An Introduction, Part 2: According to Matthew

With the historical context firmly in place, let us move on to introducing the foundational work According to Matthew.


Author


While the vast majority of commentators remain unconvinced that Matthew wrote the gospel that bears his name,[1] this uncertainty is certainly limited to being a modern problem. The universal voice of the ancient church affirms that the apostle Matthew, former publican and one of the twelve disciples, wrote this gospel. While the captions to this work among the manuscripts vary from “The holy gospel according to Matthew” (ΑΓΙΟΝ ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΘΘΑΙΟΝ) to “The gospel according to Matthew” (ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΘΘΑΙΟΝ) to simply “According to Matthew” (ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΘΘΑΙΟΝ) the fact that this gospel is “according to Matthew” remains consistent throughout. While the κατά preposition does not necessarily demand that Matthew’s hand wrote this book, a comparison to the other gospels is instructive. While Mark relied on Peter’s reflections, the second gospel in our Bibles is not called “according to Peter” but rather “according to Mark” (ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΡΚΟΝ). Likewise, Luke relied on the information he gleaned from Paul and others upon whom he made inquiries (Lk. 1:1-4), yet his gospel is also called “according to Luke” (ΚΑΤΑ ΛΟΥΚΑΝ). It seems that the ancients were concerned with the man who held the pen when titling these works more so than the sources they used.[2]


Matthew gives us his Greek name (Μαθθαῖος) which means “gift of God” while Luke (Lk. 5:27) and Mark (Mk. 2:14) give us his Hebrew or Israelite name, “Levi”. As our beloved Paul, a Benjamite (Phil. 3:5), was given the name of the most memorable Benjamite (Saul), it seems likely that Matthew’s parents gave him the name of their tribal patron as well. There is also the possibility that our Matthew received a name from the Lord as did Peter (Simon).[3] In either case, the use of two names was not at all uncommon.[4] It could be that Matthew used a second name for his unsavory profession, but the use of “Matthew” as opposed to “Levi” is certainly a personal touch that neither Luke nor Mark thought of.


We do not meet Matthew in his gospel until 9:9 where he is sitting in his tax collection booth. The Romans taxed nearly everything that moved. All commercial products that entered or left Capernaum (where Matthew set up shop) would be taxed. With accounts to be kept and clients from Syria, Judea, Samaria, and perhaps even further regions, Matthew would have been well educated, multilingual, and an excellent note taker. He would not have received much (if any) salary for his work and thus would make his money via extortion. Tax collectors were known for shaking down the locals, passing on what was due Rome, and keeping the cream for themselves.[5] As a result, these men were hated by everyone. No one appreciates being robbed but to do so at the behest of Rome, a foreign and Gentile nation, was unthinkable.


Date


Dating this work is far easier than most “scholars” make it out to be. The “difficulty” arises from the erroneous assumption that of all the gospels, Mark was the first to write while both Luke and Matthew copied most of Mark’s material and made up for Mark’s brevity by copying a fictitious “Q” document that no one has been able to produce or even prove ever existed. That’s right, the overwhelming majority of New Testament “scholarship” assumes that (1) Matthew isn’t Matthew and (2) could not have written about events of which he was present. As such the majority claim that Matthew’s gospel was written in the mid 80’s AD for three reasons. First, Jesus’ speech regarding the destruction of the temple (chapter 24) “clearly” indicates that the temple has been destroyed by the time of this document. Second, the emphasis on Jesus’ followers breaking from the Jewish synagogue is supposed to reflect the results of the Council of Jamnia which occurred between 85-90 AD.[6] Third, Matthew’s use of Mark makes any date before the mid 50’s impossible.


If one believes that Jesus is the Son of God and is therefore capable of predictive prophecy, the first reason immediately disappears. If one were to bother reading the book of Acts, it becomes apparent that the church broke from the synagogue and the authority of the Sanhedrin by Acts 4 when the apostles were commanded to cease preaching Jesus and promptly disobeyed. The third reason is assumed to be true without any convincing proof. The heresy of Marcan priority is easily dispelled by the simple facts of history and a plain reading of the text.


