The Gospel of Matthew is the first Gospel in the New Testament canon. But it was not the first Gospel written. In fact, Mark is the earliest Gospel (on the date of Mark, see below on Mark). Matthew was written about 80 A.D., a full 10 years after Mark. Though the Gospel is attributed to Matthew by church tradition, there is no way to know who the actual author of the book was. Like the other Gospels, Matthew is an anonymous writing. About the author of the book we can know only a few things. First, he wrote in Greek. Second, he used Mark and Q as sources (on Q see Brown). Third, he knew Aramaic and possibly Hebrew. Fourth, he probably lived in or around the region of Antioch.
The purpose of the book of Matthew is fairly easy to discern when we examine the opening and conclusion of the Gospel. In Matthew 1:23 (all translations in this course are my own) we read "behold, the maiden will conceive and bring forth a son, and you (all) will call his name Emmanuel, which translated means, God is with us". The very opening of the Gospel, then, declares that the subject of the writing, Jesus, is "God in our midst". As the Gospel unfolds Matthew offers many proofs that Jesus is indeed God himself.
The conclusion of the Gospel brings this message to mind again, when Jesus declares "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. As you go, make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to do everything I have commanded you (all). And look, I am with you every day till the conclusion of the age" (Mt 28:18-20).
Thus, when we look at the beginning and the end of Matthew’s Gospel we discover that 1) Jesus will be God with us, and 2) at his departure he declares that he is with his disciples. The purpose of the text, then, is to declare that Jesus is God and that as God he continues to support his people to the very end.
Who would need to hear a message like this? Most scholars believe that the gospel of Matthew was addressed to Jews who had converted to Christianity but who were in danger of leaving the Church and returning to the full practice of Judaism. To stop this, the author drives home the fact that Jesus is the chosen Messiah and that in him, and in him alone, is God present with the people.
The book follows a simple outline:
1- The Birth (1-2:23)
2- The Kingdom of the Messiah (3:1-7:29)
3- The Kingdom Spreads in Galilee (8:1-10:42)
4- The Kingdom is Opposed (11:1-13:52)
5- The Citizens of the Kingdom (13:53-18:35)
6- The Final Weeks of the Messiah’s Life (19:1-25:46)
7- The Triumph of the Kingdom (26:1-28:20)
ASSIGNMENT: Read The Gospel of Mark, and Brown’s Introduction, chapter 7.
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