Lesson 1: Introduction

Heavenly Father,
Your beloved Son chose from among the men of His generation a group of ordinary men who were called to live extraordinary lives in His service.  Those simple fishermen, tax collectors, farmers and laborers literally changed the course of human history by fulfilling Jesus' command to take His Gospel of salvation to the ends of the Roman Empire-calling all nations and all ethnicities to become children of God and citizens of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.  It is our prayer that Your Holy Spirit will give each of us the same will to serve and the same obedience to continue to carry the Gospel message of salvation to the ends of the earth.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

+ + +

For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence.
Bishop Eusebius, Church History, 3.24.6

Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew language.  The second was that of Mark, who composed it under Peter's guidance. ... The third, the Gospel which was praised by Paul, was that of Luke, written for gentile converts.  Last of all, there is that of John.
Bishop Eusebius quoting Origen (185-253/54), head of the Catholic Catechetical School in Alexandria, Egypt, from the first of his books on the Gospel of Matthew,
Church History, 6.25.4


Most of the Bible books do not have the name of an author in the text.  It is a fact that is in itself significant, since it indicates that the inspired writers of Sacred Scripture did not see themselves as authors but saw themselves as bearing witness in written form to God's Holy Spirit inspired message of love and salvation to a fallen humanity.  According to the Catholic tradition and to the testimony of the Church Fathers, the inspired writer of the Gospel of Matthew is the Apostle Matthew, who was also known as Levi the tax collector. 

The Greek name Maththaios or Matthaios is derived from the Hebrew or Aramaic Matta'i, Mattiya', or Mattiyah-all shortened forms of the name Mattih-yah(u) that are built upon the Hebrew words natan ("he gave") and Yah(u), a shortened form of the Divine Name "YHWH" /Yahweh and meaning ""gift of Yahweh" (Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 4, "Matthew").  The name "Matthew" is found in the lists of Jesus' chosen Apostles (Mt 10:2-4; Mk 3:16-19; Lk 6:14-16; Acts 1:13) and in the account of the call of a tax collector named Matthew in the Gospel of Matthew: As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.  He said to him, "Follow me."  And he got up and followed him (Mt 9:9).

In the Gospels of Mark and Luke, he is identified with the tax collector called "Levi."  According to Church tradition this is one and the same man who left his ordinary life to follow Jesus:

Matthew/Levi followed (also see Mt 9:9) Jesus in the same way the fishermen Peter, Andrew, James and John Zebedee left everything, responding to Jesus command, "Follow me," to become His Apostles (Mt 4:18-22). 

It is not uncommon in Scripture for a man to be identified by two names (i.e., Hosea who was renamed Joshua, Simon who was renamed Peter, Thomas who was also called Didymus, or Saul who was called Paul).  It is likely that Matthew was the Apostle's given name (or baptismal name) while Levi was a name that identified him as a member of the tribe of Levi and a member of the Levitical lesser ministry (Num 3:5-9; 8:19; 18:1-7).  It was the practice of the Romans to press into service educated men to work as tax collectors/publicans and other functionaries in the Roman provinces.  Jewish Priests and Levites received a good education that was not limited to the study of the Scriptures; many Levites were trained scribes.(1)

That Matthew the Apostle was the inspired writer of the Gospel of Matthew was the testimony of the successors of the Apostles.  In his fourth century history of the Church, Bishop Eusebius recorded that Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis (c. 60-130 AD) wrote: Matthew indeed composed the sayings (ta logia) in the Hebrew Language; and each one interpreted them to the best of his ability (Eusebius, Church History, 3.39.16).  Bishop Papias lived within the first generation of men who were taught by the Apostles.  There is also the testimony of the next generation of bishops, for example from Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130-200) who was raised in the church at Smyrna and studied at the feet of St. Polycarp (c. 69/70-155/56).  St. Polycarp was one of the Apostolic Fathers (having been a disciple of St. John the Apostle in Asia Minor) who was ordained the bishop of the church at Smyrna.  Smyrna one of the seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation, and the community was praised for its devotion and obedience (Rev 2:8-11).  Around 180 AD, St. Irenaeus wrote: Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome.  After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also handed down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.  Luke also, the companion of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by him, Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord who reclined at His bosom, also published a Gospel, while he was residing at Ephesus in Asia  (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.1). 

