Keith Hunt - Church History #23 - Page Twenty-three   Restitution of All Things

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History of the Church #23

The Gospel of Matthew


30-100 AD

From "History of the Christian Church " by Philip Schaff



MATTHEW, formerly called Levi, one of the twelve apostles, was
originally a publican or taxgatherer at Capernaum, and hence well
acquainted with Greek and Hebrew in bilingual Galilee, and
accustomed to keep accounts. This occupation prepared him for
writing a Gospel in topical order in both languages. In the three
Synoptic lists of the apostles he is associated with Thomas, and
forms with him the fourth pair; in Mark and Luke he precedes
Thomas, in his own Gospel he is placed after him (perhaps from
modesty). Hence the conjecture that he was a twin brother of
Thomas (Didymus, i.e., Twin), or associated with him in work.    
Thomas was an honest and earnest doubter, of a melancholy
disposition, yet fully convinced at last when he saw the risen
Lord; Matthew was a strong and resolute believer.

Of his apostolic labors we have no certain information.
Palestine, Ethiopia, Macedonia, the country of the Euphrates,
Persia, and Media are variously assigned to him as missionary
fields. He died a natural death according to the oldest
tradition, while later accounts make him a martyr.

(We have the ministry of Matthew in the work "In Search of the
Twelve Apostles" on this website - Keith Hunt)

The first Gospel is his imperishable work, well worthy a long
life, yea many lives. Matthew the publican occupies as to time
the first place in the order of the Evangelists, as Mary
Magdalene, from whom Christ expelled many demons, first
proclaimed the glad tidings of the resurrection.  Not that it is
on that account the best or most important - the best comes last,
but it naturally precedes the other, as the basis precedes the

In his written Gospel he still fulfils the great commission to
bring all nations to the school of Christ (28:19).
The scanty information of the person and life of Matthew in
connection with his Gospel suggests the following probable

1. Matthew was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, yet comparatively
liberal, being a publican who came in frequent contact with
merchants from Damascus. This occupation was indeed disreputable
in the eyes of the Jews, and scarcely consistent with the
national Messianic aspirations; but Capernaum belonged to the
tetrarchy of Herod Antipas, and the Herodian family, which, with
all its subserviency to heathen Rome, was yet to a certain extent
identified with the Jewish nation.

2. He was a man of some means and good social position. His
office was lucrative, he owned a house, and gave a farewell
banquet to "a great multitude" of his old associates, at which
Jesus presided. It was at the same time his farewell to the
world, its wealth, its pleasures and honors. We may conceive
what a joyous banquet that was for Matthew, when he marked the
words and acts of Jesus, and stored within his memory the scene
and the conversation which he was inspired to write according to
his clerkly ability for the instruction of the church in all
after ages. It was on that occasion that Jesus spoke that word
which was especially applicable to Matthew and especially
offensive to the Pharisees present: "I came not to call the
righteous, but sinners." It is remarkable that the first
postapostolic quotation from the Gospel of Matthew is this very
passage, and one similar to it. 

3. He was a man of decision of character and capable of great
sacrifice to his conviction. When called, while sitting in
Oriental fashion at his toll-booth, to follow Jesus, he "forsook
all, rose up, and followed Him," whom he at once recognized and
trusted as the true king of Israel. No one can do more than leave
his "all," no matter how much or how little this may be; and no
one can do better than to "follow Christ."


The first Gospel makes the impression of primitive antiquity. The
city of Jerusalem, the temple, the priesthood and sacrifices, the
entire religious and political fabric of Judaism are supposed to
be still standing, but with an intimation of their speedy
downfall. It alone reports the words of Christ that he came not
to destroy but to fulfil the law and the prophets, and that he
was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Hence the
best critics put the composition several years before the
destruction of Jerusalem.

Matthew's Gospel was evidently written for Hebrews and Hebrew
Christians with the aim to prove that Jesus of Nazareth is the
promised Messiah, the last and greatest prophet, priest, and king
of Israel. It presupposes a knowledge of Jewish customs and
Palestinian localities (which are explained in other Gospels). It
is the connecting link between the Old and the New Covenant.     
It is, as has been well said, "the ultimatum of Jehovah to his
ancient people: Believe, or prepare to perish! Recognize Jesus as
the Messiah, or await Him as your Judge!" Hence he so often
points out the fulfilment of Messianic prophecy in the
evangelical history with his peculiar formula: "that it might be
fulfilled," or "then was fulfilled."

