Survey of The Life and Teachings of Jesus
© L.D. Underwood 2010
Introduction to Matthew and Mark
Now we want to look at two of the gospels in a little bit more detail—that of Matthew and Mark. We will be taking a similar approach in each of these gospel accounts. First of all dealing with issues of authorship who the writer was, the date of writing and some of the characteristics of the book and so forth.
In dealing with Matthew’s gospel first of all, I think we can say that the gospel itself is anonymous. That is there is no place that says, “I Matthew wrote this gospel.” But certainly from the earliest times, from church tradition, the first gospel has been universally ascribed to the apostle Matthew virtually without question for centuries.
Now the denial of Matthew’s authorship is a fairly modern development of liberal biblical criticism. That is modern scholarships outside the ranks of conservatives are almost unanimous in denying that this gospel was written by the apostle Matthew.
On exception to that is the liberal scholar Goodspeed, he wrote a book called, Matthew Apostle and Evangelist (1959) in which he held that Matthew was in fact its author. But there is question on the part of some today and diversity of outlook on the part some of the critics in fairly recent times. When one is looking at authorship questions in the Bible, there are two areas of investigation that should be considered. One would be external evidence which means evidence outside the Bible, which would include things like church fathers, and manuscript evidence. The other of course is internal evidence which gives clues that are found in the Bible that either justify one author or another as being the writer. When it comes to Matthew, certainly the external evidence favors his authorship of the book for many of the early church Fathers held this to be the case. For example, one church father said that Matthew composed the logia, the gospel of Matthew in Aramaic that was then brought into the Hebrew tongue. Iranaeus said that Matthew issued a written gospel among the Hebrews and their own dialect. Origen and other numerous church Fathers assigned this gospel to the apostle Matthew.
- B: Modern textual criticism is bunk, and serves only to cast doubt on the works by using fanciful modern inventions. There is no historical doubt on the authorship of Matthew. The important validation comes from the 'mystery hidden from the beginning'. Does the author demonstrate a valid exegesis of the OT text, and couple it with a memory of the acts of Jesus? The multiple recollections of his acts, are important to us to, since they come from the eye-witnesses to the events. This is why the testimony of the church is important at this late date. the church says they were written by eye-witnesses. The content is self-validating.
Looking at the internal evidence we can say that the writer was a Jewish Christian. You can tell that from the style of writing; you can tell that from certain clues within the book that show he was a Jewish Christian. Obviously the book is quite Jewish in its character or nature, for example it contains about 41, 42, 43 direct quotations from the Old Testament more than we find in the other synoptic gospels at least and hundreds of illusions. It uses Jewish expressions like the Kingdom of heaven which is peculiar to the Gospel of Matthew, some 32 or 33 times he talks about the “Kingdom of Heaven.” Other writers will predominantly talk about the Kingdom of God. But Matthew is writing to Jews and Jews didn’t like using the name for God anymore than they had to because of its sacredness and so they would use the expression Kingdom of heaven instead. The use of words for money in this first gospel, points at least to the possibility of a tax collector as being its author—at least that’s in harmony with his occupation. There are more references to money in the Gospel of Matthew than in any of the other gospel accounts. Both on the basis of external testimony by church fathers and manuscripts as well as internal evidence from the book contents itself, we’re quite sure that a person like Matthew would have been the author.
What do we know about Matthew the man? We know that he was called Levi. Levi the son of Alpheus. And apparently Matthew was his Christian name. Matthew is an abbreviation of Mattathias which means in Hebrew, “God’s Gift.” Levi the son of Alpheus is his Jewish name. Matthew was a publican—a Jewish tax collector and as such was bitterly hated by the Jews because of working for the Romans. And apparently his collection stand was near Capernaum where he received dues on goods that were transported across the sea of Galilee and along the great road that led from Egypt on the South and going North to Damascus.
