Book Overview - Matthew
by Barton Johnson
The first of the Gospels has been assigned by the Church, from the earliest times, to Matthew, one of the Twelve Apostles, and in all ages has been given the first place in the New Testament. He was the son of Alphæus, as we learn from Luke, who also calls him Levi (Luke 5:27-29). He calls himself "Matthew the publican," refusing to conceal in his own history the despised calling that had engaged him before he entered the service of Christ. He was a Jew, but had so far lost the national feeling that he was a collector of the hateful Roman tribute at Capernaum, and was sitting at the receipt of custom when called by our Lord to leave all and to follow him. His history of the Savior shows, however, that he was more dominated by Jewish ideas than the writers of the other three gospels. Of the life of Matthew, after the death of the Savior, we have no information, for no reliance can be placed upon the traditions concerning his later history.
The Gospel of Matthew shows the methodical habits of a business man, for of all the writers he is most systematic in his arrangement. He gives by far the fullest accounts of the Sermon on the Mount, the charge to the Apostles (Matt. ch. 10), the Discourse on Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the Arraignment of the Scribes and Pharisees, of the Parables, and of the Prophecies concerning the Overthrow of the Jewish State. It has always been held that Matthew wrote before the other New Testament writers, and wrote especially for Jewish Christians. It is therefore supposed that he wrote first either in the common language of Judea at that time, the Aramaic, which was spoken by the Savior and his Apostles, or else in the pure Hebrew, which was then generally understood. This, however, is an unsettled question, and the Greek which we now possess, was, it is almost certain, written in Matthew's lifetime. There are no data for determining the exact time and place where it was written, but it was probably composed about the middle of the first century, within twenty years of the crucifixion.
Whether written originally in Hebrew or not, it can hardly be doubted that Matthew wrote for Jewish readers. He takes for granted a familiarity with Jewish customs, laws, and localities, to a far greater extent than the other writers. Dean Alford says: "The whole narrative proceeds more upon a Jewish view of matters, and is concerned more to establish that point, which to a Jewish convert would be most important, namely, that Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. Hence the commencement of his genealogy from Abraham and David; hence the frequent notice of the necessity of this or that event happening, because it was foretold by the prophets; hence the constant opposition of our Lord's spiritually ethical teaching to the carnal formalistic ethics of the Scribes and Pharisees."
the Second Week of Lent