Please note - this web page is under current review from the moment of its completion until a date in the future when I will have been able to satisfy myself concerning the Aramaic manuscripts that seem to be currently ignored by the Western Church with little reason - in fact, none that I can discover.
At this present time, I am unable to find any critical books that deal with the Aramaic documents so many of my statements here are preliminary and may need to be revised as and when I can research adequately the subjects.
What Date was the Gospel written?
Who wrote Matthew?
Was the Gospel originally in the Aramaic Language?
Where was Matthew written and for whom?
What are the grounds for accepting a writing as being Authoritative and Inspired?
I must admit, at the outset of this web page, that a lot of what the scholars write surrounding the possibilities of authorship, date, sources and so on leave me cold. It’s not that I find them disinteresting and am intrigued to read that the ‘evidence’ suggests that, perhaps, Matthew used Mark as a source for his Gospel or that, perhaps, both Matthew, Mark and Luke relied upon a source that has since vanished off the face of the earth (the scholars’ Q and M manuscripts which they make consistent mention of in their writings do not exist). These are all interesting points but I wonder why so much time is given to the background of the Gospel rather than to detailed exposition concerning the actual contents of the Gospel.
After all, if we believe that God has something important to say to us through the text of the Bible, there seems little or no point in creating extensive theories for the origin of the text in question when the study of the text is what is needful and necessary.
For a commentary which runs to 781 pages, Matmor’s brief 17 page introduction is refreshingly short and concise (and probably, in words, even shorter than this one!). But the bulk of his commentary is just that - commentary. Within the covers of the book, you’ll find little dealing with authorship and date, for instance, and more stress laid upon what the author is saying in the Gospel and what it means.
This should be the burden of every commentator, in my opinion.
Additionally, though, Matmor’s brevity is informative for, as we will see below, little information can be related with any certainty outlining such subjects as date and authorship so that one wonders whether such voluminous works that deal with such issues need to be recorded.
As Mathag notes
‘A commentator is someone who places herself or himself between the text - in this case an ancient text - and the current generation of readers of the text as a kind of mediator. The commentator thus looks in two directions: on the one hand - and primarily - to the text; on the other hand, to the readers of the text who will also become his or her readers. The goal of a commentary, simply put, is to help the reader understand the text’
and it is this that I intend attempting to do throughout the commentary which follows though, knowing the way I study, I may go off at a tangent on several occasions to underscore and give background to a point.
Introductory sections in the commentators I am using, often give outlines for subjects such as Mathag’s ‘Matthew’s Theology’ but these can only really be attempted once the entire Gospel has been completed and the entire text considered from a ‘long view’. But, even then, if we have misinterpreted the text in any way, we will naturally misinterpret the author’s beliefs. Such attempts at generalisations, I believe, should be avoided and the commentator should be more concerned with dealing with the text received in the context in which it is set, leaving the broader questions of what an entire text may say about the character of the author aside.
We tend to delight in affirming that the reason an author wrote something was because he had a particular axe to grind against some such section of the community in which he lived (therefore Matthew is often labelled as being ‘Anti-Jewish’) but, apart from the author’s concern to record accurately the things about which he had heard and, perhaps, he had seen firsthand, we would be doing an injustice to him (or her) should we insist on labelling them as being anything other than ‘honest’ to what they believed.
We could quite easily do the same for the works of authors like Shakespeare (and, because Macbeth sees war and dissension within the Scottish throne, we could consider him to be an Anti-Scot) but such attempts become purely subjective for the meaning imposed on a text is of necessity what influences such broad generalisations.
What I intend doing here, then, is looking at the more mundane subjects such as the proposed date of writing of the Gospel along with authorship and the testimony of the later early Church concerning it. These serve as a fitting introduction before we proceed with the interpretation of the text in subsequent pages.
I quote extensively from Eusebius’ History of the Church’ generally accepted to have been written in the early years of the fourth century AD (Eusebius lived 260-340AD) and this work is important to note for he quotes many sources from earlier authorities within the Church whose works have not come down to us. The reliability of transmission from those earlier sources is not generally accepted to be in doubt and the sincerity of his comments seems to come across when his words are read.
However, whether the sources are bearing witness to what is accurate and whether what he believed about the early Church is wholly true to life is a matter of the reader’s own opinion, there being no real sources that can be referred to as a double-check.
It’s also important to attempt to ascertain the dates of the sources he used as they tell us how many years had passed between the deaths of most of the eyewitnesses of the events in the Gospel and the time of writing.
Papias (60-135AD) is probably the most important source simply by being the most ancient and the work that Eusebius quotes from is generally dated to c.140AD though it has been given a date as early as 110AD. Papias is reputed to have been a believer who had had direct contact with the apostolic band before their demise so that his works are generally considered to have been influenced by them. This doesn’t mean, however, that they’re accurate representations of what actually happened and we have to treat all sources outside the NT with caution.
The other authors will be dated when they first occur in the text but it’s important to realise that the first date we have touching direct information about the Gospel under consideration was written perhaps 70 years or more after its initial composition.
I have divided my comments below up into clear subjects that the reader can read like articles (though they tend to overbleed into one another) but there are a few issues which I felt didn’t warrant sections of their own and these I will deal with now.
Firstly, we may ask ourselves why the author deals with certain events and yet omits others that we would have thought to be necessary and obligatory. Such considerations tend to become purely subjective and arbitrary and I do not intend dealing with them in broad and general terms. If, while dealing with the text, it becomes clear why something has been recorded (as it does in the Genealogy) then I will record it in the commentary but, even then, what I assert as having been seen may be putting thoughts into the author’s mind which were never there in the first place.
After all, if we believe that the Gospel was divinely inspired, the author may just have felt the necessity to record certain facts without having a comprehensive understanding of why they needed to be included.
