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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Gospel of St Matthew

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The first of the four canonical Gospels of the Christian Church. The indications of the use of this Gospel in the two or three generations following the Apostolic Age (see Gospel) are more plentiful than of any of the others. Throughout the history of the Church, also, it has held a place second to none of the Gospels alike in public instruction and in the private reading of Christians. The reasons for its having impressed itself in this way and become thus familiar are in large part to be found in the characteristics noticed below. But in addition there has been from an early time the belief that it was the work of one of those publicans whose heart Jesus touched and of whose call to follow Him the three Synoptics contain an interesting account, but who is identified as Matthew only in this one (Matt. ix. 9-13 = Mark ii. 13--t7= Luke v. 27-32).

1. The Connexion of our Greek Gospel of Matthew with the Apostle whose name it bears. - The earliest reference to a writing by Matthew occurs in a fragment taken by Eusebius from the same work of Papias from which he has given an account of the composition of a record by Mark (Euseb. Hist. Eccl. iii. 39; see Mark, Gospel Of St). The statement about Matthew is much briefer and is harder to interpret. In spite of much controversy, the same measure of agreement as to its meaning cannot be said to have been attained. This is the fragment: "Matthew, however, put together and wrote down the Oracles (ra Vryta o vvE y pa41ev ) in the Hebrew language, and each man interpreted them as he was able." Whether "the elder" referred to in the passage on Mark, or some other like authority, was the source of this statement also does not appear; but it is probable that this was the case from the context in which Eusebius gives it.

Conservative writers on the Gospels have frequently maintained that the writing here referred to was virtually the Hebrew original of our Greek Gospel which bears his name. And it is indeed likely that Papias himself closely associated the latter with the Hebrew (or Aramaic) work by Matthew, of which he had been told, since the traditional connexion of this Greek Gospel with Matthew can hardly have begun later than this time. It is reasonable also to suppose that there was some ground for it. The description, however, of what Matthew did suits better the making of a collection of Christ's discourses and sayings than the composition of a work corresponding in form and character to our Gospel of Matthew.

The next reference in Christian literature to a Gospel-record by Matthew is that of Irenaeus in his famous passage on the four Gospels (Adv. haer. iii. i. 1). He says that it was written in Hebrew; but in all probability he regarded the Greek Gospel, which stood first in his, as it does in our, enumeration, as in the strict sense a translation of the Apostle's work; and this was the view of it universally taken till the 16th century, when some of the scholars of the Reformation maintained that the Greek Gospel itself was by Matthew.

The actual phenomena, however, of this Gospel, and of its relation to sources that have been used in it, cannot be explained consistently with either of the two views just mentioned. It is a composite work in which two chief sources, known in Greek to the author of our present Gospel, have, together with some other matter, been combined. It is inconceivable that one of the Twelve should have proceeded in this way in giving an account of Christ's ministry. One of the chief documents, however, here referred to seems to correspond in character with the description given in Papias' fragment of a record of the compilation of "the divine utterances" made by Matthew; and the 'use made of it in our first Gospel may explain the connexion of this Apostle's name with it. In the Gospel of Luke also, it is true, this same source has been used for the teaching of Jesus. But the original Aramaic Logian document may have been more largely reproduced in our Greek Matthew.

Indeed, in the case of one important passage (v. 17-48) this is suggested by a comparison with Luke itself, and there are ono or two others where from the character of the matter it seems not improbable, especially vi. 1-18 and xxiii. 1-5, 7b-Io, 15-22. On the whole, as will be seen below, what appears to be a Palestinian form of the Gospeltradition is most fully represented in this Gospel; but in many instances at least this may well be due to some other cause than the use of the original Logian document.

2. The Plan on which the Contents is arranged. - In two respects the arrangement of the book itself is significant.

(a) As to the general outline in the first half of the account of the Galilean ministry (iv. 23-xi. 30). Immediately after relating the call of the first four disciples (iv. 18-22) the evangelist gives in iv. 23 a comprehensive summary of Christ's work in Galilee under its two chief aspects, teaching and healing. In the sequel both these are illustrated. First, he gives in the Sermon on the Mount (v.-vii.) a considerable body of teaching, of the kind required by the disciples of Jesus generally, and a large portion of which probably also stood not far from the beginning of the Logian document. After this he turns to the other aspect. Up to this point he has mentioned no miracle.

