By: Raymond Harris
Note to the Reader
The reader may be aware that I was involved in an in-depth study and research project during the closing months of 2009. The study was about the influence and use of the Old Testament within the New Testament. Considerable information has been found of which I am reflecting on, meditating about, and asking God for more guidance to understand. The study was highly rewarding, informative, and leavening for the maturation of my spiritual understanding. While I am concluding my study, I encourage the reader to invest additional time reading the Gospel of Matthew in conjunction with this article, and may the reader have a blessed and prosperous New Year.
The Gospel of Matthew
Of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, Matthew is probably the best known and probably the most often quoted. Matthew became the first Gospel in the canon many years ago, and seems to flow nicely from the Old Testament. Unlike Mark, Matthew has Jesus presenting many teaching lessons befitting to a beloved Rabbi. And perhaps Matthew has one of the most renowned statements in the world “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”1
The Gospel of Matthew has had some considerable debate about its authorship, but tradition claims that the writer is the tax collector Matthew,2 who was also called Levi.3 It is speculated that in a culture where people change their names upon religious conversion that he may have changed his name from Levi, instead calling himself Matthew, which means “gift of Yahweh.”4 While Matthew is not part of the group called the “Inner Three” (Peter, James, and John), he does have an interesting profile. Matthew was a Hebrew (Jew) and a tax collector for the Romans, a job that required him to take money from his national brethren and give it to a non-Jehovah fearing people.
It seems proper to feel that Matthew was not all that different from modern tax collectors – a part of society, needed, but not a person with whom people freely associate, because he had a job that everyone hated. Having to speak with him was probably what we would term “a necessary evil” and he “might be a nice person and all,” but to associate oneself with him would not be first choice. As such, Matthew probably had personally experienced hardship that few of the disciples would ever understand, thus making him a suitable choice to be an Apostle5 and personally capable to the difficult task of carrying the Good News in the face of strong opposition.
The Gospel of Matthew has had some debate about the time frame in which it was written. Some claim the Gospel to have been penned around A.D. (C.E.) 50, with others dating it around A.D. 70, and some ever later around A.D. 100. But what is more interesting is that there is even some debate as to whether Matthew may have been originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic. While there are many scholars who believe that Greek is the original language and argue for such, it is Ancient Church historians like Eusebius that cause modern believers to have to rethink their convictions of Greek.
Eusebius states, “Matthew composed his history in the Hebrew dialect, and everyone translated it as he was able.”6 What is even more interesting is that there is a footnote that is associated with Hebrew dialect, stating, “The author here, doubtless means the Syro-Chaldaic, which sometimes Scripture and primitive writers called Hebrew.”7 I’ll leave the Syro-Chaldaic for the reader to research, but Eusebius is plainly stating that the Hebrew dialect had an influence on the Gospel of Matthew. Now whether we modern disciples can prove that there is an original Hebrew Gospel of Matthew is debatable; but what is not debatable is that the Hebrew mindset conveyed itself through the Hebrew dialect and is directly responsible for the thoughts that are recorded by the Greek language.
As we continue, let us consider some tidbits mentioned in the NIV Archeological Study Bible. These provide additional points of interest that can enrich one’s reading of the Gospel of Matthew. The study Bible gave this information regarding the Gospel:8
1. There were no sexual relations during a Jewish betrothal period, yet it was a much more binding relationship than a modern engagement – breakable only by divorce (1:18).
2. No one living in the desert hesitated to eat insects, and locusts were among the ceremonially clean foods of which the Jews were free to partake (3:4).
3. Most of the salt used in Israel came from the Dead Sea and was full of impurities, causing it to lose some of its flavor (5:13).
4. People in ancient times commonly hid valuables in fields (e.g., when a marauding army approached), since there were no banks (13:44).
5. A person who stepped on a grave became ceremonially unclean, so graves were whitewashed to make them easily visible, especially at night (23:27).
The Gospel of Matthew serves as a nice segue from Malachi. Matthew helps establish and maintain the Hebraic connection established with Moses, yet leads us to understand that Jesus is the one promised by God and the one who fulfilled prophecies of old. May our Father bless us as we begin our examination of the Gospel of Matthew.
1. “Judge not.” Matthew 7.1, NASB.
2. “Matthew, a tax collector.” Matthew 9.9, NASB.
3. “Matthew also known as Levi.” Mark 2.14; Luke 5.27, NASB.
4. “Gift of Yahweh.” Matthew 9.9, NASB commentary, Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1573, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.
5. “Matthew, an apostle.” Matthew 10, mc 10.1-4, v. 10.3, NASB.
6. Book 3, Chapter 39 The writings of Papias (3.39.16); Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History; Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition, Translated by C. F. Cruse (ISBN 1-56563-371-7); page 106.
7. Endnotes, Book 3 endnote 8; Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History; Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition, Translated by C. F. Cruse (ISBN 1-56563-371-7), p. 436.
8. Introduction to Matthew; “Did You Know?” Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1557, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.