The Gospel of Matthew

A vein of theology infecting the Church today makes an attempt to discern who the “real” authors of the Gospels were and when they wrote.  One of the claims is that the Gospel of Matthew, long considered to be the first Gospel (by Matthew, hence the name), was actually written after 70 AD by an author who was not a disciple of Jesus.  This claim is based on the facts that Matthew and Mark are so similar to each other that one must have been copied from the other and the inclusion of the predicted destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in the Gospel of Matthew which did occur in 70 AD.

Papias, bishop of Heirapolis, who was a student of the Apostle John and a companion of Polycarp (also a student of John), wrote that Matthew was the first to record a Gospel in writing, which he did for the Israelites in the Hebrew language.  Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, wrote “Against Heresies” at the end of the Second Century.  To the best of my knowledge that has never been disputed.  In it he said:

Matthew published his gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding the church there.  After their departure Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching.  Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel preached by his teacher.  Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his gospel, while he was living at Ephesus in Asia.

There is a lot of information we can glean about the dating of the Gospels from this writing.  Peter and Paul were both martyred in 67, so we know that Matthew wrote his gospel before that date.  Mark wrote his gospel after that year because the people of Rome loved Peter so much they insisted Mark record his teachings.  It is plausible that Mark and Luke were writing their Gospels at the same time.  John wrote his gospel sometime before 74 because that is when he left Ephesus.  We must be able to assume the accuracy of Ireneaus’ statements because of his proximity to the events.  If one should question his accuracy by virtue of being recorded some one and a quarter century later, I will offer the example of Emily Dickenson as a response.  She did not publish more than a dozen of her poems during her own life time, but today (122 years after her death), we know with strong authority that she wrote the poems generally credited to her based on our proximity to the event and the witness of persons close to her.

First let’s establish the authority of the Epistle to the Romans.  It is universally accepted without question that Paul is the author of this epistle.  Eusebius, in “The History of the Church” dates Paul’s execution to 67 AD, which is generally accepted as acurate.  Paul makes four clear references to the Gospel of Matthew in his Epistle to the Romans.  In Romans 9:5 Paul wrote “…theirs (the Israelites) the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah.”  This statement is a reference to Matthew’s geneology of Jesus found in 1:1-16.  Again, Romans 12:14 finds Paul exhorting the faithful to “Bless those who persecute, bless and do not curse them.”  This is exactly what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5:38-48.  In Romans Chapter Two Paul entreats Christians to abstain from judgement of others and follow the path of a true disciple in the same manner Jesus did in the end of the Sermon on the Mount (7:1-5, 21-23).  This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it suffices to present the argument that the Gospel according to Matthew was written before before the year 67, not after the year 70.

Philo was a Jewish philosopher from the city of Alexandria.  Although he was trained in the Greek tradition, his emphasis was on the Jewish canon of Holy Scripture.  Born in 20 BC he died in 50 AD.  This is all significant to Matthew’s Gospel because of one of the things Philo observed about the church in Alexandria:

They read the sacred scriptures, and study their ancestrial wisdom philosophically, allegorizing it, since they regard the literal sense as symbolic of a hidden reality revealed in figures.  They posses also short works by early writers, the founders of their sect, who left many specimens of the allegorical method, which they take as their models, following the system on which their predecessors worked.

Pauls writings are universally given dates of authorship after the death of Philo, so we can exclude any of his writings from those Philo mentions.  The Letter of James is concerned almost exclusively with moral conduct, not with allegorical interpretation, so it, likewise, may be excluded.  1 & 2 Peter are dated to the mid Sixties, also too late.  All three of John’s letters are given a date in the late First Century along with Jude.  The Revelation to St. John is well known to be from the Apostle John while exiled on the Island of Patmos, so it may also be excluded from consideration of what Philo was refering to.  That leaves us with the Gospel of Matthew, which fills the bill exactly, written by a founder of the sect with many specimens of allegorical interpretation!

