Biblical Commentary        
Introduction to
Matthew
Part 1
“Whatever be the view we take of the precise origin of the first canonical Gospel, it was
universally received in the ancient church as the work of Matthew” (History of the Christian
Church, Vol. I; Phillip Schaff; p. 627). Unfortunately, the views of “Christendom” today are not
as universal in recognizing the first Gospel as the work of the apostle Matthew. The Tubingen
school of thought has greatly influenced the view of scripture by many, causing them to reject
many of the “traditional” authors of the New Testament books, assigning dates of composition
later than the lives of the “accepted” authors of the works.

THE TESTIMONY OF PAPIAS

Papias, an overseer of the church at Hieropolis, claimed to have spoken with Phillip’s four
virgin daughters who prophesied, and claimed to have been a discipleof the apostles, i.e.,
converted by them. He speaks in his writings (of which our knowledge is merely fragmentary)
of “The Oracles of Matthew.” This has been presumed, by those who reject the authorship of
the apostle Matthew for the first Gospel, to have been a collection of sayings of Jesus with no
description of his actions, since the word “Oracles” denotes words spoken. However,
nowhere does Papias nor any other writer ever limit the composition of  “The Oracles of
Matthew” merely to sayings; that is merely an assumption upon the part of those who do not
wish to accept Matthew’s authorship.

It is not uncommon in the Bible to name a book by a distinguishing feature within that book.
Take for example: Genesis, Exodus and Numbers. Genesis means “beginning.” It derived its
name from the first verse. Exodus means “exit or departure.” It derived its name from the
departure of Israel from the land of Egypt. Numbers derived its name from the numberings or
censi (plural of census) in the beginning and the end of the book.

Matthew is approximately one-half composed of the sayings of Jesus. Thus, it would be
natural to refer to this work by Matthew as “The Oracles.” Thus, “The Oracles of Matthew”
referred to by Papias would not be another Gospel, but the same Gospel as the first in our
New Testament.

A HEBREW (ARAMAIC) GOSPEL

Another argument advanced against the authorship of Matthew to the first Gospel is that
Papias and Irenaeus say Matthew wrote a Hebrew (or Aramaic) Gospel. Our Gospel of
Matthew was written in Greek. Therefore, it is alleged that our Gospel is not genuinely the
apostle Matthew’s. “If it be denied that Matthew wrote in Hebrew, it can not be asserted that he
wrote at all. It is therefore perfectly certain from this testimony that Matthew cannot be declared
the direct author of the Greek Canonical Gospel bearing his name” (Supernatural Religion; p.
476). However, neither Papias nor Irenaeus say that Matthew wrote only in Hebrew. He could
have translated his Gospel into Greek, or rewritten it in the Greek language, or rewritten his
Greek Gospel in Hebrew of which Papias or Irenaeus had copies. There is nothing in the
statements of either of these men to indicate that the Gospel of Matthew to which they refer is
different from that which we have.

A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

“Matthew, formerly called Levi, one of the twelve apostles, was originally a publican or
taxgatherer at Capernaum, and hence well acquainted with Greek and Hebrew in bilingual
Galilee, and accustomed to keeping accounts. This occupation prepared him for writing a
Gospel in topical order in both languages. In the three Synoptic lists of the apostles he is
associated with Thomas, and forms with him the fourth pair; in Mark and Luke he precedes
Thomas, in his own Gospel he is placed after him (perhaps from modesty). Hence the
conjecture that he was a twin brother of Thomas (Didymus, i.e. twin), or associated with him in
work. Thomas was an honest and earnest doubter, of a melancholy disposition, yet fully
convinced at last when he saw the risen Lord; Matthew was a strong and resolute believer.
“Of his apostolic labors we have no certain information. Palestine, Ethiopia, Macedonia, the
country of the Euphrates, Persia and Media are variously assigned to him as missionary
fields. He died a natural death according to the oldest tradition, while later accounts make him
a martyr” (Ibid, Philip Schaff; p. 613).

THE DATE

The estimates for the date of composition of Matthew range from 37 A.D. to 150 A.D. and later.
Even the order of composition of the Gospels is a point of controversy: whether Matthew or
Mark was the first one written. There are considerations which allow us to narrow down the
date of composition.

