The Gospel according to St. Matthew (Τὸ κατὰ Ματθαῖον εὐαγγέλιον, To kata Matthaion euaggelion) is the first of the four canonical gospels contained in the New Testament. This place of choice is justified by the fact that, better than all the others, it presents Jesus, the central character of this Testament, as the one who fulfills the promises of the Old Testament and the hope of Israel.
Matthew presents Jesus Christ as the Messiah, Son of King David (Matthew 1: 1-20, 9:27, 12:23), therefore he who, according to the promises of the Old Testament, comes to save Israel. Jesus Christ fulfills the history of Israel.
The first three gospels follow a common plan. As such, the Gospel according to St. Matthew presents the ministry of Jesus first in Galilee, then out of Galilee, and finally in Jerusalem, with the major events that are his death and his resurrection.
Presentation of the Gospel According to St. Matthew
This book has been attributed for many centuries to the apostle Matthew, the tax collector who became a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. Anyone who has already read a tax file knows that tax collectors like order, the accuracy of the figures with the classification of all expenses and revenues according to their category and their origins. This is only normal if the Gospel attributed to former tax collector Matthew reflects this meticulous and systematic reflection. He does not relate the life of Jesus chronologically. It groups the facts according to the themes.
When you read the Gospel according to St. Matthew carefully, you will see Matthew’s interest in the money. Indeed, just like Luc, the doctor is interested in healing cases, Matthew, a former tax collector focuses on the stories of money. The story found in chapter 18, as well as those in chapters 20 and 25, appear only in the Gospel of Matthew. Tellingly, the former tax collector reveals Jesus’ harshest words on how to treat the poor and needy.
Matthew gathers the words of Jesus on five great occasions. First, comes to the famous Sermon on the Mount Chapters 5 to 7. Then, Chapter 10 which relates Jesus’ instructions to his disciples about their mission, then Chapter 13, a series of parables about the Kingdom ; chapter 18, the words of Christ concerning the Church as a community; and finally, chapters 23-25, which reveal Jesus’ teachings on religious hypocrisy and its prophecies about the future. Taken between these five great passages, you will find images showing Jesus in action.
The successful blend of Jesus’ action and teaching has given the Gospel according to St. Matthew a special place in literature. Artists often draw inspiration from it as a summary of Jesus’ ministry, as evidenced by the greatest choral masterpiece, St. Matthew’s Passion, by JS Bach, the magnificent play Godspell, and the Gospel according to St-Matthew, a Pasolini film.
Renan, a French skeptic, praised Matthew as “the most important book of Christendom – the most important book ever written”.
The author of the Gospel according to St. Matthew would be Matthew himself. He relates his call by Jesus, Matthew 9: 9-13. Mark (Marc 2: 13-17) and Luke (Luke 5: 27-32) call him Levi. Mark specifies that he is the son of Alpheus. Before following Jesus, Matthew was a public servant (see Matthew 5:46; 9:10; 10: 3), a Roman official charged with collecting taxes and duties. The Jews despised this class of employees whom they found corrupt. They associated them with sinners, pagans, and prostitutes. The call of Matthew by Jesus and the feast that he organized at his place in his honor show that Jesus rather paid much attention to this class of people. This could only outrage zealous Jews such as the Pharisees and accentuate their hatred of Jesus.
Tax collectors like Matthew were less popular in Jesus’ day than they are today. Many Jews regarded them as traitors in the service of the Roman Empire they hated. […] Later, Matthew became a faithful disciple who uses his organizational skills to write this account of the life of Jesus on earth.
How Does Matthew Present Jesus Christ and the Church?
In writing his gospel, Matthew addresses himself primarily to Jews who had left Judaism, who, like him, now believed that Jesus was truly the Christ, Son of David, and Son of God: hence the abundance, in this book of quotations and references to the Old Testament and Jewish customs (Matthew 5:21, 23, 27, 31, 33, etc.).
Jesus is the manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven in person. He inaugurates it by founding the Church, his Church by which he fulfills the covenant of God with Israel. The Church that the Christian people have been perpetuating for centuries is and remains closely related to Jesus. It represents the newly elected people composed of both Jews and non-Jews.