But we are not the first at trying to do such a thing. Eusebius 3:24 records for us that
‘...it is evident that the three evangelists [Matthew, Mark and Luke] recorded only the deeds done by the Saviour for one year after the imprisonment of John the Baptist, and indicated this in the beginning of their account. For Matthew, after the forty days’ fast and the temptation which followed it, indicates the chronology of his work when he says “Now when He heard that John was delivered up He withdrew from Judea into Galilee”. Mark likewise says “Now after that John was delivered up Jesus came into Galilee”. And Luke, before commencing his account of the deeds of Jesus, similarly marks the time, when he says that Herod “adding to all the evil deeds which he had done, shut up John in prison”. They say, therefore, that the apostle John, being asked to do it for this reason, gave in his Gospel an account of the period which had been omitted by the earlier evangelists, and of the deeds done by the Saviour during that period; that is, of those which were done before the imprisonment of the Baptist’
Eusebius’ logic amazes me here. His opening ‘it is evident’ presumably means that it was generally accepted that the Synoptic Gospels were limited in scope and that John was written to plug the gap some time afterwards. His proof texts, however, seem to be lacking conviction and, as I’ve shown in my chronology here, both John and the Synoptics seem to be intertwined.
Why Eusebius should say this is difficult to imagine but that it was a generally accepted belief in the Church of his day does not appear to be in doubt. If that’s the case, one must remember that his ‘History of the Church’ may only be using authorities from early authors that generally support the assertions that he will wish to make concerning the apostolic authorship of the Gospel and the other considerations which we will deal with below.
The point is equally valid in modern scholarship as well for, reading a quote from an ancient source in one of the commentators I’m using (but I shan’t say who it was!), I turned to it to check it out and discovered that, had the author gone on to quote the entire verse, more light would have been shed on the subject under discussion that could have undermined his position.
Again, quoting authorities that uphold one’s own beliefs is all well and good but by omitting others which may disprove one’s contentions conclusively, you have the opportunity to make your beliefs appear to be certain and without doubt (that’s why I only assert my work of a commentary on the Gospel as one among many - not the final word on the subject!) - whether the quotes that Eusebius uses from manuscripts that are no longer in existence were the beliefs of those who wrote them must also be open to conjecture on occasions and dissenting voices - which may have been the holders of the truth concerning the Gospel of Matthew - may have been silenced by failing to use them for obvious reasons.
Going on from this, Eusebius 1:7 records that
‘Matthew and Luke in their gospels have given us the genealogy of Christ differently, and many suppose that they are at variance with one another’
though we aren’t told just who was saying such a thing and we have no quotes to see what they were actually saying. If the reader refers to my notes on the genealogy here, they will see that I also say such a thing because they are at variance with one another - and rightly so. This is not because I believe that either is wrong but that, because they are at variance, they are both correct.
That may sound like a contradiction in terms but, if Matthew had solely recorded for us the genealogy, we would be condemning his record as being bogus because of the prophetic word spoken concerning Jeconiah. And, if Luke had been on his own in his record of the genealogy, we would have said that the promise wasn’t through Nathan, David’s son, but through Solomon.
Indeed, it is only because both record a different genealogical line to Zerubbabel that it makes them correct for both writers answer the prophetic words which had been given in the OT.
Besides, we shouldn’t think that differences in the report of identical events are automatically discordant and self-denying just because they outline different details. If one were to contradict another then there are grounds for such assertions, but just to highlight variations in the report which can stand together with the others are not evidence for a contradiction.
We may compare football reports of the same match and see vastly differing interpretations of what transpired - but each writer has his own reasons for writing, some for the home supporters, others for those playing away while still others are trying their best to remain neutral, so that interpretations may differ and yet still be both perfectly accurate and truthful.
Indeed, the differences seem only to enhance the Gospels and give to the reader who is concerned to compare each version recorded with its counterpart a wealth of information that contributes to the overall picture. A reader who approaches any one Gospel will see the Truth perfectly revealed and displayed - but those who compare Scripture with Scripture will gain more understanding than by just relying upon one of the Gospel writer’s narratives.
Eusebius is often considered to have been quoting from Matthew’s Gospel in 3.5 when he writes
‘But the rest of the apostles, who had been incessantly plotted against with a view to their destruction, and had been driven out of the land of Judea, went unto all nations to preach the Gospel, relying upon the power of Christ, who had said to them “Go ye and make disciples of all the nations in My name”’
This final phrase has been taken to be a direct reference to Mtw 28:19 but it is so different that one wonders whether this is a translation of a different Gospel not referred to or just a paraphrase of a verse that Eusebius already knew, for the actual verse reads
‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’
This has led some to assert that the Trinitarian formula of this verse was never in the original but added much later so that the baptismal formula ‘in the name of Jesus’ could be rejected as being universally proclaimed in all the other NT writings (especially Acts) and the Trinitarian formula used in water immersion.
The problems that this belief raises are far more than the solution that it intends bringing! For, if the evidence is certain that a Scripture has been deliberately altered in order for it to be a justification for using the Trinitarian formula for baptism in water, what can we say concerning the other Scriptures we accept? Do we actually have the original versions of the books or have they also all been so subtly altered to make us believe something that later authors wanted us to believe rather than the original truth that was proclaimed by the apostles?
If Matthew was altered, however, it seems strange that the Book of Acts never was, where there are a handful of references to the believers baptising ‘in the name of Jesus’. Did they think they could get away with one alteration and assert that it had pre-eminence because it came from the lips of Jesus Himself?
But, as the reader will see in my notes on Matthew chapter 28 (which seem an incredibly long way off as I type this!), this alteration needn’t be asserted as the interpretation of Mtw 28:19 does not have to have anything to do with water baptism.
