Origin of Matthew
Origin of Matthew

Origin of Matthew

The setting of Matthew’s Community and It’s Jewish Character

Donald Senior, The Gospel of Matthew, Abingdon Press, 1977, pgs. 72-78

This gospel strikes the reader as thoroughly Jewish in character. Its extensive use of the Old Testament by explicit citation, subtle allusion, and elaborate typology in order to connect Jesus to the history of Israel and to portray him as the embodiment of Jewish hopes, its stress on Jesus as one who comes not to destroy but to fulfill the Jewish law, its respect for Jesus’ historic mission to the Jews, and its conviction that Jesus is the longed for Messiah of Israel would seem to establish Matthew’s Jewish credentials. 

Yet the gospel also contains plenty of material that seems to be “anti-Jewish.” Matthew is unrelenting in his criticism of the Jewish leaders, including the “scribes and the Pharisees” as well as the priests and leaders in Jerusalem. The begin to oppose Jesus from the very beginning when news of Jesus’ birth “frightens” Herod and “all Jerusalem,” including the “chief priests and scribes,” who know the place of Messiah’s birth but, unlike the Magi, do not offer him homage (Matt 2:1-6). And particularly from chapter 12 forward, Jesus and the leaders are presented in sharp opposition. 

Although Matthew does not ordinarily speak of the “Jews” in a generic sense (in contrast to John’s gospel, for example) and cites specific leadership groups as opposed to Jesus, the general populace does not emerge unscathed from this gospel. The “crowds” seem to be a generally neutral group through most of the gospel story, but ultimately, swayed by the leaders, they demand Jesus’ crucifixion and seem to accept responsibility for his death (Matt 27:24-25). Matthew refers to “their synagogues,” seeming to imply a rift between the followers of Jesus and the rest of the Jewish community (see Matt 4:23; Matt 9:35; Matt 10:17; Matt 12:9; Matt 13:54). In the important parable of the vineyard, the landowner punishes the murderous tenants by having “the kingdom of God… taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom’ (Matt 21:43), a text unique to Matthew that appears to strip from Israel its special status as the people of God. The Great Commission at the end of the gospel, sending the disciples to “all nations,” seems to confirm that historic change (Matt 28:16-20). The gospel anticipates that mission would be opposed by the Jewish leaders – Matthew’s Jesus warns the disciples “they will and you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues” (Matt 10:17) and they might even have to face death just as the prophets did in the past (Matt 23:29-36)

 
So where can one place Matthew’s community – within or outside Judaism?… Even across the wide spectrum of opinion on this subject there is a good bit of common ground. First, virtually every interpreter agrees that Matthew’s gospel was written for a community in the critical transition period after the fall of Jerusalem when both the Jewish and the early Christian communities were experiencing substantial and often turbulent change. One of the chief purposes of the gospel was to provide Matthew’s Christian community with a sense of continuity with the past and a vision for the future. 
 
Second, few readers of Matthew would want to deny that this gospel is thoroughly Jewish in character and outlook. Affirming this does not solve the question to what degree Matthew’s community still considered itself part of the Jewish community or already separated from it. But from a cultural, social, and theological viewpoint, the preponderance of Matthew’s Christians had strong roots in Judaism and understood themselves in the light of Israel’s history and values. 
 
Third, authors who maintain that Matthew’s community is an integral, if deviant, part of the Jewish community admit that there was considerable tension and alienation between Matthew’s community and other Jewish groups. 
 
Fourth, those who maintain Matthew had not broken with the Jewish community will agree that the strong Christology of the gospel was the ultimate source of tension between the Matthean community and other sects or the dominant party within Judaism. 
 
Finally, even though there are different assessments of Matthew’s attitude to the Gentiles, few if any interpreters would deny that Matthew at least foresees a Gentile mission as the future ministry of the Church. 

Locating Matthew and His Church in Place and Time

Donald Senior, The Gospel of Matthew, Abingdon Press, 1977, pgs. 79-83

The Evangelist

One has to rely on external evidence for explicit assignment of the gospel to the apostle Matthew. The gospel was consistently attributed to Matthew in the early patristic period. The earliest reference is that of Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, and important Roman city in west central Asia Minor. Papias’ comments about he origins of the four gospels are preserved in a quotation by Eusebius (AD 260-340), who himself was Bishop of Caesarea Maritima. Although there is uncertainty about he precise dating for Papias, he probably lived in the earliest part of the second century AD. 

