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Gospel of Matthew

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Estimated Range of Dating: 80-100 A.D.

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It is the near-universal position of scholarship that the Gospel of Matthew is dependent upon the Gospel of Mark. This position is accepted whether one subscribes to the dominant Two-Source Hypothesis or instead prefers the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis.

It is also the consensus position that the evangelist was not the apostle Matthew. Such an idea is based on the second century statements of Papias and Irenaeus. As quoted by Eusebius in Hist. Eccl. 3.39, Papias states: "Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could." In Adv. Haer. 3.1.1, Irenaeus says: "Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the church." We know that Irenaeus had read Papias, and it is most likely that Irenaeus was guided by the statement he found there. That statement in Papias itself is considered to be unfounded because the Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek and relied largely upon Mark, not the author's first-hand experience.

Herman N. Ridderbos writes (Matthew, p. 7):

This means, however, that we can no longer accept the traditional view of Matthew's authorship. At least two things forbid us to do so. First, the tradition maintains that Matthew authored an Aramaic writing, while the standpoint I have adopted does not allow us to regard our Greek text as a translation of an Aramaic original. Second, it is extremely doubtful that an eyewitness like the apostle Matthew would have made such extensive use of material as a comparison of the two Gospels indicates. Mark, after all, did not even belong to the circle of the apostles. Indeed Matthew's Gospel surpasses those of the other synoptic writers neither in vividness of presentation nor in detail, as we would expect in an eyewitness report, yet neither Mark nor Luke had been among those who had followed Jesus from the beginning of His public ministry.

J. C. Fenton argues (The Gospel of Saint Matthew, p. 12):

It is usually thought that Mark's Gospel was written about A.D. 65 and that the author of it was neither one of the apostles nor an eyewitness of the majority of the events recorded in his Gospel. Matthew was therefore dependent on the writing of such a man for the production of his book. What Matthew has done, in fact, is to produce a second and enlarged edition of Mark. Moreover, the changes which he makes in Mark's way of telling the story are not those corrections which an eyewitness might make in the account of one who was not an eyewitness. Thus, whereas in Mark's Gospel we may be only one remove from eyewitnesses, in Matthew's Gospel we are at one remove further still.

Francis Write Beare notes (The Gospel according to Matthew, p. 7):

But the dependence of the book upon documentary sources is so great as to forbid us to look upon it as the work of any immediate disciple of Jesus. Apart from that, there are clear indications that it is a product of the second or third Christian generation. The traditional name of Matthew is retained in modern discussion only for convenience.

The author is an anonymous Jewish-Christian. Eduard Schweizer writes (The Good News according to Matthew, p. 16):

The Jewish background is plain. Jewish customs are familiar to everyone (see the discussion of 15:5), the debate about the law is a central question (see the discussion of 5:17-20), and the Sabbath is still observed (see the discussion of 24:20). The dispute with the Pharisees serves primarily as a warning to the community (see the introduction to chapters 24-25); but a reference to leading representatives of the Synagogue is not far below the surface. Above all, the method of learned interpretation of the Law, which "looses" and "binds," was still central for Matthew and his community (see the discussion of 16:19; 18:18). Preservation of sayings, such as 23:2-3, which support the continued authority of Pharisaic teaching, and above all the special emphasis placed on the requirement not to offend those who still think in legalistic terms (see the discussion of 17:24-27), shows that dialogue with the Jewish Synagogue had not broken off. On the other hand, a saying like 27:25 shows that the Christian community had conclusively split with the Synagogues, even though hope for the conversion of Jews was not yet totally dead.

Schweizer joins most scholars in favor of a Syrian provenance for the Gospel of Matthew (op. cit., pp. 15-16):

As the place of origin, Syria is still the most likely possibility. On the one hand, an association with Palestinian Judaism and its interpretation of the Law is clearly discernable; on the other hand, a full recognition of the gentile world and the admission of pagans into the post-Easter community are accepted facts. The destruction of Jerusalem plays some role; but it was not experienced firsthand, and the exodus of Christians from Jerusalem is perceptible only in the tradition borrowed from Mark, not in Matthew himself. . . But Syria is suggested by the major role assigned to Peter, esepcially his authoritative interpretation of Jesus' commands as referring to new situations (see the discussion of 16:9); for according to Acts 12:17 Peter had left Jerusalem. He was certainly in Syrian Antioch, as we know from Galatians 2:1 ff.

