This first book of the New Testament plunges right in to establish Jesus as the Meshiach Nagid, the Messiah the King. After first establishing the royal genealogy,1he then goes on to focus on the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies: Matthew uses the term "fulfilled" 82 times!
Many scholars now believe that the Gospels were written before Paul's first imprisonment of 57-60 A.D., and that virtually all of the New Testament books were written before Jerusalem's destruction.2
There is no hint in the New Testament of Nero's persecutions after 64 A.D., nor of the execution of James, the Lord's brother, in 62 A.D. There is not the slightest mention of the Jewish revolt against the Romans which began in 66 A.D., nor of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. These historic events would have been irresistible in making many of the arguments in the New Testament documents.
Textual evidence suggests that the Gospels were originally written in Hebrew. In hundreds of places the Greek sentence structure betrays a Semitic influence and implies a translation from the Hebrew.It appears that within five years after the death and resurrection of Christ, most of His words and deeds had been committed to a simple written Hebrew form and Matthew is, of course, assumed to be part of this compilation.
Within a decade, this corpus would have been translated into a Greek version for church requirements. This corpus, or its variations, is often called the "Q-document" (for German, quelle, source). Around the year 50 A.D. the original material was developed into written Greek form and the "synoptic" Gospels were composed, probably since the persecutions were imminent. The key point is that eyewitnesses were still around to verify the details.3
In 1994, a segment of the Greek text of Matthew's Gospel appears to now have been dated before 66 A.D. Known as the Magdalen Papyrus, P64, it contains segments of Matthew 26:23, 31 on both sides of three fragments.
Using a scanning laser microscope, it has provided physical evidence "that the Gospel according to Matthew is an eyewitness account written by contemporaries of Christ."5
In January we noted the reasons why it is believed that Matthew had the skills of a tachygrapher, or shorthand writer.6As a former customs official, he would have had a working knowledge of tachygraphy, and thus may have been able to transcribe the Sermon on the Mount verbatim, just as Tertius and others were able to transcribe Paul's more verbose utterances.
(The reason Matthew's Gospel is so much longer than Mark's is that he includes the extensive discourses.)
It was through the amazing efforts of Dr. Ivan Panin (1855-1942) that the "heptadic" (seven-fold) structure of the Biblical text was revealed.
Of the many remarkable discoveries, perhaps the most provocative is that the vocabulary that is unique to Matthew's Gospel (i.e., words that are not used elsewhere in the New Testament) is an exact multiple of 7.7But how could this feature have been deliberately organized? Only by one of two ways: either all of the other writers of the New Testament had to agree, in advance, not to use these particular words (which is highly unlikely!); or, Matthew would have had to compose his gospel last. Think about it: this is a strange property to "engineer" into the text.
Employing the argument that this proves that Matthew's Gospel was, thus, the last to be composed is a bit treacherous, however, since the same feature is true of the Gospel of Mark: the vocabulary which is unique to Mark's is also an exact multiple of 7. And so is Luke's. And John's. And also the writings of Paul, James, Peter, and Jude! Each, thus, appears to have been "written last."
This strange design feature seems clearly to be a "fingerprint" of the supernatural Author Himself.
One of the most fundamental principles of Biblical hermeneutics - principles of interpretation - is the emphasis on the context. And, indeed, that is of crucial importance in applying any Biblical passage.
However, Matthew seems to take some very provocative excursions that are instructive. In Matthew 2:15, he applies Hosea 11:1, "Out of Egypt I have called my son," to the flight of Joseph, Mary, and the child to Egypt to escape from Herod's infanticide. An examination of the context of Hosea 11 makes such a Messianic application seem a far reach, indeed!
Only by the Holy Spirit could Matthew have justified this linkage.
(A similar stretch appears in Matthew 2:17-18, where he ostensibly applies Jeremiah 31:15 to this same tragic infanticide.)
Matthew's thoroughness and precision lends many special insights as one delves into his detailed presentations. His rendering of the Seven Kingdom Parables in Chapter 13 are remarkably parallel to the Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation Chapters 2 and 3, etc.
His presentation of Jesus' confidential briefing to His disciples about His Second Coming in Chapter 24 is an essential foundation in any eschatological (end-time) study.
So, clearly, this very basic book of the Bible is, of course, a most rewarding study to both novice and experienced Bible students who are willing to diligently dig in.
Our prayers are that you will be blessed as you embark on this fascinating study!
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For more information about Chuck's verse-by-verse study of the Gospel of Matthew, see the "Resources" section at the bottom of the page. Available now in our new MP3 CD-ROM format!