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The Gospel According To Saint Matthew With An Explanatory And Critical Commentary by Rev. A.J. Maas S.J.

THE name Matthew, Ματθαῖος, Μαθθαῖος, has been explained in various ways: 1. Some derive it from the Hebrew מַתַּי or מַתְּנַי [1 Esdr. 9:33; 2 Esdr. 12:19], or again from מַתַּנְיָה [cf. 1 Par. 9:15; 25:4; etc.], equivalent to the Greek Θεοδῶρος or Θεόδοτος, “gift of God” or “given by God.” 2. Gesenius [Thesaur. ling. heb. p. 929 b.] and Fürst [Hebr. Handwörterb. ed. iii. i. 806] give the same meaning to the name, but connect it with מַתַּי, מַתַּתַּי, מַתִּתְיָה. 3. St. Jerome [De nom. Heb. s. v.] traces the name to the verb נָתַן, and renders it “at some time given.” 4. Another class of authors derive Matthew from the noun אֱמֶת, making מַתַּי equivalent to אֲמִהַי, “faithful”; this opinion is not probable. 5. The derivation of Matthew from the verb מָתָה or מוּח is still more improbable, since it does not account for the double letter ת, and does not agree with the supposed meaning of the name. Lange explains Matthew, according to this etymology, as meaning “God’s free man,” in contrast with Levi, or “the servant of the law”; but, thus derived, the name signifies “a mortal man,” or “a full-grown man,” rather than “a free man.”

The first reference to the Saint is found in Mt. 9:9: “And when Jesus passed on from thence, he saw a man sitting in the custom house, named Matthew; and he saith to him: Follow me. And he rose up and followed him.” The reader of the parallel passages, Mk. 2:14 and Lk. 5:27, will be struck by the difference of names; for the Matthew of the first gospel becomes Levi in the second and third. Must we identify Levi with Matthew, or must we regard them as two distinct persons?

Grotius [Comment. in Matt. 9:9, Basil. 1732, ii. p. 100], Grimm [Über den Namen Matthäus, Studien und Kritiken, 1870, pp. 726 ff.], Reuss [History of the Sacred Scriptures of the New Test., transl. from the fifth Germ. ed. Boston, 1884, i. p. 185], and others distinguish between Levi and Matthew for the following reasons: 1. Matthew never calls himself Levi, and Levi is never called Matthew by the other evangelists. 2. Heracleon, the disciple of Valentinus, writing in the second century, distinguishes between Matthew and Levi, and is followed in this distinction by Clement of Alexandria [Strom. iv. 9] and Origen [contr. Cels. i. 62]. 3. Both Matthew and Levi are names of Hebrew origin. Now, though an Israelite might have a second name of Greek or Latin derivation, he never had two Hebrew names, unless one of them was a patronymic, or a family name, or expressed something wholly characteristic of the bearer. The gospel records, therefore, the call of two publicans, most probably the revenue-farmer Levi and his underling Matthew. Recent followers of Grotius infer from the foregoing considerations, not the call of two publicans, but the contradictory account of the conversion of one.

