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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Matthew, Gospel According to

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MATTHEW, GOSPEL ACCORDING TO.—‘The power of God unto salvation—to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.’—The Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke may be characterized respectively as the Gospel of the Jew and the Gospel of the Greek. St. Luke gives us the conception of the Christ as His Person presented itself to the Greek Churches of the West. To them Christ was the Saviour of the world, the Divine Redeemer, whose Good News was equally available for all the children of men, regardless of distinctions of race, or class, or sex. St. Matthew, on the other hand, presents to us the Christ as He was conceived by the Jewish Christians of Palestine. To them Christ was the King of Israel; and the glad tidings of His coming Kingdom were intended first for the Chosen People. It was true that He had foretold the coming of many from the east and the west to sit down in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 8:11), and had bidden His Apostles baptize all nations (Matthew 28:19); but then it had always been a part of the Divine plan to suffer aliens to enter as proselytes into the fold of Israel, and to partake of the blessings promised to the Chosen People. So it was to be with the new Israel. In the period of preparation for the Kingdom, the gospel was to be preached to all nations for a testimony (Matthew 24:14), and those who entered by baptism into the Christian Church would become members of that new Israel, which in the days of the Kingdom should be judged and governed by the twelve Apostles as viceroys of the King Messiah (Matthew 19:28).

Of course the distinction here drawn makes itself felt in two respects. First, in the selection of material by the two writers. Each Evangelist has a certain amount of matter peculiar to himself; and it will be found that whilst in the First Gospel this is very largely matter which lends itself to the Christianity of one who was glad to emphasize the prior claim of the Jew to the blessings of the Kingdom, that in St. Luke is predominantly material capable of a more universalistic interpretation. Secondly, in the treatment of the large amount of material which is common to the two Gospels. A good example is to be found in the discourse on the Last Things. Whilst St. Matthew emphasizes the close connexion between the fall of Jerusalem and the Coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:29), thus limiting the period during which the gospel could be preached to the Gentiles, St. Luke expands this period to an indefinite length, during which Jerusalem was to be trodden under foot (Luke 21:24), thus making space for a long and protracted preaching to the Gentiles.

In the present article we propose to discuss the chief features in the picture of the Person of Christ drawn for us by the First Evangelist, and to consider the bearing of this upon the questions of the author, the sources, the date, and the historical value of the Gospel.

1. Theology of the Gospel.

(1) The Messiah.—Jesus the Messiah was legally descended from David, and through him from Abraham, the father of the Israelite people (Matthew 1:1). He was the culminating point in the history of His family. In David it had risen to monarchical power (Matthew 1:6), but at the period of the Captivity it had lost this dignity. But now again in Jesus the anointed King it had regained it (Matthew 1:16). He was therefore born ‘king of the Jews’ (Matthew 2:2). As King He entered Jerusalem (Matthew 21:5). As King He suffered the death of crucifixion (Matthew 27:38; Matthew 27:42), and as King He would sit to judge all nations at the Last Day (Matthew 25:31 ff.). But He was no mere scion of the Davidic stock. Though legally descended from David through Joseph ben-Jacob, He was also in a unique sense Son of God. As such He was born of the Holy Spirit from a virgin (Matthew 1:18-25). Hence He was ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23), and this Divine Sonship placed Him in a unique relationship to God. He could speak of God and of Himself as ‘the Father’ and ‘the Son,’ as though these terms could only be applied to this relationship (Matthew 11:27); and David himself had recognized by the Divine inspiration this Divine Sonship of his promised descendant, when he applied to Him the Divine name ‘Lord’ (Matthew 22:44). The history of the supernatural birth was, of course, an easy mark for Jewish calumny, but nevertheless it was a fact which had been Divinely foreordained (Matthew 1:22); and in the history of the Davidic family there had been women of old time (Rahab, Bathsheba, Tamar, Ruth) whose lives should have taught the calumniators of the Virgin that God overrules and uses circumstances for His own Divine ends. Moreover, if in Jesus the prophecies of a Coming Davidic king, supernaturally born, had found at last their fulfilment, so also in Him were summed up all the many strands in the web of Jewish anticipation. He was ‘the Beloved’ (Matthew 3:17, Matthew 17:5) whom God had eternally chosen (Matthew 3:16, Matthew 12:18), and to whom God had eternally given all things (Matthew 11:27) and all power (Matthew 28:18). He was the supernatural Son of Man, who was to come upon the clouds of heaven (Matthew 16:28, Matthew 26:64, Matthew 24:30), and to sit upon the throne of His glory to judge all men (Matthew 16:28, Matthew 19:28, Matthew 25:31). And the events of His life down to the minutest details had been foretold in the OT. Thus Isaiah had foretold the circumstances (Matthew 1:22), and Micah the place, of His birth (Matthew 2:5). Hosea had foreseen the flight into Egypt, Jeremiah the massacre of the infants at Bethlehem (Matthew 2:17); and the settlement of His parents at the ill-famed village of Nazareth had been the subject of prophecy (Matthew 2:23). His herald John had been fore-announced by Isaiah (Matthew 3:3), and the same prophet had foreseen the Christ’s ministry in Galilee, with Capernaum as His headquarters (Matthew 4:14). That He healed the sick was in accordance with a prophecy of Isaiah, and the contrast between His gracious and gentle work and the noisy clamour of His opponents, found anticipation in another passage of the same prophet (Matthew 12:17-21). Zechariah had foreseen His entry as King into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:5), His betrayal (Matthew 26:24), and the desertion of His disciples (Matthew 26:31); and the whole course of His tragic end had been Divinely fore-ordained, and foretold in Scripture (Matthew 16:23 [τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ] Matthew 26:54; Matthew 26:56).

