Introduction to the Bible - 40 - Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew 

by Louis Berkhof  


 The Gospel of Matthew may be divided into five parts:

 I. The Advent of the Messiah, 1: 1-4: 11. Matthew proves by the legal  genealogy that Christ was the Son of David, the child of the promise;  that, in harmony with the prophecies, He was born of a virgin at  Bethlehem and his way was prepared by John the Baptist; and records his  baptism and temptation.

 II. The Public proclamation of Messiah's Kingdom, 4: 12 16: 12. Here we  find Jesus, after John is taken captive, choosing his first disciples  and beginning his work in Galilee, 4: 12-4: 25. Then follows a splendid  example of Christ's teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, in which the  law of the New Kingdom is promulgated, and its righteousness and life  are contrasted with those of Pharisees and Scribes, 5-7. This is  followed by the description of a series of miracles, interspersed with  brief teachings of the Lord and the calling of Matthew, giving clear  evidence of the power and mercy of Jesus and establishing his authority  to set up the New Kingdom and to proclaim its laws, 8: 1-9: 38. Next we  have a catalogue of the twelve apostles and their commission to  announce the coming Kingdom to the house of Israel, 10. It is brought  out that the teachings and miracles of Jesus lead to serious  questionings on the part of John the Baptist, to open opposition from  the side of Pharisees and Scribes, and to the interference of his  relatives, 11: 1-12 :50; that as a result Christ substitutes parabolic  for plain teaching, 13: 1-53; and that the opposition finally  culminmates in his rejection by the synagogue of Nazareth, by Herod and  by the spiritual leaders of the people, both of Jerusalem and of  Galilee, leading in every instance to the withdrawal of his gracious  works and also to an exposition and condemnation of the hypocracy and  wickedness of the leaders of the nation. 13: 54-16: 12.

 III. The Distinct and Public Claim of Messiahship, 16: 13-23: 39. In  this section the evangelist shows, how Christ instructs his disciples  regarding the Messiahship. The Lord calls forth their explicit  confession of him as Messiah, 16: 13-20; and teaches them in a  threefold form that He must suffer and die, but will rise again. In  connection with these announcements we have the narrative of the  transfiguration and the healing of the epileptic demoniac, and  instruction regarding the civil and religious relations and duties of  the disciples, such as the payment of the temple tribute, the  self-denying, humble, loving and forgiving spirit of true discipleship,  divorce, the proper attitude toward children, the danger of earthly  possessions, the gracious character of the reward in God's Kingdom, and  the ministering spirit demanded in his followers, 16: 21-20: 28. At  Jerusalem also He now makes his claim, entering the city as the Son of  David and assuming Messianic authority in the temple. He brings out  clearly the future rejection of Israel, answers the test questions of  his enemies and pronounces a sevenfold woe on Pharisees and Scribes,  20: 29-23: 39.

 IV. The Sacrifice of Messiah the Priest, 24: 1-27: 66. Matthew  demonstrates that Christ, now that He is rejected by the Jews, prepares  his disciples for his sacrificial death by unfolding the doctrine of  his future coming in glory and by teaching them the true posture of his  followers in waiting for the day of his coming, 24: 1-25: 46. He then  describes how Christ brought his sacrifice, after eating the Paschal  lamb, being betrayed by Judas, condemned by the Sanhedrin and Pilate,  and dying on the cross, 26:1 27: 66.

 V. The Truimph of Messiah the Saviour and King. The author brings out  that Jesus by rising again from the dead fully established his claim to  the Messiahship. Abundant evidence of the resurrection is furnished and  it is clearly shown that in the end Christ is clothed with Messianic  authority.


