Lesson 3 of 6
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. 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). Mark borrows this term from Paul who coined it in order to describe the good news that Jesus has conquered all powers opposed to God through his death and resurrection. The use of “Gospel” as a genre likely comes about because Matthew and the other “Gospels” 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 CE, the gospels began to appear, as communities and authors transformed the initial oral proclamation and memories of Jesus into written forms. Each of these gospel narratives was created at a particular time and place by an author who wished to transmit the significance of the message of Jesus to others. No information is preserved about the settings or the authors of the gospels within the texts themselves and the associated authors’ names come to us from later tradition. The practice of creating detailed community settings for the Gospels, though popular in the 20th century, often says more about the scholars who created the descriptions than anything else. What we know from the gospels is the standpoint of the author. In the case of the Gospel of Matthew, the author shows great concern for relating the teachings of Jesus to the scriptures and traditions of Israel. 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.