As a tax collector he must have been very familiar with both Greek and Aramaic. He must have had a fair amount of formal education as a tax collector, and yet interestingly this profession was associated in the minds of the people with harlots and sinners. And it is interesting to note that only Matthew records those stinging words, ‘harlots,’ and ‘sinners’ and publicans all mixed together.
We know that he became a disciple of Jesus and again only Mark and Luke tell us that when he left the receipt of custom he hospitably opened his own house to the Lord for a great feast so that other publicans could hear Jesus for themselves as well. And we are told that he left all in following Jesus, implying that he had great riches. That job really paid for itself and as a result, he left those things in following Christ. Matthew doesn’t tell us that of course, so even his omission shows something of his humility in not speaking a lot about himself or building himself up. Later he was appointed an apostle. And our Lord sent them out two by two. And the disciples mentioned in that way are named usually in pairs; so, Matthew and Thomas are the order that Mark and Luke give us but when Matthew writes about it, he puts Thomas and Matthew, again just a little incidental token of humility in even terms of the word order that he uses. There is a tradition that tells us Matthew ministered for fifteen years in Judea, and that then he went to Parthia in to Persia, and finally into Ethiopia as far as his ministry is concerned. One of the great Baptist scholars A.T. Robertson says of this book, “The book of Matthew is probably the most useful one ever written. It comes first in the New Testament collection and has done more than any other book to create the impression of Jesus that the world has obtained.”
I will be very brief in terms of the date and place of writing. If you have done studying for today, you know that the book has been variously dated. Some of the older critics dated it quite late. Putting it toward the end of the first century. And in more recent times you’ve had arguments for an earlier date, even as early as around AD 50 or so. We won’t go into the arguments for late or early authorship except to say that most people probably now believe that Matthew was written somewhere between AD 60 and AD 70 something in that framework of time. At least before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
The traditional place of writing would be the city of Jerusalem. Although some believe it is more plausible to think that it might have been written in Antioch a city that was in Syria where the early church had its headquarters. I don’t put too much stock in dates as such and so don’t worry about these precise dates of writing or even the place of writing is not crucial. Certainly, the purpose of Matthew’s gospel was to furnish a necessary link between the Old and New Testaments.
We don’t know if Matthew was the first gospel to be written. We said the that Mark may have been the first one but certainly it belongs in the first location of the New Testament because of its close association with the Old Testament—it becomes a hinge into the New Testament. And Matthew writing to Jews is seeking to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah who was promised in the Old Testament scriptures. So really, we have here and apology centering upon Jesus as the promised king, as the promised Messiah, King of the Jews. And of course in writing to them he would be encouraging and strengthening some of the Jewish Christians who were around this time starting to be persecuted.
- B: Tradition has Mark as the earliest, and the internal evidence; proficiency with the mystery, confirms it.
What I am most interested in in each of these gospel accounts for this lecture and next is to look at some of the characteristics of these various books so that you’ll recognize the distinctiveness of each gospel account. For example we’ve already noted that this gospel of Matthew is predominantly Jewish in its orientation. Now all of the gospels have a Jewish background to them, but Matthew is the only one who attempts to capitalize on that Jewish background.
If you look for example in the first chapter and the first verse of Matthew’s gospel, you have a very interesting little phrase that it used in that opening verse the book of the genealogy of. Or the book of the generations of Jesus Christ, the Son of David the son of Abraham. That little expression, “the book of the generation of, or the book of the genealogy of” in Hebrew “toledoth” that word is linked very closely to the book of Genesis, and you will find in the book of Genesis that it is mentioned something like 10 or 11 times and can form an outline or a heading for each of the main sections of the book of Genesis. This is the book of the generations of Abraham or this is the book of the generations of various individuals mentioned in the book of Genesis.
- B: The genealogy introduces us to several methods of interpretation. Each name is a picture of Christ using 'formations' and notarikon. Remez is used as a pointer to the histories of the men mentioned, wherein 'drash' is used to find similarities. Using these methods we discern the titles of Jesus: the usurping second son, the unbegotten begotten son, the unbegotten only son, the foresaken son.