5 Responses to The Gospel of Matthew

  1. Charlesrhice says:

    Narrow Path
    Narrow Path

    Take a moment of your time and try to visualize the mountain pass two GIANT stones almost touching enclosing trail to pinpoint size. The camel must not touch the ground the thing is made to walk around the packs must be unloaded and brought behind. This is the narrow path to GOD. Nothing in the hand at birth and nothing in the hand at death please LORD make me strong enough to only carry love. Not even a ring of idol stone a ruby or a amethyst one a jewel the size of all of Cairo and one again the north of Spain. A black ebon ring a beauty thing a world of stones all different and all black in ebon and in design in just the outward appearance of the vanity of us the uselessness of dust the sprinkling of the water at the Methodist at birth, the immersion of the Baptist beside the pulpit behind the curtain veiled in time, the dunking in the river of a true believer the power of the SPIRIT in a Pentecostal Church at work the speaking in the tongues and the dancing after dark and the loving ways of women who think every thing they do and say is GOD. The every mans a preacher syndrome the young one serves it on a platter the useless patter of the rain on poor mans head. The undone Silver
    Slaver with the head of John the Baptist kept in dungeons beside the Head of the Apostle Paul now lost in stone. The rich mon threading into the eye of every needle making mention of his riches in his head. The dancing Esmeralda as they led the Quasimodo to his death now the camel being led inside the eye of needle this is the narrow path. Isaiah once proclaimed to place face in dirt and wait it is better to be a footman to the king than KING himself. Thread the eye of needle best ewe can. WE must strive to find the narrow path.

  2. Olivier says:

    Your argument from the epistle of Romans is very, very weak…. In fact it doesn’t prove anything. Don’t you think that before the writing of the Gospels the apostles and disciples were preaching the word, memorizing and communicating oral narratives ? We know for sure Paul was instructed after his conversion on Damas’ way, at a time none of our current Gospels existed. It’s no wonder that teachings of Jesus would be found both in Paul’s writings and in the Gospels, for all the writers rely on the same apostolic predication !

    So, nothing can be taken from your citations of Roman, except the confirmation of the reliability of the New Testament, as different sources do attest a common teaching of Jesus.
    Also, your idea (or where is it from ?) of Philo alluding to the Gospel of Matthew is incredible for me : first, there were many Jewish sects, so you must have a strong argument to prove Philo is talking of early Christians; second, not only the Alexandrian community was nearly only Greek-speaking and so there must have been a translation before, but Philo is talking about writings of their Predecessors, at least one generation before, so we’re left with a very, very, and in fact incredibly early date of writing for Mt. Talk with specialists of Philo (if only to know when he wrote the particular text you quoted), of whose I’m not, but I’m pretty sure they’ll tell you it’s impossible that he’s speaking of Mt here.
    Hope you take this in good part. Your quotations of Papias and Irenaeus are good to read again. God bless you.

  3. Joel says:

    Olivier, sorry about the delay in responding to your post, but I have not had computer access for a few days. I am absolutely convinced Philo was speaking about the Christians. The other most likely sect he could have been speaking of were the Essenes, but they were clearly not his subject, based on several other statements of his in the same source.

    “The community is to be found in many parts of the world, for it was right that what is perfectly good should be shared by both Greek and foreign lands.”

    Then later, refering to women, “…who have remained single, not of necessity, like some priestesses of pagan cults, but of their own free will, through their passionate craving for wisdom, which they were so eager to live that they scorned bodily pleasures, and set their hearts not on mortal children but on immortal, which only the soul that loves God can bring into the world.”

    The quoted source is Philo’s “The Contemplative Life,” which is admittadly disputed as to the authorship and subject, but it is accepted by Christian scholars to be authentic. It has been cited by several Church Fathers, namely Clement of Alexandria, Jerome, Porphyry and Eusebius.

  4. Joel says:

    Since you find the refernces in Romans unconvincing, let me offer this one found in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, verse 5:18

    “For the scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it is threshing,’ and, ‘A worker deserves his pay.’ ”

    The first quote is from Deuteronomy Chapter 25, but the second quote is clearly from the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 10. The second quote is also found in the Gospel of Luke, but that gospel, as everyone agrees, was written some time later.

    The only reason I hit this so hard is because at the root of it all the assertion that the Gospel of Matthew was written after 70 AD denies the divinity of Christ, which never has and never should be tolerated in the Church (let’s leave that to the atheists!). Here is the main (or only) argument for the position I am opposing:
    “In addition to what Mathew drew from Mk and Q, his gospel contains material that is found only there. This is often designated “M,” written or oral tradition that was available to the author. Since Mk was written shortly before or shortly after AD 70, Mt was composed certainly after that date, which marks the fall of Jerusalem to te Romans at the time of the first Jewish Revolt, and probably at least a decade latersince Matthew’s use of Mk presupposes a wide diffusion of that gospel. The post-AD 70 date is confirmed within the text by 22:7, which refers to the destruction of Jerusalem.”

    That paragraph was taken from the Catholic Study Bible, which is completely reprehensible! It might as well say, “Jesus was not capable of predicting the future and the Apostles were too stupid to remember what happened when they were in the presence of the Lord.” Hogwash!

    Understand I am not attacking you, I am defending the gospel. God bless you too, Olivier.

  5. […] on the Gospel of Matthew (I wrote a defense of the traditional view of it’s authorship here) and was delighted to see both sides of the story presented.  The authors of the commentary on the […]

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