Introduction to Matthew’s Gospel
Matthew’s Gospel was the first gospel that I was introduced to when I first became a follower of Jesus; and as such – I’ve always been fond of it. These days, I lean towards John’s Gospel for its spiritual insights, but I would not have appreciated the depth of meaning to be found in John’s writing, if I hadn’t had a solid grounding in the fundamental truths as described by Matthew.
Who is Matthew?
There is some debate by scholars on the identity of Matthew – some, like me, tend to think it was Matthew/Levi, one of the disciples – described as a tax collector. While others offer reasonable arguments that it wasn’t the disciple Matthew – in any event, the early church fathers identified the author as Matthew, and this view was widely accepted. On my reading, it’s only recently (the last few centuries) that serious questions have been raised about the identity of the author of this gospel; as indeed, questions are also being asked about the authorship of Mark and John’s gospels This issue of authorship, is perhaps more hotly debated now than at any other time.
In summary, my position is that the spiritual content of Matthew’s Gospel is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Who wrote it, is almost a peripheral academic exercise.
When was Matthew’s Gospel written?
It’s my view that it was written some time before the destruction of the temple (70AD), because I hold strongly to the position that the author would have mentioned its fate, if the Gospel was written sometime after the Jewish revolt. The author shows a particular interest in the fulfilment of biblical prophecy, as is shown by his numerous quotes from the Old Testament concerning prophecy.
Why did Matthew write his gospel?
I found this to be a very good question. It’s the question I’ve spent the most time researching and thinking about. The author probably knows Mark’s gospel, or an early version of it; besides written accounts of Jesus’ teaching there would also be oral accounts circulating within the Christian communities. Keep in mind that oral traditions were common and the people were experienced in passing on knowledge in this way, and they had methods to aid their memories to help ensure the accuracy of the information.
Apart from debate on authorship, there is also an ongoing debate as to who wrote their gospel first – was it Matthew or Mark? Catholic tradition gives priority to Matthew, while ‘the rest’, since the Reformation – give priority to Mark.
Let’s put the various debates to the side at the moment, and accept (for the purposes of this discussion) the following as a likely scenario. Mark wrote his gospel based on information given to him by Peter – because of Peter’s input it is an accurate account of Jesus’ ministry. (Consequently, Matthew would have no difficulties in accepting its content or promoting its authenticity.) It is a gospel to be understood by everyone – it’s short and to the point – when required, Mark explains Jewish customs, therefore non-Jews can understand the context. An excellent gospel for communities with a significant gentile component.
However, such a gospel does not fully address the issues faced by Jewish converts – the main one being: Is Jesus the promised Messiah as described in the Old Testament? Matthew’s gospel addresses their concerns in a lot of detail and in a structured teaching style and language that they knew. I would go so far to propose that Matthew wrote a version in Hebrew/Aramaic and perhaps wrote (or directed the production of) a parallel version in Greek.
Critics of this view would say that the earliest Greek versions we have, do not have the characteristics of a translation, and would appear unlikely because of some wordplay in the Greek version. Yet, an experienced bilingual person would have no difficulty undertaking wordplay in either language. If there was a Hebrew version, no trace of it exists today, for that matter neither does a Greek version from the first century.
Keep in mind that at the time of Jesus, in Israel – the Jewish Scripture was in Hebrew, with the possible exception of a few sections of Daniel. The scrolls used in the synagogues of Israel were written in Hebrew. In the Dead Sea scrolls, there are examples of religious writings in both Hebrew, Aramaic, and a few in Greek; and there are some cases where there are excepts of Scripture in Hebrew, accompanied by notes, in the margins, written in Aramaic.
In summary, I’ll start with the position that the disciple Matthew wrote the gospel bearing his name, and it was written before 66 AD. However, as I stated earlier – these details are not that important – the message contained in this gospel – is the central issue.
I plane to gradually work through Matthew’s Gospel – a set of verses at a time.
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