Such was the Person of Jesus. He was the Divinely foreordained Messiah, the supernaturally-born King of Israel, the unique Son of God. What then had been His work? It is clear that the editor of the Gospel is much more concerned with Christ’s doctrine than with His work, with what He had said than with what He had done. He is interested in the events of the life chiefly in so far as they proved Jesus to be the Messiah of the OT, and with His actions either as proofs of His supernatural power over all the known forces of life, or as illustrative of His attitude towards the orthodox Pharisaism of the day. He could, e.g., heal disease, even leprosy, without use of drugs or medical appliances, by the simple exercise of His will (Matthew 8:8 ‘Speak the word only,’ Matthew 8:16 ‘with a word’), the cure being immediate and complete (Matthew 8:13, Matthew 9:22, Matthew 15:28, Matthew 17:18). He could control the forces of nature (Matthew 8:26-27), and could drive out demons from the unhappy beings of whom they had taken possession (Matthew 8:28-34). He exercised upon earth the Divine prerogative of forgiving sin (Matthew 9:1-8), and raised the dead to life (Matthew 9:25). He could feed multitudes with a few loaves and fishes (Matthew 14:13-21, Matthew 15:32-39). On the other hand, He associated with people who were regarded by the leaders of religion as ill friends for a devout man (Matthew 9:11), and seemed negligent of the rules which the Pharisees had framed as the guides of a pious life. His disciples did not fast (Matthew 9:14), and broke Sabbath regulations (Matthew 12:2). He Himself performed acts of healing on the Sabbath day (Matthew 12:10), and His disciples neglected the regulations about purification of the hands before meals (Matthew 15:2). After a ministry marked by acts like these, He had been put to death by the Romans at the instigation of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He had expected this fate, and had foretold it to His disciples as being ordained of God and prophesied in Scripture (Matthew 16:21 δεῖ, Matthew 16:23 τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ, Matthew 17:12; Matthew 17:22-23, Matthew 20:18-19). He had promised that on the third day He should be raised again, and this was fulfilled; and He had ascended into heaven.

Now it is clear that the details thus sketched furnish a very small part of the significance of the Gospel to the editor. The miracles proved Christ’s power, or illustrated His attitude towards Pharisaism, or showed Him to be the Messiah of the OT. But to what end was He powerful, and, if the Messiah, where was His Kingdom? We might have expected to find a good deal more emphasis laid on the significance of Christ’s death, but such emphasis is strikingly absent. The death is rather regarded as without significance in itself, but as a necessary stage in the revelation of the Messiah. He had come to found a Kingdom, but in accordance with the Divine plan had been put to death. Clearly then the Kingdom remained yet to come, and the death was a necessary prelude to glorification. The insistence on the fact that the death had to take place, because it had been foretold in the Scriptures, suggests the inference that to the editor it was a fact which required explanation, a difficult phase in the history of the Messiah rather than the central fact which itself explained everything else in His life. In two passages only is the death referred to as having any purpose or effect, rather than as being simply a thing which had happened as a necessary transition stage from the earthly life to the heavenly monarchy of the Messiah. In one of these Christ is represented as saying that He came to give His life as a ransom for many (λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν, Matthew 20:28); in the other He speaks of His blood as shed for many for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28). It is easy to see how sayings like these could be made the foundation of a theology which would explain the whole of Christ’s life from the significance of His death. But it is equally clear that the editor of the First Gospel has recorded them because they formed part of the tradition which had come to him, without seeing in them an explanation of the entire earthly life of the Messiah. They are incidental rather than fundamental to his Gospel.

Thus the facts of Christ’s life as here recorded would have been meaningless to the editor without the teaching which he records. It is in that that he finds the explanation of Christ’s life. The facts alone were obscure and difficult. Jesus was the Davidic Messiah and also the Son of God. He had entered into human history through the Virgin’s womb. He had evinced His supernatural power in all that He did. But then He had allowed Himself to be put to death, because, as He said, the Scriptures had foretold it; and rising from the dead, He had gone into heaven again. But how then was He the Messiah, and where was the Kingdom? The main object of the Gospel is to explain this, and the explanation is given in the great discourses which the editor has formed by massing sayings or groups of sayings.

