Matthew - Introduction
THE HOLY GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST
ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW
Throughout the Christian ages the Gospel according to St. Matthew has probably
been the best known and the best loved of all the four Gospels. When the same words of our Lord are found in this and
another Gospel, they are undoubtedly quoted more often, both by preachers and by the faithful, in the form in which they occur
in this Gospel. Almost half of our "Sunday Gospels" are selected from this Gospel.
While this popularity may be explained in part by the leading position
of the First Gospel at the beginning of the New Testament, still it must be rather the very nature and character of this Gospel
that have endeared it in a special way to all Christians. The spirit of St. Matthew's Gospel is so typically Palestinian
and the Semitic character of its original language is still so clearly seen beneath the veil of its Greek or Latin or even
English translation, that the reader naturally feels quite close to the very days when our Savior went about the hills and
fields of Galilee doing good.
The Author. Such a Gospel must have been written by
one who lived in the same country and during the same time as Christ Himself. Catholic tradition has always been unanimous
in ascribing its authorship to the Apostle St. Matthew. Our First Gospel was known, and indeed used as inspired Scripture,
by the Fathers of the post-apostolic Church at the end of the first century and the beginning of the second---Clement of Rome,
Pseudo-Barnabas, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp and Justin. We also have the testimony of the second-century Fathers,
Papias, Irenaeus and Pantaenus, as well as that of Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Tertullian of the third century, explicitly
ascribing our First Gospel to St. Matthew the Apostle.
Among these St. Papias is the earliest and therefore the most important.
Eusebius of Caesarea, the Church historian of the fourth century, to whom we are indebted for almost all that we know of Papias,
has preserved for us a few quotations from this early ecclesiastical writer. From these passages we know that Papias
was a disciple of St. John the Apostle and that, about the year 120, he wrote a commentary on "The logia of the Lord."
Concerning this latter work Papias said, "Matthew composed the logia of the Lord in the Hebrew language and each one
translated it (into Greek) as well as he was able."
From this statement some critics have concluded that Matthew was indeed
the author of a work called "The Sayings of the Lord," but that this contained nothing or very little of the life and miracles,
etc., of Christ. According to them Matthew's work on the Sayings of the Lord was later on, by some unknown writer, combined
with the life of Christ as recorded in St. Mark's Gospel, to form our First Gospel.
This theory has been condemned by the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
And rightly so. For there is not the slightest evidence that the early Church knew of the existence of such a work consisting
chiefly, if not solely, of the words or discourses of Christ. All the early Fathers who were acquainted with this statement
of Papias understood it as referring to our canonical Gospel according to St. Matthew. Moreover, the word logia,
as used elsewhere in Greek literature, does not mean merely "sayings" but also "oracles, sacred records," whether of someone's
words or deeds. Thus, Papias himself, in describing the origin of the Second Gospel, uses the expression, "the logia
of the Lord" as synonymous with "what was said and done by the Lord." (For his full statement see the Introduction
to the Gospel according to St. Mark.) Finally, even if one insist that logia means "sayings, discourses," the
term would not be inaptly used for our First Gospel, since, as a matter of fact, it is largely made up of the sayings and
discourses of Christ. (For numerous examples of the use of the word logia as the technical term for "Scripture,
Gospel," in the early Church see Biblica, VII  pp. 301-310.)
St. Matthew. Of St. Matthew's own life we know very
little. His father's name was Alpheus (Mark 2, 14), certainly not to be identified with Alpheus, the father of
St. James the Less (Matt. 10, 3 and parallels). He was probably a native or at least a resident of Capharnaum,
for he held the position of publican or tax-gatherer in that town. Called from the tollbooth to the apostolate by our
Lord's simple command, "Follow me," Matthew celebrated his call with a feast at which many "sinners and publicans," his former
friends, were present. Christ's presence at this banquet gave occasion to the accusation of the Pharisees that he ate
and drank with sinners and publicans. As a tax-collector, a minor public official whose office called for some knowledge
of writing, he may have had more literary culture than any other of the Twelve. He was thus well fitted for the task
of drawing up the first written account of the Master's life and teachings.
A comparison of Matthew's own account of his call (9, 9-13) with
the parallel accounts in Mark 2, 14-17 and Luke 5, 27-32 shows that he also bore the name of Levi. It
was quite usual for the Jews of this time to have two or more names. Possibly Mark and Luke wished to conceal the identity
of the chosen publican by calling him here by his less known name. In all the lists of the Apostles, except his own,
he is simply "Matthew." In his own list he is "Matthew the publican" (10, 3). In all three lists of the
Synoptic Gospels his name is coupled with that of Thomas; in Acts 1, 13 with that of Bartholomew. His name in
its original form of Matthai probably means "gift of the Lord." Some, however, explain it as equivalent to the
Hebrew name Amathi, "faithful."