The Facts of History: In his work Against Heresies, Irenaeus (ca. 130-202 AD) refers to Mark as the interpreter of Peter (3.10:5) who wrote his gospel after the deaths of both Peter and Paul (3.1:1).[7] If Peter died as a result of the persecution in Rome under Nero (64-65 AD) and Paul was executed after his release and further missionary work (65-68 AD), then Mark could not have written before 65 AD and likely not until 68 AD. This means that neither Matthew nor Luke could have even begun their works until 68 AD. Yet we know that Luke completed his second volume (Acts) by 62 AD when Paul arrives in Rome for his first trial. His introduction to Acts implies that his first volume (his gospel account) had already been completed by that time. The chronology of the gospels then seems to arrive in the order: Matthew, Luke, Mark, John. This suspicion is confirmed in the order Irenaeus mentions these gospels (4.6:1) as well as other ancient arrangements according to chronology and apostolic office (Matthew, John, Luke, Mark).[8] It is therefore impossible to accept the facts of history and demand that Mark provided the content for both Matthew and Luke.


Studying the Text of Scripture: So much debate goes into the “synoptic problem” that few bother to examine the effect Matthew had on the rest of the New Testament. For example, the fact that James reflects upon and applies the Sermon on the Mount in his epistles is painfully obvious. Consider and compare the texts below.



It is impossible to conclude that James also used Mark as his source material, for Mark does not record the Sermon on the Mount. Nor is it likely that James used Luke as a source, for James wrote very early (40-45 AD), long before Luke was converted much less took up his pen as the first church historian. The straightforward exegesis of James proves not only several examples of intertextuality between James and Matthew but argues strongly for a very early date for Matthew’s gospel.


To this we must add the way Matthew begins his gospel: This is the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David the son of Abraham (Matt. 1:1).The phrase “book of the genealogy” (βίβλος γενέσεως) is a technical term in the book of Genesis. This phrase (תּוֹלֵדוֹת in the Hebrew) is a macro-syntactical marker used to divide the text into ten parts (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1; 37:2). Matthew begins his gospel as a new Genesis, a new beginning. Matthew was not only the first of the gospel writers, but the first of the New Testament authors. Matthew’s gospel (35-40 AD) is the very first book in our New Testaments and is truly the link between the Old and New Testaments.


Audience


Because this is not a letter written to far away people, it is safe to assume that Matthew writes to and for the people around him. In other words, the questions of Matthew’s provenance and audience have the same answer. The Jewish flavor of Matthew’s gospel is apparent and so it is assumed that he writes to a Jewish audience. The only question that remains is where is this Jewish audience located? The emphasis that Matthew uses may help us answer this question. Matthew makes frequent references to the nation of Israel (12x), the region of Judaea (8x), and the city of Jerusalem (11x). No such consistency is found in the other gospels. While Luke refers to Israel (12x) and Judaea (10) with some frequency, the city of Zion is hardly mentioned (4x). Mark fares even worse only mentioning Israel twice and Judaea three times. John likewise does not emphasize the nation of Israel (4x) or Judaea (6x) with as much consistency as Matthew. Matthew’s audience is the believing Israelites living within the Roman province of Judaea, with a particular emphasis on the city of Jerusalem, the King’s capital.


To this we must add that the only ancient writer to state plainly where Matthew wrote his gospel was Jerome (ca. 345-420 AD) who said that Matthew wrote in Palestine.[9] The assumption would then be that Matthew wrote for the benefit of those who lived in Palestine, that is, the Roman province of Judaea. It is remarkable the amount of conjecture contemporary commentators put forth while ignoring plain stated answers to their questions. It is almost as if the academy is more interested in supporting their own theories than finding the answers to questions.


Themes


Nearly all the debate revolving around the “synoptic problem” (i.e., the heresy of Marcan priority) is resolved by asking a simple question: what is the author’s intention? Few commentators stop to ask this question of the gospels. Each author has a specific reason for writing and has a target audience in mind as he writes. This explains why four gospels can cover the same topic and yet contain such variations. There are certain themes that are found in some of the gospels that are nearly absent in others. Why is this? Because certain themes advance the author’s intention while others do not. Below is a chart that provides an example of these themes.



Compare the frequency of “Christ”, “kingdom”, and “David” in Matthew’s gospel compared to the other three (much less the other two synoptics). There are themes that run through Matthew that advance his argument that do not play such a role in the other gospel accounts. What then are the themes that propel Matthew’s gospel and advance his purpose?


