0% Complete
0/0 Steps
  • View All Content Related to this Book

Lesson 3 of5
In Progress

Background of Matthew

Matthew has been traditionally the most familiar and favored of the four canonical Gospels. Its unique presentation of the Sermon on the Mount characterizes Jesus’ teaching for many, Christian and non-Christian alike. Its words have been the most commonly assigned for reading in worship through most of Christian tradition and so shape the narrative of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth for many. Still, for Matthew and the other gospels, the origins and description of what constitutes a gospel are somewhat unclear. The term “gospel” was not part of the title in the original documents, but was added late in the second century C.E. Of the gospels we possess, most scholars think that Mark was the first to be written. In his opening title Mark describes his narrative, which bears some features of what might be described as a “biography” or “life” of Jesus, as the beginning of the  euaggelion (“gospel” or “good news”) of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1). It is likely that Matthew and the other “Gospels” were identified by this same term because they followed Mark’s style and, at least in the case of Matthew and Luke, incorporated and adapted much of Mark’s narrative within their own.

Around the middle of the first century, perhaps stimulated by the Roman-Jewish War of 66-70 C.E., the gospels began to appear, as communities and authors changed the initial oral proclamation and memories of Jesus into written forms. Each of these gospel narratives seems to have been created and adapted for a particular time and place and for a particular community as it sought to be faithful in its witness and life to the message of Jesus the Messiah. Almost no information is preserved about these gospels or their settings. The associated authors’ names are late, and they must be regarded as anonymous. Details of dating and setting need to be conjectured from data gleaned from the narrative. The writer of Matthew, writing in the last two decades of the first century (90 C.E. is a convenient date), seems to have been a person of Jewish origin, perhaps a teacher, who adapted Mark’s narrative for what appears to have been a firmly established, Greek-speaking, urban and relatively well-to-do community including both Jewish and Gentile residents. Most assume the city of Antioch of Syria as a likely location. In the midst of a community where dialogue and conflict over the nature of emerging Judaism and Christianity in relation to the scriptures and traditions of Israel are being debated, Matthew seeks to describe what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus, who is God’s Messiah and savior, in light of the good news of the kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus and by his followers in his name.