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

i. The first gospel must have been written between 40 and 70 A. D.

1. Internal evidence. a. The historian finds in the middle of the period during which the gospels must have been composed a tremendous catastrophe which stretches like a chasm across the field, with a wholly different state of things on each side of it. On the one side we find the temple of Herod with its magnificent ceremonies and its regular feasts, the Sanhedrin, the scribes and Pharisees in their traditional power, the people divided into patriots, patient and God-fearing men, and Hellenizers. On the other side we find the temple in ruins, the ceremonies abolished, the feasts suppressed, the national hopes almost crushed, the parties wiped out of existence. It would be strange indeed if a piece of Jewish literature of this age did not betray on which side of the chasm it had been produced. Now Mt. 5:23, 24; 8:4; 10:23; 23:16, 17; 24:15, 34 point to a time when the sacrifices in the temple were still offered, when the priests still exercised their legal functions, when the abomination of desolation had not yet stood in the holy place, when the coming of the Son of man was still expected before the destruction of Jerusalem. The passages of the first gospel in which the Pharisees are still supposed to be in power need not be quoted at length; and why should the evangelist endeavor to explain the rejection of the Jews and the call of the Gentiles, if he had written after God’s visible judgment had already befallen the unhappy nation and vindicated the blood of the Son of God?

b. Moreover, the language of the first gospel places it before rather than after the destruction of Jerusalem. If we remember that the formal theological language had to be developed in the apostolic age by the Christian writers and teachers, we understand why the terminology in the canonical epistles differs so widely from that in the gospels. “The Son of man,” which occurs constantly in the gospels, does not figure at all in the later writings, except in an oblique manner in Hebr. 2:6, in an exclamation of St. Stephen [Acts 7:56], and in Apoc 1:13 and 14:14, where Dan. 7:13 is as much referred to as the gospel tradition. Again, the “kingdom of God” or the “kingdom of heaven” occurs very frequently in the gospels, but rarely in the epistles; in the gospels the idea had to be explained, in the epistles it was supposed as generally understood. The word “disciples” is constantly used in the gospels and in Acts, but is replaced in the later books of the New Testament by the terms “brethren” and “saints.” “Disciples” occurs in the synoptic gospels 160 times, in St. John 78 times, in Acts 28 times, in the other books not at all; for during the lifetime of Jesus his followers were called according to their relation to him, while later they were called according to their relation to the other Christians. Finally, in the canonical gospels the term “Lord” is often applied to Jesus as a reverential address, but in the narrative parts it is rare: in Matthew it does not occur at all, in the last part of Mark it occurs twice, in Luke 11 times, in John 6 times. But in the fragment of the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, “Lord” is the standing title of Jesus, to the exclusion of all others; in 60 verses it occurs 9 times, and even the first day of the week is twice named “the Lord’s day” [cf. Sanday, Inspiration, Bampton Lectures, 1893, pp. 283 ff.; Weizsäcker, Theol. Abhandl. pp. 113 ff.; Kaulen, Einl. p. 402].

c. If the first gospel shows by internal evidence that it must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem, it bears also certain marks that it has not been written immediately after the ascension. The phrases “even to this day” [27:8], “even unto this day” [28:15], used of the duration of the name Haceldama and of the report about the sleeping guard at the sepulchre respectively, suppose an interval of at least several years after the ascension; again, the object of the first gospel implies that the Gentiles had come into the church, and that the Jews had proved obstinate, before the time of its composition, so that it must be placed after the numerous conversions at Antioch and the ministry of Paul and Barnabas in Asia Minor.

2. External evidence, a. Though its testimony is not very definite, it confirms, on the whole, the results of internal evidence. Theoph. [in Matt, proœm.] and Euth. [in Matt, proleg.] place the gospel in the eighth year after the ascension; Nicephorus [H. E. ii. 45] in the fifteenth; Eusebius [H. E. iii. 24] in the time when St. Matthew was about to leave Palestine; Irenæus [hær. iii. 1] in the time when Peter and Paul preached in Rome.

b. Since the testimony of Irenæus differs somewhat from that of the other writers, various endeavors have been made to reconcile them. α. Patrizi [de Evangeliis, Friburgi, 1853, p. 38] writes the words of Irenæus thus: ὁ μὲν δὴ Ματθαῖος ἐν τοῖς Ἑβραίοις ἐν τῇ ἰδίᾳ αὐτῶν διαλέκτῳ καὶ γράφην ἐξήνεγκεν εὐαγγελίου τοῦ Πέτρου καὶ τοῦ Παύλου ἐν Ῥώμῃ εὐαγγελιζομένων καὶ θεμελούντων τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, or “Matthew indeed edited the work of the gospel among the Hebrews in their own language; when Peter and Paul evangelized in Rome, and founded the church.…” But [1] the words “when Peter and Paul …” can hardly belong to what follows, since the next clause of Irenæus adds “after their departure”; [2] Paul can hardly be said to have founded the Roman Church. β. To interpret the writing of the gospel,” not of Matthew’s gospel, but of its source, is to do violence to the text of Iren. [cf. Patrizi, l. c.]. γ. ʼΕξήνεγκεν cannot be rendered “promulgated” instead of “edited,” because that is not the meaning of the Greek word [cf. Passow, s. v.; Thayer, Greek-English Lex. s. v.], and it would require the preposition εἰς or πρός instead of ἐν. δ. Kaulen supposes that Iren. has added “and Paul” through mere habit, being accustomed to join the two names together: this explanation [1] removes the difficulty that Paul is said to have founded the Roman Church, and [2] it also harmonizes the opinion of Irenæus with that of the other early writers [Orig. Murat.], since Peter preached in Rome between the years 40 and 50 A. D.

c. Among the scholars of later date, Reischl, Haneberg, Feilmoser, and Hug place the composition of the first gospel between 60 and 67 A. D., Patrizi between 36 and 39 A. D., Aberle in 37 A. D., Bacuez in 40 A. D. [at least the Hebrew original], Glaire about 41 A. D., Bisping about 42 A. D., Cornely and Kaulen between 40 and 50 A. D., Harnack between 70 and 75 A. D.

ii. The first gospel was written in Palestine, and probably in Galilee. 1. Since there can be no doubt as to the readers for whom the first gospel was intended, it is generally agreed that it was written in Palestine. 2. Delitzsch [Guericke, Zeitschrift für luther. Theol. 1850, pp. 430 ff.] and Köstlin [Ursprung und Compos, d. syn. Evang. Leipzig, 1853, etc.] are of opinion that the first gospel was written in Peræa, because in 19:1 Judea appears to be situated “beyond the Jordan.” But the local determination πέραν τοῦ Ιορδάνου may be taken with the verb in the sentence, so that Jesus came from Galilee through Peræa into Judea. 3. Many writers think the gospel was written in Jerusalem; but the capital was the special field of St. James’ ministry, and the first evangelist insists principally on the Galilean portion of our Lord’s public life, so that 4. Galilee must be regarded as the home of the first gospel.








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