“And I tell you that you are Peter, and that on this rock I will build my church, and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16: 17-18, see also 18:17).
The writers of the four Gospels are well known. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John gave complementary stories about the life of Christ.
These first four New Testament books called the Gospels, all speak of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Since, God inspired these four men who addressed different audiences and with different purposes, the books vary in their structure. Each of the texts presents the Life of Christ on a particular perspective.
But why is the book of Matthew seen as the bridge between the Old and New Testaments? This interesting question is indeed the focal point of our article.
The Gospel According to St. Matthew: The Bridge Between the Old and New Testaments
1 – Why Start with a List of Names?
For four hundred years nothing new has been added to the Bible. The prophets had become silent. During its centuries, empires rose and fell in the East; and the little nation of Israel has suffered in the hands of great powers like Greece and Rome.
Then a capital event occurred. A child is born – a child different from everyone who came before him. In introducing this baby named Jesus, the book of Matthew opens a new part of the Bible: the New Testament.
Matthew reveals his intentions from the first sentence: he relates the advent of Jesus to the whole of the history of the Old Testament. He claims that Jesus is a Jew, son of Abraham, but also the king: the son of David.
Matthew seeks to prove a bold statement: this Jesus from the modest city of Nazareth is exactly the “Messiah”, the promised liberator in the Old Testament. Note that Christ is the Greek translation of the word Messiah.
The Genealogical Tree of Jesus
The writer has highlighted the genealogy of Christ (Matthew 1: 1-17), attributing it considerable apologetic importance. This genealogy alone summarizes the entire Hebrew Bible and links it to the New Covenant. Since the fourth century, when the New Testament was constituted, it opens the reading of this book.
Throughout the world, all peoples, especially the Jews, were waiting impatiently for the Messiah. His coming, they thought, would change the course of the history of the whole world. Could this carpenter’s son be the long-awaited king? To answer this question, Matthew begins with a genealogy.
Genealogies – long lists of names – rarely interest those who are not directly involved. However, for these people, these lists can only be boring.
A contemporary author describes the feelings one experiences when reading an ancient genealogy in these terms: “There is a term, bliss, which is a moment of unique strong emotions in life. I had this experience, the first day of my visit to the village of Juffure, in West Africa … I got goosebumps. It is in these terms that Alex Haley, author of Racines, remembers the day he heard for the first time, from the mouth of an old storyteller, the story of Young Kunta Kinte, taken captive by the slavers in 1752. We understand the importance of the roots.
Haley’s ancestors were direct descendants of an African captured in a small village in The Gambia. The day he heard the kind African patriarch recite calmly: “And such a woman taken such, and brought into the world such,” the last link in the family chain was found. Roots tell the story of this link.
In the same way, the book of Matthew does not begin with the birth of Jesus but goes back to its roots. If Jesus is truly the Messiah, his ancestors must be like his title. As all history students know, kings do not simply affirm their kingship; they must belong to a royal lineage. Matthew traces the lineage of Jesus to the father of the Jewish race, Abraham who was the first to receive the promise of the Messiah and David, the first Jewish king.
Note on the Genealogy of Jesus Presented by Matthew:
The genealogy given by Matthew is not the same as that of Luke (Luke 3: 23-38). The common point boils down to the fact that in both cases the sonship of Jesus passes through Joseph (Matthew 1:16, Luke 3:23). However, the differences are significant.
On the one hand, that of Luke is ascending (going from Jesus to Adam and to God) while that of Matthew is descending (from Abraham to Jesus). On the other hand, the names mentioned there are not identical. Unlike Luke, who includes exogenous elements, genealogy according to Matthew is “strictly Jewish”. In other words, Jesus is at Luke “son of Adam, that is, son of humanity, while Matthew says he is the son of Abraham, the child of Israel.”
Notwithstanding, Luke and Matthew speak of the same Messiah, of the same Jesus.
The editor intends to prove to the Jews that Jesus is indeed the legitimate descendant of David, Solomon and all the kings of Judah, the heir to the throne and, consequently, the promised Messiah. It is under this official title of “King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37) that Jesus will be crucified.
