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

i. The first gospel was written for the Jewish Christians of Palestine, as is shown by external and internal evidence.

a. External evidence. We have already seen the testimony of St. Irenæus [fragm. 29], who, after stating expressly that “the gospel according to Matthew was written for the Jews,” adds by way of explanation that since both the Jews and St. Matthew ardently desired a Messias of the seed of David, the evangelist uses all his endeavors to show the accomplishment of this desire. Origen [in Matt.; cf. Eus. H. E. vi. 25] tells us that St. Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew for the Jewish converts to Christianity. St. Chrysostom [in Matt, hom. i. 3] follows Eusebius [H. E. iii. 24] in the belief that St. Matthew wrote his gospel at the request of the Jewish converts, and that he left them his own oral teaching in writing. St. Jerome [in Matt. proleg.; de vir. ill. 3] expressly states that St. Matthew wrote his gospel in Judea, in Hebrew, for those Jewish converts that did not adhere to the shadow of the law in the daylight of Christianity [cf. Greg. Naz. carm. i. 12 de ver. script.; Schanz, Comment. z. Matt. pp. 35 ff.].

b. Internal evidence. St. Matthew connects his gospel with the hopes and obligations of the Old Testament in such a way as to apply and develop these two points of Jewish doctrine exclusively.

[1] St. Matthew uses the Old Testament more than 70 times, and 44 times he quotes Old Testament passages either according to the Hebrew text or the Septuagint version; St. Mark gives only 18 Old Testament quotations, St. Luke 19, and St. John 12. Again, while St. Mark appeals to 5 prophecies, St. Luke to 8, and St. John to 11, we find in St. Matthew as many as 20. The whole life of Jesus is shown to be a fulfilment of prophetic prediction: cf. 1:22; 2:5, 15, 17, 23; 3:3; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 14:7; 21:4, 42; 26:31, 54, 56; 27:9. Where the evangelist does not expressly state that the narrative is a fulfilment of prophecy, the correspondence between fact and prediction is plain of its own accord: 2:1 ff. fulfils Is. 60:2 ff.; 9:36 answers Ezech. 34:5. The miracles are chosen so as to serve as types of the works predicted by the prophets; at times the evangelist declares this connection [8:27; 12:18], and then again he shows it in the words of Jesus [11:5; cf. Is. 35:5; 61:1]. In the passion the evangelist insists principally on its spontaneousness and its prediction by the prophets [16:21; 17:12, 21; 26:2, 23, 24, 42, 53, 54, 56; 27:3–10; cf. Zach. 11:13 ff.].

[2] St. Matthew also carefully notes how Jesus applied and developed the Jewish law. We have a solemn declaration on this point in 5:17–19; the law is indorsed in 3:15; 4:4 ff.; 8:4; 10:5; 15:24; 19:17; 23:3; 17:23; 26:17. Where Jesus differs from Jewish tradition he justifies his teaching in the clearest way: 5:20, 43; 6:1, 2, 5, 16; 7:3, 15, 21; 15:3–9, 14; 16:6; 21:13; 22:23 ff.; 23:4–33; 26:3, 14, 59, 67; 27:4, 20, 41, 62 ff. The teachers of the Jews are at times criticised most severely, but their depravity justifies this language.

[3] St. Matthew supposes the knowledge of many words and things that could be known by Palestinian Jews only. He does not explain the washings of the Jews, the word Corban, the parasceve, etc., which are explained in the second gospel [compare Mk. 7:2–6 and Mt. 15:1; Mk. 7:11 and Mt. 27:6; Mk. 15:42 and Mt. 27:62]. He does not give any geographical notices concerning Nazareth, Bethlehem, Arimathea, Emmaus, such as we find in the third gospel [compare Lk. 1:26; 2:4; 24:13; 2:15, etc.]. Those additions that seem at first sight superfluous for Palestinian readers are based on special reasons: in 22:23 ff. the Sadducees are said not to believe in the resurrection, because their teaching was known to few men [cf. Joseph. Antiq. 18:1:14]; in 4:13, Capharnaum is said to be situated in the confines of Zabulon and Nephtali, because this note emphasizes the fulfilment of the prophecy found in Is. 9:1. On the other hand, the Sermon on the Mount, the parables, and many narratives of the first gospel suppose a knowledge found only among Palestinians, and contain threats and warnings useless outside Palestine [cf. Mt. 5:22 ff., 34 f.; 6:2, 5, 16, etc.; 22:11 ff.; 25:1 ff.].

[4] In the first gospel certain phrases are found that suppose a Jewish circle of readers. “The kingdom of heaven” occurs 32 times in the first gospel, and not at all in the others, where the “kingdom of God” is used instead [cf. Mt. 6:33; 12:28; 21:36, 43]. The former phrase may not be found in ante-Christian literature, but the Targumim and the Talmud employ it as the technical term for the kingdom of God begun on Sinai, continued in the Synagogue, and perfected in the Messianic reign [cf. Weber, System der altysnag palästin. Theologie, Leipzig, 1880, p. 395]. The evangelist must therefore have supposed Jewish readers for his gospel [cf. Innsbrucker Zeitschrift, 1877, p. 567; Schanz, Comment. z. Matt. pp. 35 ff.]. Another phrase that is almost confined to the gospel of Matthew is “the Father [who is] in heaven” [ὁ πατὴρ ὁ ἐν οὐρανοῖς]. It is used fifteen times in the first gospel, only twice in the second, and if we correct Lk. 11:2 critically, not at all in the third. In general, οἱ οὐρανοῖ is the seat of the heavenly powers, while ὁ οὐρανός is the physical heaven. Again, “the Son of David” occurs 7 times in the first gospel, and only 3 times each in the second and the third. Then, Jerusalem is “the holy city” in the first gospel [4:5; 27:53], but not in the others. Parallel names are found, however, in Mt. 24:15; Apoc. 11:2; 21:2, 19. The “end of the world” is called in the first gospel the “consummation of the age” [ἡ συντέλεια τοῦ αἰῶνος; 13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20], an appellation that appears to have its parallel in Heb. 9:26, συντέλεια τῶν αἰώνων, the meeting, as it were, of the Old Testament and the New [cf. Westc. Study of the Gospels, 1888, p. 364].

