(The format of this site is set out in much the same way as www.gospelofmark.org) |
The gospel of Matthew has been largely copied from the gospel of Mark.
However there is a different approach taken and
most scholars would agree it has been written from the context of a Jewish based community.
Mark's community was more
likely to have a mixture of people from a Jewish and Greek (c/f pagan) background. Matthew's gospel was most probably written
in the 80's CE around the same time as the gospel of Luke but in a different location. The Jewish Temple and
Jerusalem itself had been
destroyed in 70 CE.
So, by the 80's CE the Jewish people were trying to come to grips with their new reality.
Many of the Jewish leaders spoken about
in the gospels were now gone, for example, the high priests, the Sadducees, the Zealots etc as also the whole cultural milieu
of Jerusalem. In fact of these groups, only the Pharisees
remained and they were taking over the leadership of the Jewish people. It is estimated that the Jews at the time
constituted about 10% of the population of the Roman Empire.
But now they had no longer had a central base and they
were relying on the local Synagogue as their key gathering place. At that time the followers of Jesus (not yet
widely known as
Christians) were only a tiny, disparite group, largely based in the cities.
set up a number of these communities in the 50's CE in strategic towns such as Corinth. It was during this, before the gospels were
written, that Paul sorted out many of the theological questions faced by the emerging group.
According to scholars, it appears that Matthew and his community (in the 80's) believed that it should be themselves
who took over the leadership role
of the Jewish people.
After all, they believed that Jesus Christ had already fulfilled the Jewish law
But the mainstream of
Jewish people were opting instead to follow the Pharisees. And, in turn the Pharisees were rejecting the followers of
Jesus, hence the complaints
about them in Matthew's gospel. (Matthew 3:7)
What did the Pharisses do? At the time many of the followers of Jesus from a
Jewish background continued to
identify themselves as Jews continued to attend the Synagogue.
They, and others, thought of themselves as belonging to
a sect of Judaism (c/f Acts 28).
But the Pharisees put out an edict from Jamnia which required
that a prayer/curse against Jewish Christians to be recited at the synagogue Sabbath prayers.
This made the position of Jewish Christians
untenable and they were forced into making a choice and and letting go so many of their roots in a Jewish identity.
Therefore in the gospel of Matthew, the writer is trying to reassure members of his community. He shows the connections
between Jesus and the Jewish history and heritage. Hence the quotes from the Old Testament prophets in Matthew's
gospel (e.g. Mtt 2:6).
In Matthew's gospel there is also a heavy
emphasis on teaching, rather than the suffering to be found in the gospel of Mark. As a follow on from this
there is an
emphasis on the words of Jesus. Also, as the Matthew's gospel stresses that the followers of Jesus inherit the promises
made to the Jews, it is arguably written within the framework of Law. The Jewish
people, we recall, were known as "the people of the book" and their lives centered around the Torah, or Law.
How would the
writer set out his gospel in the framework of Law? If we work it out
law, especially natural law, is understood in terms of cause and effect and these are observed within time. Thus the
writer would more likely to use statements of time (rather than place) as the "markers" of his paragraph divisions.
Also in the Jewish cosmology everything, including time, was set out in an ordered "map."
Another factor here would be that as coming from a Jewish background, Matthew would want to order his text as a "map."
If Mark (c/f www.gospelofmark.org) was using "place" to mark out paragraph divisions he could create
patterns like a concentric circle, out of these. But if Matthew was to use statements of time instead this would not
work, especially if such statements were implied. For instance two paragraphs starting with "then" are too fluid as compared
with two paragraphs starting with "over the sea." On the other hand Matthew could be inclined to follow a paragraph with
an explanatory sub-section that explains the first statement. This is the pattern used in the Jewish psalms.
It might be asked in what language were the gospels originally written. The language of the New Testament is Greek and
translations these days are probably more accurate than ever. In the first
century CE in Palestine it was probably Arabic that was spoken around the villages.
But in the towns Greek was spoken.
A few Jews would have known the ancient Jewish language of Hebrew. But by now there was a Greek translation of this
called the Septuagint which Paul quoted.
Also, even though the official language of the Roman
Empire was Latin, the culture of the Empire, known as Hellenism (c/f
the Greek story of Helen of Troy) was based on Greek culture. Thus scholars of the first century talk about the "Graeco-Roman Empire."
Another question may relate to this. Mark's gospel was the first to be written and it was then largely copied by Matthew and Luke.
Why then is Matthew put first in copies of the New Testament? (c/f the ditty "Matthew, Mark Luke and John, hold the horse while
I get on!") The sequence actually dates back to antiquity and spiritual exercises based upon working through the gospels.
Matthew's gospel, it appears, was more palatable and encouraging than the starkness of Mark.