 1 As to form we find, in the first place, a characteristically Jewish  numerical arrangement of things in this Gospel. The genealogy in ch. 1  consists of three groups of generations of fourteen each. There are  seven beatitudes ch. 5; seven petitions in the Lord's prayer ch. 6; a  group of seven parables ch. 13; and seven woes on Pharisees and Scribes  ch. 23. As to the style of Matthew, in the second place, may be said  that it is smoother than that of Mark, though not so vivid. But it is  tinged with Hebraisms, less indeed than the language of Luke, but more  than that of Mark. It is rather impersonal, lacking in individuality.  Its individualism of language consists mostly in the frequent use of  certain words and phrases. The Hebraistic formulae of transition chai  egeneto and chai idou occur repeatedly, and the simple tote is  constantly used, especially with a historical tense. Further the  following characteristic expressions are found: he basileia ton ouranon  instead of the more common he b. tou theou; hina plerothe to rethen  hupo churiou dia tou prophetou, or an abbreviated form of this  expression; and hopos instead of hina.

 2. The arrangement of the material in this Gospel also differs  considerably from that in the other Synoptics. The narrative is not  continuous, but is interrupted by five great discourses, such as are  not found in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, viz, the Sermon on the  Mount, chs. 5-7; the charge to the apostles, ch. 10; the parables of  the Kingdom, ch. 13; the discourse on the church, ch. 18; and the final  eschatological discourses of Christ on the last judgment, chs. 23-25.  After every one of these discourses we find the words: "And it came to  pass, when Jesus had ended (made an end of, finished) these sayings,  etc.

 3. As to contents the following peculiarities deserve our attention: In  the first place the Gospel of Matthew has a more Jewish aspect, than  the other Synoptics. Its predominant subject is, the Messiah and his  Kingdom. The discourses of which we spoke all have reference to this  Kingdom, and it is clearly brought out that the mission of Christ is to  the Jews only and that the establishment of His rule will be a  restoration of the fallen throne of David. Cf. the genealogy ch. 1 and  also 2:2; 10:5, 6; 15:24; 19:28, etc. Yet we must not think that it  positively excludes the idea of salvation for the gentiles; it clearly  holds out a hope to them and even announces that the Kingdom will be  taken from Israel on account of its unfaithfulness. Cf. 2:1-13; 8:  10-12; 15:28; 21:43; 22:1-14. In the second place the first Gospel  alludes to the Old Testament more frequently than any other: It  emphasizes the fact that the New Testament reveals the fulfilment of  Old Testament promises; that Christ was born, revealed himself and  labored as the prophets of old had foretold. Matthew contains more than  40 quotations, while Mark has 21 and Luke, 22. The characteristic use  of hina (hopos) plerothe in quotations proves that Matthew had an eye  for the divine teleology in history. And in the third place Matthew  looks at things in their grand general aspect and pays less attention  to the minor details on which Mark so much loves to dwell.


 The superscription ascribes the first Gospel to Matthew. That this  embodies the opinion of the early Church is evident from the testimony  of Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius and several others, who all  point to Matthew as the author. The Gospel itself shows unmistakably,  by its Jewish physiognomy, that its author was a Jew, yea even that he  was a Palestinian Jew, for he quotes from the Hebrew and not from the  Septuagint. It contains no direct evidence, however to the authorship  of Matthew, though there are a couple points of difference between it  and the other Synoptics that are best explained on the assumption that  Matthew wrote it. When we compare the lists of the twelve apostles in  Mt. 10:2-4; Mk. 3: 16-19; and Luke 6:14- 16, we notice that only in the  first Gospel the name Matthew is followed by the less honorable  qualification "the publican ;" and that it has the order, "Thomas and  Matthew" instead of, "Matthew and Thomas.'

 The apostolic authorship of this gospel is denied by several  rationalistic critics, such as Davidson; Julicher and Baljon. Their  reasons for rejecting it are the following:

 (1). Legend, misunderstanding and irrelevancy are very prominent in  this Gospel, which would not be the case if the writer had been an eye  and ear witness of Jesus. The reference is to such narratives as the  story of the wise men, the flight into Egypt, and the slaughter of the  innocents, ch. 2; the doublet of the miraculous feeding, 14:16-21; 15:  32-38; the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on two animals, 21: 2,  7; the opening of the graves at the resurrection of Christ, 27: 52; the  setting of a watch at the sepulchre and the bribing of them, etc. (2).  The Gospel of Matthew is too closely dependent on Mark, not merely in  choice of matter and arrangement but in verbal detail, to be the work  of an apostle. (3). The author never indicates by the use of the  pronouns I or we that he was an eye witness of the things which he  narrates.