So here is a continuation of subsequent developments of God’s purpose in the propagation of his promised seed, the Messiah, through which he planned to bring about redemption. And Matthew contains the continuation, he provides the consummation of all the purposes of God, started in Genesis, carried on through the Bible, in the person of Jesus Christ. So the link with Genesis the background of Jewishness that he capitalizes upon, the unusual amount of interest in fulfilled prophecy certainly shows its Jewish nature.
Secondly we can say about Matthew that it is systematically arranged as far as the material is concerned. While you would expect the book to be basically chronological, that is beginning with the beginning and ending with the end, nevertheless there are topical groupings within this general framework. In other words you have a whole group of miracles put together in chapters 8 and 9 for example. You have segments of teaching that Jesus gives scattered through the book in various systematic patterns. And if ever a gospel resembles a textbook, Matthew would be that book. He knows how to make memorizing easy because he would group his material in terms of three’s or fives or sevens or some other kind of numeric(al) patter for didactic or teaching purposes. For example you have three sections to the genealogy, you have three temptations of our Lord, you have three denials by Peter, you have five major blocks of teaching in the book, you have seven parables in one chapter in the book.
- B:Matthew has 4 main division, each of which can be 'loosely' described as the red letters and black letters: Jesus said something, then in a parallelism to his teaching, he did something.
So that is a beautiful didactical, or teaching way that Matthew has in showing unity and continuity in basic chronological framework for the life of Christ. It is systematically arranged. We can also say that it is a didactical or teaching gospel made up of discourses. Discourses or lessons that are given to people in different sections of the book. I mentioned that there are something like five large blocks of teaching in the book of Matthew. For example Matthew five, six and seven constitute the Sermon on the Mount. That is one section of teaching within the book.
He gives instructions to his disciples in chapter ten. In chapter 13 there is a whole series of parables concerning the kingdom . In chapter 18 he has a long discourse on forgiveness. And in chapters 24 and 25 you have the famous Olivet discourse the discourse which he gives on the Mt. of Olives concerning prophecy and future events.
You say, “how do you know these are all linked together that way?” Well its interesting that each block of teaching ends with the same formula: “When Jesus had finished these sayings, he did such and such, or he went so, and so…..” “When Jesus had finished these sayings” that is at the end of each of theses five blocks. So we know that it is by design that Matthew records these in this systematic fashion of discourses.
There are other features as well that are interesting about the book. I mentioned that there is more mention of money in this book than you find in the other gospels put together. It is the only gospel for example that mentions the church by name. There are two references to the church in the gospels one is found in Matthew 16 and the other one is Matthew 18. Matthew 16 he deals with the universal church, “Upon this rock I will build my church” the universal body of Christ, and Matthew 18 where he is talking about forgiveness he talks about a local church should implement the area of church discipline.
- B:Mammon is a Syriac word for money. It is a Hebrew word for 'the believing ones'. You cannot serve God and self.
But it is interesting that is the only two places in all of the four gospels that the word ‘church’ is deliberately used. And the style that Matthew has in writing is so interesting, because it is so flowing and so smooth in contrast to Mark which we will consider in just a moment, who is more choppy and more stacoto jerks in his writing style; Matthew is so flowing and smooth and has words like “Lo” and “Truly” and just lets you guide along throughout the book.
The preacher says, “All right this morning we are going to turn to Luke chapter 3” and immediately you have a basic idea of what is found in that portion of the word of God. And so I am not requiring that you do this, but I think that these are aids to help you to develop your own outline of the book, so you can virtually think your way through how Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each portray the Gospel story.
I already mentioned the tribute paid to this book by AT Robertson, it is interesting that even a French skeptic like Ernest Renan, who was no fan of Christianity said, “This is the most important book in Christendom, the most important book that has ever been written." So it has high ratings by skeptic as well as believers and is certainly a very important document of the Christian faith.