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Matthew 1-4


The Inspiration of St. Matthew by Caravaggio

Providing an adequate introduction to the Gospel of Matthew in a single blog post is an impossible task. However, I do want to give you some idea of where I think Matthew fits with the other Gospels, who the author is, and so on.

In order to accomplish this as succinctly and hopefully as accurately as possible, I turn to Michael Green’s commentary on the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible Speaks Today series published by InterVarsity Press. Here are some excerpts from Green’s introduction….

We do not know who wrote the Gospel. Like all the others, it is anonymous. The coming of Jesus sparked off an entirely new literary form, the ‘Gospel’. It is not biography, though it contains it. It is not history, though it reflects it. A Gospel is the proclamation of good news: the good news of salvation which had long been looked for in Judaism, and which Christians were persuaded had burst upon the world in Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospels are utterly captivated by him, and none of them mentions the name of its author.

Second-century writers sought to remedy this situation. They do tell us who wrote them, and they may or may not have been right. In the case of Matthew, it is not at all easy to know whether they were right, because there is a major contradiction in the evidence. The external evidence points uniformly in one direction, the internal in another.

The external evidence is coherent and clear. Indeed, it is unanimous. It makes three main points. First, the Gospel according to Matthew is the earliest of the Gospels. Secondly, it was written in ‘Hebrew’. This may mean Hebrew or Aramaic: at all events, it means that the early Christians were confident that it had not originally been penned in the Greek we have before us today. Most of the second-century writers were also persuaded that it was written for those who were converts from Judaism, which is a very likely assumption. The links between the Gospel and the Old Testament are many and obvious. The third conviction of the second-century church was that the Gospel was written by Matthew, one of the twelve apostles….

However, the internal evidence is strongly against this. Indeed, the careful study of the text of the Gospels over the last 250 years has, until recently, yielded virtual unanimity on the three points cited above. First, Matthew does not seem to be the earliest Gospel. Secondly, it does not seem to have been written in Hebrew or Aramaic. Thirdly, it does not seem to have been written by an apostle, let alone Matthew….

Irrespective of denomination, irrespective of theological position, those who have looked carefully into this matter are broadly convinced that the earliest documents about Jesus which have come down to us are the Gospel of Mark and the sayings of Jesus common to Luke and Matthew, usually known by the symbol Q. The order of events in Mark is clearly the basis for the order in Matthew and Luke, for Matthew and Luke never combine in order against Mark. Mark’s order is primary. Moreover, if Matthew’s Gospel had been written first, with its clear beginning, teaching, Lord’s Prayer, and post-resurrection appearances, it would have been almost incredible for Mark to come and truncate the beginning and end, and leave out marvelous teaching like the Sermon on the Mount.

Several years ago, I, in my simple way, and with the help of a computer, laid the Gospels side by side in parallel fashion and came to the same conclusion that countless scholars have come to over the past few hundred years. Mark’s Gospel must have been first. Matthew and Luke have shared material that is not in Mark; this shared material is often called “Q” for the German word “quelle” or source. Matthew and Luke also have some material that is not in Mark and is unique to each of their Gospels. These sources are often simply referred to as “M” and “L”.

So, we do not know who wrote the Gospel of Matthew, or more properly, who edited it and brought these various sources together, but it seems clear that it was edited by a first century Jew, writing sometime between 70 and 100 CE (AD) for a Jewish Christian community somewhere in the Middle East.

Matthew’s Gospel is structured, in a way, to mirror the first five books of the Bible known as the Torah in that Matthew has five great blocks of teaching material. The basic outline works out like this in the words of Michael Green….

Chs. 1-4 Introduction: genealogy, infancy (chs 1-2); baptism and beginnings of the ministry (chs. 3-4)
Chs. 5-7 Teaching 1: the Sermon on the Mount
Chs. 8-9 Jesus’ miracles of healing (three groups of them)
Ch. 10 Teaching 2: the mission charge
Chs. 11-12 The rejection of John and Jesus by the Jews
Ch. 13 Teaching 3: the parables of the kingdom
Chs. 14-17 Miracles, controversies with Pharisees, Peter’s confession, and the transfiguration
Ch. 18 Teaching 4: the church
Chs. 19-22 Jesus goes up to Jerusalem and teaches
Chs. 23-25 Teaching 5: judgment and the end of the world
Chs. 26-28 The last days, death and resurrection of Jesus

Whoever wrote this Gospel, he had a very ordered mind, bordering on perfectionism. He wanted everything arranged just so.

The thing that struck me in today’s reading, after reading through the major and minor prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, is how long it has been since we had story, narrative, in our Scripture reading. Certainly, most readers relate more to narrative than they do to any other type of literature, and we have a lot of it in Matthew. Here we have in the first four chapters, some of the most famous stories of the Bible, just as we have many of these famous stories in Genesis. Another similarity to Genesis is the use of genealogy. All of this would have been very appealing and very familiar to “Matthew’s” first Jewish audience.

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