The so-called testimony of Papias raises as many questions as it answers. A rough literal translation of Papias’ comment is a follows: “Now Matthew therefore arranged the sayings according to the Hebrew dialect, and each one interpreted it as he was able.” The Greek text is difficult to translate accurately. At first glance, Papias seems to be saying that Matthew wrote the gospel in “the Hebrew dialect,” which might mean an original Hebrew or Aramaic version. The problem is that most modern scholarship agrees that the canonical gospel of Matthew does not appear to be a translation from Hebrew or Aramaic but was composed in Greek. And, as we have noted, it seems that Matthew used a great deal of the gospel of Mark in composing his gospel. This has led many scholars to doubt the accuracy of Papias’ information (Eusebius himself complains that Papias was not very intelligent!)

Some have suggested that Papias may be referring to an earlier version of the gospel that was composed in Aramaic or Hebrew; an elaborated Greek edition, one that also borrowed from Mark’s gospel, would have evolved later. Others have reexamined the meaning of Papias’ words… In mentioning the origin of Matthew’s gospel, Papias was apparently contrasting it with Mark, who, Papias claims, reported Peter’s recollections of the words and deeds of Jesus, noting them “accurately” but without any real rhetorical order.  Matthew on the other hand presented the words and deeds of Jesus in the Hebrew “manner” or “style”; the term dialektos in Greek can mean “dialect,” but it was also used in a technical fashion to refer to literary style. Thus Papias’ statement means not that Matthew wrote in Hebrew but that , in contrast to Mark, he introduced a certain Jewish manner of order or format into his gospel. This description of Matthew, in fact, harmonizes with the Jewish features of the gospel we have been describing in our survey of Matthews characteristic style and distinctive theology. 
 
Still others have speculated that Papias may have derived his statement about Matthew from earlier traditions that were referring to the incorporation of Q into the gospel. This collection of the sayings of Jesus may have been associated with the apostle Matthew’s name and originally composed in Hebrew or Aramaic. 
 
The discussion has to end on an inconclusive note. The fact that the gospel of Matthew as we now have it was evidently written in Greek, and the evidence that it used Mark as a source and may have been written in the last quarter of the first century, are all strong reasons for doubting that the Palestinian Jew and tax collector Matthew could have been its author. It would be unwise, therefore, to draw conclusions about the meaning of the gospel on the basis of its apostolic authorship alone…
 
Internal evidence does not lead to any more precise identification of the author of the gospel. The gospel’s rich use of Old Testament quotations and typology, its concern with Jewish issues such as interpretation of the law, its overt attempt to connect the history of Jesus with the history of Israel, and even its sharp polemic with the Jewish leaders which has the atmosphere of an internecine struggle – all of these features of the gospel suggest it was composed in Greek and its good Greek style, especially in comparison with that of its important source Mark, which Matthew often improves upon, suggest further that the author was a Hellenistic Jew, that is, one who was at home in the Greco-Roman world. … Matthew’s favorable comments about the “scribe… trained for the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 13:52) and the thoughtful, ordered nature of his gospel narrative may indicate that the evangelist was himself a Jewish scribe, that is an intelligent, educated Jewish Christian steeped in the traditions of Judaism and concerned with the interpretation of those traditions in the light of his faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. 

When and Where

Features of Matthew’s gospel may help us narrow the time frame between AD 50 and 100. The intensity and content of Matthew’s debate with the Jewish leaders … suggest that Matthew as a contemporary with the formative period for both Judaism and Jewish Christianity after the destruction o the Temple in AD 70. As the whole discussion of the relationship of Matthew’s community to formative Judaism indicates, there is a strong consensus that Matthews’s community had already broken with its Jewish connection or was experiencing severe tensions that would soon lead to a break. For many scholars a verse that Matthew adds to the parable of the great supper is a clues that the evangelist was writing after the destruction of Jerusalem: “He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city” (Matt 22:7; cf. Luke 14:21). For these reasons, a growing number of Matthean interpreters conclude that the gospel was written sometime during the last quarter of the first century AD. 
 
The possible location for Matthew’s gospel must also be an educated guess… The probable influence of Matthew’s gospel on Ignatius of Antioch has made this city a prime candidate for the location of Matthew’s community. We know from other sources that circumstances of this prominent Syrian city harmonize with the kind of atmosphere reflected in the gospel itself. Antioch was a large Mediterranean city, with a mixed population of Gentiles and Jews. We know from Acts and from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians that it was also the site of a significant Jewish Christian community. Acts 11:19-26 claims that the Christian message first reached Antioch through some of the Greek-speaking Jewish Christians of Jerusalem who were scattered in the wake of Stephen’s execution and the ensuing persecution. Later Barnabas would be sent to Antioch to confirm the work of these missionaries. It was in Antioch, Acts 11:26 notes, that the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians.” While defending his apostolic credentials to the Galatians, Paul gives us another tantalizing glimpse into the Christian community of Antioch. It was in that city Paul had confronted Peter over the issue of accepting Gentiles in the community. Under pressure from strict Jewish Christians, Peter had apparently refrained from eating with Gentile Christians. This led to Pauls’ blistering criticism of Peter and also his former missionary partner Barnabas (Gal 2:11-14). Even thought Paul’s portrayal of Peter is not very flattering in this instance, he does confirm Peter’s active presence in Antioch, a fact that also harmonizes with the prominence that traditions about Peter have in Matthew’s gospel. 
 
