Introduction to Matthew

INTRODUCTION TO

MATTHEW

This Gospel was written from a strong Jewish perspective to show that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament.

Saint Matthew by Camillo Rusconi (1658-1728) at Arch Basilica, St. John Lateran, Rome

Saint Matthew by Camillo Rusconi (1658-1728) at Arch Basilica, St. John Lateran, Rome

CIRCUMSTANCES OF WRITING

AUTHOR: The author did not identify himself in the text. However, the title that ascribes this Gospel to Matthew appears in the earliest manuscripts and is possibly original. Titles became necessary to distinguish one Gospel from another when the four Gospels began to circulate as a single collection. Many early church fathers (Papias, Irenaeus, Pantaenus, and Origen) acknowledged Matthew as the author. Papias also contended that Matthew first wrote in Hebrew, implying that this Gospel was later translated into Greek.

Many modern scholars dispute these traditional claims. For instance, against Papias they argue that this Gospel was not originally written in Hebrew since the Greek of Matthew does not appear to be a translation. They further argue that if the early church, following Papias’s opinion, was wrong about the original language, they were likely incorrect about the author as well. However, the excellent Greek of Matthew could have been produced by a skilled translator of an original Hebrew text. Furthermore, there are many hints of Hebraic influence in this Gospel (see notes at 1:17,21; 2:22-23). Finally, since Hebrew quickly ceased to be the dominant language of early Christians as the church expanded into Gentile territories, requiring the Gospel to circulate in a Greek translation, the absence of ancient Hebrew texts of Matthew is not surprising.

Even if Papias was wrong about the original language of the Gospel of Matthew, this does not imply that he and other early church leaders were wrong to identify Matthew as the author of this Gospel. In fact the early church unanimously affirmed that the Gospel of Matthew was authored by the apostle Matthew. It would require impressive evidence to overturn this early consensus.

Clues from the Gospel itself support its ascription to Matthew. First, both Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27 identify the tax collector whom Jesus called to be his disciple as “Levi.” This Gospel, however, identifies Levi as “Matthew.” Matthew, a Hebrew name meaning “gift of God,” appears to be the apostolic name that Jesus gave to Levi after he chose to follow Christ, much as Simon was named “Peter” by Jesus after his confession of faith (16:18). The use of “Matthew” in this Gospel may be Matthew’s personal touch, a self-reference that gives us a clue about authorship.

BACKGROUND: Determining the date of composition of Matthew’s Gospel depends largely on the relationship of the Gospels to one another. Most scholars believe that Matthew utilized Mark’s Gospel in writing his own gospel. If this is correct, Matthew’s Gospel must postdate Mark’s. However, the date of Mark’s Gospel is also shrouded in mystery. Irenaeus (ca AD 180) seems to claim that Mark wrote his Gospel after Peter’s death in the mid-60s. However, Clement of Alexandria, who wrote only twenty years after Irenaeus, claimed that Mark wrote his Gospel while Peter was still alive. Given the ambiguity of the historical evidence, a decision must be based on other factors.

The date of composition for Mark is best inferred from the date of Luke and Acts. The abrupt ending of Acts which left Paul under house arrest in Rome implies that Acts was written before Paul’s release. Since one of the major themes of Acts is the legality of Christianity in the Roman Empire, one would have expected Luke to mention Paul’s release by the emperor if it had already occurred. This evidence dates Acts to the early 60s. Luke and Acts were two volumes of a single work, as the prologues to these books demonstrate. Luke was written before Acts. Given the amount of research that Luke invested in the book and the travel that eyewitness interviews probably required, a date in the late 50s is reasonable. If Luke used Mark in writing his own Gospel, as seems likely, by implication Mark was written some time before the late 50s, perhaps the early to mid-50s. Thus, despite Matthew’s dependence on Mark, Matthew may have been written any time beginning in the mid-50s once Mark was completed. The earliest historical evidence is consistent with this opinion, since Irenaeus (ca AD 180) claimed that Matthew wrote his Gospel while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome (early AD 60s).

MESSAGE AND PURPOSE

Matthew probably wrote his Gospel in order to preserve written eyewitness testimony about the ministry of Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel emphasizes certain theological truths. First, Jesus is the Messiah, the long-awaited King of God’s people. Second, Jesus is the new Abraham, the founder of a new spiritual Israel consisting of all people who choose to follow him. This new Israel will consist of both Jews and Gentiles. Third, Jesus is the new Moses, the deliverer and instructor of God’s people. Fourth, Jesus is the Immanuel, the virgin-born Son of God who fulfills the promises of the OT.

CONTRIBUTION TO THE BIBLE

As the first book in the NT, the Gospel of Matthew serves as a gateway between the two testaments. Of the NT books, and certainly of the four Gospels, Matthew has the strongest connections to the OT. Matthew gave us God’s entire plan from Genesis to Revelation. Matthew looked back and referred to Hebrew prophecies about sixty times (“was fulfilled” and “so that what was spoken . . . might be fulfilled”)! He also looked forward by dealing not only with Messiah’s coming and his ministry, but also his future plan for his church and kingdom.