(2) The Kingdom.—The central subject of Christ’s doctrine had been the near approach of the ‘kingdom of the heavens.’ With this He began His ministry (Matthew 4:17), and wherever He went He taught this as a good news (Matthew 4:23). The Kingdom, He taught, was coming, but not in His lifetime. After His ascension He would come as Son of Man upon the clouds of heaven (Matthew 16:27-28, Matthew 19:28, Matthew 24:30), would send His angels to gather together the elect (Matthew 24:31, Matthew 13:41), and would sit on the throne of His glory (Matthew 16:28, Matthew 19:28, Matthew 25:31). This would happen in the lifetime of the generation to whom He spoke (Matthew 16:28, Matthew 24:34, Matthew 10:23), immediately after the great tribulation accompanying the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:29); but God alone knew the exact day and hour (Matthew 24:30). Then the twelve Apostles should sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28). In the meantime He Himself must suffer and die, and be raised from the dead. How else could He come upon the clouds of heaven? And His disciples were to preach the good news of the coming Kingdom (Matthew 10:7, Matthew 24:14) among all nations, making disciples by baptism (Matthew 28:19). The body of disciples thus gained would naturally form a society bound by common aims (Matthew 16:18, Matthew 18:17). They would be distinct from the existing Jewish polity, because the Jews as a people, the ‘sons of the kingdom,’ i.e. those who should have inherited it (Matthew 8:12), would definitely reject the good news (Matthew 21:32; Matthew 21:42-43, Matthew 22:7). Hence the disciples of the Kingdom would form a new spiritual Israel (Matthew 21:43 ‘a nation’) which would include many who came from east and west (Matthew 8:12).

In view of the needs of this new Israel of Christ’s disciples, i.e. of the true sons of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:38), who were to await His coming on the clouds of heaven, it is natural that a large part of the teaching recorded in the Gospel should concern the qualifications required in those who hoped to enter the Kingdom when it came. They were still to live in allegiance to the revelation of God made in the OT, which was permanently valid. Not a letter was to pass away from it (Matthew 5:18). Its permission of divorce still held good (Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:3 ff.). Christ had not abolished the Mosaic distinctions between clean and unclean meats (see notes on Matthew 15:20). His disciples were still to take two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:16); and the Sabbath was still to be held sacred (Matthew 24:20). But they were to search beneath the letter of the OT for its spiritual meaning. Their ‘righteousness’ was to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, because they were to interpret the Law of Moses in a sense which would make it more far-reaching in its effect upon conduet than ever before (Matthew 5:21-48). In particular, their ‘righteousness’ was to be less a matter of something done that men might see it, and more a right relation to God, taking effect in action known only to God Himself (Matthew 6:1-34). In relation to their fellow-men they were to cultivate humility, and to suppress self-assertiveness (Matthew 18:1-14); to exercise forgiveness (Matthew 18:15; Matthew 18:21-35); to be slow to judge their fellows (Matthew 7:1-5); to do to others what they would have done to themselves (Matthew 7:12). In relation to wealth, they were not to hoard up treasure upon earth, but to trust in God’s care for them (Matthew 6:19-34, Matthew 19:28), seeking first His righteousness and Kingdom. In relation to sexual morality, they were to be chaste in thought (Matthew 5:28); marriage was an indissoluble bond, broken only by adultery (Matthew 19:9). But some were called to live single lives for the Kingdom of the heavens (Matthew 19:12). In relation to God, they were to pray to Him for their daily needs, for His forgiveness, and for deliverance from the evil that is in the world (Matthew 6:9-13, Matthew 7:7-11).

In the above sketch of the picture drawn for us in the First Gospel of the Person and teaching of the Messiah, we have purposely omitted the parables. Most of the parables in this Gospel are parables of the Kingdom. With the exception of Matthew 18:21-35, they do not, as in the case of many of St. Luke’s parables, inculcate some Christian virtue or practice, such as love of one’s neighbour, or earnestness in prayer, but convey some lesson about the nature of the Kingdom and the period of preparation for it. Their interpretation will often depend largely upon the conception of the Kingdom with which the reader approaches them. We are not now concerned with the meaning which they were intended to convey when they were originally spoken. But it should be sufficiently obvious that if we ask what meaning they had for the editor of the First Gospel, and why he selected them for insertion in his Gospel, the answer must be that he chose them because he believed that they taught lessons about the Kingdom of the heavens in the sense in which that phrase is used everywhere else in his Gospel, of the Kingdom which was to come when the Son of Man came upon the clouds of heaven. Thus the parable of the Sower illustrates the varying reception met with by the good news of the Kingdom as it is preached amongst men. That of the Tares also deals not with the Kingdom itself, but with the period of preparation for it. At the end of the age the Son of Man will come to inaugurate His Kingdom. A phrase here, ‘shall gather out of his kingdom,’ has been pressed to support the interpretation that the Kingdom is thought of as present now. But it need convey no such meaning. The ‘good seed’ is interpreted as equivalent to the ‘sons of the kingdom,’ i.e. according to Jewish usage, not they who already live in or possess the Kingdom, but those who are destined to inherit it when it comes. It is not inaugurated until the ‘end of the age.’ Then when the ‘Son of Man’ comes, the ‘Kingdom’ comes; and the method of its foundation is not a gathering of the elect out of the mass of mankind, but a gathering of the wicked from amongst the elect, a gathering of them out of the Kingdom that the righteous may inherit it and shine forth in it. There is nothing here or elsewhere in this Gospel to suggest that the scene of the Kingdom is other than the present world renewed, restored, and purified (cf. παλινγενεσία, Matthew 19:28).

