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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Matthew, the Gospel of
( εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ Μαθθαῖον ,
1. Name of Gospel
2. Canonicity and Authorship
3. Relation of Greek and Aramaic Gospels
4. Contents, Character, and Purpose
5. Problems of Literary Relation
6. Date of Gospel
1. Name of Gospel
- U nity and Integrity:
The "Gospel according to Matthew," i.e. the Gospel according to the account of Matthew, stands, according to traditional, but not entirely universal, arrangement, first among the canonical Gospels. The Gospel, as will be seen below, was unanimously ascribed by the testimony of the ancient church to the apostle Matthew, though the title does not of itself necessarily imply immediate authorship. The unity and integrity of the Gospel were never in ancient times called in question. Matthew 1; 2 , particularly - the story of the virgin birth and childhood of Jesus - are proved by the consentient testimony of manuscripts,
The theory of successive redactions of Mt, starting with an Aramaic Gospel, elaborated by Eichhorn and Marsh (1801), and the related theories of successive editions of the Gospel put forth by the Tubingen school (Baur, Hilgenfeld, Kostlin, etc.), and by Ewald (Bleek supposes a primitive Greek Gospel), lack historical foundation, and are refuted by the fact that manuscripts and versions know only the ultimate redaction. Is it credible that the churches should quietly accept redaction after redaction, and not a word be said, or a vestige remain, of any of them?
2. Canonicity and Authorship:
The apostolic origin and canonical rank of the Gospel of Matthew were accepted without a doubt by the early church. Origen, in the beginning of the 3century could speak of it as the first of "the four Gospels, which alone are received without dispute by the church of God under heaven" (in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica , VI, 25). The use of the Gospel can be traced in the apostolic Fathers; most distinctly in Barnabas, who quotes Matthew 22:14 with the formula, "It is written" (5). Though not mentioned by name, it was a chief source from which Justin took his data for the life and words of Jesus (compare Westcott, Canon , 91 ff), and apostolic origin is implied in its forming part of "the Memoirs of the Apostles," "which are called Gospels," read weekly in the assemblies of the Christians (Ap . i. 66, etc.). Its identity with our Matthew is confirmed by the undoubted presence of that Gospel in the Diatessaron of Tatian, Justin's disciple. The testimony of Papias is considered below. The unhesitating acceptance of the Gospel is further decisively shown by the testimonies and use made of it in the works of Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and by its inclusion in the Muratorian Canon, the Itala, Peshitta, etc. See
The questions that cluster around the First Gospel have largely to do with the much-discussed and variously disputed statement concerning it found in Eusebius ( Historia Ecclesiastica , III, 39), cited from the much older work of Papias, entitled Interpretation of the Words of the Lord . Papias is the first who mentions Matthew by name as the author of the Gospel. His words are: "Matthew composed the Logia ( λόγια ,
3. Relation of Greek and Aramaic Gospels:
One thing which seems certain is that whatever this Hebrew (Aramaic) document may have been, it was not an original form from which the present Greek Gospel of Matthew was translated, either by the apostle himself, or by somebody else, as was maintained by Bengel, Thiersch, and other scholars. Indeed, the Greek Matthew throughout bears the impress of being not a translation at all, but as having been originally written in Greek, and as being less Hebraistic in the form of thought than some other New Testament writings, e.g. the Apocalypse. It is generally not difficult to discover when a Greek book of this period is a translation from the Hebrew or Aramaic. That our Matthew was written originally in Greek appears, among other things, from the way in which it makes use of the Old Testament, sometimes following the Septuagint, sometimes going back to the Hebrew. Particularly instructive passages in this regard are Matthew 12:18-21 and Matthew 13:14 , Matthew 13:15 , in which the rendering of the Alexandrian translation would have served the purposes of the evangelist, but he yet follows more closely the original text, although he adopts the Septuagint wherever this seemed to suit better than the Hebrew (compare Keil's Commentary on Matthew , loc. cit.).
The external evidences to which appeal is made in favor of the use of an original Hebrew or Aramaic. Matthew in the primitive church are more than elusive. Eusebius ( Historia Ecclesiastica , V, 10) mentions as a report ( λέγεται ,
The prevailing theory at present is that the Hebrew Matthean document of Papias was a collection mainly of the discourses of Jesus (called by recent critics Q), which, in variant Greek translations, was used both by the author of the Greek Matthew and by the evangelist Luke, thus explaining the common features in these two gospels (W.C. Allen, however, in his Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Matthew , disputes Luke's use of this supposed common source, Intro, 46 ff). The use of this supposed Matthean source is thought to explain how the Greek Gospel came to be named after the apostle. It has already been remarked, however, that there is no good reason for supposing that the "Logia" of Papias was confined to discourses. See further on "sources" below.
4. Contents, Character and Purpose:
(1) Contents and Character.