ii. While the first gospel proves that Jesus is the Messias, it also explains the rejection of the Jews, and the call of the Gentiles. 1. Since the object of the evangelist must have been determined by the circumstances of the readers, it is of importance to note the general condition of converts among the Jews. According to Acts 4:1 ff.; 5:17 ff.; 5:26 ff., the Jews began at a very early date their hostile policy towards the followers of Jesus. Though St. Stephen is reported to have been the first victim of their malice, their persecutions were directed against all Christians in Jerusalem [Acts 8:1]; through the influence of the Jews, St. James the Greater was martyred [Acts 12:3], and St. Peter imprisoned; St. Paul was saved from their fury only by the Roman soldiers [Acts 21:30], The excitement of the Jews increased year after year, partly through the imprudent measures of the Roman governors [Cumanus, Felix, Festus, Albinus, Gessius, Florus], and partly through the intrigues of the false Messiases, who instigated the people to rebellion against the Roman rule by holding out lying promises of national prosperity. The Christians could not take part in these national movements, and as conservatives and reactionaries they soon incurred the displeasure of the patriots. The Epistle to the Hebrews [10:32–36; 12:7] appears to allude to this precarious condition of the Christians in Jerusalem. Since, then, the Jewish converts might any day be called upon to sacrifice their earthly prosperity for their religious conviction, they were in constant danger of losing their faith. This danger became still greater from internal or religious considerations: their national pride, their customary devotion to the law of Moses, the daily sight of the magnificent temple and its ceremonial worship, exercised a deep and permanent influence on the heart and mind of the most devout followers of Jesus. St. James was reckoned among the zealots, and according to his own testimony, there were myriads among the Christians who deserved that name [cf. Acts 21:20]. From this we may infer the nature of the difficulties against which the minister of Christ among the Jews had to struggle, and the points of doctrine on which he had most to insist. A clear proof that Jesus is the Messias must therefore be expected from the Hebrew evangelist, St. Matthew.

2. Certain writers see in the first gospel a controversial book written against a libellous pamphlet in which all kinds of crime were imputed to the Christians [cf. Aberle, Zweck des Matt. Evang., Tübinger Quartalschr. 1859, pp. 567 ff.; Einl. pp. 20–32; Just. cont. Tryph. 17, 108, 117]. But St. Matthew does not mention any Jewish calumnies against the Christians, except incidentally the stealing of the body of Jesus [28:11 ff.]; and no single patristic testimony favors Aberle’s view. The apologetic proof that Jesus is the Messias, and that his Church is the kingdom of God announced by the prophets, implies of course the polemic answer to the obvious question why the Jews as such had been rejected [cf. Cornely, Introd. iii. p. 58].

3. We have already pointed out how the Messiasship of Jesus is proved by St. Matthew [cf. i. b], how the Jewish law is developed and applied by him, how the kingdom of heaven is described in the Sermon on the Mount and the parables, and permanently founded in the election and mission of the twelve. The so-called anti-Jewish tendency in the first gospel is due to the evangelist’s true description of the Messianic kingdom: in 2:1 ff. we have the account of the Magi from the far east; in the first chapter devoted to the history of Christ’s miracles we meet the Gentile centurion [8:5]; then again we hear the Lord say: “Many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into the exterior darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” [8:11, 12]. In 21:43, the same doctrine is expressed with still greater clearness: “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and shall be given to a nation yielding the fruits thereof.” The parting words of Jesus [Mt. 28:19] are a command to make disciples of all nations, and in verse 15 of the same chapter the first evangelist uses almost the language of the fourth, speaking of the Jews as a community entirely distinct from the Christians. In the history of the passion, St. Matthew throws the whole guilt on the Jewish nation: Pilate’s wife sends a warning message to her husband [27:8], Pilate washes his hands and declares his innocence of the blood of Jesus [27:24, 25], but the Jews cry out, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.”

4. While all this shows the true nature of the kingdom of heaven, it also explains why the Jews as such rejected the Messias and his doctrine. This last point is still more fully developed in the discourses contained in the first gospel. The Baptist inveighs against the Jewish spirit of confidence in the law and the carnal descent from Abraham [3:7]. Jesus openly declares the insufficiency of the justice of the scribes and Pharisees, and urges the opposition of his teaching to the Pharisaic tradition [5:21 ff.]. The Pharisees attribute the most splendid miracles of our Lord to Beelzebub, and the opposition between Jesus and the Pharisees grows steadily till it culminates on the part of Jesus in the solemn woes pronounced in chapter 23, and on the part of the Pharisees in the legal murder of their dreaded opponent. The authorities of the Synagogue kill the heir and retain the inheritance, rather than surrender the vineyard to the Son: therefore the kingdom of God is taken away. from them, and given to a nation yielding the fruits thereof [21:43]. The religious inquiries, the conscientious doubts, and the national difficulties of the Jewish converts are thus satisfied by the first evangelist, and the way is prepared for new conquests of Christianity.

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