Matthew’s use of the Old Testament: No other gospel writer comes close to using the Old Testament like Matthew does. There are at least 61 direct quotations of the Old Testament in Matthew. That number easily triples when we take into consideration the number of obvious allusions (e.g., Matt. 1:1 vs. Gen. 2:4; 5:1; etc. and Matt. 11:28 vs. Ex. 33:14). Compare this with the other gospels. Mark has 31 direct Old Testament quotations, Luke 26, and John only 16.[10] Matthew’s gospel is constantly looking back to the Old Testament because his gospel (written first) is the bridge that links the Old and New Testaments.


Matthew’s Messianic Emphasis: Much of this emphasis is displayed in the chart above. Matthew’s 16 uses of the term “Christ” (Χριστός) is only comparable with the other two synoptics of both Mark and Luke were combined. The Greek Χριστός translates the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Messiah) and must be read in that light. Matthew begins his gospel stating that this is the book of Messiah’s lineage. In 1:1 he claims that Jesus of Nazareth is the same one David mentions in Ps. 2.


With the concept of Messiah there is an inherent link with the king and the kingdom. Messiah will certainly be a Davidic king who will reign from Jerusalem over the whole earth. There’s a reason why Matthew’s use of “kingdom” far outweighs the other gospel writers and why he constantly refers to Jesus as the “son of David.” But this king is also to have a priestly function (Ps. 24:7-10; Mich. 3:1) and is associated with the temple. This king is also supposed to fulfill the office of prophet (Deut. 18:15) who teaches His people the ways of righteousness (Joel. 2:23; Hos. 10:12). Of all the gospels, Matthew alone sets Jesus’ teachings (ch. 5-7; 10; 13; 18; 23-25) as major sections that divide his gospel account. Messiah is certainly a Davidic king, but He is more than merely a political or military leader. Messiah is a prophet, priest, and teacher as well.


Matthew’s Distinction between Faithfulness and Façade: With such a strong Jewish flavor, it is interesting that Matthew contains such rebuke for the established Jewish order. John the Baptist calls both the Pharisees and the Sadducees a “brood of vipers” (3:7). Jesus’ first recorded sermon undermines the traditional teaching of the Pharisees (5:21-48). Jesus’ final discourse begins with a railing denunciation of the Pharisees that could stand alongside the fieriest Old Testament prophetic pronouncements of judgment (23:1-36). The Jewish establishment is clearly marked out as the enemies of Jesus the Messiah in Matthew’s gospel.


Meanwhile, those whom Matthew presents as faithful men and women who believe Jesus is God’s Messiah and follow him flies in the face of everything that is supposedly true. A Roman centurion is said to have more faith than any other in Israel (8:5-13). A women deemed unclean by her physical ailments is both healed and forgiven (9:20-22). A wicked Canaanite women is shown mercy and forgiveness (15:21-28). And a wretched tax collector is called to be one of Messiah’s sent out ones (9:9). Matthew makes a specific distinction between faith in Israel’s Messiah vs. adherence to man-made tradition.


Matthew’s Emphasis on the Church: The term normally translated “church” (ἐκκλησία) appears exactly three times in the four gospels, all three of which are in Matthew’s gospel (16:18; 18:17). Because the other gospels were written decades after Matthew (Luke 20+ years after, Mark 25 years, and John over 50 years), the church is not mentioned because it is assumed. Yet to Matthew’s audience, the church is a relatively new entity. He shows that this church is not absent from Jesus’ mind or mission. Rather, Jesus foresaw His church (16:18) and provided specific instruction regarding its maintenance (18:17). For those who forsake everything to follow Jesus, that everything includes the synagogue and Jewish tradition. The connection to the Old Testament is found in Jesus and His church.


A word of caution is needed here. The connection of the church to the Old Testament does not indicate that the promises to Israel are somehow transferred to the church. Matthew does everything to affirm the Old Testament covenants and does nothing to alter or transfer them. Rather, Matthew shows that the religious establishment of the day is in no way, shape, or form representative of the Old Testament covenants. To break away from the present establishment is to break away from man-made apostasy and cling to the promised Messiah who will rule over Israel on David’s throne, heal the nations, and teach righteousness to His people. During this time of the Gentiles as they wait for the nation of Israel to look upon Him whom they pierced and repent (Zech. 12:10) that connection is made through Jesus, whose body is the church.


