1. Who was Matthew, anyway?

A. The Name

The external evidence (for which see Essay on Synoptic Problem) is dependent on Papias, who says that Matthew composed a collection of logia (=sayings?) in the Hebrew dialect. This might be an inaccurate and muddled description of Mt; if dialektw| means 'idiom', Mt is the gospel which corresponds to this most closely. In fact the attributions of the gospels were added only in the second century. But unless Mt is much earlier than it will be argued, Matthew would have been too old to write it. It is also hard to believe that he would have written about his own conversion in terms borrowed from Mk. In at least many passages Mt is dependent on Gk text of Mk (or Ur-Mk), which would be an odd procedure for an eye-witness. Why then was it attached to his name?

Possibly Matthew sponsored the gospel. Possibly there was a feeling already (as there was in the second century) that a gospel should be guaranteed by a vir apostolicus. Thus traditionally Mk was felt to be sponsored by Peter and Lk to some extent by Paul through Luke's association with Paul. Mt was possibly attached to the apostle Matthew because at 9.9 his name is substituted for Mk's 'Levi' and at 10.3, in the list of the Twelve, the description 'the tax-collector' is added. At some stage, presumably, somebody thought that these two details indicated special interest in Matthew, and guessed that this was the sort of way an author would express such interest. One can imagine that when it was felt that the reliability and inspiration of the gospels somehow depended on the authority of an apostolically authorised writer, any evidence that at any rate one of the synoptic gospels was written by one of the Twelve was eagerly seized upon.

B. Literary Finger-Printing

a. Affinity with Judaism. Modern authors dispute whether Mt is written from within Judaism, supporting one interpretation of Judaism and opposing another, or whether there is opposition to Judaism from outside. Certainly there is a tension with the current practice of Judaism, but also an affection for and affinity with it.

- The Sabbath seems to be observed by Mt's community: 12.1-4, 11-12; 24.20. Other Jewish customs unexplained: 15.2 'they do not wash their hands whenever they eat' (but is this more arcane than Mk's 'they eat with common hands'?). Semitic words unexplained raka, korbanas, Jesus.

- Alimentary laws are not swept away as they are in Mk: contrast Mt 15.17 with Mk 7.18-20.

- Interest is constantly shown in Jewish matters, the three good works, phylacteries, tithes, purification, justice (x7, otherwise only Lk 1) and lawlessness (x4, not elsewhere in gospels), judgement (x12, otherwise only Lkx4), Law (x8, Mkx0). Special attention to the Law in the six antitheses.

- Concern for the fulfilment of scripture shown in the formula-quotations, in which Jesus acts seemingly from the sole motive of fulfilling the scripture: 1.23;2.6, 15, 18, 23; 4.15-16; 8.17; 12.18-21; 13.35;21.5; 26.56; 27.9-10. Literal fulfilment of scripture is represented in a mechanistic way typical of first century Jewish exegesis, when Jesus rides on both the donkey and the colt (21.7) in order to fulfil Zc 9.9. The infancy-stories are especially concerned to show Jesus fulfilling the figures of the Old Testament, Moses and David, using Jewish legends of Moses as well as the biblical account, and proceeding in the manner of Jewish midrashic technique.

- Rabbinic arguments

qal wahomer (=a fortiori) 7.11; 12.12

ab wetoledoth (heading + examples) 5.17; 6.1

kelal (summing up) 7.12; 22.40

- Rabbinic cast of mind, familiar from rabbinic way of telling stories, in the grandeur of his numbers and figures of parables: enormous sums of money (the unforgiving debtor's 10,000 talents, the five talents given to a servant to trade with - fancy digging 10,000 into the ground!) dramatic exaggeration (the king of the wedding-feast sending armies to burn the town of reluctant guests - what was the point of their maltreating the messengers anyway?). This is different from Lk: Mk lives in the small world of the Galilean village, and Lk expands this to considerable sums of money, but Mt goes right over the top.

- Affection for dreams, angels, apocalyptic scenario of retribution

b. At the same time discontent with Judaism and opposition to it are unmistakable:

- Mt is outside the synagogue, and speaks of 'their' synagogues: 4.23; 9.35; 10.17; 23.34. He changes arcisunagwgoj into arcwn tij in order to avoid link to synagogue.

- Of all the groupings within Judaism his interest is only in the Pharisees. They were the only party who remained after the destruction of Jerusalem. Is this an indication that Mt had only vague knowledge of Judaism, or that he concentrates on them deliberately? In view of the previous section, the latter must be correct: his invective is specifically against them: 9.34; 12.24 (Mk has 'scribes'); 15.12; 22.34, 41 (in both stories Mk has scribes).

