Introduction to the Gospel of St. Matthew
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
It is easy to find introductions to this Gospel in bookshops as well as via Internet search engines. We offer only the briefest notes based largely on the commentary by David Stanley, S. J. (1963). We should remember there is much disagreement about many details. What follows is offered to help readers begin this long but fascinating gospel account.
The Function of the Written Gospel
The Gospels represent a specific type of sacred literature. We use the word Gospel: to signify four N.T. books. The N.T. writers used the word to mean preaching. And what was preached? The scholar would say, the kerygma, the preaching of the Good News. The early Church called this “a Gospel”, a term borrowed from Isaiah 52: 7 — 10 where it meant the proclamation of the Lord’s final, saving gesture which was to usher in a new age of salvation. This prophetic announcement was believed to make the Kingdom of God an earthly reality, and hence was concerned with God’s action in history.
Matthew the Apostle
Matthew was, in Hebrew, called Mattai, Mattenai, or Mattanaya (among other variations), meaning gift of God. He was also called Levi. He was very likely some relative of James the Less (Mark 3: 18), whose mother Mary was present on Calvary (Matthew 27: 56) and inspected the empty tomb (Matthew 28: 1). He was therefore, from a circle which had known the family of Jesus, in which stories of his infancy would quite naturally have been preserved.
Matthew was a customs official at Capharnaum (or Capernaum), probably in the employ of Herod Antipas (Herod of the Passion narrative). He was not a Roman tax-gatherer. He was required to speak and write in both Aramaic and Greek, and to speak Latin with at least basic fluency.
Matthew the Writer
We take a passage from David Stanley:
Modern New Testament critics incline to accept the assertion of
second-century Christian writers that Matthew wrote a (now lost)
Aramaic account of Jesus’ sayings. Papias (about 125. A.D.) states
that “Matthew set in order the Lord’s words in the Hebrew
(i.e., Aramaic) language.” Irenaeus (about 180 A.D.) says that
“Matthew wrote his Gospel in ‘Hebrew’ while Peter and Paul were
preaching and founding the Church of Rome,” i.e., sometime
after C.E. 47.
However, the Gospel bearing Matthew’s name in our New
Testament was originally written in Greek: and it is probably based
on the Aramaic Matthew (or a Greek version of it) and on Mark’s
Gospel. There are indications in our Matthew that it was composed
in and for a Christian community predominantly pagan in origin;
not for Jewish Christians. There is, moreover, good reason for dating
it about 80 A.D. and it would not be unreasonable to suggest Antioch,
the capital of Syria and the location of a large, influential Christian
church, as its place of origin. Henceforth, we shall call the canonical,
Greek Matthew simply “Matthew.”
This is a very significant paragraph from David Stanley. Some would interpret the situation as demonstrating the de-Judaising process in the infant Church. Our Hebrew Catholic view is quite different. We consider it an example of how Jewish Christians welcomed the universalisation of believers claiming Abraham as “our father in the Faith;” thus accommodating all disciples of Jesus and celebrating their common patrimony as children of Abraham.
Themes of Matthew’s Gospel
Some of the key themes in this account of the Gospel include the following.
1. Matthew places great emphasis on demonstrating how Old
Testament prophecy has been realised with divine perfection
and completeness in Jesus.
2. He keeps before us the fact that Jesus is the icon of God; he
is Emmanuel, God-with-us. His Gospel account gives special
place to the human genealogy of Jesus, the circumstances of
his early life, and the reality (and assurances) of God’s presence
among us. The Gospel likewise closes with, “I am with you
always, even to the end of the age.”
3. Matthew records for us five major sermons of our Lord
supplemented by other narrative sections. These present the
essential instruction for disciples to meditate on.
4. All of the preceding material points to his other great theme
of the “Kingdom of Heaven” established here on earth (the
Christian Church). Matthew, alone of the four evangelists, has
recorded sayings of Jesus in which the term “ekklesia” (assembly
of God’s people) occurs. He therefore displays an emphasis on
the community of faith and its disciplines, ministries and mission.
We are about to commence a wonderful journey through the Gospel according to St Matthew. Interwoven throughout the sequence of lessons, based on the Christian Church year, will be constant reminders of: —
What we have been saved from;
What we have been saved by;
What we have been saved for.
We will be radically challenged by our encounter with the Lord Himself. Let’s not be surprised by that but allow ourselves to listen to and behold anew all that He teaches.