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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.[1] 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.[2]

Many religion authorities believe Matthew was written sometime between 55-75 AD; other views range from 90-100 AD.[3] 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 is it clear, 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.[4] Still, less than a third of Matthew’s content is common to Mark.[5] 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 a “witness,” a respected form of citation and corroboration, was addressed at length by Josephus in Against Apion.[6] 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 of the Old Testament or the Tenakh, also do not include the identity of their authors.[7]

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.[8] How does Matthew measure up?

In the world of investigations, written statements that too closely resemble each other are immediately suspect of deception.[9] Truthful, credible statements, however, are expected to be consistent with key evidence as well as with other witness statements, yet characteristic variation is most certainly 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[10]

Distinct diversity can be seen immediately in Matthew with the genealogy listed in reverse order from Luke’s with some name variations.[11] 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.[12]

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 and was 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 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.[13]

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; 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 meaning 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 appearing some time later to the women of Galilee .[14]

Historically, Matthew states Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod confirmed by Luke’s Gospel which also named Archelaus as ruler of Judea after Herod died.[15]Matthew’s historical attributions combined with Luke 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.

Much of the bookend details of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth and his death and Resurrection are found only in Matthew, but what about the information in between? Matthew recounts three miracles and at least 10 parables that do not appear in any other Gospel.[16]

One of the most famous teachings of Jesus found only in Matthew is the famed “Sermon on the Mount” that includes the nine verses of Beatitudes, all beginning with “Blessed are…” The quoted sermon, found only in Matthew, covers 106 verses through three chapters.[17] 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 sent to them. The author of Luke chose to include it in his own investigative report:[18]

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 they didn’t refute it.

Parts of Matthew were corroborated by the independent eyewitness account of John’s Gospel; particular content in Luke’s investigative report; as well as secular history. Considering the customary literary protocols, the allegation of literary misconduct becomes a non-issue.

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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REFERENCES:

