The Gospel of Matthew is one of the four Gospels of the New Testament. The gospels are traditionally printed with Matthew first, followed in order by Mark, Luke and John.
The book is divided into four parts:
- Containing the genealogy, the birth, and the infancy of Jesus (1; 2).
- The discourses and actions of John the Baptist preparatory to Christ's public ministry (3; 4:11).
- The discourses and actions of Christ in Galilee (4:12-20:16).
- The sufferings, death and Resurrection of Jesus (20:17-28).
The one aim pervading the book is to show that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah — he "of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write" — and that in him the ancient prophecies had their fulfilment. The book is full of allusions to passages of the Old Testament in which Christ is supposedly predicted and foreshadowed. This Gospel contains no fewer than sixty-five references to the Old Testament, forty-three of these being direct verbal citations, thus greatly outnumbering those found in the other Gospels. The main feature of this Gospel may be expressed in the motto, "I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil."
This Gospel sets forth a view of Jesus as Christ, and portrays him as an heir to King David's throne.
The cast of thought and the forms of expression employed by the writer show that this Gospel was written for Jewish Christians of Palestine.
Some critics charge that some of the passages in this book are anti-Semitic, and that these passages have shaped the way that many Christians viewed Jews, especially in the Middle Ages. A majority of the phrases spoken by Jesus in this gospel were worded against the major Jewish parties of the time, primarily citing them for hypocrisy and a misunderstanding of the Jewish religion. Actually, a radical Jewish sect was transforming itself into a new religion, which grew into Christianity.
There is little in the gospel itself to indicate the date of its composition. Some conservative scholars argue that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24), probably between the years A.D. 60 and 65, but others would date it in the 70s, even as late as A.D. 85.
Carsten Peter Thiede in Eyewitness to Jesus, argued for the redating the Magdalen papyrus and the Gospel of Matthew to before A.D. 70. His writings have been hotly contested.
The authorship of this Gospel is traditionally ascribed to St Matthew, a tax-collector who became an apostle of Jesus. However, most modern scholars are content to let it remain anonymous.
Like the authors of the other gospels, the author wrote this book according to his own plans and aims and from his own point of view, while at the same time borrowing from other sources. According to the two-source hypothesis (the most commonly accepted solution to the synoptic problem), Matthew borrowed both from Mark and a hypothetical sayings collection, known by scholars as Q (for the German Quelle, meaning "source").
There is much controversy as to the language in which this Gospel was originally written. Many hold, in accordance with tradition, that it was originally written in the Aramaic vernacular of Palestine expressed in Hebrew letters and afterwards translated into Greek. Though such a Gospel of the Hebrews circulated in Syria for centuries, this Gospel in Greek was received as being of authority in the western Church from the first. There is nothing in the book to show that it is a translation. Though Matthew wrote mainly for the Jews, everywhere that they had been assimilated into Hellenistic culture, notably in Alexandria, they were familiar with the Greek language; the exception, of course, was in Jerusalem, where Jewish parties were divided, and Aramaic was the common tongue. The same reasons which would have suggested the necessity of a translation into Greek would have led the evangelist to originally write in Greek. Finally, this Gospel has never been found in any other form than that in which we now possess it.
An alternative to this resounding conclusion is at Aramaic primacy.
The relation of the gospels to each other is the subject of some debate. Most modern scholars believe that the Matthew borrowed from Mark and Q, but some scholars believe that Matthew was written first and that Mark borrowed from Matthew. Another view was that Matthew was written first in Aramaic, but was translated after Mark into Greek, and the translator used phrases from Mark in it. Out of a total of 1071 verses, Matthew has 387 in common with Mark and the Gospel of Luke, 130 with Mark, 184 with Luke; only 387 being peculiar to itself.
Lost Aramaic ("Hebrew") versions of Matthew
- More complete separate discussions are at Gospel of the Hebrews and Authentic Matthew.
Conventional titles for the Hebrew or Aramaic version of Matthew include the Gospel of the Hebrews—not to be confused with the late 1st century Book of Hebrews which in the fragmentary quotes that survive, does not seem to rely upon canonical Matthew—the Gospel of the Ebionites (see Ebionites), and the Gospel of the Nazoreans.
There are numerous testimonies that such an Aramaic Matthew circulated in the East for centuries. Irenaeus (Adversus Haereses 3.1.1) says: "Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the church." "Their own dialect" was Aramaic, which Jews, including Jesus and his Apostles, spoke, Classical Hebrew being reserved for liturgical use. Irenaeus had read Papias, and it is likely that Irenaeus was guided by the statement he found there.
