Introduction to the Book of Matthew Index
Research Material

TITLE:

  • The most ancient of extant Greet New Testament manuscripts entitle the book "According to Matthew." The title appearing in the KJV, "The Gospel According to St. Matthew," is found in the majority of the later manuscripts, but without the "Saint." The title in the Textus Receptus, "The Holy Gospel According to Matthew," is found only in late manuscripts. In the Scriptures the term "gospel" (Greek euaggelion) means "good tidings"; that is, the good tidings of salvation as set forth in the life and teachings of Jesus. It is not applied to the written record itself. However, after the period of the New Testament the term was applied also to the writings themselves, either singly or collectively. (5BC 271)

AUTHORSHIP:

  • Ancient Christian writers unanimously and consistently attribute the first of the four Gospels to Matthew the disciple. Internal evidence indicates that the book was obviously written by a Jew converted to Christianity. Such was Matthew (Matthew 9:9 and Mark 2:14). Being a publican prior to his call to discipleship, he was presumably accustomed to preserving written records, a qualification doubtless of great value to one composing a historical narrative. The modest reference to himself at the feats (Matthew 9:19; Luke 5:29) is comparable to the manner in which John (John 21:24) and possibly Mark (Mark 14:51, 52) refer to themselves, and hence may be an indirect testimony to his authorship. (5BC 271)
  • About AD. 140 Papias of Hierapolis, as quoted by Eusebius (Church History I iii, 39, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2d series, vol 1, p. 73), stated that:
    • "'Matthew wrote the oracles [sayings] in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able.'"
  • According to Irenaeus half a century later, as quoted by Eusebius (Church History v. 8, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2d series, vol. 1, p. 222):
    • "'Matthew published his Gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul were preaching and founding the church in Rome.'"
  • On the basis of these and similar statements by later writers some have concluded that the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Aramaic (the "Hebrew" of Papias and Irenaeus) and later translated into Greek. This theory, however, has not met with general acceptance. The evidence submitted to date is far from conclusive. In view of the fact that numerous "works" are know to have circulated among the Jews in oral form only, it is thought that Papias' reference to Matthew's writing of the "oracles" of Jesus designates oral rather than a written composition, and that the "gospel" of Irenaeus may also have been an oral account. There is no evidence that Papias and Irenaeus refer to what we know today as the Gospel of Matthew. The reasons for concluding that the Gospel of Matthew as we have it today was originally written in Greek are as follows: (5BC 271-272)
    • 1) The Greek text of Matthew does not reveal the characteristics of a translated work. Supposed Armaisms occur in the other Gospels also, and may reflect nothing more than that the writer thought in Aramaic as he wrote in Greek. The book of Revelation is replete with Aramaic idiomatic expressions. (5BC 272)
    • 2) The uniformity of language and style convey the distinct impression that the book was originally written in Greek (5BC 272)
    • 3) The great linguistic similarities to the Greek of Mark, in particular, and to a less extent of Luke, seem to preclude the possibility of the Greek being a translation. (5BC 272)

HISTORICAL SETTING:

  • Throughout the lifetime of Christ the land of Palestine was under the jurisdiction of Rome, whose legions, led by Pompey, subjugated the region and annexed it to the Roman province of Syria in 64-63 B.C. Having enjoyed political independence for some 80 years before the coming of the Romans, the Jews profoundly resented the presence and authority of foreign civil and military representatives. The appointment by the Roman Senate of Herod the Great (37-34 B.C.) as king over a large part of Palestine, made the lot of the Jews even more bitter. (5BC 272)
  • Understandably, the desire for independence became a national obsession and affected practically every phase of national life. Above all else, this desire colored the religious thinking of the day and the interpretation of the Messianic passages of the Old Testament. The subjugation of the Jews by Rome was the direct result of disobedience to the divine requirements. Through Moses and the prophets God had warned His people of the sufferings that would follow disobedience. (5BC 272)