A Commentary on the First Gospel
Copyright © 1974 by John F. Walvoord
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Walvoord, John F.
Matthew, thy kingdom come: a commentary on the first Gospel / by John F. Walvoord. p. cm.
Originally published: Chicago: Moody Press, ©1974.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Bible. N.T. Matthew—Commentaries. I. Title. BS2575.3.W25 1998 226.2’07—dc21 98-44655
CIP ISBN 0-8254-3969-8
Printed in the United States of America
1 2 3 4 5/02 01 00 99 98
The Gospel of Matthew has commonly been considered one of the most important books of the New Testament, and properly a gospel to be placed first in the New Testament. Although the order of the books came from human choice rather than divine inspiration, this gospel, a bridge between the Old and New Testaments, fittingly introduces the books that follow. Matthew deals primarily with the life of Jesus Christ as fulfilling Old Testament prophecies relating to the coming King, and, on the other hand, it explains why the prophecies relating to the kingdom of Christ on earth are delayed in fulfillment until the second coming. Anyone desiring to master the New Testament may, accordingly, well begin with the gospel of Matthew, which fulfills the divinely intended purpose of being an introduction to New Testament truth.
History uniformly testifies that the first gospel was written by Matthew, one of the twelve disciples. All of the early copies of Matthew are headed by the phrase “according to Matthew,” and the testimony of the early Fathers is unanimous on the authorship of this gospel.
The authorship and authenticity of the gospel, however, are complicated by two factors: (1) the question of whether Matthew is a translation of an earlier Hebrew work; (2) the question of whether Matthew is heavily indebted to the gospel of Mark for most of his facts. The genuineness of the gospel, however, is not questioned except by some liberal critics.
The early church Fathers refer to a book of “The Sayings” (Gr. ta logia) written in contemporary Hebrew (Aramaic) by Matthew and supposedly translated by an unknown translator into the gospel of Matthew. Although this explanation of the gospel of Matthew is questioned by many capable scholars today, it seems to have been held by such early Fathers as Papias, who is quoted by Eusebius, and supported by others such as Irenaeus, Epiphanius, Origen, Jerome, and later Fathers, such as Gregory Nazianzen, Chrysostom, Augustine, and others.1
Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia early in the second century, is quoted by Eusebius in the middle of the second century to the effect that Matthew had written the sayings of Christ in Hebrew. Papias does not seem to be aware of a Greek gospel. Irenaeus affirms that Matthew was written in Matthew’s native Hebrew tongue, in connection with his preaching to his own people. Jerome also refers to this Hebrew version, affirming that it was the first gospel to be written and that he was uncertain as to who translated it into Greek. Based on these early traditions, there has been speculation as to whether these sayings in Hebrew, which are now lost, form the entire gospel, or whether it was merely the basis of it. Also, the concept that it is translated from Hebrew into Greek by an unknown translator raises questions about the inspiration of the Greek text.
The testimony of the early Fathers has some minor contradictions but is uniform on the existence of such a Hebrew version of the gospel. Although the opinion of the early Fathers is considered to have some weight, many twentieth-century scholars question whether the story is accurate. An examination of the Greek gospel of Matthew does not substantiate the idea that it is a translation, as there are none of the characteristics of a translated work. For instance, the gospel of Matthew uses a number of original Aramaic terms which are left without translation. These would be intelligible to Jewish Christians, but if Matthew was translated from Aramaic into Greek for the benefit of Gentile Christians, these terms would require an explanation. The fact that the terms are not translated tends to prove that the gospel of Matthew was originally written in Greek, even though intended for an audience that also understood Aramaic. Lenski, who gives an exhaustive list of the various arguments, concludes, “But these few instances are scarcely sufficient to convince the thoughtful reader that Matthew’s Gospel as we now have it is a translation and not an original production.”2
Almost invariably, modern writers who claim that the Greek version of Matthew was a translation of an earlier Aramaic work do not accept the concept that Matthew is the inspired Word of God and usually question whether Matthew wrote it at all. For instance, The Anchor Bible, after long discussion which leaves the whole question in uncertainty, states, “The reader has already been warned that there are no firm conclusions to be drawn as to the authorship of our present gospel of Matthew.”3
Conservative scholarship has agreed that whether or not there was an earlier Hebrew version, the present Greek version was Matthew’s own work and that it is the inspired Word of God. Whatever earlier materials Matthew may have produced in his native tongue, the point is that the Greek gospel was inspired of God and bears the authority of being the Word of God.
