The Gospel of Matthew deals at length with matters of the law, tradition, the fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures, and of Jesus’ confrontations with the Jewish leaders of his day. The reason many scholars believe Matthew is the first book of the New Testament is because it offers an incredible transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament; old covenant to new. The constant references to the OT and Jesus’ conflict with the Jewish authorities serves as a “bridge” between both testaments.
Some of the themes we will see in Matthew:
* Jesus as the fulfillment of the messianic OT prophecies.
* How He applies OT text to various aspects of His ministry.
* How He viewed OT law & traditions of Jewish scribal teachings.
* His conflict with official Jewish religious representatives & the nation of Israel.
* The nature of the Christian church as an extension of Judaism (after all Jesus was a Jew!)
In the gospel of Matthew we will see for the first time how salvation was extended to the gentiles. In the OT salvation was only for the house of Israel. If a gentile wanted to worship the one true God, they had to go through a number of steps according to Jewish law first (they had to be circumsized, baptized, etc.).
Most modern scholars conclude that Matthew was written within the last 20 years of the first century (around A.D. 80, some say as early as A.D. 50) and confirmed by the writings of Eusebius ( ca. A.D. 265-339) who quotes Origen (ca. A.D. 185-254).
These are the reasons why Matthew is not dated earlier by most scholars.
1- If, as generally supposed Mark’s gospel was not written earlier than about AD 65, and Matthew used Mark, then it must have written after AD 65.
2- The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 is believed to have influenced such passages as Matt 22:7, 23:38 and several parts of chapter 24.
3- The “anti-Jewish” tones suit the period around AD 85 because at this time Christians were excluded from synagogue worship since a “curse” against Nazarenes and heretics was added to the synagogue’s laws on worship ( AKA Liturgy ). Before this time the lines were not drawn as clearly on the subject.
**I must add that this date is not conclusive. Scholars form all walks of life still debate the dating of Matthew. No one knows the exact date, we just have an approximation.
Early Christian theologians unanimously believe this gospel was written by the disciple Matthew (The tax collector). Whose call can be found in Matt 9:9.
From the characteristics of the gospel we can assume that Matthew was a Jewish-Christian with a strong interest and extensive knowledge in the OT. He was very familiar with the traditions of the scribes and with the methods of Rabbinic debate. Matthew was capable of writing in Greek even though he was clearly Semitic ( relating to people who speak Aramaic, Hebrew or Arabic).
As I mentioned before Matthew was a tax collector whose former name was Levi. A tax collector back in those days had to be fluent in Greek as a job requirement. The name Levi as a general consensus was more of a tribal name, denoting he was from the tribe of Levi. In which case he was right at home with scribal tradition. This book was written to strengthen the faith of Jewish Christians and as a useful apologetics tool for Jewish evangelism. Matthew was written mainly to a Jewish audience.
Central Theological Emphases of Matthew.
* The fact that Jesus was the fulfillment of all OT prophesies as the much awaited Messiah as well as the fulfillment of the Law (The Old Covenant was done away with and a New Covenant started).
Christology (the study of the attributes of Christ)
* The major theme in Matthew is the explanation of who Christ is.
1- Christ as Messiah ( the word Messiah is Christ in Greek).
2- Christ as the Son of man ( Christ as a human being).
3- Christ as King. Jesus fulfills the institution of kingship in the OT, he is the “son of David”, the “greater than Solomon”. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus focuses on his royal descent from Israel’s greatest King, David.
4- Christ as the Son of God. This is revealed to us not as much from Christ himself in this gospel as from God Himself, what others call Him, by Satan, demons and eventually by his disciples as they begin to get a deeper knowledge of who He is.
* The law. In this book you will see Jesus’ relation to the law. If He was the fulfillment of it, we must understand His relation to it especially when the Jewish people prided themselves in being the people whom God gave His laws to. The law was the entire focus of their life and religion. It was out of such concern for the law that the scribes developed a complex set of rules on how to live a correct life and worship which is called the Mishna. The scribes and pharisees were known for keeping the Mishna meticulously.
* The people of God.
1- The failure of Israel to repent and recognize their Messiah as John the Baptist calls them to repent.
2- The nature of the new community. Christ didn’t require membership of the nation of Israel but repentance for their sins. Those who responded to the call of repentance and faith became member of a new community of the forgiven. Membership of the people of God was not a matter of belonging to the right nation or ethnic group. Now it was composed of those who had heard and responded to the message of Christ and established a proper relationship with Him.
The structure of the gospel of Matthew (main section divisions).
* Three groups of fourteen generations ( 1:1-17)
* Three temptations with quotations in reply ( 4:1-11)
* Eight beatitudes ( 5:3-10)
* Six “antithesis” ( 5:21-47)
* Three types of religious observance (6:1-6, 16-18)
* Three symbolic actions (21:1-22)
* Three polemical parables (21:28 – 22:14)
* Seven woes on scribes and pharisees ( 23:13-36)
* Three prayers & return to sleeping disciples ( 26: 36-46)
* Three denials by Peter (26:69-75)
By topic this book can be divided as follows:
Intro – Matt 1:1 – 4:11
Ministry in Galilee – Matt 4:12 – 13:58
Wider ministry in the North – Matt 14:1 – 16:12
Towards Jerusalem – Matt 16:13 – 20:34
Confrontation in Jerusalem – Matt 21:1 – 25:46
Passion and Resurrection – Matt 26:1 – 28:20
There are five major discourses in this book.
The Sermon on the mount (chaps 5-7).
The Commissioning of the Apostles (chap 10).
The Parables about the Kingdom (chap 13).
Discourse about the Christ-likeness of the believer ( chap 18).
The Second Coming ( chaps. 24 & 25).
The exegetical Issue with Matthew.
On Jesus’ Olivet discourse, the prophetic passages present an interpretative challenge. In this discourse Jesus gives some details of the violent destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. His words in chapter 24:34 have led some to conclude that all these things He was speaking of were already fulfilled (although not literally) during the conquest of the Romans in that era. This view is called Preterism. This interpretation if flawed because it forced the reader to read into the passage spiritualized and allegorical meanings that are commonly not used in normal exegetical methods.
When interpreting Matthew the grammatical- historical hermeneutics approach to these passages is what should be followed. This method yields consistent, futuristic interpretation of yet to be fulfilled end time prophesy.
Hermeneutics: [Greek, hermeneutilos, from hermeneus =an interpreter (from Hermes)]. Applied to the study of Scripture: The art and science of Biblical interpretation. The “science” involves study of the ancient languages and the individual words in which a Biblical passage is written. The art involves unfolding the significance of a passage by discerning what the inspired writer meant to convey to the reader, taking into consideration the historical period, the culture of the times, and information within the entire context of the text.
Exegesis: [Greek, exegeomai, = ex “to explain”, or “to take from”; and hegeomai, “to lead”, “to guide”]. Applied to the study of Scripture: Taking from the Biblical text the information upon which to base an interpretation. Exegete: One who interprets a Biblical passage or text.