absence of such an effort it is unheard of; when, therefore, the narrative now called Matthew’s was first put into circulation, we may assume that its authorship was known to its readers, and that as its circulation extended this knowledge extended with it (Commentary on Matthew 7).

Had one wanted to perpetuate a fraudulent gospel or a pseudonymous work (a work falsely attributed to someone greater in order to give it credence), he would not have chosen Matthew. He is among the most obscure of all the apostles and perhaps the least likely candidate to write such a colossal work

Furthermore, Papias’ ascribing authorship to Matthew seems easily contestable had the apostle not been the author. Papias writes about 100 A.D.; and, at the earliest, Matthew writes around 42 A.D.; witnesses are alive to verify Papias’ claim. Eusebius (c. A.D. 325) obviously believes Papias to be accurate, for he says Matthew first composed in Aramaic the oracles of the Lord, which were translated into Greek by each man, as he was able. Likewise, the Didache (Teaching of the Twelve) (110 A.D.) quotes more frequently from Matthew than it does from any of the other gospels. The Epistle of Barnabas (130 A.D.) and The Epistle to the Smyrneans also freely use Matthew.

Even though, Matthew does not directly attribute the gospel to himself; however, the Greek gospel manuscripts begin with captions. Matthew, for example, has as its caption Kata Mattaion (according to Matthew). Mark has Kata Markon, and so on for Luke and John. While not specifically a part of each book, these captions date back to several ancient sources. These include our oldest manuscripts: the Vaticanus, Irenaeus in 185 AD, and the earliest collections of apostolic writings at the formation of the New Testament canon (Lenski 5). They remain as part of Greek texts today. Sometimes the word evaggelion (gospel) was added, denoting The Gospel According to Matthew, etc. Originally, however, this addition was unnecessary since all knew Matthew to be a preacher of the "Good News" of Jesus as directed by the Holy Spirit.

While the term kata does not strictly indicate authorship and should not be translated "by" (that is: the Gospel by Matthew), it is not excluded in this broad preposition. Lenski notes:

In these captions the sense of kata is never that the records in question are compilations, made by others than Matthew, Mark, etc., and are only in a general way derived from the teachings of these men (6).

Furthermore, while most accept that Mark’s material comes from Peter and Luke’s from Paul, nowhere do we find Peter or Paul’s names on the manuscripts. Thus, when we find "kata," it is safe to assume that it suggests authorship and not simply the source of the information. In this case, Kata Mattaion refers to Matthew’s version of "the good news" as written by Matthew himself, not by another who drew only on materials supplied by Matthew. The early church interpreted the kata captions this way, as did others. Even, Marcion, the second century heretic, while calling the apostles pseudo-apostles, never denies the legitimacy of Matthew’s authorship.

A passing note of interest is the variety of theories surrounding the language used in Matthew’s original manuscript. Obviously, the "Matthew" we enjoy today comes from extant Greek texts. One wonders, however, if its original composition is Hebrew or Greek? Is the Greek Matthew a translation from an earlier Hebrew work?

Papias suggests Matthew composed the Logia in Hebrew (Aramaic). There is dispute as to what "logia" means, but many believe it refers to Matthew’s original gospel. Others believe it refers to an oral exposition but not the gospel itself. Jerome, the fourth century writer, remarks that he does not know who translated Matthew’s gospel into Greek. His statement is significant, for it suggests a time when nothing other than a Hebrew gospel existed. Furthermore, if, as evidence suggests, Matthew writes to Jews it is plausible that he writes in their native tongue. The problem, however, is that most scholars agree Matthew reads like an original Greek composition – not a translation. Conspicuously absent is the abundant linguistic evidence that one would expect to find in a work of this size if it came into the Greek by way of a Hebrew original.

Practically speaking, the controversy over the original Matthew is unimportant. We raise the issue, however, to remind the reader that "Biblical Criticism" is difficult and involved. The Interpretation of Matthew’s Gospel by C. H. Lenski, and Introduction to the New Testament by H. C. Thiessen are sources for study on this topic.

Date of Writing

Scholars disagree on the exact date of Matthew’s writing. While modern liberal scholars assert the priority of Mark’s gospel and maintain that Luke and Matthew plagiarized Mark’s work, traditional evidence disagrees. The very placement of Matthew at the beginning of New Testament manuscripts suggests he wrote first (McGarvey 9). Origen accepts the tradition that Matthew was the first to write. Lenski notes "this agrees with the listing of the Gospels, evidently intended to indicate their chronological order, given by both Irenaeus and the Muratorian canon" (Lenski 19).

Matthew’s gospel lends itself to the context of an early Jewish church. After the church is established, thousands are converted. Three thousand come to Jesus on Pentecost (Acts 2) and shortly thereafter the church increases to 5,000 men (Acts 4) with multitudes being added as time progresses (Acts 5:14; Acts 6:1). Thiessen suggests there might have been twenty thousands Jews in Jerusalem who quickly become Christians after Pentecost (136). When persecution sets in after the martyrdom of Stephen, the church is scattered (Acts 8). Dispersed Jewish converts need a gospel to take with them to strengthen themselves and convert others as they preach the word. Because at this early stage the Gospel "moved in the sphere of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms," Matthew’s writing is ideal for these early converts (Thiessen 136-137).

