The book of Matthhew (Matthew 1)

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Tradition associates this Gospel with the apostle Matthew, although  intense debate has swirled around a statement from the early church father Papias (ca. 130) that survives only in Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.16). It is usually translated (in part) ” Matthew collected the oracles (logia) in the Hebrew language (Hebraidi dialekto).” For generations most scholars interpreted Papias as claiming that Matthew had composed in Hebrew a Gospel that was for the most part a record of Jesus’ sayings or “oracles”. The present Gospel of Matthew (written in Greek) was supposedly an expanded translation of this Hebrew text. Some have even associated Matthew with the hypothetical document Q (see The synoptic problem and Q under Luke 8).

More recent investigation, however, has shown that this view is probably mistaken. Logia properly means a “Gospel”, while Hebraidi dialekto likely signifies “in Jewish style”, not “in the Hebrew language”.

There has also been much debate regarding the dating of Matthew’s Gospel. Many think it was written between A.D. 70 and 80, although some suggest a much earlier date (in the 50s or 60s). The Jewish nature of Matthew’s Gospel may suggest that it was written in the Holy Land, though many suggest an origination in Syrian Antioch.

Matthew’s original readers were predominantly Jews who already believed in Jesus and confessed Him as the Son of God (Matthew 14:33, 16:16, 27:54).

Matthew’s purpose was to prove to a Jewish audience that Jesus is the Messiah: (1) He emphasized Jesus’ fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy (e.g. 1:22-23, 2:15); (2) used typical Jewish terminology, such as “kingdom of heaven”; (3) told the tory of Jesus as a retelling of the story of Israel (e.g. Jesus came out of Egypt – analogous to the exodus; passed through the Jordan – analogous to the Red Sea; suffered in the wilderness – analogous to the wilderness wandering; gave His law on a mountain – analogous to Sinai; ans so forth); and (4) traced Jesus’ ancestry to Abraham and frequently referred to the Messianic title “Son of David” instead of to “Son of God” (as in the Gospel of John).

As you read, notice Matthew’s systematic, yet artistic, style. He did not tell Jesus’ story in strict chronological sequence but grouped facts topically. Watch for the many references to “the kingdom of heaven”, and note Jesus’ teachings about what it means to be a citizen of that kingdom.

Did you know that there were no sexual relations during a Jewish betrothal period, yet it was a much more binding relationship than a modern engagement – breakable only by divorce (1:18)? Did you know that no one in the desert hesitated to eat insects, and locusts were among the ceremonially clean foods of which the Jews were free to partake (3:4)? Did you know that most of the salt used in Israel came from the Dead Sea and was full of impurities, causing it to lose some of its flavour (5:13)? Did you know that people in ancient times commonly hid valuables in fields (e.g. when a marauding army approached), since there were no banks (13:44)? Did you know that a person who stepped on a grave became ceremonially unclean, so graves were whitewashed to make them easily visible, especially at night (23:27)?


 

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