“The first Gospel makes the impression of primitive antiquity. The city of Jerusalem, the
temple, the priesthood and sacrifices, the entire religious and political fabric of Judaism are
supposed to be still standing, but with an intimation of their speedy downfall. It alone reports
the words of Christ that he came not to destroy but to fulfill the law and the prophets, and that
he was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Hence, the best critics put the
composition several years before the destruction of Jerusalem” (Ibid; Philip Schaff; p. 615).
The early writers always considered it to be the first Gospel, not only in position in the New
Testament, but also in order of writing. “Clement of Alexandria is responsible for the statement
that the elders who succeeded each other from the beginning declared that ‘the angels
containing the genealogies’ (Matthew and Luke) were written first” (A Brief Commentary on the
Gospel According to Matthew; H. Leo Boles; pp. x,xi).

These considerations place the writing of the Gospel of Matthew prior to the destruction of
Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Those who place the date later than 70 A.D. are either adherents of the thought radiating from
Tubingen, or have been influenced by it. The traditional date for its writing is 37 A.D. Thus we
can safely place the date of composition between 37 A.D. and 69 A.D. B.W. Johnson places
the date “within twenty years of the crucifixion.” Most modern conservative scholars place the
date between 60 A.D. and 67 A.D.

THE CANONICITY

The Canon of the New Testament is the catalogue, or list, of books which are accepted as
being inspired of God; therefore, authoritative for the teaching and practice of Christians. “The
principle on which the canon of the New Testament is determined is … Those books, and  
those only which can be proved to have been written by the apostles, or to have received their
sanction, are to be recognized as of divine authority. The reason of this rule is obvious. The
apostles were the duly authenticated messengers of Christ; to whom he said, ‘He that heareth
you heareth me” (Systematic Theology, Vol. 1; p. 153).

“The books did not become authoritative by Church decision or as a result of the veneration
attaching to things of antiquity. They were authoritative, inspired, and canonical by the
generation to which they were addressed because of the position of the authors as
acknowledged spokesmen of God. In the ancient times the succession of writing prophets
following Moses, the great prototype, gave us our Old Testament. In the times of the founding
of the Christian Church the apostles were God’s chosen instruments appointed expressly by
Christ for the purpose and endued by him with the Holy Spirit for their revelational activity. They
were conscious of such a holy gift, and as they write to us the Word of God they attach to it a
suitable blessing for all who receive it in faith and practice it: ‘Blessed is he that readeth, and
they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein:  for
the time is at hand’ (Rev. 1:3).” (R. Laird Harris; Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible; p. 204)

“Their right to place in the canon does not depend on the vote of any council, or the decision of
any bishop, but upon the fact that they were given by inspiration; and this was known by the
character of the men who wrote them. The appeal to testimony, therefore is not to obtain the
judgment of the Church that these books were canonical, but to ascertain the fact that they
were indeed the productions of the apostles, to whom our Lord promised plenary inspiration”
(John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion; p. 267).

Realizing that the test of canonicity of New Testament books is apostolicity (not age, but
authorship and authority), the canonicity of Matthew is based upon the acceptance of its
authorship by the apostle. During the first four centuries the only ones who make no mention
of the Gospel of Matthew as being inspired and from the pen of the apostle are the heretic
Marcion (140 A.D.) who rejected anything not written by Paul, and Hermas (140 A.D.) who
mentions only the epistle  of James. Matthew is acknowledged a place in all other cannons of
the first four centuries. It is mentioned by: Clement of Rome (95 A.D.), Barnabas [not the
companion of Paul] (100-125 A.D.), Justin Martyr (140 A.D.), Polycarp (150 A.D.), the Didache
(150 A.D.), the Muratorian Canon (150 A.D.), the Syriac Peshitta (150 A.D.), Tertullian (160-240
A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (165-225 A.D.), Irenaeus (170 A.D.), Papias, Origen (185-254 A.
D.), the Old Latin African Version (170 A.D.), Cheltenham (360 A.D.), the Council of Carthage
(397 A.D.), and, the Council of Hippo (419 A.D.).

Therefore, there is no reason to doubt the canonicity of the Gospel of Matthew.
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