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Matthew, Gospel According to

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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1. The First Gospel in the Early Church . Papias ( c [Note: circa, about.] . a.d. 140 or earlier), as quoted by Eusebius ( HE iii. 39), says: ‘Matthew, however, composed the logia in the Hebrew dialect, but each one interpreted them as he was able.’ This remark occurs in his work The Exposition of the Lord’s logia , and is practically all the external information that we have about the Matthæan Gospel, except that Irenæus says: ‘Matthew among the Hebrews published a Gospel in their own dialect, when Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome and founding the Church’ ( Hær . iii. 1). Irenæus is probably quoting from Papias. In the 4th cent., Eusebius tells a story of Pantænus finding in the 2nd cent. the original Aramaic Mt. in India, but the story is very uncertain; Epiphanius says that the Aramaic Gospel of Matthew existed in his day, in the possession of an Ebionite sect (distinguished in modern times as Elkesaites), and describes it; and Jerome describes what he alleges to be the original of Mt. as in use among the Nazarenes, and says that he translated it into Greek. We have therefore first to interpret Papias, and then to deal with the later testimonies.

( a ) What does Papias mean by the ‘logia’? The word may be translated ‘oracles’ or ‘discourses,’ and it is much disputed which sense we should take here. The interpretation of many (Westcott, Lightfoot, etc., who choose the translation ‘oracles’) is that it is an early word for the Gospels. The ‘Lord’s logia’ which Papias expounded would be the story of our Lord’s life and teaching, and Papias would mean that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew (cf. Romans 3:2 where ‘oracles’ may mean only God’s sayings, but more naturally may be taken to mean the whole of the OT). Certainly the word in the 1st cent. was used of any sacred writing, whether discourse or narrative. Others deny that at so early a date a NT writing as such could be called ‘the Lord’s oracles,’ and take logia to mean ‘discourses.’ But from this point critics have diverged. Many understand Papias to mean that Matthew wrote our Lord’s sayings only; but this does not appear from his words. The argument against the translation ‘oracles’ is deprived of force if we understand the reference to be, not necessarily to a written record, but to the Gospel story pure and simple, whether written or oral. Papias would then mean that Matthew wrote down the Gospel story in Hebrew. Even if we take the translation ‘discourses’ or ‘sayings,’ it is extremely unlikely that Papias meant that Matthew’s Gospel contained no narrative, though it is quite likely that discourse predominated in it. (For Renan’s theory, see art. Mark [Gospel acc. to]).

( b ) What does Papias mean about the original language of Matthew? All the testimony as to its being Aramaic [‘Hebrew’] probably reduces itself to this one sentence. One interpretation is that Matthew wrote down Jesus’ sayings in Aramaic, but did not expound them, and that Papias’ own book had this object. But most writers understand Papias to mean that individuals translated Matthew’s work into their own language for themselves. If so, this period must have been over in Papias’ time, for he uses the past tense ‘interpreted’; he must have had a Greek Matthew before him. And our Mt. is clearly an original composition, derived from Greek sources, such as Mk. and other documents, at any rate for the most part (see art. Gospels), and is not a translation from Aramaic. There is no reason for thinking that the Matthæan Gospel actually used by Papias was other than ours. We have then to ask, Did Papias make a mistake about the original language? We know that there was a ‘Gospel of the Hebrews’ current early in the 2nd cent., known to Hegesippus, probably to the writer of the Clementine Homilies , perhaps to Ignatius. Jerome knew of it and gives us extracts from it; and Epiphanius knew of a derived or kindred Gospel, used by the sect of the Nazarenes and containing several episodes different from our canonical narrative, e.g . in connexion with our Lord’s baptism, and His appearance to James after the Resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:7 ). In this Gospel the Holy Spirit is called the ‘Mother’ of Christ, the word ‘Spirit’ being feminine in Aramaic. Most critics (but Hilgenfeld and Harnack are exceptions) agree that this Gospel is later than our canonical four; Zahn gives good reasons for thinking that it is derived directly from our Mt.; and it is possible that Papias made the mistake fallen into later by Jerome, and, knowing that there was an Aramaic Gospel in existence purporting to be by Matthew (though he had apparently never seen it), thought that it was St. Matthew’s in reality. Eusebius says that he was a man of not much understanding. He may, then, have erroneously thought that St. Matthew, writing in Palestine for Jewish Christians, must have written in Aramaic (Salmon). Another solution, however, is more commonly received. Papias is our only authority before Irenæus for attributing a Gospel to St. Matthew. Possibly then the Apostle Matthew may have written in Aramaic a document incorporated in, or largely drawn upon by, our First Gospel e.g . the original of the Greek ‘non-Markan document’ (see art. Gospels); and this fact may account for his name being attached even early in the 2nd cent. to the First Gospel. Both these solutions seem to be quite possible; but it is not possible to suppose that our First Gospel was originally written in Aramaic.

