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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Irenaeus of Lyons (130-202)

Irenaeus of Lyons (130-202) stated that there must be 4 gospels and only 4 because there were 4 corners of the earth.  Thus, the Church should have 4 pillars.  This indicated that as early as 200, there existed a set of Christian writings somewhat similar to what is now the 27 books of the New Testament, including the 4 gospels.  However, most of our oldest manuscripts of the New Testament come from the 4th century when Christianity was the recognized religion of the Roman Empire.

Muratorian fragment

The Muratorian fragment is the earliest known example of a defined list of mostly New Testament books.  However, it is damaged and incomplete, but it is usually dated to the late 2nd century.  This Muratorian canon fragment has the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, along with 13 letters of Paul.  However, its condition makes it impossible to make any definitive statements.

What language did Jesus speak?

The languages spoken in Galilee and Judea during the first century included Semitic Aramaic and Hebrew, as well as Greek.  However, Aramaic was the predominant language.  During the early part of the first century CE, Aramaic was the mother tongue of virtually all natives of Galilee and Judea.  Most scholars support the theory that Jesus spoke Aramaic, but he may have known and also spoken Hebrew and a little Greek.

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 gospels

The English term gospel comes from the Old English ‘godspel.’  There was a 1971 musical play with the name “Godspell.”  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 in which this message was set out.  Thus, the gospels became known as the written accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  These books are the basis of our knowledge about Jesus Christ.  They present a somewhat coherent picture of the life of Christ with different emphasis from each author.  We also have the phrase, “That’s the gospel truth.”

The Greek Orthodox editions of the Bible

The Greek Orthodox editions of the Bible use the Greek Septuagint, plus five other books Esdras 1, Esdras 2, The Prayer of Manasseh, 3 Maccabees, and 4 Maccabees.  These are even later works and stem from the 1st century before and after the time of Jesus Christ.