Larry Swain has summarized the evidence by which we locate Matthew in Antioch (e-mail correspondence):

  1. Patristic testimony re: Jerusalem, while deemed incorrect has a negative value of demonstrating that noone thought Matthew came from anywhere else except the East.
  2. It is doubtful that it would have been accepted so early and so widely unless one of the larger, more important churches sponsored it. Since Rome, Ephesus, Alexandria, and Jerusalem all have very important reasons against them, that leaves Antioch.
  3. Peter's status in Matthew accords with his standing in Antioch, said to be the first bishop there. Not a strong argument on its own, but it fits the pattern.
  4. Antioch had both a large Jewish population as well as being the site of the earliest Gentile missions, Matthew more than the other gospels reflects this duality.
  5. Only in Antioch did the official stater equal 2 didrachmae, Matt 17.24-7.
  6. The two texts which seem to refer to Matthean tradition (in the one case to the text of Matthew in the other case possibly to the text, but more likely to M material) are the letters of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch and the Didache whose provenance is also Syria or northern Palestine thus placing Matthew fairly firmly in those areas at the end of the first century.
  7. We know that in the third century there was a school in Antioch which claimed to go back to ancient times which had several OT textual traditions available, if the tradition is true, then this accords with both the Matthean citations of the OT as well as the "Matthean School" tradition; particularly since members of this Antioch school are said to have known Hebrew and Greek, which again points out a strong parallel with the author of Matthew.
  8. There are some strong similarities between the Lucianic text of the Hebrew Bible and Matthew's citations of OT texts in some instances. Lucian lived and worked in Antioch and is believed to have worked with an Ur-Lucianic text, i. e. one of the above mentioned OT traditions to which author Matthew had access.
  9. One of the concerns within the Matthean text is a conservative approach to the Torah which again accords well with Antioch as well as Palestine
  10. The text also seems to be concerned to react against some of the material coming out of Yavneh, which again places it in an area which Yavneh had some influence, thus northern Palestine and Syria, and Antioch.
  11. The community described in Matthew has usually been understood as a wealthy one, which rules out Palestine after the war of 70.

To set the terminus ad quem, Ignatius of Antioch and other early writers show dependence on the Gospel of Matthew. Dependence on Mark sets a terminus a quo for the dating of Matthew, which should be assumed to have been written at least a decade after the gospel upon which it relies. Several indications in the text also confirm that Matthew was written c. 80 CE or later.

J.C. Fenton summarizes the evidence for the dating of Matthew as follows (op. cit., p. 11):

The earliest surviving writings which quote this Gospel are probably the letters of Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, who, while being taken as prisoner from the East to Rome about A.D. 110, wrote to various churches in Asia in Asia Minor and to the church at Rome. Ignatius refers to the star which appeared at the time of the birth of Jesus, the answer of Jesus to John the Baptist, when he was baptized, and several sayings of Jesus which are recorded only in this Gospel (12:33, 15:13, 19:12). It seems almost certain that Ignatius, and possibly the recipients of his letters also, knew this Gospel, and thus that it was written before A.D. 110. But how long before?

Here we cannot be so certain. But it is possible that we can find evidence that Matthew was writing after the war between the Romans and the Jews which ended in the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in A.D. 70. See, for example, 22:7: The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city; and compare also 21:41, 27:25. Similarly, Matthew's Gospel contains a strongly anti-Jewish note running through it, from the teaching not to do as the hypocrites do in Chapter 6, to the Woes on the scribes and Pharisees in Chapter 23; and this may point to a date after c. A.D. 85 when the Christians were excluded from the Jewish synagogues. It is worth noting here that Matthew often speaks of their synagogues (4:23, 9:35, 10:17, 12:9, 13:54), as if to distinguish Christian meetings and meeting places from those of the Jews, from which the Christians had now been turned out.

Beare offers the following to date the Gospel of Matthew (op. cit., pp. 7-8):

It is generally agreed that it was written after the fall of Jerusalem to the armies of Titus (AD 70), and the widespread acquaintance with it which is exhibited in all the Christian literature of the second century makes it difficult to place its composition any later than the opening decade of that century. If the Sermon on the Mount can be regarded in any sense as 'the Christian answer to Jamnia. . . a kind of Christian mishnaic counterpart to the formulation taking place there' (Davies, Setting, p. 315), this would indicate a date a few years before or after the turn of the century.

Concerning the knowledge of the fall of Jerusalem that the author evinces, Schweizer writes concerning Matthew 22:7 (op. cit., p. 418):

The wrath of the host is mentioned by both evangelists, but it is impossible to conceive of the king coming with his army not only to slay those who had been invited but to burn down their city (not "cities"), and doing all this while the feast stands ready for the newly invited. The parable deals with ordinary citizens, who buy fields and use oxen, not with men who rule entire cities. After his punishment, furthermore, the verdict of the king in verse 8 is pointless. Verses 6-7 are thus clearly an interpolation in the narrative, which earlier passed directly from verse 5 to the wrath of the king (beginning of vs. 7), and then to verse 8. Here the events of A.D. 70 - the taking and burning of Jerusalem by Roman armies - have colored the language of the parable.