In his history of the Church, Bishop Eusebius also recorded some of the fragments from Origen's Commentaries on Matthew.  Origen (c. 185-253/54), the great Bible scholar who was the head of the Christian catechetical school in Alexandria, Egypt, wrote twenty-five books of Commentaries on Matthew.  In his first commentary (c. 244), Origen wrote: As to the four Gospels, which alone are indisputable in the Church of God under heaven, I learned from tradition that the first to have been written was that of Matthew, who was formerly a tax-collector, but later an Apostle of Jesus Christ.  It was prepared for those who were converted from Judaism to the faith, and was written in Hebrew letters (Eusebius, Church History, 6.25.3). 

It is significant that Papias, Irenaeus, and Origen all testify that Matthew's Gospel was originally written not in Greek but "in the language of the Jews/Hebrews"-- in either Hebrew (the ancient language of the Jews) or Aramaic (the common language of the Jews in the first century AD).  Bishop Papias also noted that, since Matthew's Gospel was written in the language of the Jews, he and others had to "interpret" or translate it "as best they could."  St. Matthew's Gospel was then translated into Greek; Greek was the international language of the age and the language in which the other New Testament books were to be written.  Since Matthew's Gospel message was written specifically to the Jews, it makes sense that he would write in their own language and not in the international language of the Gentile nations.(2)  It is also significant that Irenaeus, Origen and other early Church Fathers unanimously testify that Matthew's Gospel was the first written of the four canonical Gospels.  Beginning in the late nineteenth century, their claim of the priority of Matthew would become a topic of controversy.

Matthew was a Jew writing to Jews, and his Gospel has to be studied from that perspective.  If Matthew was a Levite, a member of the lesser clergy, he had a formal education.  Such educated men were often singled out by the Romans to serve the Empire as tax collectors.  And as a Levite, his education would have included an extensive study of the Scriptures.  No other New Testament writer quotes or directly alludes to the Old Testament Scriptures as much as St. Matthew-by the calculations of some Bible scholars he quotes or alludes to the Old Testament about 65 times.  Matthew began his ministry with his own people, spending about a decade in Judea before, according to tradition, later evangelizing in other nations including Asiatic Ethiopia (south of the Caspian Sea), Macedonia, Syria, Persia, Parthia, Medea and Egypt.  He was martyred in either Egypt or Medea. St. Matthew is the only Apostle mentioned in the Jewish Talmud.  The Babylonian Talmud records his trial and execution (Sanhedrin 43a).  His tomb is believed to be in Salerno, Italy.

Date of Composition

St. Irenaeus gives us the best idea as to when St. Matthew committed to writing the Gospel message he had been preaching orally.  Irenaeus testifies that it was while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome that Matthew wrote down his account of Jesus' life and ministry (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.1).  According to Church tradition and the testimony of Bible scholar St. Jerome, who was raised in the faith community in Antioch, Syria, St. Peter spent seven years with the faith community in Antioch before going to Rome where he spent 25 years as Bishop of Rome.  He was martyred in Rome sometime between 64 and 67 AD.(3)

St. Paul was sent to Rome to stand trial by the Roman governor Festus in 60/61 AD.  After about two years of captivity he was released but was re-arrested on a second visit to Rome and, according to tradition, was martyred the same day as St. Peter.(4)  If Irenaeus' testimony is correct, that would place the composition of Matthew's Gospel not earlier than 40 AD and not later than 67 AD.  The Navarre Bible scholars write: We know that St. Matthew wrote his (Aramaic) Gospel before the other evangelists wrote theirs; the estimated date is around the year 50.  We do not know the date or composition of the Greek text, which is the one we have (Navarre Bible Commentary: St. Matthew, page 17).  But we do have evidence of the wide use of the Greek text of the Gospel of St. Matthew in quotations found in early Church letters and documents extending back to the end of the first century: the Didache, the First Letter of Pope St. Clement of Rome, the Letter of Barnabas, the Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch (martyred c. 107 AD), and the writings of St. Polycarp to only name a few.  The Pontifical Biblical Commission has stated that the original text of St. Matthew is to be dated prior to the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD) and indeed prior to St. Paul's journey to Rome in c. 60 AD (Pontifical Biblical Commission "Replies" of 19 June, 1911).

