Lesson 1 of5
In Progress

Summary of Matthew


The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of Jesus the Messiah whose signal genealogy and miraculous birth are the sign and promise that “God is with us” (1:23). Jesus the Messiah proclaims God’s continuing righteous reign in his words of blessing and deeds of healing. Jesus calls his followers to experience God’s mercy anew, constitutes them as a new community of faith, and then, as crucified and resurrected Messiah, claims all power and authority as he commissions these disciples for mission with the promise that he will be with them until the end of the age (28:18-20).


Matthew’s Gospel is important for its distinctive and grand conception of the God who comes to claim and call a people in Jesus the Messiah. The promise of God’s presence frames and interprets the whole story of Jesus the Messiah. It thus calls to discipleship and faithful and confident following, shaping a new community that is constituted and lives by the forgiveness of God. The Sermon on the Mount proclaims to Jesus’ disciples the blessing of God for a people who are salt and light for the world. This is a people who experience the surprising message of the kingdom as being like treasure hidden in a field and who in the joy of discovery go and sell everything to acquire such a treasure. Such a people are surprised to find a God who desires mercy and not sacrifice, and so calls them to live responsibly here and now in the meantime as a new community empowered by the living presence of God’s Messiah, to live in the promise of mutual forgiveness. Matthew adds numerous parables of Jesus that help the disciple reader to imagine this new life; to see what it means to live as ones who are often “weary and are carrying heavy burdens,” but who are called to experience the promise of rest from a savior who is “gentle and humble in heart” (11:28-30); and then to live as ones who trust in that mercy and lavish it just as freely on those they are called to serve (see 25:31-46; 28:18-20).


Matthew is the first book in the New Testament, the first of the four Gospels.


The authorship of all of the canonical gospels, though perhaps reflecting some authentic traditions, is anonymous, the names being attached by later tradition. Tradition associated this Gospel with Matthew the tax collector, and claimed that its author collected the sayings of Jesus in Hebrew dialect for others to translate. This very late sketchy tradition preserved by Eusebius, writing in the fourth century C.E., cannot fit with a text that is clearly Greek and with a later dating necessary to fit an awareness of the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E. From the way in which Matthew adapts and supplements the Gospel of Mark, he would seem to have been a Greek-speaking Christian, a “teacher” steeped in Jewish Scriptures and tradition, living in an urban center like Antioch of Syria, who seeks to interpret the message of Jesus the Messiah for a new community in conflict with its neighbors over its relation to a Judaism in transition.


Though a precise date of writing is unclear, several clues invite a somewhat confident assumption of the period 80-100 C.E., and thus a date around 90 C.E. is a convenient approximation. Matthew’s clear use of Mark, probably written sometime around 70 C.E. places Matthew’s Gospel later, as does the almost certain reflection of the 66-70 C.E. war and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (see 22:7). The conflicts with Judaism evidenced in the text seem to reflect the dialogue with Judaism as it developed in the decades following the destruction of the temple. The text of Matthew seems to have been used by the Didache and by Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who writes around 110 C.E.


The Gospel of Matthew proclaims the good news that God is Emmanuel (“God with us”), that Jesus is God’s Messiah whose teaching, healing, suffering, death, and resurrection now constitute a new disciple community, and that this Jesus Messiah, with all power and authority, commissions this community with the promise that he will be with them to the end of the age.


The careful reader of Matthew will want to read it while reflecting on what the narrative as a whole reveals about the nature of the gospel message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. By its use and adaptation of Mark and Q and by its addition of much distinctive narrative material, Matthew is certainly in conversation at least with the other Synoptic Gospels. That conversation concerns the message of the kingdom of God as that applies to and makes sense for a particular community seeking to resolve matters of dialogue and conflict with the traditions of Judaism in the late first century, particularly around issues of the law and righteousness, and the conviction that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah of Israel. The initial genealogy placing Jesus solidly within the tradition of Israel as a child of Abraham and King David, and the angelic announcement of his pedigree as the “savior of his people” (1:21) need to be noted and emphasized both for their initiation of the narrative and as distinctive features of Matthew’s particular message. Similarly significant is the literary framing of the narrative with the double assertion that in Jesus God is with God’s people as resurrected Messiah (see 1:23 and 28:18-20). That presence of God is certainly part of the central confession of Jesus as “Messiah, Son of the living God” spoken by Peter as representative of the disciple community (16:16). God’s presence is signaled in the prevalent theme of the reign of God in Jesus, who, according to Matthew’s version of the good news, is to be characterized by mercy and forgiveness (see the doublets 9:13 and 12:7) that comes overwhelmingly as blessing and surprise to God’s people (see 5:1-16; 16:17; 19:30-20:16; and 25:31-46).