[1] Luke 13:34. Luke 13:34. Papias. “Papias.” Fragment I & VI. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.vii.html>  Gloag, Paton James. Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. p 168.  <https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=chi.090193322;view=1up;seq=25>  Irenaeus of Lyons.  Against Heresies. Book III, Chapter I.1, IX, XXI.3.  <http://www.ccel.org/search/fulltext/Heresies>  Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark, 1902. p XIX. <https://books.google.com/books?id=WcYUAAAAQAAJ&lpg=PA127&ots=f_TER300kY&dq=Seneca%20centurio%20supplicio%20pr%C3%A6positus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[2] Fausset, Andrew R.  Fausset Bible Dictionary. 1878. “Matthew, The Gospel According to.”  <http://classic.studylight.org/dic/fbd/view.cgi?number=T2722>  Didymus, John Thomas.  “The Biblical Evidence For a Conspiracy Theory of the Resurrection.”  2010.  <http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Biblical-Evidence-For-a-Conspiracy-Theory-of-the-Resurrection&id=4205050>  “New Testament – Historical Books.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11498-new-testament>  Smith, Ben C. The Synoptic Project. 2018. <http://www.textexcavation.com/synopticproject.html>  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp. 4-5, 48, 63-64, 106-108.  “Gospel of Matthew.” Theopedia.com.  “The Lives.” Quartz Hill School of Theology.  “New Testament – Historical Books.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11498-new-testament>  Kirby, Peter.  “Gospel of Matthew.”  EarlyChristianWritings.com. 2018. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/matthew.html>  Vick, Tristan D. “Dating the Gospels: Looking at the Historical Framework.”  Carr, A. The Gospel According to Matthew, Volume I. 1881. pp XVIII – XIX. <http://books.google.com/books?id=ZQAXAAAAYAAJ&dq=Swete%2C%20The%20Gospel%20According%20to%20St.%20Matthew&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=Swete,%20The%20Gospel%20According%20to%20St.%20Matthew&f=false>  Smith, B. D. “The Gospel of Matthew.”
[3] “Gospel of Matthew.” Theopedia.com. n.d. <https://www.theopedia.com/gospel-of-matthew>  “The Lives.”  Quartz Hill School of Theology. n.d. <http://www.theology.edu/biblesurvey/matthew.htm> Vick, Tristan D. “Dating the Gospels: Looking at the Historical Framework.” Advocatus Atheist. 2010. <http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/2010/01/dating-gospels-looking-at-historical.html>  Shamoun, Sam. “The New Testament Documents and the Historicity of the Resurrection.” Answering-Islam.org. 2013.  <http://www.answering-islam.org/Shamoun/documents.htm>  Kirby, Peter. Index. EarlyChristianWritings.com. 2018. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/index.html> Smith, Barry. D. “The Gospel of Matthew.”  n.d. <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/Matt.htm>  Etinger, Judah. Foolish Faith. Chapter 6.  2012.  <http://www.foolishfaith.com/book_chap6_history.asp> Shamoun, Sam. “The New Testament Documents and the Historicity of the Resurrection.” 2013.  <http://www.answering-islam.org/Shamoun/documents.htm>
[4] Fausset, Andrew R.  Fausset Bible Dictionary. 1878. “New Testament.”  <http://classic.studylight.org/dic/fbd/view.cgi?number=T2722>
[5] “Matthew. Easton’s Bible Dictionary. 1897. <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002400.html#T0002443>  Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark, The Greek Text with Notes and Indices. p. XXIV.  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. p. 33 <https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=chi.090193322;view=1up;seq=25>
[6] Josephus, Flavius. Against Apion. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. Book I.1-2, 4-6, 10, 17, 19, 23, 26. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. “Preface.”  Reed, Annette Yoshiko.  Pseudepigraphy, Authorship, and ‘The Bible’ in Late Antiquity. 2008. p 478.  <http://www.academia.edu/1610659/_Pseudepigraphy_Authorship_and_the_Reception_of_the_Bible_in_Late_Antiquity>  “Custom Cheating and Plagiarism essay paper writing service.” ExclusivePapers.com.  n.d.  <http://exclusivepapers.com/essays/Informative/cheating-and-plagiarism.php>  Cummings, Michael J. “Did Shakespeare Plagiarize?” Cummings Study Guides. 2003. <http://cummingsstudyguides.net/xPlagiarism.html>
[7] Reed.  Pseudepigraphy, Authorship, and ‘The Bible’ in Late Antiquity. p 476-479.  “Hebrew Bible: Torah, Prophets and Writings.” MyJewishLearning.com. <https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hebrew-bible>  Benner, Jeff, Ancient Hebrew Research Center. 2018. “The Authors of the Torah.” <http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/articles_authors.html>
[8] Carr. The Gospel Accouding to Matthew, Volume I. p XVIII – XIX.  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. p 5. “Gospel of Matthew.” Theopedia.com. “Jesus.”  “The Book of Matthew.” Quartz Hill School of Theology.  Mareghni, Pamela. “Different Approaches to Literary Criticism.” 2014. <http://web.archive.org/web/20140628042039/http://www.ehow.com/about_5385205_different-approaches-literary-criticism.html>  Preble, Laura. “Traditional Literary Criticism.” 2014. <http://www.ehow.com/info_8079187_approaches-literary-criticism.html>
[9] Sapir, Avinoam. LSI Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation. Basics and advance courses. <http://www.lsiscan.com/id37.htm>  “Scientific Content Analysis (SCAN).” Personal Verification LTD. 2018. <http://www.verify.co.nz/scan.php>
[10] Josephus. Against Apion. Book I.5.
[11] Matthew 1; Luke 3. Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies. Book III. Chapter I.1, IX, XXI.3. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. n.d.  <http://www.ccel.org/search/fulltext/Heresies>  “New Testament – Historical Books.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp ix, 39.
[12] “Matthew.” Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. n.d. <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002400.html#T0002442>  “Luke.” Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. n.d. <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002300.html#T0002331> Carr. The Gospel Accouding to Matthew, Volume I. pp XVIII – XIX. Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels.  p 32-33, 38-42.  Sween, Don and Nancy. “Parable.” BibleReferenceGuide.com. n.d. <http://www.biblereferenceguide.com/keywords/parable.html>  Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark, 1902. p XVII, XXIV.  Fairchild, Mary. “37 Miracles of Jesus.” ThoughtCo. 2017. <https://www.thoughtco.com/miracles-of-jesus-700158Ryrie Study Bible.  Ed. Ryrie Charles C.  Trans. New American Standard. 1978. “The Miracles of Jesus.” Aune, Eilif Osten. “Synoptic Gospels.” Bible Basics. 2013. <www.bible-basics-layers-of-understanding.com/Synoptic-Gospels.html>
[13] Matthew 27.
[14] Net.bible.org. Matthew 27:65 Greek text.  “koustodia <2892>.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/2892.html>
[15] Matthew 2; CR Luke 1.
[16] Carr. The Gospel Accouding to Matthew. Volume I. pp XVIII – XIX.  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp 32-33. Gloag, The Synoptic Gospels. pp 38-42. Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of John.”  F. 5.3.3.  2015. <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/John.htm>  Sween. “Parable.”  Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark. pp. XIX, XXIII. <https://books.google.com/books?id=WcYUAAAAQAAJ&lpg=PA127&ots=f_TER300kY&dq=Seneca%20centurio%20supplicio%20pr%C3%A6positus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Luke.” Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary.  “Parable.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 2018. <http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/P/parable.html>  “The Parables of Jesus.” Ryrie Study Bible. “The Miracles of Jesus.” Ryrie Study Bible.  Fairchild, Mary. “37 Miracles of Jesus.” ThoughtCo. 2017. <https://www.thoughtco.com/miracles-of-jesus-700158>
[17] Matthew 5-7.
[18] Mathew 24; Luke 13:34.

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