The parables of the Mustard Seed and of the Leaven describe the way in which the good news of the Kingdom spreads rapidly and penetrates deeply into human society. Those of the Hid Treasure and of the Goodly Pearl emphasize its value, and teach the lesson that a man must give up all else to enter into it. That of the Drag-Net has much the same application as the parable of the Tares. The doctrine of the Kingdom attracts good and bad alike. But at the end of the age, when the Kingdom is inaugurated, there will be a separation.

In Matthew 20:1-16 occurs the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard. In its present context this seems to be intended to teach the lesson that in discipleship of the Kingdom priority, whether in date of entrance upon discipleship or of position now, will not carry with it special privilege within the Kingdom when it comes. All shall receive the same reward—eternal life.

Of the other parables in the Gospel, Matthew 18:21-35 does not bear directly upon the doctrine of the Kingdom, but emphasizes forgiveness as a qualification in all who wish to enter it. Matthew 21:28-32 illustrates the perverse attitude of the Pharisees towards the Baptist’s preaching. Matthew 21:33-46 and Matthew 22:1-10 are historical forecasts of the fate of the Jewish nation. Matthew 22:11-14 emphasizes the necessity for all who hope to enter the Kingdom of possessing the necessary qualifications. Matthew 25:1-13 and Matthew 25:14-30 teach the suddenness of its appearance and the necessity of watching for its coming. Matthew 25:31-46 describes the test by which the King when He comes will admit the righteous into His Kingdom.

Of several of these parables it will rightly be felt that, as originally spoken, they had a wider meaning and scope than that here given, and one which is inconsistent with the narrow limits of the Kingdom to be inaugurated immediately after the fall of Jerusalem. That is quite true. But the question is not, What did these parables mean when they were originally spoken? but, What interpretation did the editor put upon them when he incorporated them into his Gospel? He everywhere seems to use the phrase ‘kingdom of the heavens’ in its eschatological sense. In four or five passages he has, instead, the ‘kingdom of God.’ In Matthew 6:33 τοῦ θεοῦ is probably not genuine (omit אBg1 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] k). As regards Matthew 19:24, a passage borrowed from Mk., the fact that Mt. in 13 other places where ‘kingdom of God’ occurs in Mk., substitutes ‘kingdom of the heavens,’ or omits or paraphrases the passage, makes it very probable that ‘kingdom of the heavens’ should be read here also. In Matthew 12:28, Matthew 21:31; Matthew 21:43 the editor has retained ‘kingdom of God,’ not because he regarded it as equivalent to ‘kingdom of the heavens,’ but because he felt that in these passages the idea conveyed was different from that which his phrase ‘kingdom of the heavens’ everywhere carries with it; and he therefore retained ‘kingdom of God’ to mark the difference.

Thus the conception of Christianity as expressed in this Gospel may be summarized as follows. Jesus was the King-Messiah of the OT. He was also the Son of Man of apocalyptic anticipation. But how could the functions ascribed to these two ideals be combined? Only if the King passed through death that He might come again on the clouds to inaugurate His Kingdom. And to those who could read the OT aright, all this had been foretold. Hence the Crucifixion. When Jerusalem fell, the end of the age would come, and the Son of Man would appear. In the meantime the good news was to be preached, and men were to be gathered into the society of disciples of the Messiah.

2. Date and place of composition.—If the dominant conception of the book has been rightly sketched, very important conclusions can be drawn as to its provenance and date. It must have been written by a Jewish-Christian, probably by a Jewish-Christian of Palestine, and it cannot date from long after the fall of Jerusalem. For it is inconceivable that any one should so arrange the words of Christ as to convey the impression that He had taught that He would return as Son of Man immediately after the fall of Jerusalem, if many years had elapsed since that event. And this conclusion as to the early date and Palestinian origin of the Gospel is supported by other features of the book. It is markedly anti-Pharisaic, and strongly Jewish-Christian in outlook.

(1) Its anti-Pharisaism.—This already underlies the stories of the first two chapters, which are most easily explained as a narrative of facts written to rebut Pharisaic calumnies. Christ was born of a virgin, but He was legally of Davidic descent, and the Virgin Mary’s marvellous history already found prototypes by contrast in the history of women connected with the ancestors of the Christ. If He went into Egypt, it was in the days of His infancy, and He brought no magical arts thence. If His parents settled at Nazareth, it was that the tenor of prophecy might be fulfilled.