That is all that we know of him from the New Testament. Later traditions
concerning his apostolic labors and his death are uncertain and in part contradictory.
Original Language. Matthew wrote his Gospel in "Hebrew,"
according to the constant tradition of the Church. The testimony of Papias to this fact is given above. St. Irenaeus
states, "Matthew published the writing of his Gospel among the Hebrews in their own language." All the later Fathers
agree on this. It is possible, but not very probable, that this "Hebrew" was the Hebrew of the Old Testament or the Rabbinical
neo-Hebrew of the Talmud. It is much more likely that the original language of St. Matthew's Gospel was Palestinian
Aramaic, the ordinary language of the Hebrews of that time and therefore not inaptly called "Hebrew." Thus, according
to Acts 21, 40, St. Paul addressed the people of Jerusalem "in Hebrew": but he certainly used Aramaic on this occasion
or they would not have understood him, as they did (Acts 22, 22). Moreover, the few words left untranslated in
the Greek text, as raka (5, 22), mamona (6, 24), and korbona (27, 6), are all Aramaic.
The text of this Gospel in its original language is completely lost.
Apparently it disappeared at a very early date. Perhaps it was still in existence at the time of Papias. (Cf.
his words cited above.) The so-called "Gospel according to the Hebrews" or "the Nazarenes," which a few of the Fathers, as
St. Jerome, believed to be the original Aramaic Matthew, was perhaps a badly corrupted form of it. In any case, the
few fragments of this strange Gospel that have been preserved in translation, show a text that is quite different from our
Greek Translation. Concerning the Greek translator,
even St. Jerome confessed his ignorance: "Who later on translated the First Gospel into Greek is not quite certain."
We must admit our ignorance on this point. But it is certain that this translation was made before the end of the first century,
for several quotations from our Greek Matthew are found in the writings of this period---the Didache, Pseudo-Barnabas, Clement
of Rome. Judged by the standard of the classics, the Greek of the First Gospel is quite good, better in fact than the
original of Mark or John. But that does not prove that our Greek Matthew is not a translation. For the translator
need not have followed the original too slavishly, even though we hold, according to the decision of the Biblical Commission,
that his translation is "identical in substance" with the original Gospel of St. Matthew. Moreover, even in the Greek
the sentence structure and rhythm are typically Semitic. The great similarity between the Greek of the First Gospel
and the Greek of the other Synoptic Gospels may be explained by supposing that in his work the translator followed a Greek
oral catechesis parallel to the Aramaic oral catechesis used by Matthew and similar to those followed by Mark and Luke, or
that he used the Gospels of Mark and Luke as his guide, or that this translation is older than these two Gospels and was used
by these Evangelists. (See article on The Literary Relations of the First Three Gospels.)
Time of Composition. The tradition of the Church from
the time of the earliest Fathers is that our four canonical Gospels were written chronologically in the order in which they
appear in the Bible. Now it can be demonstrated that St. Luke wrote his Gospel not later than the year 63. (See
the Introduction to the Gospel according to St. Luke.) St. Matthew therefore must have written his Gospel some years
before that date. The intrinsic evidence shows that it was certainly written before the capture and destruction of Jerusalem
by Titus in 70 A.D. On the other hand we cannot date it too soon after the Resurrection, for the author presupposes
that the Church is fairly well established, and such expressions as "even to this day" (27, 8), "even to the present
day" (28, 15), point to a considerable time after the Crucifixion. Some scholars have proposed the year 42 for
the Aramaic Gospel and 62 for its Greek translation. The statement of Irenaeus, that "Matthew published the writing
of his Gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul preached the Gospel and founded the Church in
Rome," was probably meant to contrast the difference in method and locality between these Apostles rather than give the time
when the First Gospel was written. At any rate, "this testimony of St. Irenaeus, the interpretation of which is uncertain
and controverted, must not be considered of such authority as to necessitate the rejection of the opinion of those who consider
it more in conformity with tradition that the First Gospel was completed even before the arrival of St. Paul at Rome" (Biblical
Destination. The teaching of the early Fathers, that
St. Matthew wrote his Gospel in Palestine for the people of that country, is amply confirmed by the intrinsic evidence of
the book itself. Matthew generally supposes that the morals and customs of the Palestinians as well as the topography
of the Holy Land are well known to his readers, as will be evident to any one who compares the First Gospel with the other
two Synoptic Gospels. Thus, while Mark describes at length the frequent ablutions of the Jews (7, 3 f) and explains
the meaning of any Aramaic word or typically Jewish expression that he may use, as "Corban" (7, 11) and "the Preparation
Day" (15, 42), in all the parallel passages of the First Gospel (15, 1 ff; 27, 6.62), such explanations
are omitted as unnecessary. In like manner Luke inserts geographical notes on Nazareth (1, 26), Bethlehem (2,
4), the country of the Gerasenes (8, 26), Arimathea (23, 51) and Emmaus (24, 13). Matthew, in similar
passages, considers such notes as superfluous. He alone uses the expression, "the holy city," as synonymous with Jerusalem
(4, 5; 27, 53). Unless the customs and history of Palestine at that period were known to the readers,
many things would not have been understood which occur in the Sermon on the Mount (5, 22-26.34 f; 6, 2.5.16),
in the parables (22, 11 ff; 25, 1 ff) and in the narratives, as "the flute players" at a funeral (cp. Matt.