Purpose


Because of Matthew’s obvious Jewish flavor yet adverse opinion of contemporary Jewish authorities and practices, it is usually believed that this gospel is an apology aimed at converting unrepentant Jews to trust Jesus as their Messiah. If this is true, then Matthew is the only book of the Bible that is written to an unbelieving audience. Also, it is difficult what an unbelieving Jew would do with the final command to then “make disciples of all nations.” Does this final command not assume that the reader has already repented, confessed, and believed? The fact that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah is a large part of Matthew’s purpose. The key verse in the entire gospel is found in 21:5: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your king is coming to you, lowly, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” Matthew certainly writes to an Israelite audience, but that audience is comprised of Israelites who have already placed their exclusive trust in Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham as God’s Messiah and Israel’s king.


The purpose for which Matthew writes is not to convert the rebellious nation of Israel so much as provide inscripturated teaching for the church (nearly 100% Jewish in origin at the time of Matthew’s writing) that Jesus, not the Jewish establishment, is the connection to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Matthew’s gospel rejects the apostasy of 1st century Israel and connects believers of the New Testament dispensation to the Old Testament covenants through Jesus Christ alone. Israel’s Messiah is a blessing for all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3) and not only to Israel. Therefore, disciples of Israel’s Messiah are to come from all nations (Matt. 28:19).


Structure and Outline


That Matthew wrote in a Hebrew fashion is undeniable. This notion is confirmed in Irenaeus’ apparent use of Papias: “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect” (3.1:1).[11] While many incorrectly take the words of Papias (circa 60-130 AD) to mean that Matthew wrote his gospel in the Hebrew language, “dialect” is taken to mean the Hebrew manner, or presentation. In other words, though he wrote in Greek, Matthew wrote like a Hebrew. Matthew’s Israelite roots come out in more than the themes mentioned above, but also in structure of his composition. While Matthew’s gospel generally follows a right chronology of the events of Jesus’ life and ministry, Matthew’s arrangement is focused on a developing theme. Unlike all of modern preachers and commentators, Matthew’s purpose is not to provide people with a chronological timetable of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Matthew is working on the theme of Jesus’ Messiahship. The Semitic mind advances argument through logical development and that development is not necessarily chronological.


It is usually noted that Matthew’s gospel has five major didactic passages where Jesus speaks without (or nearly without) interruption (ch. 5-7; 10; 13; 18; 23-25). One aspect of Messiah is that He is to be a teacher of righteousness (1 Kings 8:35-36; Joel 2:23; Hos. 6:1-3; 10:11-12; Ps. 72) and prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15). These five sections reveal Jesus of Nazareth to fulfill these Messianic roles.


This five-fold division begins to take shape when we realize that each teaching section is followed by a lengthy narrative that connects thematically with the previous teaching (ch. 8-9; 11-12; 14-17; 19-22; 26-28). When viewed more carefully, we begin to notice that the first (ch. 5-7) and the last (ch. 23-25) speeches of Jesus are the longest while the second (ch. 10) and fourth (ch. 18) are the shortest. Thematically, it is usually agreed that Jesus’ teaching in parables (ch. 13) marks a turning point in Matthew’s gospel. This section is also the center of a book that is beginning to take the shape of a Hebraic chiasm.



The above illustration takes the chapter divisions very generally to demonstrate the overarching argument of Matthew’s gospel. Before each teaching section, Matthew provides a brief narrative that sets up the context for the teaching to follow. A more detailed outline in western linear fashion is provided below.



[1] Carson, p. 43; William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), p. 97; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), p. 15; Archibald Robertson, Matthew and Mark, vol. I, VI vols., Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1930), p. xi-xii. [2] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), p. 5-7. [3] Charles Quarles, Matthew, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2017), p. 5. [4] Morris, p. 219. [5] Lenski, p. 361-2. [6] Quarles, p. 6. [7] Philip Schaff, The Complete Ante-Nicene & Nicene And Post-Nicene Church Fathers Collection (London, UK: Catholic Way Publishing, 2014). [8] John Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, An American Commentary on the New Testament (Forgotten Books, 2012), p. xxxiii. [9] Quarles, p. 7. [10] Morris, p. 3. [11] Schaff. §Irenaeus: Against Heresies.

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