Vincent's Word Studies

Marvin R. Vincent, D.D.

Baldwin Professor of Sacred Literature in Union Theological Seminary New York.

The Gospel According to Matthew


Concerning Matthew personally we know very little. He was a son of Alphaeus, a brother of James the Little, possibly a brother of Thomas Didymus. The only facts which the gospels record about him are his call and his farewell feast. He had been a publican or tax-collector under the Roman government; an office despised by the Jews because of the extortions which commonly attended it, and because it was a galling token of subjection to a foreign power. When called by Christ, Matthew forsook at once his office and his old name of Levi. Tradition records of him that he lived the life of an ascetic, on herbs and water. There is a legend that after the dispersion of the apostles he travelled into Egypt and Ethiopia preaching the Gospel; that he was entertained in the capital of Ethiopia in the house of the eunuch whom Philip baptized, and that he overcame two magicians who had afflicted the people with diseases. It is further related that he raised the son of the king of Egypt from the dead, healed his daughter Iphigenia of leprosy, and placed her at the head of a community of virgins dedicated to the service of God; and that a heathen king, attempting to tear her from her asylum, was smitten with leprosy, and his palace destroyed by fire.

According to the Greek legend he died in peace; but according to the tradition of the Western Church he suffered martyrdom.

Mrs. Jameson (“Sacred and Legendary Art”) says: “Few churches are dedicated to St. Matthew. I am not aware that he is the patron saint of any country, trade, or profession, unless it be that of tax-gatherer or exciseman; and this is perhaps the reason that, except where he figures as one of the series of evangelists or apostles, he is so seldom represented alone, or in devotional pictures. When he is portrayed as an evangelist, he holds a book or a pen; and the angel, his proper attribute and attendant, stands by, pointing up to heaven or dictating, or he holds the inkhorn, or he supports the book. In his character of apostle, St. Matthew frequently holds a purse or money-bag, as significant of his former vocation.”

Matthew wrote, probably in Palestine, and evidently for Jewish Christians. There are two views as to the language in which his gospel was originally composed: one that he wrote it in Hebrew or Syro-Chaldaic, the dialect spoken in Palestine by the Jewish Christians; the other that he wrote it in Greek. The former theory is supported by the unanimous testimony of the early church; and the fathers who assert this, also declare that his work was translated into Greek. In that case the translation was most probably made by Matthew himself, or under his supervision. The drift of modern scholarship, however, is toward the theory of a Greek original. Great uncertainty prevails as to the time of composition. According to the testimony of the earliest Christian fathers, Matthew's gospel is the first in order, though the internal evidence favors the priority of Mark. Evidently it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem (a.d. 70). “Had that event preceded the writing of the synoptic gospels and the epistles of St. Paul, nothing is more certain than that it must have been directly mentioned, and that it must have exercised an immense influence on the thoughts and feelings of the apostles and evangelists. No writer dealing with the topics and arguments and prophecies with which they are constantly occupied, could possibly have failed to appeal to the tremendous sanction which had been given to all their views by God himself, who thus manifested his providence in human history, and showed all things by the quiet light of inevitable circumstances” (Farrar, “Messages of the Books”).

Matthew's object was to exhibit the Gospel as the fulfilment of the law and the prophecies; to connect the past with the present; to show that Jesus was the Messiah of the Jews, and that in the Old Testament the New was prefigured, while in the New Testament the Old was revealed. Hence his gospel has a more decidedly Jewish flavor than any other of the synoptics. The sense of Jewish nationality appears in the record of Christ's words about the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mat 15:24); in the command not to go into the way of the Gentiles nor into the villages of the Samaritans (Mat 10:5); in the prophecy that the apostles shall sit as judges in “the regeneration” (Mat 19:28). Also in the tracing of the genealogy of our Lord no further back than to Abraham; in the emphasis laid on the works of the law (Mat 5:19; Mat 12:33, Mat 12:37); and in the prophecy which makes the end of Israel contemporaneous with the “consummation of the age” (Mat 24:3, Mat 24:22; Mat 10:23).

On the other hand, a more comprehensive character appears in the adoration of the infant Jesus by the Gentile magi; in the prophecy of the preaching of the Gospel of the kingdom to all the world (Mat 24:14), and the apostolic commission to go to all nations (Mat 28:19); in the commendation of the faith of a Gentile above that of Israel (Mat 8:10-12; compare the story of the Syro-phoenician woman, Mat 15:28); in the use of the word “Jews,” as if he were outside the circle of Jewish nationality; in the parables of the laborers in the vineyard (20:1-16), and of the marriage of the king's son (Mat 22:1-14); in the threat of taking away the kingdom from Israel (Mat 21:43), and in the value attached to the moral and religious element of the law (Mat 22:40; Mat 23:23). The genealogy of Jesus contains the Gentile names of Rahab the Canaanite, and Ruth the Moabitess. To Matthew Jesus is alike the Messiah of the Jew and the Saviour of the world.

