Introducing the Gospel of Matthew
This page is taken from an assignment I did for Bible college last year. The assignment asked for a written script of a sermon introduction, for a hypothetical series on the Gospel of Matthew. The assignment only asked for the first part of the series — the introduction to the Gospel of Matthew.
I chose Matthew because it's my favourite book in the Bible.
Note that in the books of Mark and Luke, Matthew goes by the name of Levi. This can be quite confusing when you're new to the Bible. Many characters in the Bible have two names (and a few have even more than two). Matthew is the Greek name and Levi was the Hebrew name. As a tax collector, Matthew worked for Greek-speaking Romans. He gathered taxes from Hebrew-speaking Jews.
I’m going to begin at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew. The last part of Chapter 28. Jesus has been crucified, and three days later he rose from the dead. At the very end of the gospel, Jesus appears before his disciples. Starting from Chapter 28, verse 18, it says:
Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Therefore go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.
This instruction from our Lord Jesus Christ is called the Great Commission. You can also find it in the other three gospels, in slightly different forms. It’s even in the book of Acts. But the version in Mathew is the most well known and the most complete.
Jesus says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”. All authority. In heaven and on earth. If you believe this to be true… then what Jesus says is something that’s pretty important. Something absolutely definitely worth listening to, and paying attention. And then acting on what you learn from it.
But if you’re not sure whether or not it’s true, what then?
If you were a Jew two thousand years ago, you’d really know what we now call the Old Testament. You’d be waiting for the Messiah. You’d have heard the prophecies about him.
Matthew, more than any other book of the Bible, explains why Jesus is the messiah you’ve been waiting for all this time. He makes his point using many Jewish themes, and hammers it home with ten individual Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfils.1
If you were a Christian in the first years of the church, your main source of information about Jesus would probably have been the book of Matthew.2 Matthew was the most widely used gospel in the days of the early Christian church. This was true over many regions and all races of people.3
But what if you’re not a Jew and not from the first century?
What’s in the Gospel of Matthew?
In our world today, I think people are both a bit scared and somewhat in awe of the Book of Matthew. Out of all the gospels, it’s the one modern Western people like us can feel the least comfortable with.4 It starts with a long list of who begat who – the kind of thing that ancient Jewish readers respected more than we do today.5 It’s got more Jewish themes than the other gospels. It’s got the Sermon on the Mount, the longest continuous account of Jesus speaking that we have today. This is one of the most famous parts of the whole Bible. And one of the hardest to live up to.
Matthew’s gospel has the Lord’s Prayer. The only other place you can find it in the Bible is in Luke. But Matthew’s version is longer. It’s the only gospel where Jesus gives us instruction about church discipline.6 You can find it in Chapter 18.
It’s the only gospel, other than Luke, with the story of Jesus birth. But Matthew’s is more dramatic. Only Matthew includes their move to Egypt to escape King Herod killing the infant boys.
In Matthew, Jesus criticises the Pharisees more than in Mark or Luke (but less than in John).7 Chapter 23 is about the seven “woes” of the Pharisees. Matthew’s gospel, like the others, tells stories of many miracles that Jesus performed.
Between the stories of miracles, Jesus gives us five separate sections of his teachings. These are called the five discourses of Matthew. They are, in order, the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times. At the end of each discourse Matthew writes “When Jesus had finished saying these things”.
The gospel of Matthew tells us the story of Jesus from his birth to his final commands after his resurrection.
Who Wrote It?
The early Christian church believed without question that Matthew was the author of this gospel.8 However not everyone agrees on who wrote it. Many Bible scholars believe that Matthew’s gospel is an extension of Mark’s gospel.9 Some modern scholars doubt that Matthew would copy some of his work from Mark, who was not one of the twelve and is considered a lesser authority than Matthew. However, Mark’s gospel is the testimony of the apostle Peter.10 And Peter was the head of the early church (Matt 16:18). So in this case it would be natural for Matthew to follow the authority of Peter.11
Some of Jesus’ prophecies are quoted from the Greek Old Testament like the other gospels, but some are translated directly from Hebrew.12 So the author knew Hebrew.
