Introduction to Matthew
The Gospel According to St. Matthew
While it is true that the Gospels were not the first books of the New Testament to be written, they stand logically at the beginning of our New Testament because they give us the historical foundations of our Christian faith in the life, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ.
Matthew is called a synoptic Gospel, as are Mark and Luke. The word “synoptic” comes from two Greek words meaning “seen together.” The first three Gospels relate the “Good News” (i.e. Gospel) about Jesus Christ in a number of similar ways. Each of the four Gospels presents Jesus to a different audience and thus, the theme is different. John presents Him as God (Deity), Luke presents Him as the perfect Man, Mark presents Him as the Servant, and Matthew presents Him as the King of the Jews, anointed by God as heir to the Davidic throne.
Although we cannot be positive of which of the Gospels was written first, the placement of Matthew at the beginning is logical because he provides an invaluable link between the Old and New Testaments. As he reaches back, quoting frequently from the Old Scriptures, we see his purpose is to present Jesus as the Christ, the fulfillment of the Messianic predictions. In this way, Matthew is the Gospel of Fulfillment.
Matthew is also the Gospel of Discourses. The writer shows his remarkable memory and passion for exactness and Jesus’ messages are recorded in great detail. The Sermon on the Mount alone would make his Gospel priceless.
An examination of Matthew’s account shows that more than 40% of the material contained in it is not found in the other three Gospels. Unique is Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-16), which takes an approach different from that set out by Luke (Luke 3:23-38). A comparison of the two indicates that Matthew gave the legal genealogy through Jesus’ foster-father Joseph, while Luke apparently gave Jesus’ natural genealogy. Other incidents mentioned only in Matthew’s account are: Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s pregnancy; the appearance of an angel to Joseph in a dream (1:18-25); the visit of the magi (i.e. astrologers); the flight to Egypt; the slaughter of the young boys in Bethlehem and it’s districts (chapter 2); and the dream of Pilate’s wife regarding Jesus (27:19).
At least ten parables or illustrations found in Matthew’s account are not mentioned in the other Gospels. These include four in chapter 13 (the weeds in the field, the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, and the dragnet). Others are the parable of the ungrateful servant (18:23-35), the workers in the vineyard (20:1-16), the marriage of the king’s son (22:1-14), the ten virgins (25:1-13), and the talents (25:14-30).
We are sure that Matthew wrote to the Hebrews for he spends no time explaining Jewish customs. From the first verse, he is eager to introduce their King of Kings.
We have no definite data by means to establish the date of the writing of Matthew’s Gospel. It would appear that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all written before the destruction of Jerusalem, in A.D. 70. Conservative scholars generally place the date of Matthew close to A.D. 60.
Concerning the author very little is known. All three Synoptics record the call of Matthew, and all three state that he was “sitting at the receipt of custom.” He was thus in the employ of the Roman government, working either in the custom house at Capernuam or at the toll gate on the great road which ran through the city (Matthew 9:9, mark 2:13, 14; Luke 5:27, 28)
Mark refers to this new disciple of Jesus as “Levi, the son of Alphaeus.” Luke designates him as “a publican, named Levi.” But the author of the first Gospel simply mentions himself as “a man, named Matthew.” This very name means “gift of God” and it is unclear whether the name Matthew was given before he became a disciple of the Lord, or was given to him by jesus when He appointed him an apostle. His self-effacing humility is shown by the fact that in the list of the twelve apostles, he alone of the three Synoptics adds the reproachful title, “the publican” (10:3).
Matthew, then, belonged to a class of men who were heartily despised by the Jews. The publicans were given the task of collecting taxes for the Roman government. They were thus a symbol of foreign oppression. The Jews hated them and delighted in classifying them with sinners.
Though the Bible makes various references to the apostles as a group, it does not mention Matthew by name again until after Christ’s ascension to heaven. Matthew saw the resurrected Christ (I Corinthians 15:3-6), received parting instructions from Him, and saw Him ascend to Heaven. After this, he and the other apostles returned to Jerusalem, staying in an upper room there. Matthew is specifically named as being among them. he must have been on of the 120 disciples who received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:4-15 and 2:1-4).
About Matthew’s later life, we know nothing with certainty. Some authorities suggest that he preached to the Jews until about 15 years after Christ’s ascension. Then he traveled to other parts of the world, Ethiopia being one of his fields of labor. In spite of Catholic legends picturing him as a martyr, the best evidence shows that he died a natural death.
This Gospel opens up better for us if we have a simple outline to follow. Here is one:
The Person of the King (1:1 to 4:16)
The Program of the King (4:17 to 16:20)
The Rejection of the King (16:21 to 28:20)
These divisions are introduced with the phrase, “From that time,” (4:17; 16:21).