The Gospel of Matthew
1. A note before we start examining the first book of the New Testament: each book will have the same outline:
- Place and time of writing
- Unique characteristics: What is unique about the book?
- Looking deeper into the book (since this is a short course, I will only give highlights from each book)
- New Testament timeline including information from that book in bold
2. What is a gospel? "Gospel" comes from the Greek language and means "Good News." You can think of a Gospel as a biography of Jesus, although the 4 Gospels focus on the last 3 years of Jesus' life on earth and do not tell much about his life before the age of 30.
- Matthew was one of the original 12 Apostles.
- Matthew was a tax collector before he became an Apostle.
- Sources outside the New Testament state that Matthew may have died in Ethiopia.
Place and Time of Writing
- Place: No evidence as to where it was written: the place is unknown.
- Time: While various theories exist, the date of AD 80 seems likely.
- Extra: Some scholars believe that Matthew was written before the year 70. As we discussed earlier, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70, and, since Matthew mentions the Temple, the idea is that Matthew must have been written before the Temple was destroyed or else he would have mentioned it. I don't think so for this reason: Everyone living right after the year 70 would have known that the Temple was destroyed, and so Matthew didn't need to include that information. For an example: imagine that a park I played in as a child was made into a parking lot. If I am talking to any of my childhood friends and we mention the park, we don't need to say that it is no longer there because we both know it. In the same way, Matthew mentioned the Temple but didn't need to mention that it was destroyed because everyone at that time knew it.
- Matthew wrote mainly to Jews. He includes a number of references to Jewish ideas and history that the other Gospels don't include, which shows that he wrote mainly to Jews.
- Extra: For example, Matthew 15:2: "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!" In this verse, Matthew does not include an explanation of the Jewish custom of handwashing. But the same story in Mark 7:2-4 does include an explanation because Mark's audience is not Jews: “[The Pharisees] saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)"
- Matthew is one of the Synoptic Gospels. The first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) share many of the same stories, teachings, and events and are referred to as Synoptic. "Synoptic" comes from the Greek language: "syn-" means similar and "optic" means eye/perspective/viewpoint: so these three Gospels have similar information. Because of the different themes in the Synoptic Gospels, though, the stories and events are often in a different order in the different Gospels.
Jesus is the spiritual Messiah ("Messiah" from Hebrew means "chosen one").
- Some Jews were waiting for a military Messiah to lead them into battle against the Romans. Matthew shows that Jesus was the Messiah, but, instead of a military leader, he was a spiritual Messiah sent from God.
- Jesus is referred to by the title "Emmanuel" or "Immanuel," which means "God with us." (Matthew 1:23) This title is only found in Matthew and helps prove the theme.
Details about the Gospel of Matthew
1. As an example of the theme, the Gospel of Matthew contains the phrase "kingdom of Heaven" 32 times. This phrase is not found anywhere else in the New Testament. This shows the emphasis of Matthew on Jesus being a spiritual Messiah and that he did not come to create a kingdom on earth, but to show that the "kingdom of Heaven" (meaning the presence of God) is with all those who follow Jesus.
2. Two of the four Gospels discuss the birth and infancy of Jesus, Matthew and Luke. The birth story of Jesus includes stories about shepherds and the Magi/3 wise men. Matthew discussed the Magi and Luke discussed the shepherds. The reason for this is that Matthew shows Jesus as a leader (a spiritual Messiah) and so includes the story about leaders (Magi) coming to see a new-born leader (Jesus). Luke is writing to the common person and so describes how common people (shepherds) came to see Jesus.
- Extra: Why do we think there were 3 Magi/wise men? Because they brought three gifts.
3. The way that the Gospel of Matthew is arranged helps to show the Jewish audience. The Gospel can be divided into 5 sections:
- The Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7)
- Miracles Jesus performs (8-9)
- Parables (12-13)
- Questions and answers (15-20)
- Triumphal Entry, the last week of his life, and his resurrection (20-28)
Explanation: The first 5 books of the Old Testament are the most significant books for Jews. These books contain the stories from creation to Moses and include the Law of Moses. (Remember that this is one of the cornerstones of the Old Testament.) By arranging his Gospel into 5 parts, Matthew shows that Jesus fulfilled the Jewish Law.
4. In the Sermon on the Mount, the first sermon of Jesus in Matthew, he used the phrases "you have heard that it was said" and "but I tell you." For example, Matthew 5:27, 28: "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart." The first phrase ("You have heard that it was said") refers to something that is in the Law (Do not commit adultery, which is one of the 10 Commandments.) and in the second phrase ("but I tell you") Jesus replaced it with a new teaching (do not even think about it). In this way Jesus shows that God gave the Law to Moses, and God, in the form of Jesus, can fulfill it. In each case Jesus takes an idea from the Law of Moses (do not kill; do not commit adultery) and "raises the bar" or raises the expectation (do not even get angry; do not even think about committing adultery). So Jesus did not come to eradicate the Jewish faith, but to "fulfill" it. [More on this when we discuss Paul's ideas.]
5. Another point about the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew and Luke contain similar teachings. In Matthew, Jesus gives these teachings at the beginning of his ministry and while on top of a mountain. In Luke, Jesus gives these teachings in a plain or flat area and about halfway through Jesus' ministry. So almost the same teachings, but the two Gospels give two different times and two different places for them. This helps to show the nature of Gospels: they did not write in chronological order. The Synoptic Gospels contained many of the same stories and teachings, but the authors put the stories in different places. So why did Matthew put this teaching on a mountain and at the beginning of Jesus' ministry? Jews would have understood the reason: This is supposed to cause Jews to think back to Moses: Moses received the Law while on a mountain. Matthew chose to put this teaching at the beginning of Jesus' ministry and while Jesus was on a mountain to help show that Jesus would fulfill the Law, which Moses received on a mountain.
- This does not mean that one Gospel is right and another wrong. Instead, Jesus probably gave the same teaching in many places. Today that is unneccesary because of the internet: a leader says something one time, and it is repeat on the web. But in those days, leaders frequently repeated themselves to different audiences.
6. Matthew includes the verses often used by Catholics to prove that Peter was the first Pope: 16:13-19.
- Extra: The key verses are 18 and 19: "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
- For Catholics, this means that Jesus gave Peter authority to make all spiritual decisions on the earth. After Peter, the next pope inherited this authority, and it has passed down to the present pope.
- For Protestants, this means that God will bless people who have faith like Peter, so we all have a part in this promise.
Timeline up to the Gospel of Matthew
|63 B.C.||Romans conquer Israel.|
|27 B.C.||Pax Romana began and lasted until 180.|
|4 B.C.||Jesus born.|
|All dates after this are A.D. ["c." means "about"]|
|c.30||Jesus crucified, buried, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven.|
|64||Fire in Rome and Christians persecuted by Emperor Nero; Peter crucified upside down and Paul beheaded.|
|70||Temple in Jerusalem destroyed by Romans (it has not been rebuilt).|
|c.80||Gospel of Matthew written.|
|95||Persecution by Emperor Domitian; Apostle John exiled on island of Patmos where he wrote Revelation.|
|96||Emperor Domitian died; Apostle John probably moved to Ephesus.|
|c.100||Apostle John died; he was the last Apostle to die.|
|390's||NT canon "closed" at Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397).|
|1200's||Chapters added to the NT.|
|1500's||Verses added to the NT.|
©2012 Mark Nickens