Who was the author?
Matthew, also called “Levi” wrote the book of Matthew, though some have argued that that the gospel of Matthew came from a collection of notes that Matthew had written down and were incorporated into the gospel, his name being mistakenly added later. Oddly enough Matthew reproduces about 90% of Mark’s gospel in his own.
What was his background?
Matthew was a Jewish tax collector for the Romans. An argument for authorship by Matthew is just this since the book is so carefully organized (often in to groups of three and seven).
When did he write?
A good idea for the date of Matthew is slightly after A.D. 45-60 because of Matthew’s use of so much of Mark which was written during this time. However, some conservative scholars date Matthew even later than this because of the use of the word “church” in his gospel.
What was the nature of his ministry?
Possibly his book was meant to be liturgical in nature and something that could be used to teach new converts the ways of Christ. Again, Matthew plays to his Jewish audience by using terms with which they are familiar and by referring to God as “Father.” Even so, Matthew’s gospel portrays a certain universality and encourages a more global outlook in his readers.
What kind of relationship did he have with the audience?
Matthew’s relationship to his audience is about what you’d expect it to be. He was a disciple of Christ and thus would have had the authority that went with that title. Being a former Jewish tax collector for the Roman government one can deduce that he might possibly have still felt the sting of that past occupation and would have been outright hated by loyal Jews.
Why was he writing?
Matthew writes to shed light on Christ’s identity as King and the Son of David. He places significant emphasis on the “Kingdom of Heaven.” He uses quite a few Old Testament references to play up on Christ’s fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Also, he may have been writing a sort of handbook for new converts, numerically laid out to help them memorize and to understand their new faith.
Who was the biblical audience?
Matthew was composed for the Jewish community. The audience of the book can be inferred by several different means, one being the genealogy at the beginning of the book would really only have been significant to the Jewish people. Thus, one of Matthew’s themes is Jesus as the greater than Moses. His book is also aimed at new converts to the faith.
What were their circumstances?
Matthew wrote to the Jewish community during a time of persecution, naturally, his ministry was towards them during a time of great difficulty. He wrote before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 (assumed because he does not mention it). If Matthew was written during the assumed time Nero was Emperor of Rome, busily blaming them for much of his city burning down, and using them as human candlesticks.
How was their relationship to God?
Presumably their relationship to God would be that of people who had been firmly grounded in tradition now facing persecution for a Savior who had briefly streaked through their world like a shooting star through the night sky before disappearing again and leaving them somewhat dismayed. I imagine that it would be very difficult to change from extreme traditionalism to worshiping the One who had fulfilled it all. It would call for a certain amount of careful calculation to begin these great changes especially during a time of persecution.
What kind of relationship did they have with each other?
There was great social tension occurring during this time. Much of the Jewish community was moving towards Galilee. The Pharisees were attempting to rebuild the Jewish lifestyle at this point which would have caused a great rift between those who were trying to remain faithful to the Jewish tradition and those who were trying to remain faithful to Christ.
What was happening at the time the book was written?
One cannot pin down exact events during the time of the writing of Matthew because the possible span of time that it could have been written in is fairly large. As stated before in “What were their circumstances,” this was a time of persecution and the beginning of the structure of the church.
Are there any other historical-cultural factors that might shed light on the book?
Matthew assumes his audience understands the Jewish culture and that they have read the Torah which he makes frequent use of. The holidays are spoken of, yet not explained. Matthew’s particularly Jewish slant would certainly shed light on the book and make the interpretation of it much easier and making his book very useful for bringing Jews to Christ.