Matthew was one of Jesus’ disciples, called into discipleship when he was a tax collector (Mt 9:9-13; Mk 2:14-17; Lk 5:27-32). Tax collectors were Jewish men who were used by the Roman government to collect taxes from their own people, usually demanding more money than the Romans told them to collect so they could keep the difference and make themselves rich. For this reason, their fellow Jews despised them and considered them some of the worst of sinners. With this type of background, Matthew (also called “Levi”) would surely have appreciated the forgiveness of God through Jesus all the more. His Jewish background and his discipleship under Jesus certainly provided great qualifications for his writing this Gospel account of Jesus’ life, teachings, and work.
The external evidence of Matthew being the author of this Gospel is quite plentiful, especially considering it was by far the most widely read and quoted book in the early church. The internal evidence is not as plentiful because Matthew only mentions himself in the account of his call into discipleship (Mt 9:9-13) and in the list of Jesus’ disciples (Mt 10:2-4). However, the influence of his past is somewhat evident in his frequent mention of tax collectors (Mt 5:46; 9:10ff; 11:19; 17:24; 18:17; 21:32), as well as money-related events and descriptions throughout his Gospel that are not found in the other Gospels (for example, Mt 17:24-27).
The Gospel of Matthew was clearly written primarily for a Jewish audience. Jesus is often referred to as the “Christ,” or “Messiah,” the coming anointed king who was going to reign forever on King David’s throne (see 2 Sam 7:12-13; Mt 1:1,20), and Matthew even opens his Gospel with Jesus’ genealogy traced through David to Abraham (Mt 1:1-17). He also directly quotes the Old Testament 50 times and alludes to it a number of other times, apparently showing the Jews that Jesus was truly the promised Savior spoken of throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. Matthew wanted the Jews to know that they were still being faithful to their faith by believing in Jesus. However, Matthew’s intended audience is not exclusively Jewish, as he also mentions Gentile (non-Jewish) believers (for example, Rahab and Ruth – Mt 1:5; the visit of the Magi – Mt 2:1-12) and Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:18-20).
The longest and strongest tradition says that Matthew wrote his Gospel prior to the writing of Mark and Luke. Since Matthew records Jesus’ prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem as if it had not yet occurred (Mt 24:1ff), he had to have written his Gospel before 70 AD, the year Jerusalem fell to the Romans. He also does not mention the Jerusalem Council of 49 AD (Acts 15), and since James’ epistle (the book of James, written roughly 45-46 AD) seems to use some expressions from Matthew, a good estimate for the writing of this Gospel would be around 45 AD in Palestine.
See also the Chronology of New Testament Books.
The Gospel of Matthew is written in a pretty straightforward manner, unlike the Gospel of Luke that was written with more of an emotional style. It seems to be arranged more according to topic than chronologically, with larger sections covering a single topic such as healing miracles, parables, discourse concerning the Pharisees, etc. However, the general timeline of Jesus’ birth and childhood, his temptation and baptism, different places of ministry, and death and resurrection is still followed.
Material covered only in Matthew’s Gospel includes:
- Joseph’s dreams (Mt 1:20-25)
- The visit of the magi (Mt 2:1-12)
- The flight to Egypt (Mt 2:13-15)
- Herod slaughtering the innocent children (Mt 2:16-18)
- Certain parables (Mt 13:24-30; 44-50; 18:23-35; 20:1-16; 21:28-31; 25:1-30)
- The dream of Pilate’s wife (Mt 27:19)
- The suicide of Judas (Mt 27:5)
- The Good Friday resurrection of the dead (Mt 27:52-53)
- The guards at the tomb bribed (Mt 28:11-15)
- The Great Commission (Mt 28:16-20)
One could mark every passage in the Gospels as a notable passage, but select passages are listed below.
- Matthew 1:18-25
- Matthew 4:1-11
- Matthew 5:3-7:29
- Matthew 8:23-27
- Matthew 9:12-13
- Matthew 11:28-30
- Matthew 12:39-40
- Matthew 13:3-52
- Matthew 14:22-33
- Matthew 16:15-27
- Matthew 17:1-9
- Matthew 18:15-20
- Matthew 19:13-14
- Matthew 19:25-26
- Matthew 20:26-28
- Matthew 25:31-46
- Matthew 26:26-29
- Matthew 27:32-54
- Matthew 28:1-10
- Matthew 28:16-20
- Birth and Childhood of Jesus (Mt 1-2)
- Ministry of John; Jesus’ Baptism and Temptation (Mt 3:1-4:11)
- Jesus’ Galileean Ministry (Mt 4:12-13:58)
- Jesus Withdraws (Mt 14:1-18:35)
- Perean Ministry (Journey to Jerusalem – Mt 19-20)
- Holy Week (Mt 21-27)
- Resurrection and Post-Resurrection Appearances (Mt 28)