The Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel of Matthew was written anonymously in about 80-90 A.D. The earliest manuscripts do not have the title “The Gospel According to Matthew.” It wasn’t until the second century that the name of Matthew the Disciple was associated with this gospel. Scholars continue to use the name Matthew to refer to the author of this gospel for convenience, even though most scholars don’t believe he actually wrote it.
Matthew, like all the other New Testament writers, wrote in Koine (i.e. common) Greek, which was the main written language of the eastern Roman Empire. Since the literacy rate was so low, almost all Christians heard texts read aloud.
The Gospel of Matthew was written based on several sources, which he edited in order to communicate his and/or his communities’ theological understanding of Jesus. Matthew reproduced most of the Gospel of Mark, sometimes word for word. Matthew also used a reconstructed collection of Jesus’ teaching that scholars call Q. (The issue of the relationships between the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke is called the Synoptic Problem.) Finally, Matthew used oral traditions about Jesus in his gospel. Matthew, like all the other gospel writers, interpreted those stories about Jesus from his sources according to his own theology.
This gospel is the most Jewish gospel. Jesus is depicted as the new Moses. He is the authoritative interpreter of the Law and fulfillment of the Law (i.e. the Torah, which means “law” or “instruction” in Hebrew). He gives five large groups of teaching which are a kind of new Law (chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, & 24-25). The groups of teaching represent the five books of Moses, which are the first five books of the Bible (i.e. The Law or the Torah or the Pentateuch).
The author was probably a Jewish Christian from a community of Jewish Christians. Jewish Christians were Jews who became Christians and continued their Jewish practices in some ways: like keeping the Torah or worshiping the temple. This Jewish Christian community was perhaps making more of an effort to reach out to gentiles because at the end of the gospel the disciples are instructed by the resurrected Christ to “go make disciples of all nations.”
This increased effort to reach out to gentiles may be related to the fact that Jewish Christians were increasingly being kicked out of the synagogues (synagogues were Jewish gatherings for worship). As more gentiles became Christians and Christian theology moved away from the different Jewish beliefs of the time, Jewish Christians were increasingly viewed as heretics and no longer welcome in the synagogues.
The Christians that used the Gospel of Matthew were expected to continue to follow the Law. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says that he has come not to abolish the Torah but to fulfill it. Jesus is also depicted as debating with other Jewish leaders (scribes and Pharisees) about how to interpret the Torah.
Another feature of the Gospel of Matthew that makes it particularly Jewish is the heavy use of quotations from the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. All the gospels quote from the Old Testament to show that Jesus is fulfilling the Hebrew Scriptures, but in the Gospel of Matthew these quotations are more frequent and more important.
The Gospel of Matthew has a story of the birth of Jesus (Luke has a birth story as well, but Mark and John do not). Then comes the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. Jesus teaches, heals, performs exorcisms, and does other miracles in Galilee.
Jesus goes to Jerusalem where he teaches and predicts his death and resurrection. Next comes the story of Jesus' arrest, trial, and crucifixion (this story is often called the Passion Narrative). Matthew ends with the resurrection of Jesus.
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