Title

“The Gospel according to Mathew”

 

Τὸ κατὰ Ματθαῖον εὐαγγέλιον

 

What is a gospel?  Who is Matthew?  The English term gospel comes from the Old English ‘godspel.’  There was a musical play with the name “Godspell” that opened on Broadway in 1971.  Like the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον, gospel means good news or good tidings.  This term originally meant the Christian message itself.  However, in the second century, it came to be used for the books where this message was set out.  Thus, the gospels became known as written accounts of the career and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  This Gospel of Matthew is anonymous, since there is no explicit mention of a named author within the text itself.  This title (Τὸ κατὰ Ματθαῖον εὐαγγέλιον), however was added some time in the second century, perhaps with Papias of Hierapolis (100–140 CE), an early bishop and apostolic father.  The apostle Matthew was among the early followers and apostles of Jesus.  He was a first century Galilean, the son of Alpheus.  As a tax collector he would have been literate in Aramaic and Greek.  His fellow Jews would have despised him because he was seen as collaborating with the Roman occupation force.  What we do know for certain is that the author of this gospel was probably a traditional male Jew, familiar with the technical and legal aspects of Hebrew Scripture.  He wrote in a polished Semitic synagogue Greek style.  Most scholars hold that the Gospel of Matthew was a product of the last quarter of the 1st century, a work of the second generation of Christians, probably sometime between 70-110 CE, or more precisely between 80-90 CE.  The defining event for this community was the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE, during the Jewish–Roman War of 66–73 CE.  The author of this Gospel of Matthew wrote for a community of Greek-speaking Jewish Christians probably located in Syria, just north of Galilee.  Antioch was the largest city in Roman Syria and the third-largest city in the Roman Empire, after Rome and Alexandria.  This is where the term “Christian” was first used.  Thus, it would seem like an appropriate place for Jewish Christians in the second half of the first century.   For practical traditional purposes, I will use the name Matthew as the author of this gospel.

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Written Greek New Testament

The New Testament was written in Greek, so I must be even more cautious when dealing with the meanings of English or Latin terms derived from the Greek biblical texts.  At the time of the New Testament writings, Alexandria had a larger Jewish population than Jerusalem.  Greek was spoken by more Jews than Hebrew.  How did the early followers of Jesus Christ understand themselves and their symbolic activities?  Why did all these early Jewish followers of Jesus write in Greek, instead of Hebrew?

The early orthodox apostolic writings

The 2nd century apostolic writers had a loose connection to the original apostles.  Some of these early 2nd century writings were occasionally considered part of the canonical biblical writings.  This post-apostolic group lived after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE.  These authors included Clement of Rome (40-101 CE) and his writings, as well as the so-called Second Letter of Clement, a 2nd century sermon, but not from Clement.  There also was Ignatius of Antioch (50-117 CE) with his letters, and the 2nd century Pseudo-Barnabas letter.  From the late 1st century, the Didache, the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, has intrigued scholars.  The 2nd century Shepherd of Hermas, has an apocalyptic document that included visions, commands, mandates, and parables or similitudes.  Theophilus of Antioch (115-180 CE) and Melito of Sardis (+190 CE), an important bishop of Asia Minor, were writing apologists for Christianity.  Clement of Alexandria (150-215 CE) and his pupil Origen (185-254 CE) played an important role in the developing Christian theology in Alexandria.  Justin the martyr (100-165 CE) gave a great description of the Christian activities.  Irenaeus (140-202 CE), a disciple of the martyr Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna, wrote against various early Christian heretics.

The king of the south (Dan 11:5-11:5)

“Then the king of the south

Shall be strong.

But one of his officers

Shall grow stronger

Than he.

He shall rule

A realm greater

Than his own realm.”

The king of the south was Ptolemy I (305-283 BCE), a general who had served with Alexander the Great. He took over Egypt and Hellenized it with the important Greek speaking city of Alexandria. Seleucus I Nicator (305-281 BCE) was his officer who grew stronger than Ptolemy. He then became known as the king of the north.

The Israelites in Egypt (Isa 19:18-19:18)

“On that day,

There will be five cities

In the land of Egypt

That speak the language of Canaan.

They swear allegiance

To Yahweh of hosts.

One of these will be called

The City of the Sun.”

This section seems to imply that Israelites had settled in 5 Egyptian cities. We know that they were in Alexandria after the 4th century BCE. Perhaps there were some settlements in the 6th century BCE during the time of the Exile. On other hand, some of these may have been Israelites who never left Egypt when Moses led the Exodus. 5 of these cities in Egypt were speaking Canaanite or a Semitic language, not the Egyptian language. They all swore allegiance to Yahweh. One of these cities was the City of Sun, probably a reference to Heliopolis, which is near present day Cairo.

Grandpa Jesus (Sir 0:5-0:14)

“My grandfather Jesus

Devoted himself especially

To the reading of the Law,

To the reading of the Prophets,

To the reading of the other books of our ancestors.

After acquiring considerable proficiency in them,

He was himself also led to write something

Pertaining to instruction,

Pertaining to wisdom.

By becoming familiar with this book,

Those who love learning

Should make even greater progress

In living according to the law.”

Who is Grandpa Jesus? Obviously, he is the grandfather of this writer/translator. This ‘Jesus’ is the Anglicized form of the Greek name Ἰησοῦς or the Aramaic Yeshua. He was the son of Sirach, a Jewish scribe who had been living in Jerusalem. He then authored this work in Alexandria, Egypt, around 180–175 BCE, where he is thought to have established a school. He is sometimes referred to as Ben Sira, son of Sir, or as it has been rendered in Greek, ‘Sirach’. There are all kinds of Jewish stories about his background. This ‘Jesus’ or ‘Sirach’ was a devoted scholar of the Hebrew Law, Prophets, and the other books of the Hebrew Bible. He wanted to share some of the instruction and wisdom that he had received from these books. Thus this author, his grandson, wants those who loved learning to become familiar with this work. With that, they would be better able to follow the Law itself.

The invitation to the dedication festival (2 Macc 2:16-2:18)

“Since, therefore,

We are about to celebrate the purification,

We write to you.

Will you therefore please keep the days?

It is God who has saved all his people.

He has returned the inheritance to all,

The kingship,

The priesthood,

And the consecration.

He had promised this through the law.

For we have hope in God

That he will soon have mercy on us.

He will gather us from everywhere

Under heaven into his holy place.

He has rescued us from great evils.

He has purified the place.”

Finally, this long letter ends with its purpose, an invitation to the Egyptian Jews at Alexandria to keep the 8 days of worship celebrating the renewal of the Temple in Jerusalem under Judas Maccabeus. God has saved his people. He has returned that inheritance which is kingship, priesthood, and consecration through the law. They hoped that God would have mercy on them, so that they all could gather everyone together in this holy place. God had already rescued them from many great evils and purified this place. The ideal would be to have all Jews returning to Jerusalem.