Date: Between A.D. 60 and A.D. 80
The Gospel of Matthew has been one of the favorite books of the church throughout its history for several reasons. It is the most detailed regarding Jesus’ life; it contains the famous “Sermon on the Mount,” a collection of teaching that even non-believers hold in high regard; it is richest in detail about the birth of Jesus, a traditionally interesting event because of our celebration of Christmas; and it includes a large collection of parables for which Jesus is remembered as a master teacher.
Opinion differs as to when this Gospel was written. Those who put it earlier (c. A.D. 60) point to Jesus’ predictions about the destruction of Jerusalem (which took place in A.D. 70) and argue that they are regarded as future. Those who make it later (c. A.D. 80) say it has all the appearance of being a later document, reflecting a more developed situation. The book has no author’s name attached to it, but very early in its history Matthew was regarded as the author and there is no reason to doubt that this is true.
The Gospel of Matthew was written for a number of reasons, some practical, some theological. Practically, there was a need for more information about Jesus. As people were becoming believers, questions were being asked that needed answers. It simply wasn’t possible to travel to Jerusalem and ask the apostles, but a book dealing with the basic facts could be sent to each congregation. There was also a need for accurate information. Jesus’ enemies were spreading lies about him. Others, who were trying to get personal gain from the new movement, were altering the facts to suit their own purposes. Followers of Jesus, like Matthew, wanted to set the record straight. The death of some of the apostles also made it necessary to put this valuable material in writing. If all those who knew Jesus were gone, who would be around to tell the story? Had Matthew (and the other three Gospel writers) not done this, Christianity might never have been more than a local, ancient phenomenon. God had a hand in this documentation, guiding selected people to preserve the truth for future generations. So the Book of Matthew functioned as something of a handbook for believers.
Theological Themes in the Gospel of Matthew
Matthew had other reasons to write than just the practical needs of the church. He was trying to confront some special problems and to stress particular things in his writing. First, he realized the importance of Old Testament prophecy and how it was fulfilled in Jesus’ life. The church did not arise by accident, nor was it unplanned for by God. Throughout the whole Old Testament the days that had now arrived had been predicted. Matthew showed how virtually all the events of Jesus’ life were foreseen by the prophets: his birth, events surrounding his early life, healings, teachings, arrest, death, and resurrection.
Second, Matthew was concerned to show to his Jewish readers that Jesus was the fulfillment of their history and dreams. He was, in fact, the Messiah who was to come. The very first verse of the book shows this: Jesus was “the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
Third, Matthew was concerned to show that although Jesus came from the Jews, he came for all people, Gentiles included. Consequently, emphasis is placed on the coming of the Magi (Wise Men) to acknowledge Jesus’ birth, the inclusion of the Gentiles in the kingdom, and the command to go into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature.
Fourth, Matthew specifically mentioned the founding of the church and how certain problems should be handled.
Finally, Jesus’ teachings are prominent in Matthew’s gospel as a guide for believers. Large sections are devoted to what Jesus said about basic circumstances of life (5:3-7:27; 10:5-42; 13:3-52; 18:3-35; 24:4-25:46).
Outline for the Gospel of Matthew
- Jesus’ early life Matthew 1:1-4:25
- Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:1-7:29
- Jesus’ ministry: events and teachings Matthew 8:1-12:50
- Parables of Jesus Matthew 13:1-52
- Jesus’ ministry: further events and teachings Matthew 13:53-19:30
- Jesus in Jerusalem Matthew 20:1-25:46
- Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection Matthew 26:1-28:20