There is one final piece of evidence that may establish the terminus a quo for the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 23:35, Jesus is made to say, "That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar." In the parallel verse of Luke 11:51, the reference is to the Zechariah (son of Jehoiada) whose murder is recounted in 2 Chr 24:20-22, which is the last murder recounted in the Old Testament and which also caught the eye of the rabbinic writers for being such. Q theorists consider the Lucan form to be primary (Kloppenborg, Excavating Q, pp. 81-2); the author of Matthew has understood the identification to refer to one Zechariah, son of Barachias. The murder of this individual occurred in 67 or 68 and is described in Josephus, Jewish Wars 4.335. Unfortunately, it is also possible that this refers to the OT prophet of the same name.

There is widespread agreement that Ignatius betrays knowledge of Mt 3:15 in Smyrn. 1:1. This example of certain dependence is offered by Wolf-Dietrich Kohler, Georg Werner Kummel, Clayton N. Jefford, and the Biblia Patristica. Of this, Massaux writes (The Influence of the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Christian Literature before Saint Irenaeus, v. 1, p. 89):

. . . (ton curion hmwn) . . . bebaptismenon upo Iwannou, ina plhrwqh pasa dicaiosnh up autou.

. . . Our Lord was . . . baptized by John in order that all due observance might be fulfilled by him; . . .

Undoubtedly, this passage recalls Mt. 3:15: Christ responds to the Baptist who is astonished to see him come to him in order to be baptized: afes arti outwV gar prepon estin hmin plhrwsai pasan dicaiosunhn.

Of all the evangelists, only Mt. furnishes this motive for the baptism of Jesus: it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness. The same words of Ignatius are found in Mt. The use of the phrase ina plhrwqh pasa dicaiosunh corresponds so typically to the character of the first gospel, where dicaiosunh plays such an important role that it would be unreasonable to refer to another writing.

Moreover, the apocryphal gospels give a totally different motive for the baptism of Jesus. So it is that, according to Jerome, the Gospel according to the Hebrews notes a certain reticence on the part of Jesus to be baptized, since he is not a sinner. In the Gospel according to the Ebionites, the sequence of words is different, and the word dicaiosunh is missing. The Predicatio Pauli, on the other hand, mentions that, urged by his mother and almost against his will, Christ allowed himself to be baptized. Let me add finally then, when Eph. 18:2 states that the motive for Christ's baptism is the purification of the water by his Passion, Ignatius himself confirms my point of view. Indeed, if he did [not] show a literary dependence on Mt. in the text which I am analyzing, I do not see why he would give here a different motive from the one he states in Eph. 18:2.

Ignatius also shows knowledge of Mt 10:16 in Polyc. 2:2. Massaux argues (op. cit., pp. 90-91):

FronimoV ginou wV ofiV en apasin cai aceraioV eiV aei wV h peristera.

In all things be wise as the serpent and at all times be as simple as the dove.

Only one single text in the entire New Testament, Mt. 10:16, uses these two comparisons and joins them as does Ignatius of Antioch: ginesqe oun fronimoi WV oi ofeiV cai aceraioi wV ai peristerai.

All of Mt.'s terms are present in the text of Ignatius, who merely changed the Matthean phrase to the singular as the context demanded - he is writing to Polycarp - and inserted en apasin in the first clause and eiV aei in the second.

The passage is lacking in Lk. 10:3, which is parallel to Mt.'s narrative in which the metaphor is inserted.

There are two passages in Ignatius that show knowledge of Mt 15:13, and these are Trall. 11:1 and Phld. 3:1. Massaux states (op. cit., p. 88): "Of the evangelists, only Mt. recalls this saying of Christ. I find here, as I did in Ignatius, the word futeia related to the Father."

Other passages in which there are allusions to Matthew in the letters of Ignatius are: Eph. 5:2 (Mt 18:19-20), 6:1 (Mt 10:40; 21:33-41), 10:3 (Mt 13:25), 11:1 (Mt 3:7), 14:2 (Mt 12:33), 15:1 (Mt 23:8), 16:2 (Mt 3:12), 17:1 (Mt 26:6-13), 19 (Mt 2:2, 9); Magn. 5:2 (Mt 22:19), 8:2 (Mt 5:11-12), 9:1 (Mt 27:52); Trall. 9:1 (Mt 11:19); Rom 9:3 (Mt 10:41-42, 18:5); Phld. 2:1-2 (Mt 7:15), 6:1 (Mt 23:27), 7:2 (Mt 16:17), Sm. proem (Mt 12:18), 6:1 (Mt 19:12), 6:2 (Mt 6:28); Pol. 1:1 (Mt 7:25), 1:2-3 (Mt 8:17).

Thus, Kummel argues to date the Gospel of Matthew in the last two decades of the first century (Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 119-120): "Even if, indeed, Mk and Mt originated in different regions, precisely in his reworking of Mk Mt shows so clear a development of community relationships and theological reflection (see, e.g., 18:15 ff and 28:19) that a date of writing shortly after Mk seems less likely than a time between 80 and 100. A date of origin after 100 is excluded by Mt's having been used by Ignatius."


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Kirby, Peter. "Gospel of Matthew." Early Christian Writings. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/matthew.html>.