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Introduction to the Book of Matthew



I. Writer


According to early church history, it is generally acknowledged that Matthew is the author of this book. The internal proof is that, while the other gospels give quite detailed account of him, this book only describes him as “Matthew the tax-collector”. Neither does it mention his great feast for the Lord. This is the evidence of the author’s modest and unassuming character.

Matthew, originally named Levi, used to be a tax-collector in the city of Capernaum who imposed levies upon his Jewish fellow people for the Roman government. Most of the tax-collectors of that time abused their official power to extort common people and were therefore widely despised by Jewish people as sinners. (Matt. 9:11) One day when he was sitting at the tax office, Jesus passed by and said to him, “follow me”. He immediately left his office and became a disciple of the Lord (Mark. 2:14). After he was saved, he was renamed Matthew (which means “the gift of God” in the original) and was selected as one of the twelve apostles. (Matt. 10:3)


II. The Time and Location the Book was Wrote


         Many assumptions have occurred as to when this book was wrote: some said the time was around AD 40; some said the time was early AD 50’s; and still others said the time was between AD 60’s and AD 70’s. The majority of the scholars held that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were adapted from the Gospel of Mark with some addition of other material. Therefore it shouldn’t have been finished earlier than the Book of Mark. On the other hand, since the destruction of the city of Jerusalem was described in this book prophetically (Matt. 24:1-2), showing that this event had not yet taken place then. This book should have been finished before AD 70 or even earlier than the Jewish revolution in AD 66. A relatively more reasonable assumption of the time, then, should be between AD 55 and AD 65.

As to the location where the book was written, there are also many different ideas, the most accepted one of which is Palestine. It’s allegedly reported that Matthew used to bear witness for the Lord in Egypt, Ethiopia, Macedonia, Syria and Parthia, so some Bible scholars concluded that Matthew first finished his gospel in Aramaic in Palestine and later translated it into Greek in his preaching journey around for the need of the Jews who didn’t understand Aramaic. As a former Roman tax-collector who often wrote his official documents in Greek, Matthew handled Greek so well that his Greek version didn’t carry with any trace of translation.


III. The Background


         With its apparent Jewish features and its lack of any explanations of Jewish customs, the book was very probably intended for Jews only at that time. However, the gentiles were purposely mentioned for many times in this book. For example, in Chap.1 there were several pagan women in the (king’s) genealogy; in Chap.2, there were some wise men coming all the way from the east to worship the Lord; in Chap.8 there were gentiles sitting down at table in the kingdom of heaven; in Chap.10 and Chap.18, there were the endowments of the kingdom of God for the gentiles; in Chap.28, there was the commandment to make disciples of all the nations. All these indicate that Matthew on one hand wanted to warn the Jews, and on the other didn’t overlook the gentile believers.


IV. Special Points


         1) The frequent records of the Lord’s words: out of the total 1068 verses of the Gospel of Matthew, 644 of them are words directly said by the Lord. In other words, the Lord’s words occupy almost three fifths of the whole Gospel of Matthew.

         2) The frequent quotations from the Old Testament: in the Gospel of Matthew, there’re a total of 129 quotations from the Old Testament, with 53 of them being direct quotations and 76 of them being indirect ones. This shows that Matthew not only recorded the Lord’s words, but also quoted words that God has spoken before.

3) The frequent uses of the word “behold”: in the Gospel of Matthew, the word “behold” is used 62 times in the original. (The Chinese Union version has omitted it several times, e.g. Matt. 9:10.) Common people often see without perceiving, but Matthew was able to see and perceive many meaningful scenes and draw to them the attention of others.

4) The distinct introduction of the identity of the Lord: with the opening verse declaring him as “the Son of David, the Son of Abraham”, the first 25 chapters describe the Lord as “the Son of David”, and the following 3 chapters depict the Lords as “the Son of Abraham”.

5) The distinct manifestation of the greatness of the Lord: the first 25 chapters present the Lord, with his wise words and deeds, as the one “greater than Solomon”; while, the following 3 chapters present the Lord, with his death and resurrection, as the one “greater than Jonah”. (Matt. 12:41-42)

6) The distinct insertion of the 5 long sermons in the narrative: all of the long sermons ended with a saying like “Jesus had ended these sayings”.

  a) The sermons on the Mount (Matt. 5:1-7:28). “Jesus had ended these sayings”.

  b) The teachings before sending out the twelve apostles for preaching. (Matt. 10:1-11:1) “Jesus finished commanding.”

  c) The parables of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 13:1-53) “Jesus had finished these parables.”

  d) The instructions of the interrelationship among disciples. (Matt. 18:1-19:1) “Jesus had finished these sayings.”

  e) The prophecy on the Mount of Olives. (Matt. 24:1-26:1) “Jesus had finished all these sayings.”