It being his task to show how the law and the prophets were fulfilled in Christ, his allusions are frequent to the Old Testament scriptures. He has upward of sixty references to the Old Testament. His citations are of two classes: those which he quotes himself as fulfilled in the events of Christ's life, such as Mat 1:23; Mat 2:15, Mat 2:18; Mat 4:15, Mat 4:16; and those which are a part of the discourse of his different characters, such as Mat 3:3; Mat 4:4, Mat 4:6, Mat 4:7, Mat 4:10; Mat 15:4, Mat 15:8, Mat 15:9. He exhibits the law of Christ, not only as the fulfilment of the Mosaic law, but in contrast with it, as is illustrated in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, while representing the new law as gentler than the old, he represents it, at the same time, as more stringent (see Mat 5:28, Mat 5:32, Mat 5:34, Mat 5:39, Mat 5:44). His gospel is of a sterner type than Luke's, which has been rightly styled “the Gospel of universality and tolerance.” The retributive element is more prominent in it. Sin appeals to him primarily as the violation of law; and therefore his word for iniquity is ἀνουμία, lawlessness, which occurs nowhere else in the Gospels. He alone records the saying, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Mat 22:14), and, as Professor Abbot has acutely remarked, the distinction between the called (κλητοί) and the chosen (ἐκλεκτοί) is the more remarkable, because Paul uses the two words almost indifferently, and Luke, although he too has the parable of the unworthy guests, has not ventured to use κλντοί in Matthew's disparaging signification (Art. “Gospels,” in Encyclop. Britannica). To him, also, is peculiar the record of the saying that “Whosoever shall break one of the least commandments, and teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 5:19). To continue the quotation from Professor Abbot, “Matthew, more than the rest of the evangelists, seems to move in evil days, and amid a race of backsliders, among dogs and swine, who are unworthy of the pearls of truth; among the tares sown by the enemy; among fishermen who have to cast back again many of the fish caught in the net of the Gospel. The broad way is ever in his mind, and the multitude of those that go thereby, and the guest without the wedding garment, and the foolish virgins, and the goats as well as the sheep, and those who even cast out devils in the name of the Lord, and yet are rejected by him because they work 'lawlessness.' Where Luke speaks exultantly of joy in heaven over one repentant sinner, Matthew, in more negative and sober phrases, declares that it is not the will of the Father that one of the little ones should perish; and as a reason for not being distracted about the future, it is alleged that 'sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.' The condition of the Jews, their increasing hostility to the Christians, and the wavering or retrogression of many Jewish converts when the hostility became intensified shortly before and during the siege of Jerusalem - this may well explain one side of Matthew's gospel; and the other side (the condemnation of 'lawlessness') might find an explanation in a reference to Hellenizing Jews, who (like some of the Corinthians) considered that the new law set them free from all restraint, and who, in casting aside every vestige of nationality, wished to cast aside morality as well. Viewed in the light of the approaching fall of Jerusalem, and the retrogression of great masses of the nation, the introduction into the Lord's Prayer of the words 'Deliver us from the evil,' and the prediction that 'by reason of the multiplying of lawlessness the love of many shall wax cold,' will seem not only appropriate, but typical of the character of the whole of the First Gospel.”

As related to the other synoptical gospels, Matthew's contains fourteen entire sections which are peculiar to him alone. These include ten parables' The Tares; the Hid Treasure; the Pearl; the Draw-net; the Unmerciful Servant; the Laborers in the Vineyard; the Two Sons; the Marriage of the King's Son; the Ten Virgins, and the Talents. Two miracles: The Cure of Two Blind Men, and the Coin in the Fish's Mouth. Four events of the infancy' The Visit of the Magi; the Massacre of the Infants; the Flight into Egypt, and the Return to Nazareth. Seven incidents connected with the Passion and the Resurrection' the Bargain and Suicide of Judas; the Dream of Pilate's Wife; the Resurrection of the Departed Saints; the Watch at the Sepulchre; the Story of the Sanhedrim, and the Earthquake on the Resurrection Morning. Ten great passages of our Lord's discourses: Parts of Sermon on the Mount (5-7); the Revelation to Babes; the Invitations to the Weary (Mat 11:25-30); Idle Words (Mat 12:36, Mat 12:37); the Prophecy to Peter (Mat 16:17-19); Humility and Forgiveness (18:15-35); Rejection of the Jews (Mat 21:43); the Great Denunciation (23); the Discourse about Last Things (25:31-46); the Great Commission and Promise (Mat 28:18-20).