Quotations from Mt. are found in the Epistle of ‘Barnabas’ ( c [Note: circa, about.] . a.d. 100?), one with the formula ‘as it is written.’

2. Contents, sources, and characteristics of the Gospel. The Birth narrative (chs. 1, 2) rests on an unknown source (see Luke [Gospel acc. to], § 3), and is independent of the other Synoptics. The Baptist’s preaching, Jesus’ baptism and temptation, the early ministry, and the calling of Simon, Andrew, James, and John (chs. 3, 4) follow the ‘Petrine tradition’ with additions from the non-Markan source (esp. in the Baptism and Temptation), from which also the Sermon on the Mount (chs. 5 7) comes. The narrative of the Galilæan ministry (which extends from Matthew 4:12 to Matthew 16:20 ) is taken mainly from these two sources, but the order of neither is strictly adhered to. It includes the Charge to the Twelve (ch. 10), a large number of parables (ch. 13), and many miracles, some peculiar to Mt. From Matthew 16:21 to the end of the book is the story of the Passion with the preparation for it, including the Transfiguration ( Matthew 17:1-8 ), the Discourse on the End (ch. 24), the parables which specially speak of the Passion and of the End of the World ( Matthew 20:1 ff., Matthew 21:33 ff., Matthew 22:1 ff., Matthew 25:1 ff., Matthew 25:14 ff.), and warnings against Pharisaism (esp. ch. 23). In the story of the Passion itself Mt. follows Mk. very closely, but has some additions.

We may now consider the manner in which the First Evangelist has treated his sources. We are at once struck with a great difference of order. Incidents are grouped together according to subject rather than to chronology. The Sermon on the Mount is a collection of sayings which were uttered at different times, as we see from Lk., where they occur in various contexts (Luke 6:20-34; Luke 11:2-4; Luke 12:22 ff., Luke 12:58 ff. etc.). It contains a passage ( Luke 5:20 ) which would suggest (if Mt. were a chronological work) that the breach with the Pharisees had already, at that early stage, taken place; whereas Mk. shows how gradual the breach was (see the various stages in Mark 2:18 ff., Mark 2:24; Mark 3:22; Mark 7:5 ). At first Jesus treats the Pharisees gently, and gives them explanations of difficulties; only when they are obstinate does He denounce them. This shows that Luke 5:20 is not in its chronological order. Then, again, many of the parables in Mt. are grouped together (see ch. 13), but they would not have been spokes all at one time. The Charge to the Twelve (ch. 10) includes much of the Charge to the Seventy and other sayings to the disciples in Luke 6:1-49; Luke 12:1-59; Luke 13:1-35; Luke 14:1-35; Luke 17:1-37 . The Discourse on the End in Mt. is grouped (see § 5). The groups in Mt. are often closed with a formula taken from Deuteronomy 31:1 [LXX [Note: Septuagint.] ]; thus Matthew 7:28 (Sermon on the Mount), Matthew 11:1 (Charge to the Twelve), Matthew 13:58 (group of parables), Matthew 19:1 , Matthew 26:1 (groups of warnings). In fact, the First Evangelist aims at a synoptic view of Christ’s teaching as a whole rather than at a chronological statement. In one or two particulars only, Mt. seems to borrow the grouping tendency from Mk., as in the case of the anointing at Bethany ( Matthew 26:6 ff., Mark 14:3 ff.), which is related in close connexion with Judas’ compact with the chief priests (the Evangelists seem to mean that the ‘waste’ of the ointment greatly influenced the traitor’s action), whereas Jn. ( Matthew 12:1 ) gives the more chronologically correct position of the incident, ‘six days before the passover.’

