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1. Authorship.-St. Matthew's Gospel has been described by one who can scarcely be accused of partiality (M. Renan) as "the most important book of Christendomthe most important book that has ever been written." Its importance is derived, not from the genius of the writer, but from the grandeur of the subject. According to the unanimous tradition of the ancient Church, as preserved in the title which this Gospel has borne since the second century and apparently confirmed by the testimony of the early Fathers beginning with Papias in the first half of the second century, the writer of the book was Matthew, one of the twelve apostles. But for his connection with this book, Matthew would have been one of the least known of the apostles, as neither Scripture nor tradition gives us much information regarding him. Not a single word or act of his after he became a disciple of our Lord is recorded in the Gospels; and in the Book of Acts his name is never mentioned after the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. He is evidently to be identified with Levi the publican (Mark ii. 14, 15; Luke v. 27-29; cf. Matt. ix. 9, 10), although it is only in his own Gospel (x. 3) that the despised term "publican" is associated
with his apostolic name of Matthew ("the gift of God "), which was probably given to him when he was called to the apostleship, as Simon's name was changed to Peter. He seems to have been a man of worldly means and of a generous disposition, judging from the fact that on the occasion of his apostolic call, when "he forsook all, and rose up and followed " Jesus, he made " a great feast" to which he invited a number of his old associates. It is noteworthy that he leaves it to the other evangelists to mention him as the giver of this feast and to record his sacrifice of property in following Christ; while we have a further token of his modesty in the fact that he puts the name of Thomas before his own in the list of apostles, reversing the order followed in the other Gospels. Traces of the writer's profession as a tax-gatherer have been found in his use of the term "tribute money" (xxii. 19), where the other evangelists employ the more common word "penny" (Mark xii. 15; Luke xx. 24); and in his use of the word "publicans" (v. 46, 47), where Luke employs the word "sinners" (Luke vi. 32, 33). But perhaps the latter instance, like his use of the word "Gentiles" in the same passage, is an indication rather of his Jewish nationality.
According to an ancient tradition derived from Papias, Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, - to which Irenæus adds that he published it among the Jews "while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome and founding the Church there." Eusebius in the beginning of the fourth century tells us that Matthew wrote it when he was about to leave the Jews and preach also to other nations, in order to "fill up the void about to be made in his absence." If this tradition be correct, the Hebrew or rather Aramaic original must have been very soon superseded by the Greek Gospel in the Church at large and by the Gospel of the Nazarenes among the Jewish
Christians, who gradually lapsed into a heresy which alienated them from the rest of the Church. It is now generally believed that Matthew's own work consisted almost entirely of a collection of his Master's discourses, and that our first Gospel was compiled by an unknown writer, who combined with these discourses a narrative of Christ's deeds, which he, in common with Luke, derived from the Gospel of Mark.1
2. Date of Composition.-From evidence afforded by a study of the book itself (taken in connection with the tradition above mentioned), it has generally been inferred that the Gospel in its present form probably appeared before 66 A.D., when the war which was to issue in the destruction of the Jewish capital was on the eve of breaking out. Such evidence is found in the use of the expressions "holy city," "the holy place," "the city of the great King" (iv. 5; v. 35; xxiv. 15; xxvii. 53), as well as in the mysterious nature of the language used by the Saviour in His prediction of the city's coming doom. In particular, the caution given by the writer in xxiv. 15 ("whoso readeth, let him understand") is held to imply that the predicted calamity had not occurred. But while the discourses are believed to be derived from a very early source, the majority of the critics assign the Gospel in its present form to 70-90 A.D.
3. Character and Contents. The leading charac
1 The Ebionite heresy, so named from a Hebrew word meaning poor, the early Jewish Christians being noted for their poverty. They held the continued obligation of the Jewish Law, but denied the Divinity of the Christ. The name of Nazarenes (Acts xxiv. 5) was applied in the fourth century to a less heretical sect who continued to observe the Jewish Law.
2 Named Q, from the German Quelle= =source. According to Harnack it may date from 50 A.D. or even earlier; Ramsay thinks it was written during Christ's life. "It gives us the view which one of His disciples entertained of Him and His history during His lifetime."
teristic of St. Matthew's Gospel, as might be expected in a work intended for the Hebrews, consists in the representation of Jesus as the Messiah, in whom was fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. In this respect. it is fitly placed immediately after the Old Testament, as the uniting link between the old and the new covenants.
The first verse strikes the keynote, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham"-son of David as the heir of the promised kingdom, son of Abraham as the child of promise in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed. The whole book may be regarded as depicting the gradual realisation of these claims in a spiritual sense; the culminating point being reached in the glorious declaration by the risen Lord, "All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. xxviii. 18-20). In the course of the Gospel there are no less than sixty citations of Old Testament prophecy as fulfilled in Jesus, the usual formula of quotation being "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by (the prophet)." Equally significant is the frequency of the expression "kingdom of heaven" (literally "kingdom of the heavens," reflecting the Hebrew idiom), which occurs thirty-two times, and the designation "son of David,” which occurs seven times as applied to Jesus.
The whole plan of the book is in harmony with its Messianic character. First we have the nativity of Him who was "born King of the Jews" and was at the same time to "save his people from their sins" (chaps. i., ii.), -with the strange mingling of light and shadow, of glory
and suffering, which was to be typical of the whole life. Then comes the Prelude to the Ministry (iii.-iv. 11), when the approach of the kingdom of heaven is announced by the predicted Forerunner; and the Baptism of Jesus, as the fulfilment of all righteousness and the consecration to His public ministry, becomes the signal for a manifestation of the divine favour in the voice from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,"-followed by the Temptation, in which the decisive choice is made between the "kingdoms of this world" and the unseen kingdom of the Spirit. The way is thus cleared for successive representations of the Saviour as Lawgiver, Prophet, and King. In the Sermon on the Mount. (v.-vii.), the charter of the new kingdom, He proclaims the Law as from a second Sinai with new meaning and power,—a little later He charges the twelve apostles whom He commissions to preach the Gospel in His name (x.),—at another time He delivers the long series of parables in which the origin, progress, and final destiny of the kingdom are shown forth (xiii.), -anon He lays down the principles that are to guide the members of the Church in their relations to one another, especially to their erring brethren (xviii.) Then as the conflict with hatred and unbelief grows ever fiercer, there break forth His prophetic warnings of the nation's impending doom, and His denunciations against the Jewish priests and rulers, while He becomes more and more outspoken in the assertion of His Messianic claims (xxiii.-xxv.); till at last there comes the awful tragedy upon the Cross, completing the sacrifice He has to offer as God's High Priest, and giving place in turn to the triumph of the Resurrection (xxvi.-xxviii.) Interspersed throughout the whole are mighty works and gracious words, spoken and wrought for the suffering and the sinful, which bespeak Him as the Sent of God.