Hence Matthew's is pre-eminently the didactic Gospel, one-quarter of the whole being occupied with the actual words and discourses of the Lord.

Matthew is less characteristic in style than in arrangement and matter. The orderly, business-like traits which had been fostered by his employment as a publican, appear in his methodical arrangement and grouping of his subject. His narrative is more sober and less graphic than either Mark's or Luke's. The picture of our Lord's life, character, and work, as Teacher, Saviour, and Messianic King, is painted simply, broadly, and boldly, but without minute detail, such as abounds in Mark. His diction and construction are the most Hebraistic of the synoptists, though less so than those of John's gospel. The following Hebrew peculiarities are to be noted: 1. The phrase, Kingdom of Heaven (βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν), which occurs thirty-two times, and is not found in the other evangelists, who use Kingdom of God. 2. Father in Heaven, or Heavenly Father (ὁ πατὴρ ὁ ἐν οὐρανοῖς: ὁ πατὴρ ὁοὐράνοις). This occurs fifteen times in Matthew, only twice in Mark, and not at all in Luke, Luk 11:2 being a false reading. 3. Son of David, seven times in Matthew, three in Mark, three in Luke. 4. The Holy City (Jerusalem), in Matthew only. 5. The end of the world, or consumption of the age (ἡ συντέλεια τοῦ αἰῶνος), in Matthew only. 6. In order that it might be fulfilled which was spoken (ἵνα or ὅπως πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθέν), eight times in Matthew, and not elsewhere in this form. This is Matthew's characteristic formula. 7. That which was spoken (τὸ ῥηθέν), twelve times; It was spoken (ἐῤῥήθη), six times. Not elsewhere used of scripture, for Mar 13:14 is a false reading. Matthew always uses that which was spoken (τὸ ῥηθέν) when quoting scripture himself. In other quotations he has It is written (γέγοαπται), like the other evangelists. He never uses the singular γραφή (properly a passage of scripture). 8. And behold (καὶ ἰδού), in narrative, twenty-three times; in Luke, sixteen. 9. Heathen, (ἐθνικός), in Matthew only. 10. To swear in (ὀμνύειν ἐν, i.e., by), thirteen times, in Matthew and Rev 10:6.

A number of words condemned by the grammarians as un-classical or as slang are employed by Mark, and a few of these may be found in Matthew, such as μονόφθαλμος, having one eye; κολλυβισταί, money-changers; κοράσιον, maid; ῥαφίς, a needle. He also uses some Latinisms, three at least in common with Mark: πραιτώριον, praetorium ; κῆνσος, tribute; φραγελλόω, to scourge; also κουστωδία, guard, peculiar to him alone.

He frequently uses the words to come or go (προσέρχομαι, πορέυω) after the oriental manner, to expand his narrative; as, when the tempter came he said (Mat 4:3); a centurion came beseeching (Mat 8:5); a scribe came and said (Mat 8:19); the disciples of John came, saying (Mat 9:14). The former of these verbs (προσέρχομαι) occurs fifty-one times, while in Mark it is found but six times, and in Luke, ten. The word ὄναρ, a dream, is used by him alone in the New Testament, and always in the phrase κατ' ὄναρ, in a dream. It occurs six times. Τάφος, a tomb, is also peculiar to him, the other evangelists using μνῆμα or μνημεῖον the latter being used also by Matthew. ὁ λεγόμενος, who is called, is a favorite expression in announcing names or surnames (Mat 1:16; Mat 10:2; Mat 26:3, Mat 26:14). He adds of the people to scribes or elders (Mat 2:4; Mat 21:23; Mat 26:3, Mat 26:47; Mat 27:1). He writes, into the name (εἰς τὸ ὄνομα), where the other evangelists have ἐν, in, or ἐπί, upon (Mat 10:41, Mat 10:42; Mat 18:20; Mat 28:19). His favorite particle of transition is τότε, then, which occurs ninety times, to six in Mark and fourteen in Luke (Luk 2:7; Luk 3:5; Luk 8:26; Luk 11:20, etc.). There are about a hundred and twenty words which are used by him alone in the New Testament. Two instances occur of a play upon words: ἀφανίζουσι φανῶσι, they make their real faces disappear, in order that they may appear (Mat 6:16); κακοὺς κακῶς, he will evilly destroy those evil husbandmen” (Mat 21:41).