Another feature of Mt. is the frequency of quotations from the OT, and the mystical interpretations given. The interests of the First Evangelist lie largely in the fulfilment of prophecy (Matthew 5:17 ). The principles of interpretation common among the Jews are applied; a text, for example, which in its literal sense applies to the Exodus, is taken to refer to the departure of the Child Jesus from Egypt ( Matthew 2:15 , Hosea 11:1 ), and the Evangelist conceives of events as coming to pass that prophecy might be fulfilled ( Matthew 1:22 f.; cf. Matthew 2:15; Matthew 2:17 f., Matthew 2:23 , Matthew 4:14 ff., Matthew 8:17 , Matthew 12:17 ff., Matthew 13:35 , Matthew 21:4 f., Matthew 27:9 f.). It is thought that the second ass, which is found only in the Matthæan narrative of the Triumphal Entry ( Matthew 21:1 ff., the ass and ‘a colt the foal of an ass’), is due to the influence of the words of the prophecy, Zechariah 9:9; for the narrative is taken closely from the Petrine tradition, but the second ass of Mt. is an addition to it. So the ‘wine mingled with gall’ ( Matthew 27:34 ) for the ‘wine mingled with myrrh’ (lit. ‘myrrhed wine’) of the Petrine tradition ( Mark 15:23 ) seems to be due to Psalms 69:21 . The treatment of the non-Markan source is similar. In Luke 11:29 f. Jesus refers to the sign of Jonah and to the repentance of the Ninevites, to whom, by his preaching, Jonah was a sign; but the First Evangelist sees (with justice) a type of our Lord’s Resurrection in the story of Jonah in the belly of the whale ( Matthew 12:39 ff.; see, further, Robinson, Study of the Gospels , p. 96f.). The matter peculiar to Mt. is large in amount. Besides the Birth narratives we have the healing of the two blind men ( Matthew 9:27 ff.), and of the blind and dumb demoniacs ( Matthew 9:32 f., Matthew 12:22 f., thought by some to be one incident), the walking of St. Peter on the water ( Matthew 14:28 ff.), the coin in the fish’s mouth ( Matthew 17:24 ), Pilate’s wife’s dream and Pilate’s washing of his hands ( Matthew 27:19; Matthew 27:24 f.), and some other incidents, especially in the Passion; also many sayings, and part of the Sermon on the Mount.

3. Purpose of the Gospel . That it was written for Jewish Christians appears from the frequency of OT quotations, from the mystical interpretations, and from the absence of explanations of Jewish customs. Yet the author was no Judaizer. He alone tells us of the visit of the Gentile Magi; with Lk, he relates the healing of the Gentile centurion’s servant ( Matthew 8:5 f.); and the admission of the Gentiles to the Kingdom and the rejection of some of the Jews is announced in Matthew 8:11 f. (cf. Matthew 21:43 ). The Gospel is to be preached, and baptism and discipleship are to be given, to all nations ( Matthew 28:19 ).

