(euaggelion kata Maththaion (or Matthaion)):

1. Name of Gospel--Unity and Integrity

2. Canonicity and Authorship

3. Relation of Greek and Aramaic Gospels

4. Contents, Character, and Purpose

5. Problems of Literary Relation

6. Date of Gospel


1. Name of Gospel--Unity and Integrity:

The "Gospel according to Matthew," i.e. the Gospel according to the account of Matthew, stands, according to traditional, but not entirely universal, arrangement, first among the canonical Gospels. The Gospel, as will be seen below, was unanimously ascribed by the testimony of the ancient church to the apostle Matthew, though the title does not of itself necessarily imply immediate authorship. The unity and integrity of the Gospel were never in ancient times called in question. Matthew 1; 2, particularly--the story of the virgin birth and childhood of Jesus--are proved by the consentient testimony of manuscripts, VSS, and patristic references, to have been an integral part of the Gospel from the beginning (see VIRGIN BIRTH). The omission of this section from the heretical Gospel of the Ebionites, which appears to have had some relation to our Gospel, is without significance.

The theory of successive redactions of Mt, starting with an Aramaic Gospel, elaborated by Eichhorn and Marsh (1801), and the related theories of successive editions of the Gospel put forth by the Tubingen school (Baur, Hilgenfeld, Kostlin, etc.), and by Ewald (Bleek supposes a primitive Greek Gospel), lack historical foundation, and are refuted by the fact that manuscripts and versions know only the ultimate redaction. Is it credible that the churches should quietly accept redaction after redaction, and not a word be said, or a vestige remain, of any of them?

2. Canonicity and Authorship:

(1) Canonicity.

The apostolic origin and canonical rank of the Gospel of Matthew were accepted without a doubt by the early church. Origen, in the beginning of the 3rd century could speak of it as the first of "the four Gospels, which alone are received without dispute by the church of God under heaven" (in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, VI, 25). The use of the Gospel can be traced in the apostolic Fathers; most distinctly in Barnabas, who quotes Mt 22:14 with the formula, "It is written" (5). Though not mentioned by name, it was a chief source from which Justin took his data for the life and words of Jesus (compare Westcott, Canon, 91 ff), and apostolic origin is implied in its forming part of "the Memoirs of the Apostles," "which are called Gospels," read weekly in the assemblies of the Christians (Ap. i.66, etc.). Its identity with our Matthew is confirmed by the undoubted presence of that Gospel in the Diatessaron of Tatian, Justin's disciple. The testimony of Papias is considered below. The unhesitating acceptance of the Gospel is further decisively shown by the testimonies and use made of it in the works of Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and by its inclusion in the Muratorian Canon, the Itala, Peshitta, etc.


(2) Authorship.

The questions that cluster around the First Gospel have largely to do with the much-discussed and variously disputed statement concerning it found in Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 39), cited from the much older work of Papias, entitled Interpretation of the Words of the Lord. Papias is the first who mentions Matthew by name as the author of the Gospel. His words are: "Matthew composed the Logia (logia, "words," "oracles") in the Hebrew (Aramaic) tongue, and everyone interpreted them as he was able." Papias cannot here be referring to a book of Matthew in which only the discourses or sayings of Jesus had been preserved, but which had not any, or only meager accounts of His deeds, which imaginary document is in so many critical circles regarded as the basis of the present Gospel, for Papias himself uses the expression ta logia, as embracing the story, as he himself says, in speaking of Mark, "of the things said or done by Christ" (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 24; compare particularly T. Zahn, Introduction to New Testament, section 54, and Lightfoot, Supernatural Religion, 170 ff). Eusebius further reports that after Matthew had first labored among his Jewish compatriots, he went to other nations, and as a substitute for his oral preaching, left to the former a Gospel written in their own dialect (III, 24). The testimony of Papias to Matthew as the author of the First Gospel is confirmed by Irenaeus (iii.3, 1) and by Origen (in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, V, 10), and may be accepted as representing a uniform 2nd-century tradition. Always, however, it is coupled with the statement that the Gospel was originally written in the Hebrew dialect. Hence, arises the difficult question of the relation of the canonical Greek Gospel, with which alone, apparently, the fathers were acquainted, to this alleged original apostolic work.