The writer is utterly merged in his narrative. The very lack of individuality in his style corresponds with the fact that, with the single exception of the incident of his call and feast, he does not appear in his gospel, even as asking a question. It has been suggested that traces of his old employment appear in the use of the word tribute-money, instead of penny, and in the record of the miracle of the coin in the fish's mouth; but the name “Matthew the publican” serves rather to emphasize his obscurity. The Jew who received the Messiah he portrayed could never lose his disgust for the office and class which he represented. A gospel written by a publican would seem least of all adapted to reach the very people to whom it was addressed. Whether or not the perception of this fact may have combined to produce this reticence, with the humility engendered by his contemplation of his Lord, certain it is that the evangelist himself is completely hidden behind the bold, broad masses in which are depicted the Messiah of Jewish hope, the Saviour of mankind, the consummate flower of the ancient law, and the perfect life and unrivalled teaching of the Son of David.


The Gospel (εὐαγγέλιον)

Signifies originally a present given in return for joyful news. Thus Homer makes Ulysses say to Eumseus, “Let this reward εὐαγγέλιον be given me for my good news” (Od., 14:152). In Attic Greek it meant (in the plural) a sacrifice for good tidings. Later it comes to mean the good news itself - the joyful tidings of Messiah's kingdom. Though the word came naturally to be used as the title of books containing the history of the good tidings, in the New Testament itself it is never employed in the sense of a written book, but always means the word preached.

According to (κατά)

This is not the same as the phrase Gospel of Matthew. The Gospel is God's, not Matthew's nor Luke's; and is substantially one and the same in all the evangelists' writings. The words “according to,” therefore, imply a generic element in the Gospel which Matthew has set forth in his own peculiar style. The meaning is, the good tidings of the kingdom, as delivered or represented by Matthew.

Matthew (Ματθαῖον)

The names Matthew and Levi denote the same person (Mat 9:9; Mar 2:14; Luk 5:27). The name Levi is wanting in all lists of the apostles, but Matthew is named in all these lists. The Jews marked decisive changes in their life by a change of name (compare Simon and Peter; Saul and Paul); so that it is evident that Levi, after his call to the apostolate, styled himself Matthew, a contracted form of the Hebrew Mattathias, meaning gift of God; a name reproduced in the Greek Theodore (θεός, God; δῶρον, a gift). This name so completely displaced the old one that it is anticipated by Matthew himself in Mat 9:9, where he is called Matthew; whereas Mark and Luke, in narrating his call, more correctly style him Levi (Mar 2:14; Luk 5:27); while in their lists of the apostles (Mar 3:18; Luk 6:15; Act 1:13) they rightly call him Matthew.

