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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

ST. MATTHEW, the Evangelist, it is generally supposed, was a Galilean by birth. He followed the profession of publican or tax-gatherer. As a class, the publicans were held in great horror by the Jews, who regarded them as public sinners, on account of their exactions, rapacity, and heartless oppression of the poor. Everywhere in the Gospels, they are referred to by our Divine Redeemer as placed outside the pale of salvation. (See Commentary, p. 167.) St. Matthew held his office or toll-booth at Capharnaum, on the brink of the Lake of Genesareth. His special department was, very probably, the collection of the customs levied on persons and merchandise, that crossed the Lake of Genesareth. It was while he was actually engaged in the duties of his calling, “sitting in the custom-house” (9:9), our Lord, who came to save sinners, called on him to follow Him. St. Matthew at once obeyed the heavenly call Leaving all, he attached himself inseparably to the service of his Divine Master. Before, however, taking leave of his friends, and all he held most dear in this world, probably during the interval allowed him to put his worldly affairs in order, he gave our Lord and His disciples a banquet, at his house, to which his former associates flocked in great numbers (9:10). From this, the Pharisees took occasion to indulge in their usual carping malignity, in regard to the actions of our Divine Redeemer. But He, on hearing of it, reduces them to silence, and assigns several reasons in justification of His conduct. St. Matthew, also, bore the name of Levi (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27). Mark calls him “Levi, the son of Alpheus.” Whence, some modern critics hold that Matthew and Levi were two different persons. But, the common opinion is, that he had both names—a thing by no means uncommon among the Jews. Thus, we have, Simon Peter, John Mark, Paul called Saul, &c. The identity of circumstances recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, both as to time, place, occupation, &c., places the identity of Matthew and Levi beyond all reasonable doubt. It is utterly improbable, and hardly tenable, that two publicans would be called by our Lord, in the same words, at the same time and place, one of whom would become an Apostle, and the other utterly unheard of afterwards.

It is given as a proof of the great humility of the Evangelist, that while Mark and Luke, out of consideration for his feelings, call him “Levi,” a name less known in connexion with his former odious course of life; and while they mention him as the host of our Divine Redeemer, he himself speaks of himself as Matthew, the publican, and omits all reference to himself as the privileged host of our Divine Lord.

We have no further allusion to St. Matthew in the Gospel. From tradition, we learn that he preached for some years after our Lord’s Ascension, in Judea and the neighbouring countries (Eusebius, St. Epiphanius), that after the dispersion of the Apostles, he went to preach the Gospel, some say, to Persia (St. Paulinus); others, to Parthia (St. Ambrose); others, to Ethiopia (Ruffinus and Socrates). As regards his end, whether he died a natural death, or received the crown of martyrdom, on those points, nothing can be determined for certain.

HIS GOSPEL.—There never has been any diversity of opinion regarding the authenticity of this Gospel, among writers, ancient or modern, all of whom ascribe it to St. Matthew, if, perhaps, we except Faustus, the Manichean refuted by St. Augustine (Lib. contra Faustum). It has also been universally agreed upon, as we learn from Eusebius (Lib. iii., Hist. c. 24), that it was written in Judea, at the earnest request of the converted Jews of Palestine, and at the instance of the other Apostles, before their dispersion, in order that an enduring record of what St. Matthew preached might be preserved, and to supply his personal absence before he went to preach elsewhere. Upon this point, the greatest unanimity prevails among ancient and modern writers. Nor are intrinsic arguments, in proof of this, wanting, derived from the Gospel itself. Everywhere, it abounds with allusions to Jewish customs and usages general and particular, laws, localities, &c., with which the Jews were thoroughly acquainted; also with Hebrew, or rather Syro-Chaldaic words and phrases left unexplained, because well known to his readers; whereas, these same laws, usages, phrases, localities, are explained by the other Evangelists, whose Gospels were intended for a different class of readers, for whom such explanations were necessary.

We have, moreover, frequent prophetic quotations, without the prophet being named, “Sicut dictum est per Prophetam,” the prophet quoted being, in each instance, well known to those for whom the Gospel was intended.