Unfortunately, we see the word ‘baptism’ and take it as a technical term meaning the immersion in water except where it is tied up with the phrase ‘in the Spirit’ referring to something totally different.
‘Baptism’ meant simply ‘immersion’ or ‘dipping’ - it is only later in the Church that it became a religious label which implied immersion in water.
Besides this, Eusebius never actually says that his quote is from the Gospel of Matthew! What the author seems to be doing is paraphrasing what he knew to be the main thrust of the passage without using the exact wording (perhaps he was even running out of scroll as the verse appears at the very end of one of them!! Only kidding - I don’t believe this but it’s just as possible as some other assertions made).
While I can hit a few buttons on this laptop and so paste the entire text into the desired space for you to read, Eusebius would have had to get the scroll of Matthew off the shelf, find the verse and then copy it by hand into his work. If he was happy just to paraphrase the verse because he knew what he wanted to say, then it would have saved his time (perhaps, even, Mrs Eusebius was shouting him to come for dinner! Okay, okay - I’ll stop being silly).
Finally, Matfran along with nearly all the other commentators notes that
‘...Matthew’s Gospel was...more quoted in Christian writings of the second Christian century than any other’
and we shouldn’t overlook the fact that Matthew and John stood alone as the foundational works with Mark and Luke most definitely being the poorer relations. It’s difficult to know exactly why that should be (though, if I’m honest, it’s exactly the same position that I find myself in - Matthew has always been my favourite Gospel) but, the ancient scholars’ testimony is almost universal as upholding Matthew as being the best (or, at least, the most used) of the three.
What Date was the Gospel written?
It may strike readers as strange but the testimony of the early Church fathers and modern day scholars are at variance with one another when it comes to both the date of the Gospel of Matthew and the order in which all four Gospels were written.
It’s quite natural to think that the people closest to the origin of the documents should be the most accurate concerning the background to the writings but, if their testimony is shown to be inaccurate, then the other words which we readily accept at face value must also be thrown into doubt.
Although I have not yet been unable to locate the text from which Eusebius (6:14) asserts that
‘[Clement citing a primitive authority of the Church] used to say that the earliest gospels were those containing the genealogies [Matthew and Luke]’
the testimony is by no means uncommon or rare even amongst writers who seem to have committed facts to writing earlier than this Clement (of Alexandria - 150-215AD).
Irenaeus (130-200AD) also recorded for us the precise order in which the Gospels were written in Against Heresies 3.1.1 (dated to 180AD) when he notes that
‘...For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia’
Irenaeus assertion that the apostles possessed ‘perfect knowledge’ is a bit too far to go (as I would expect most believers to agree) but his worth is in indicating that Matthew was the first to record a Gospel at the time when both Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome. Unfortunately, this is difficult to tie down with any certainty as we have no records that are datable which mention that the two apostles preached at the same time in Rome, but Irenaeus must be giving us a date prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD if we accept his testimony.
Once the apostles had ‘departed’ (as martyrs, it is assumed) both Mark in remembrance of Peter and Luke in remembrance of Paul committed to writing their respective Gospels followed, finally, by John while resident in Ephesus in Asia. As we noted above, it was asserted by Eusebius that John took up to write concerning the gap that the other three writers had missed - but, again as I noted above, this hardly seems likely to be true.
If Matthew wrote ‘among the Hebrews’, the inference is that the composition was somewhere in the east, in or close to the land of Israel so that both Mark and Luke may have had little contact with his record as they set about composing their own Gospel records.
Strangely - maybe only to me - Irenaeus assertion that Luke and Mark’s Gospels were the record of the Gospels as preached by Paul and Peter respectively doesn’t appear to be echoed in the discourses recorded for us in Acts. The ‘good news’ preached there was direct and demanding that a decision be made immediately rather than the preaching of stories that were known to have transpired in the life of Christ. Perhaps what the author means is that these are the stories that were told by the apostles once they’d become disciples of Christ?
Tertullian (160-221AD) asserted the importance of both John and Matthew in Against Marcion 4.4.2 (reputed to have been begun in 207AD) and elevates them over the Gospels of both Mark and Luke when he writes that
‘Of the apostles, therefore, John and Matthew first instil faith into us; whilst of apostolic men, Luke and Mark renew it afterwards. These all start with the same principles of the faith so far as relates to the one only God the Creator and His Christ, how that He was born of the Virgin, and came to fulfil the law and the prophets. Never mind if there does occur some variation in the order of their narratives, provided that there be agreement in the essential matter of the faith...’
Although this doesn’t give us the exact order of writing, it does show how Tertullian (and, presumably, how the Church of his day and region) regarded the relevant importance of the four Gospels which he had at his disposal.
The early church fathers, therefore, universally (in the texts I’ve been able to find) assert that Matthew was written first, whereas most modern scholars assert that Mark has priority and that it is from this first work that both Matthew and Luke constructed their own works. Of course, the modern debate is not quite that simple and there are great variations in the assertions made by scholars but, normally, Mark is seen to have been written first before the other two synoptics.
So Mathen comments that
‘...of Mark’s 661 verses, as many as 606...are paralleled in Matthew’
which leads him on to the belief that Mark was the foundation which the author of Matthew used to produce his own Gospel, while Matfran points out the modern view of the date of writing of Matthew’s Gospel by stating that
‘Most modern scholars have concluded that Matthew’s Gospel was written within the last twenty years of the first century’
placing it no earlier than 80AD, well outside the universal testimony of the early Church.
Appeal to what lies within the Gospel itself relies more on subjective considerations than on objective fact and the ‘anti-Jewishness’ of the words is supposed, for example, to indicate a time period when the Church had been expelled from mainstream Judaism, giving it a late rather than an early date.
