Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, June 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

- Matthew

by Editor - Joseph S. Exell

The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic
St. Matthew

By the


New York





I. The Author.—

1. The man.—The name of Matthew occurs in the four lists of the Apostles: Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13. He is usually identified with Levi, for what is in the First Gospel (Matthew 9:9) related of Matthew, is in Mark (Mark 2:14) and Luke (Luke 5:27) told of Levi. To change the name on some life-changing occasion was not uncommon, and Levi may have taken the name of Matthew at his call; or, as is rather implied in the First Gospel, he may have had it earlier, to distinguish him from the many others called Levi. Neither Mark nor Luke, however, intimates that he whose name appears in their apostolic lists as Matthew is the same person as the Levi whose call they have related. It has been accepted as evidence of Matthew’s humility that he adds to his name the opprobrious designation, “the publican,” which is omitted by the other Evangelists. He also puts his own name after that of his companion, Thomas, though the others name him first. According to Mark (Mark 2:14) Levi was the son of Alphæus, and hence some have concluded that he was a brother of James the Little and a relative of Jesus (Marcus Dods, D.D.).

2. The significance of his name.—“Matthew” is a Hebrew name of not quite certain origin. Grimm supposes that it means Manly, deriving it from a disused root denoting Man. Others suppose that it means Trueman, or Truman, as if the name had originally been Amittai. But it is generally supposed that, along with its synonym, Matthias, it was a contracted form of the old Hebrew word Mattathias, meaning Theodore, or Gift-of-God. It would originally be imposed by some devout parent on a highly prized child, who was welcomed into the world with gratitude. It is not uninteresting to note that the name Nathanael, or Nathaniel, has the same import, and is indeed derived in part from the verbal root which gives the Matth in Matthew (Jas. Morison, D.D.).

3. His original occupation.—His business was to examine the goods passing either way on the great high road between the territories of the two neighbouring tetrarchs, to enter them on the official record, to take the duties and credit them in his books, in order, finally, to pay over the gross proceeds, at given times, to the local tax-farmer (C. Geikie, D.D.). The publicans, properly so called (publicani), were persons who farmed the Roman taxes, and they were usually, in later times, Roman knights and persons of wealth and credit. They employed under them inferior officers, natives of the province where the taxes were collected, called properly portitores, to which class Matthew, no doubt, belonged (Archbishop Wm. Thomson).

4. His relation to the Roman government.—Since Capernaum was in the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas, it may be inferred that Levi was an officer in the service of that prince, and not in the service of the Roman government, as is sometimes tacitly assumed. This is not unimportant in estimating the call and conversion of St. Matthew. A Hebrew who entirely acquiesced in the Roman supremacy could hardly have done so at this period without abandoning the national hopes. Jesus alone knew the secret of reconciling the highest aspirations of the Jewish race with submission to Cæsar. But to acknowledge the Herodian dynasty was a different thing from bowing to Rome. Herod was at least not a foreigner and a Gentile in the same sense as the Roman. Idumea had coalesced with Israel. It is, therefore, conceivable that a Jew who was waiting for the Messiah’s reign may, in very despair, have learned to look for the fulfilment of his hopes in the Herodian family. If it was impossible to connect Messianic thoughts with an Antipas, or even with the more reputable Philip, still might not a prince hereafter spring from that house to restore the kingdom to Israel? Might not God in His providence fuse, by some means, the house and lineage of Herod with the house and lineage of David? It was not impossible, and probably the tyrannical Antipas owed the stability of his throne in some measure to a party among the Jews who cherished these ideas (A. Carr, M.A.).

5. His character.—We may infer that he was influenced by what is almost an inherent passion in his race—the love of gain; had it not been so he would never have chosen a career which at its best was despised and odious (ibid.); but we have no right to conclude … that, because a publican, therefore he was an immoral man. Character cannot always be safely inferred from trade, and no proof can be adduced to show that he was partaker in the sins of many of his companions (C. E. B. Reed, M.A.).

6. His after career and death.—Of the exact share which fell to him in preaching the gospel, we have nothing whatever in the New Testament, and other sources of information we cannot trust. Eusebius (H. E., iii. 24) mentions that after our Lord’s ascension Matthew preached in Judæa (some add for fifteen years, Clem., Strom., vi.), and then went to foreign nations. To the lot of Matthew it fell to visit Æthiopia, says Socrates Scholasticus (H. E., i. 19; Ruff., H. E., x. 9). But Ambrose says that God opened to him the country of the Persians (In. Psalms , 45); Isidore, the Macedonians (Isidore Hisp., de Sanct., 77); and others, the Parthians, the Medes, the Persians of the Euphrates. Nothing whatever is really known (Archbishop Wm. Thomson). He appears to have lived an ascetic life (chap. Matthew 9:15 is illustrated by this fact), sustaining himself on nuts, berries, and vegetables (M. Dods, D.D.). Heracleon, the disciple of Valentinus (cited by Clemens Alex., Strom., iv. 9), describes him as dying a natural death, which Clement, Origen, and Tertullian seem to accept; the tradition that he died a martyr, be it true or false, came in afterwards. Niceph., H. E., ii. 41 (Archbishop Wm. Thomson).