Some interpreters have pushed father and suggested that there are hints in Matthew that his community was relatively prosperous and located in an urban environment. The gospel uses the word “city” (polis) twenty-six times (compared with Mark, who uses the term “city” only four times, preferring the designation “village”). In Matthew’s story, Nazareth and the Capernaum are designated as “cities” and in summaries the evangelist describes Jesus as extending his mission throughout the “cities” of Galilee (Matt 9:23, 35; Matt 11:1). The evangelist also tends to inflate monetary amounts: Thus Mark’s “copper coins” in Mark 6:9 become “gold, or silver, or copper” (Matt 10:9); Luke’s parable of the “minas” (Luke 19:11-17) becomes the parables of the “talents” in Matthew (25:14-30), a significantly larger denomination. Over all Matthew refers to “gold” and “silver” some twenty-eight times in his gospel while Luke refers to them only four times and Mark once. Although such evidence cannot be decisive for locating Matthew’s church in an urban and relatively prosperous community, it does point in that direction.  

G.D. Kilpatrick,, The Origins of the Gospel According to St. Matthew: Textual and Source Study, G.D. Kilpatrick, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2007

The community of the Gospel

Matthew was written in a well-to-do city church. It had its officers and liturgy. Discipline had to meet moral laxness, false doctrine, Messianic pretensions , and persecution. Various pieces of evidence suggest that the church of Matthew is to be found in Syria, probably in Phoenicia, at the end of the first century… In our account of the Matthean church we must first look at its composition. We have already seen that its members were Greek speaking Jews in contact with Rabbinical culture, but in strongest opposition to Rabbinical Judaism. To these facts may now be added. (p. 124)

In our Gospel [Matthew] there is no sign that he Epistles were known. It is hard to believe that the evangelist would have written Matt 28 in its present form, had he known 1 Cor. 15. Yet from our list of users of the Epistles, it is clear that we have the earliest and widest evidence of the use of 1 Corinthians. The attitude to the Law is different. It seems as though sometimes for St. Paul the Law and Christ are mutually exclusive. In our Gospel Christ is the complement of the old Law and the giver of the new.  The evangelist’s doctrine of the Law is as different from that of some of the Pauline pronouncements as is from Pharisaism. Both are exclusive, the one of the Law and the other of Christ, while in our Gospel adjustment and not exclusion is the method followed. It may be for this reason that he controversy over the Law is not so extreme in Matthew as it is in Mark… [In Matthew] the emphasis is on the human aspect and the human activities rather than, as in St. Paul, on what God does. The Pauline doctrine of grace is absent, nor does the word for grace occur. The idea of incorporation into the Church as the body of Christ is not mentioned… The Gospel shows no sign of any use of the Pauline Epistles, even where we might expect it, and its ideas are quite different from those of the Apostle. This leads us to infer that the evangelist and the church for which he wrote were as yet unaffected by Paulinism and unacquainted with the Pauline Epistles. Such a state of affairs is extremely hard to imagine in a city church of an importance outside Palestine after A.D. 100 and not easy after A.D. 90. (p.129-130)

In trying to find the place of origin of the Gospel, we have to relate our inquiry to the ignorance of St. Paul’s teaching and writings that we have discovered in it. This is because, if we were to imagine that the Gospel was written at Antioch, we should expect Pauline influence much earlier there than in some of the less important Christian churches. This is supported by the fact that Ignatius is already acquainted with some of the Epistles by A.D. 115. Earlier, St. Paul himself had had a very close connection with Antioch, and since this connection was still remembered when the Acts were written, it is very unlikely that Antioch would be late in comin to use the Epistles. It was an important church, in frequent contact with the other chief centers of Christianity at this period, and we should not expect it to be behindhand in acquaintance with the use of the writings of the Apostle. This fact, taken with the absence of any Pauline contacts in the Gospel, appears to make it necessary either to put the date of the gospel early, not later than A.D. 90 for example, or else to keep a later dat for the Gospel and to look for some other place than Antioch, were Pauline influence would be later in coming into effect. (p. 130-131)