I don’t intend dealing with these considerations for they seem to rely more on what one believes was the situation of the Church in the world of its time than upon documented and provable criteria that we could base a conclusive proof upon, but I will mention just a couple of Scriptures which do seem to be reasonable (though, perhaps, still necessarily inconclusive!).
So, would Matthew’s inclusion of 5:23-24 and 23:16-22 which both refer to procedures to adopt within the Temple at Jerusalem have any real relevance if the Temple was not still standing and so were committed to writing after 70AD? Similarly, would the incident concerning the half-shekel tax in 17:24-27 be relevant to include (and Matthew is unique in including this incident) if the tax no longer continued to be paid after the Temple’s destruction? Moreover, the impression we get from this passage is that it is included not just because it is an incident that the author knew to be accurate but because the problem of whether the tax should be paid by believers had raised its head and needed a precedent - this, I know, is subjective, but I don’t believe that it is too much a stretch of the imagination to assert that this was the reason for the inclusion.
Again, does the relevance of the title ‘field of blood’ and the phrase ‘to this day’ (27:8) really have relevance for inclusion if the Gospel was written after 70AD? While the latter phrase may have relevance to a long period of time in 28:15 where it’s again used, here the context of history would suggest that a date before the destruction of Jerusalem for its committing to text is required.
To balance this, Mtw 22:7, which reads
‘The king [God] was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers [the religious leaders] and burned their city [Jerusalem]’
has often been cited as evidence that a post-70AD date is required because of the way Matthew records the speech as referring to an event as having already taken place. But, actually, the city wasn’t burnt if Josephus is correct in his testimony and he only records for us (page 359) that
‘...the Sanctuary was set on fire in defiance of Caesar’s wishes’
It appears that the Romans’ intention was to recapture the city rather than to annihilate it. Therefore, if Matthew is adapting what Jesus said after the event, he would be relying possibly on a report which may have been brought to him rather than upon an eye-witness record. However, I believe that ‘city’ shouldn’t be pressed into use as referring to solely the habitations contained within the city walls.
The testimony of this verse, therefore, may be pointing towards a post-70AD date but the other Scriptures cited above make me think that we should not press the words on Jesus’ lips to have to have been adapted to refer to a past event - it certainly doesn’t appear to read like this.
Finally, an appeal to the discourse concerning the end days before Jesus was to return and the details that are interpreted as being references to the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD (Matthew chapters 24 and 25) can play one of two roles and become purely subjective evidence to the commentator.
For, if Jesus’ words cannot be conceived of as having been prophetic and His knowledge of the fall of Jerusalem is considered to be unfathomable, it is easy to assert that Matthew put together the discourse and interpreted it in the light of what he knew to have taken place - the date of writing would therefore be naturally late. If, on the other hand, one believes that God does inspire men and women to speak of events that have yet to take place with accuracy, then the discourse could have been written years before its occurrence and the Gospel can be dated early.
And, further, if one believes that Matthew chapters 24 and 25 were written solely about a time which has not even partially come and which is projected into the future, either a pre- or post-70AD date is possible.
So the date then becomes a matter of belief rather than an objective decision based on sound evidence. Though there is plenty of reasoning which would place the Gospel one side of 70AD or the other, it remains purely subjective for no sound and definitive conclusion can be drawn.
Why, however, Matthew should get his facts wrong as to what had actually taken place if he wrote after the event or why the early Church never once questioned the realism of what had been prophesied to have taken place, are serious considerations for both sides of the dating discussions but, from these sorts of Scriptures, one is hardly likely to be able to ascertain an acceptable date.
The belief of ancient writers and modern scholars is at variance, then, and will probably never be resolved. Personally, I see no reason why a pre-70AD date should not be proposed and I perceive that the position of many of the scholars (but not all) who date it to after the destruction of the Temple do so out of a lack of belief in the authenticity of what the Gospel contains.
I also see no reason to doubt the assertions of the early Church fathers concerning the pre-eminence in time of the Gospel’s writing though I would definitely hold this with a far looser hand! I find it difficult to accept that Matthew was written as an expansion of Mark though the similarities in the first three Gospels leads me to think that they did rely on some common sources which they adapted for their own use in the compilation of their Gospels.
The reader should note that I will consider the testimony of Papias later on and it is from this source that my understanding of the composition of the Gospel stems.
Who wrote Matthew?
The first thing to note about the Gospel is that it’s an anonymous composition - that is, no one signed it. But that is far from saying that we have not been given an indication of who the author was. The early Church authorities were convinced that Matthew, one of the original twelve disciples, was the one responsible for the text that we have today.
Eusebius, quoting Origen (date of the original writing is given as 182-188AD by Mathen), writes (6.25)
‘Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew language’
Earlier, in his own words, Eusebius notes (3.24)
‘Nevertheless, of all the disciples of the Lord, only Matthew and John have left us written memorials, and they, tradition says, were led to write only under the pressure of necessity. For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence’
We will say more about the assertions of the earliest of commentators that Matthew wrote in Aramaic in the next section but, for now, the reader should be satisfied that the ancient authorities assigned the authorship of the Gospel to the disciple named Matthew.
Additionally, to save me repeating the quotes elsewhere in this introduction, the reader needs only to look above and below at the authors who speak positively of Matthew having been the one who wrote the text - and they assert it without feeling the need to defend what they took as accepted. This would imply a securely held belief which may have stretched back into apostolic times, even though we have no real way of knowing.