The early Fathers are quite clear in their testimony that Matthew was the first gospel to be written and was followed in order by Mark, Luke, and John. This is the order which is observed in the Scriptures as now published. Some today, however, prefer the order of Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John. Modern liberal scholarship, however, is generally united that Mark’s gospel was first and that Matthew had Mark before him when he wrote the gospel. W. C. Allen, representing the liberal point of view, states, “Almost the entire substance of the second Gospel has been transferred to the first.”4 William R. Farmer, however, although a liberal critic, holds to the priority of Matthew, a conclusion based on extensive research.5
Many conservative interpreters, like R. C. H. Lenski, generally hold with the early Fathers that Matthew was first,6 but the question remains open even among conservatives.
A theory also advanced by many scholars that both Mark and Matthew had a common source of written material called Q (Ger. Quelle, source) also is rejected by many conservative expositors. After all the discussion and various views are considered, the monumental and original character of the gospel of Matthew stands out. Even Allen, who holds so strongly to the early writings of Mark, has a long list of materials in Matthew which are not found in Mark.7
Actually, while many similarities between the synoptic gospels exist, the proof that one is dependent on the other is not convincing, as there are so many variations. The gospel of Matthew has many evidences of being written independently, both in the order of the narrative and in the addition and subtraction of details. However, the inspiration of Matthew would not be affected if he had chosen to use some of Mark’s material, if Mark was written earlier. Matthew probably wrote his gospel in Greek some time before the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 and possibly as early as a.d. 44, during the persecution of Agrippa I.
More important than discussion on the sources of the gospel is its self-evident unique character which has caused this gospel to be placed first in the New Testament. Its position is assured because its subject matter serves as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments. Matthew’s purpose obviously was to demonstrate that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, that He fulfilled the requirements of being the promised King who would be a descendant of David, and that His life and ministry fully support the conclusion that He is the prophesied Messiah of Israel.
The gospel of Matthew, accordingly, presents Christ’s royal genealogy and the early recognition that He was indeed the King of the Jews. These historical materials are followed by the Sermon on the Mount, stating the moral principles of the kingdom, given more extensively in Matthew than in the other gospels. The theme is continued by presenting the sayings and the miracles of Christ as His credentials prophesied in the Old Testament.
Having laid this broad base, Matthew then proceeds to account for the fact that Christ did not bring in His prophesied kingdom at His first coming. The growing rejection of Christ, His denunciation of the unbelief of the Jews, and His revelation of truth relating to the period between the two advents (Mt 13) serve to support this point.
Beginning in Matthew 14, the growing line of rejection leads to the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24 and 25, describing the course of the age between the two advents, with special reference to the great tribulation just preceding His second coming to the earth. Having set forth the rejection of Christ in the context of ultimate glorification, the gospel of Matthew then records the facts of His death, resurrection, and postresurrection ministry.
As a whole, the gospel is not properly designated as only an apologetic for the Christian faith. Rather, it was designed to explain to the Jews, who had expected the Messiah when He came to be a conquering king, why instead Christ suffered and died, and why there was the resulting postponement of His triumph to His second coming. The gospel of Matthew, with its many quotations from the Old Testament, is the proper platform on which the later books of the New Testament were erected. The magnitude of Matthew’s contribution as he wrote, guided by the Spirit of God, fully justified the attitude of the early church, which regarded Matthew as the most important gospel and its contents as fundamental to the Christian faith.
In writing this commentary, my indebtedness to the extensive literature on the gospel of Matthew is self-evident, although some independence in interpretation serves to provide fresh insights. The Bibliography includes works consulted frequently. Inclusion of a work in the Bibliography does not indicate approval of its theological interpretation, which, in some instances, differs considerably from the conservative position.
The King James Version is used as a basis for exposition, corrected as necessary by reference to other versions and the original Greek.
In adding this commentary on the important first gospel to my previous works, I hope to make another contribution to the understanding of Scripture, which will be helpful to all students of the Bible.
The Origin Of Jesus Christ
1 Cf. Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, 1:25-27. For a good recent discussion of this problem, see Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 3d ed. Rev. pp. 33-34.
2 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, p. 17.
3 W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, The Anchor Bible, Vol. 26, Matthew, p. CLXXXIII.
4 Willoughby C. Allen, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Matthew, in the International Critical Commentary, p. xiii.
5 William R. Farmer, The Synoptic Problem, pp. vii-x.
6 Lenski, p. 19.
7 Allen, pp. xl-lxii. For a conservative discussion of Q materials, see Guthrie, pp. 143-57.