In accordance with this plan, Matthew begins with the genealogy
of Jesus, showing him to be the son and heir of David the king,
and of Abraham the father, of the Jewish race, to whom the
promises were given. The wise men of the East come from a
distance to adore the new-born king of the Jews. The dark
suspicion and jealousy of Herod is roused, and foreshadows the
future persecution of the Messiah. The flight to Egypt and the
return from that land both of refuge and bond age are a
fulfilment of the typical history of Israel. John the Baptist
completes the mission of prophecy in preparing the way for
Christ. After the Messianic inauguration and trial Jesus opens
his public ministry with the Sermon on the Mount, which is the
counterpart of the Sinaitic legislation, and contains the
fundamental law of his kingdom. The key-note of this sermon and
of the whole Gospel is that Christ came to fulfil the law and the
prophets, which implies both the harmony of the two religions and
the transcendent superiority of Christianity. His mission assumes
an organized institutional form in the kingdom of heaven which he
came to establish in the world. Matthew uses this term (Greek) no
less than thirtytwo times, while the other Evangelists and Paul
speak of the "kingdom of God " (Greek). No other Evangelist has
so fully developed the idea that Christ and his kingdom are the
fulfilment of all the hopes and aspirations of Israel, and so
vividly set forth the awful solemnity of the crisis at this
turning point in its history.

But while Matthew wrote from the Jewish Christian point of view,
he is far from being Judaizing or contracted. He takes the widest
range of prophecy. He is the most national and yet the most
universal, the most retrospective and yet the most prospective,
of Evangelists. At the very cradle of the infant Jesus he
introduces the adoring Magi from the far East, as the forerunners
of a multitude of believing Gentiles who "shall come from the
east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven;" while "the sons of the kingdom
shall be cast forth into the outer darkness." The heathen
centurion, and the heathen woman of Canaan exhibit a faith the
like of which Jesus did not find in Israel. The Messiah is
rejected and persecuted by his own people in Galilee and Judaea. 
He upbraids Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, wherein his
mighty works were done, because they repented not; He sheds tears
over Jerusalem because she would not come to Him; He pronounces
his woe over the Jewish hierarchy, and utters the fearful
prophecies of the destruction of the theocracy. All this is most
fully recorded by Matthew, and he most appropriately and
sublimely concludes with the command of the universal
evangelization of all nations, and the promise of the unbroken
presence of Christ with  his people to the end of the world.


The mode of arrangement is clear and orderly. It is topical
rather than chronological. It far surpasses Mark and Luke in the
fulness of the discourses of Christ, while it has to be
supplemented from them in regard to the succession of events.    
Matthew groups together the kindred words and works with special
reference to Christ's teaching; hence it was properly called by
Papias a collection of the Oracles of the Lord. It is
emphatically the didactic Gospel.

The first didactic group is the Sermon on the Mount of
Beatitudes, which contains the legislation of the kingdom of
Christ and an invitation to the whole people to enter, holding
out the richest promises to the poor in spirit and the pure in
heart (chs.5-7). The second group is the instruction to the
disciples in their missionary work (ch.10).  The third is the
collection of the parables on the kingdom of God, illustrating
its growth, conflict, value, and consummation (ch.13). The
fourth, the denunciation of the Pharisees (ch.23), and the fifth,
the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the
world (chs.24 and 25).

Between these chief groups are inserted smaller discourses of
Christ, on his relation to John the Baptist (11:1-19); the woe on
the unrepenting cities of Galilee (11:20-24); the thanksgiving
for the revelation to those of a childlike spirit (11:25-7); the
invitation to the weary and heavy laden (11:28-30); on the
observance of the Sabbath and warning to the Pharisees who were
on the way to commit the unpardonable sin by tracing his miracles
to Satanic powers (ch.12); the attack on the traditions of the
elders and the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (chs.15 and 16); the
prophecy of the founding of the church after the great confession
of Peter, with the prediction of his passion as the way to
victory (ch.16); the discourse on the little children with their
lesson of simplicity and humility against the temptations of
hierarchial pride; the duty of forgiveness in the kingdom and the
parable of the unforgiving servant (ch.18); the discourse about
divorce, against the Pharisees; the blessing of little children;
the warning against the danger of riches; the parable of the
Laborers in the Vineyard and the nature of the future rewards
(chs.19 and 20); the victorious replies of the Lord to the
tempting questions of the Pharisees and Sadducees (ch.22).
These discourses are connected with narratives of the great
miracles of Christ and the events in his life. The miracles are
likewise grouped together (as in chs.8 and 9), or briefly summed
up (as in 4:23-25). The transfiguration (ch.17) forms the
turning-point between the active and the passive life; it was a
manifestation of heaven on earth, an anticipation of Christ's
future glory, a pledge of the resurrection, and it fortified
Jesus and his three chosen disciples for the coming crisis, which
culminated in the crucifixion and ended in the resurrection.