So far the anti-Pharisaic polemic of the writer has been defensive and implicit. In the third chapter it becomes manifest and open. The sayings of the Baptist are so arranged as to form a sermon of denunciation of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They are a ‘brood of vipers,’ who pride themselves on their descent from Abraham. But right action based on repentance is the only ground for hope of God’s favour. The Messiah is at hand, and will sweep away all such false claims with the fire of judgment. In the Sermon on the Mount the same anti-Pharisaic polemic is found. Their ‘righteousness’ will not admit them into the Kingdom (Matthew 5:20). They are ‘hypocrites’ whose religious observances are based on desire for personal eredit (Matthew 6:1-17). In Matthew 8:12 they are ‘the sons of the kingdom,’ but nevertheless they will be cast into the outer darkness. It was the Pharisees who complained that Christ ate with tax-gatherers and sinners (Matthew 9:11), and it was they who ascribed His power to cast out demons to Beelzebul (Matthew 9:34, Matthew 12:24). They accused His disciples (Matthew 12:2), and Christ Himself (Matthew 12:10), of doing illegal actions on the Sabbath. They plotted to destroy Him (Matthew 12:14), and asked a sign from Him (Matthew 12:38). They condemned His disciples for eating with unwashen hands (Matthew 15:2), and were shocked at His teaching about things clean and unclean (Matthew 15:12), being themselves blind guides (Matthew 15:14). The disciples were to beware of their teaching (Matthew 16:12). In the last days of the Messiah’s life the Pharisees took a prominent part in the events that led to His death. They plotted with the chief priests to arrest Him (Matthew 21:45). They planned to entrap Him in His speech (Matthew 22:15). They tried to entangle Him in argument (Matthew 22:34; Matthew 22:41). All this leads up to the tremendous indictment of the scribes and Pharisees in ch. 23. In the narrative dealing with the Crucifixion we read naturally rather of the chief priests and elders than of the Pharisees; but it is the latter, with the chief priests, who effect the sealing of the tomb (Matthew 27:62 ff.).

(2) The Jewish-Christian element.—Of course the whole conception of the Kingdom of the heavens as sketched above is Jewish-Christian in character. But there are other Jewish-Christian features in the Gospel. (a) One is the interest shown in St. Peter. He was one of the earliest of Christ’s disciples (Matthew 4:18), and Christ had healed his wife’s mother (Matthew 8:14). He was in some sense ‘first’ of the Twelve (Matthew 10:2.), and it was he who walked on the waters at Christ’s command (Matthew 14:28 ff.). It was he who first confessed Christ’s Messiahship (Matthew 16:16), and received the promise of high rank in the Kingdom (Matthew 16:19). By inserting this passage the editor blunts the severity of the rebuke (Matthew 16:23), which St. Luke altogether omits. It was Peter who was prominent amongst the three who were privileged to be on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:4), and it was he to whom the tax-gatherers came as to one who was the representative of the other disciples. It was Peter who acted as the spokesman of the rest (Matthew 15:15, Matthew 18:21, Matthew 26:33; Matthew 26:35), or who was addressed as representing the others (Matthew 26:40). It was he who penetrated into the palace, and there denied that he knew Christ (Matthew 26:58-75). If all the Apostles were to sit on thrones in the new age (Matthew 19:28), Peter was to have administrative and legislative power in the Kingdom (Matthew 16:19).

(b) Another Jewish-Christian feature in the Gospel is the presence in it of sayings which seem to limit Christ’s mission and doctrine to the Jewish nation. In His own lifetime He had expressly asserted this of His own activity. ‘I was not sent save to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 15:24). On two occasions He had extended His mercy to pagans (Matthew 8:5-13, Matthew 15:21-28), but on the latter occasion He made it plain that the grace thus extended to a Gentile woman was only as it were a crumb which had dropped from the table of the Jews, to whom He was sent, and had been devoured by a Gentile dog. He bade His disciples ‘go not to the way of the Gentiles, nor to the cities of the Samaritans, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 10:6); and said they should not have exhausted the cities of Israel before His coming (Matthew 10:23). In the new age the Apostles were to rule over a new Israel (Matthew 19:28). Of course, side by side with these sayings from his Palestinian sources, the editor has incorporated others from other sources, which prove that he himself was well aware that Christ had on other occasions foreseen and commanded the admission of Gentiles to the discipleship of the Kingdom. ‘Many were to come from east and west’ (Matthew 8:11), and the three parables in Matthew 21:28 to Matthew 22:14 seem to convey the same truth. Further, the good news was to be preached among all nations for a testimony (Matthew 24:14), and the Apostles were to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). But there is nothing in any of these passages to suggest that the editor anticipated the admission of Gentiles to discipleship save on terms similar to those on which proselytes had been admitted to the old Israel;* [Note: At least the Mosaic Law was to be binding upon them.] and it is clear that he saw no difficulty in the preaching to all nations being accomplished within a generation, for the ‘end’ (Matthew 24:14) which was to close this preaching was the period of great tribulation accompanying the siege of the city, followed immediately by the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:30).

(c) A third Jewish-Christian feature is the insistence on the permanent obligations of the Mosaic Law; see above, p. 144b.

