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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Matthew - Introduction

Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39, attributes to Papias, a second-century Bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, the earliest testimony to Matthew's authorship: ‘Now Matthew made an ordered arrangement of the oracles in the Hebrew [or: Aramaic] language, and each one translated [or: interpreted] it as he was able.’ These words and the traditional title, ‘According to Matthew’, show that not long after it was written people attributed our gospel to the disciple named in Mt 9:9; 10:3 . Because the tradition is so early, and because the apostle Matthew is a relatively unimportant figure in early Christian literature, the traditional attestation still has its defenders; see e.g. Gundry (1982 ).

Most, however, now doubt the tradition. For (1) from Papias on, Christian tradition consistently associated Matthean authorship with a Semitic original; but this gospel is unlikely to be the work of a translator. (2) It is improbable that a Semitic document, such as Papias speaks of, would have incorporated a Greek document (Mark) almost in its entirety. (3) Would an apostle who accompanied Jesus have used so little personal reminiscence but rather have followed Mark so closely? (4) Papias' tradition might have originally referred to an early version of lost sayings (source known as Q) and then, when Q disappeared, have been connected with Matthew. It was common enough for a document to carry the name of the author of one of its sources (cf. the evolution of Isaiah).

These points are sufficiently strong that in the present commentary ‘Matthew’ will be used of the author without any claim to his apostolic identity. On one point, however, the tradition appears quite correct: the author was a Jew. The gospel has numerous Jewish features which cannot be attributed to the tradition—e.g. gematria (see MT 1:2–17 ), OT texts seemingly translated from the Hebrew specifically for this gospel (e.g. 2:18, 23; 8:17; 23:18–21 ), concentrated focus on the synagogue (e.g. 6:1–18; 23:1–39 ), and affirmation of the abiding force of the Mosaic law ( 5:17–20 ). Matthew alone, moreover, records Jesus' prohibitions against mission outside Israel ( 10:5; 15:24 ) and shows concern that eschatological flight not occur on a sabbath ( 24:20 ). These and other Jewish features have not been sprinkled here and there for good effect: they are an organic part of the whole and imply a Jewish-Christian author and audience.

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