9, 23 with Mark 5, 38 and Luke 8, 52), the magnificence of the temple structure (cp. Matt. 24,
1 with Mark 13, 1 and Luke 21, 5), etc. Finally, the special emphasis in this Gospel placed upon the relation
of the New Law with the Old, as in the Sermon on the Mount (5, 17-48) and the frequent citations from the Old Testament
(more than seventy in this Gospel against scarcely fifty in all the other three Gospels together) show clearly that the readers
whom the Evangelist had in mind were either Jews or Christians of Jewish extraction, whether in or outside of Palestine.
Although St. Matthew undoubtedly hoped that his work would be read by the unconverted Jews, still he must have intended it
directly for the Christians converted from Judaism.
Purpose of the Gospel. This special group of readers
also determined the scope that the Evangelist had in mind in writing his Gospel. He intended to provide for the religious
needs of the Christians in Palestine. The first and most important of these was the defense of the Faith against the
attacks and falsehoods of the unbelieving Jews. St. Matthew's Gospel is therefore the first apologia of Christianity.
The Evangelist fully achieves his purpose by proving that:
1. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Messias foretold in the
Old Testament. The First Gospel mentions explicitly the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning His birth and infancy
(1, 22 f; 2, 5 f.15.17 f.23), His precursor (3, 3; 11, 10), His Galilean ministry (4, 14
ff), His use of parables (13, 14 f.35), His miracles (8, 17; 12, 18 ff), His triumph at Jerusalem (21,
4 f.16), His rejection by the Jews (21, 42), the flight of the Apostles (26, 31) and the blood-money of Judas
(27, 9 f). Implicit references to Old Testament prophecies are also numerous, e.g., 9, 36 (cf. Ez. 34,
5); 11, 5 (cf. Isa. 35, 5 f; 61, 1); 12, 40 (cf. Jon. 2, 1); etc. Consequently the
Kingdom of Heaven preached by Jesus is the spiritual Kingdom of the Messias promised in the Old Testament. The First
Gospel therefore offers numerous descriptions of this Kingdom in the parables of Christ and gives much of the teachings of
Christ concerning the spiritual qualities that the members of this Kingdom must have.
2. The New Law, promulgated by Jesus, does not really abolish the
Old Law of Moses but fulfills and perfects it; the interpretation of the Law, however, belongs no longer to the Scribes and
Pharisees---"the hypocrites," but to Christ. ("You have heard that it was said to the ancients . . . But I say to you . .
.". Cf. especially 5, 17-48 and 23, 1-36.) Therefore the Evangelist recounts the frequent conflicts between
Christ and these false teachers concerning the observation of the pharisaical traditions, which were based upon their wrong
interpretation of the Law.
3. Christ's sufferings and death on the Cross, "to the Jews indeed
a stumbling-block" (1 Cor. 1, 23), were preordained by God and foretold in the Scriptures (16, 21; 17;
12.22; 26, 126.96.36.199.56), for the Messias had to "give his life as a ransom for many" (20, 28). The Jews were
indeed to be the first to share in this Redemption (10, 5; 15, 24); but the fact that the majority of the Jews
failed to accept Jesus as the Messias was due to the false ideas that the people had of the expected Messias ("They took offense
at him;" 13, 57), and especially to the conceit of their leaders, the Scribes and Pharisees, "blind guides of blind
men" (15, 14), who spread false rumors concerning Christ's resurrection "even to the present day" (28, 15).
For rejecting their Savior the unbelieving Jews themselves are rejected by God (11, 20-24; 21, 18 f.28-32),
and indeed they called down upon themselves and their children the blood of the Messias (27, 25). Therefore it
is clear why the Gentiles are to be admitted so freely into the Kingdom without the necessity of observing the Mosaic Law
(8, 11 f; 28, 19), because the Kingdom of God is taken away from the Jews and given to a people yielding its
fruits (21, 43).