 In answer to these objections it may be said that one's disbelief in  miracles does not prove them false, and that the seeming difficulties  to which reference is made easily yield to good exegesis. The  dependence of Matthew on Mark (instead of the reverse as the Tubingen  school believed) is indeed accepted by a great number of scholars  today, but is not absolutely proven. And even if it were, it would be  no disparagement for Matthew. The impersonal objective style is the  prevailing one in the historical books of the Bible and is irrelevant  as an objection to the authorship of the apostle.

 Our information regarding Matthew is very scanty. We read of him first  in connection with the call to follow Jesus, Mt. 9: 9, 10; Mk. 2:14,  15; Lk. 5 : 27-29. There is no reason to doubt that the Matthew of the  first Gospel is the Levi of the second and third. Possibly his name was  changed by the Lord after his call to the discipleship, just as those  of Peter and Paul. In Mark he is said to be the son of Alphaeus, whom  some identify with Alphaeus the father of the apostle James. But this  identification does not commend itself to us, since we may assume that,  if James and Matthew had indeed been brothers, this would have been  stated in their case as well as it is in those of Andrew and Peter and  John and James. He belonged to the despised class of publicans and  hence cannot have been a very strict Jew. When Jesus called him, he  made a great feast for the Lord, to which he also invited many  publicans and sinners. Clement of Alexandria describes him as a  rigorous ascetic, living "on seeds and herbs and without flesh." It is  not impossible that by a very natural reaction his sinful life changed  into one of great austerity. A veil of obscurity is cast over the  apostolic career of Matthew. Tradition has it that he remained at  Jerusalem with the other apostles for about twelve years after the  death of the Lord, laboring among his fellow-countrymen. When the work  was done, it is said, he preached the Gospel to others, according to  the popular opinion in Ethiopia. He probably died a natural death.


 I. Original Language. A hotly debated question is that regarding the  language in which Matthew originally wrote his Gospel. The difficulty  of the problem arises from the fact that external testimony and  internal evidence seem to disagree. As a result the camp is very much  divided, some scholars ardently defending a Hebrew, others with equal  zeal a Greek original. The earliest testimony in regard to this matter  is that of Papias and runs as follows: "Matthew composed the oracles  (logia) in the Hebrew dialect, and everyone interpreted them as he was  able." It is clear from the original that in these words the emphasis  falls on the phrase "in the Hebrew language." But Papias does not stand  alone in this assertion; a similar statement is found in Irenaeus:  "Matthew among the Hebrews did also publish a Gospel in writing in  their own language." Pantaenus is said to have gone to India, where he  found "the writing of Matthew in Hebrew letters." Origen quoted by  Eusebius also says that "the first Gospel was written by Matthew . . .  who delivered it to the Jewish believers, composed in the Hebrew  language." Eusebius himself makes the following statement: "For  Matthew, having first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go  to other people, delivered to them in their own language the Gospel  written by himself." Jerome also states that "Matthew wrote a Gospel of  Jesus Christ in Judea in the Hebrew language and letters for the  benefit of those of the circumcision who believed. Who afterwards  translated it into Greek, is uncertain." To these testimonies might be  added those of Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Ebedjesu and  Chrysostom.

 On the other hand it is pointed out that the present Greek Gospel does  not impress one as a translation, but has all the appearance of an  original work, since: (1.) The hypothesis of a translation fails to  account for the identity seen in certain parts of the Synoptic Gospels.  (2.) While the author himself indeed quotes from the Hebrew text of the  Old Testament, the quotations of our Lord are almost uniformly taken  from the Septuagint. Is it conceivable that this would be the case in a  Hebrew Gospel? (3.) The Gospel contains translations of Hebrew words,  as: "They shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God  with us," 1: 23 ; "A place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of  a skull," 27: 33. (4.) There are certain explanations of Palestinian  customs and habitual occurrences that would have been altogether  superfluous in a Hebrew Gospel, naturally intended only for the natives  of Palestine, f. i. in 22:23; 27:8, 15; 28:15.