As Mathag states
‘Matthew, like all the Gospels in the NT, is an anonymous document. The title...”according to Matthew” was affixed to the Gospel sometime in the second century. From early in the second century, the unanimous tradition of the Church supports Matthew as the author’
Additionally, according to MatfranET, the earliest quote we have to which the name ‘Matthew’ is affixed comes from Apollinaris of Hierapolis who wrote around 175AD which indicates that, at least by this time, the attribution of our present day Gospel to Matthew was generally accepted and certain.
The letter of Barnabas - which could have been written towards the end of the first century AD - seems to be quoting from Mtw 22:14 at the end of verse 4 but the author simply says ‘of whom it is written that...’ without giving us a precise name for the author or work.
Therefore, although the Gospel of Matthew may not be mentioned, it seems to have been known and have been used as early as the close of the first century. Unfortunately, this doesn’t provide us with proof positive that, as early as this, the apostle Matthew was considered to have been the author.
Matthew, as will be remembered, was the tax collector that Jesus called when he was bringing together a band of followers who would remain with Him throughout both His successes and trials and who He would send out into the world after His ascension into heaven and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
Even though Luke records for us that his name was Levi - a name which is taken to have been his original one (Jesus gave new names to some of His disciples - such as Simon who became Peter - so the practice is known to have occurred) - and Mtw 9:9 records that
‘As Jesus passed on from [Capernaum], He saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and He said to him “Follow me” And he rose and followed Him’
noting in 10:3 that one of the ‘inner twelve’ disciples was one
‘...Matthew the tax collector...’
which should be taken to be referring to one and the same person.
As a tax collector, Matthew would have needed to have had the ability to keep accounts - exact linguistic requirements of a tax collector are impossible to determine but it is not without grounds that we could expect Matthew to have needed to have spoken (if not written) in Latin to relate to his Roman superiors, Aramaic or Hebrew to communicate with the majority of people and Greek because it was the normal language of the Gentiles who resided in that area.
As Mathen points out concerning the text of the Gospel
‘The Gospel according to Matthew shows that its author was, indeed, acquainted with more than one language’
So it’s easy to see how Matthew could have both written notes as the band of disciples travelled around with Jesus in any one of three languages (though most probably Aramaic) or that, even, after the ascension, he was deemed to be the best qualified to commit to scrolls what he knew to be the accurate stories surrounding Jesus Christ.
After all, though fishermen may have the passion to win lost soles (oops!), they are not necessarily required to be literary giants who would find communication on paper very easy!
Internal evidence in the Gospel is also an indication that the tax collector was the author.
For instance, there are numerous references to money which point towards his ‘secular interest’, so to speak. If anyone was going to remember these incidents, you would have expected it to have been Matthew and, indeed, there are certain monetary based teachings and incidents which are unique to this Gospel - the unmerciful servant (Mtw 18:23-35), the labourers hired for a penny a day (Mtw 20:1-16), the money that was paid to the soldiers who had kept watch at the sepulchre (Mtw 28:11-15), the throwing back of the thirty pieces of silver by Judas (Mtw 27:3-10) and the coin found in the mouth of the fish by Peter (Mtw 17:24-27).
Although not sufficient in themselves, they do support the early Church’s assertion that Matthew the tax collector was the author of the Gospel.
This sounds all very cut and dried - if the first evidence of the Gospel’s authorship is Matthew and the internal evidence in the Gospel itself points this way, hadn’t we best assume that this line of tradition went back to the very origins of the writing and so conclude along with the authorities that Matthew the disciple was the originator or, perhaps better, the author of what we have today? What grounds are there for disagreeing with the unanimous testimony of the Church leaders of the second century Church?
Firstly, we should note, as Mathen, that
‘Though [the superscriptions of the Gospels] cannot be dated with absolute certainty and are not part of the original document but were subsequently added by copyists, they do show that probably as early as 125AD the four [Gospels]...were assembled into a collection for use in the churches and were given the titles “According to Matthew” [etc.,]...[which means] “drawn up in harmony with the teaching of”...[and] does not necessarily indicate authorship’
What seems to be definite, therefore, according to the superscriptions received, is that the first copyists were concerned to note not that the apostle Matthew was the author but that the Gospel had been written in accordance with or with reference to His teaching.
It seems that only later was the definite association with his authorship asserted. Why this should be so may be indicated by Tertullian in Against Marcion (4.4.2 - begun 207AD according to Mathen - the following translation is taken from an online source) for here we are shown the importance of having a recognised author appended to the Gospel that was being relied upon.
This may tell us more about the need for early believers to have to have a name to put on their ‘Scriptures’ than it does about the authenticity of the claims that Matthew wrote it but it does give us a reason for the belief that seems to have quickly captured the Church that Matthew was the author rather than the inspiration.
And, if an author had to have been found for a writing before it could be accepted by many in the Church, why not choose the name of a recognised apostle/one of the twelve disciples to make its acceptance almost inevitable and who was already associated with its production?
As Tertullian notes, then, countering the claims of Marcion who seems to have believed that it was only through his teaching and reliance in the Gospel that he approved that people could become the true believers (my italics)
‘Of the apostles, therefore, John and Matthew first instil faith into us; whilst of apostolic men, Luke and Mark renew it afterwards. These all start with the same principles of the faith so far as relates to the one only God the Creator and His Christ, how that He was born of the Virgin, and came to fulfil the law and the prophets. Never mind if there does occur some variation in the order of their narratives, provided that there be agreement in the essential matter of the faith, in which there is disagreement with Marcion. Marcion, on the other hand, you must know, ascribes no author to his Gospel, as if it could not be allowed him to affix a title to that from which it was no crime (in his eyes) to subvert the very body’
Secondly, while the early Church authorities state that Matthew was the author of the Gospel, they also note that Matthew originally wrote it in Aramaic. Indeed, the earliest source, Papias (which I will quote in the next section), actually seems to say that Matthew simply composed a series of discourses that Jesus had uttered and that subsequent authors used them through translation to compile their own ‘Gospels’.