4. Author . The question of authorship has partly been anticipated in § 1. The earliest MSS give the title simply as ‘According to Matthew,’ and similar titles to the other Gospels. The titles need not be, indeed almost certainly are not, those of the original authors, but they must have been applied at a very early date. What do they imply? It has been thought that they meant merely that the Gospels reflected the preaching of the persons named (so Bartlet in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] iii. 297). But in that case the Second Gospel would be entitled ‘According to Peter,’ a title very close to Justin Martyr’s ‘Memoirs of Peter,’ which probably refers to Mk. (see art. Mark [Gospel acc. to], § 1). There can be little doubt that those who used the title in the second half of the 2nd cent. meant it to imply authorship. It is a question, however, whether at the first the phrase actually meant that the Gospel in its latest form was the work of the author named. For lack of external information as to the First Gospel, we are driven to internal evidence. But this would not lead us to think of the author or (if the phrase be preferred) the editor who brought the Gospel into its present form as an Apostle and eye-witness. Unlike Jn., which claims to be written by an eye-witness ( John 1:14; John 19:35 ), a claim fully borne out by internal evidence, and unlike Mk., which abounds in autoptic characteristics, though in that case we have reason to think that they come not from the writer, but from the writer’s teacher, the First Gospel has none of the marks of an eye-witness. The autoptic characteristics of the Petrine tradition have in many cases been taken away by the alterations introduced by the First Evangelist (see art. Mark [Gospel acc. to], § 4). The conclusion is that it was not the Apostle Matthew who gave us the Gospel in its present form. The name comes simply from ecclesiastical testimony of the 2nd cent., and not from the sacred writings themselves. Yet the Matthæan tradition is strong. Even Papias, apparently, thought that the Greek Matthæan Gospel which he used was a translation of the Apostle’s work. And there is no rival claimant to the authorship. On the other hand, Matthew, as an Apostle, was a sufficiently prominent person for an anonymous work to be assigned to him, especially if he had written a work which was one of its sources. These considerations may lead us to prefer the second solution mentioned above, in § 1 ( b ) that Matthew the Apostle composed the Aramaic original of the Greek ‘non-Markan document,’ the ‘Logia’ (not consisting of sayings only, but of sayings and narrative combined), and that in this way his name became attached to the First Gospel. The real author must remain unknown. That the work of an Apostle should have entirely disappeared is not a very serious difficulty when we reflect on the number of St. Paul’s Epistles that have perished.

5. Date . Irenæus ( Hær . iii. 1. 1) explicitly states that Matthew wrote first, ‘while Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel in Rome,’ but that Mark wrote ‘after their departure.’ In the Muratorian Fragment ( c [Note: circa, about.] . 180 200?), a list of NT books, Mt. seems to have come before the rest, though, as it is incomplete at the beginning, this is not certain. This probably was also the general opinion of the succeeding ages, and finds an echo in Augustine’s dictum that Mk. is an abbreviation of Mt. But internal evidence strongly negatives the idea of the priority of Mt. (see Mark [Gospel acc. to]). Though it is possible to make some reservations as to editorial touches, Mk. is seen to have been in the hands of the Matthæan writer; and whatever date we fix for it must be the earliest limit for Mt. We can get a further indication from the Discourse on the End ( Matthew 24:1 ff.). Both in Mt. and Mk. (whatever be thought of Lk.) the discourse is reported as if the fulfilment were only in prospect, and in a manner that would be unlikely if the siege of Titus had already taken place. This conclusion becomes still more likely when we compare the three Synoptics together. They all three begin with the destruction of the Temple ( Mark 13:1-2 and || Mt. Lk.). In Mk. and Lk. there follows a discourse which apparently speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem ( Mark 13:5-20 ), and then there comes in Mk. and partly in Lk. a passage which seems to refer to the end of the world ( Mark 13:21-37 ). But the First Evangelist, as so often, weaves together the sayings of Jesus which in Mk. are distinct, and makes the two events apparently one. (Cf. Matthew 24:3 with Mark 13:4 , Luke 21:7 ). Thus the writer must have thought that both events would be synchronous, and therefore must have written his account of the prophecy before the Fall of Jerusalem. That this is so we may see by a contrast. The Fourth Evangelist gives a prophecy of our Lord which had been fulfilled when he wrote; but he refers to the fulfilment ( John 21:18 f., the death of St. Peter). It is, of course, possible that the Discourse was written down as we have it in Mt. before a.d. 70, and that a later writer incorporated it unchanged. But would not the later writer have betrayed some consciousness of the fulfilment of the prophecy? For these reasons a date before a.d. 70 is probable. But this conclusion is much disputed, and in any case we must acknowledge that the authorship and date of the First Gospel are among the most perplexing of all NT problems.

A. J. Maclean.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Matthew, Gospel According to'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​m/matthew-gospel-according-to.html. 1909.
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