Book of Matthew


Authorship, date, and background

Matthew Levi was a tax collector or publican. He was called by Jesus to be one of the Twelve. Virtually nothing is known about him following the resurrection. How he lived, where he witnessed, and how he died is unknown. But his imperishable monument is the Gospel according to Matthew. The Jews disliked the tax collectors, who paid the Roman government for the right to collect taxes and then extracted as much as they could from the taxpayers. They were regarded as swindlers. For Jesus to eat dinner with one of them was looked upon with great disapproval by the religious leaders of the Jews. Matthew was literate, a good businessman and bookkeeper whose records would be accurate.

No precise date can be assigned for the writing of this Gospel, although conservative scholars usually assign it to the period between A.D. 50 and 60. Nor is the place where it was written certain. Many think it was composed at Antioch. It addressed itself to both Jews and Gentiles who had become Christians. The Jewish aspect is quite plain, and the fact that the Gospel was tied in closely to the Old Testament distinguishes it from the other Gospels. Matthew and Mark are so similar in details common to both of them that some scholars think Matthew was indebted to Mark for portions of what he wrote. This supposes that Mark was written before Matthew. If the reverse is true, then Mark owed a great deal to Matthew. Scholars have also sought to uncover the common sources from which all of the Gospel writers got their information, and have asked why there are four Gospels. It is of no compelling, concern to Christians whether Matthew got his information firsthand by his own knowledge, or from others, or from oral tradition, or from the Holy Spirit directly. The Holy Spirit, in any event is the true author of all Scripture and if he chose to have Four Gospels written for different people but containing some materials which are similar, it must be left at that. While there may have been questions about the authorship the date, and the sources of the information, there never has been any doubt about Matthew's authenticity and its canonicity (that is, its being a part of the Word of God).

Characteristics and content

Matthew's Gospel tells the story of the life of Jesus, although in a technical sense, it is not really a biography. It was designed rather for teaching, and treats the entire drama of redemption going back to the Old Testament to demonstrate that Jesus is the promised Messiah and that everything predicted about the Messiah has been fulfilled in His life, death, resurrection, and ministry. He traces the lineage of Jesus back to Abraham, with whom God made a covenant. He details Jesus' virgin birth, His childhood, and the divine-human natures of His person. Jesus is the Son of David, the King of the Jews, the promised Messiah. His Kingdom is not of this world, but He has a Kingdom which has come and which will be fully realized in the future in the New Jerusalem. The phrase "the Kingdom of Heaven" or "the Kingdom of God" is important in His teaching.

The Gospel records in details five of Jesus' most important discourses: the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7); the commissioning of the twelve to take the gospel abroad (chapter 10); the parables of the kingdom (chapter 13); the teaching about the Christian community, the church (Matthew is the only Gospel in which the word for the church, ekklesia is used, chapter 18); and the prophecies in the Mount of Olives discourse about the closing days of the age (chapters 24,25). The familiar events in the last week of Jesus' life are emphasized, including the incident in the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal by Judas, the Last Supper, the appearances before Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, and Pontius Pilate, followed by His crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Matthew concludes his account with the Great Commission, which constitutes the marching orders to the church for that generation and for all succeeding generations until Jesus comes again. His description about baptism "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost" (28:19) is among the clearest statements in Scripture about the doctrine of the Trinity and the fact that there are three persons in one essence.