3. Relation of Greek and Aramaic Gospels:

One thing which seems certain is that whatever this Hebrew (Aramaic) document may have been, it was not an original form from which the present Greek Gospel of Matthew was translated, either by the apostle himself, or by somebody else, as was maintained by Bengel, Thiersch, and other scholars. Indeed, the Greek Matthew throughout bears the impress of being not a translation at all, but as having been originally written in Greek, and as being less Hebraistic in the form of thought than some other New Testament writings, e.g. the Apocalypse. It is generally not difficult to discover when a Greek book of this period is a translation from the Hebrew or Aramaic. That our Matthew was written originally in Greek appears, among other things, from the way in which it makes use of the Old Testament, sometimes following the Septuagint, sometimes going back to the Hebrew. Particularly instructive passages in this regard are 12:18-21 and 13:14,15, in which the rendering of the Alexandrian translation would have served the purposes of the evangelist, but he yet follows more closely the original text, although he adopts the Septuagint wherever this seemed to suit better than the Hebrew (compare Keil's Commentary on Matthew, loc. cit.).

The external evidences to which appeal is made in favor of the use of an original Hebrew or Aramaic. Matthew in the primitive church are more than elusive. Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, V, 10) mentions as a report (legetai) that Pantaenus, about the year 170 AD, found among the Jewish Christians, probably of South Arabia, a Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew, left there by Bartholomew; and Jerome, while in the Syrian Berea, had occasion to examine such a work, which he found in use among the Nazarenes, and which at first he regarded as a composition of the apostle Matthew, but afterward declared not to be such, and then identified with the Gospel according to the Hebrews (Evangelium secundum or juxta Hebraeos) also called the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles, or of the Nazarenes, current among the Nazarenes and Ebionites (De Vir. Illustr., iii; Contra Pelag., iii.2; Commentary on Mt 12:13, etc.; see GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE HEBREWS). For this reason the references by Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius to the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew are by many scholars regarded as referring to this Hebrew Gospel which the Jewish Christians employed, and which they thought to be the work of the evangelist (compare for fuller details See Hauck-Herzog, Realencyklopadie fur protestantische Theologie und Kirche, XII, article "Matthaeus der Apostel"). Just what the original Hebrew. Mathew was to which Papias refers (assuming it to have had a real existence) must, with our present available means, remain an unsolved riddle, as also the possible connection between the Greek and Hebrew texts. Attempts like those of Zahn, in his Kommentar on Matthew, to explain readings of the Greek text through an inaccurate understanding of the imaginary Hebrew original are arbitrary and unreliable. There remains, of course, the possibility that the apostle himself, or someone under his care (thus Godet), produced a Greek recension of an earlier Aramaic work.

The prevailing theory at present is that the Hebrew Matthean document of Papias was a collection mainly of the discourses of Jesus (called by recent critics Q), which, in variant Greek translations, was used both by the author of the Greek Matthew and by the evangelist Luke, thus explaining the common features in these two gospels (W.C. Allen, however, in his Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Matthew, disputes Luke's use of this supposed common source, Intro, xlvi ff). The use of this supposed Matthean source is thought to explain how the Greek Gospel came to be named after the apostle. It has already been remarked, however, that there is no good reason for supposing that the "Logia" of Papias was confined to discourses. See further on "sources" below.

4. Contents, Character and Purpose:

(1) Contents and Character.

As respects contents, the Gospel of Mt can be divided into 3 chief parts:

(1) preliminary, including the birth and early youth of the Lord (Matthew 1; 2);

(2) the activity of Jesus in Galilee (Matthew 3-18);

(3) the activity of Jesus in Judea and Jerusalem, followed by His passion, death, and resurrection (Matthew 19-28).

In character, the Gospel, like those of the other evangelists, is only a chrestomathy, a selection from the great mass of oral tradition concerning the doings and sayings of Christ current in apostolic and early Christian circles, chosen for the special purpose which the evangelist had in view. Accordingly, there is a great deal of material in Matthew in common with Mark and Lk, although not a little of this material, too, is individualistic in character, and of a nature to vex and perplex the harmonist, as e.g. Matthew's accounts of the temptation, of the demoniacs at Gadara, of the blind man at Jericho (4:1-11; 8:28-34; 20:20-34); yet there is much also in this Gospel that is peculiar to it. Such are the following pericopes: Matthew 1; 2; 9:27-36; 10:15,37-40; 11:28-30; 12:11,12,15-21,33-38; 13:24-30,36-52; 14:28-31; 16:17-19; 17:24-27; 18:15-35; 19:10-12; 20:1-16; 21:10 f,14-16,28-32; 22:1-14; 23:8-22; 24:42-25:46; 27:3-10,62-66; 28:11 ff. The principle of arrangement of the material is not chronological, but rather that of similarity of material. The addresses and parables of Jesus are reported consecutively, although they may have been spoken at different times, and material scattered in the other evangelists--especially in Luke--is found combined in Matthew. Instances are seen in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), the "mission address" (Matthew 10), the seven parables of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 13), the discourses and parables (Matthew 18), the woes against the Pharisees (Matthew 23), and the grand eschatological discourses (Matthew 24; 25) (compare with parallel in the other gospels, on the relation to which, see below).