 The conclusion to which this evidence leads is corroborated by the  following facts: (1.) In all probability no one has ever seen the  Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, and no trace of it can now be found. (2.) All  the quotations from Matthew in the early Church fathers are taken from  the present Greek Gospel. (3.) The Gospel of Matthew always stood on an  equal footing with the other Gospels and is cited just as much as they  are. This evidence both external and internal has given rise to several  theories, which we can briefly state in the following manner: (1.)  Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew and someone else translated it into  Greek. This position was held by the Church in general until the time  of the Reformation. Since then several Protestant scholars took another  view, because Rome defended the ultimate authority of the Vulgate by  pointing out that the Greek Matthew was also merely a translation. The  attacks of Rationalism on the so-called second-hand Matthew, and the  dubious character of a part of the ancient testimony, also served to  bring this theory into discredit. Notwithstanding this, however, some  of the ablest scholars have defended it up to the present. The  prevailing idea among them is that the Greek Matthew is not so much in  all parts a literal translation as a new redaction. According to  Westcott it gives in writing the Greek counterpart of the Hebrew  Gospel, that had taken shape in oral tradition from the beginning. Zahn  regards it as the ripe fruit of the interpretation of the Hebrew  original in the congregations to which Papias refers.

 (2.) There never was a Hebrew original, but Matthew wrote his Gospel in  the Greek language. The present gospel is not a translation, but an  original work. They who hold this view are of the opinion that the  testimony of Papias and of those following him was a sheer mistake, due  partly to ignorance and partly to a confounding of the Gospel of  Matthew with the Ebionite Gospel according to the Hebrews.

 (3.) Matthew wrote neither a Hebrew nor a Greek Gospel, but, if  anything, a work called the logia by Papias, which must have been a  collection of the sayings or discourses of the Lord. According to some  these logia are lost, but must probably be identified with one of the  supposed sources (Q) of our present Gospels. Others as Godet and  Holdsworth believe that the work contained the discourses that we find  in the Gospel of Matthew and was therefore incorporated bodily in our  present Gospel.

 (4.) The evangelist after writing his Gospel in Hebrew with a view to  his countrymen, possibly when he had left Palestine to labor elsewhere,  translated or rather furnished a new recension of his Gospel in the  Greek language with a view to the Jews of the Diaspora. The former was  soon lost and altogether replaced by the latter.

 In formulating our opinion in regard to this question. we desire to  state first of all that we have no sufficient reason to discredit the  testimony of the early Church. It is true that Eusebius says of Papias  that he was "a credulous, weak minded, though pious man," but in  connection with this we must bear in mind: (1) that Eusebius says this  in connection with the chiliastic opinions of Papias that were odious  to the historian; (2) that he himself elsewhere testifies that Papias  was a man "in the highest degree eloquent and learned and above all  skilled in the Scriptures," and (3) that the peculiar views of Papias  did not necessarily impair his veracity, nor invalidate his testimony  to a historical fact. Let us remember also that it is inconsistent to  believe Papias, when he says that Matthew wrote the Gospel, and to  discredit his further testimony that the apostle wrote in Hebrew, as  some scholars do. It is indeed almost certain that Pantaenus was  mistaken, when he thought that he had found the Hebrew Gospel in India;  and that Jerome labored under a delusion, when he imagined that he had  translated it at Cesarea. What they saw was probably a corruption of  the Hebrew original, known as, "the Gospel according to the Hebrews."  But this possible mistake does not invalidate the other independent  testimony of Jerome and that of all the early fathers to the effect  that Matthew wrote the Gospel in Hebrew.