Historical Background

If the Gospel of Matthew was written in the historical period outlined by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, St. Matthew wrote his Gospel near the end of the dynasty of the Augustan emperors and prior to the end of the Jewish Revolt against Rome and the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (Mt 23:33-24:25).  According to the Church Fathers, Matthew wrote his Gospel while Claudius was emperor of Rome. Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus (10 BC - 54 AD) was the son of Drusus Germanicus, the brother of the Emperor Tiberius and step son of Augustus (with no sons of his own, Augustus had adopted his wife's sons Tiberius and Drusus as his heirs).  After the assassination of Claudius' nephew, the Emperor Caligula, the Praetorian Guard proclaimed Claudius Emperor and the Roman Senate perforce concurred (41 AD). 

Ancient writers depict Claudius' reign as corrupt and vicious.  He was strongly influenced by his wives and former slaves who served as freedmen in his household.  In 50 AD, Claudius' niece and fourth wife, Agrippina the Younger (the sister of Caligula), persuaded Claudius to pass over his own son Britannicus in favor of her son Nero to succeed him.  Four years later, Agrippina poisoned Claudius, and Nero succeeded him as the last of the Augustan emperors (ruled 54-68 AD), ushering in one of the most depraved and brutal periods in Roman history and the beginning of the Roman state's persecution of Christians (64 AD).  It was during Nero's reign that Sts. Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome (c. 64/67 AD).  In 66 AD, after a series of Roman abuses and Nero's announced plan that his statue would be erected in the Jerusalem Temple where worship would be offered to him, the Jews of the Roman province of Judea revolted against Rome.  At first the revolt seemed to be a success. Political turmoil in Rome overshadowed the rebellion until Nero's suicide in 68.  After Nero's death, four Roman legions were sent to crush the Jewish revolt against the Empire.  The Roman army swept through the Galilee and Samaria and conquered Jerusalem after a three and a half month siege, utterly destroying Jerusalem and the Temple in the summer of 70 AD.

Early Roman Emperors 27 BC – 81 AD
Augustus (Octavian) 27 BC - 14 AD* -Great-nephew of Julius Caesar and first Roman emperor.
-Emperor when Jesus was born c. 3/2 BC.
Tiberius 14 - 37 AD -Emperor when John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius reign (Lk 3:1, c. 28 AD), and he was still emperor when Jesus was crucified and resurrected three years later in 30 AD.+
Caligula (Gaius Caesar) 37 - 41 AD -Murdered by the Praetorium guard.
Claudius I 41 - 54 AD -St. Peter goes to Rome c. 42 AD?
-Matthew's Gospel is written c. 50 AD?
-Claudius is murdered by his wife.
Nero 54 - 68 AD -Last emperor of the Augustan dynasty.
-60 AD St. Paul in Rome.
-64 AD great fire of Rome; Christians are blamed and Christian persecution begins.
-Sts. Peter and Paul martyred c. 64/67 AD.
-Jewish Revolt begins 66 AD.
-Nero committed suicide after the Senate condemned him to death in 68 AD.
Galba 68 - 69 AD -69 is called the year of the 4 emperors.
Otho 69 AD -Murdered
Vitellius  69 AD -Murdered
Vespasian 69 - 79 AD -Roman general who launched the offensive against the Jewish Revolt.
-Proclaimed "emperor" by his troops; later confirmed by the Roman Senate
-Builds the Roman Coliseum from treasure looted from Judea and the Temple.
Titus 79 – 81 AD -Son of Vespasian who accomplished victory over the Jewish Revolt.

*actually ruled from the time of his victory at the naval Battle of Actium in 31 BC when he defeated the combined forces Marc Antony and Cleopatra VII.  31 BC signaled the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire.

+The ancients counted years without the concept of a zero place-value; therefore, the first year in any sequence counts as year number one.

Controversy Concerning the Gospel of Matthew

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the "Synoptic Gospels."  The term "synoptic" (Greek for "at a glance") means these three Gospels view the life and ministry of Jesus from a common perspective.  Each of the three Synoptic Gospels concentrates on Jesus' ministry and His proclamation of the Kingdom of God, following the same basic outline and recording material that is sometimes identical.  Despite their similarities, the three Synoptic Gospels also vary in the material they include.  At times each of the Synoptic Gospels record material that is not found in the other Gospels or includes important differences including differences in the arrangements of events, and, unlike St. John's spiritual Gospel, many of those events are not present chronologically.  Bible scholars call this phenomenon the "synoptic problem." 

