book of matthew

Revealing the Gospels (Part two):

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Matthew 1:1

The Gospel of Matthew is directed to a Jewish-Christian audience who lived in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. More on why later. It is believed to have been written in the last quarter of the first century—between 75 AD and 100 AD and was intended for the second generation of Jewish Christians after the fall of the great Temple of Jerusalem. By this time, some of the Jewish population had converted to Christianity but kept their Jewish traditions as well.

Matthew’s Origin

Matthew’s origin suggests the author likely had the manuscript from the Gospel of Mark. It, too, is one of the three Synoptic Gospels. A significant amount of Mark is contained in this Gospel, either word for word or with details added. Interestingly, it also contains writings from a source called Q.

Q is short for the German word “Quelle.” Contained in the writings of Q or Quelle are sayings and history of Jesus’s life. Q was used in both Matthew and Luke to supplement these Gospels. There is no surviving copy of the manuscript, and scholars have used Matthew and Luke to determine its actual existence. None of the contents of Q are contained in Mark; they are only found in Matthew and Luke. For instance, in Matthew 7:7-8 it states: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. The wording In Luke 11:9-10 is remarkably similar.

Existence of Q

While the physical existence of Q doesn’t exist, these strikingly alike verses strongly suggest its existence. As a side note, there are other Gospels that were not included in the New Testament and have been discovered, and also contain similar sayings. For instance, the Gospel of Thomas contains many of the sayings of Jesus, which are also similar to those found in Matthew and Luke. The Gospel of Thomas written in a list form appears to be very similar to Quelle.

Previously, I mentioned that Matthew was written for a Jewish-Christian audience, most likely two generations after Jesus’s resurrection. The author (whose name was probably not Matthew) was more than likely a Jewish male, based on his heavy connection to Jesus’s lineage and its structure.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Matthew is the list of Jesus’ descendants. Also interesting is the genealogy from Abraham to David to Jesus. From Abraham to David is fourteen generations. The same is true from David to the exile in Babylon and then from Babylon to Jesus. Fourteen is an important number in numerology which was, in turn, an important part of the Bible imbued with subtle messages. The number fourteen helps explain why this extensive genealogy is included in Matthew. One biblical interpretation is that fourteen is twice the number seven, which is symbolic of divine perfection. But the number fourteen also means salvation and gives a clue to the reader that the biblical story will end as a one of salvation. The inclusion of fourteen was not an accident.

By including this long list of Biblical connections to Jesus, the author of Matthew reinforces for the Jewish Christian that Jesus is strongly connected to Abraham and all the way back through Israel’s history. While we know Jesus is God, the lineage to Joseph is symbolic.

A second feature that supports the idea that Matthew was intended for the Jewish-Christian community is that the Gospel contains five unique sections. This is similar to the first five books in the Old Testament, commonly called the books of Moses or Torah. The connection to Moses is an important link to the law of God and Jesus’s subsequent clarification that Humankind should use their hearts in interpreting the words of God.

Listed below are the five unique sections:

  • The first discourse (Preparation Phase): Jesus is baptized, and the Holy Spirit descends on him. Later, he is tempted in the desert for forty days. Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount.
  • Second Discourse (Miracles and Discipleship): Jesus establishes his authority and recruits disciples. He sends forth the disciples to deliver his message. Interwoven in this section are three sets of three miracles.
  • Third Discourse (Opposition): Jesus is confronted due to his radical views of heaven and earth. In turn, Jesus uses parables to contrast heaven and evil.
  • Fourth Discourse (Confession of Peter): Peter announces who Jesus is and is the first to say in the Gospels that he is “the Christ, the son of the living God.” Opposition increases and Jesus begins to prepare the disciples for his crucifixion and gives them post-resurrection instructions.
  • Fifth Discourse (Conflict Phase): Opposition to Jesus reaches its zenith. Pre-crucifixion events occur in Jerusalem that lead up to the passion period. Jesus turns the tables in the temple and confronts the Pharisees.

Matthew ends with the trial of Jesus followed by the crucifixion and resurrection and with the great commission for all “to make disciples of the world.”

The Gospel follows this course of connecting Jesus to Jewish history and tradition throughout in order to convince the Jewish Christians that Jesus is the appointed one. Frequent use of terms such as “Messiah” and “King of the Jews” that this population can relate to is spread throughout the Gospel. These words and phrases help the listener or reader to understand the Gospel in their own terms.

Matthew is a far more comprehensive Gospel than Mark, and much of the story flows historically in portraying the life of Jesus.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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