 In the second place we desire to point out that Papias in speaking of  the logia of Matthew undoubtedly referred to his Gospel. The word logia  does not mean speeches or sayings, as is now often asserted. It is  found four times in the New Testament, viz, in Acts 7: 38; Rom. 3 : 2;  Heb. 5:12; I Peter 4:11, and in every one of these places it has its  classical meaning of oracles. It is applied to the divine utterances of  God in his Word. In later writers the word is generally employed to  indicate inspired writings. There is no reason to think that Papias  used the word in the sense of logoi. If in addition to this we take in  consideration that in all probability the testimony of Irenaeus is  based on, that of Papias and that he takes the word as referring to the  Gospel of Matthew, the presumption is that Papias had the Gospel in  mind. The meaning of his testimony is therefore, that the first Gospel  was written in Hebrew. The so-called Logia-source is a creature of the  imagination.

 In the third place the internal evidence of our present Gospel proves  conclusively that this is not a mere translation of a Hebrew original.  The evidence adduced seems quite sufficient. The Greek Matthew may be  and most likely is in substance a translation of the original Hebrew;  yet it mustibe regarded as in many respects a new recension of the  Gospel. The loss of the Hebrew original and the general substitution  for it of the Greek version is readily explained by the scattering of  the Jews after the destruction of Jerusalem, and by the early  corruption of the Hebrew Gospel in the circles of the Ebionites and the  Nazarenes.

 In the fourth place it seems most plausible that Matthew himself,  shortly after he had written the Hebrew Gospel, translated it,  adjusting it in several respects to the needs of the Jews that were  dispersed in different lands. True, early tradition does not speak of  this, and Jerome even says that it was not known in his time who  translated it into Greek. This favors the idea that it was done very  early. Moreover our Greek Gospel was known from the beginning as the  Gospel katha Matthaion, just as the second and third as the Gospel kata  Markon and kata Loukan. As such it is also universally quoted by those  fathers that are accustomed to mention their authors. The case of  Matthew would thus be analogous to that of Josephus.

 II. Readers and Purpose. The Gospel of Matthew was undoubtedly destined  for the Jews. This is expressly stated by Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius,  Gregory Nazianzen, e. a. This testimony is corroborated by internal  evidence. The genealogy of Jesus goes back only to Abraham, the father  of the Hebrew race; and in harmony with the tenets of the Jews the  Messiahship of Christ is proved from the prophets. The whole Gospel  impresses one as being occasioned by the exigencies of the Jews both in  Palestine and without. In none of the other Gospels is the false  position of Pharisees and Scribes so clearly exposed.

 It was Matthew's purpose to convince the Jews that Jesus was the  Christ, the great Davidic King promised by the prophets. He knew that,  if this could be shown clearly, they would be won for the Saviour. This  purpose is very evident from the Gospel. The legal genealogy of Christ  is traced back to Abraham; and it is clearly brought out that prophecy  was fulfilled in the manner of Christ's birth 1: 23; the place of his  nativity 2: 6; his flight into Egypt 2:15 ; the murder of the innocents  2:18; his residence at Nazareth 2: 23; the ministry of his forerunner  3: 3; 11:10, his removal to Capernaum 4:15, 16; his healing the sick  8:17; his meek and retiring disposition 12:18-21; his teaching by  parables 13: 34, 35; his entry into Jerusalem 21: 4, 5; his rejection  by the builders 21:42; his being David's Son and Lord 22: 44; his  desertion by his disciples 26: 31; the price of his betrayal 27: 9; the  division of his raiment 27: 35; and his cry of agony 27: 46. It is  Matthew only that records the sayings of the Lord: "I am not come to  destroy, but to fulfill," 5:17; and: "I was not sent but unto the lost  sheep of the house of Israel," 15 : 24. To him Jerusalem is "the Holy  City," "the Holy Place," and "the City of the great King." On seven  different occasions he calls the Lord "the Son of David." In harmony  with the prophets Christ the King is most prominent in his Gospel,  though of course the prophetic and priestly character of the Lord are  also clearly revealed.

 III. Time and Place. Little can be said as to the time, when Matthew  wrote his Gospel; and what few indications we have of the time are  rather uncertain, because we do not know, whether they bear on the  origin of the Hebrew original or of the present Greek Gospel. Tradition  generally points to Matthew's Gospel as being the first. Irenaeus makes  a very definite statement, viz.: "Matthew among the Hebrews published a  Gospel in their own language, while Peter and Paul were preaching the  Gospel at Rome and founding a church there." This must have been  somewhere between 63-67 A. D.

