Author: St. Matthew the Apostle, also known as Levi
Date Written: Before 100 AD
Date of Narrative: 4 BC – 30 AD
This gospel was written by a Jew, Matthew the tax-collector, for a Jewish Christian audience. The narrative closely follows the life of Jesus from his birth, through his ministry and unto his death and resurrection. There are seven narrative sections (1-4, 8-9, 11-2, 14-7, 19-22, 26-8) interspersed with five discourses (5-7, 10, 13, 18, 23-5).
In Ch. 1, Matthew presents Jesus’ genealogy, linking him specifically to Abraham and David. Jesus is shown to embody Israel as “son of Abraham” (1:1) and to fulfill the Messianic longings of first century Judaism as “son of David” (1:1; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-1; 21:9,15). The Palestinian Jews of the first century expected a Messianic king, who would be a descendant of David born in Bethlehem (Mic 5:2) to rescue them from Roman barbarism (cf. Isa 9:7). Matthew highlights Jesus’ Messianic and kingly nature by using the titles “Son of God” eight times and “Son of Man” thirty times to refer to Jesus (Cf. 2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7, 89:27; Dan 7:13).
The structuring of Jesus’ teaching into five discourses imitates the five books of Moses, the Torah. Therefore some scholars have proposed that Matthew presents Jesus as a New Moses giving a New Law. For he ascends a new mountain in the Sermon on the Mount (Ch. 5-7) to deliver the new law, just as Moses had ascended Mt. Sinai in the book of Exodus.
Matthew frames his whole gospel with a chiasm, which is a literary structural “sandwich.” A central idea is framed by two very similar ideas. Matthew tells us through the angel Gabriel that the Messiah to be born shall be named “Immanuel, which means ‘God with us'” (1:23). Then the whole narrative of the life of Jesus unfolds over the next 27 chapters. At the very end, Matthew closes the sandwich with Jesus’ statement of his divinity. He tells his disciples, “I am with you always” (28:20).
Matthew quotes the Old Testament more than sixty times. He carefully presents ten different prophecies and their fulfillments with a special phrase, “in order that the word through the prophet might be fulfilled saying…” (1:22-3; 2:15; 2:17-8; 2:23; 4:14-6; 8:17; 12:17-21; 13:35; 21:4-5; 27:9-10). Matthew thus emphasizes Jesus’ continuity with and fulfillment of the Old Testament. There are a few important events in the life of Jesus which are unique to Matthew’s gospel. For example, the giving of “the keys” to Peter in 16:18.
Many scholars accept the Two-Source Theory, that Matthew and Luke used the gospel of Mark and a hypothetical collection of Jesus’ sayings called Q as sources. Yet the majority of the early Church fathers thought that Matthew was the first of the four gospels to be written. A fragment from the work of Papias (c. 110 AD) states that Matthew was originally written in Aramaic or Hebrew, but we have no extant copies.
Because of its rich theological content, Matthew was used as the primary catechetical text in the early Church and was the gospel most quoted by the fathers. It presents a holistic and systematic perspective on Jesus, giving an account of his miracles and teachings while placing them in their historical and religious context.
By Mark Giszczak