If either of these is the case, Matthew may have been the originator of the texts upon which the Gospel was written but he would not have been the originator of either the Greek text which is now in our possession or of the assimilation of different texts from other writers to make the completed whole.
As Mattask (my italics) accurately states
‘Our own tentative conclusion is that the Gospel of Matthew is not in fact the first of the four canonical Gospels, though it contains material which was originally recorded in Aramaic by the apostle Matthew before any of the other Gospels was written. As to who actually composed the Greek Gospel of Matthew, we are as ignorant as was Jerome’
Finally, if the Church authorities are to be seen wholly as fabrications when it comes to their assertions concerning the authorship and source of Matthew’s Gospel, it is possible that the reference to ‘Matthew’ in the Gospel at 9:9 and 10:3 could be the reason why the writing first got its name - not because the early Church believed that it was written by this disciple but that its uniqueness was asserted in that it was the only one which mentioned Matthew, the name therefore being originally a label to denote which Gospel it was rather than as a specification of authorship.
I doubt if this is actually the case for the reasons outlined in the next section with regard to the interpretation of what Papias said concerning Matthew’s work but we cannot go back any further than the start of the second century AD to read of an attribution of authorship to this Gospel.
Was the Gospel originally in the Aramaic Language?
As I noted in the previous section, the unanimous testimony of the early Church writers is that the disciple Matthew was responsible for putting together the Gospel that we have included in our Bibles. However, I also noted that their testimony was not the last word on the subject and that, even by their own testimony, there are good reasons for seeing Matthew as a contributor rather than the sole author of this Gospel.
It is here, then, in this section that we will observe the problems which the writers give us. First of all, we need to arm ourselves with some of their quotes (my italics throughout) which hint at a solution to the problem that they have singularly failed to come out and declare - as I also noted above, the indirect testimony of Tertullian is illuminative here and we will turn to it later.
Eusebius 3.24 tells us conclusively that Matthew wrote the Gospel but it’s what he goes on to say after this statement which indicates that all is not what it appears to be. He writes that
‘...of all the disciples of the Lord, only Matthew and John have left us written memorials, and they, tradition says, were led to write only under the pressure of necessity. For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence’
Again from Eusebius, we read (5.9) that
‘...there were still many evangelists of the Word who sought earnestly to use their inspired zeal, after the examples of the apostles, for the increase and building up of the Divine Word. Pantaenus was one of these, and is said to have gone to India. It is reported that among persons there who knew of Christ, he found the Gospel according to Matthew, which had anticipated his own arrival. For Bartholomew, one of the apostles, had preached to them, and left with them the writing of Matthew in the Hebrew language, which they had preserved till that time’
Whether Eusebius had inherited his belief from the earlier sources or not is open to conjecture but his extensive quoting of authorities tends towards the belief that he was willing to accept the testimony of those who had gone before him when it didn’t contradict what he believed.
In 5.8, he quotes Irenaeus’ Against Heresies 3.1.1 (dated to c.180AD) which I will quote directly from an on line translation here and which I quoted previously extensively to show the context. Here, I will just reproduce the text which is important to the discussion. He writes
‘...Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church...’
Again, quoting another authority, this time Origen (the original work is dated to 182-188AD by Mathen), Eusebius writes (6.25)
‘Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew language’
Later authorities seem to rely heavily on these witnesses and to quote them would prove very little for it could easily be levelled at their assertions that what they wrote was simply on the authority of those who had gone before.
Eusebius, however, quoted a much older authority than any of those previously cited above and we must now turn our attention to this snippet of information that has been quoted from a work that has not made it down to the present day.
In 3.39, Eusebius quotes Papias (60-135AD - the work is usually dated to c.140AD but it has been dated to 110AD and, by one scholar, even earlier. Mathen opts for 125-140AD). Now Papias was the bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor and is thus the earliest written source we have for any declaration concerning the source of Matthew’s Gospel. However, far from asserting that Matthew the apostle was the author of the work, he is quoted as stating that
‘Matthew compiled the Sayings in the Aramaic language and everyone translated them as well as he could’
Although this seems to be saying by the translation used that Matthew simply compiled a series of writings, incidents and discourses of Jesus in the Aramaic language and that others came along and translated them into Greek, Mathag notes that
‘Nearly every element in this sentence can be understood in more than one way’
Matfran discusses the possible meanings in his commentary and notes the main variations which run from understanding ‘compiled’ as ‘composed’ or ‘arranged’, ‘Aramaic’ as ‘Hebrew’, ‘language’ as ‘style’ and ‘translated’ as ‘interpreted’.
But the main problem for the commentator is to understand, firstly, what is meant by ‘sayings’ and Matfran notes that
‘...the question is asked whether Papias could have referred to a book like our Gospel of Matthew by such a term, or whether he must be speaking of a collection of sayings of Jesus perhaps subsequently incorporated into Matthew’s Gospel’
I shan’t reproduce all the suggestions of the commentators on this subject for they are wide and varied but they seem to usually defend the position that ‘sayings’ is rightly to mean the Gospel - that is, something very similar to what we now possess. If that’s now the case, then Matthew was originally an Aramaic work which must have been subsequently translated into Greek at a later date by an unknown hand.
Mattask believes, for instance, that what Papias actually meant was to assert that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Aramaic and notes that
‘...the firmly established belief which cannot however be dated earlier than Papias...that the canonical Gospel was a Greek translation of an earlier document written in Hebrew (that is, Aramaic) by the apostle Matthew before any of the other Gospels were written’
but that is quite some jump to make.
