Books and Authors, New Testament

Who Wrote the Gospel of Matthew?


From the Christian apologetic resource, Got Questions.org
“This gospel is known as the Gospel of Matthew because
it was written by the apostle of the same name. “

Not so fast, Christian soldier.

The first thing that should be done when responding to Christian apologetics is to establish a few verifiable facts.

  1. Nowhere in GoMatthew does the author claim to be the disciple, Matthew, or a witness to the events described.
  2. The earliest known Christian authors did not claim that it was written by the disciple, Matthew.
  3. Whether scholars adhere to the predominant 2-Source Theory, or the less popular Farrer-Goulder hypothesis, the majority, by far, agree that the author was not the disciple Matthew and that the Gospel used GoMark as one of its sources.

“The Gospel according to Matthew is anonymous except for the title (“According to Matthew”) that was added after its composition, as in the case of the other Gospels. When the Church of the second century sought to accord authority to its Gospels, it assigned each of them to an apostle or an associate of an apostle.”
The Cambridge Companion to the Bible, Second Edition, 2008, p. 582

Here is the official Catholic commentary:

“The unknown author, whom we shall continue to call Matthew for the sake of convenience, drew not only upon the Gospel according to Mark but upon a large body of material (principally, sayings of Jesus) not found in Mark that corresponds, sometimes exactly, to material found also in the Gospel according to Luke. This material, called “Q” (probably from the first letter of the German word Quelle, meaning “source”), represents traditions, written and oral, used by both Matthew and Luke. Mark and Q are sources common to the two other synoptic gospels; hence the name the “Two-Source Theory” given to this explanation of the relation among the synoptics.”
Introduction to Matthew, New American Bible

The first Christian author to betray any knowledge of what is now called GoMatthew appears to be Ignatius around 110 CE. Ignatius makes references to material found only in the Gospel, but Ignatius never identifies his source by name.

Papias is often pulled off the shelf by some as evidence that Matthew was the author, but that is not what Papias said. We do not have Papias’ original writings, only quotations from later authors.

Eusebius makes this statement in the 4th century: “Papias himself, in the introduction to his books, makes it manifest that he was not himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles”

So Papias did not get his information from Matthew or any of the apostles directly.

Here is the sentence from Papias that is used in the argument.

“Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.”Fragments, Papias VI

The Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek, copying from other Greek manuscripts, including the Greek Septuagint. There exists no evidence that it was ever written in “the Hebrew language”. GoMatthew is also not a “logia”, a sayings source. It is an Euangelion, a gospel narrative. An example of a logia would be the Gospel of Thomas, or Q. A logia is a collection of sayings without a narrative core. So obviously Papias was not talking about what we know today as the Gospel of Matthew. Perhaps he was talking about a now lost, early Aramaic version of Q.

So who was it that said that this anonymously written gospel was authored by the disciple, Matthew? That would be Irenaeus, writing near the end of the second century, one hundred years after the Gospel was written. Why did he say that it was written by Matthew? “When the Church of the second century sought to accord authority to its Gospels, it assigned each of them to an apostle or an associate of an apostle.” CCB2 (see above)

“In the earliest Christian movement, there were actually many different writings circulated, and many traditions about the sayings of Jesus. Some of the leaders were concerned to say, “Well, which of these writings can be read in church? Which are the right ones? Which are the best ones?” And Irenaeus, the leader of a church in France in about the year 170, declared that “The heretics boast that they have many more gospels than there really are. But really they don’t have any gospels that aren’t full of blasphemy. There actually are only four authentic gospels. And this is obviously true because there are four corners of the universe and there are four principal winds, and therefore there can be only four gospels that are authentic. These, besides, are written by Jesus’ true followers.” Elaine Pagels

Early Christianity was wonderfully diverse and the deity seemed to be quite pleased. The other groups had their own gospels attributed to specific apostles, like Peter, Thomas, Mary, Philip or Judas. One particular sect of Christianity, feeling left out perhaps, perceived these other sects to be a threat and a power struggle arose for the “authority” of Jesus. Irenaeus ‘ brilliant idea was to claim that four particular anonymously written gospels, which not-so-coincidentally happened to reflect his own specific view, should be attributed to Matthew and John, disciples of Jesus; to Luke, a supposed disciple of Paul; and to Mark, a supposed disciple of Peter. He then argued that the legitimacy of his particular Jesus-cult was based on what came from these now-named Gospels, written by supposed eyewitnesses to the events. This began the wielding of an imaginary authority against competing sects of his own religion; a rhetorical battle ensued that would rage until the time of Eusebius and Constantine in the fourth century, where it would really begin to turn ugly.

It is no accident that while almost everybody knows about the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, not many are familiar with the other gospels that were suppressed by the Orthodox Catholic Church. History is written by the winners.

Additional resources:

Early Christian Writings – Matthew

The Two-Source Hypothesis

From Jesus to Christ – The Gospel of Matthew

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