Introduction to the Gospel of Matthew
Written by George Goldman
The Gospel according to Matthew is named first in most ancient lists of scripture. It was the most quoted gospel in Christian literature before 180 A.D.
This gospel emphasizes what Jesus taught. There are five great discourses in the book (Mt. 5 – 7, 10, 13, 18, 24 – 25). Each of these end with the phrase “when Jesus had ended these sayings” (Mt. 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). In between these five discourses are narrative sections leading up to each discourse.
Matthew makes things easy to memorize. There are 38 groups of three in his book; e.g., 3 divisions in the genealogy (Mt. 1:17), 3 messages to Joseph, 3 temptations, 3 illustrations of righteousness (giving, praying, fasting, Mt. 6:18), 3 prohibitions (Mt. 6:19, 25; 7:1), and 3 commands (Mt. 7:7, 13, 15). There is a grouping of three types of miracles with three examples of each (Mt. 8:1 – 9:34). There are miracles of healings: leprosy, paralysis, and fever (Mt. 8:1-17). There are miracles of power: storm, demons, and forgiveness (8:23 – 9:8). There are miracles of restoration: of life, of sight, of speech (Mt. 9:23-34). These groupings are not accidental. Matthew wanted the Jews to know that the evidence was established at the mouth of two or three witnesses (Deut. 17:6). There are also groups of fives and sevens; e.g., the five great discourses of Jesus, seven parables (Mt. 13), and seven woes (Mt. 23).
Matthew is a gospel of fulfillments. There are around fifty quotations from the Greek Old Testament (LXX) and sixteen from the Hebrew Old Testament. Those from the Hebrew Bible are introduced with the formula “that it might be fulfilled.” Some of these “fulfillments” seem forced (Mt. 2:15 cf., Hos. 11:1). Matthew’s point is that Jesus’ experience is similar to Israel’s. The Hosea passage was used just because of the wording. Matthew’s favorite prophet was Isaiah. His favorite Psalm was Psalm 22.
Matthew is a gospel of a king. Christ’s lineage is traced back to King David. The wise men come to worship a king (Mt. 2:2); Jesus is called “Son of David” eight times. Pilate asks, “Are you a king? (Mt. 27:10f). Over the cross the words were written, “This is Jesus the king of the Jews” (Mt. 27:37).
Matthew is the gospel of the church. He is the only writer to attribute the word “church” to the sayings of Jesus. However, the word “kingdom” is used many times by Jesus. The first occurrence of Jesus’ use of “church” is in Peter’s confession (Mt. 16:16-19). Here its use is clearly being spoken of as in the future. Church occurs again in the context of discipline and seems to indicate not only its existence but also problems within it (Mt. 18:15-20). Matthew was writing these sayings of Jesus after the church had been established.
The gospel writers do not identify themselves by name. Luke writes in the first person but gives not hint of who is the author (Lk. 1:1-4). The titles of the books are not to be considered as part of the text. Ancient tradition names Matthew as the writer.