Neither inference can be deduced from the premises: 1. Just as Matthew never calls himself Levi, and as the other evangelists never call Levi by the name of Matthew, so does St. Paul never call himself Saul, and so does St. Peter never identify Paul with Saul; if, then, Saul and Paul are not two distinct persons, Matthew and Levi may be identical, too. The Fathers tell us that St. Mark and St. Luke never identify the apostle Matthew with the publican Levi in order to shield his good name, while St. Matthew confesses his former manner of life in order to humble himself and to encourage other converts [cf. Eus. Demonstr. evang. iii. 5; Jer. in Matt. ix. 9; Chrys. in Matt. hom. 30, 1]. 2. As to the Fathers said to distinguish between Levi and Matthew: Clement of Alexandria [l. c] quotes a passage from Heracleon distinguishing between a confession of the faith by our manner of life and a confession of the faith by word of mouth, without approving of Heracleon’s distinction between Matthew and Levi that happens to be found in the same passage. Origen [Præf. in ep. ad Rom.] clearly identifies Levi with Matthew [cf. Tisch. Test. Nov. gr. ed. 8 mai. ad Matt. x. 3], and in the light of these clear words must be explained the obscure passage of the same writer alleged by our opponents [cont. Cels. i. 62]. Finally, Heracleon’s authority is not so grave as to outweigh that of the other patristic writers; at best, his words are barely clear enough for a sober argument: the author denies indeed that Levi [Λεβής] is an apostle, but grants also that certain copies of the second gospel enumerate the publican among the twelve apostles. Now the copies of St. Mark’s gospel that Heracleon refers to identify Λεβὴς or Λεββαῖος with Θαδδαῖος, and not with Matthew [cf. Mk. 3:18; Mt. 10:3]. 3. From the earliest times we find Israelites that had two names: cf. Gedeon and Jerobaal [Judg. 6:32], Ozias and Azarias [4 Kings 14:21], the five sons of Mathathias [1 Mach. 2:2–4]. Though sometimes the canon of our opponents is followed [cf. Joseph Barsabas in Acts 1:23; Joseph Barnabas in Acts 4:36; Judas Iscariot in Mt. 10:3; Gedeon Jerobaal in Judg. 6:32], it is not observed universally [cf. Λεββαῖος and Θαδδαῖος, לִבַּי and תַּדַּי, “my heart” and “my delight,” both surnames of the apostle Jude]. Levi may, then, have been called Matthew [Theodore or Theodotus, “gift of God”] by his parents, and may have resumed this suggestive name after his conversion.

What has been said forms a negative proof for the identity of Matthew and Levi, and as such must not be separated from the positive arguments: 1. It is wholly improbable that the bulk of Christian tradition should go wrong on a point so closely connected with an important question of Scriptural exegesis and of Catholic devotion; now tradition generally identifies Matthew with Levi. 2. It is highly improbable that, at the same time and under the same circumstances, Jesus should have called two publicans to his discipleship, that both should have invited him to a feast in their house, and that one of them should have entirely disappeared from notice while the other holds a place among the twelve.

Supposing Levi and Matthew to be identical, opinions vary about the meaning of Mk. 2:14, “Levi, the son of Alpheus.” 1. Chrys. and Theod., together with most modern Greek and several Latin writers, contend that Alpheus, the father of Matthew, is identical with Alpheus, the father of James the Less. It is on this account that Chrys. finds two publicans among the twelve [cf. in Matt. hom. 32, 2], and that Theod. calls both Matthew and James Capharnaites [cf. Acta sanet. Sept. vi. pp. 200 ff.]. But the frequency of the name Alpheus among the Jews [cf. Lightf. Hor. hebr. et talm. in Matt. 10:3] renders the position of the foregoing writers rather doubtful. 2. According to the more common opinion, Matthew is not the brother of James the Less, though the fathers of both are called Alpheus. Besides, if Matthew is the brother of James, he is one of the brothers of Jesus, unless three are introduced bearing the name James: the son of Zebedee, the son of Alpheus, and the brother of the Lord. Since the latter supposition is not probable, and since a relationship between Matthew the publican and our Lord appears to be improper in itself, and without foundation in sacred history, we must conclude that Alpheus, the father of Matthew, was distinct from Alpheus, the father of James the Less.