2 – Links to the Old Testament
After reporting the strain of Jesus, Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ life on earth. He relies heavily on the Old Testament, citing it more often than any other New Testament writer.
Note the sentences as “that which the Lord hath spoken by the prophet”.
The first book of the New Testament is considered the Gospel that puts things together, the link between the Old and New Testaments. Matthew begins with the origins of Jesus, but he also compares it to the traditional Jewish image of the Messiah. Jesus is the one who puts an end to thousands of years of waiting, so he came to establish a new type of kingdom – a realm different from the one that was expected.
3 – The Readers of the Gospel According to St. Matthew
Of course, the Gospel according to St. Matthew was written for all humanity, but the style, tone, words, contexts, scenes in this gospel seem to indicate that this gospel is targeting the Jewish people (Judaism) and then to all Christendom.
The Gospel according to St. Matthew seems to speak first of all to the Jews and the rabbis of the synagogue, to demonstrate to them with the help of the Scriptures, the Hebrew Bible, that Jesus is really the Son of God and Emmanuel, the son of David, the heir to all the kings of Israel and the Messiah they hoped for. Upon entry, Jesus is presented as Savior (see Matthew 1:21), Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23), King (Matthew 2: 2), Messiah (Matthew 2: 4), Son of God (Matthew 2: 15), in fulfillment of all the prophecies.
The title of Son of God intervenes at important turning points of the story, from childhood to baptism, to the confession of Peter, to the transfiguration, to the trial of Jesus and to crucifixion. The name of David’s son, which is associated with him, and which returns in ten occurrences, shows that Jesus is the new Solomon: indeed Jesus expresses himself as incarnated Wisdom. By virtue of the title of Son of Man, who travels the gospel, and comes straight from the prophet Daniel and the Book of Enoch, Jesus is endowed with all divine authority over the Kingdom of God, in heaven as on Earth.
The writer, writing for a community of Christians coming from Judaism, focuses above all on show in the person and in the work of Jesus the fulfillment of the Scriptures. He confirms by scriptural texts: his Davidic race (Matthew 1: 1-17), his birth of a virgin (Matthew 1:23), in fulfillment of the oracle of Isaiah 7:14, his birth in Bethlehem (Matthew 2: 6) in relation to the oracle of Micah 5:2, his stay in Egypt (Matthew 2:15), related in Hosea 11:1, the slaughter of the children of Bethlehem and the cries of their mothers (Matthew 2: 16-18) according to the oracle of Jeremiah 31:15, his establishment at Capernaum (Matthew 4: 14-16), his messianic entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21: 5,16). He does this for his work of miraculous healings (Matthew 11: 4-5) and for his teaching (Matthew 5:17). Equally, he points out that the apparent failure of Jesus’ mission was announced in the Scriptures, and that the downsizing of the Son of Man fulfills the prophecy of the suffering Servant of Isaiah (Matthew 12: 17-21).
The Gospel according to St. Matthew, therefore, presents itself less as a simple biography of Jesus than as a constructed and documented thesis addressed to Hellenistic Jews, believers to comfort them in their faith, unbelievers or opponents to refute them.
Hebrew Words for Jewish Readers (Matthew 4:17)
Matthew first wrote for Jewish readers. From the first chapter, he declares that Jesus is the Messiah, supporting this affirmation by a constant reference to the Old Testament. He does not often explain Jewish customs, assuming readers know them. And where other Gospel writers use the “Kingdom of God”, Matthew uses “Kingdom of Heaven” out of respect for Jews who would never dare to write the word, God.
4 – Jesus and the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:17)
In this statement, the verse of Matthew 5:17 clearly shows the connection between the Law of Moses and Jesus. The next chapter is more specific, comparing Jesus’ teaching to many common interpretations of the law. It begins with “you have heard that it was said …” and then concludes with “But me, I say to you …” (See Matthew 5: 21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34; 38-39; 43-45). Here, Matthew emphasizes that Jesus taught the true meaning of the law rather than his legalistic interpretations.
5 – Tackling Legalism (Example Matthew 15: 1-6)
The Pharisees and doctors of the law considered their rigid traditions as important as the Old Testament law. In this passage, Jesus notes flagrant inconsistencies in these traditions.