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Matthew, Mark, LukeVolume One
ZondervanCopyright © 2002 Zondervan
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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 Gospels are 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, the Person
The list of the twelve disciples in Matthew's gospel refers to "Matthew the tax collector" (10:3), which harks back to the incident when Jesus called Matthew while he was sitting in the tax office (cf. 9:9). When recounting the call, the first Gospel refers to him as "Matthew" (9:9), while Mark's Gospel refers to him as "Levi son of Alphaeus" (Mark 2:14), and Luke's Gospel refers to him as "Levi" (Luke 5:27). Speculation surrounds the reason for the variation, but most scholars suggest that this tax collector had two names, Matthew Levi, either from birth or from the time of his conversion.
The name Levi may be an indication that he was from the tribe of Levi and therefore was familiar with Levitical practices. Mark's record of the calling refers to him as the "son of Alphaeus" (Mark 2:14), which some have understood to mean that he was the brother of the apostle "James son of Alphaeus" (cf. Mark 3:18). But since the other pairs of brothers are specified as such and linked together, it is unlikely that Matthew-Levi and James were brothers.
Matthew-Levi was called to follow Jesus while he was sitting in the tax collector's booth. This booth was probably located on one of the main trade highways near Capernaum, collecting tolls for Herod Antipas from the commercial traffic traveling through this area. Matthew immediately followed Jesus and arranged a banquet for Jesus at his home, to which were invited a large crowd of tax collectors and sinners (9:10-11; Luke 5:29-30). Since tax collectors generally were fairly wealthy and were despised by the local populace (cf. Zacchaeus, Luke 19:1-10), Matthew's calling and response were completely out of the ordinary and required nothing short of a miraculous turn-around in this tax collector's life.
Little else is known of Matthew-Levi, except for the widely attested tradition that he is the author of this Gospel that now bears his name. As a tax collector he would have been trained in secular scribal techniques, and as a Galilean Jewish Christian he would have been able to interpret the life of Jesus from the perspective of the Old Testament expectations. Eusebius said that Matthew first preached to "Hebrews" and then to "others," including places such as Persia, Parthia, and Syria (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.24.6). The traditions are mixed regarding Matthew's death, with some saying that he died a martyr's death, while others saying that he died a natural death.
Date and Destination
No precise date for the writing of Matthew is known, although Jesus' prophecy of the overthrow of Jerusalem (24:1-28), has recently been used to indicate that this Gospel must have been written after A.D. 70. However, such a conclusion is necessary only if one denies Jesus the ability to predict the future. Since the early church father Irenaeus (c. A.D. 175) indicates that Matthew wrote his Gospel while Paul and Peter were still alive,2 the traditional dating has usually settled on the late 50s or early 60s.
The highly influential church at Antioch in Syria, with its large Jewish-Christian and Gentile contingents (cf. Acts 11:19-26; 13:1-3), has often been recognized as the original recipients of this Gospel.This is confirmed in part because of its influence on Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, and on the Didache. But Matthew's message was equally relevant for the fledgling church throughout the ancient world, and appears to have been disseminated fairly quickly.
Purpose in Writing
Matthew's first verse gives the direction to his purpose for writing: It is a book that establishes Jesus' identity as the Messiah, the heir to the promises of Israel's throne through King David and to the promises of blessing to all the nations through the patriarch Abraham. Against the backdrop of a world increasingly hostile to Christianity, Matthew solidifies his church's identity as God's true people, who transcend ethnic, economic, and religious barriers to find oneness in their adherence to Jesus Messiah. His gospel becomes a manual on discipleship, as Jew and Gentile become disciples of Jesus who learn to obey all he commanded his original disciples.
Matthew's Story of Jesus Messiah
Matthew's Gospel, according to citations found in early Christian writers, was the most widely used and influential of any of the Gospels. It has retained its appeal throughout the centuries and has exerted a powerful influence on the church. Its popularity is explained at least in part because of the following distinctives that are found throughout this gospel.
(1) The bridge between Old and New Testaments. From the opening lines of his story, Matthew provides a natural bridge between the Old Testament and New Testament. He demonstrates repeatedly that Old Testament hopes, prophecies, and promises have now been fulfilled in the person and ministry of Jesus, beginning with the "fulfillment" of the messianic genealogy (1:1), the fulfillment of various Old Testament prophecies and themes, and the fulfillment of the Old Testament law. The early church likely placed Matthew first in the New Testament canon precisely because of its value as a bridge between the Testaments.