LANGUAGE OF.—There is hardly any other historical fact, regarding which such unanimity of opinion prevails among the earliest ecclesiastical writers, as that St. Matthew wrote his Gospel originally in Hebrew, or rather Syro-Chaldaic, the vernacular of Judea at the time. During the period of seventy years’ captivity at Babylon, the use of the ancient Hebrew had ceased; and after their return, the Jews brought back with them the Chaldaic or Aramaic language. With this they mixed up some Hebrew words. The language commonly in use since their return from captivity till the utter destruction of the Jews, was this language, chiefly composed of the Chaldaic, and partly of the Hebrew; hence, termed Syro-Chaldaic. That this was the language in which St. Matthew wrote his Gospel, is attested by Papias, whose veracity in reference to this fact, as well as his sources of knowledge, are unquestionable (Iræneus, Hœres. III, 21); Iræneus (Euseb. Hist. Eccles. V, verse 8). Pantenus, who, St. Jerome informs us, brought back from Judea, where he went to preach the Gospel, the Hebrew copy of the Gospel of St. Matthew, left there by St. Bartholomew, Apostle (de Viris Ill. 36); Origen (apud Euseb. H. E. vi. 25); St. Epiphanius (Her. xxix. 9); St. Jerome, &c., &c.

Having written his Gospel for the use of the converted Jews of Palestine, can it be supposed St. Matthew would employ any other than the language most dear to them, to which they were wedded by so many ties of nationality? (See Acts 22:2).

Would the Ebionites and Nazareans have attempted to assert that their own Apocryphal Hebrew Gospel was the primitive text of St. Matthew, if the persuasion did not prevail generally at the time, that St. Matthew wrote in Hebrew? The first objection against this opinion, on the ground that certain Syro-Chaldaic words are explained, proves nothing, as these words probably were explained by the Greek interpreter. Moreover, the author himself might have explained certain remarkable compound words in a simpler form. If the argument proved anything, it would equally militate against the Hebrew origin of the Books of Genesis 31:18; Exodus 12:2; 1 Kings 17:42, &c., where a similar explanation of certain remarkable words is given.

2ndly. It is objected that the quotations are from the Septuagint of the Old Testament. But most of the quotations are only according to the sense of the passages quoted, and this approaches nearer the original Hebrew than the Septuagint.

3rdly. The phraseology in Mark, who confessedly wrote in Greek, is almost identical in many places with St. Matthew.

But, all that would follow from this is, that it was the Greek translator of Matthew that employed certain forms of expression, which were afterwards adopted by Mark.

Although St. Matthew originally wrote in Syro-Chaldaic, it is quite certain, that his Gospel appeared in Greek, at a very early period, and was in common use in the second century. Some maintain that this early Greek copy was an original, emanating from St. Matthew himself, and written by him for the use of the Hellenistic Jews, and the Gentiles aggregated to the Church. Others maintain it was but a translation, made under the direction of St. Matthew himself; but by whom made is uncertain. Some say, by St. Paul; others, by St. Luke; others, by St. James, first Bishop of Jerusalem, for the use chiefly of the Hellenistic Jews, subject to his spiritual jurisdiction. But, whether the Greek copy in question, was an original emanating from St. Matthew, or a translation by whomsoever made, under his direction, it was regarded by the Church as inspired and canonical. In course of time, it came into general use throughout the Church. The Fathers, without exception, quoted from it, without any doubt or misgiving whatever, regarding its canonical authority. Owing to the corruptions made in the Hebrew copies by the Ebionite and Nazarean heretics, the Hebrew version ceased to be of any authority whatever. It was according to the Greek that St. Jerome corrected the Vulgate, by the command of Pope Damasus.

What became of the original Hebrew copy of St. Matthew, cannot be known for certain. By some it is held that it perished, with other Jewish records, in the destruction of Jerusalem.

TIME OF.—It is generally admitted that the Gospel of St. Matthew was written first of all the Books of the New Testament. The precise time cannot be ascertained. It is certain some interval elapsed between it and our Lord’s death and resurrection. For, St. Matthew refers to the idle tale regarding our Lord’s body having boon stolen by His disciples, as existing up to the time he wrote (28:15); and he speaks of the potter’s field purchased with the blood-money flung back by the wretched Judas, being called “Haceldama,” up to the time of his writing his Gospel (27:8). Some refer the date of it to the year 41, eight years after our Lord’s Ascension. Others, to a later period. It is universally admitted to have been written before any other Book of the New Testament. Hence, justly entitled to the place it occupies, first in our Bibles.

The chief scope and aim which St. Matthew proposes to himself, clearly is to prove that Jesus Christ was the true Messiah promised to the Jews—the Son of David, predicted by the prophets, On this account it is, he quotes more largely from the, Scriptures of the Old Testament in proof of this, than any other of the Evangelists.

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