Now all these characteristics of the Gospel point irresistibly to Palestine, and to Palestine in the period before or very soon after the fall of Jerusalem, as the place and date of the composition of the Gospel. The most obvious feature in this connexion is the belief that the coming of the Son of Man would immediately follow the period of tribulation accompanying the siege of the city. But the other features above mentioned point in the same direction. The prominence given to St. Peter is natural enough in traditions which had been collected and preserved in Palestine in the early days of the Church at Jerusalem. The limitation of Christianity to Jews or proselytes, and the insistence on the permanent validity of the Law, reflect the same primitive Christian atmosphere as we breathe in the first few chapters of the Acts, before the pressure of circumstances had compelled the Apostles to recognize that St. Paul must be right, and that under Christianity Jew and Gentile stood on the same plane in the sight of God.

Lastly, the anti-Pharisaic attitude of the editor would be natural in one who knew something of the difficulties of the Jewish-Christian Church in the early days when Pharisaic hatred pursued its members from city to city.

The date thus arrived at affects the whole Gospel and not only portions of it. It is a literary unity, and apart from a few possible later interpolations, e.g. Matthew 6:14 (the doxology) Matthew 22:43, Matthew 23:35 (‘son of Barachiah’), belongs to one editor, and to one period of final composition. The attempts made to argue for a late date for the composition of the whole book from isolated phrases, or to mark large sections as late additions, fail to account for the unity of idea and conception that runs through the whole work, and neglect the cumulative evidence of the conceptions that characterize it for an early date.

Matthew 1:18-25 has been claimed as late because the idea of virgin-birth is ‘quite foreign to Judaism.’ As a matter of fact this idea is thoroughly Eastern (as well as Western), and must have been familiar to every Palestinian Jew who had read the Septaagint. And in other respects the narrative is Jewish throughout. The occurrence of the word ἐκκλησία (Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:17) and the Baptismal Formula (Matthew 28:19) have been said to betray late date. But there is no possible reason why a Jewish Christian writing about the year a.d. 70 should not have used ἐκκλησία to represent whatever Aramaic word was originally uttered; and if the Triune name in Matthew 28:19 is not a later gloss, it may well have been used by a Palestinian Christian who was contemporary with St. Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3, 2 Corinthians 13:14, and 1 Peter 1:2, 1 John 3:23-24).

3. The Sources.—If, then, we take the year a.d. 70 as an approximate date for the composition of the Gospel, there remain the questions of its sources, its author, and its historical value The facts about the sources are these:—

(1) The editor has borrowed the greater part of the Second Gospel, and has made it the framework of his narrative. He has altered the order of Mark 1:1 to Mark 7:24 in order to group the material under subject-heads. He has greatly expanded the discourses. He makes omissions and alterations in phrases relating to the Person of Christ, omitting especially expressions which attribute to Him inability, or desire for information, and terms of human emotion; and makes a series of somewhat similar changes in clauses relating to the Apostles. For the details of his editorial revision of the Second Gospel, see art. Mark (Gospel), and the Com. on ‘Matthew’ in ICC [Note: CC International Critical Commentary.] , pp. xiii–xl.

(2) The Gospel contains, besides this Markan material, a good deal of matter, almost entirely sayings, which is found also in substance in the Third Gospel. It is generally supposed that this was borrowed by the two Evangelists from a common source, viz. a collection of Gospel material compiled by the Apostle Matthew, and referred to by Papias (Eus. Historia Ecclesiastica iii. xxxix.).

The present writer has elsewhere attempted to prove that, so far as St. Luke goes, this is not a very probable theory. Besides these sayings which he has in common with St. Luke, the editor of the First Gospel has also a number of sayings found only in his Gospel. The probability is that he borrowed these peculiar sayings, and most of those common to him and to St. Luke, from the Apostolic collection of sayings mentioned by Papias. If so, it is not very likely that St. Luke had also seen this collection. Rather material from it had passed into some of the many sources which he had used (Luke 1:1), and were borrowed by him from them. See ‘Matthew,’ l.c. pp. xli–lxii. Thus Mt.’s second source was the Matthaean Logia or collection of discourses.

(3) What remains of the Gospel, when we have put aside the matter borrowed from Mk. and the sayings drawn from the Logia, consists of a number of narrative traditions. These deal with Christ’s Birth and Infancy (chs. 1, 2), with a few incidents connected with St. Peter (Matthew 14:28-31; Matthew 17:24-27), and with some details connected with Christ’s trial and Resurrection (Matthew 27:3-10; Matthew 27:19; Matthew 27:24-25; Matthew 27:51-53; Matthew 27:62-66, Matthew 28:11-15). They were all drawn, it may be supposed, from current Palestinian Christian tradition.

(4) Lastly, a number of quotations of a peculiar type, which are introduced by a special formula (Matthew 1:22-23, Matthew 2:5-6; Matthew 2:15; Matthew 2:17-18; Matthew 2:23, Matthew 4:14-16, Matthew 8:17, Matthew 12:17-21, Matthew 13:35, Matthew 21:4-5, Matthew 27:9), were drawn from a catena or list of OT Messianic passages, which had already been translated into Greek when the editor borrowed them.

