Adam Clarke's Bible Commentary in 8 Volumes
Volume 5
The Gospel According to St. Matthew


MATTHEW, supposed to be the same who is also called Levi, son of Alpheus, was by birth a Jew. As to his office, he appears to have been a tax-gatherer, under the Romans. He was a native of Galilee, as the rest of Christ’s apostles were; but of what city in that country, or of which tribe of the people of Israel, is not known.

As he sat at the custom house, by the seaside, in or near the city of Capernaum, Jesus called him; and as soon as he could make up his accompts with those by whom he had been employed and intrusted, he became a willing, faithful disciple of Christ. After this, St. Mark tells us, he made an entertainment in his own house, where Christ and several of his disciples were present, together with many tax-gatherers, and others, of no very respectable character, in the sight of the Pharisees.

It is probable that Matthew took this occasion of calling together his relatives and acquaintances, that he might take a friendly farewell of them; and give them the opportunity of seeing and hearing that Divine Person, whose words he had already found to be spirit and life to his own soul, and to whose service he had now solemnly dedicated himself.

He was placed by our Lord in the number of his apostles, and continued with him during his life. After the ascension of Christ, he was at Jerusalem, and received the Holy Ghost with the rest of the disciples on the day of pentecost.

Matthew, with Andrew, Peter, and the two sons of Zebedee, are the only disciples whose call is particularly mentioned. It is uncertain when, where, or how he died. There does not appear to be any clear evidence, in the writings of the primitive fathers, that he suffered martyrdom.

St. Matthew’s gospel is generally allowed to be the most ancient part of the writings of the New Covenant. Many modern critics contend that it was written about the year of our Lord 61, or between this and 65. Others, that it was written so early as 41, or about the eighth year after the ascension; and this is supported by the subscriptions at the end of this gospel in many MSS.; but it must be observed, that all these MSS. are posterior to the 10th century. Michaelis has adopted a middle way, which carries much of the appearance of probability with it, viz.: that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew about the 8th year after the ascension of our Lord, or A. D. 41; and that the translation of it into Greek was made about A. D. 61, or later.

Whether this gospel were written originally in Hebrew or Greek, is a question by which the most eminent critics have been greatly puzzled and divided. The balance, however, is clearly in favor of a Hebrew original. The present Greek text was doubtless published at a very early period; who the translator was, cannot, at this distance of time, be determined; probably it was the evangelist himself.

As Matthew was one of the twelve disciples, his history is an account of what he heard and saw, being a constant attendant on our blessed Lord. This consideration, of itself, would prove that, allowing him only to be a man of integrity, he would make no mistakes in his narrative. Add to this, the influence and superintendence of the Holy Spirit, under which he constantly acted, and which our Lord had promised to his disciples, to guide them into all truth, and bring what soever he had spoken to them, into remembrance, John 14:26. These two considerations stamp the narrative with the utmost degree of credibility.


IT may be necessary to say a few words in explanation of the different ERAS introduced at the commencement of the gospels. 1. By the Usherian year of the World, the reader is to understand the chronological computation of Archbishop Usher; who supposed that 4000 years exactly had elapsed from the creation of the world till the birth of Christ. 2. The Alexandrian era is that chronological computation which was used by the people of Alexandria; who began their reckoning 5502 before the vulgar year of Christ 1. 3. The Antiochian era is a correction of the preceding, in the 4th century, by Pandorus, an Egyptian monk, and used by the people of Antioch; it differs only from the Alexandrian by subtracting ten years. 4. The Constantinopolitan era is that still in use in the Greek Church, which reckons 5508 before the year 1 of the Incarnation, according to the vulgar era. 5. The Julian Period is a factitious era, conceived by Joseph Scaliger, to facilitate the reduction of the years of any given epoch to that of another. This Period is the result of the Lunar and Solar Cycles, and the Indictions, multiplied by each other. Thus: multiply 19 the Lunar Cycle, by 28 the Solar Cycle, and the product will be 532; multiply this sum by 15, the Cycle of the Indictions, and you will have 7980 years, which constitute the Julian Period. The first year of the vulgar era is placed in the 4714th year of the Julian Period: whence it follows, that to find any year of our Lord in this period, 4713 years must be added to that year: e. g., to find the year of this period, answering to the present year of our Lord 1812, add 4713, and you will have 6525, which is the year of the Julian Period sought. 6. The era of the Seleucidae, sometimes improperly called the era of Alexander, commenced 12 years after the death of Alexander the Great, 312 before the Incarnation, according to the vulgar reckoning, and was properly the first year of the Syro-Macedonian empire. 7. By the year before the vulgar era of Christ, is meant that correct chronological reckoning which showed that the vulgar or common reckoning of the A. D. or year of our Lord, is deficient not less than four years: so that the present year, 1812, should be, according to strict chronological precision, 1816. 8. The mode of computing by Olympiads derived its origin from the institution of the Olympic Games, which were celebrated every four years, for five successive days, at the time of the first full moon, after the summer’s solstice. They were held on the banks of the river Alpheus, near Olympia, a city of Elis, from which they derived their name. The first Olympiad commenced 776 before the Incarnation of our Lord. It need scarcely be added, that each Olympiad consists of four years; hence the first, second, third, or fourth year of any particular Olympiad. 9. The year of the building of Rome is an important era among the Roman historians: it commenced 753 years before the birth of Christ. 10. The year of Augustus, or years after the battle of Actium, is the computation of time from the commencement of the Roman EMPIRE, which took place after the battle of Actium, 27 years before our Lord: from this time Augustus became sole governor. 11. The Cycles introduced require little explanation. The Solar Cycle is a revolution consisting of 28 years; the Lunar Cycle of 19; and the Paschal Cycle or Dionysian Period, is compounded of both, thus: The Solar Cycle of 28, and the Lunar of 19, multiplied by each other, produce 532, which constitutes a third Cycle, called the Paschal Cycle, because in that period the Christian Passover, or Easter, a moveable feast, has gone through all possible variations, and the Solar and Lunar Cycles, Dominical Letters, Paschal term, Epacts, New Moons, etc., etc., all recommence exactly 532 years before. 12. The Caesarean era of Antioch was a monument which the city of Antioch erected to the honor of Julius Caesar, in commemoration of his victory at Pharsalia. This was obtained 48 years before the commencement of the Christian era. 13. The Spanish era: this was kept in commemoration of the entire subduction of Spain, by Augustus Caesar, which took place in the year of Rome 715, or 39 years before the vulgar era of Christ. 14. The Julian era, or as it is sometimes called, the era of Julius Caesar: this had for its foundation the reformation of the Roman Calendar by Julius Caesar: and the change was made 45 years before the birth of Christ. Other eras might have been noticed, but those mentioned above were judged to be the most important.

For farther particulars relative to the history of the gospels, see the GENERAL PREFACE to the NEW TESTAMENT.