The Uniqueness of Matthew’s Gospel
Matthew’s Gospel is surrounded by many questions – who, when, what, how – making it a target rich environment for those who wish to challenge its credibility. Parallel passages, dates, authorship and variation from other Gospels are all called into question.
Authorship of Matthew is not claimed within the Gospel itself. Customarily Matthew is believed, based on sources who lived in very close time proximity, to have been written by one of the 12 Disciples of Jesus for whom the Gospel is named – an eyewitness. Other scholars and skeptics with differing views believe Matthew was written by someone else, is a collection of stories and oral tradition, or is even completely fictitious.
Many religion authorities believe Matthew was written sometime between 55-75 AD; other views range from 90-100 AD. All timeframe possibilities are during the first century when some of the original Disciples were still alive as were undoubtedly some from the Sanhedrin body who placed Jesus of Nazareth on trial. Which was written first, Mark or Matthew, is debatable although clearly Matthew is much longer and has much more detail.
Common reference material of one Gospel was clearly used by the author of the other as evidenced by the parallel passages, sometimes verbatim, appearing in Matthew and Mark, then in Luke. Still, less than a third of Matthew’s content is common to Mark. Parallel passages posing an alleged credibility issue, along with the Gospel being unpinned, can both be attributed to legitimate literary protocols of the day.
Copying from another source to serve as a “witness” was a respected form of citation and corroboration. It was common practice to copy from another resource, even verbatim, without a citation. Abuses of this practice by the Greeks were addressed at length by Josephus in Against Apion.
Not penning a work was characteristic Jewish practice for reasons of humility, to avoid bringing fame or attention to the author. Examples of other Jewish works without authorship or identify of the authors include books within the Old Testament or the Tenakh.
Identity, sourcing, timeline and references aside, the measure of authenticity and credibility of the Gospel can be still be evaluated based on assessing its content. Literary analysis and literary criticism are among important scientific methodologies used to assess credibility.
Variation actually enhances authenticity and credibility of Luke. In the world of investigations, written statements that too closely resemble each other are immediately suspect of deception.
Truthful, credible statements are expected to be consistent with key evidence as well as with other witness statements, yet characteristic variation is most certainly expected. A basic principal: the more details, the harder to cover a deception whereas deceptive statements lack detail.
“There must, therefore, naturally arise great differences among writers, when they had no original records to lay for their foundation, which might at once inform those who had an inclination to learn, and contradict those that would tell lies…” – Josephus
Distinct diversity from Luke can be seen immediately in Matthew with the genealogy of Jesus listed in reverse order along with some name variations. Slightly more than a third of the content of Matthew is not in common with Luke similarly to Mark…Matthew’s unmatched subject matter is exceptional.
Joseph‘s circumstances are exhibited only in Matthew such as his contemplation of divorcing Mary for becoming pregnant by another man. Joseph’s mind was changed by the angel’s visitation message that Mary would fulfill the quoted Isaiah 7:14 prophecy of a virgin birth and instructed Joseph to name the baby “Jesus.”
Next is the exclusive, unusual introduction of the mystic Magi; “His Star;” and Herod’s treachery – without it, about half of the traditional Christmas Nativity scene would not exist. Any question about “Bethlehem of Judea” being the birthplace of Jesus was addressed by quoting the Micah 5:2 prophecy , its meaning interpreted by none other than King Herod’s own Jewish religious experts.
Moving to the crucifixion, burial and the Resurrection, Matthew solely recounts details surrounding the death of Jesus – the earthquake, stones split in two, and tombs being opened with bodies coming back to life.
Precluding several conspiracy claims, Matthew establishes the chain of custody over the body of Jesus – from the crucifixion; burial by a member of the Jewish Council ; the Jewish leadership’s request to Pilate to secure the tomb to prevent a false fulfillment of the 3-day Resurrection prophecy; and the unique use of the Greek word koustodia, a company of guards.
Morning of the Resurrection, Matthew includes the lone accounts of several key happenings. Beginning with the angel rolling away the stone from the empty tomb; the earthquake; the proclamation of the angel presenting the empty tomb; the dereliction of the Guards and their report to the chief priests, and then the resurrected Jesus appearance to women of Galilee at some point later.
Historically, Matthew states Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod, corroborated by Luke’s Gospel, and also names secular historical figure Archelaus as ruler of Judea after Herod died. Matthew’s historical attributions combined with Luke’s Nativity account raises the bar of Gospel answerability to the highest degree by establishing the narrow window of five overlapping historical date markers – Augustus, Herod, Quirinius, the Roman census and the Star of Bethlehem.
One of the most famous teachings of Jesus unique to Matthew is the famed “Sermon on the Mount” including the nine verses of Beatitudes, all beginning with “Blessed are…” The quoted sermon covers 106 verses through three chapters. To capture this level of detail required an eyewitness.
Perhaps the biggest clue to the divine nature of Jesus is quoted in Matthew. Jesus spoke from his personal perspective as One who, watching Jerusalem throughout its history, often longed to provide protection for its people even though they killed the messengers God sent them. The author of Luke chose to include Matthew’s statement of Jesus in his own investigative report:
MT 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (NKJV)
Extensive, unique details in Matthew – narratives, quotes, parables, miracles and prophecies – places the Gospel’s credibility in a most vulnerable position by posing a huge risk if the details were deemed to be untrue by other contemporaries – but there is no evidence that they refuted it.
Parts of Matthew were corroborated by the independent eyewitness account of John’s Gospel; certain content in Luke’s investigative Gospel; as well as secular history. Considering the customary literary protocols, the allegations of literary misconduct become a non-issue.
What remains to assess the credibility of Matthew is its believability. Are the Gospel’s detailed accounts fabrications… or do the unique details in Matthew indicate truthfulness and credibility?
Updated November 19, 2021.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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 Matthew 27.
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 Matthew 2; CR Luke 1.
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 Matthew 5-7. CR Luke 6:20-22.
 Mathew 24; Luke 13:34.