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We may picture Matthew to ourselves as a silent, unobtrusive, contemplative man, "swift to hear and slow to speak," unabservant of the minutiae of outward action but with a mind teeming with the associations of his nation and deeply conscious of the momentous drama which was being enacted before him, of which he felt himself called upon to be the chronicler and interpreter to his own people.
No special mention is made of St Matthew in the Acts of the Apostles, or in the Epistles, but some light is thrown upon his after life by fragmentary notices of early Christian writers.
We gather that he remained in Palestine longer than the rest of the Apostles, and that he made his fellow-countrymen familiar with the words and works of Jesus. More will be said below as to the nature and special scope of his teaching; but an interesting point of Christian history, and one that bears upon St Matthew's character, recorded by Eusebius, may be mentioned here. St Matthew, says the historian, being about to depart for distant lands to preach to others also, left as a memorial to his Palestinian converts the story of the New Covenant committed to writing in their own tongue, the Aramaic or Hebrew dialect which they used. This parting gift of the Evangelist was the origin of the written Gospels.
Later authorities have named Æthiopia, Parthia, Egypt and Macedonia, as fields of his missionary work. Clement of Alexandria states that Matthew devoted himself to a strictly ascetic life, abstaining from the use of animal food.
By the most ancient testimony the death of this apostle is attributed to natural causes. The traditions of the Greek Church and the pictures of the Greek artists represent him dying peacefully. But the Western Church has placed Matthew on the list of martyrs, and in the works of Italian painters he is portrayed perishing by the executioner's sword. It is characteristic of this silent, unmarked life, in which the personality of the Evangelist is lost in the voice of the message which he was inspired to utter, that Matthew's name has been less prominent in the Churches and nations of Christendom than others of his co-apostles, or even than many saints, whose services to the Church of Christ have been infinitely less. None of the great
Churches of Christendom have been called by his name, no guild or fraternity, no college in our great Universities, no state or nation, has chosen him for a patron. Scarcely one famous picture has taught the lesson of his call. The personal memory, like the personal life of St Matthew, withdraws itself from the observation of men.
AUTHORSHIP, ORIGIN AND CHARACTERISTICS OF THE GOSPEL.
1. The authorship of the first gospel has been ascribed by an unbroken tradition to the Apostle Matthew.
2. The date is uncertain. Irenæus however states that St Matthew wrote his gospel when SS. Peter and Paul were founding the Church in Rome: and the fact that it was published first of the written Gospels rests upon early and uncontradicted testimony. The date of publication then should probably be fixed not many years after the Ascension.
3. St Matthew's Gospel was primarily intended for the use of the Jewish converts in Palestine. It is this fact that gives its special character to this Gospel. No other of the evangelists has so completely developed the idea that in Christ the nation lived again, that towards Christ all prophecy moved, that in Him all national aspirations were centred and satisfied. No other inspired writer has pictured so vividly the critical interest of the Messianic days as the meeting point of the world's past and future.
According to St Matthew Jesus is from first to last Christ the King, the King of whom all the prophets spake in the past, but He is also the one figure round whom the historical interest of the future was destined to gather. Hence the twofold aspect of this Gospel, on the one hand it is the most national and the most retrospective of the Gospels; on the other it is the most universal and the most prophetic; in one sense St Matthew is more gentile than St Luke, in another he is truly a Hebrew of the Hebrews.
The very depth of St Matthew's patriotism impels him to glory in the universality of the Messianic reign. The Kingdom of God must over-pass the limits of the Chosen race. Hence it is no matter of surprise that the Hebrew historian should alone commemorate the coming of the Magi and the refuge in Egypt, and that he and not St Luke should tell the story of the Canaanitish woman.
The following points confirm the received account of the. origin of this Gospel and indicate its special reference to the Jews.
(1) The numerous quotations from prophecy.
(2) The appeals to history as fulfilled in Christ.
(3) The rare explanation of Jewish words and customs.
(4) The strong and special denunciation of the Jews and of their rulers.
(5) The special reference to the Law in the Sermon on the Mount.
(6) The Genealogy traced from Abraham and David.
(7) The Mission of the Seventy omitted.
(8) The absence of Latin words, with very few exceptions.
(9) The prominence given to the Jewish thought of a Kingdom of Heaven; (a) in the general scope of the Gospel; (b) in the parables; (c) in the account of the Passion.