(2) Purpose.

The special purpose which the writer had in view in his Gospel is nowhere expressly stated, as is done, e.g., by the writer of the Fourth Gospel in Joh 20:30,31, concerning his book, but it can readily be gleaned from the general contents of the book, as also from specific passages. The traditional view that Matthew wrote primarily to prove that in Jesus of Nazareth is to be found the fulfillment and realization of the Messianic predictions of the Old Testament prophets and seers is beyond a doubt correct. The mere fact that there are about 40 proof passages in Matthew from the Old Testament, in connection even with the minor details of Christ's career, such as His return from Egypt (2:15), is ample evidence of this fact, although the proof manner and proof value of some of these passages are exegetical cruces, as indeed is the whole way in which the Old Testament is cited in the New Testament.


The question as to whether the Gospel was written for Jewish Christians, or for Jews not yet converted, is less important, as this book, as was the case probably with the Epistle of James, was written at that transition period when the Jewish and the Christian communions were not yet fully separated, and still worshipped together.

Particular indications as to this purpose of the Gospel are met with at the beginning and throughout the whole work; e.g. it is obvious in Mt 1:1, where the proof is furnished that Jesus was the son of Abraham, in whom all families of the earth were to be blessed (Ge 12:3), and of David, who was to establish the kingdom of God forever (2Sa 7). The genealogy of Luke, on the other hand (3:23 ff), with its cosmopolitan character and purpose, aiming to show that Jesus was the Redeemer of the whole world, leads back this line to Adam, the common ancestor of all mankind. Further, as the genealogy of Matthew is evidently that of Joseph the foster and legal father of Jesus, and not that of Mary, as is the case in Luke, the purpose to meet the demands of the Jewish reader is transparent. The full account in Matthew of the Sermon on the Mount, which does not, as is sometimes said, contain a "new program of the kingdom of God"--indeed does not contain the fundamental principles of the Gospel at all--but is the deeper and truly Biblical interpretation of the Law over against the superficial interpretation of the current Pharisaism, which led the advocates of the latter in all honesty to declare, "What lack I yet?" given with the design of driving the auditors to the gospel of grace and faith proclaimed by Christ (compare Ga 3:24)--all this is only intelligible when we remember that the book was written for Jewish readers. Again the gegraptai--i.e. the fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture, a matter which for the Jew was everything, but for the Gentile was of little concern--appears in Matthew on all hands. We have it e.g. in connection with the birth of Jesus from a virgin, His protection from Herod, His coming to Nazareth (Mt 1:22 f; 2:5,6,15,17 f,23), the activity of John the Baptist (Mt 3:3; compare Mt 11:10), the selection of Galilee as the scene of Jesus' operations (Mt 4:14 ), the work of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets (Mt 5:17), His quiet, undemonstrative methods (Mt 12:17 ), His teaching by parables (Mt 13:35), His entrance into Jerusalem (Mt 21:4 f,16), His being arrested (Mt 26:54), the betrayal of Judas (Mt 27:9), the distribution of His garments (Mt 27:35). Throughout, as Professor Kubel says, the Gospel of Mt shows a "diametrical contrast between Christ and Pharisaism." Over against the false Messianic ideas and ideals of contemporary teachings among the Jews, Mt selects those facts from the teachings and deeds of Christ which show the true Messiah and the correct principles of the kingdom of God. In this respect the Gospel can be regarded as both apologetic and polemical in its aim, in harmony with which also is its vivid portraiture to the growing hostility of the Jews to Christ and to His teachings which, in the latter part of Matthew, appears as intense as it does in John. Nowhere else do we find such pronounced denunciations of the Pharisees and their system from the lips of Jesus (compare Mt 9:11 ff; 12:1 ff; 15:1 ff; 16:1 ff; and on particular points 5:20 ff; 9:13; 23:23; see also 8:12; 9:34; 12:24; 21:43). It is from this point of view, as representing the antithesis to the narrow Pharisaic views, that we are to understand the writer's emphasis on the universality of the kingdom of Jesus Christ (compare Mt 3:1-12; 8:10-12; 21:33-44; 28:18-20)--passages in which some have thought they discerned a contradiction to the prevailing Jewish strain of the Gospel.

