The Gospel of Matthew, setting Jesus in his Hebrew context
Matthew’s Gospel is an account of Jesus’ life, written by a well-educated Hebrew for a target audience of other Hebrews. It’s author, traditionally held to be Jesus’ disciple Matthew, seeks to explain events in first century Palestine in terms of precedents found in the Hebrew Bible.
Early accounts suggest that this Gospel was originally written in ‘Hebrew’ (i.e. Aramaic) and soon after the death of Jesus. The Greek version we know today was then produced a little later (for more on this see Chapter 1 of the Emmaus View).
Up until the nineteenth century Christianity generally considered Matthew to be the premier gospel. Not only was it longer than the others and traditionally the oldest, but it also contained the Sermon on the Mount and other sizable bodies of teaching. Furthermore, its parables were particularly accessible to the majority of people, as they lived closer to the land than many do today.
Since the nineteenth century, scholars, who have often been driven by a desire to explain away the supernatural, have proposed a diverse range of alternatives to the traditional picture. Matthew’s Gospel is one of the three related Synoptic Gospels and, for a time, most felt that more emphasis should be placed on Mark’s gospel and on a hypothetical gospel known as Q, from which Matthew’s Gospel was believed to be derived. This is still a popular approach, however, in the face of modern scholarship, such conclusions seem far less certain.
Recent discoveries have seen a widening range of non-biblical gospels becoming available to scholars. The evidence for these varies from few-line scraps to full manuscripts, none being as well attested as the biblical gospels. Many portray a Jesus who shows a distinct lack of understanding of the Hebrew Bible, a feature that should automatically cast doubt on their authenticity (though surprisingly this test is often overlooked). Some are clearly attempts to collate material from the four biblical gospels, at times with the inclusion of material from later works. Most were available to the early church, but ultimately rejected by them in favour of the canonical four.
For web sites with information on other gospels and alternative theories for the origin of Matthew’s Gospel see the sources section of this site.