STRUCTURE

Matthew divided his Gospel into three major sections. He introduced new major sections with the words “from then on Jesus began to” (4:17; 16:21). These transitional statements divide the Gospel into the introduction (1:1-4:16), body (4:17-16:20), and conclusion (16:21-28:20). Matthew also divided his Gospel into five major blocks of teaching, each of which concludes with a summary statement (8:1; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). Some scholars believe these five major discourses were meant to correspond to the five books of Moses and to confirm Jesus’s identity as the new Moses.

OUTLINE

I.Birth and Infancy of Jesus (1:1-2:23)

A.Genealogy (1:1-17)

B.Birth narratives (1:18-2:18)

C.Settlement in Nazareth (2:19-23)

II.Beginning of Jesus’s Ministry in Galilee (3:1-4:25)

A.Ministry of John the Baptist (3:1-12)

B.Baptism of Jesus (3:13-17)

C.Temptation of Jesus (4:1-11)

D.Summary of Galilean ministry (4:12-25)

III.Discourse One: The Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29)

A.The Beatitudes (5:1-12)

B.Character of kingdom righteousness (5:13-48)

C.Practice of kingdom righteousness (6:1-7:12)

D.Choice of the kingdom (7:13-27)

E.Manner of Jesus’s teaching (7:28-29)

IV.Jesus’s First Miracles (8:1-9:38)

A.A series of miracles (8:1-9:8)

B.The kingdom and the old order (9:9-17)

C.More miracles (9:18-38)

V.Discourse Two: Ministry of Jesus’s Disciples (10:1-42)

A.The preachers and their mission (10:1-15)

B.The response to be expected (10:16-42)

VI.Responses to Jesus’s Ministry (11:1-12:50)

A.The kingdom and John the Baptist (11:1-15)

B.Challenge to the present generation (11:16-30)

C.Opposition to the kingdom (12:1-45)

D.Fellowship in the kingdom (12:46-50)

VII.Discourse Three: Parables about the Kingdom (13:1-58)

A.Parable of the Sower (13:1-9)

B.The parable method explained (13:10-23)

C.Other parables (13:24-52)

D.Response to Jesus’s parables (13:53-58)

VIII.Close of Jesus’s Ministry in Galilee (14:1-17:27)

A.Crisis of opposition (14:1-15:20)

B.Withdrawal to the north (15:21-39)

C.Further conflict (16:1-12)

D.Crisis of faith (16:13-20)

E.Preparation of Jesus’s disciples for his death (16:21-17:27)

IX.Discourse Four: Character of Jesus’s Disciples (18:1-35)

A.Humility (18:1-20)

B.Forgiveness (18:21-35)

X.Jesus’s Ministry on the Way to Jerusalem (19:1-20:34)

A.Teachings on the way to Jerusalem (19:1-20:28)

B.Healing at Jericho (20:29-34)

XI.Jesus’s Ministry in Jerusalem (21:1-23:39)

A.Events in Jerusalem (21:1-22)

B.Controversies with the Jews (21:23-22:46)

C.Denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees (23:1-39)

XII.Discourse Five: Olivet Discourse (24:1-25:46)

A.Prophecy of the coming of the kingdom (24:1-35)

B.Exhortations to readiness (24:36-25:30)

C.Judgment of the nations (25:31-46)

XIII.Betrayal, Crucifixion, and Burial (26:1-27:66)

A.The plot to betray Jesus (26:1-16)

B.The Last Supper (26:17-30)

C.Events in Gethsemane (26:31-56)

D.The trials (26:57-27:26)

E.Crucifixion and burial (27:27-66)

XIV.Resurrection and Commission (28:1-20)

A.Women and the angel at the tomb (28:1-10)

B.False witness of the guards (28:11-15)

C.Jesus’s Great Commission (28:16-20)

2200-1800 BC

From Abraham to David

Abraham 2166-1991

Isaac 2066-1886

Jacob 2006-1859

Joseph 1915-1805

1526-1000 BC

Moses 1526-1406

Exodus 1446

Joshua 1490?-1380?

Destruction of Jericho 1406

Judges 1380?-1060?

Ruth 1175?-1125?

Samuel 1105?-1025?

Saul 1080?-1010

1000-586 BC

From David to the Babylonian Exile

David 1050?-970

Solomon 990?-931

Rehoboam 971?-913

Jeroboam 971-909

Fall of the northern kingdom 722

Fall of the southern kingdom 586

586-63 BC

From the exile to the Messiah

Babylonian Exile 586-538

Temple completed 515

Greeks thwart Persian expansion into Europe with victories at Plataea and Mycale. 479

Jerusalem’s walls completed 445

Alexander the Great invades Persia. 334

Greek control of Palestine 323-167

Years of Jewish independence 167-63

Roman dominance begins. 63

5 BC-AD 33

Messiah

Jesus’s birth Winter 5 BC

Herod the Great’s death 4 BC

John the Baptist’s ministry begins AD 29

Jesus’s ministry begins AD 29

Jesus’s final week March 28-April 3, AD 33

Jesus’s resurrection April 5, AD 33

Jesus’s ascension May 14, AD 33

Feast of Pentecost May 24, AD 33

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