Eusebius of Caesarea (Hist. Eccl. 3.39) quotes the lost treatise of Papias (first half of the 2nd century) as stating: "Matthew compiled the logia ("sayings") in a Hebrew dialektos, and each one interpreted them as best he could." The plainest reading is that this referred to a "sayings" gospel rather than a narrative, such as the canonical four. Scholars differ, however, whether by dialektos Papias meant language or literary style. It appears that Eusebius was following the statement in Irenaeus' famous book, so this may not be an independent attestation, and Eusebius had not necessarily seen the work in question.
Later Epiphanius (Panarion 30.3.7) mentions the lost Matthew under both its name:"They too accept the Gospel of Matthew, and like the followers of Cerinthus and Merinthus, they use it alone. They call it the Gospel of the Hebrews, for in truth Matthew alone in the New Testament expounded and declared the Gospel in Hebrew using Hebrew script."
The most circumstantial descriptions of the lost Matthew are in the writings of Jerome, however. Quotes:
- "In the Gospel which the Nazarenes and the Ebionites use which we have recently translated from Hebrew to Greek, and which most people call the Authentic Gospel of Matthew..." (Jerome, Commentary on Matthew 2)
- "In the Gospel of the Hebrews, written in the Chaldee and Syriac language but in Hebrew script, and used by the Nazarenes to this day (I mean the Gospel of the Apostles, or, as it is generally maintained, the Gospel of Matthew, a copy of which is in the library at Caesarea)..." (Jerome, Against Pelagius 3.2)
- "Matthew, also called Levi, who used to be a tax collector and later an apostle, composed the Gospel of Christ, which was first published in Judea in Hebrew script for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed. This Gospel was afterwards translated into Greek (and the Greek has been lost) though by what author is uncertain. The Hebrew original has been preserved to this present day in the library of Caesarea, which Pamphilus diligently gathered. I have also had the opportunity of having this volume transcribed for me by the Nazarenes of Beroea, Syria, who use it." (Jerome, On Illustrious Men 3) (Pamphilus, bishop of Caesarea, was martyred in 309; Beroea is Aleppo.)
To take Jerome at his word, the simplest conclusion from his combined testimonies may be summed up that Jerome knew at firsthand an Aramaic ("Syriac but in a Hebrew script") version of Matthew that had been circulating in Judea and Syria among the circumcized Nazarenes and among Ebionites, a copy of which was collected by Bishop Pamphilius for the library at Caesarea Palaestina and another copy, made for Jerome at Beroea, where it was still in use "to this day" (the 4th century). According to Jerome's testimony it was translated by Jerome into Greek— but all are now missing: the various Aramaic originals, the copies, a Greek translation already lost by the time of Jerome and Jerome's own Greek translation.
By chance, we know the precise length of this lost text, for it was included in the Stichometry or "line-count" that Nicephorus, patriarch of Constantinople, appended to his three-part catalogue which separately listed the canon, the books that were "disputed" and the apocrypha. Nicephorus listed the alternate title Gospel of the Hebrews among the "disputed" books, interestingly, not among those dismissed as apocrypha. The Stichometry was a way of quickly judging whether a manuscript had suffered losses or additions, without a painstaking line-by-line collation. The Gospel of the Hebrews whose lines Nicephorus was counting came to 2200 lines : the Greek Matthew that has come down to us in the New Testament was also listed by Nicephorus, separately, at 2500 lines. Nicephorus' testimony, then, establishes that the "lost" Matthew was in existence as late as the 9th century, and that it was not simply a Matthew in Aramaic or Syriac.
The vast majority of critical scholars, based on analysis of the Greek of canonical Gospel of Matthew, conclude that the book we have today was written originally in Greek and is not a translation from Aramaic. If they are correct, then Papias, quoted by Irenaeus and Eusebius, and, independently, Jerome referred to a document with a less than direct relationship to the current Gospel, as Nicephorus listed them.
Ron Miller, of Lake Forest College, retranslated and wrote an extensive commentary on Matthew, The Hidden Gospel of Matthew: Annotated and Explained (2004).
Theology of canonical Matthew
According to R.T. France:
"Matthew's gospel, more clearly than the others, presents the view of Jesus as himself the true Israel, and of those who have reponded to his mission as the true remnant of the people of God...To be the true people of God is thus no longer a matter of nationality but of relationship to Jesus."
(New Bible Commentry, Inter Varsity Pres)
Online translations of the Gospel of Matthew:
- Deardorff, James W. The Problems of New Testament Gospel Origins (1992) ISBN: 0-7734-9807-9