4. The Kingdom of Christ is a true society, a Church, having authority
to correct abuses even with the power of excommunication (18, 17); its government is committed to the Apostles, to
whom Christ gave special instructions (10); their decisions are ratified in heaven (18, 18). This Church
is founded upon Simon Peter, "the Rock," to whom alone Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (16, 17 ff).
Structure. St. Matthew, of course, does not develop
his thesis as outlined above. He presents this teaching mainly as spoken by the Master during His public ministry.
But since the scope of the Evangelist is principally apologetic and polemic, he selects that material which best suits his
special purpose and therefore does not intend to give a complete life of Christ. In a sense, then, his Gospel is not
strictly history, although every statement that he makes is strictly historical. Furthermore, in order to present his
thesis in an attractive form, he skillfully arranges the words and deeds of the Savior in certain well-balanced groups, often
departing thereby from the strictly chronological order, although retaining the broad outlines of the natural sequence of
events. Hence the particles and phrases which in themselves are temporal, such as "then," "at that time," "on that day,"
etc., in this Gospel are often not much more than mere indications of transition from one topic to another.
One reason for this artificial arrangement might also have been the desire
to assist the memory of the faithful in learning the Gospel by heart. For in those days of expensive, hand-made books
the memorizing of important books played a much more important role than it does today. This use of memory-aids is found
more or less in all three Synoptic Gospels, where often the only link between various sayings or deeds of Christ is some similar
word occurring in two entirely different contexts. The use of different links in different Gospels results in a different
order in each Gospel.
Probably to this same purpose of memory-aids is due St. Matthew's fondness
for certain definite numbers in his artificial groupings. Thus, he divides all the generations from Abraham to Christ
into three groups of fourteen names in each group (1, 17), even though he realized that his readers knew that this
did not correspond exactly with the facts. So also he groups most of the teachings of Christ into five long discourses,
each of which ends with almost the same phrase, "And it came to pass when Jesus had finished these words . . ." (7,
28; 11, 1; 13, 53; 19, 1; 26, 1). These form the Evangelist's own division of his work,
and every true schema of his Gospel must take them into consideration.
Between these five great discourses the Evangelist has drawn up four
groups of various deeds and sayings of Christ. Some of these groupings too are skillfully devised arrangements.
Thus, between the first and the second of these great discourses there are three groups of three miracles each; between each
group of miracles there is an intermediated group of two incidents.
Prelude: The Coming of the Savior 1-2
The Public Ministry of Jesus 3-25
1. The Preparation 3,1 -- 4,11
The Inauguration of the Ministry in Galilee 4, 12-25
Period of the Ministry in Galilee and Across Its Lake 5, 1 -- 15, 20
4. Ministry Mostly in the Regions Bordering on Galilee 15, 21 -- 18, 35
5. Ministry on the Journey to Jerusalem 19-20
6. Last Ministry at Jerusalem 21-25
The Passion, Death and Resurrection 26-28
1. The Last Supper 26, 1-35
2. The Passion
and Death of Jesus 26, 36 -- 27, 66
3. The Resurrection
of Jesus 28
THE HOLY GOSPEL OF
JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW
St. Matthew, one of the twelve
Apostles, is the author of the first Gospel. He was the son of Alpheus and was called to be an Apostle while sitting
in the tax-collector's place at Capharnaum. Before his conversion he was a publican, i.e., a tax-collector by
profession. He is to be identified with the "Levi" of Mark and Luke. His apostolic activity was at first restricted
to the communities of Palestine. Nothing definite is known about his later life. Tradition points to Ethiopia
as his field of labor. It is uncertain whether he died a natural death or received the crown of martyrdom. His
feast is celebrated on September 21.
His Gospel was written to fill a sorely felt want for his fellow-countrymen,
both believers and unbelievers. It was designed to convince men that the Messias had come in the Person of Jesus, our
Lord, in whom all the promises of the messianic kingdom embracing all people had been fulfilled in a spiritual rather than
in a carnal way: "My kingdom is not of this world." His Gospel, then, answered the question put by the disciples of
St. John the Baptist, "Art thou he who is to come, or shall we look for another?"
Writing for his countrymen of
Palestine, St. Matthew composed his Gospel in his native Aramaic. Soon afterwards, about the time of the persecution
of Herod Agrippa I in 42 A.D., he took his departure for other lands. Another tradition places the composition of his
Gospel either between the time of this departure and the Council of Jerusalem, i.e., between 42 A.D. and 50 A.D., or even
later. Definitely, however, the Gospel itself, depicting the Holy City with its altar and temple still existing, and
without any reference to the fulfillment of our Lord's prophecy, shows that it was written before the destruction of the city
by the Romans (70 A.D.).
The Gospel was soon translated into Greek---possibly during the lifetime of St. Matthew or
a little later; certainly before the close of the first century. The original has been lost in the course of time.
The Greek text, however, is in substantial conformity with the original.