Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

C. S. Lewis on Homosexuality

Arthur Greeves
In light of recent developments in the United States on the issue of gay marriage, I thought it would be interesting to revisit what C. S. Lewis thought about homosexuality. Lewis, who died in 1963, never wrote about same-sex marriage, but he did write, occasionally, about the topic of homosexuality in general. In the following I am quoting from my book, Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis. For detailed references and footnotes, you may obtain a copy from Amazon, your local library, or by clicking on the book cover at the right....
In Surprised by Joy, Lewis claimed that homosexuality was a vice to which he was never tempted and that he found opaque to the imagination. For this reason he refused to say anything too strongly against the pederasty that he encountered at Malvern College, where he attended school from the age of fifteen to sixteen. Lewis did not rate pederasty as the greatest evil of the school because he felt the cruelty displayed at Malver…

A Prayer at Ground Zero

Christmas Day Thought from Henri Nouwen

"I keep thinking about the Christmas scene that Anthony arranged under the altar. This probably is the most meaningful "crib" I have ever seen. Three small woodcarved figures made in India: a poor woman, a poor man, and a small child between them. The carving is simple, nearly primitive. No eyes, no ears, no mouths, just the contours of the faces. The figures are smaller than a human hand - nearly too small to attract attention at all.
"But then - a beam of light shines on the three figures and projects large shadows on the wall of the sanctuary. That says it all. The light thrown on the smallness of Mary, Joseph, and the Child projects them as large, hopeful shadows against the walls of our life and our world.
"While looking at the intimate scene we already see the first outlines of the majesty and glory they represent. While witnessing the most human of human events, I see the majesty of God appearing on the horizon of my existence. While being moved by the ge…

Sheldon Vanauken Remembered

A good crowd gathered at the White Hart Cafe in Lynchburg, Virginia on Saturday, February 7 for a powerpoint presentation I gave on the life and work of Sheldon Vanauken. Van, as he was known to family and friends, was best known as the author of A Severe Mercy, the autobiography of his love relationship with his wife Jean "Davy" Palmer Davis.

While living in Oxford, England in the early 1950's, Van and Davy came to faith in Christ through the influence of C. S. Lewis. Van was a professor of history and English literature at Lynchburg College from 1948 until his retirement around 1980. A Severe Mercy tells the story of Davy's death from a mysterious liver ailment in 1955 and Van's subsequent dealing with grief. Van himself died from cancer in 1996.

It was my privilege to know Van for a brief period of time during the last year of his life. However, present at the White Hart on February 7 were some who knew Van far better than I did--Floyd Newman, one of Van's…

Fact, Faith, Feeling

"Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods 'where to get off', you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith." Mere Christianity

Many years ago, when I was a young Christian, I remember seeing the graphic illustration above of what C. S. Lewis has, here, so eloquen…

C. S. Lewis Tour--London

The final two days of our C. S. Lewis Tour of Ireland & England were spent in London. Upon our arrival we enjoyed a panoramic tour of the city that included Westminster Abbey. A number of our tour participants chose to tour the inside of the Abbey where they were able to view the new C. S. Lewis plaque in Poets' Corner.

Though London was not one of Lewis' favorite places to visit, there are a number of locations associated with him. One which I have noted in my new book, In the Footsteps of C. S. Lewis, is Endsleigh Palace Hospital (25 Gordon Street, London) where Lewis recovered from his wounds received during the First World War....

Not too far away from this location is King's College, part of the University of London, located on the Strand, just off the River Thames. This is the location where Lewis gave the annual commemoration oration entitled The Inner Ring on 14 December 1944....

C. S. Lewis occasionally attended theatrical events in London. One of his favorites w…

C. S. Lewis on Church Attendance

A friend's blog written yesterday ( got me thinking about C. S. Lewis's experience of the church. I wrote this in a comment on Wes Robert's blog:
It is interesting to note that C. S. Lewis attended the same small church for over thirty years. The experience was nothing spectacular on a weekly basis. For most of those years Lewis didn't care much for the sermons; he even sat behind a pillar so that the priest would not see the expression on his face. He attended the service without music because he so disliked hymns. And he left right after holy communion was served probably because he didn't like to engage in small talk with other parishioners after the service. But that life-long obedience in the same direction shaped Lewis in a way that nothing else could.
Lewis was once asked, "Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?"
His answer was as follows: &q…

C. S. Lewis's Parish Church

The first time I visited Oxford, in 1982, the porter at Magdalen College didn't even recognize the name--C. S. Lewis. I had asked him if he could give me directions to Lewis's former home in Headington Quarry. Obviously, he could not and did not. (Directions to Lewis's former home are now much easier to obtain. Just click here for directions and to arrange a tour: The Kilns.)
Things have changed a lot since 1982. Now Lewis is remembered all around Oxford. At the pub where the Inklings met, at Magdalen College, and not least--at his parish church--Holy Trinity Headington Quarry. The first time I visited the church I only saw the outside and Lewis's grave, shared with his brother Warnie.
Since that first visit I have returned to Holy Trinity a number of times and worshiped there. Father Tom Honey is a real gem. Under his leadership the congregation has grown and now includes a number of young families. I was overwhelmed by the number of children who came into the sanctuary…

A Christmas Psalm

Psalm 110
The Lord says to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet."

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion;
you will rule in the midst of your enemies.
Your troops will be willing on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy majesty,
from the womb of the dawn
you will receive the dew of your youth.

The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
"You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek."

The Lord is at your right hand;
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook beside the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms,
Chapter XII, paragraphs 4 & 5:

"We find in our Prayer Books that Psalm 110 is one of those appointed for Christmas Day. We may at first be surprised by this. There is nothing in it about peace and good-will, nothing remotely sugg…