 Something may be gathered in this respect from the contents of the  Gospel. We cannot, as some do, infer from 22: 7 that it was composed  after the destruction of Jerusalem, for then we would have to assume  that our Lord could not have predicted this event. Moreover this  argument impugns the veracity of the evangelist. A proof for the  contrary, viz, that this Gospel was written before the destruction of  Jerusalem, is found in 24:15, where we find in a discourse of the  Saviour this parenthetic clause of the writer: "let him that readeth  understand," in connection with the Lord's admonition to the  inhabitants of Judea to flee to the mountains, when they shall see the  abomination of desolation standing in the Holy Place. The same  inference is drawn by some from the eschatological discourse of Christ  in chs. 24-25, where the beginning of sorrows, the destruction of  Jerusalem, and the Lord's return in glory are placed alongside of each  other, without any distinction of time; and the writer does not by a  single word betray any knowledge of the fact that the destruction of  Jerusalem would be separated in time from the Lord's return. But this,  being an argument from silence, is rather precarious. The dates  assigned to this Gospel by rationalistic critics range from about 70 to  125 A. D.

 As to the place, where the Gospel was written, Athanasius says that it  was published at Jerusalem; Ebedjesu, in Palestine; and Jerome, in  Judea for the sake of those in Judea who believed. There is nothing in  the Gospel itself that contradicts this. It is very likely, however,  that the Greek Gospel was written elsewhere.

 IV. Method. The question arises, whether Matthew used sources in the  composition of his Gospel. The prevalent opinion at present is that the  writer of this Gospel, whoever he may have been, drew in the main on  two sources, viz, on the logia of Matthew for the discourses of the  Lord, and on the Gospel of Mark for the narrative portion of his work.  It is found necessary, however, to assume several other minor sources.  Thus Weiss, Julicher, Baljon, Peake, Buckley, Bartlet (in Hastings D.  B.) e. a. Against these see Davidson and Salmon. Zahn's opinion is that  Mark employed the Hebrew Matthew in the composition of his Gospel, and  that the writer of our Greek Matthew in turn used the Gospel of Mark.  The great diversity of opinion among New Testament scholars in this  respect shows clearly that it is quite impossible to determine with any  degree of certainty what sources Matthew employed. All we can say is  (1) that in all probability the Hebrew Matthew depended on oral  tradition only; (2) that our Greek Matthew is based on the Hebrew; and  (3) that it is not impossible that Matthew had read the Gospel of Mark  before he composed the present Greek Gospel.


 The Gospel of Matthew has been accepted as canonical from the earliest  times. There are many traces of its use, especially of the Sermon on  the Mount in the Didache. Next we find it clearly quoted in the Epistle  of Barnabas, who cites ten passages with the significant formula "it is  written." This proves that the Gospel was used and recognized as  canonical in the early part of the second century. Further it is  abundantly testified to until the beginning of the third century, when  all controversy ceases, there being up to that time altogether 21  witnesses, so that this Gospel is one of the best attested books in the  New Testament. Among these witnesses are the old Latin and Syriac  Versions that contain this Gospel; early church fathers that refer to  it as authoritative or quote it; and heretics who, even while attacking  the truth, tacitly admit the canonical character of the Gospel.

 This book is properly placed at the very beginning of the New  Testament. It forms part of the foundation on which the New Testament  structure was to be reared. And among the Gospels, which together  constitute this foundation, it is rightly put in the first place. It  is, as it were, a connecting link between the Old Testament and the  New. As the Old Testament had reference to the Jews only, so the Gospel  of Matthew is written for the old covenant people. And it is clearly  linked to the Old Testament by its continual reference to the prophets.  The permanent spiritual value of this Gospel is that it sets forth in  clear outline Christ as the One promised of old; and, in harmony with  the prophetic literature, especially as the great divine King, before  whom the Church of all ages must bow down in adoration.