Who Wrote the Gospel of Matthew?
Matthew’s account of the gospel is not only the first book in the New Testament, but also considered by many to be the most comprehensive story of Jesus, who he was, and what he did during his time on earth.
While all four gospels are anonymous, early church leaders held that Matthew, a former tax collector and one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ, authored this book. Matthew, whose name means “gift of the Lord,” is also referred to as “Levi” in Mark 2:13-17 and Luke 5:27-28.
Matthew began following Jesus partway through Jesus’s journeys, and his gospel account includes the story of his own call to become a disciple. He was an eyewitness of the events and a member of Jesus’s inner circle.
“In no other gospel is the teaching of Jesus so systematically assembled and gathered together,” wrote theologian William Barclay in his foreword to The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1. “And it is pre-eminently the gospel which is concerned to show us Jesus as the man born to be King.”
Because the Gospel of Matthew references the Gospel of Mark, some scholars debate whether Matthew was indeed the author, wondering why an eyewitness would reference the account of another eyewitness. However, no other authors have been suggested, and most scholars agree on Matthew as the author.
Context and Background of Matthew
The Gospel of Matthew is thought to have been written sometime between A.D. 50 and 110, possibly A.D. 70. Given that the account was written in Greek, not Aramaic, and that much of the language in the book assumes the readers are familiar with Jewish customs and terminology, the audience seems to be former Jews who have converted to Christianity, probably those living in an urban area such as Palestine or Antioch.
Main Theme and Purpose of Matthew
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, there was much interest in who Jesus was. Matthew’s account fully and systematically explains much of this, from Jesus’s genealogy and the circumstances of his birth to his teaching, healing, and other miracles. The account goes beyond historical information to serve as a full biography, using stories about Jesus to help people understand who Jesus is—the messiah, the savior of Israel. Discipleship, church leadership, and preparing for the end times are other themes.
The book begins with Jesus’s origin story: his genealogical ties connecting him both to David and to Abraham, the events surrounding his birth to the virgin Mary, his family’s flight to Egypt seeking refuge from the infant massacres ordered by King Herod, and his eventual upbringing in Nazareth.
Then the book shifts to the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry, including his baptism by the prophet John, his temptation in the wilderness after 40 days of fasting, and his calling of the first disciples. This public ministry is the largest portion of the Gospel of Matthew, and the account appears to be structured primarily around five key discourses, or sermons, from Jesus:
First is the Sermon on the Mount, which covers the central principles of Christian discipleship and includes the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), a set of blessings offering a new standard of living that focuses on mercy, humility, and love. It also includes lessons on how to pray, including the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6), as well Jesus’s teachings on adultery, anger, false prophets, loving one’s enemies, and more.
The second is often called the “Little Commission,” when Jesus sends out his 12 apostles (Matthew 10) to perform healings and other miracles. This comes just after Matthew recounts a series of miracles performed by Jesus, including healing a man suffering from leprosy and restoring two men possessed by demons
The third centers on several key parables about the Kingdom of Heaven, all designed to illustrate God’s plan—the parables of the sower, weeds, mustard seed, yeast, pearl, net, and more.
The fourth focuses on the Church. Jesus has informed his disciples of his pending death and resurrection, and here he offers instructions on how they will lead a future community of followers, largely through humility and servitude. He uses the parables of the wandering sheep and the unmerciful servant to illustrate his points.
The fifth and final discourse, from the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24-25), focuses on the “end times” and the judgment that will ultimately come. “Be ready” and “conduct yourself well” are common themes through parables offered by Jesus, such as the ten virgins, the bags of gold (also known as the parable of the talents), and the sheep and goats.
The remainder of the Gospel of Matthew details the last week in the life of Jesus, from entering Jerusalem in triumph to the last supper, his betrayal in the garden, and his arrest, torture, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. The story ends with the post-resurrection Jesus issuing his disciples what is known as the Great Commission, urging them to continue his work on earth to further the Kingdom of Heaven.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
What Can We Learn from Matthew Today?
Jesus’s counter-cultural messages throughout the Gospel of Matthew have a big impact on many Christians today trying to live like Christ in an increasingly worldly, pleasure-seeking society. In the beatitudes, Jesus’s messages about caring for others and being content with what we have contrast starkly with the “me first” and “buy this now” messages splashed across our phone or TV screens. And many can equate Jesus’s messages from the Parable of the Sower to the petty worries and earthly distractions that steer many of us today from living out the gospel.
Our Favorite Verses from Matthew
The Gospel of Matthew is filled with hard-hitting, Kingdom-centered verses that remind us of what is truly important: God and delivering God’s message. Besides those above, here are other favorites:
Matthew 5:14-16 - “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 6:20-21 - “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 7:4 - “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”
Matthew 7:7-8 - “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Barclay, William (1956), The Gospel of Matthew Volume 1, The Westminster Press.
Encyclopedia of The Bible, Bible Gateway Plus
New International Encyclopedia of Bible Characters, Copyright 2001
NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, Copyright © 2019 by Zondervan.
NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, Copyright © 2016 by Zondervan.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/dvest
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.