In chapter three, Matthew writes about confessing sins. Well, I’ve got something to confess before you all here today. A long time ago, I used to work for the Tax Office. I was a tax collector. Then one day, I heard that Jesus was a friend to sinners and tax collectors. Perhaps Jesus could accept even me.
Matthew was a tax collector when Jesus called him (Matt 9:9). Matthew’s calling is also recorded by Mark and Luke, except they use Matthew’s other name of Levi.
Some people say that money makes the world go around. How much time in your own life do you spend on earning money? Or spending it? Or just thinking about material things. Matthew’s gospel is full of stories about money.13 It’s the only gospel to mention Jesus paying the temple tax.14
Matthew is the most structured of the gospels. Everything fits nicely into place. A lot like something a tax accountant would write.15
Who Was It Written For?
Because Matthew was written for an ancient Jewish audience,16 we don’t notice a lot of things that Matthew assumes his readers would know. So in this series we’ll look at the Jewish background and their customs. But Matthew also wrote for us specifically, as the Great Commission says, so that the whole world can believe. 17
Why was it Written?
The gospels were written a few decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Sceptics like to argue that somehow this means they must be fakes.
But they forget how different life in the first-century was to our own modern lives. In the first century most people couldn’t read or write.18 Printing presses had not been invented, so everything had to be copied by hand. The spoken word of an eyewitness was the most trusted way to receive information.
Later in the first century, persecution of Christians increased. That and just the natural aging of the apostles meant that they weren’t going to be around much longer. That’s when it became important to write down their stories, rather than just speak them.19
When was it written?
Some people say Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels were written after Mark’s, and based heavily on it.20 This is the more popular view.21 Others say that Mark was written after, as a summary of the other two.22 This debate continues among Biblical scholars even today.23
The exact date of writing is also debated but it was probably around 50-70 AD. 24
Relation of Matthew to the Other Two Synoptics
Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the synoptic gospels. They share a lot of common information. Parts of them are almost word-for-word the same. The Gospel of John is a lot different. The stories John reports on, the way he writes, and other things, are much more different to the three synoptic gospels than the synoptic gospels are to each other.
Why are the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke so similar? And how did they get that way? Some people say it’s because they’re divinely inspired, and God just made it that way. But that doesn’t explain much about why three of them are so similar and one is so different.25
Mark is the shortest gospel. About half of Matthew is also found in Mark. Nearly all of Mark is also found in Matthew and Luke. In fact, 91 percent of Mark’s gospel is contained in Matthew.26 This might make you wonder why not just read Matthew, and forget about Mark! But Mark gives more details about the things he does say. Mark’s gospel is mainly stories of things Jesus did. Mark doesn’t record Jesus’ sermons, or deep theological statements. A lot of people think of it as the action gospel.27
There are many other theories of how these books came to be so similar.
In addition to the material they share with Mark; Matthew and Luke share a lot of common information that’s not found in Mark (or anywhere else). Only Matthew and Luke tell the story of Jesus birth and have a list of ancestors. Luke has the “Sermon on the Plain”, which is more or less a shorter version of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.
Some people believe a lost document called Quelle, which is the German word for “source”, was the original source for the material that’s found in both Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark or John. It’s usually just called “Q” for Quelle. In this view, Matthew and Luke were both written after Mark and “Q”, and used these as their sources.
Jesus reminds his disciples that he is with us always. To the very end of the age. That means he’s with us right now! He holds all authority in heaven and on Earth. With that authority, he’s told us not to worry about anything. God will take care of us (Matt 6:25-34). Because of people’s sins we’ll still have earthly problems. But whoever stands firm to the end will be saved (Matt 24:12-13).
Matthew’s purpose is to make us into disciples of Christ.28 And then, to spread this good news around, and make more disciples of Jesus! In the coming weeks we’ll be looking at all these things much more fully.
Barker, Kenneth L. Zondervan Niv Study Bible : New International Version. 2008 update. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.
DeSilva, David Arthur. An Introduction to the New Testament : Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation. Downers Grove, Ill., USA: InterVarsity Press ; Apollos, 2004.
Dobson, Kent. Niv First-Century Study Bible: Explore Scripture in Its Jewish and Early Christian Context. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.
Eusebius, and Paul L. Maier. Eusebius - the Church History: A New Translation with Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999.
