THE WRITER OF THE FIRST GOSPEL
The First Gospel does not give the name of its author. But earliest Christian tradition says that the Apostle Matthew is the author. The early Christians were in a much better position than we are today to say who wrote the book. We have no good reason not to take their word for it. Matthew was one of the twelve disciples. He is also known as Levi. He is mentioned in all four of the lists of the Twelve given in the New Testament [Matthew 10:3]; [Mark 3:18]; [Luke 6:15] and [Acts 1:3]. The call of Matthew (Levi) to be a disciple is recorded in each of the Gospels [Mat. 9:9]ff; [Mark 2:14]ff and [Luke 5:27]ff. In the accounts of the calling of Matthew we learn that he was a tax collector or “publican.” He was probably employed by Herod Antipas to collect taxes on goods passing through Capernaum. Tax collectors were generally hated by the Jews and put in the same class as other “sinners.” Jesus therefore shows himself a true friend of sinners by calling Matthew to be one of his Twelve Disciples. Since Matthew immediately followed Jesus when called at Capernaum, we assume that Matthew had some acquaintance with Jesus earlier. After his calling by Jesus, Matthew gave a banquet for Jesus. Matthew also invited other tax collectors and “sinners.” By this action Matthew shows himself to be a real evangelist, since he wants other sinners to learn of Jesus also. Apart from Matthew’s name in the lists of disciples and the accounts of his call by Jesus, we learn nothing more about him in the New Testament. His name “Matthew” means “gift of the Lord.” He perhaps changed his name from Levi to Matthew after he became a disciple. [Mark 2:14] tells us that his father’s name was Alphaeus.
WHEN AND WHERE WRITTEN?
We do not know exactly when Matthew wrote his Gospel. He evidently wrote quite some time after Jesus’ death and rising. This is assumed because he uses the expressions “to this day” and “to this very day” in telling of passion events and resurrection events. Those expressions suggest that some years had passed before Matthew wrote his Gospel. But Matthew evidently wrote before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. He makes no mention of that destruction, even though his chapter 24 prophesies it. If we want to guess when Matthew wrote his Gospel, perhaps we could say sometime in the 60s A.D. We do not know where Matthew was when he wrote his Gospel. Some early church fathers assumed he wrote from Judea; other scholars say Antioch in Syria; still others have mentioned Egypt. We do not know.
WRITTEN FIRST TO WHOM
It is evident from Matthew’s Gospel that he was writing originally for Jewish readers. We say this for the following reasons: 1) Matthew is very careful to point out that the New Testament events he describes are a fulfilling of the Old Testament. Jews, who knew the Old Testament well would especially be interested in hearing this. 2) Matthew is especially interested in showing that Jesus is indeed the Messiah that the Old Testament had prophesied. Jewish readers would have to identify Jesus with the Messiah if they were to put their faith in him. (Go to Matthew 1:1 to see how Matthew immediately connects Jesus with Old Testament messianic prophesies.) 3) Matthew mentions Jewish laws, customs, and locations without explaining them to his readers. Jewish readers would know these things already. Gentiles would need explanations. More than the other Gospels, Matthew serves to connect the Old Testament with the New Testament. He says that the Old Testament is fulfilled in Jesus’ words and works. He says that Jesus is the Messiah that the Old Testament long prophesied. Of course the other Gospels say this too. But Matthew very much stresses the connection between the Old and New Testaments. It is fitting that Matthew’s book should come immediately after that of Malachi. Matthew joined the two Testaments beautifully for the original Jewish readers and for readers of all nationalities today.
SPECIAL CHARACTERISTICS OF MATTHEW
1.He shows Jesus to be the Messiah and King. 2.He shows Christianity to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. 3.He relates long discourses or sermons of Jesus, while the other Gospel writers tended to relate shorter sections of what Jesus said. (As examples, note “The Sermon on the Mount” where Jesus speaks for three whole chapters in Matthew 5-7. Note also chap. 10 when Jesus sends out the Twelve. Note the parables all grouped together in chap. 13.) 4.He emphasizes “The Kingdom of Heaven,” an expression that he uses 32 times. 5.There are a number of accounts and parables of Jesus that only Matthew relates.
OUTLINE FOR MATTHEW
Theme: “JESUS IS THE MESSIAH – KING”
- The Nativity of the Messiah-King (1-2)
- The Ministry of the Messiah-King (3-25)
- The Death and Resurrection of the Messiah-King (26-28)
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