(2) Salvation-historical "particularism" and "universalism." These terms emphasize that Matthew's Gospel lays striking emphasis on both the fulfillment of the promises of salvation to a particular people, Israel, and also the fulfillment of the universal promise of salvation to all the peoples of the earth. Matthew's Gospel alone points explicitly to Jesus' intention to go first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (10:5-6; 15:24), showing historically how God's promise of salvation to Israel was indeed fulfilled. Yet the promises made to Abraham that he would be a blessing to all the nations are also fulfilled as Jesus extends salvation to the Gentiles (cf. 21:44; 28:19). The church throughout the ages has found assurance in Matthew's Gospel that God truly keeps his promises to his people.
(3) The new community of faith. Facing the threat of gathering Roman persecution within a pagan world, Matthew addresses a church that is representative of the emerging community of faith. The community apparently has a large membership of Jewish Christians, familiar with temple activities and the Jewish religious system. But it also has a large contingent of Gentile Christians, who are discovering their heritage of faith in God's universal promise of salvation. The church has consistently found in Matthew's Gospel a call to a new community that transcends ethnic and religious barriers to find oneness in its adherence to Jesus Messiah.
(4) The church is built and maintained by Jesus' continuing presence. Matthew alone among the evangelists uses the term ekklesia, which later became the common term to designate the church. He emphasizes explicitly that God's program of salvation-history will find its continuation in the present age as Jesus builds his church and maintains his presence within its assembly. Whoever responds to his invitation (22:10)-whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, rich or poor, slave or free-are brought within the church to enjoy his fellowship and demonstrate the true community of faith.
(5) A "great commission" for evangelism and mission. The form of Jesus' commission to "make disciples of all the nations" (28:19) is unique to Matthew's Gospel, providing continuity between Jesus' ministry of making disciples in his earthly ministry and the ongoing ministry of making disciples to which the church has been called. This "great commission" has been at the heart of evangelistic and missionary endeavor throughout church history.
(6) The structure of five discourses contributes to a manual on discipleship. The concluding element of the commission, in which Jesus states that new disciples are to be taught "to obey everything I have commanded you" (28:20), gives a hint to one overall purpose for Matthew's Gospel. The presentation of five of Jesus' major discourses, all of which are addressed at least in part to Jesus' disciples (chs. 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25), forms the most comprehensive collection of Jesus' earthly instructional ministry found in the Gospels. They provide a wholistic presentation on the kind of discipleship that was to be taught to disciples as the basis for full-orbed obedience to Christ and became the basis for Christian catechesis within the church throughout its history.
The Geneaology of Jesus Messiah (1:1-17)
This is the story of the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth, recorded as a compelling witness that Jesus was the long-anticipated Messiah, the prophesied fulfillment of God's promise of deliverance for both Jew and Gentile.
A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ (1:1). The Greek word translated "genealogy" in 1:1 is genesis, "beginning," which is the title of the Greek translation (LXX) of Genesis, where it implies that it is a book of beginnings. Genesis gave the story of one beginning-God's creation and covenant relations with Israel-while Matthew gives the story of a new beginning-the arrival of Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of God.
Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham (1:1). Matthew's opening had special importance to a Jewish audience, which traced their ancestry through the covenants God made with Israel. "Jesus" (Iesous) was the name normally used in the Gospels, derived from the Hebrew Yeshua,"Yahweh saves" (Neh. 7:7), which is a shortened form of Joshua, "Yahweh is salvation" (Ex. 24:13). "Christ" is a title, the transliteration of the Greek Christos, which harks back to David as the anointed king of Israel. The term came to be associated with the promise of a Messiah or "anointed one" who would be the hope for the people of Israel. God had promised David through Nathan the prophet that the house and throne of David would be established forever (2 Sam.7:11b-16), a promise now fulfilled in Jesus as the "son of David." But Jesus is also the "son of Abraham." The covenant God made with Abraham established Israel as a chosen people, but it was also a promise that his line would be a blessing to all the nations (Gen. 12:1-3; 22:18).
Abraham the father of Isaac (1:2). The Jews kept extensive genealogies, which served generally as a record of a family's descendants, but which were also used for practical and legal purposes to establish a person's heritage, inheritance, legitimacy, and rights.
* 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.
Excerpted from Matthew, Mark, Luke Copyright © 2002 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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