4. The Author.—Now, who was the writer who thus welded together the Second Gospel, the Matthaean Logia, a number of Palestinian traditions, and a series of OT quotations, into our present Gospel? From the end of the 2nd cent. the work has been ascribed to St. Matthew. But there are the following difficulties in this ascription:

(1) The same writers who attribute our Gospel to St. Matthew state that he wrote it in Hebrew or Aramaic. Now it is clear that our Gospel was composed in Greek, and is based upon Greek sources. This is certain so far as the material drawn from the Second Gospel is concerned, and probable for the sayings drawn from the Matthaean Logia.

(2) It does not seem very probable that the Apostle Matthew should have written a Gospel from second-hand materials. The work lacks that freshness of presentation which we should expect from an eye-witness of many of the events.

How then explain the ascription of the Gospel to him? Because the book, in a sense in which the statement is not true of St. Luke’s Gospel, is based directly upon the collection of sayings compiled by the Apostle. We must, therefore, suppose that the author was an otherwise unknown Jewish Christian of Palestine, who about the year a.d. 70 compiled his Gospel, using as his framework the Second Gospel, but borrowing largely from the Matthaean Logia, and inserting also some Palestinian traditions with which he was familiar. The Gospel, as it left his hand, represents the conception of Christ’s Person and work which was dominant in the Palestinian Church in the middle of the 1st cent. a.d. To Christians there Jesus was the Jewish King-Messiah. His life on earth was only the prelude to His sovereignty. For He was to come again as Son of Man at the end of the age, and that was imminent, and would follow immediately upon the final downfall of the Jewish polity.

5. Historical value.—So far as the question of the historical value of the detail given in the Gospel is concerned, we may set aside for our present purpose all that is drawn from St. Mark’s Gospel. The value of that is a consideration for a writer on the Second Gospel (see above, p. 133 ff., and cf. the Dean of Westminster’s Study of the Gospels, and Burkitt’s The Gospel History and its Transmission). The sayings drawn from the Matthaean Logia have behind them Apostolic authority, and, allowing for some change of emphasis and possible accretion in the process of transmission, may safely be taken as representing actual utterances of Christ.

The Palestinian traditions peculiar to the Gospel are probably not all of equal weight. The narrative of the supernatural birth is best attested, because the main fact of the story is supported by the tradition known to St. Luke. Of the rest it is difficult to say more than that they are early Palestinian traditions, and we must abstain from condemning them upon purely fanciful grounds as legendary.

But the question of historical value can be raised in a different form, and one of much greater importance. Allowing the substantial accuracy of the bulk of the detail in the Gospel, and without discussing the precise value and importance to be attached to each separate tradition, how far do the main conceptions of Christ and of His doctrine which run through the Gospel correspond to the historical Christ? Did He teach what is here ascribed to Him?

Something may be learned in this connexion if we consider the method of the Evangelist. He presents to us selections from Christ’s sayings, arranged in what is clearly often an artificial and literary manner. A good example of this is the Charge to the Twelve. The nucleus of this consists of a few sayings, recorded by St. Mark, addressed to the Twelve when Christ sent them forth on a journey of preaching in Palestine. But the editor of the First Gospel is so little concerned with the actual historical facts that he omits altogether the statements descriptive of their going forth and of their return. The local and temporary mission in Palestine merges itself in his mind in the wider and universal mission to all nations. He draws from his sources many other sayings which had reference to this wider mission work, and adds them to St. Mark’s short discourse, regardless of the fact that some of them were not spoken on that particular occasion. Now, selection and artificial grouping of this kind, useful as it is, inevitably involves over-emphasis. Teaching, which would have explained and counter-balanced that which is recorded, is left out, and impressions are given which would be qualified, if the selection given had been larger, or the grouping less artificial. And combined with this feature of arbitrary selection and artificial grouping may be linked the local character of the Gospel, and the early date of its material. For it is clear that the Jewish-Christian disciples in the early Church stood too near to the life of the Christ to be able to form any adequate conception of the true meaning of His person or His work. Jesus had, we may be sure, said many things that were obscure at the moment of utterance, had spoken sometimes in parable, sometimes in symbol, sometimes in paradox. And the first Christians of Jerusalem did, it is clear, what, after all, others since them have often done, i.e. they interpreted the life of Christ in the light of their own historical surroundings, and selected from His teaching those elements which enabled them to adapt their ideas of His meaning to their own lives, without making an absolute breach with all that life had hitherto meant for them. The development of history is, as we now see, the truest interpreter of much that Christ said, and not until Jerusalem fell could His teaching about the future of Christianity become clear.

We shall expect, then, to find in the Gospel an over-emphasis upon certain points arising from artificial grouping of sayings, and from omission of other aspects of Christ’s teaching. We shall also not be surprised to find interpretations of His sayings which the later developments of history have proved to be mistaken. Let us apply this to the chief conceptions of the Gospel.

