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Background to the Gospel of St. Matthew

Updated on November 26, 2010

A widely held view of who wrote the Gospel of Matthew ascribe it to one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, a man from Capernaum in Galilee, a Jew called Matthew in the Bible, whose Hebrew name was Levi. Jesus called Matthew to follow him while Matthew was about his business as a publican, or collector of taxes. Matthew complied and became a disciple of Jesus. Nothing is known for certain about his later life and demise. One view holds that he died a natural death, while another ascribes his end to that of the death of a martyr.

The Three Wise Men, Matt 2, 1-12 - Gustav Dore
The Three Wise Men, Matt 2, 1-12 - Gustav Dore

While there is but little uncertainty about this authorship; the Gospel was written by this Apostle according to all ancient evidence; there is more uncertainty as to the language in which it was originally composed. Most of the evidence suggests it was written in Hebrew (that is, in the Syro-Chaldaic). This is accepted as the conclusion by most of the early writers who comment on Matthew, and mentions the Apostle as the writer. Moreover, every early writer that has come down to us, uses the Greek version of St. Matthew, and this with the definite recognition that it is a translation. Hence we may be sure that the Greek copy belongs to the Apostolic age, having been thus authoritatively used from and up to that time.

This Gospel was long thought to be the oldest of the four, which is the basis of its placement first among the gospels in the Bible. But more recent findings have concluded that the Gospel of Mark precedes Matthew as the earliest of the Gospels written.There appears also to be general recognition from early writers that it was written in Palestine in the first century.

Contents of the Gospel of St. Matthew

I. The introduction to the ministry of Christ;
chaps, i.-iv.
II. The laying down of the new Law for the Church in the Sermon on the Mount;
chaps, v.-vii.
III. A chronology of events in the ministry of Jesus;
chaps, viii. and ix.
IV. The commissioning of the apostles to preach the gospel of the kingdom;
chap. x.
V. Growing opposition to the teachings and activities of Jesus;
chaps, xi. and xii.
VI. A series of parables on the nature of the kingdom;
chap. xiii.
VII. Continuation of the growth of opposition to the teachings and activities of Jesus and the responses it engenders from Herod, Scribes and Pharisees, and on multitudes whom He feeds;
chaps, xiii. 53,-xvi. 12.
VIII. Revelation to His disciples of His sufferings; His instructions to them thereupon;
chaps, xvi. 13,-xviii. 35.
IX. Events of a journey to Jerusalem;
chaps, xix., xx.
X. Entrance into Jerusalem, and resistance to Him there, and denunciation of the Pharisees;
chaps, xxi.-xxiii.
XI. Last discourses; Jesus as Lord and Judge of Jerusalem, and also of world;
chaps, xxiv., xxv
XII. Passion and Resurrection;
chaps, xxvi.-xxviii.
A Table of Contents of the Gospel of Matthew


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