As the earliest witnesses testify, quoted above, this appears to have been the belief of the second century Church but Mathag notes with accuracy that
‘...our Greek Matthew reveals no signs of having been translated into Aramaic...’
and Mattask that
‘Most modern scholars find it very difficult to believe that our Gospel of Matthew is a translation of an Aramaic document. It bears the mark of an original Greek composition’
What this means for us is this - if we accept that the Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Greek and not as a translation of an Aramaic original, then Papias’ statement that the apostle simply recorded events and sayings of Jesus is probably accurate and it must be assumed that, in order to compose the Gospel of Matthew in Greek, the author used Matthew’s notes as one of his sources.
I will return to this in a moment.
Eusebius’ quote, however, is complicated by his assertion just a few lines above the quote that Papias
‘...seems to have been a man of very small intelligence, to judge from his books’
So just why did Eusebius ever quote him if he thought that his scholarship was doubtful? Indeed, as Mathag notes
‘Some scholars believe that this testimony [of Papias] misled the entire early Church on the question of the origin of the Gospel of Matthew’
no doubt from this dichotomy which seems to sit uneasily in Eusebius’ work.
However, accepting Papias’ belief is a good solution to a difficult problem but it does produce its own series of problems that need answering, the main one being why the attribution of some writings to Matthew which were not part of our present day complete text of the Gospel of Matthew should have been accepted later by the Church as being the sum total of the Greek manuscript that they were using.
I noted above that I would return to Tertullian’s indirect evidence in Against Marcion (4.4.2) because it gives us a reason for feeling compelled to assign an apostolic author to the texts then being used. Written around 207AD, Tertullian objects to Marcion’s use of the Gospel because
‘...Marcion...ascribes no author to his Gospel, as if it could not be allowed him to affix a title to that from which it was no crime (in his eyes) to subvert the very body...’
Notice that his main objection here is not to the content of that Gospel but to its source - though he will object to this also.
But, if the Gospel can be accepted as having come from the hand of an apostle who was associated with Jesus then accuracy is accepted as standard, just as Irenaeus said in Against Heresies 3.1.1 (dated to 180AD) and previously quoted above that they had
Tertullian’s argument is simply that they were relying upon the infallibility of an apostle of Christ whereas Marcion relied upon a source that was indiscernible.
It would appear, then, that apostolic authorship was a necessity laid upon any writing handed down to the Church of the second century in order for it to have been acceptable to be used as authoritative and binding in matters of dispute and discipline.
Therefore, I see the Gospel of Matthew as having been put together originally in the Greek language but from sources which included the previous writing of the apostle Matthew in the Aramaic language. This explains the recourse to Jewish detail which lies scattered throughout the Gospel but it tells us nothing about the person who decided to sit down and produce a Greek original from the sources that he had available to him.
What we can say is this, though - that an Aramaic version of this Gospel will be a translation of a Greek original which was, in effect, a large scale composition from both Aramaic and, presumably, Greek originals circulating at that time within the Church.
Though the Aramaic texts will have much to say about the possible original text at certain points, it cannot retain the original wording of the apostle Matthew because it, too, is just a translation - unless it can be shown that, in compiling an Aramaic manuscript, the Greek text was compared from the original documents that Matthew had first written.
This is one of the more attractive things to come out of the assertion that the Gospel of Matthew was written from Aramaic sources and only later translated into Greek for it allows us to think positively concerning any minor correction that needs to be made from the apparent mistranslations that took place.
This certainly needs to be done with very great care and it is a subject to which I intend returning in the not-too-distant future but, for a while, let me quote you from a photocopied extract of a book which supports the theory, it seems, that the entire NT was translated from original Aramaic documents.
The author points out that the Aramaic words for both rope and camel are so close that Mtw 19:24 (my italics throughout) can be restored with some confidence from the usual
‘...it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’
‘...it is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’
this latter making much more sense than what appears to be the consensus of the Greek manuscripts. Whether this is the way the text should read is open to conjecture for the Aramaic Gospel (on line as noted in my reference page here) translates the passage as
‘...it is more plausible for the camel to enter the eye of the needle, rather than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God’
and that attempt at a translation is supposed to be from the better transmission of Aramaic source documents - at least, better in the minds of those who have attempted such a project.
Whether we should go over to reassess Aramaic documents and to look at them side by side with the Greek ones at our disposal is difficult for me to determine at this juncture. But, from the evidence so far seen, there is more to manuscript transmission and translation than simply studying the Greek texts of the Gospels.
Where was Matthew written and for whom?
The answer to our two questions here will be largely dependent upon the answers to the above discussions such as authorship and original language. If we believe that Matthew was originally written in Aramaic and only subsequently translated into Greek, we can’t place the origin of the Gospel much outside the land of Israel where Aramaic was seldom spoken even amongst the Jews in the Diaspora but, on the other hand, an original Greek document could be placed just about anywhere in the Roman world of its day.
I have previously quoted Irenaeus (130-200AD) who recorded for us (Against Heresies 3.1.1 - dated to 180AD) that
‘...Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome...’
and this appears to be the earliest association of the writing of the Gospel within the borders of Israel. However, I threw doubt on the authenticity of the early Church writers concerning the authorship of the Gospel of Matthew and it may be that Irenaeus’ assertion reflects no more than a general progression of thought from the belief that
‘Matthew was written for the Jewish believers’
because of the content of the Gospel, to the assumption that
‘Matthew was written in the Jewish believers’ language and in their own land’
The belief that Matthew was written for Jewish Christians, therefore, could have contributed to the belief that the Gospel had been originally written in Aramaic or Hebrew. It is not a long step from the one to the other.