- He underlines the failure of the present generation: major condemnation 11.16-24; 12.38-45; 21-23 is final indictment of Jewish authorities, including threat that new people of God will be formed (especially 21.43). Jesus succeeds in temptations where Jewish people failed (4.1-11 modelled on Dt's testing of God's son, Israel, in the desert).

- Jesus forms his own community, on model of qahal YHWH: 16.18; of which he is the shepherd like YHWH 26 46.31, with his Twelve founders of tribes, 19.28. Jesus is present to community as Yahweh was to Israel and to Temple: 8.23-27; 18.20; 26.20 - now something greater than the Temple is here, 12.6. Community has synagogue's power of exclusion (16.18; 18.18).

- Stanton holds that Mt's anti-Judaism represents 'the anger and frustration at the continued rejection of Christian claims'. Possibly Christianity should still be regarded as a sect within Judaism (a sect is a minority group, claiming to be exclusively what the parent body claims to be). There is the same intolerance as at Qumran, the same invective against normative Judaism (the parent body), judgement on unfaithful members of the community, mutual clan-support as at Qumran. See Stanton 'Matthew's Gospel and the Damascus Document'. Alternatively, Mt was written just after the moment of the break, when Christians are still close to Judaism, and Mt 'is coming to terms with the trauma of separation from Judaism'.


c. Teaching techniques

- Numbers: 14x3 generations, 8 beatitudes, 6 antitheses, 3 good works,

- Formulae: formula-citations; 'You have heard it said...but I say to you'; 6.1-18; 'alas for you, scribes and hypocrites' 23

- Imagery much expanded over Mk: of animals Mk has only camel, sheep, puppies, birds, Mt has 22 different animals; Mk has only 8 images of economic life, to which Mt adds 21; Mk has 9 images 8: of countryside, to which Mt adds 13; Mk has 19 religious images, to which Mt adds 35.

- Pairs of images: rock & sand, broad & narrow road, nest & foxhole, birds & lilies, splinter & log, moth & woodworm, sun & rain, Ninevites & Queen of the South, scandalous hand & scandalous eye. Often pairs of pairs (grapes, thorns, figs, thistles; stone, bread, snake, fish)

- Pairs of parables: broad/narrow gate & good/bad fruit, sower & tares, mustard-seed & leaven, treasure & pearl, watchful householder & faithful servant, judgement on talents & last judgement.

- Patterns of sayings (Goulder):

"pardics"=4-point antithesis with paradoxical element: stone-bread-snake-fish, 7.9; grapes-thorns-figs-thistles, 7.16; harvest-rich-labourers-few, pipe-dance-wail-mourn,11.17; receives you-receives me-receives me-receives him, 10.40; bind on earth-bind in heaven-loose on earth-loose in heaven, 16.19

"aetics"=as...so, where...there: 6.21; 12.40; 18.20; 24. 27, 28, 37, 38

"thesaurics"=prohibitions to emphasise contrasting affirmitive: Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth but 6.19; 3.9; 5.17; BD 6.7, 19; 10.5, 28, 34.i

In short, Mt's speech is rhythmical and balanced.


After the split with the synagogue, which was probably caused by the insertion of the curse of Nazoreans into the 18 Benedictions sometime after 70 (but when?).

A significant time after Mk, so that Mk would have had time to be disseminated and become due for revision. Mk would surely have given some indication if he were aware of the sack or siege of Jerusalem, so probably written about 65.

Passage on Temple-tax should be near the memory of that tax. It continued to be levied, but for Roman temples, after 70 until 97. This is not much help!

2. Mt and Fulfilment

If there is one theme which pulls all Mt's thought together it is fulfilment. This becomes clear in various ways:

1. Formula-Quotations

On occasions Mt sees something happening, or most frequently Jesus acting, simply in order to fulfil the scriptures (see above).

2. Infancy Narrative These are especially significant, because here Mt had the freest hand. They also show us how Mt considers fulfilment. Not only are the formula-citations thickest in the infancy narratives, but also the whole story is directed towards showing that Jesus is (chapter 1) a Second David, and (chapter 2) a Second Moses. In 1 Jesus becomes son of David by adoption, and adoption at divine behest: Joseph is hesitant to meddle where the Spirit has acted, but is instructed by the angel and accepts Jesus as his own child by naming him - hence the genealogy, in which David plays such a significant part. It is also remarkable how often Mt shows Jesus being hailed as son of David (9.27 [a narrative of his own composition]; 12.23 [his own insertion]; 15.22 [his own addition]; 20.30, 31 [as Mk]; 21.9, 15 [his own addition]). In 2 the Jewish legends of Moses are used to show that Jesus' history repeats that of Moses (2.20b quotes Ex 4.19-20). This is only part of the Moses-typology in Mt, which shows itself also in the Lord delivering his new Law on the mountain, both in the Sermon and in the final charge after the resurrection. Possibly the five major discourses (unless there are six) are intended to mirror the five books of the Pentateuch. The miraculous feeding stories also show Jesus as a second Moses, repeating the wonderful feeding in the desert of the Exodus (Mt 14.15), though Mt does not add any emphasis to this aspect already present in Mk.