(1) The permanence of the Law.—If we may judge from the general tenor of the NT evidence, Christ laid down no hard and fast rules for dealing with the difficult problem of the obligations of the Mosaic Law. But on special occasions He seems to have given expression to the idea that particular precepts or sanctions belonged to a bygone age, and had lost their validity. St. Mark (who is here supported by St. Luke and St. Paul) represents Him as teaching that the tacit sanction of divorce by Deuteronomy 24:1-4 should be set aside as a concession to weakness, and should, from a Christian point of view, be superseded by an ideal view of marriage as a tie which could not be broken. St. Mark again represents Him as implicitly annulling the Mosaic distinctions between clean and unclean meats, on the ground that defilement was moral and internal, not external and ceremonial. And the fact that He taught views of the Law which were not those of orthodox Judaism, is suggested by the statements that the Pharisees attempted to entrap Him into some statement about the Law, or upon subjects with which the Law dealt, which could be used as an accusation against Him (Mark 10:2 [πειράζοντες], Matthew 22:35 [πειράζων]). But the history of the early Church proves that it was difficult for the first Jewish disciples to suppose that the Messiah had ever countenaneed the view that any part of the OT Seriptures had lost its original hold upon the conscienees of men. This is the stand point of the editor of the First Gospel. Christ had taught that not a letter should pass from the Law until all had been fulfilled, and that anyone who relaxed the authority of the least commandment of the Law should be least in the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-20). And not only was there this general statement of the permanent validity of the Law in general, but special laws had been sanctioned and reaffirmed by Christ as still valid and obligatory. Divorce must be sanctioned when there had been fornication (πορνεία) (Matthew 15:32, Matthew 19:9). The saying about clean and unclean had reference not to the Mosaic Law, but to the Pharisaic traditions about eating with unwashen hands (Matthew 15:20). The Christian disciple who had a case against his brother was to take two or three witnesses, that the Mosaic Law might be satisfied (Matthew 18:16). And in the great tribulation Christians were to pray that their flight might not fall on the Sabbath, lest the Law should be broken (Matthew 24:20). It is clear that the editor regarded the Mosaic Law as still binding in all its details on Christian men. Now it is probable that we must make allowance here for some over-emphasis due to local and national prejudice which interpreted Christ’s sayings in the direction which the history of the Jewish people seemed to warrant, and which took effect in the selection, and arrangement, and interpretation of such of His sayings as lent themselves to the impression which it was desired to produce.

The most obvious instance of this process may be found in Mt.’s treatment of Mark 10:1-12. That narrative is perfectly clear, coherent, and decisive. The Pharisees, who knew well that Christ taught a doctrine about the sanctity of marriage which seemed to set aside the sanction of divorce by the Law (Deuteronomy 24:1-4), came to test Him, i.e. to get from Him a direct statement which would enable them to say that He was attacking the Mosaic ordinance. He met their challenge with the expected answer. The permission of divorce by the Law was a concession to human weakness. From an ideal standpoint, the marriage tie was indissoluble. The man or woman* [Note: For divorce by a woman amongst the Jews, cf. Aramaic Papyri discovered at Assuan, p. 12 (London, G. Moring, 1906).] who put away their partner committed adultery. Nothing can be clearer than this, and it is in accordance with the tradition of Christ’s teaching, preserved by St. Luke (Luke 16:18) and by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). But the editor of the First Gospel has introduced hopeless confusion into the narrative. He represents the Pharisees as asking for an interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The Jewish theologians were divided upon the point. Some—the school of Shammai—argued that by ערוח דבר some act of unchastity was intended. Cf. Gịttin, 90a: ‘No one shall divorce his wife unless there be found in her something unchaste’ (דבר ערוה). They thus placed the emphasis upon the word ערוה. But others—the school of Hillel—allowed divorce for any idle pretext, emphasizing the word דבר. Accordingly, the Pharisees in Mt. ask, ‘Is it lawful to put away a wife for every cause?’ Christ answers, as in Mk., that from an ideal standpoint marriage is indissoluble. The Pharisees appeal to Deuteronomy 24. Now clearly Christ should be represented as reaffirming and supporting what He has said by declaring (as in Mk.) that the permission of Deuteronomy 24 was a concession to human weakness, and that a higher principle was to be found in the purpose of God as declared in Genesis 1:27. But, instead, He is represented as saying that σορνεια constituted an exception to the ideal principle. Thus He is made to reaffirm the Law of Deuteronomy 24, interpreted in the sense of the school of Shammai, and to acknowledge the permanent obligation of a sanction which He had just criticised.

It seems clear that the editor of Mt. has confused Mk.’s consistent narrative by introducing into it a clause which entirely confuses the point at issue. Now, if we ask why he has done this, we remember that earlier in his Gospel (Matthew 5:32) he has inserted a saying (probably from the Matthaean Logia) in which this same exception to the general rule occurs. The words are not identical. In Matthew 5:32 they are παρεκτὸς λόγο`


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Matthew, Gospel According to'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/m/matthew-gospel-according-to.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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