Matthew has a number of original sections:

1. Ten Discourses of our Lord, namely, the greater part of the
Sermon on the Mount (ch.5-7); the thanksgiving for the revelation
to babes (11:25-27); the touching invitation to the heavy laden
(11:28-30), which is equal to anything in John; the warning
against idle words (12:36,37); the blessing pronounced upon Peter
and the prophecy of founding the church (16:17-19); the greater
part of the discourse on humility and forgiveness (ch.18); the
rejection of the Jews (21:43); the denunciation of the scribes
and Pharisees (ch.23); the description of the final judgment 
(25:31-46); the great commission and the promise of Christ's
presence to the end of time (28:18-20).

2. Ten Parables: the tares; the hidden treasure; the pearl of
great price; the draw-net (13:24-50); the unmerciful servant 
(18:23-35); the laborers in the vineyard (20:1-16); the two sons
(21:28-32); the marriage of the king's son (22:1-14); the ten
virgins (25:1-13); the talents (25:14-30).

3. Two Miracles: the cure of two blind men (9:27-31); the stater
in the fish's mouth (17:24-27).

4. Facts and Incidents: the adoration of the Magi; the massacre
of the innocents; the flight into Egypt; the return from Egypt to
Nazareth (all in ch.2); the coming of the Pharisees and Sadducees
to John's baptism (3:7); Peter's attempt to walk on the sea (14:
28-31); the payment of the temple tax (17:24-27); the bargain of
Judas, his remorse, and suicide (26:14-16; 27:3-10); the dream of
Pilate's wife (27:19); the appearance of departed saints in
Jerusalem (27:52); the watch at the sepulchre (27:62-66); the lie
of the Sanhedrin and the bribing of the soldiers (28:11-15); the
earthquake on the resurrection morning (28:2, a repetition of the
shock described in 27:51, and connected with the rolling away of
the stone from the sepulchre).


The style of Matthew is simple, unadorned, calm, dignified, even
majestic; less vivid and picturesque than that of Mark; more even
and uniform than Luke's, because not dependent on written
sources. He is Hebraizing, but less so than Mark, and not so much
as Luke in his first two chapters. He omits some minor details
which escaped his observation, but which Mark heard from Peter,
and which Luke learned from eye-witnesses or found in his
fragmentary documents. Among his peculiar expressions, besides
the constant use of "kingdom of Iteaven," is the designation of
God as "our heavenly Father," and of Jerusalem as "the holy city"
and "the city of the Great King." In the fulness of the teaching
of Christ he surpasses all except John. Nothing can be more
solemn and impressive than his reports of those words of life and
power, which will outlast heaven and earth (24:34). Sentence
follows sentence with overwhelming force, like a succession of
lightning flashes from the upper world.


The first Gospel was well known to the author of the "Didache of
the Apostles," who wrote between 80 and 100, and made large use
of it, especially the Sermon on the Mount.

The next clear allusion to this Gospel is made in the Epistle of
Barnabas, who quotes two passages from the Greek Matthew, one
from ch.22:14: "Many are called, but few chosen," with the
significant formula used only of inspired writings: "It is
written." This shows clearly that early in the second century, if
not before, it was an acknowledged authority in the church. The
Gospel of John also indirectly presupposes, by its numerous
omissions, the existence of all the Synoptical Gospels.


Next we hear of a Hebrew Matthew from Papias, bishop of I
Hierapolis, "a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp." He
collected from apostles and their disciples a variety of
apostolic traditions in his "Exposition of Oracles of the Lord,"
in five books (Greek). In a fragment of this lost work preserved
by Eusebius, he says distinctly that "Matthew composed the
oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew tongue, and everyone
interpreted them as best he could."
Unfortunately the Hebrew Matthew, IF it ever existed, has
disappeared, and consequently there is much difference of opinion
about this famous passage, both as regards the proper meaning of
"oracles" (Greek) and the truth of the whole report.