A number of theories have been presented by scholars to address the literary relationship between the Synoptic Gospels.  One of the current most popular theories rejects the testimony of the Church Fathers that Matthew's Gospel was the first committed to writing.  They favor the priority of Mark, claiming Mark's Gospel was the original Gospel to be written and that Matthew and Luke used the material from Mark as well as from other sources.

Prior to the nineteenth century, the testimony of the Church Fathers that the first Gospel that was written was down and distributed to faith communities across the Roman world was St. Matthew's Gospel was accepted without question.  It wasn't until Vatican I in 1870, when the Catholic Church declared that the Pope's teaching on faith and morals was infallible, that Protestant scholars re-introduced the previously largely rejected theory that the Gospel of Mark predated the Gospel of Matthew, rejecting the testimony of the Church Fathers and a thousand and eight hundred years of Christian tradition.  It is likely that the theory of the priority of Mark was as much politically as theologically generated.  If the Catholic Pope's teachings are indeed protected by the Holy Spirit and are infallible, then Protestant teaching is contrary to the will of God.  Unlike Matthew's Gospel, Mark's Gospel does not as clearly define Jesus' choice of Peter as the leader of the Apostles and His Church. 

The argument presented by Protestant scholars was essentially that Mark's Gospel, being the shortest, was the original account of Jesus' life and ministry taken from a now lost document that was a collection of the "sayings" of Jesus, referring to the hypothetically lost document as "Q", from the German word "quelle" meaning "source.  They theorized that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke utilized Mark as well as other sources.  Presenting the hypothetical document "Q" and the Gospel of Mark as the earliest and most reliable account of Christ's ministry, the German Protestant scholars had a weapon with which to discount the famous Matthean text used by Roman Catholics to support their claim to have inherited the "Keys of St. Peter," in Jesus statement to Simon Peter in Matthew 16:17-19: Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah,  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.  And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  It was the argument of these Protestant scholars that the historical Jesus never said those words, "cutting the heart out of Roman Catholicism's scriptural warrant for papal infallibility precisely when it was being reaffirmed at Vatican Council I" (Dungan, A History of the Synoptic Problem, page 329).

The theory of "Q" as a source for the Gospel of Mark is called the two-source hypothesis or the Griesback Hypothesis after the 19th century Protestant scholar who made the theory popular.  Other theories of the priority of Mark hold that Matthew and Luke's Gospels utilized multiple sources in addition to Mark.  In the "four-source theory," in addition to the "Q" source, an "M" source is suggested to account for material that is unique to Matthew, and an "L" source for material unique to Luke.  It is interesting that none of the theories that support the existence of hypothetical lost documents like "Q" and the priority of Mark take into consideration that Sacred Scripture is believed to be Holy Spirit inspired.(5)

The Catholic Church accepts the testimony of the Church Fathers.  Many Catholic scholars support a two-Gospel Matthean Priority argument in which Matthew composed an eyewitness account of Jesus' ministry, making use of other eyewitness sources and his personal notations.  Levites and scribes were trained in a short-hand script called tachygraphy, from the Greek word tachys, meaning "swift, speedy," and graphie, meaning "writing," and such Scribes were called tachygraphos, "expert Scribes/writers."  As the customs official at one of the busiest land-sea borders in Galilee, which was also on the Via Maris, the ancient trade route that led from Egypt into Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, it was probably essential that Matthew-Levi had knowledge of tachygraphy.  There is evidence of the use of tachygraphy among Scribes in the ancient Near East from the 3rd century BC onwards, though there are indications the use of the short-hand script in the region may be older.(6)  It is possible that while listening to Jesus teach that Matthew used a short-hand script to record Jesus' discourses and other events during Jesus' ministry (Eyewitness to Jesus, page 135).

The two-Gospel Matthean Priority argument proposes that Matthew's Gospel was followed by Luke's Gospel using the material from Matthew's Gospel as well as eyewitnesses and oral Tradition, and Mark's Gospel was composed from St. Peter's eyewitness account and also made use of information from Matthew and Luke's Gospels.  The Catholic Church has never questioned the authenticity of the original Jewish text of St. Matthew and has always regarded the Greek text of Matthew as canonical (Navarre Bible Commentary: St. Matthew, page 17).


