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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New TestamentRobertson's Word Pictures

- Matthew

by A.T. Robertson



The passing years do not make it any plainer who actually wrote our Greek Matthew. Papias records, as quoted by Eusebius, that Matthew wrote the Logia of Jesus in Hebrew (Aramaic). Is our present Matthew a translation of the Aramaic Logia along with Mark and other sources as most modern scholars think? If so, was the writer the Apostle Matthew or some other disciple? There is at present no way to reach a clear decision in the light of the known facts. There is no real reason why the Apostle Matthew could not have written both the Aramaic Logia and our Greek Matthew, unless one is unwilling to believe that he would make use of Mark's work on a par with his own. But Mark's book rests primarily on the preaching of Simon Peter. Scholfield has recently (1927) published An Old Hebrew Text of St. Matthew's Gospel. We know quite too little of the origin of the Synoptic Gospels to say dogmatically that the Apostle Matthew was not in any real sense the author.

If the book is genuine, as I believe, the date becomes a matter of interest. Here again there is nothing absolutely decisive save that it is later than the Gospel according to Mark which it apparently uses. If Mark is given an early date, between A.D. 50 to 60, then Matthew's book may be between 60 and 70, though many would place it between 70 and 80. It is not certain whether Luke wrote after Matthew or not, though that is quite possible. There is no definite use of Matthew by Luke that has been shown. One guess is as good as another and each decides by his own predilections. My own guess is that A.D. 60 is as good as any.

In the Gospel itself we find Matthew the publican (Matthew 9:9; Matthew 10:3) though Mark (Mark 2:14) and Luke (Luke 5:27) call him Levi the publican. Evidently therefore he had two names like John Mark. It is significant that Jesus called this man from so disreputable a business to follow him. He was apparently not a disciple of John the Baptist. He was specially chosen by Jesus to be one of the Twelve Apostles, a business man called into the ministry as was true of the fishermen James and John, Andrew and Simon. In the lists of the Apostles he comes either seventh or eighth. There is nothing definite told about him in the Gospels apart from the circle of the Twelve after the feast which he gave to his fellow publicans in honor of Jesus.

Matthew was in the habit of keeping accounts and it is quite possible that he took notes of the sayings of Jesus as he heard them. At any rate he gives much attention to the teachings of Jesus as, for instance, the Sermon on the Mount in chapters Matthew 0:5-7, the parables in Matthew 0:13, the denunciation of the Pharisees in Matthew 0:23, the great eschatological discourse in Matthew 0:24; Matthew 0:25. As a publican in Galilee he was not a narrow Jew and so we do not expect a book prejudiced in favor of the Jews and against the Gentiles. He does seem to show that Jesus is the Messiah of Jewish expectation and hope and so makes frequent quotations from the Old Testament by way of confirmation and illustration. There is no narrow nationalism in Matthew. Jesus is both the Messiah of the Jews and the Saviour of the world.

There are ten parables in Matthew not in the other Gospels: The Tares, the Hid Treasure, the Net, the Pearl of Great Price, the Unmerciful Servant, the Labourers in the Vineyard, the Two Sons, the Marriage of the King's Son, the Ten Virgins, the Talents. The only miracles in Matthew alone are the Two Blind Men, the Coin in the Mouth of the Fish. But Matthew gives the narrative of the Birth of Jesus from the standpoint of Joseph while Luke tells that wonderful story from the standpoint of Mary. There are details of the Death and Resurrection given by Matthew alone.

The book follows the same general chronological plan as that in Mark, but with various groups like the miracles in Matthew 0:8; Matthew 0:9, the parables in Matthew 0:13.

The style is free from Hebraisms and has few individual peculiarities. The author is fond of the phrase the kingdom of heaven and pictures Jesus as the Son of man, but also as the Son of God. He sometimes abbreviates Mark's statements and sometimes expands them to be more precise.

Plummer shows the broad general plan of both Mark and Matthew to be the same as follows:

Introduction to the Gospel: Mark 1:1-13; Matthew 3:1-4.

Ministry in Galilee: Mark 1:14-6; Matthew 4:12-13.

Ministry in the Neighborhood: Mark 6:14-9; Matthew 14:1-18.

Journey through Perea to Jerusalem: Mark 10:1-52; Matthew 19:1-20.

Last week in Jerusalem: Mark 11:1-16; Matthew 21:1-28.

The Gospel of Matthew comes first in the New Testament, though it is not so in all the Greek manuscripts. Because of its position it is the book most widely read in the New Testament and has exerted the greatest influence on the world. The book deserves this influence though it is later in date than Mark, not so beautiful as Luke, nor so profound as John. Yet it is a wonderful book and gives a just and adequate portraiture of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. The author probably wrote primarily to persuade Jews that Jesus is the fulfilment of their Messianic hopes as pictured in the Old Testament. It is thus a proper introduction to the New Testament story in comparison with the Old Testament prophecy.


The Textus Receptus has "The Holy Gospel according to Matthew" (το κατα Ματθαιον αγιον Ευαγγελιον), though the Elzevirs omit "holy," not agreeing here with Stephanus, Griesbach, and Scholz. Only minuscules (cursive Greek manuscripts) and all late have the adjective. Other minuscules and nine uncials including W (the Washington Codex of the fifth century), C of the fifth century (the palimpsest manuscript) and Delta of the ninth together with most Latin manuscripts have simply "Gospel according to Matthew" (Ευαγγελιον κατα Ματθαιον). But Aleph and B the two oldest and best Greek uncials of the fourth century have only "According to Matthew" (Κατα Μαθθαιον) (note double th) and the Greek uncial D of the fifth or sixth century follows Aleph and B as do some of the earliest Old Latin manuscripts and the Curetonian Syriac. It is clear, therefore, that the earliest form of the title was simply "According to Matthew." It may be doubted if Matthew (or the author, if not Matthew) had any title at all. The use of "according to" makes it plain that the meaning is not "the Gospel of Matthew," but the Gospel as given by Matthew, σεχυνδυμ Ματθαευμ, to distinguish the report by Matthew from that by Mark, by Luke, by John. Least of all is there any authority in the manuscripts for saying "Saint Matthew," a Roman Catholic practice observed by some Protestants.

The word Gospel (Ευαγγελιον) comes to mean good news in Greek, though originally a reward for good tidings as in Homer's Odyssey XIV. 152 and in 2 Kings 4:10. In the New Testament it is the good news of salvation through Christ. The English word Gospel probably comes from the Anglo-Saxon Godspell, story or narrative of God, the life of Christ. It was early confused with the Anglo-Saxon godspell, good story, which seems like a translation of the Greek ευαγγελιον. But primarily the English word means the God story as seen in Christ which is the best news that the world has ever had. One thinks at once of the use of "word" (Λογος) in John 1:1; John 1:14. So then it is, according to the Greek, not the Good News of Matthew, but the Good News of God, brought to us in Christ the Word, the Son of God, the Image of the Father, the Message of the Father. We are to study this story first as presented by Matthew. The message is God's and it is as fresh to us today in Matthew's record as when he first wrote it.

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