The Evangelist

The evangelist’s contribution to Matthew is hard to disentangle as his outlook is very like that of the community for which he wrote. Himself a Christian scribe, he is responsible for the structure of his book, he was the first to put the peculiar narratives into writing and he fitted the Gospel for liturgical use. Matthew was probably an official undertaking, deliberately pseudonymous from the beginning. (p. 135)

This division is clearly modeled on the book of the Law an implies a contrast between Jesus and the Law which indicates both the Jewish background of the book and its Christological point of view. But this arrangement could only come from the author of the book, since it is not in the tradition, and circumstances and communities do not create books of themselves. We have seen that the gospel’s Christology and relation to Judaism are representative of the church for which it was written. From these date we can argue for an identity of outlook between the evangelist and his community on the two most important features of the book. (p.135-136)

The evangelist was a scribe, occupying an official position in the church of which he was so sympathetic a member. He was thoroughly acquainted with its traditions and outlook, and possessed gifts of style and composition which, while they were unobtrusive, produced the liturgical Gospel of all time. (p. 139)

 Benjamin Wisner Bacon, Studies in Matthew, New York : H. Holt, 1930

But the occasion for Studies in Matthew is made urgent by two widespread and harmful preconceptions. Both are ultimately due to illusions of scholars, but one has behind it the accumulated inertia of fifteen centuries of unquestioning acceptance, the other of scarcely one. The popular illusion of apostolic authorship, if not for the canonical first Gospel itself, at least for some Aramaic Matthew of which the Greek writing might be taken as a translation, has dominated the Church’s belief for so long that even a unanimous verdict against it from all modern scholarship affects but few. Mt is still used and quoted by clergy and laity alike just as if it were a primary, or even an apostolic source, though known and (tacitly) acknowledged to be secondary. Matthew continues today as in the second century to be the preferred source for all gospel quotations, even when the same passage is found in Matthew or Luke in more original and authentic form. The effect as regards the particular passage may be of small moment, but the general result of this indolent’ acquiescence in a secondary, altered report when more reliable, unaltered witness is available, is deplorable. It commits to the public as the standard record of the life and teaching of Jesus a report which is known to be inferior, a form adapted to the special beliefs and needs of later times. This is a substitution which could not occur outside a Church which has inherited something of the disposition of the scribes rebuked by Jesus for making the Scripture of none effect that they might keep their own tradition. (p xi)

The second prepossession which the present writer would do his part to dispel is more recent. It is an illusion of scholars which stands in the way of effective research for the most authentic record of the teaching of Jesus. We may call it the fallacy of the “Matthean Logia. ” It had its origin less than a century ago in the theory of Schleiermacher which applied to Q the statement of Papias in which he referred to our own first canonical Gospel as a compilation of the precepts of Jesus to the exposition of which his own work (c. 140) was dedicated. The Gospel, then as now, was in Greek and of course bore, as now, the title “According to Matthew.” Papias met the objection that the Apostle’s language was “Hebrew” (that is, Aramaic) by affirming that the Gospel had originally been written in “Hebrew” but had been translated by some unknown Greek Christian. For, as he added, the custom had formerly been to give renderings of the precepts (not the Gospel) as they had been orally transmitted in the language of Jesus. All scholars now admit the impossibility of Papias’ having reference to, or direct knowledge of, any other Matthew than our own. (xii)

“The scholar must indeed either renounce entirely the right to judge of ancient writings by their form and content, or else admit that Matthew is not a translation from any other language, but originally composed in Greek.” (p. 9)

“In the earlier time, shortly after Josephus composed his Jewish War in Aramaic for the benefit of his fellow countrymen in Adiabene, Parthia, and Arabia, if Christianity had already made its way from Antioch eastward among the Greek speaking Jewish synagogues, these doubtless followed the Jewish practice of oral “targuming” from such Greek gospels as reached them. ” (p. 17)

“The birthplace of Matthew was undoubtedly in Syria, in some locality where Jewish traditions and even some remote influence from the Hebrew Old Testament still lingered. But, as McNeile correctly infers from the late and apocryphal character of N, these circles, though “Hebraic to the core,” were “not in close touch with Jerusalem” but “outside the range of the control which apostles or other eyewitnesses would have exercised.” (p. 20)

“Naturally among these Christians “of mixed speech” the practice of oral ” targuming ” would prevail until written Aramaic gospels based on the Greek came into circulation, to be replaced in turn by the Syriac.” (p. 21)