MATTHEW – INTRODUCTION
The Synoptic Gospels
Matthew, Mark, and Luke are usually known as the Synoptic Gospels. Synoptic comes from two Greek words, which mean to “to see together”, and literally means “able to be seen together”. (William Barclay – Daily Study Bible, Matthew, page 1)
These three gospels have many similarities. In fact, many of the passages in them are word-for-word identical. Each has its particular emphasis and some unique sayings and events, but overall their similarity far overshadows their differences.
When looking at the three synoptic gospels closely, Bible scholars note that there seem to be two main sources of material:
Most Bible scholars believe that Matthew and Luke used material from both the Markan and Q sources. Matthew, for example, reproduces 606 of Mark’s 661 verses…and Luke reproduces 320 of the 661. In addition, however, there are more than 200 verses that are common to both Matthew and Luke that appear nowhere in Mark. These verses – mostly SAYINGS of Jesus – are probably from the Q source.
We need to understand that the gospel writers were basically editorialists. Each wanted to tell the story of Jesus, but from their own unique perspectives and with the purpose of emphasizing the aspects of Jesus’ ministry that they felt were most important. Using the Markan and Q traditions, plus some occasional other stories and sayings, each synoptic gospel writer wrote a gospel that has its own special outlook.
The Gospel According to Matthew
Although it is listed as the first of the four gospels, it almost certainly is NOT the earliest. As mentioned in the previous section, Matthew seems to borrow extensively from Mark’s gospel – which seems to have been in common use among many Christians for some time before this gospel was written. Although Matthew bears the name of one of Jesus’ twelve apostles – the former tax collector – it almost certainly was NOT written by him.
To fully understand Matthew’s gospel as a whole, we need to understand the context in which it was written. Many scholars believe that it was written by a member of a Jewish Christian congregation somewhere in the area of Antioch, Syria around 90 A.D. This was a community that was in the midst of a great crisis.
As shown in the above points, Matthew was originally written to Jewish Christians who were in the midst of great changes and conflicts with other Jewish groups who were “casting them out of the synagogue.” It was written to help them remember the teachings of Jesus and to help them to understand that Jesus was the fulfillment of all of Israel’s hopes and dreams. Matthew helped his original readers to understand that they – the ones who believed in and followed Jesus as the Messiah – were the true Jews.
In the end, however, Matthew also helped his original Jewish-Christian readers to understand that their mission was not to keep Jesus for themselves, or to only try to convince Jews, but to eventually introduce Jesus Christ to ALL PEOPLE everywhere. Even the Gentiles! That was their mission in the midst of a changing world. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
George R. Karres,
Pella Lutheran Church
418 W. Main Street
Sidney, MT 59270