According to the gospel record, Matthew lived in Capharnaum before his call to the apostleship. The second gospel [Mk. 2:1 ff.] places his conversion after the miraculous healing of the man sick of the palsy at Capharnaum, and the first gospel locates both events in the Lord’s own city, or Capharnaum [Mt. 9:1 ff.]. Owing to its situation on the main road from Palestine and Egypt to Damascus and Babylon, and in the centre of the Galilean fisheries, its custom house was naturally the most important of the northern kingdom. Whether Levi collected the toll in his own name or for a wealthy Roman, we are not told; judging from analogy, we believe that here as elsewhere the government had rented out the toll to an enterprising capitalist, who by means of his underlings compensated himself for his annual outlay as best he could. This does not exclude Matthew from the well-to-do class of his own city; since he entertained Jesus at a feast honored by the presence of a number of his colleagues, we are led to believe the contrary [cf. Mt. 9:10 ff.; Mk. 2:15 ff.; Lk. 5:29 ff.]. Possibly Levi had settled his accounts a short time before his divine call, but he may also have incurred a great deal of odium by abandoning his post so suddenly [cf. Bas. reg. fus. tract. 8]. If the catalogues of the apostles as found in the gospels are arranged according to the time of their call, St. Matthew was the seventh in order [cf. Mk. 3:16–19; Lk. 6:14–16; Acts 1:13]. That he holds the eighth place in the first gospel has been attributed since the time of Eusebius [cf. Demonstr. evang. iii. 5] to the evangelist’s modesty, which prompted him to give his companion Thomas the precedence. The catalogue in Acts 1:13 disagrees in several other points with the evangelists’ catalogues, so that its order of names need not detain us.

After his call, Matthew or Levi is not again mentioned in the inspired record, if the apostolic catalogues be excepted. We know, therefore, about Matthew only what he has in common with the other apostles: he was sent with the others to preach in Galilee; he followed his divine Master during his public life; he was present at the last supper; he fled with the others on the Mount of Olives when Jesus was taken by his enemies; he saw Jesus after his resurrection from the dead; he received with the other apostles the final mission to teach all nations; he was a witness of the Lord’s ascension; he persevered with the brethren in prayer in the upper chamber at Jerusalem till the coming of the Holy Ghost; he was filled with the gifts of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost; he was thrown into prison with the twelve and liberated by an angel; being taken again, he was scourged like the other apostles, and went forth rejoicing because he had been deemed worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus; he continued to preach the gospel in public and private, in and near Jerusalem, took part in the election of the seven deacons, and when the faithful were dispersed throughout the land, during the persecution that followed the death of St. Stephen, St. Matthew remained in the capital, whence St. Peter and St. John were sent to confirm the Samaritans converted by the ministry of Philip [cf. Mt. 10:1 ff.; 26:20 ff.; 28:16 ff.; Acts 1:11 ff.; 2:1 ff.; 5:17 ff.; 6:1 ff.; 8:1 ff., 14 ff.].

The silence of Acts and St. Paul concerning St. Matthew suggests a few more particulars in his history [cf. Acts 9:26, 27; 15:1 ff.; Gal. 1:18 f.]. About 37 A. D., when St. Paul came for the first time after his conversion to Jerusalem, the first evangelist must not have been in the city, nor does he seem to have assisted at the first council. Clement of Alexandria [Pædag. ii. 1; cf. Eus. H. E. iii. 24] testifies that the Saint led a strictly ascetic life, abstaining from all animal food; and that he worked fifteen years in Palestine before evangelizing the Gentile world. The rest of St. Matthew’s life is enveloped in great obscurity. “We have no certainty about the field of his ministry after he had left his native country: Rufinus [H. E. i. 9], Greg, the Great [in 1 Reg. iv. 4, 13], Eucherius of Lyons [ad Salon, instr. i. 2], Socrates [H. E. i. 19], etc., point to Ethiopia as St. Matthew’s mission; St. Ambrose assigns him Persia; St. Paulinus, Parthia; St. Isidore of Seville [De ortu et obitu patr. 76], Macedonia; Metaphrastes [Vit. St. Matt. 4:5], Syria, Parthia, and Ethiopia; Nicephorus [H. E. ii. 41], the cannibal races. The death of the evangelist forms the most mysterious part of his history. Heracleon testifies that he died a natural death, while the common tradition of both the eastern and western church venerates him as a martyr, but opinions differ widely as to the manner of his martyrdom [cf. Act. sanct. Sept. vi. pp. 206 ff.]. Thus the Saint remains in his death, as he had been in his life, simple, silent, unobtrusive, swift to hear and slow to speak, caring little for the minutiæ of outward action, but fully alive to the aspirations of his nation, and deeply conscious of the Messianic drama enacted before his very eyes, of which he was destined, in the unsearchable counsels of God, to become an inspired chronicler.

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