The Tax Collector
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (v. 1). - Matthew 1:1
Unlike Paul’s letters, none of the four Gospels explicitly identifies its author in the body of its text. Though the title, the gospel according to [insert the apostle’s name], is attached to each book in the oldest New Testament manuscripts, biblical scholars regard each gospel as an anonymous work.
Liberals deny that apostles or their associates wrote the Gospels. However, believers have always affirmed the apostolicity of these books. The early church was certain that the apostles Matthew and John composed the gospels bearing their names. Mark and Luke were not apostles, but the church fathers knew Peter and Paul to be the sources of the second and third gospel, respectively.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels because of the similarities between them that set them apart from John. These three authors probably worked interdependently, relying on the same sources and the work of one another when writing. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, each man selected and arranged the historical data to give us an accurate portrait of Jesus.
Literary interdependence leads liberals to reject Matthew as the first gospel’s author. Why, they ask, would Jesus’ disciple use the gospels of Mark or Luke to record the life of Christ? Yet this objection is not conclusive. If Mark is based on Peter’s testimony, why would Matthew not use Mark’s work to write the first gospel? Moreover, nothing in Matthew’s gospel makes apostolic authorship impossible, and the early church testified that Matthew was its author. We have no reason to deny that Matthew wrote the gospel bearing his name.
Matthew also went by the name Levi and worked as a tax collector, at least prior to his conversion (Matt. 9:9; Mark 2:13–14). This vocation required official dealings with the Greek-speaking Roman empire and certainly helped Matthew develop the Greek proficiency reflected in the gospel’s original text. One church tradition says Matthew was martyred in Ethiopia around a.d. 60.
Matthew’s text is teeming with Old Testament allusions and quotations. The ubiquity of such references shows us Matthew wrote his gospel to explain how Jesus, the son of David, fulfills God’s promises to the nation of Israel.
Even in the very first verse of his gospel, Matthew tells us that Jesus fulfills God’s promises to His people. As the “son of Abraham,” Jesus is revealed as the one through whom Abraham will bless the nations (Gen. 12:1–3). Many in this world think they can find this blessing through means other than the mediation of Christ Jesus. In this age of syncretism and relativism let us always maintain that God’s favor comes only through Christ Jesus.
Passages for Further Study
- Jeremiah 33:14–26
- Matthew 9:9
- Luke 1:68–79
- Acts 1:12–26
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