« PreviousContinue »
and guidance the nature of that kingdom which he established. When this gospel was written, those agitations and troubles had commenced, into which the Jewish people were hurried by the confident expectation that they should soon receive the aid of the Messiah, as a temporal deliverer and prince, in efforts to shake off the Roman yoke. The Spirit of God intended, in all probability, by this historical argument, to restrain the impetuosity and wickedness of the age and people that Matthew addressed; to convince men that the Messiah had indeed appeared; and that his kingdom was greatly different in its pretensions and character, from all that the Jews were expecting. This intention explains three characteristics, which a careful reader will easily mark as distinguishing the present gospel.
1. The frequent references which Matthew makes to Old Testament prophecy. The genealogy which he gives at the opening of his gospel is an example of such reference; its object evidently is to show that Jesus was the legal heir to the throne of his father David," as ancient prophecy had taught the Jews to expect. Throughout the gospels there are of course illustrations given of the fulfilment of ancient prophecy in several other particulars in the history of Jesus, these, however, are much more frequent in Matthew than in any other evangelist, and to his style of writing it pertains almost exclusively to give to these references an obviously argumentative character and bearing. Other evangelists make them as it were incidentally and in passing, Matthew makes them to fix attention on Jesus as the Messiah of whom the prophets spoke. Of twenty-eight such references, including two or three to the forerunner who was sent to prepare his way, sixteen, or more than half, occur in Matthew alone; six of them in connexion with the birth and early life of Jesus, three, as chap. iv. 14—16, viii. 17, and xii. 17-21, trace the fulfilment of prophecy in his ministry or personal character.
2. The preference which Matthew gives to the discourses of Jesus. John indeed records some of these discourses at greater length than Matthew, but we shall see when we come to speak of the characteristics of his gospel that there were special reasons for this in the probable purpose for which he wrote. It will be enough to remark here that the discourses which John records were mostly occasioned by particular circumstances, while those in Matthew are the ordinary and daily topics on which the Redeemer spoke. As it was Matthew's object specially to explain to Jews the spiritual nature of the kingdom which Jesus sought to establish, we can easily see why he gives so many of these discourses. They were the most satisfactory illustrations and proofs he could offer. Many of these discourses are recorded or referred to by Matthew exclusively. See chap. xi. 28-30, xii. 3-6, 25-29, xvi. 13—19, xvii. 12—26, xxv., xxvi. 13, xxviii. 18-20. The ordinary teaching of Jesus was thus employed as an argument in addition to that furnished by the accomplishment of
prophecy in him to prove that he was the Messiah, and to show that his reign was spiritual.
3. The absence of a consecutive, chronological detail, evidently marking the narrative of Matthew. He does not write entirely without regard to the order of time; now and then in his narrative particles indicating sequence and dependence may be detected, but he most commonly groups together what was adapted to strengthen the convictions which his gospel was chiefly designed to produce. The chronology was of less importance to his end, and was therefore less regarded than was adaptation of fact to sustain his argument. In the sermon on the mount, for instance, Matthew has placed in one view the main points or characteristic features of the teaching of Jesus, collected perhaps from discourses delivered at different times and places. So again the record of the parables of Jesus, especially of those in chap. xiii., is rather intended to set forth the style of the Redeemer's teaching as intimated in ancient prophecy, than to mark the time and circumstances in which those parables were severally delivered. A similar observation will apply to the miracles recorded in chap. viii. ix., and to other parts of the gospel. In an historical argument these peculiarities would naturally obtain, and perhaps this circumstance may account for what all critics have more or less observed, viz., that Matthew quotes rather from the Hebrew text of the Old Testament than from that of the Septuagint version. As he was writing for Jews, and directing their attention to an argument founded on their own scriptures, this was natural. See chap. ii. 15; viii. 17; xxi. 5; xxvii. 46, and perhaps also we may thus explain chap. ii. 23, a passage which has occasioned difficulty among commentators. The evangelist gathers up and expresses in few words, well understood among Jews, the entire scope of many ancient predictions which foretold the contempt and reproach with which the Messiah would have to meet. See the note on the passage.
One idea seems to have guided Matthew in all that he set down as well as in all that he omitted. He regarded that only as relevant to his object which was adapted to carry conviction to the mind of a Jew that Jesus was the Christ. Absorbed in this prominent design he lost sight of every thing else, and, as a modern expositor has well said, "he makes use of events chiefly as points of support for the discourses which he lays before his readers, and from which his argument mainly arises."
GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW.
THE word Gospel means good news, or a joyful message. It commonly signifies the message itself. But it is here used to denote the book containing the record of the message. The title "saint," given
to the sacred writers of the New Testament, is of Roman Catholic origin, and is of no authority.
It is now conceded pretty generally that Matthew wrote his gospel in his native tongue; that is, the language of Palestine. That language was not pure Hebrew, but a mixture of the Hebrew, Chaldaic, and Syriac, commonly called Syro-Chaldaic, or Aramean. This language our Saviour undoubtedly used in his conversation; and his disciples would naturally use this language also, unless there were good reasons why they should write in a foreign tongue. It is agreed that the remainder of the New Testament was written in Greek. The reason for this, in preference to the native language of the writers, was, that Greek was the language then generally spoken and understood throughout the eastern countries conquered by Alexander the Great, and particularly in Judea, and in the regions where the apostles first laboured.
