Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992.
“Introduction” pp. 1-17.
The Gospel according to Matthew does not receive much respect or attention. “Mark is usually seen as the earliest of the four [Gospels] and as having a freshness about it that demands attention if we are looking for accurate information about Jesus. Luke is much fuller, and the beauty of his writing is. . . impressive . . . John is very different from the other three and more theological. The result is that in modern times Matthew has often been slighted” (Morris 1992, 1). However, Morris observes, Matthew’s Gospel is very rich in content. In this introduction, Morris speaks in turn about distinctive characteristics of Matthew’s Gospel, the date, place of origin, authorship, and sources.
Morris observes among the distinctive characteristics of Matthew a certain Jewishness. The author does not explain Jewish customs. Nevertheless, he is absolutely convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who must be trusted and followed. Jesus is the one who fulfills prophecy (Morris 1992, 3). He sees the Old Testament to be fulfilled in Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of David (Morris 1992, 4). The author is clearly interested in the life of “the church as an organization” (Morris 1992, 4). How much is this life taken over from synagogue practices? Morris briefly discusses the work of G.D. Kilpatrick who suggests Matthew’s Gospel was a lectionary document, playing upon customs of synagogue worship. Morris observes that “the account of Luke 4 is the oldest one we have of a synagogue service” and that “it is still not clear when either of the two principal lectionary systems, the one-year cycle and the three-year cycle, made its appearance. It is hazardous to argue from Jewish practice when we know so little about it” (Morris 1992, 5). Regardless, Matthew exhibits an interest in Christians worshiping together and receiving teaching from Jesus. Morris also observes a strong opposition to the Pharisees (Morris 1992, 5). Matthew has an interest “in the way Gentiles were drawn in to follow Jesus” (Morris 1992, 6). The author is very interested in Jesus’ teaching. There are five major sections of discourse and there are many parables as well as many statements of Jesus teaching. Many of the teachings are arranged in groups of three or seven, presumably for ease of memorization (Morris 1992, 6). Finally, Matthew emphasizes the kingdom of God, referring to it very often. “For Matthew it is important that God is sovereign over all and that his rule will one day be brought to a glorious consummation” (Morris 1992, 8).
Morris next turns his attention to the date for Matthew’s Gospel. “The testimony of antiquity is unanimous that the author of this Gospel was Matthew the apostle and that this was the first Gospel to be written” (Morris 1992, 8). Modern scholarship generally holds that Matthew was written after Mark, with an earliest possible date in the 70s. There are indicators, such as “until now” or “until today” in the book which indicate a considerable lapse of time between the events of Jesus’ life and the writing. There are also statements referring to the destruction of Jerusalem (Morris 1992, 9). Yet the lapse of time does not preclude authorship in the 60s, nor does the high view of the apostles or of Jesus. Reference to Jesus’ prophecy about Jerusalem being destroyed does not require the author to be writing after the city was destroyed. Morris considers some references, such as discussion of a temple tax which was later nonexistent, frequent reference to the Sadducees, and suggestions that the destruction of the city might come at any time or season suggest an earlier date. Morris concludes, “Most modern scholars date it somewhere in the period from the 70s to the 90s, but there is good reason for seeing it as appearing before AD 70, perhaps the late 50s or early 60s” (Morris 1992, 11).
Little is known about the place of origin. Papias affirms the text was written for Hebrews. This could indicate Palestine, but there were significant Jewish communities elsewhere. The most likely locations, however, would be Palestine or Antioch (Morris 1992, 11).
External evidence unanimously affirms the author to be Matthew the apostle (Morris 1992, 12). Morris provides references to Irenaeus, Eusebius both himself and citing Origen, and Eusebius citing Papias. There is a suggestion, normally based on Papias, that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew. However, the Gospel as we have it shows no signs of being translated from Hebrew, but looks entirely like a document originally written in Greek. Within a generation after the writing the book was ascribed uniformly to Matthew (Morris 1992, 13). Critics have affirmed that there is no internal evidence ascribing authorship. Morris counters with the fact that it is rare in books of any age to have significant references to the authorship except maybe on a cover and title page (Morris 1992, 14).
Matthew contains most of the material found in Mark’s Gospel. It appears also that Matthew and Luke both had some common source of information which does not appear in Mark. Morris observes that Luke affirmed there to be many written sources of information (Morris 1992, 15). There are various theories of what documents the authors may have had at their disposal. Morris suggests that, consistent with Luke’s account, there were many source documents and that the writers of the Gospels, using a variety of sources of information, some written and some unwritten, produced their work. Morris would prefer to address the material that Matthew presents and deal with it in the way Matthew presented it, rather than seek out the possible sources of his material (Morris 1992, 17).