Focus of the Gospel of Matthew

Each of the four Gospel writers wrote their Gospels for a different audience.  St. Mark recorded what he had learned from St. Peter's account of Jesus' ministry while serving as St. Peter's secretary when Peter was Bishop of Rome.  Mark's Gospel was written for Romans.  St. Luke served as a missionary with St. Paul in Asia Minor and Greece; therefore, he wrote for Greek culture Gentiles (Hellenists).  St. John wrote his Gospel while he was serving as the head of the Church in Asia Minor, living in Ephesus, the third most important city in the Roman Empire.  St. John was writing for Greco-Romans.  St. Matthew wrote his Gospel for the first audience to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ; he wrote to bring the Jews of the Old Covenant into New Covenant of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah foretold by the holy prophets of God. 

Each of the Gospel writers also had a different focus in their presentation of Jesus' life and ministry.  St. Mark's focus is Jesus as the authoritative Son of God.  St. Luke's focus is Jesus the "Son of Man" who is the Messiah prophesied by the holy prophets.  St. John's focus is Jesus the divine Messiah and only begotten Son of God.  St. Matthew's focus is that Jesus, the legitimate Messianic Davidic King, has come to establish the Kingdom of Heaven and to fulfill all the prophecies of the prophets.  St. Matthew refers 51 times to the "Kingdom," where St. Mark speaks of the "Kingdom" 14 times and St. Luke 39 times (Navarre Bible Commentary: Matthew, page 23).


Gospel Matthew Mark Luke John
Audience Jews Romans Hellenists Greco-Romans
Focus Jesus is the Messianic King of the promised Davidic Kingdom who fulfills the Old Testament prophesies and covenants. Jesus is the authoritative Son of God.  He is God's triumphant envoy come to suffer and die in order to claim victory over sin and death. Jesus is the perfect Son of Man, the Messiah prophesied by the prophets, who came to save and to minister to people of all nations through the power of God the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the fully divine Son of God who existed before Creation.  He is the true Lamb of sacrifice through whom we receive the gift of eternal life.
Some Key Scripture Passages Unique to each Gospel Matthew 1:1; 16:16-18;
Mark 1:1;
Luke 2:34;
John 1:1; 1:29; 3:3-5; 6:53-56; 20:22-23;
Some Key Words Kingdom of Heaven; fulfilled Kingdom of God; immediately /now Kingdom of God;
Son of Man
Word of God;
only begotten Son; believe; eternal life
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2009 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

The Structure of Matthew's Gospel

All Christians are the subjects of a King and His Kingdom.  The Kingdom to which all Christians belong is the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.  It is this Kingdom that is the dominant theme of Matthew's Gospel.  He builds upon this foundation in a series of literary patterns.  The most easily recognizable pattern is built around the narratives concerning Jesus' life and ministry followed by a discourse of Jesus' teaching.  There are five successive "books" of narratives and discourses, with each section containing the refrain "When Jesus finished ..." (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; and 26:1).  This formula occurs five times after Jesus delivers a major discourse, marking five transitions between narrative and discourse.  Some scholars have suggested that perhaps Matthew, knowing his Gospel was the first to be written down, was emulating the five book pattern of the Pentateuch which begins the Old Testament.(7)  The five-part narrative-discourse sections are in turn framed by a prologue and an epilogue, making a seven-part division of the Gospel:

  1. Prologue: Birth and Infancy of Jesus (1:1-2:23)

  2. Narrative: Preparations for the Galilean Ministry (3:1-4:25) and
    First Discourse: The Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29)

  3. Narrative: Ten Miracle Stories (8:1-10:4) and
    Second Discourse: The Missionary Sermon (10:5-11:1)

  4. Narrative: Diverse responses to Jesus' teachings and actions (11:2-12:50) and
    Third Discourse: The Parables of the Kingdom (13:1-53)

  5. Narrative: More responses to Jesus' teachings and actions (13:54-17:27) and
    Fourth Discourse: Sermon on the Life of the Community (18:1-19:1)