The christian fathers, without any exception, assert that Matthew wrote his gospel for the use of the Christians in Palestine; and say that it was written in the Hebrew dialect. It should be remarked, however, that many modern critics of much eminence do not suppose the evidence that Matthew wrote in Hebrew to be decisive; and believe that there is sufficient proof that, like the other writers of the New Testament, Matthew wrote in Greek. See Lardner's works, Supplement to second part of Credibility, &c., chap. v. vol. v., p. 294, London edition, 1831, 8vo.
The Gospel of Matthew exists now, however, only in Greek. The original Hebrew, or Syro-Chaldaic, if it was written in that language, has been designedly laid aside, or undesignedly lost. The questions
* See instances in Mark vii. 34, and Matt. xxvii. 46.
then naturally arise, who is the author of the Greek translation which we possess? and is it to be regarded of divine authority?
It has been conjectured by some that Matthew himself furnished a Greek translation of the Hebrew. This conjecture, in itself probable enough, wants testimony to support it. Athanasius, one of the early fathers, says that it was translated by "James, the brother of our Lord according to the flesh." Papias, another of the early fathers, says, that, "each one translated it as he was able." If James translated it, there can be no question about its inspiration and canonical authority. Nor is the question of its inspiration affected by our being ignorant of the name of the translator. The proper inquiry is, whether it had such evidence of inspiration as to be satisfactory to the church in the times when they were under the direction of the apostles. That it had such evidence, none acquainted with ancient history will doubt.
Epiphanius says that the Gospel by Matthew was written while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome. This was about the year of our Lord 63, the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. It is now generally supposed that this gospel was written about this time. There is very clear evidence in the gospel that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. That destruction is clearly and minutely told; but there is not the slightest intimation that these predictions had been accomplished; a thing which we should naturally expect if the gospel was not written until after these calamities came upon the Jews. Compare Acts xi. 28. It has been till lately uniformly regarded as having been written before either of the other evangelists. Some of late have, however, endeavoured to show that the gospel of Luke was written first. All testimony, and all ancient arrangements of the books, are against the opinion; and when such is the fact, it is of little consequence to attend to other arguments. In all copies of the New Testament, and in all translations, this gospel has been placed first. This, it is probable, would not have been done, had not Matthew published his gospel before any other was written.
Matthew, the writer of this gospel, called also Levi, son of Alphæus, was a publican, or tax-gatherer, under the Romans. See Notes on Matt. ix. 9, Luke v. 27. Of his life and death little is known for certain. Socrates, a writer of the fifth century, says that he went to Ethiopia after the apostles were scattered abroad from Judea, and died a martyr in a city called Nadebbar; but by what kind of death is altogether uncertain, However, others speak of his preaching and dying in Parthia or Persia, and the diversity of their accounts seems to show that they are all without good foundation. See Lardner's works, vol. v., p. 296-298, edition as above.
then a grandson; a descendant; an adopted son; a disciple, or one who is an object of tender affection-one who is to us as a son. In this place it means a descendant of David; or one who was of the family of David. It was important to trace the genealogy of Jesus up to David, because the promise had been made that the Messiah should be of his family, and all the Jews expected it would be so. It would be impossible, therefore, to convince a Jew that Jesus was the Messiah, unless it could be shown that he was descended from David. See Jer. xxiii. 5; Ps. cxxxii. 10, 11; compared with Acts xiii. 23, and John vii. 42.
1. The book of the generation. This is the proper title of the chapter. It is the same as to say, "the account of the ancestry or family, or the genealogical table of Jesus Christ." The phrase is common in Jewish writings. Compare Gen. v. 1. "This is the book of the generations of Adam," i. e. the genealogical table of the family or descendants of Adam. See also Gen. vi. 9. The Jews, moreover, as we do, kept such tables of their own families, and it is probable that this was copied from the record of the family of Joseph. ¶Jesus. See ver. 21. Christ, The word Christ is a Greek word, signifying anointed. The Hebrew word signifying the same is Messiah. The son of Abraham. The descendant Hence, Jesus is called either the Messiah, of Abraham. The promise was made to or the Christ, meaning the same thing. Abraham also. See Gen. xii. 3; xxi. 12; The Jews speak of the Messiah; Chris- compare Heb. xi. 13; Gal. iii. 16. The tians speak of him as the Christ. An- Jews expected that the Messiah would be ciently, when kings and priests were set descended from him; and it was important, apart to their office, they were anointed therefore, to trace the genealogy up to with oil. Lev. iv. 3; vi. 20; Exod. him also. Though Jesus was of humble xxvin. 41; xxix. 7; 1 Sam. ix. 16; xv. 1; birth, yet he was descended from most 2 Sam. xxiii. 1. To anoint, therefore, illustrious ancestors. Abraham, the father means often the same as to consecrate, of the faithful, "the beauteous model of or to set apart to any office. Thence an eastern prince," and David, the sweet those thus set apart are said to be anointed, psalmist of Israel, the conqueror, the or the anointed of God. It is for this magnificent and victorious leader of the reason that the name is given to the Lord people of God, were both among his Jesus. Dan. ix. 24. He was set apart ancestors. From these two persons, the by God to be the king, and high-priest, most eminent for piety, and for their and prophet of his people. Anointing excellencies the most renowned of all the with oil, was, moreover, supposed to be men of antiquity, sacred or profane, the emblematic of the influences of the Holy Lord Jesus was descended; and though Spirit; and as God gave him the Spirit his birth and life were humble, yet they without measure, John iii. 34, so he is who regard an illustrious descent as of called peculiarly the anointed of God.value, may find here all that is to be The son of David. The word son admired in piety, purity, patriotism, among the Jews had a great variety of splendour, dignity, and renown. significations. It means literally a son;
2-16. These verses contain the ge