He now describes a number in succession, introducing all but the first of those told between Mark i. 23 and ii. 12, and also four specially remarkable ones, which occurred a good deal later according to Mark's order (Matt. viii. 23-34=Mark iv. 35-v. 20; Matt. ix. 18-26 =Mark v. 21-43); and he also adds some derived from another source, or other sources (viii. 5-13; ix. 27-34). Then, after another general description at ix. 35, similar to that at iv. 23, he brings strikingly before us the needs of the masses of the people and Christ's compassion for them, and so introduces the mission of the Twelve (which again occurs later 4ccording to Mark's order, viz. at vi. 7 seq.), whereby the ministry both of teaching and of healing was further extended (ix. 36-x. 42). Finally, the message of John the Baptist, and the reply of Jesus, and the reflections that follow (xi.), bring out the significance of the preceding narrative.

It should be observed that examples have been given of every kind of mighty work referred to in the reply of Jesus to the messengers of the Baptist; and that in the discourse which follows their departure the perversity and unbelief of the people generally are condemned, and the faith of the humble-minded is contrasted therewith. The greater part of the matter from ix. 37 to end of xi. is taken from the Logian document. After this point, i.e. from xii. 1 onwards, the first evangelist follows Mark almost step by step down to the point (Mark xvi. 8), after which Mark's Gospel breaks off, and another ending has been supplied; and gives in substance almost the whole of Mark's contents, with the exception that he passes over the few narratives that he has (as we have seen) placed earlier. At the same time he brings in additional matter in connexion with most of the Marcan sections.

(b) With the accounts of the words of Jesus spoken on certain occasions, which our first evangelist found given in one or another of his sources, he has combined other pieces, taken from other parts of the same source or from different sources, which seemed to him connected in subject, e.g. into the discourse spoken on a mountain, when crowds from all parts were present, given in the Logian document, he has introduced some pieces which, as we infer from Luke, stood separately in that document (cf. Matt. vi. 19-21 with Luke xii. 33, 34 .; Matt. vi. 22, 23 with Luke xi. 34-36; Matt. vi. 24 with Luke xvi. 13; Matt. vi. 25-34 with Luke xii. 22-32; Matt. vii. 7-II with Luke xi. 9-13). Again, the address to the Twelve in Mark vi. 7-II, which in Matthew is combined with an address to disciples, from the Logian document, is connected by Luke with the sending out of seventy disciples (Luke x. 1-16).

Our first evangelist has also added here various other sayings (Matt. x. 17-39, 42). Again, with the Marcan account of the charge of collusion with Satan and Christ's reply (Mark iii. 22-30), the first evangelist (xii. 24-45) combines the parallel account in the Logian document and adds Christ's reply to another attack (Luke xi. 14-16, 17-26, 29-32). These are some examples. He has in all in this manner constructed eight discourses or collections of sayings, into which the greater part of Christ's teaching is gathered: (I) On the character of the heirs of the kingdom (v.-vii.); (2) The Mission address (x.); (3) Teaching suggested by the message of John the Baptist (xi.); (4) The reply to an accusation and a challenge (xii. 22 -45); (5) The teaching by parables (xiii.); (6) On offences (xviii.); (7) Concerning the Scribes and Pharisees (xxiii.); (8) On the Last Things (xxiv., xxv.).

In this arrangement of h's material the writer has in many instances disregarded chronological considerations. But his documents also gave only very imperfect indications of the occasions of many of the utterances; and the result of his method of procedure has been to give us an exceedingly effective representation of the teaching of Jesus.

In the concluding verses of the Gospel, where the original Marcan parallel is wanting, the evangelist may still have followed in part that document while making additions as before. The account of the silencing of the Roman guard by the chief priests is the sequel to the setting of this guard and their presence at the Resurrection, which at an earlier point are peculiar to Matthew (xxvii. 62-66, xxviii. 4). And, further, this matter seems to belong to the same cycle of tradition as the story of Pilate's wife and his throwing the guilt of the Crucifixion of Jesus upon the Jews, and the testimony borne by the Roman guard (as well as the centurion) who kept watch by the cross (xxvii. 15-26, 54), all which also are peculiar to this Gospel. It cannot but seem probable that these are legendary additions which had arisen through the desire to commend the Gospel to the Romans.