  6. Narrative: Final Journey to Jerusalem (19:2-23:39) and
    Fifth Discourse: The Eschatological Sermon (24:1-26:2)

  7. Epilogue: The Passion and Resurrection of the Messiah (26:3-28:20)

There is also a discernable pattern in the use of other repeated phrases.  For example, the phrase "From that time on Jesus began," found in 4:17 and 16:21, divides the Gospel into three sections:

Other scholars have suggested the whole Gospel of Matthew is laid out in a chiastic pattern, but scholars have not been able to agree on the divisions.  Chiasmus was a popular literary device used by Biblical and ancient secular writers.(8)  Scholar C. H. Lohr suggests a reverse chiastic outline that alternates between narrative and discourse with the hinge of the chiasm being the parables of the Kingdom:

A. Birth and beginnings (chapters 1-4) Narrative

       B. Blessings, entering the kingdom (chapters 5-7): Discourse

             C. Authority and invitation (chapters 8-9): Narrative

                   D. Mission Discourse (chapter 10): Discourse

                        E. Rejection by Jesus' generation (chapters 11-12): Narrative

                              X. Parables of the Kingdom (chapter 13): Discourse

                        E. Acknowledgment by Jesus' disciples (chapters 14-17): Narrative

                  D. Community Discourse (chapter 18): Discourse

            C. Authority and invitation (chapters 19-22): Narrative

      B. Woes, coming of the kingdom (chapters 23-25): Discourse

A. Death and rebirth (chapters 26-28): Narrative

(revised from an outline in The International Critical Commentary: Matthew,  page 60)

There is also the pattern within Matthew's list of Jesus' genealogy in the prologue (chapter 1:1-17) in which St. Matthew tells us he has deliberately divided the genealogy into three sets of fourteen generations (see Mt 1:17).  Within that pattern, there is also a chiastic pattern in the names Jesus, David, and Abraham in 1:1 that are reversed in the genealogical list as "Abraham" (1:1) in the first 14 generation set, "David" (1:6b) in the second set, and "Jesus (1:16) at the end of the last set.  Finally, if the three sets of fourteen names are divided into sevens, Jesus' name is the seventh seven-the number seven being a significant number for the Jews. 

The unfolding story of St. Matthew's Gospel is more thematic than chronological.  He begins his story with Jesus birth in Bethlehem and his childhood in Nazareth.  Next, he transports the reader to Jesus' baptism and temptation in Judah, then to Jesus' ministry in the Galilee and finally returns to Judah to end his story in the holy city of Jerusalem.  He does not have St. John's chronology of three years of multiple journeys between the Galilee and Jerusalem for the annual holy festivals.  See the Agape Bible Study summary of the Gospel of Matthew in handout #3.

We might call St. Matthew's use of structural and thematic patterns the gates to his golden city of the Gospel of Christ's Kingdom.  His patterns are pathways of knowledge that provide the careful reader with secret access to the glorious Kingdom that is built upon the foundation of the Old Testament covenants and the prophecies of the holy prophets and reaches it perfection in King David's heir, Jesus the Messiah.

With the help of God we are going to enter a golden city, more precious than all the gold the world contains.  Let us notice what its foundations are made of, and find its gates to be composed of sapphires and precious stones.  In Matthew we have the best of guides.  Matthew is the door by which we enter, and we must enter eagerly, for if the guide notices that someone is distracted, he will exclude him from the city.  What a magnificent and truly stately city it is; not like our cities, which are a mixture of streets and palaces.  Here all are palaces.  Let us, then, open the gates of our soul, let us open our ears, and as we prepare reverently to cross its threshold, let us adore the King who holds sway therein.  What immense splendor shall we not find when we enter!
St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. Matthew, 1.8

- Review -


  1. What three important pieces of information do the Church Fathers give us about St. Matthew's Gospel?
  2. For what audience did St. Matthew write his Gospel?
  3. What is the focus of the Gospel of Matthew?
  4. What does the word "synoptic" mean, and what are the "Synoptic Gospels"?


  1. It was the first Gospel to be written, it was first written in the language of the Jews before being translated into Greek, and it was written when St. Peter was in Rome, most likely during the reign of the Emperor Claudius.
  2. St. Matthew wrote his Gospel to evangelize the Jews.
  3. Jesus is the Messianic King of the promised Davidic Kingdom who fulfills the Old Testament prophesies and covenants.
  4. The word "synoptic" means "at a glance."  The three Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark and Luke.  These Gospel cover much of the same material about Jesus’ life and ministry.

