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ZondervanCopyright © 2002 Michael J. Wilkins
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Chapter OneIntroduction to The Gospel According to Matthew
On the surface of the Mediterranean world lay the famed pax Romana, "the peace of Rome," which the Roman historian Tacitus attributes almost solely to the immense powers of Caesar Augustus. But as Tacitus observes, the "peace" that Augustus inaugurated did not bring with it freedom for all of his subjects; many continued to hope for change. Tides of revolution swirled just below the surface and periodically rose to disturb the so-called peace of the Roman empire.
In one of the remote regions of the empire, where a variety of disturbances repeatedly surfaced, the hoped for freedom finally arrived in a most unexpected way. A rival to Augustus was born in Israel. But this rival did not appear with fanfare, nor would he challenge directly the military and political might of Rome. Even many of his own people would become disappointed with the revolution that he would bring, because it was a revolution of the heart, not of swords or chariots.
This is the story of the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth, recorded by the apostle Matthew as a compelling witness that Jesus was the long-anticipated Messiah, the prophesied fulfillment of God's promise of true peace and deliverance for both Jew and Gentile.
All of the four Gospelsare technically anonymous, since the names of the authors are not stated explicitly. This is natural since the authors were not writing letters to which are attached the names of the addressees and senders. Rather, the evangelists were compiling stories of Jesus for churches of which they were active participants and leaders. They likely stood among the assembly and first read their Gospel account themselves. To attach their names as authors would have been unnecessary, because their audiences knew their identity, or perhaps even inappropriate, since the primary intention was not to assert their own leadership authority, but to record for their audiences the matchless story of the life and ministry of Jesus.
Therefore we must look to the records of church history to find evidence for the authorship of the Gospels. The earliest church tradition unanimously ascribes the first Gospel to Matthew, the tax-collector who was called to be one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus. The earliest and most important of these traditions come from Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor (c. 135), and from Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul (c. 175). These church leaders either knew the apostolic community directly or were taught by those associated with the apostles; thus, they were directly aware of the origins of the Gospels. While the full meaning of their statements is still open to discussion, no competing tradition assigning the first Gospel to any other author has survived, if any ever existed. False ascription to a relatively obscure apostle such as Matthew seems unlikely until a later date, when canonization of apostles was common.
* Matthew IMPORTANT FACTS:
AUTHOR: While technically anonymous, the first book of the New Testament canon was unanimously attributed by the early church to Matthew-Levi, one of the Twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.
DATE: A.D. 60-61 (Paul imprisoned in Rome).
OCCASION: Matthew addresses a church that is representative of the emerging Christian community of faith-it transcends ethnic, economic, and religious barriers to find oneness in its adherence to Jesus Messiah. His Gospel becomes a manual on discipleship to Jesus, as Jew and Gentile alike form a new community in an increasingly hostile world.
PORTRAIT OF CHRIST: Jesus is the true Messiah, Immanuel, God-incarnate with his people.
1. The bridge between Old and New Testaments.
2. Salvation-historical "particularism" and "universalism."
3. The new community of faith.
4. The church built and maintained by Jesus' continuing presence.
5. A "great commission" for evangelism and mission.
6. The structure of five discourses contributes to a manual on discipleship.
* Early Church Testimony to Matthean Authorship
Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, lived approximately A.D. 60-130. It is claimed that Papias was a hearer of the apostle John and later was a companion of Polycarp. He was quoted and endorsed by the church historian Eusebius (c. A.D. 325) as saying: "Matthew for his part compiled/collected the oracles in the Hebrew [Aramaic] dialect and every person translated/interpreted them as he was able" (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.39.16).
Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul, was born in Asia Minor in approximately A.D. 135, studied under Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and according to tradition died as a martyr around A.D. 200. In one of his five monumental books against the Gnostic heresies, Irenaeus states, "Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church."
Excerpted from Matthew Copyright © 2002 by Michael J. Wilkins. Excerpted by permission.
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