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. Is the content of the Gospel credible?
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 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.
Common reference material of one Gospel was clearly used by the author of the other as evidenced by 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 as an alleged credibility issue, along with the Gospel having no identified author, can be attributed to legitimate literary protocols of the day.
Copying from another source to serve as “witnesses,” a respected form of citation and corroboration, was addressed at length by Josephus in Against Apion. An author not penning his work was a characteristic Jewish practice for reasons of humility; to avoid bringing fame or attention to the author. Other Jewish authorship examples, books the Old Testament and the Tenakh, also do not include the identity of their authors.
Authorship, dates, and use of reference materials aside, the measure of authenticity and credibility of the Gospel can be still be evaluated based on assessing the entirety of its content. How does Matthew measure up?
In the world of investigations, written statements that too closely resemble each other are immediately suspect of deception. Truthful, credible statements, however, are expected to be consistent with known key evidence and to be wholly consistent with other statements where characteristically normal variation is expected. The more details, the harder to cover a deception whereas deceptive statements lack detail. Literary analysis and literary criticism are among important scientific methodologies used to assess credibility.
“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 can be seen immediately in Matthew with the genealogy listed in reverse order from Luke’s with some name variations. Slightly more than a third of the content of Matthew is not in common with either Mark or Luke – and its unmatched subject matter is exceptional.
Matthew is the only source of the circumstances involving Joseph. Revealed is his contemplation of a divorce thinking Mary was 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, then instructed to name the babe “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 provided by 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 corroborated by the Disciple John who also identified a second Council member; to the tomb being sealed by the Romans and the Jewish Council after they testified to Pilate the body of Jesus was inside; and the unique use of koustodia, the Greek word meaning a company of guards posted at the tomb.
Morning of the Resurrection, Matthew includes the lone account of 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 the resurrected Jesus appearing to the women of Galilee sometime after leaving the tomb.
Historically, Matthew states Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod confirmed by Luke and is the only Gospel source who named Archelaus as ruler of Judea after Herod died. Matthew’s historical attributions help raise the bar of Gospel answerability to the highest degree to evaluate their credibility within a narrow window of five overlapping date markers – Augustus, Herod, Quirinius, the Roman census and the Star of Bethlehem.
Much of the bookend details of the birth Jesus of Nazareth and his death and Resurrection are found only in Matthew, but what about the information in between? Matthew recounts 3 miracles and at least 10 parables that do not appear in any other Gospel.
One of the most famous teachings of Jesus came from the famed “Sermon on the Mount” that includes the 9 verses of Beatitudes, all beginning with “Blessed are…” The quoted sermon, found only in Matthew, 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, aside perhaps from his prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, the Tribulation and the second coming of the Messiah. Jesus speaks 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 sent to them. The author of Luke chose to include in his own account Matthew’s 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)
Parts of Matthew were corroborated by the independent eyewitness account of John’s Gospel, other content in Luke’s investigative report and secular historical records. Considering the customary literary protocols, the allegation of literary misconduct is aptly contravened.
Extensive, unique details in Matthew – narratives, quotes, parables, miracles and prophecies – places the Gospel’s credibility in a most vulnerable position posing a huge risk if the details were deemed to be untrue by other contemporaries – but they didn’t refute it.
What remains to assess the credibility of Matthew is its believability. Could the information with such specific details in the Gospel have been fabrications; or does the significant unique details in Matthew indicate truthfulness and credibility of the Gospel?
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 Matthew 27.
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 Matthew 2; CR Luke 1.
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 Matthew 5-7.
 Mathew 24.
 Luke 13:34.