3. Jesus' Ministry

Whole sections of his ministry are interpreted by reference to fulfilment of the OT: the healings of chapters 8-9 are interpreted by reference to Isaiah's Servant, 'He took our infirmities and bore our diseases' (8.17). Similarly his rejection by the masses in chapters 11-12 is interpreted by 'He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets' (12.19). The inability of Israel to understand the parables is also interpreted by Isaiah, as in Mk.

4. The Passion Narrative

The scandal of the Cross was such a paradox that all the evangelists have recourse to the prophecies to explain how the Holy One of God could be so shamefully executed. But Mt is particularly insistent on this.

Already in the scene of the Arrest Mt doubles Mk's reference to scripture. In 26.54 he inserts, 'How then could the scriptures that this must happen be fulfilled?' and at 26.56 he makes more explicit, 'All this happened in order that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled'. Does the 'all this' refer to the arrest or to the whole Passion narrative?

The Crucifixion scene already in Mk is shot through with references to Psalm 22. Mt adds other allusions. In 27.34 the soldiers give Jesus wine mixed with bile to drink; this radically changes the sense, for bile is poison, but gives an allusion to the attempted poisoning in Ps 68. In 27.40 the addition of 'if you are God's son' makes clear that the mockery by the authorities fulfils the mockery predicted of the righteous man, the son of God, in Ws 2.18-20.

The most important instance comes after the death of Jesus. The rending of the veil of the Temple and the entry of the dead into the Holy City are signs of the fulfilment of God's promises of a renewal of his people.

5. The Sermon on the Mount

After the introductory beatitudes, the first major section of the Sermon on the Mount is concerned with fulfilment of the Law. Its deliberate introduction emphasises that this is where we can see Mt's conception of fulfilment in this sense: 5.17-20 is the ab or parent, to which 5.21-48 form the toledoth or offspring. Particularly the ruling v. 20 is composed almost entirely of Mt's favourite expressions. This is followed by the six antitheses or corrections, again composed with typically Matthean formularism.

1. On murder: abstention from the mere act of killing is insufficient; killing in the heart is unacceptable. This therefore is an interiorisation.

2. On adultery: again an interiorisation.

3. On divorce: as can be seen from the fuller passage in 19.1-9, here Jesus cancels a softening of the original legislation inherent in human nature as it was created. He is returning to the more demanding stipulations of the ideal state.

4. On swearing: the prohibition of all oaths again amounts to a legislation for the ideal state where truth is always told. The new ruling does not exactly correct the Law, nor even suspend it; it merely makes it unnecessary.

5. On retaliation: the permission of limited vengeance is removed. A more demanding state of peace is called for.

6. On love of enemies: the restriction of love to those who return it is removed, increasing the demands made by the Law. This corresponds as positive to the negative of the first antithesis. The whole is summed up as being a demand for God's own perfection.

Mt's conception of fulfilment of the Law therefore seems to consist partly in the removal of the palliatives that weakened its demands and made them more external, partly in a legislation for a perfect or paradisiac condition, characterised by an interiorisation or a religion of the heart (reminiscent of the new covenant of the heart, promised by Jer and Ezek), by the wholeness of the image of God as in the Garden of Eden (the perfect bonding of man and woman, and the image of God's own perfection) and by a condition of peace and truthfulness. Thus the antitheses can be seen as a detailed prescription for the state of fulfilment of the promises in a renewed covenant.

6. The New Israel

One of Mt's chief themes is that, this generation having proved disastrously unworthy, a new Israel will be formed from Jew and Gentile. Perhaps the most forceful text for this is the end of the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen (21.43). That this is to be the new People of God is further shown at Caesarea Philippi, when Jesus speaks of his ekklesia (16.19); this corresponds to the qahal Yhwh, except that the new qahal is that of Jesus. Just as God was present in the midst of his people, so will Jesus be present when two or three are gathered together in his name, as Mt teaches in the discourse on the community (18.20) and in the final mission (28.20). Mt 8.10-12 stresses that Israel is faithless and is to be replaced by outsiders from east and west. In the last scene Jesus himself is characterised by the allusions to and quotation from Daniel 7 as the Son of Man, a figure who in the original prophecy personifies the People of God; so he fulfils in his person the destiny of the People of God.