4. The question of style cannot be fully or satisfactorily discussed without a direct appeal to the original, but it may be observed that St Matthew's manner is less vivid and picturesque than St Mark's, more even and unvaried than St Luke's, whose diction is greatly influenced by the various sources whence he derived the details which he incorporates into his Gospel. Consequently although no passages in St Matthew's Gospel recall the classical ring like the introduction to St Luke's Gospel; on the other hand the Hebrew idiom never so manifestly shews itself in the first Gospel as in the opening chapters of the third.
St Matthew was an eyewitness of the events which he chronicles, yet it is often remarked that his descriptions are less graphic and full of detail than those of St Mark, who wrote what he had heard from the lips of others. This need not be a matter of surprise. It is indeed a phenomenon that meets us
every day. It is not the contemporary and the eyewitness, but the historian of a succeeding age who takes the keenest interest in minute detail and records with faithful accuracy the less prominent circumstances of a great event. It is the Herodotus or the Macaulay-the historian, the 'questioner'-who gathers from every source materials for a minute and brilliant picture, rather than the actual spectator who is often too deeply absorbed by the one point of supreme interest in a scene to notice the looks and acts of other bystanders, or so impressed by the speaker's glowing thoughts, as to deem them alone worthy of record.
But though St Mark enables us to realize more exactly the external accessories of the various incidents, St Matthew has treasured up for the Church more fully than the other synoptists the words and discourses of Jesus; such especially as present Him in the character of the Great Prophet, who, like the prophets of old time, denounces national sins and predicts the future of the nation and the Church. Instances of this characteristic are the full report of the Sermon on the Mount (ch. v. vi. vii.), the charge to the Apostles ch. x; the great series of prophetic parables in ch. xiii. peculiar to this gospel; the denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees in ch. xxiii., the parables of the Passion ch. xxv., the predictions of the fall of Jerusalem, and of the second Advent chs. xxiv. and xxv.
5. The ablest critics are agreed that St Matthew does not observe the chronological order of events. By the arrangement followed by this Evangelist, as may be seen by the accompanying analysis of the Gospel, special incidents and sayings are so grouped together as to illustrate the different aspects of our Lord's life and teaching.
6. The most interesting literary question in connection with this Gospel concerns the language in which it was written. Is the Hellenistic Greek version which we possess, (1) the original Gospel, or (2) a translation from a Hebrew or Aramaic original; further, if a translation by whom was the translation made, by (a) St Matthew himself, or (b) by some other?
Apart from the antecedent probability of a Hebrew Gospela version of the New Covenant to correspond with the Hebrew of the Old Covenant, and to meet the requirements of those
Jews who gloried in their knowledge of the Hebrew tongue, and their adhesion to Hebrew customs, who would listen more gladly to the Gospel if it were preached to them in the language of their fathers-direct testimony to the existence of an Aramaic original of St Matthew's Gospel is borne by a succession of the earliest Christian writers.
(1) Papias in the beginning of the second century writes :"Matthew arranged the 'oracles' (or sayings of Christ) in the Hebrew language."
(2) Irenæus says "Matthew among the Hebrews brought out a writing of the Gospel in their own tongue."
(3) Pantænus, according to Eusebius (H. E. v. 10.), is said to have gone to preach to the Indians and to have found among them a copy of the Hebrew Gospel according to St Matthew which had been left by the Apostle Bartholomew.
(4) In later times evidence for the belief in a Hebrew original is drawn from the writings of Origen, Eusebius, Jerome, and many others.
Against this testimony in favour of a Hebrew original, arguments tending to an opposite conclusion are grounded on (1) the disappearance of the Hebrew Gospel: (2) the authority which the existing version has always had in the Church: (3) the similarity of expression to certain portions of the other Gospels : (4) the apparent originality of style.
(1) That no copy of the Hebrew Gospel is extant need not excite surprise. With the destruction of Jerusalem the Hebrew speaking Christians would be for the most part scattered far and wide over the limits of the Roman Empire. Necessity would impel them to become familiar with the Greek tongue. Their Jewish compatriots in foreign countries would be acquainted with no other. Everywhere the credit of the Greek version of St Matthew's Gospel would be fully established; to that version the original Hebrew edition would soon give place. It seems probable too that copies of this Gospel were purposely altered and mutilated to serve the ends of heretical sects, and thus the genuine Hebrew text would become more and more difficult to obtain, and finally would be discredited and lost to the Church, The preface of St Luke's Gospel suggests the