On the other hand, the meeting of Jesus with the disciples in Galilee (Matt. xxviii. 16 seq.) is the natural sequel to the message to them related in Mark xvi. 7, as well as in Matt. xxviii. 7. Again, the commission to them to preach throughout the world is supported by Luke xxiv. 47, and by the present ending of Mark (xvi. 15), though neither of these mention Galilee as the place where it was given. The baptismal formula in Matt. xxviii. 19, is, however, peculiar, and in view of its non-occurrence in the Acts and Epistles of the New Testament must be regarded as probably an addition in accordance with Church usage at the time the Gospel was written.

3. The Palestinian Element. - Teaching is preserved in this Gospel which would have peculiar interest and be specially required in the home of Judaism. The best examples of this are the passages already referred to near end of §I, as probably derived from the Logian document. There are, besides, a good many turns of expression and sayings peculiar to this Gospel which have a Semitic cast, or which suggest a point of view that would be natural to Palestinian Christians, e.g. " kingdom of heaven" frequently for "kingdom of God"; xiii. 52 ("every scribe"); xxiv. 20 ("neither on a Sabbath"). See also v. 35 and xix. 9; x. 5, 23. Again, several of the quotations which are peculiar to this Gospel are not taken from the LXX., as those in the other Gospels and in the corresponding contexts in this Gospel commonly are, but are wholly or partly independent renderings from the Hebrew (ii. 6, 15, 18; viii. 17, x11.17-21, &c.). Once more, there is somewhat more parallelism between the fragments of the Gospel according to the Hebrews and this Gospel than is the case with Luke, not to say Mark.

1 4. Doctrinal Character

2 (b) The Fulfilment of Prophecy

3 (e) The Christian Ecclesia

4 (f) The Messianic Dignity and Glory of Jesus

4. Doctrinal Character

In this Gospel, more decidedly than in either of the other two Synoptics, there is a doctrinal point of view from which the whole history is regarded. Certain aspects which are of profound significance are dwelt upon, and this without there being any great difference between this Gospel and the two other Synoptics in respect to the facts recorded or the beliefs implied. The effect is produced partly by the comments of the evangelist, which especially take the form of citations from the Old Testament; partly by the frequency with which certain expressions are used, and the prominence that is given in this and other ways to particular traits and topics.

He sets forth the restriction of the mission of Jesus during His life on earth to the people of Israel in a way which suggests at first sight a spirit of Jewish exclusiveness. But there are various indications that this is not the true explanation. In particular the evangelist brings out more strongly than either Mark or Luke the national rejection of Jesus, while the Gospel ends with the commission of Jesus to His disciples after His resurrection to "make disciples of all the peoples." One may divine in all this an intention to "justify the ways of God" to the Jew, by proving that God in His faithfulness to His ancient people had given them the first opportunity of salvation through Christ, but that now their national privilege had been rightly forfeited.

He was also specially concerned to show that prophecy is fulfilled in the life and work of Jesus, but the conception of this fulfilment which is presented to us is a large one; it is to be seen not merely in particular events or features of Christ's ministry, but in the whole new dispensation, new relations between God and men, and new rules of conduct which Christ has introduced. The divine meaning of the work of Jesus is thus made apparent, while of the majesty and glory of His person a peculiarly strong impression is conveyed.

Some illustrations in detail of these points are subjoined. Where there are parallels in the other Gospels they should be compared and the words in Matthew noted which in many instances serve to emphasize the points in question.

(a) The Ministry of Jesus among the Jewish People as their promised Messiah, their rejection of Him, and the extension of the Gospel to the Gentiles. The mission to Israel: Matt. i. 21; iv. 23 (note in these passages the use of o Xaor, which here, as generally in Matthew, denotes the chosen nation), ix. 33, 35, xv. 31. For the rule limiting XVII. 29 the work of Jesus while on earth see xv. 24 (and note E eXB000-a in verse 22, which implies that Jesus had not himself entered the heathen borders), and for a similar rule prescribed to the disciples, x. 5, 6 and 23.

