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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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called also Levi, was the son of Alpheus, but probably not of that Alpheus who was the father of the Apostle James the less. He was a native of Galilee; but it is not known in what city of that country he was born, or to what tribe of the people of Israel he belonged. Though a Jew, he was a publican or tax-gatherer under the Romans; and his office seems to have consisted in collecting the customs due upon commodities which were carried, and from persons who passed, over the lake of Gennesareth. Our Saviour commanded him, as he was sitting at the place where he received these customs, to follow him. He immediately obeyed; and from that time he became a constant attendant upon our Saviour, and was appointed one of the twelve Apostles. St. Matthew, soon after his call, made an entertainment at his house, at which were present Christ and some of his disciples, and also several publicans. After the ascension of our Saviour, he continued, with the other Apostles, to preach the Gospel for some time in Judea; but as there is no farther account of him in any writer of the first four centuries, we must consider it as uncertain into what country he afterward went, and likewise in what manner and at what time he died.

In the few writings which remain of the apostolical fathers, Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp, there are manifest allusions to several passages in St. Matthew's Gospel; but the Gospel itself is not mentioned in any one of them. Papias, the companion of Polycarp, is the earliest author on record who has expressly named St. Matthew as the writer of a Gospel; and we are indebted to Eusebius for transmitting to us this valuable testimony. The work itself of Papias is lost; but the quotation in Eusebius is such as to convince us that in the time of Papias no doubt was entertained of the genuineness of St. Matthew's Gospel. This Gospel is repeatedly quoted by Justin Martyr, but without mentioning the name of St. Matthew. It is both frequently quoted, and St. Matthew mentioned as its author, by Irenaeus, Origen, Athanasius, Cyril, Epiphanius, Jerom, Chrysostom, and a long train of subsequent writers. It was, indeed, universally received by the Christian church; and we do not find that its genuineness was controverted by any early profane writer. We may therefore conclude, upon the concurrent testimony of antiquity, that this Gospel is rightly ascribed to St. Matthew. It is generally agreed, upon the most satisfactory evidence, that St. Matthew's Gospel was the first which was written; but though this is asserted by many ancient authors, none of them, except Irenaeus and Eusebius, have said any thing concerning the exact time at which it was written. The only passage in which the former of these fathers mentions this subject, is so obscure, that no positive conclusion can be drawn from it; Dr. Lardner, and Dr. Townson, understand it in very different senses; and Eusebius, who lived a hundred and fifty years after Irenaeus, barely says, that Matthew wrote his Gospel just before he left Judea to preach the religion of Christ in other countries; but when that was, neither he nor any other ancient author informs us with certainty. The impossibility of settling this point upon ancient authority has given rise to a variety of opinions among moderns. Of the several dates assigned to this Gospel, which deserve any attention, the earliest is A.D. 38, and the latest, A.D. 64.

It appears very improbable that the Christians should be left any considerable number of years without a written history of our Saviour's ministry. It is certain that the Apostles, immediately after the descent of the Holy Ghost, which took place only ten days after the ascension of our Saviour into heaven, preached the Gospel to the Jews with great success; and surely it is reasonable to suppose, that an authentic account of our Saviour's doctrines and miracles would very soon be committed to writing, for the confirmation of those who believed in his divine mission, and for the conversion of others; and, more particularly, to enable the Jews to compare the circumstances of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus with their ancient prophecies relative to the Messiah; and we may conceive that the Apostles would be desirous of losing no time in writing an account of the miracles which Jesus performed, and of the discourses which he delivered, because the sooner such an account was published, the easier it would be to inquire into its truth and accuracy; and, consequently, when these points were satisfactorily ascertained, the greater would be its weight and authority. We must own that these arguments are so strong in favour of an early publication of some history of our Saviour's ministry, that we cannot but accede to the opinion of Jones, Wetstein, and Dr. Owen, that St. Matthew's Gospel was written A.D. 38. There has also of late been great difference of opinion concerning the language in which this Gospel was originally written. Among the ancient fathers, Papias, as quoted by Eusebius, Irenaeus, Origen, Cyril, Epiphanius, Chrysostom, and Jerom, positively assert that it was written by St. Matthew in Hebrew, that is, in the language then spoken in Palestine; and indeed Dr. Campbell says, that this point was not controverted by any author for fourteen hundred years. Erasmus was one of the first who contended that the present Greek is the original; and he has been followed by Le Clerc, Wetstein, Basnage, Whitby, Jortin, Hug, and many other learned men. On the other hand, Grotius, Du Pin, Simon, Walton, Cave, Hammond, Mill, Michaelis, Owen, and Campbell have supported the opinion of the ancients. In a question of this sort, which is a question of fact, the concurrent voice of antiquity is decisive. Though the fathers are unanimous in declaring that St. Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, yet they have not informed us by whom it was translated into Greek. No writer of the first three centuries makes any mention whatever of the translator; nor does Eusebius; and Jerom tells us, that in his time it was not known who was the translator. It is, however, universally allowed, that the Greek translation was made very early, and that it was more used than the original. This last circumstance is easily accounted for. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the language of the Jews, and every thing which belonged to them, fell into great contempt; and the early fathers, writing in Greek, would naturally quote and refer to the Greek copy of St. Matthew's Gospel, in the same manner as they constantly used the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. There being no longer any country in which the language of St. Matthew's original Gospel was commonly spoken, that original would soon be forgotten; and the translation into Greek, the language then generally understood, would be substituted in its room. This early and exclusive use of the Greek translation is a strong proof of its correctness, and leaves us but little reason to lament the loss of the original.

"As the sacred writers," says Dr. Campbell, "especially the evangelists, have many qualities in common, so there is something in every one of them, which, if attended to, will be found to distinguish him from the rest. That which principally distinguishes St. Matthew, is the distinctness and particularity with which he has related many of our Lord's discourses and moral instructions. Of these, his sermon on the mount, his charge to the Apostles, his illustrations of the nature of his kingdom, and his prophecy on Mount Olivet, are examples. He has also wonderfully united simplicity and energy in relating the replies of his Master to the cavils of his adversaries. Being early called to the apostleship, he was an eye-witness and an ear- witness of most of the things which he relates; and though I do not think it was the scope of any of these historians to adjust their narratives to the precise order of time wherein the events happened, there are some circumstances which incline me to think, that St. Matthew has approached at least as near that order as any of them." And this, we may observe, would naturally be the distinguishing characteristic of a narrative, written very soon after the events had taken place. The most remarkable things recorded in St. Matthew's Gospel, and not found in any other, are the following: the visit of the eastern magi; our Saviour's flight into Egypt; the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem; the parable of the ten virgins; the dream of Pilate's wife; the resurrection of many saints at our Saviour's crucifixion; and the bribing of the Roman guard appointed to watch at the holy sepulchre by the chief priests and elders.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Matthew'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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