5. Problems of Literary Relation:

The special importance of the Gospel of Matthew for the synoptic problem can be fully discussed only in the article on this subject (see GOSPELS, THE SYNOPTIC), and in connection with Mark and Luke. The synoptic problem deals primarily with the literary relations existing between the first 3 Gospels. The contents of these are in many cases so similar, even in verbal details, that they must have some sources in common, or some dependence or interdependence must exist between them; on the other hand, each of the 3 Gospels shows so many differences and dissimilarities from the other two, that in their composition some independent source or sources--oral or written--must have been employed. In general it may be said that the problem itself is of little more than literary importance, having by no means the historical significance for the development of the religion of the New Testament which the Pentateuchal problem has for that of the Old Testament. Nor has the synoptic problem any historical background that promises a solution as the Pentateuchal problem has in the history of Israel. Nothing save an analysis of the contents of these Gospels, and a comparison of the contents of the three, offers the scholar any material for the study of the problem, and as subjective taste and impressions are prime factors in dealing with materials of this sort, it is more than improbable, in the absence of any objective evidence, that the synoptic problem in general, or the question of the sources of Matthew in particular, will ever be solved to the satisfaction of the majority of scholars. The hypothesis which at present has widest acceptance is the "two-source" theory, according to which Mark, in its existing or some earlier form, and the problematical original Matthew (q), constitute the basis of our canonical Gospel.

In proof of this, it is pointed out that nearly the whole of the narrative-matter of Mark is taken up into Matthew, as also into Luke, while the large sections, chiefly discourses, common to Matthew and Luke are held, as already said, to point to a source of that character which both used. The difficulties arise when the comparison is pursued into details, and explanation is sought of the variations in phraseology, order, sometimes in conception, in the respective gospels.

Despite the prestige which this theory has attained, the true solution is probably a simpler one. Matthew no doubt secured the bulk of his data from his own experience and from oral tradition, and as the former existed in fixed forms, due to catechetical instruction, in the early church, it is possible to explain the similarities of Matthew with the other two synoptics on this ground alone, without resorting to any literary dependence, either of Matthew on the other two, or of these, or either of them, on Matthew. The whole problem is purely speculative and subjective and under present conditions justifies a cui bono? as far as the vast literature which it has called into existence is concerned.

6. Date of Gospel:

According to early and practically universal tradition Mt wrote his Gospel before the other three, and the place assigned to it in New Testament literature favors the acceptance of this tradition. Irenaeus reports that it was written when Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome (ill.1), and Eusebius states that this was done when Matthew left Palestine and went to preach to others (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 24). Clement of Alexandria is responsible for the statement that the presbyters who succeeded each other from the beginning declared that "the gospels containing the genealogies (Matthew and Luke) were written first" (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, VI, 14). This is, of course, fatal to the current theory of dependence on Mark, and is in consequence rejected. At any rate, there is the best reason for holding that the book must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD (compare 2415). The most likely date for the Greek Gospel is in the 7th Christian decade. Zahn claims that Matthew wrote his Aramaic Gospel in Palestine in 62 AD, while the Greek Matthew dates from 85 AD, but this latter date is not probable.


Introduction to the Commentary on Matthew (Meyer, Alford, Allen (ICC), Broadus (Philadelphia, 1887), Morison, Plummer, Schaeffer in Lutheran Commentary (New York, 1895), etc.); works on Introduction to the New Testament (Salmon, Weiss, Zahn, etc.); articles in Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedia may be consulted. See also F.C. Burkitt, The Gospel History and Its Transmission; Wellhausen, Das Evangelium Matthaei and Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien; Sir J.C. Hawkins, Horae Synopticae; Westcott, Introduction to the Study of the Gospels; Lightfoot, Essays on Supernatural Religion, V, "Papias of Hierapolis" (this last specially on the sense of Logia).

See also the works cited in MARK, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO.

G. H. Schodde

© Levend Water