II. The Gospel

1. Its Authorship.—It has been rightly urged that the very obscurity of St. Matthew’s name and the odium attached to his calling, made it antecedently improbable that a later pseudonymous writer would have chosen him as the Apostle on whom to affiliate a book which he wished to invest with a counterfeit authority. On the other hand, assuming his authorship as a hypothesis calling for examination, there are many coincidences which, at least, render it probable. His occupation as a publican must have involved a certain clerkly culture which would make him, as it were, the scholar of the company of the Twelve, acquainted, as his calling required him to be, with Greek as well as Aramaic, familiar with pen and paper. Then, or at a later date, or growing out of that culture, he must have acquired that familiarity with the writings of the Old Testament which makes his Gospel almost a manual of Messianic prophecy (E. H. Plumptre, D.D.). Although not expressly ascribed to Matthew until towards the close of the second century, our First Gospel was quoted and used in the sub-apostolic age (A.D. 90–120), and was never ascribed to any one else than the Apostle whose name it bears (M. Dods, D.D.).

2. Have we the original Gospel?—The unhesitating use of the First Gospel by the early church as the work of Matthew is somewhat complicated by the equally constant tradition that Matthew wrote in Hebrew (i.e. Aramaic). Eusebius (H. E., iii. 39), quotes Papias, a Phrygian bishop, who died in A.D. 164, as giving a circumstantial account of the work of Matthew:—“Matthew,” says Papias, “compiled the oracles (λόγια) in the Hebrew dialect, and each interpreted them as he was able.” In this account he is followed by Irenæus, who adds that the Gospel was composed while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome. But an examination of our Gospel discloses that our Greek Gospel is not a translation. This is proved, not by the plays of words (Matthew 21:41; Matthew 6:16; Matthew 24:30), nor by the interpretation of Hebrew words and sayings (Matthew 1:23; Matthew 27:33; Matthew 27:46), for these a translator, anxious to retain significant words of the original, might have interpolated; but explanations of customs peculiar to Palestine (Matthew 27:15; Matthew 28:15; Matthew 22:23), and which seem to be a substantive part of the narrative, indicate that the Gospel was intended to be read where Jewish customs were not known; and, above all, a comparison of the passages in which this Gospel coincides with Mark and Luke discloses that its author was using a Greek source. That our Gospel is not a translation but an original may be accepted as one of the ascertained conclusions of criticism. Is it possible to reconcile this conclusion with the constant tradition regarding the Aramaic original? A very common opinion is that Papias was mistaken. He may have seen or heard of a translation of this Gospel into Aramaic, which he took for the original (so Luther and Tischendorf). Or there may have been neither original nor translation of this Gospel in Aramaic, and the only Gospel of Matthew is the Greek Gospel we now have. Professor Salmon (Intro. to N. T., 202) puts the alternative rigorously: “We must choose between the two hypotheses, a Greek original of St. Matthew, or a lost Hebrew original with a translation by an unknown author. Or rather, since our Greek Gospel bears marks of not being a mere translation, we must choose between the hypotheses that we have in the Greek the Gospel as written by Matthew himself, or the Gospel as written by an unknown writer who used as his principal materials an Aramaic writing by St. Matthew which has now perished.” Dr. Salmon himself adopts the former alternative; but Dr. Westcott (Intro. to Study of Gospels, 224) accepts the latter. He believes in a Hebrew original from the hand of Matthew, and a subsequent Greek edition, a representative rather than a translation of the original, by an unknown hand. Godet (N. T. Studies, 20) is more definite, and affirms that Papias meant that Matthew compiled in Aramaic the Discourses of the Lord, and that a little later some coadjutor of Matthew, who had helped him in evangelising, translated these discourses into Greek and added material from the current tradition, so as to complete an evangelical narrative. Nicholson (Gospel according to the Hebrews), whose researches have not received the attention they deserve, maintains that our Gospel, though evidently not a translation of the “Gospel according to the Hebrews,” is from the same hand, and that the hand of Matthew. Others, though they do not identify Matthew’s Aramaic with the Gospel according to the Hebrews, accept Papias’ statement, that Matthew did write an Aramaic scripture of some kind; and that, as it attained an increasing circulation among those who were more familiar with Greek than with Aramaic, Matthew himself met this demand for a Greek Gospel by composing what is now in our hands, and what from the second century has been cited under his name (M. Dods, D.D.). The following theory is advanced as a natural way of explaining the facts. It can hardly be doubted that St. Matthew in the first instance composed a Gospel for the use of the Palestinian Jews. But on the disruption of the Jewish polity Aramaic would cease to be intelligible to many, and the demand would come for a Greek version of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. How would this demand be met? Either Matthew himself, or else some faithful scribe, would use the Hebrew Gospel as the basis of a Greek version. Many of the familiar parables and sayings of Jesus, which were orally afloat in all the churches, he would (for the sake of old association) incorporate with little alteration, but he would preserve throughout the plan of the original, and, in passages where the special teaching of this Gospel came in, the version would be a close rendering of the Aramaic. This theory explains the verbal coincidence of some parts of St. Matthew’s Gospel with the parallel synoptic passages, and accounts for the facts in regard to the quotations. Such a version, especially if made by St. Matthew himself, would indeed be rather an original work than a translation, and would speedily in either case acquire the authority of the original Aramaic. Accordingly we find that even those writers who speak of the Hebrew Gospel themselves quote from the Greek version as authoritative (A. Carr, M.A.).