The rejection of Jesus by the people in Galilee, xi. 21; xiii. 13-15, and by the heads of "the nation," xxvi. 3, 47 and by "the whole nation," xxvii. 25; their condemnation xxiii. 38.

Mercy to the Gentiles and the punishment of "the sons of the kingdom" is foretold viii. II, 12. The commission to go and convert Gentile peoples Olin ) is given after Christ's resurrection (xxviii. 19).

(b) The Fulfilment of Prophecy

In the birth and childhood of Jesus, i. 23; ii. 6, 15, 18, 23. By these citations attention is drawn to the lowliness of the beginnings of the Saviour's life, the unexpected and secret manner of His appearing, the dangers to which from the first He was exposed and from which He escaped.

The ministry of Christ's forerunner, iii. 3. (The same prophecy, Isa. xl. 3, is also quoted in the other Gospels.) The ministry of Jesus. The quotations serve to bring out the significance of important events, especially such as were turningpoints, and also to mark the broad features of Christ's life and work, iv. 15, 16; viii. 17; xii. 18 seq.; xiii. 35; xxi. 5; xxvii. 9.

(c) The Teaching on the Kingdom of God. - Note the collection of parables "of the Kingdom" in xiii.; also the use of n ( 3ao Xda ("` the Kingdom") without further definition as a term the reference of which could not be misunderstood, especially in the following phrases peculiar to this Gospel: To euayy4%cov r1 ] s laQCAeias ("the Gospel of the Kingdom") iv. 23, ix. 35, xxiv. 14; and 6 Xoyos TijS savcXElas (" the word of the kingdom") xiii. 19. The following descriptions of the kingdom, peculiar to this Gospel, are also interesting h lac nXeia Too irarpos aurcov ("the kingdom of their father") xiii. 43 and roo xaTpos µov (" of my father") xxvi. 29.

(d) The Relation of the New Law to the Old. - Verses 17-48, cf. also, addition at xxii. 40 and xix. 19b. Further, his use of &eacovuvn (" righteousness") and 61Kacos (" righteous") (specially frequent in this Gospel) is such as to connect the New with the Old; the standard in mind is the law which "fulfilled" that previously given.

(e) The Christian Ecclesia

Chap. xvi. 18, xviii. 17.

(f) The Messianic Dignity and Glory of Jesus

The narrative in i. and ii. show the royalty of the new-born child. The title "Son of David" occurs with special frequency in this Gospel. The following instances are without parallels in the other Gospels: ix. 27; xii. 23; xv. 22; xxi. 9; xxi. 15. The title "Son of God" is also used with somewhat greater frequency than in Mark and Luke: ii. 15; xiv. 33; xvi. 16; xxii. 2 seq. (where it is implied); xxvii. 4 0, 43.

The thought of the future coming of Christ, and in particular of the judgment to be executed by Him then, is much more prominent in this Gospel than in the others. Some of the following predictions are peculiar to it, while in several others there are additional touches: vii. 22, 23; X. 2 3, 3 2, 33; xiii. 39-43; xvi. 27, 28; xix. 28; xxiv. 3, 27, 30, 31, 37, 39; xxv. 31-46; xxvi. 64.

The majesty of Christ is also impressed upon us by the signs at His crucifixion, some of which are related only in this Gospel, xxvii. 5 1 -53, and by the sublime vision of the Risen Christ at the close, xxviii. 16-20.

(5) Time of Composition and Readers addressed. - The signs of dogmatic reflection in this Gospel point to its having been composed somewhat late in the 1st century, probably after Luke's Gospel, and this is in accord with the conclusion that some insertions had been made in the Marcan document used by this evangelist which were not in that used by Luke (see Luke, Gospel Of St). We may assign A.D. 80 - loo as a probable time for the composition.

The author was in all probability a Jew by race, and he would seem to have addressed himself especially to Jewish readers; but they were Jews of the Dispersion. For although he was in specially close touch with Palestine, either personally or through the sources at his command, or both, his book was composed in Greek by the aid of Greek documents.

See commentaries by Th. Zahn (1903) and W. C. Allen (in the series of International Critical Commentaries, 1907); also books on the Four Gospels or the Synoptic Gospels cited at the end of GOSPEL. (V. H. S.)

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Gospel of St Matthew'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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