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Overview Of Matthew's Gospel

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St Matthew 

What are the origins of the gospel according to Matthew? 

Bible scholars have studied the first three gospels closely and are agreed that Mark must have been written first and that Matthew and Luke used Mark to tell of the events in the life of Jesus. The teaching of Jesus is contained in 200 other verses common to Matthew and Luke which must have come from the same source book but which no longer exists. This lost book was probably the first text-book of Christianity. Matthew and Luke each contain other material of their own.  

Was the apostle Matthew the writer? 

Matthew's dependence on Mark for the events in the life of Jesus makes it unlikely that the writer was an apostle but the Early Church historian Papias who lived about 130AD tells us "Matthew collected the sayings of Jesus in the Hebrew tongue." As a tax-gatherer, Matthew the apostle would have some skill with words and would be able to write and so there is a strong possibility that the apostle did indeed collect and write down "the sayings of Jesus" used for teaching in the Early Church. This could explain why the gospel was given the name Matthew.  

What were the writer's special interests? 

  • It could be said that Matthew was a gospel written for Jews by a Jew and that his purpose was to convince Jews that Jesus was the Messiah ("What means Messiah" June Magazine 2003). He does this by showing that the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus emphasising the conversion of the Jews before other nations. Moreover, Matthew upholds the Law pointing out that Jesus had come to fulfil the law not to destroy it. While the writer condemns the Scribes and Pharisees for what he sees as their hypocrisy he acknowledges their position in the faith of the Jews. It could be that his Church community was near a Jewish community and that he wanted to counter Jewish opposition to the Christian claims about Jesus and their claims to be the New Israel and that the Law when interpreted by Jesus belonged to the Christians. 

  • Matthew is the only gospel which refers to the Church which by the time the gospel was written sometime after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD had become a fairly widespread organisation. It has been suggested that Matthew was written for reading in church and therefore became from the first the most popular gospel. 

  • What Jesus said about his Second Coming, the End of the World and Judgement are of particular interest to Matthew .

  • Matthew is above all a Teaching Gospel and what gives it this special characteristic are its five great blocks of teaching - chapters 5-7; 10; 13; 18; 24 & 25. They are all about the Kingdom of God and how those who would be dwellers in that Kingdom should be towards God and their fellow men and women. Because books in the world of the time had to be hand written they were few in number and so to help his readers and hearers to remember, the writer arranges things in groups of threes or sevens e.g. three denials of Peter; three questions asked by Pilate; seven parables of the kingdom; seven woes to the Scribes and Pharisees. By these means he did all he could to help people assimilate and remember the teaching of Jesus. 

  • The idea of Jesus as King permeates the gospel. The genealogy with which the book begins is to prove Jesus' descent from the great King David and the title Son of David is used more often in Matthew than in any other gospel. The Wise Men look for a king; the Palm Sunday triumphal entry dramatises a claim to be king; Jesus accepts the name of king from Pilate; the title of king - even if in mockery is attached to the cross. The final claim of Jesus is "all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me." He then gives his subjects his command to tell all nations about him and his kingdom.  
Christian Education Committee, 2005


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