    By such insertion, it seems that Matthew intended to systemize the deeds and teachings of Jesus Christ. Besides its preface and end of it, this book is made up of 5 narratives, with each of them carrying a particular meaning. Every narrative is followed by a relevant teaching. 

7) The distinct structure of this book: according to the Companion Bible of E.W. Buillinger, this book seems to be thoughtfully arranged into a “symmetrical structure”------the symmetry between the beginning and the end, and the centripetal symmetry from the two ends to the middle. This structure is worth the readers’ meditations. It is extracted as below:





E THE KINGDOM (4:12-7:29)     PROCLAIMED  

F THE KING (8:1-16:20)

F THE KING (16:21-20:34)        REJECTED

E THE KINGDOM (21:1-26:35)



RESURRECTION) (26:47-28:15)

B THE SUCESSORS (28:16-18)



V. General Description


         In order to deliver His people from sins unto His kingdom, Jesus Christ, the king of the kingdom of heaven, came into the world to preach the gospel of the kingdom with His words and deeds, was later crucified to redeem His people, and was raised up to give them right and power for the further development of His kingdom on earth.


VI. Its Relations with Other Books in the Bible


         The Gospel of Matthew, like other three gospels, depicts Jesus Christ. But the four books depict Him from different angles. The Lord in Matthew is presented as the king; in Mark, as the bondman; in Luke, as the son of man; in John, as the son of God.

   The Gospel of Matthew regards Jesus as the king. So He was called the Son of Abraham (the father of all nations) and the Son of David (the first king of Israel) (Matt. 1:1). A king must have his genealogy on account of his royal pedigree (Matthew1:1-17). The Gospel of Mark presents Jesus as Jehovah’s bondman. A bondman’s birth is too insignificant to be recorded, so there is no mention of the genealogy of Jesus. The Gospel of Luke depicts Jesus as the son of man (the perfect man), so his genealogy traces back to Adam (Luke 3: 23-38), the patriarch of mankind. The Gospel of John refers Jesus as the Son of God (the perfect God) who has neither beginning of days nor end of life. Therefore, this book dates back to the beginning (John 1:1), the eternity without beginning

Note that the Gospel of Matthew ends in the Lord’s resurrection, Mark in His ascension, Luke in the promise of the descent of the Holy Spirit and John in the Lord’s second coming..


VII. Key Verses 


         “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” (Matt. 1:1)

     “…He who has been born the king of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2)


VIII. Key Words


         “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 3) occurs 32 times

     “the son of David” (Matt. 1:1) occurs 10 times


IX. Outlines of the Book


I. The genealogy and birth of the king

   A. The king’s genealogy and the situation before his birth. (Chap.1)

   B. The events happened to the king after his birth. (Chap.2)

II. The preparation and beginning of the king’s ministry

  A. The introduction of the king by the forerunner and the approval of God the father. (Chap.3)

  B. The king’s victory over the devil’s temptations and the beginning of his ministry. (Chap.4)

  C. The king’s teachings about the excepted characters and life of the kingdom’s people. (Chap.5-7)

III. The establishment of the king’s works on earth

  A. The expansion of the king’s ministry by many mighty works. (Chap.8-9)

  B. The king’s teaching and sending of his disciples to accomplish the committed mission. (Chap.10)

IV. The objection to the king’s works

  A. The frequent queries and rejection against the king. (Chap.11-12)

  B. The teachings of the king about the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.  (Chap.13: 1-53)

V. The rejection against the king by local people and religious Jews

  A. The revelation of the king himself and His church in the secular and religious rejection. (Chap.13:54-17:27)

  B. The king’s teachings about the mutual reception among his people in the kingdom of heaven. (Chap.18)

VIThe allied enmity against the king by all the people in Judea and Jerusalem

  A. The king’s being tempted and interrogated by all kinds of people. (Chap.19-22)

  B. The king’s declaration of the woes to the objectors and of the judgment in the day of His second coming. (Chap.23-25)

VII. The arrest, crucifixion and resurrection.

  A. The king’s being betrayed, arrested, questioned, denied and crucified. (Chap. 26-27)

  B. The king’s resurrection and his great commission to the disciples. (Chap. 28)


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

   Translated by Sharon Ren