Matfran, after outlining some of the themes that the author deals with in Matthew’s Gospel, concludes that
‘It therefore seems likely that the Gospel was written by a Jewish Christian and that Jewish Christians formed at least a large proportion of its intended readership’
before going on to cite some of the internal evidence which indicates his conclusion. For instance, he points out that certain Aramaic terms have been directly transliterated into Greek with no attempt at translation (such as Raka in 5:22 and Korbanas in 27:6). But the problem with this is that the Hebrew transliteration in 27:46 is translated by way of explanation. In other words, if the author had left certain phrases which would not have been understood by Gentile readers, why did he feel the need to translate another Hebraism later on in the text?
Matfran is quite correct, however, to note that there are indications that the reason for the compilation of the Gospel was to satisfy a need amongst Jewish believers but, far from this answering our original question, it says very little about the location of where those Jews resided. The Jews were scattered throughout the civilised world at that time, so that, if we say that the Gospel was composed to make up a lack in a local Jewish synagogue of believers, we could just as well locate it in Rome as we could in Jerusalem, Antioch or further east.
What remains certain, however, is that Matthew has a Jewish bias.
Mathag is quite accurate when he notes that
‘It is, of course, not impossible that Matthew was written to a mixed community or even to Gentiles by a Gentile author. Gentile Christians, after all, were also interested in the fulfilment of the OT and in Jesus as Messiah’
though he does go on to say that
‘There is, in fact, little in the Gospel that is effectively explained as finding its raison d’etre in a supposed Gentile readership’
but Mtw 28:15’s ‘to this day’ seems like the author is speaking of something that his hearers may not have been aware of and, if so, it would have more relevance to a Gentile readership rather than a Jewish one who would have taken interest in what the Jews were doing in the land of Israel.
What we do need to consider here, though, is that, if Matthew was composed by an unknown scribe from Aramaic sources as I suggested above, leaving Jewish references in a Greek text would imply that he had the intention of compiling a Gospel that could be used by the Greek speaking Diaspora who were more comfortable with this language than they often were with Aramaic.
Therefore, perhaps the best thing we could say concerning where this work was written is somewhere where Greek was the predominant language among believing Jews - this also answering our question as to who it was written to. Although we cannot tie down its origin any more precisely, the author definitely had in mind its use not only in his own region but in the entire area of the Jewish Diaspora, even though it came to be regarded by the early (Gentile) Church as being the most important of the first three Gospels.
However, if the Gospel was put together ‘from Aramaic’ originals, it doesn’t have to follow that it was composed for Jews, just as Gentile christians today have often got involved in Jewish concepts and teaching from the time of the early Church and before, because they help explain many of the texts that have a Jewish context and setting.
What are the grounds for accepting a writing as being Authoritative and Inspired?
I hope that you, the reader, who has arrived at this very short section has read the previous sections - but I know that the drop link may have been used to get here directly. However, these couple of observations are based mainly on what has preceded them and should only be understood in that context.
As I’ve been reading articles and assertions over the years as to what constitutes a work that should be considered part of the NT Canon (that is, the list of works that are accepted as divinely inspired and able to give the believer correction when experience is against their testimony. In short, those which have an infallible record and which neither self-contradict nor contradict one another), it has always concerned me that there are no objective proofs concerning both what should be in- and excluded.
Although there are grounds for seeing the early Church as accepting that some of the letters sent to the churches were on a par with the OT Canon (II Peter 3:15-16), how we can actually ascertain which ones are ‘Scripture’ and which ones aren’t seems to rely more upon subjective criteria than upon hard and fast definitions that can be seen to be applied to each and every case.
And, if there is so much in Matthew that can be used purely subjectively to determine such background ‘facts’ as have been discussed briefly above, it remains a legitimate question as to why we should accept the writing received as ‘The Gospel of Matthew’ as being inspired and authoritative.
For what objective criteria do we possess that proves to us that we can rely upon its testimony when we cannot be sure even who wrote it?
I have shown above from the writings of Irenaeus and Tertullian that the reason why Matthew’s Gospel was asserted to have been written by the apostle may have and is likely to have been because apostolic authorship virtually guaranteed the text’s considered infallibility and that, should a work have come down to the later early Church which was anonymous, it is unlikely that it could have been accepted.
Therefore, I believe, a few of the NT documents were accredited to authors who cannot be shown to ever have written them - such works as Matthew, Mark, Hebrews (said to be by Paul) and Revelation (said to be by John the apostle) - if this is the case, though (and I don’t think that too many believers will accept infallibility from any human except Christ alone) what objective criteria do we possess that can affirm to us that the books of both Old and New Testaments are correct?
To answer that simply, there aren’t any and the believer is confronted with the choice to either reject the testimony and so have no boundaries placed around their own experience or to accept it and consider carefully whether what is displayed in the Bible is the same as what they are experiencing (there is, of course, a third option - to believe the testimony of the Scriptures but to fail to allow them to correct our experience but I really didn’t want to mention the plight of many evangelicals or charismatics here for want of offending them).
Therefore the writings that we accept as being ‘Scripture’ are a product of purely subjective considerations so that acceptance of the writing as inerrant must always be a matter of faith and as a response to revelation.
That may sound heretical - I know. But, at the end of the day, most of us came to accept the authority and reliability of the written record when we first came to believe the Gospel, not because we were persuaded from a logical argument that they were infallible.
Date - pre-70AD
Author - not Matthew the apostle and tax collector. An unknown or unremembered scribe who was skilled in both the Aramaic and Greek languages
Original Language - Greek but compiled from both Greek and Aramaic source documents
Place of Origin - Unknowable. As it was a Gentile work or a work composed for Jews in a Gentile context, any Gentile place where there were believers is possible
Written for - The Jews of the Diaspora
GO TO MATTHEW PAGE