Introduction to the book of Matthew from the ESV Study Bible


Author and Title

Since none of the four Gospels includes the names of their authors in the original manuscripts, they are all technically anonymous. This is not surprising, since the authors likely compiled their Gospel accounts for members of their own churches, to whom they were already well known. However, historical documents from early church history provide significant insight into the Gospels’ authorship. The earliest traditions of the church are unanimous in attributing the first Gospel to Matthew, the former tax collector who followed Jesus and became one of his 12 disciples. The earliest and most important of these traditions comes from the second century in the writings of Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor (c. a.d. 135), and Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul (c. 175). Because these early church leaders had either direct or indirect contact with the apostolic community, they would have been very familiar with the Gospels’ origins. Moreover, no competing traditions now exist (if they ever did) attributing Matthew’s Gospel to any other author. If Matthew did not write the book, it is hard to see why the false ascription would bear the name of a relatively obscure apostle when more well-known and popular figures could have been chosen (e.g., Philip, Thomas, or James).

Matthean authorship is denied by some modern scholars, especially on the view that the author of Matthew borrowed much of his material from Mark’s Gospel. Given that Matthew was an apostle while Mark was not, it is assumed that Matthew would not have needed (or chosen) to depend on Mark’s material. But even if Matthew did borrow from Mark’s Gospel, it would only have added to Matthew’s apostolic credibility since the evidence suggests that Mark himself relied extensively on the testimony of the apostle Peter.

When Jesus called him, Matthew was sitting in the tax collector’s booth (9:9), collecting taxes for Herod Antipas, and this may have been along a commercial trading route about 4 miles (6.4 km) from Capernaum. However, since the narrative surrounding Matthew’s call is set in Capernaum (9:1, 7, 10; cf. 4:13), the tax booth may have been on the Sea of Galilee at Capernaum, since Herod also taxed fishermen. At his calling in the first Gospel he is referred to as “Matthew” (9:9), while Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels describe him as “Levi the son of Alphaeus” (Mark 2:14) and “Levi” (Luke 5:27). The reason for the variation in names has elicited much discussion, but most scholars believe that the tax collector had two names, Matthew Levi, which he either possessed from birth or took on following his conversion. His occupation as a tax collector implies that he had training in scribal techniques and was thus able to write, while his identity as a Galilean Jewish Christian suggests his ability to interpret the words and actions of Jesus in light of OT messianic expectations.


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