1. The "oracles" are understood by some to mean only the
discourses of our Lord; by others to include also the narrative
portions. But in any case the Hebrew Matthew must have been
chiefly an orderly collection of discourses. This agrees best
with the natural and usual meaning of Logia, and the actual
preponderance of the doctrinal element in our canonical Matthew,
as compared with our Mark. A parte potiori, fit denominatio.

2. The report of a Hebrew original has been set aside altogether
as a sheer mistake of Papias, who confounded it with the Ebionite
"Gospel according to the Hebrews," known to us from a number of
fragments. It is said that Papias was a credulous and
weak-minded, though pious man. But this does not impair his
veracity or invalidate a simple historical notice. It is also
said that the universal spread of the Greek language made a
Hebrew Gospel superfluous. But the Aramaic was still the
vernacular and prevailing language in Palestine (comp. Acts 21:
40; 22:2) and in the countries of the Euphrates.
There is an intrinsic probability of a Hebrew Gospel for the
early stage of Christianity. And the existence of a Hebrew
Matthew rests by no means merely on Papias. It is confirmed by
the independent testimonies of most respectable fathers, as
Irenaeus, Pantaenus, Origen, Eusebius, Cyril of Jerusalem,
Epiphanius, and Jerome.
This Hebrew Matthew must not be identified with the Judaizing 
"Gospel according to the Hebrews," the best among the apocryphal
Gospels, of which in all thirty-three fragments remain. Jerome
and other fathers clearly distinguish the two. The latter was
probably an adaptation of the former to the use of the Ebionites
and Nazarenes. Truth always precedes heresy, as the genuine coin
precedes the counterfeit, and the real portrait the caricature.
Cureton and Tregelles maintain that the Curetonian Syriac
fragment is virtually a translation of the Hebrew Matthew, and
antedates the Peshito version. But Ewald has proven that it is
derived from our Greek Matthew.
Papias says that everybody "interpreted " the Hebrew Matthew as
well as he could. He refers no doubt to the use of the Gospel in
public discourses before Greek hearers, not to a number of
written translations of which we know nothing. The past tense
(Greek) moreover seems to imply that such necessity existed no
longer at the time when he wrote; in other words, that the
authentic Greek Matthew had since appeared and superseded the
Aramaic predecessor which was probably less complete. Papias
accordingly is an indirect witness of the Greek Matthew in his
own age; that is, the early part of the second century (about
A.D.130). At all events the Greek Matthew was in public use even
before that time, as is evident from the quotations in the
Didache, and the Epistle of Barnabas (which were written before
120, probably before 100).

(Whatever be the arguments from whoever about the Gospel of
Matthew being written in Hebrew, the fact is there are NO
remaining Hebrew fragments even of a Hebrew Matthew. God inspired
the Greek Matthew to be the one that remains - Keith Hunt)


The Greek Matthew, as we have it now, is not a close translation
from the Hebrew and bears the marks of an original composition.
This appears from genuine Greek words and phrases to which there
is no parallel in Hebrew, as the truly classical "Those wretches
he will wretchedly destroy," and from the discrimination in Old
Testament quotations which are freely taken from the Septuagint
in the course of the narrative, but conformed to the Hebrew when
they convey Messianic prophecies, and are introduced by the
solemn formula: "that there might be fulfilled," or "then was
If then we credit the well nigh unanimous tradition of the
ancient church concerning a prior Hebrew Matthew, we must either
ascribe the Greek Matthew to some unknown translator who took
certain liberties with the original, or, what seems most
probable, we must assume that Matthew himself at different
periods of his life wrote his Gospel first in Hebrew in
Palestine, and afterward in Greek. In doing so, he would not
literally translate his own book, but like other historians
freely reproduce and improve it. Josephus did the same with his
history of the Jewish war, of which only the Greek remains. When
the Greek Matthew once was current in the church, it naturally
superseded the Hebrew, especially if it was more complete.

Objections are raised to Matthew's authorship of the first
canonical Gospel, from real or supposed inaccuracies in the
narrative, but they are at best very trifling and easily
explained by the fact that Matthew paid most attention to the
words of Christ, and probably had a better memory for thoughts
than for facts.

But whatever be the view we take of the precise origin of the
first canonical Gospel, it was universally received in the
ancient church as the work of Matthew. It was our Matthew who is
often, though freely, quoted by Justin Martyr as early as A.D.
146 among the "Gospel Memoirs;" it was one of the four Gospels of
which his pupil Tatian compiled a connected "Diatessaron;" and it
was the only Matthew used by Irenaeus and all the fathers that


To be continued

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