List of Greek Words Used by Matthew Only

ἀγγεῖον vessel Mat 13:48; Mat 25:4
ἄγκιστρον hook Mat 17:27
ἀθῶος innocent Mat 27:4, Mat 27:24
αἱμοῤῥοέω having an issue of blood Mat 9:20
αιἱρετίζω choose Mat 12:18
ἀκμήν yet Mat 15:16
ἀκριβόω inquire diligently Mat 2:7, Mat 2:16
ἀναβιβάζω draw up Mat 13:48
ἀναίτιος blameless Mat 12:5, Mat 12:7
ἄνηθον anise Mat 23:23
ἀπάγχομαι hang one's self Mat 27:5
ἀπονίπτω wash Mat 27:24
Βάρ son Mat 16:17
Βαρύτιμος very precious Mat 26:7
Βασανιστής tormentor Mat 18:34
Βαττολογέω use vain repetitions Mat 6:7
Βιαστής violent Mat 11:12
Βροχή rain Mat 7:25, Mat 7:27
δάνειον debt Mat 18:27
δεῖνα (ὁ) such a man Mat 26:18
δέσμη bundles Mat 13:30
διακωλύω forbid Mat 3:14
διαλλάττομαι be reconciled Mat 5:24
διασαφέω tell Mat 18:31
δίδραχμον half-shekel Mat 17:24
διέξοδος parting of the highways Mat 22:9
διετής two years old Mat 2:16
διστάζω doubt Mat 14:31; Mat 28:17
διΰλίζω strain through Mat 23:24
διχάζω set at variance Mat 10:35
ἑβδομηκοντάκις seventy times Mat 18:22
ἔγερσις resurrection Mat 27:53
ἐθνικός Gentile Mat 5:47; Mat 6:7; Mat 18:17
ειδέα countenance Mat 28:3
ἐιρηνοποιός peacemaker Mat 5:9
ἐκλάμπω shine forth Mat 13:43
Ἐμμανουήλ Emmanuel Mat 1:23
ἐμπορία merchandise Mat 22:5
ἐμπρήθω burn up Mat 22:7
ἐξορκίζω adjure Mat 26:63
ἐξώτερος outer Mat 8:12; Mat 22:13; Mat 25:30
ἐπιγαμβρεύω marry Mat 22:24
ἐπικαθίζω to set upon Mat 21:7
ἐπιορκέω forswear Mat 5:33
ἐπισπείρω sow upon Mat 13:25
ἐρεύγομαι utter Mat 13:35
ἐρίζω strive Mat 12:19
ἐρίφιον goat, kid Mat 25:33
ἑταῖρος fellow, friend Mat 11:16; Mat 20:13; Mat 22:12; Mat 26:50
εὐδία fair weather Mat 16:2
εὐνοέω agree Mat 5:25
εὐνουχίζω make a eunuch Mat 19:12
εὐρύχωρος broad Mat 7:13
ζιζάνια tares 13:25-40
Ἠλί my God Mat 27:46
θαυμάσιος wonderful Mat 21:15
θεριστής reaper Mat 13:30, Mat 13:39
θρῆνος lamentation Mat 2:18
θυμόομια to be wroth Mat 2:16
ἰῶτα jot Mat 5:18
καθά as Mat 27:10
καθηγητής master Mat 23:8, Mat 23:10
καταμανθάνω consider Mat 6:28
καταναθεματίζω curse Mat 26:74
καταποντίζομαι sink, be drowned Mat 14:30; Mat 18:6
κῆτος whale Mat 12:40
κουστωδία watch, guard Mat 27:65, Mat 27:66; Mat 28:11
κρυφαῖος secret Mat 6:18
κύμινον cummin Mat 23:23
κώνωψ gnat Mat 23:24
μαλακία sickness Mat 4:23; Mat 9:35; Mat 10:1
μεῖζον the more Mat 20:31
μεταίρω depart Mat 13:53; Mat 19:1
μετοικεσία carrying away Mat 1:11, Mat 1:12, Mat 1:17
μιλιον mile Mat 5:41
μισθόομαι hire Mat 20:1, Mat 20:7
μύλων mill Mat 24:41
νόμισμα tribute-money Mat 22:19
νοσσιά brood Mat 23:37
οἰκἔτεια household Mat 24:25
οἰκιακός belonging to the house Mat 10:25, Mat 10:36
ὄναρ dream Mat 1:20; Mat 2:12, Mat 2:13, Mat 2:19, Mat 2:22; Mat 27:19
οὐδαμῶς by no means Mat 2:6
παγιδεύω ensnare Mat 22:15
παραθαλάσιος upon the sea-coast Mat 4:13
παρακούω neglect Mat 18:17
παρομοιάζω to be like unto Mat 23:27
παροψίς platter Mat 23:25
πλατύς wide Mat 7:13
πολυλογία much-speaking Mat 6:7
προφθάνω forestall Mat 17:25
πυῤῥάζω to be red or fiery Mat 16:2, Mat 16:3
ῥακά Raca Mat 5:22
ῥαπίζω smite Mat 5:39; Mat 26:67
σαγήνη drag-net Mat 13:47
σεληνιάζομαι to be lunatic Mat 4:24; Mat 17:15.
σιτιστός fatling Mat 22:4 :
στατήρ stater; piece of money Mat 17:27
συναίρω take (a reckoning) Mat 18:23, Mat 18:24; Mat 25:19
συνάντησις meeting Mat 8:34
συναυξάνομαι grow together Mat 13:30
συνάσσω appoint Mat 26:19; Mat 27:10
τάλαντον talent Mat 18:24; Mat 25:15-28
ταφή burial Mat 27:7
τελευτή end (in sense of death) Mat 2:15
τραπεζίτης exchanger Mat 25:27
τρύπημα eye (of a needle) Mat 19:24
τυφόω to smoke Mat 12:20
φράζω declare Mat 13:36; Mat 15:15
φυλακτήριον phylactery Mat 23:5
φυτεία plant Mat 15:13
χλαμύς robe Mat 27:28, Mat 27:31
ψευδομαρτυρία false witness Mat 25:19; Mat 26:59.
ψύχομαι wax cold Mat 24:12


Taken from: "Vincent's Word Studies" By Marvin R. Vincent, D.D.

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