3. Its date.—We have no doubt that it was near the period of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and yet most certainly before that event, that Matthew published his Gospel (J. Morison, D.D.).

4. Its purpose and plan.—It was written for Jewish readers, and aims at exhibiting Jesus as the Messiah of prophecy, the King of Israel who is come to set up the kingdom of heaven. Much prominence is, therefore, given to fulfilments of Old Testament predictions. The genealogy is given to show that Jesus is a son of David, the story of the visit of the Magi is told because they hail Him as King of the Jews (J. Macpherson, M.A.). Matthew’s Gospel is not a history, in our modern scientific acceptation of the term; and hence it would be in vain and unfair to attempt to trace in it a precise chronological concatenation of events, or a full display of moral and social causes and effects. Neither is it an exhaustive biography. Neither is it a set of historical or biographical annals. It is not even a formal memoir. It is simply memorials, or, if it be preferred, memoirs, i.e. as Johnson defines the phrase, “accounts of transactions familiarly written,” and such accounts as leave abundant scope for any number of corresponding or supplementary memoirs or memorials by “other hands” (J. Morison, D.D.).

5. Its place.—It is fittingly placed next to the Old Testament, not because it was the earliest contribution to the New—for it was not that—but because it resumes and completes each strand of the former revelation. The long and chequered history related in the Old Testament finds its consummation and significance in the life of Jesus.… The motto of the life of Jesus as read and rendered by Matthew is, “I am come to fulfil,” chap. Matthew 5:17 (M. Dods, D.D.).

6. Its title.—As in the inscription to all the other Gospels, so in this also, the expression “according to Matthew,” calls attention to the important fact, that, notwithstanding the human diversity appearing in the Gospels, they form but one Divine message of salvation (J. P. Lange, D.D.).


Church Seasons: Advent and Christmas, ch. Matthew 1:18-25; Matthew 2:1; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:6. Lent, ch. Matthew 6:16-18; Matthew 9:14-17; Matthew 17:21. Palm Sunday, ch. Matthew 21:1-11; Matthew 3:0; Matthew 9:0. Good Friday, ch. Matthew 27:27-34, Matthew 27:32, Matthew 27:35-44. Easter, ch. Matthew 28:1-10; Matthew 6:0; Matthew 11-15; Matthew 17:0. John Baptist’s Day, ch. Matthew 3:1-12. St. Matthew’s Day, ch. Matthew 9:9. Sabbath, ch. Matthew 12:1-8; Matthew 9-12.

Holy Communion: ch. Matthew 26:28-30.

Missions to Heathen: ch. Matthew 9:36-38; Matthew 28:18-20; Matthew 18:0; Matthew 19:0.

Evangelistic Services: ch. Matthew 7:13-14; Matthew 9:1-8; Matthew 9-13; Matthew 11:0; Matthew 12:0; Matthew 11:28; Matthew 12:40-42; Matthew 13:45-46; Matthew 14:36; Matthew 16:13-17; Matthew 16:26; Matthew 18:11-12; Matthew 21:10; Matthew 22:1-10; Matthew 22:42; Matthew 25:10.

Special: Ordination, ch. Matthew 10:1-15; Matthew 1-8; Matthew 2-4; Matthew 7:0 -

10. Workers, ch. Matthew 4:21-22; Matthew 5:13; Matthew 14:0; Matthew 20:0; Matthew 9:29; Matthew 9:32-35; Matthew 10:38; Matthew 10:42; Matthew 12:30; Matthew 13:27; Matthew 16:18; Matthew 18:2; Matthew 19:29; Matthew 20:1-7; Matthew 21:28; Matthew 25:14-30. Hospital Sunday, ch. Matthew 8:14-17; Matthew 17:0; Matthew 9:35; Matthew 14:36. Harvest Festival, ch. Matthew 6:11; Matthew 13:39. Flower Service, ch. Matthew 6:28. Children, ch. Matthew 2:1; Matthew 6:33; Matthew 7:13; Matthew 9:11-12; Matthew 15:4-6; Matthew 18:2; Matthew 10:0; Matthew 14:0; Matthew 19:13-15; Matthew 14:0; Matthew 20:30-34; Matthew 21:29-30; Matthew 22:42. Young Men, ch. Matthew 4:1-11; Matthew 16:26. Marriage, ch. Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:1-12; Matthew 3:0 -

6. Political, ch. Matthew 22:21. Socialistic, ch. Matthew 12:12; Matthew 17:14-18. Almsgiving, ch. Matthew 6:19-21; Matthew 25:40.

Ads FreeProfile