It is no doubt because of their position as founders of the new Israel that Mt consistently weakens Mk's criticism of the lack of faith and understanding of the disciples. He makes no attempt to disguise their desertion at the Passion, but he does lessen criticism of their faith-response. At the stilling of the storm in Mk Jesus complains 'How have you no faith?', whereas in Mt they cry 'Lord, save us' and are rebuked only as oligopistoi (8.22-26). In his version of the Woman with a Haemorrhage and the Feeding of the Five Thousand he cuts out their sarcasm (Mk 5.31; 6.37). At the Transfiguration he substitutes for Peter's bamboozlement and their general terror (Mk 9.6) an act of homage (17.6). At the Walking on the Water their reaction is not incomprehension (Mk 6.52) but Peter's confession of faith in the son of God (Mt 14.33). Later, Mk's (8.17) 'Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Your hearts are hardened' is softened to a simple 'Do you not yet understand?' (Mt 16.9), and the final repetition of 'Do you not yet understand?' (Mk 8.21) becomes 'Then they understood' (Mt 16.12).

3. Mt's Christology

In his presentation of Jesus Mt shows a more dignified and hieratic figure, almost as though he were already the risen Christ. This is partly, but only partly, the result of his stiffer and more formal style. He lessens the crowd-scenes and cuts out many of the simple touches which make Mk such delightful reading (his miracle-stories are in general considerably shorter). At the Healing of Simon's Mother-in-law there is a solemn confrontation between the two protagonists, with no mention of the disciples (8.14-15). At Nazareth it is not that he could not work many miracles (Mk 6.5), simply that he did not because of their unbelief (Mt 13.58). Mt shows the dignity of Jesus by comparison to the great figures of the Old Testament whom he surpasses: the Temple, Jonah and Solomon (12.6, 41, 42).

1. Jesus not Teacher but Lord

In Mk Jesus is commonly called 'teacher' by friend and foe, and 'Lord' only by unclean spirits and the cured. In Mt only outsiders call him 'teacher', while the disciples call him 'Lord'. The only exception is Judas, who calls him 'Rabbi' (26.29, 45) in deliberate contrast to the other disciples (26.22). This vocative 'Lord!' may be interpreted merely as 'Sir!', but a more exalted sense cannot be ruled out.

2. Jesus the Wisdom of God

Mt's Jesus claims in his own defence that 'Wisdom is justified by her deeds' (11.19). His promised presence among his followers (18.20; 28.20) is very similar to that of Wisdom, 'delighting to be among men' (Ws 8.31), and his invitation in Mt 11.28-30 is full of reminiscences of the invitations of Wisdom in the Wisdom Literature (though Dunn, Christology, p. 198-202, disputes this). Significant also is his equation of himself with Torah (often spoken of identically with Wisdom) in claiming that his words will pass away (24.35) no more than those of the Law (5.18), and his teaching and correcting the Law with such untroubled authority in the Six Antitheses.

3. Jesus as Son of God

Mk had already put considerable emphasis on Jesus' sonship of God by his infrequent use of the title at crucial points. Matthew increases this emphasis, making it almost commonplace by the frequency with which Jesus calls God 'Father' (35-3-8). The aspect of family relationship is the central point of the Infancy Narrative, not only in the comparison of Jesus to God's son Israel in Egypt (chap 2), but principally by the meaning of the Virginal Conception, which makes Jesus son of God in a unique way. The title also becomes the central assertion of Peter's two important confessions of faith; Mt adds it to the profession of Caesarea Philippi (Mk has only 'you are the Christ') and makes it the climax of the Walking on the Water scene - by which he incidentally shatters Mk's careful pattern of a build-up to Caesarea Philippi. Mt must understand the title in function of Jesus as the New Israel, being in himself the new people, and so son, of God. This is expressed most clearly in the Temptation narrative, which is an account of how Jesus succeeds as God's son where Israel failed (by the detailed comparison to Dt 8 and 6). Finally, the mockery on the Cross is specifically that of God's son (27.40, 43), which links the two themes of Wisdom and divine sonship.


D. Senior, What are they saying about Matthew? (1983) - a useful conspectus

R.T. France, Matthew (1985), introduction

R.T. France, Matthew Evangelist & Teacher (1989) - excellent discussions of almost every aspect of Matthean studies - well weighed

G.N. Stanton, 'Origin and Purpose of Matthew' in Aufstieg und Niedergang der romischen Welt, ed. H. Temporini & W. Haase II.25.3, pp. 1889-1951 - comprehensive and tough going

M.D. Goulder, Midrash and Lection in Matthew (1976) - purpose is to show that Mt is midrash on Mk - fascinating on Mt's way of working