Questions for group discussion: What are the weaknesses in the theory of the priority of the Gospel of Mark?  Do we only rely on what is written in Sacred Scripture?  Which came first the orally transmitted Tradition of the Gospel or the written text?  What does St. Paul say about "tradition" in 1 Cor 11:1-3 and 2 Thes 2:14-15?  What role do the traditions passed down from the Apostles to the Fathers of the Church play in our understanding of Church history?      What is the difference between "Tradition" with a big "T" and "tradition" with a little "t"?  Read CCC 75-76, 78, 84, 97, 126, 174.


1. By the 1st century AD, in the Roman province of Judea, the traditional system of tax collection by a group of wealthy Roman officials had been abolished.  They were replaced by the telonai mentioned in the New Testament.  It was a corrupt system in which the telonai could collect as much as they could and any surplus beyond the contracted amount was their profit.  It was for this reason that Jewish taxcollectors working for the Romans were despised.  St. Luke calls them "greedy" (Lk 3:12-13) and elsewhere in the Gospels they are linked with the ritually unclean: "sinners" (Mt 9:10-11; 11:19; Mk 2:15; Lk 5:29-30; 15:2; 18:10-14), "prostitutes" (Mt 21:31-32; Lk 7:29; 18:11), and "Gentiles" (Mt 5:46, 47; 18:17).

2. St. Irenaeus reported that a sect of Jewish Christians known as the Ebionites only used Matthew's [Hebrew/Aramaic] Gospel (Against Heresies, 3.11.7).  That Matthew first wrote his gospel in the language of the Jews is reported by such Church Fathers as Bishop Papias, Bishop Irenaeus, Bible scholars Origen and Jerome (who wrote that a copy of it still existed in the library at Caesarea when he worked on his Latin Vulgate translation) and by Bishop Epiphanius (310-403), who was born in a village in Judea but who later became bishop of Constantia (Salamis) in Cyprus (Heresies, 29.9).

3. Eusebius records that St. Peter came to Rome during the reign of the Emperor Claudius who ruled from 41-54 AD (Church History, 2.14.6).  St. Jerome records that St. Peter served as Bishop of Rome for 25 years (De Viris Illustribus, 100.1).

4. Eusebius, Church History, 2.25.8 quoting the passage about the martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul by Bishop Dionysius of Corinth in his letter to Pope Soter, Bishop of Rome (c. 166/174).

5. No document entitled "The sayings of Jesus" or any part of such a document has ever been discovered, nor has any ancient source even mentioned the existence of such a document.  The theory of such a document rests solely on Bishop Papias' statement that St. Matthew wrote down the "sayings of Jesus," which may simply refer to Jesus' discourses that St. Matthew copied down and included in his Gospel.  The notion of a common lost source had first been suggested by Protestant scholar Richard Simon in 1689 but was largely dismissed or ignored.

6. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that dates to c. 250 BC, translated the Hebrew term sofer macher in Ezra 7:6 as grammateus tachy to describe Ezra's occupation as a scribe.  A similar reference is found in Ps 45:2 in the Septuagint where "expert scribe" or "skillful writer" is translated into the Greek as oxygraphos, a synonym for the tachygraphos, the shorthand writer (Eyewitness to Jesus, page 136).

7. The Psalms are also divided into five books, with each book ending with a doxology: Book I: Ps 1-41; Book II: Ps 42-72; Book III: Ps 73-89; Book IV: Ps 90-106; Book V: Ps 107-150.  According to the Jewish Talmud, this division is to correspond with the five part division of the Pentateuch: Moses gave Israel the five books, and David gave Israel the five books of the Psalms (Midrash Tehillim on Psalm I).  St. Matthew was certainly aware of this tradition and may have been influenced by it in the structure of his Gospel.

8. Chiasmus or chiastic patterns were a popular literary structure used by ancient writers including Greek and Latin writers as well as by Biblical writers.  The word chiasmus is from the Greek word chiazo, meaning "to shape like the letter X."  In a chiastic pattern, two or more clauses, words or ideas/topics are related to each other through a reversal in order to emphasis a point.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.