As respects contents, the Gospel of Mt can be divided into 3 chief parts: (1) preliminary, including the birth and early youth of the Lord (Matthew 1; 2 ); (2) the activity of Jesus in Galilee (Matthew 3 through 18); (3) the activity of Jesus in Judea and Jerusalem, followed by His passion, death, and resurrection ( Matthew 19 through 28). In character, the Gospel, like those of the other evangelists, is only a chrestomathy, a selection from the great mass of oral tradition concerning the doings and sayings of Christ current in apostolic and early Christian circles, chosen for the special purpose which the evangelist had in view. Accordingly, there is a great deal of material in Matthew in common with Mark and Lk, although not a little of this material, too, is individualistic in character, and of a nature to vex and perplex the harmonist, as e.g. Matthew's accounts of the temptation, of the demoniacs at Gadara, of the blind man at Jericho ( Matthew 4:1-11; Matthew 8:28-34; Matthew 20:20-34 ); yet there is much also in this Gospel that is peculiar to it. Such are the following pericopes: Matthew 1; 2; Matthew 9:27-36; Matthew 10:15 , Matthew 10:37-40; Matthew 11:28-30; Matthew 12:11 , Matthew 12:12 , Matthew 12:15-21 , Matthew 12:33-38; Matthew 13:24-30 , 36-52; Matthew 14:28-31; Matthew 16:17-19; Matthew 17:24-27; 18:15-35; Matthew 19:10-12; 20:1-16; Matthew 21:10 f, 14-16, 28-32; Matthew 22:1-14; Matthew 23:8-22; 24:42 through 25:46; Matthew 27:3-10 , Matthew 27:62-66; Matthew 28:11 ff. The principle of arrangement of the material is not chronological, but rather that of similarity of material. The addresses and parables of Jesus are reported consecutively, although they may have been spoken at different times, and material scattered in the other evangelists - especially in Luke - is found combined in Matthew. Instances are seen in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 through 7), the "mission address" (Matthew 10), the seven parables of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 13), the discourses and parables (Matthew 18), the woes against the Pharisees (Matthew 23), and the grand eschatological discourses (Matthew 24; 25) (compare with parallel in the other gospels, on the relation to which, see below).
The special purpose which the writer had in view in his Gospel is nowhere expressly stated, as is done, e.g., by the writer of the Fourth Gospel in John 20:30 , John 20:31 , concerning his book, but it can readily be gleaned from the general contents of the book, as also from specific passages. The traditional view that Matthew wrote primarily to prove that in Jesus of Nazareth is to be found the fulfillment and realization of the Messianic predictions of the Old Testament prophets and seers is beyond a doubt correct. The mere fact that there are about 40 proof passages in Matthew from the Old Testament, in connection even with the minor details of Christ's career, such as His return from Egypt (Matthew 2:15 ), is ample evidence of this fact, although the proof manner and proof value of some of these passages are exegetical cruces , as indeed is the whole way in which the Old Testament is cited in the New Testament. See
The question as to whether the Gospel was written for Jewish Christians, or for Jews not yet converted, is less important, as this book, as was the case probably with the Epistle of James, was written at that transition period when the Jewish and the Christian communions were not yet fully separated, and still worshipped together.
Particular indications as to this purpose of the Gospel are met with at the beginning and throughout the whole work; e.g. it is obvious in Matthew 1:1 , where the proof is furnished that Jesus was the son of Abraham, in whom all families of the earth were to be blessed (Genesis 12:3 ), and of David, who was to establish the kingdom of God forever (2 Sam 7). The genealogy of Luke, on the other hand (Luke 3:23 ff), with its cosmopolitan character and purpose, aiming to show that Jesus was the Redeemer of the whole world, leads back this line to Adam, the common ancestor of all mankind. Further, as the genealogy of Matthew is evidently that of Joseph the foster and legal father of Jesus, and not that of Mary, as is the case in Luke, the purpose to meet the demands of the Jewish reader is transparent. The full account in Matthew of the Sermon on the Mount, which does not, as is sometimes said, contain a "new program of the kingdom of God" - indeed does not contain the fundamental principles of the Gospel at all - but is the deeper and truly Biblical interpretation of the Law over against the superficial interpretation of the current Pharisaism, which led the advocates of the latter in all honesty to declare, "What lack I yet?" given with the design of driving the auditors to the gospel of grace and faith proclaimed by Christ (compare Galatians 3:24 ) - all this is only intelligible when we remember that the book was written for Jewish readers. Again the γέγραπται ,
5. Problems of Literary Relation:
The special importance of the Gospel of Matthew for the synoptic problem can be fully discussed only in the article on this subject (see
In proof of this, it is pointed out that nearly the whole of the narrative-matter of Mark is taken up into Matthew, as also into Luke, while the large sections, chiefly discourses, common to Matthew and Luke are held, as already said, to point to a source of that character which both used. The difficulties arise when the comparison is pursued into details, and explanation is sought of the variations in phraseology, order, sometimes in conception, in the respective gospels.
Despite the prestige which this theory has attained, the true solution is probably a simpler one. Matthew no doubt secured the bulk of his data from his own experience and from oral tradition, and as the former existed in fixed forms, due to catechetical instruction, in the early church, it is possible to explain the similarities of Matthew with the other two synoptics on this ground alone, without resorting to any literary dependence, either of Matthew on the other two, or of these, or either of them, on Matthew. The whole problem is purely speculative and subjective and under present conditions justifies a cui bono? as far as the vast literature which it has called into existence is concerned.
6. Date of Gospel:
According to early and practically universal tradition Mt wrote his Gospel before the other three, and the place assigned to it in New Testament literature favors the acceptance of this tradition. Irenaeus reports that it was written when Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome (ill.1), and Eusebius states that this was done when Matthew left Palestine and went to preach to others ( Historia Ecclesiastica , III, 24). Clement of Alexandria is responsible for the statement that the presbyters who succeeded each other from the beginning declared that "the gospels containing the genealogies (Matthew and Luke) were written first" (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica , VI, 14). This is, of course, fatal to the current theory of dependence on Mark, and is in consequence rejected. At any rate, there is the best reason for holding that the book must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70
Introduction to the Commentary on Matthew (Meyer, Alford, Allen (
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Matthew, the Gospel of'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/m/matthew-the-gospel-of.html. 1915.