Unger's Bible Dictionary: Matthew

 

MATTHEW, GOSPEL OF

MATTHEW, GOSPEL OF. The first book of the NT. It was undoubtedly placed first in the category of the four gospels because at an early date it was received as authentic and presented the life of Jesus Christ particularly as it affected Jews converted to Christianity.

 

Theme. The subject of the book is outlined in the first verse. The gospel of Matthew is "the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matt 1:1). In this introduction our Lord is related to two of the most important OT covenants, the Davidic (2 Sam 7:8-16) and the Abrahamic (Gen 15:18). Matthew, accordingly, describes Jesus Christ in this twofold character. In line with the scope indicated in v. 1 of chap. 1 he sets forth first the King the son of David, then the son of Abraham in His obedience unto death. In this book the covenant King of Israel, David's "righteous Branch" (Jer 23:5; 33:15) is presented. The first twenty-five chapters deal with the King of the Davidic covenant; His royal birth in Bethlehem, fulfilling Mic 5:2; the ministry of John the Baptist, the King's forerunner, fulfilling Mal 3:1; the ministry of the King Himself, His rejection by the nation Israel, and His predictions of His second coming in power and great glory. S. Lewis Johnson says, "The theme of Matthew, then, is the presentation of the King and His kingdom to the nation in fulfillment of the OT prophecy" (Bibliotheca Sacra 112 [April 1955]: 144). Not until the closing part of the book (chaps. 26-28), does Matthew revert to the Abrahamic covenant. He then records the propitiatory death of the son of Abraham. To determine the "structure" and purpose of the gospel, one must take this division in Matt 1:1 into consideration. The book is peculiarly the gospel for Israel, but as proceeding from the atonement of Christ, a gospel of world outreach.

 

Author. This gospel was incontestably written by the apostle Matthew, whose original name was Levi. He was a Jew whose father's name was Alphaeus. As he was a tax collector under the Romans at Capernaum and thus a hated publican, it is unthinkable that his name would have been attached to the first gospel had he not been the actual writer of it. Moreover, seventeen independent witnesses of the first four centuries attest its genuineness.

 

Original Language. Despite the critical claim that Matthew originally wrote the gospel in Aram., this contention has never been proved. If there was an Aram. original, it disappeared at an early date. The Gk. gospel, which is now the church's heritage, was almost beyond doubt written in Matthew's lifetime. The Jewish historian Josephus furnishes an illustration of the fate of the Heb. original of Matthew, if such ever existed. The celebrated historian himself tells us that he penned his great work "The History of the Jews' Wars" originally in Aram., his native tongue, for the benefit of his own nation and that he subsequently rendered it in Gk.

 

Date. The book of Matthew, like the other synoptics and the book of Acts, does not report the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple but describes these events as still future. These books had been written either before this tragedy or a long time after it. It would be indeed rash to put them long after A.D. 70 AD. Therefore, they must have been penned before that date. Since Luke's gospel is earlier than Acts, and Matthew is certainly earlier than Luke, it seems entirely probable that if he wrote an Aram. original he did so around A.D. 40 AD - 45 AD. This would place the Gk. Matthew around the middle of the first century A.D.

 

Purpose. Matthew seems definitely to have written to confirm persecuted Jewish believers in their faith and to reconcile them in their thinking that the gospel was not a rejection of OT prophecies but rather an outworking of the great promises of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. The Jews needed clear demonstration of the Messiah's Person and work and to have objections removed that hindered unbelieving Jews. The writer accomplishes this purpose by proving the kingship of the predicted divine-human Messiah; that He fulfilled OT predictions in His Person and work; that He produced the credentials of Israel's King and announced teachings of the kingdom; and His Person and work were rejected by the nation; that He announced a new program, His death, resurrection, and second advent; and that after this present age of His building the church, He will return to set up His kingdom. It is thus uniquely the gospel for the Jews.

 

M.F.U.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. A. Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (1886); A. C. Gaebelein, The Gospel of Matthew (1910); A. H. M'Neile, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1915); C. R. Erdman, The Gospel of Matthew (1920); R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel (1943); A. Plummer, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1956); W. Kelly, Lectures on the Gospel of Matthew (1959); W. Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (1973); J. F. Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come (1974); J. A. Alexander, The Gospel According to Matthew (1979); H. Vos, Matthew (1979); S. D. Toussaint, Behold the King (1980); J. Morison, A Practical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew (1981).

(from The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright (c) 1988.)


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