France, R. T. The Gospel According to Matthew : An Introduction and Commentary. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Eerdmans ed. Leicester, England, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press ; Eerdmans, 1985.
Green, Joel B., Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1992.
Gundry, Robert H. A Survey of the New Testament. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1981.
Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Introduction. The Master Reference Collection. 4th rev. ed. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990.
Hauerwas, Stanley. Matthew. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2006.
Hays, J. Daniel, and J. Scott Duvall. The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2011.
Hezser, Catherine. Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine. Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism,. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001.
Jensen, Irving L. Jensen's Survey of the New Testament : Search and Discover. Chicago: Moody Press, 1981.
Keener, Craig S. Matthew. The Ivp New Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1997.
Knight, Christopher C. "The Synoptic Problem: Some Methodological Considerations and a New Hypothesis." Heythrop Journal 58, no. 2 (2017): 247-61.
Larson, Paul. "The Progressive Publication of Matthew: An Explanation of the Writing of the Synoptic Gospels." Evangelical Quarterly 85, no. 4 (2013): 368-73.
Strauss, Mark L. Four Portraits, One Jesus : An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007.
Ulrich, Daniel W. "The Missional Audience of the Gospel of Matthew." Catholic Biblical Quarterly 69, no. 1 (2007): 64-83.
1 Mark L. Strauss, Four Portraits, One Jesus : An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007), 216.
2 J. Daniel Hays and J. Scott Duvall, The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2011), 491.
3 David Arthur DeSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament : Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation (Downers Grove, Ill., USA: InterVarsity Press ; Apollos, 2004), 236.
4 R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew : An Introduction and Commentary, Eerdmans ed., The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester, England, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press ; Eerdmans, 1985), 15.
5 Strauss, Four Portraits, One Jesus : An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels, 220.
6 Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 4th rev. ed., The Master Reference Collection (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), 23.
7 Craig S. Keener, Matthew, The Ivp New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 33.
8 Kenneth L. Barker, Zondervan Niv Study Bible : New International Version, 2008 update. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008), 1459.
9 See the section “When Was it Written?” in this sermon introduction for more detail on this.
10 Eusebius and Paul L. Maier, Eusebius - the Church History: A New Translation with Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999), 73. If using a different version of Eusebius’ work, refer to Chapter 15 of Book II.
11 Kent Dobson, Niv First-Century Study Bible: Explore Scripture in Its Jewish and Early Christian Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 1189.
12 Strauss, Four Portraits, One Jesus : An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels, 216.
13 Hays and Duvall, The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook, 492.
14 Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1981), 82-83.
15 Some scholars argue that it was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic. But the main view is that it was written in Koine Greek like the rest of the New Testament. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 527-28.
16 DeSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament : Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation, 236.
17 Daniel W. Ulrich, "The Missional Audience of the Gospel of Matthew," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 69, no. 1 (2007).
18 Catherine Hezser, Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine, Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism, (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001).
19 The ancient genre of biography was different to modern biography, with more emphasis on the important events that illuminated a person’s character, and less emphasis on a strict chronological history.
20 Keener, Matthew, 33.
21 Hays and Duvall, The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook, 493.
22 Paul Larson, "The Progressive Publication of Matthew: An Explanation of the Writing of the Synoptic Gospels," Evangelical Quarterly 85, no. 4 (2013).
23 Christopher C. Knight, "The Synoptic Problem: Some Methodological Considerations and a New Hypothesis," Heythrop Journal 58, no. 2 (2017).
24 Irving L. Jensen, Jensen's Survey of the New Testament : Search and Discover (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), 113; Dobson, Niv First-Century Study Bible: Explore Scripture in Its Jewish and Early Christian Context, 1190.
25 Green, McKnight, and Marshall, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 785.
26 Barker, Zondervan Niv Study Bible : New International Version, 1457.
27 Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, 77.
28 Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2006), 19.
Cover image by kavram / Shutterstock. Sea of Galilee in Israel. On the lake, Jesus Christ showed people miracles. According to Matthew 9:9 and Mark 2:14, Matthew was sitting by the customs house in Capernaum (near modern Almagor, Israel, on the Sea of Galilee) when Jesus called him into his company.