Introduction to Matthew

The author of the Gospel According to Matthew was one of the original twelve disciples chosen by Jesus (Matthew 9:9; 10:3). He does not identify himself as the author, but the uniform tradition of the early church attributes it to him, and there is no reason not to accept him as the author.

Matthew had been a publican, or tax collector, before Jesus called him. This profession was considered sinful by the Jews, since the publicans often exacted heavy taxes from the Rome subjects, keeping the excess for themselves. Matthew, however, was different. He had evidently become a disciple of John the Baptist (Acts 1:21-22), and was immediately ready to follow Jesus when He called him (Mark 2:14-17). Mark identifies Matthew as also going by the name of Levi, but both authors give his name as Matthew in their respective lists of the twelve (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18).

Matthew undoubtedly wrote his gospel primarily for the Jews to whom he first ministered, as is evident not only from the genealogy of Jesus that he gives in Matthew 1:1-17 but also from the numerous citations from the Old Testament. Matthew especially refers to the Old Testament Messianic prophecies as being fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:22-23; 2:5-6; 3:3).

The time of writing was considerably after the time of Christ’s resurrection (compare Matthew 28:15) but obviously before the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem as predicted in Matthew 24:2. A controversy still exists among scholars as to whether Matthew or Mark was the first gospel record of the life of Christ.

Matthew describes twenty miracles (out of thirty-five passages in the gospels describing miracles) and twenty-one parables of Jesus (out of fifty-one passages dealing with parables in the gospels). He uses the term “kingdom of heaven” thirty-two times, whereas Mark and Luke use only “kingdom of God.” Matthew is the only gospel author who mentions the future “church” (Matthew 16:18; 18:17).

Whether or not Matthew’s gospel was the first one written down, as many scholars believe, it has always been placed first in the New Testament canon, and is probably the most widely read of all the New Testament books (with the possible exception of John). With its genealogy in the first chapter, it obviously would form the most natural transition, at least to the Jewish mind, from the old covenant to the new covenant.

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