If, as tradition suggests, Matthew leaves Jerusalem some 15 years after Pentecost to evangelize foreign nations, then his original Hebrew composition may have remained in Jerusalem for Jewish Christians to compensate for his absence. In this case, we would affix a date of c. A.D. 45 to his Hebrew work. However, since no direct evidence for such a Hebrew work exists, some postulate that the present Greek version, containing the same material as an original Hebrew record, is the work of Matthew at a later date (c. A.D. 50). McGarvey quotes Eusebius as saying that Matthew writes when he is about to leave his own country for other nations and that he "thus supplied the want of his presence to them by his writings" (McGarvey 9). The fourth century writer Nicephorus asserts Matthew writes fifteen years after Jesus’s ascension. McGarvey balances this testimony, however, with the reality that these writers live too late to be of definitive authority.

In regards to the above controversy, we find Merrill C. Tenney’s comment helpful:

Just when the Gospel was written is unknown. It can scarcely have been written before the first dispersion of the Jerusalem Christians (Acts 8:4), for the local church in Jerusalem would not have needed a written Gospel since the apostles were physically present to answer all questions and to impart authoritative teaching. It is doubtful whether it were written subsequent to A.D. 70, because there is not allusion to the city’s actually having fallen (Matthew 24:1-28) (142).

In the final analysis, scholars cannot affix the date with certainty. Anecdotal evidence and tradition play too great a role to be dogmatic. If, however, Matthew is the first gospel and if, as most agree, Luke writes no later than Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea (summer A.D. 58 through fall of A.D. 60), then Matthew apparently writes before 60 A.D. Thus, the first book of the New Testament canon appears within twenty-four years of Jesus’ death. In conclusion, it is probably safe to assume that Matthew writes sometime between A.D. 30 and A.D. 70, the period between A.D. 38 and A.D. 58 being most probable.

Peculiarities of Matthew

Matthew repeatedly exerts individualism in his writing and includes several interesting details that other synoptic writers omit. Here we see the marvelous plan of inspiration as each writer works within an individual framework of style, purpose, and audience. The gospels are not artificial but breathe with the life that each individual writer pens therein. In identifying Matthew’s peculiarities, we note nine points as outlined by Theissen (138-139).

Matthew deals with the King and the Kingdom. The term "kingdom of heaven" occurs in the Greek text thirty-three times and the term "kingdom of God," four times. Nine times Matthew calls Jesus the "Son of David." He quotes from or alludes to the Old Testament about sixty-five times, sometimes using the Hebrew Old Testament and sometimes the Greek Septuagint.

1.    The first four chapters are chronological; chapters 5-13 are topical; and chapters 14-28 are again chronological with the exception of 21:18-19.

2.    The words "righteous" and "righteousness" occur more in Matthew than in all the other gospels combined.

3.    Matthew alone includes the word "church" (16:18; 18:17).

4.    Matthew includes six great addresses: The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), the address to the Twelve (chapter 10), the seven parables of the kingdom (chapter 13), the discourse on humility, stumbling-blocks, and forgiveness (chapter 18), the denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees (chapter 23), and the Olivet discourse (chapters 24-25).

5.    There are fifteen parables and twenty miracles in Matthew. Of these, ten parables and three miracles are peculiar to Matthew.

6.    The word tote ("then") occurs ninety times. This is probably because of Matthew’s thinking in Aramaic.

7.    Matthew’s interest in Gentiles is seen in his mentioning two Gentile women in Jesus’s genealogy (1:5); in his story of the wise men (2:1-12); in his reproduction of the saying that many from the east and the west will sit in the kingdom of heaven while the sons of the kingdom will be cast out (8:11-12); and that Gentiles will hope in Him (12:18-21).

8.    Matthew alone tells of Judas’ repentance (27:5-10); of the Jews request that Jesus’s blood be on their children (27:25); of the sealing of the stone, the setting of the guard, and the story that the disciples come and steal the body away (27:62-66); and of the rising of many saints after Jesus’s resurrection (27:51-52).

Outline of Matthew’s gospel

There are various outlines for Matthew’s gospel, each with its own emphasis. Because we believe that Matthew’s main emphasis is on Jesus’s kingship, we chose to use Robert Gromacki’s outline in modified form (74-75).

I.    The Birth of the King (ch. 1)

II.    The Reception of the King (ch. 2)

III.    The Dedication of the King (ch. 3)

IV.    The Temptation of the King (ch. 4)

V.    The Message of the King (chs. 5-7)

VI.    The Power of the King (chs. 8-10)

VII.    The Opposition of the King (chs. 11-12)

VIII.    The Parables of the King (ch. 13)

IX.    The Instruction of the King’s men (chs. 14-20)

X.    The Formal Presentation of the King (21:1-22)

XI.    The Rejection of the King (21:23 - 23:39)

XII.    The Prophecy of the King (chs. 24-25)

XIII.    The Passion of the King (chs. 26-27)

XIV.    The Triumph of the King (ch. 28)

XV.    The King’s Commission (ch 28)

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