Lesson 1 of 6
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Summary of Matthew


The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of Jesus the Messiah whose genealogy and miraculous birth are the sign and promise that “God is with us” (1:23). Jesus the Messiah proclaims God’s coming 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 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 as the Messiah. This promise calls people to discipleship, 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 as a new community empowered by the living presence of God’s Messiah. Matthew adds numerous parables of Jesus that help the 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.


Like all the Gospels, the Gospel of Matthew does not name its author within the text itself. Early in the Christian tradition, this Gospel became associated with Matthew the tax collector. Even later traditions claimed that its author collected the sayings of Jesus in the “Hebrew dialect” for others to translate. This late tradition preserved by the church historian Eusebius, writing in the fourth century CE, is difficult to square with a text that is written in fluent Greek.. Matthew seems to adapt and supplement the Gospel of Mark, with a special emphasis on the relation of Jesus to Jewish Scripture and traditions. The conflict that Matthew shows with his Judaean contemporaries has led some scholars to posit that the author belonged to a Jewish sect, similar to the sect that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls


The precise date of Matthew’s composition is unclear, with scholars positing a wide range of dates in the second half of the first century. Many scholars believe that Matthew made use of Mark’s Gospel, which would, of course date his Gospel after the composition of Mark. Unfortunately, the dating of Mark is also uncertain, so a general dating between 60-100 CE is probably as close as we will get. The text of Matthew seems to have been used by the Didache, an early Christian document, and by Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who wrote around 110 CE.


The Gospel of Matthew proclaims the good news that Jesus is Emmanuel (“God with us”). As God’s Messiah, Jesus calls his followers to a community centered around his teaching. Jesus’ healing, suffering, death, and resurrection empower this community with authority to go out and preach the gospel of Jesus to all nations.


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. A reader should keep in mind that Matthew is part of a conversation with both the other Gospels and 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 assertion that God dwells with his people in the person of Jesus and that Jesus is theresurrected 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 community (16:16). God’s presence is signaled in the prevalent theme of the kingdom 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).