SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Image Map : Christian Books : Section 80. Matthew.

History Of The Christian Church Volume I by Philip Schaff

Section 80. Matthew.


Bernh. Weiss: Das Matthäusevangelium und seine Lucas-Parallelen erklärt. Halle, 1876. Exceedingly elaborate.

Edw. Byron Nicholson: The Gospel according to the Hebrews. Its Fragments translated and annotated. Lond., 1879.


Commentaries on Matthew by Origen, Jerome, Chrysostom, Melanchthon (1523), Fritzsche, De Wette, Alford, Wordsworth, Schegg (R. Cath., 1856-58, 3 vols.), J. A. Alexander, Lange (trsl. and enlarged by Schaff, N. Y., 1864, etc.), James Morison (of Glasgow, Lond., 1870), Meyer, (6th ed., 1876), Wichelhaus (Halle, 1876), Keil (Leipz., 1877), Plumptre (Lond., 1878), Carr (Cambr., 1879), Nicholson (Lond., 1881), Schaff (N. Y., 1882).

Life of Matthew.

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.

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 superstructure.

In his written Gospel he still fulfils the great commission to bring all nations to the school of Christ (Matt.28:19).

The scanty information of the person and life of Matthew in connection with his Gospel suggests the following probable inferences:

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 post-apostolic quotation from the Gospel of Matthew is this very passage, and one similar to it (see below).

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 tollbooth, 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.|

Character and Aim of the Gospel.

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 bondage 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 (he basileia ton ouranon) no less than thirty-two times, while the other Evangelists and Paul speak of the |kingdom of God| (he basileia tou theou). 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.

Topical Arrangement.

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 (Matt.5-7. The second group is the instruction to the disciples in their missionary work (Matt.10). The third is the collection of the parables on the kingdom of God, illustrating its growth, conflict, value, and consummation (Matt.13). The fourth, the denunciation of the Pharisees (Matt.23), and the fifth, the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world (Matt.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 (11:25-27); 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 (Matt.12); the attack on the traditions of the elders and the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Matt.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 (Matt.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 (Matt.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 (Matt.19 and 20); the victorious replies of the Lord to the tempting questions of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt.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 Matt.8-9), or briefly summed up (as in 4:23-25). The transfiguration (Matt.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.

Peculiar Sections.

Matthew has a number of original sections:

1. Ten Discourses of our Lord, namely, the greater part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.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 (Matt.18); the rejection of the Jews (21:43); the denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt.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 Matt.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.

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 1-2. 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 heaven,| 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.

Patristic Notices of Matthew.

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 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 emissions, the existence of all the Synoptical Gospels.

The Hebrew Matthew.

Next we hear of a Hebrew Matthew from Papias, bishop of 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 (logion kuriakon exegesis].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| (logia) 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 (ermeneuse) 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).

The Greek Matthew.

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 fulfilled.|

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 follow.

<<  Contents  >>

Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Affiliate Disclosure | Privacy Policy