Who was Matthew?
The gospel of Matthew, although placed chronologically first in the New Testament, is most likely a revised and expanded version of Mark. By supplementing Mark’s writing with accounts of the life of Jesus he himself has heard, (among them the Infancy narrative and the Sermon on the Mount), Matthew writes a Gospel with a new focus and flavour. For many years Matthew was believed to be the tax collector named in the Gospel as Matthew (Mt 9:9); indeed the Gospel is named after this man, but scholars now believe that the actual composition of this Gospel took place well after the lifetime of Jesus and through a complex process.
Who did Matthew write for?
In the absence of a definitive answer, who this work might have been written for is deduced by examination of the work itself; by the interests which dominate the writing, by writing style, terminology and explanation of cultural events and practices the author uses and by the way they allude to other texts and events.
By examining Matthew scholars are able to propose the following:
- Matthew’s community were Jewish. An important feature of Matthew’s Gospel is his presentation of Jesus as fulfilment of scripture, a recurring phrase throughout this Gospel (e.g. Mt 1:22). Matthew sprinkles his infancy narrative with quotes from the Old Testament, making it clear that the expectations of the messiah have now been fulfilled. In following Jesus then, Matthew’s community were not abandoning their heritage but discovering its full meaning.
- Matthew wrote around 85-90 CE. This dating places the gospel after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD, in the midst of conflict between the Jewish synagogue leaders and the emerging community, interested in who Jesus was.
The earliest community practised their Jewish faith as they explored their memories and recollections about Jesus. Increasingly, there were a number of Jews wondering about who Jesus was, and their growing claim to be the inheritors of the promises of the Hebrew scriptures led to a sharp divide and animosity with the local Jewish community in the 80s. While it seems that the majority of members of Matthew’s community had come to believe in Jesus, they had not set aside their Jewish heritage. These ‘Jewish Christians’, under attack from their former Jewish community members, were asked to decide: would they continue their faith within or outside traditional Judaism. This Gospel attempts to reconcile the community’s Jewish heritage with the reality of Jesus’ life.
Who is Matthew’s Jesus?
First and foremost, Matthew’s Jesus is the promise messianic fulfilled. Jesus is the messiah that Judaism had waited for, the one who ushers in the Kingdom of God. Matthew has more parables of the Kingdom (Matthew calls it the Kingdom of heaven out of reverence for the name of God (Mt 13) than Mark, thus reassuring his community that, in Jesus, God’s reign has come; the Kingdom has been restored.
Matthew adds to his case by showing Jesus as a new Moses, a new leader for the Jewish people. Matthew writes to show how Jesus imitates the key actions of his ancestor in faith; being kept from an untimely death as an infant, being called out of Egypt as an adult, and being the bringer of a new law on a mountain, this time beside Lake Galilee.
In his Infancy narrative Matthew bookends his view of Jesus calling him ‘God with us’, the child who will be known as ‘Emmanuel’ (Mt 1:23) At the end of the Gospel, the risen Christ continues this promise to be with his people always, ‘to the end of the age’ (Mt 28:20).
Finally, Matthew adds greatly to Mark’s account, of Jesus as teacher by in including many teachings of Jesus that Mark was not aware of. A significant example of this is the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Mt 5-7) where Matthew collects 18 lessons into one teaching scene. For Matthew, Jesus is powerful in both word, (as teacher), and deed, (as the divine God present in the miracles).
What about the disciples?
The disciples, are presented more kindly in Matthew than in Mark, with Jesus responding more gently to their failures. Although they sometimes struggle to understand him, they follow Jesus faithfully. In the end they are commissioned by the risen Christ and sent on mission. Notable among the disciples are a number of women disciples.Four women appear in the genealogy, along with Mary of Nazareth (Mt 1:1-18). Women are noted as having followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem in the Passion, and of course women disciples are the first to come to the tomb, receive news of the resurrection and take this ‘Gospel’ to the others.
Arrangement of Matthew’s Gospel
The arrangement of Matthew’s Gospel into five books is often noted by scholars as further evidence of the Jewish nature of his community. By mirroring the five books of the Torah Matthew aligns his ‘books’ with those of the Law. Each ‘book’ consists of a discourse and narrative with the entire Gospel beginning with an introduction, and ending with a conclusion.
Book 1: Mt 5-8. The formal proclamation of the charter of the Kingdom to the disciples and the public – the Sermon on the Mount.
Book 5: Mt 19-25. The crisis, provoked by the hostility of the Jewish leaders, preparing the way for the coming of the Kingdom.
Conclusion: Mt 26-28. Finally, the coming itself, a coming brought about through suffering and triumph, in the Passion and Resurrection: The great commissioning.
A Thematic Way of Looking at Matthew’s Gospel
Together on the Mountain
John McKinnon has titled his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel ‘Together on the Mountain’, following the frequent choice of that location to highlight significant moments in the ministry of Jesus.
- It was on a high mountain that Matthew situated Jesus’ encounter with Satan. There, Satan showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour and promised him they could all be his, provided Jesus would fall down and worship him (Mt 4:8-9). Jesus chose God’s Kingdom.
- It was ‘on the mountain’ that Jesus delivered what is frequently referred to as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, his outline of the life of discipleship in the new community (Mt 5:1).
- Before presenting Jesus walking on water, and hinting at his unique relationship to God, Matthew said that, first, he went ‘up the mountain’ by himself to pray (Mt 14:23).
- Jesus went ‘up the mountain’, somewhere in Galilee, and sat down. He exercised his ministry of healing, and fed the crowd of four thousand Mt 15:29-39).
- Similarly, it was ‘up a high mountain’ that Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, and that his message of suffering preceding death was confirmed by the Father (Mt 17:1-8).
- ‘Sitting on the Mount of Olives’, he delivered his apocalyptic discourse to his disciples (Mt 24:3-44). Later in Gethsemane, situated on that same mountain, he entered into his time of trial and prayed earnestly to his Father (Mt 26:36-46).
- Finally, it was on a mountain in Galilee that the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples and commissioned them to bring the Good News to the whole world (28:16-20).
Note: for more information on the above material please refer to: https://resourcecem.com/2018/09/27/matthews-gospel/.