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For nearly 2000 years it has been held that Matthew wrote his gospel in Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the city in 70 AD. The reason modern books have transferred its composition to a later period is so as to conform to the Markan theory. When dating is examined on its own, without this supposition, the witness of the ancient historians is clearly correct. This chapter will highlight some of the concerns featured in this gospel that indicate its background was Palestine and Jerusalem as it existed prior to 70 AD.

The new Christian community was formulating its position with regard to the Hebrew Scriptures, The Law, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Temple sacrifices, purification rites, the Sabbath, admission to the community, internal discipline, fasts, prayers, marriage, divorce and celibacy, as well its attitude to the Samaritans and Gentiles. As we read through the chapters and verses of Matthew we see this taking place. This is what gives this Gospel such a Jewish flavour and points to it being written at that time and place. There are many examples which indicate its Palestinian background: 

5: 19 Fulfilment of the law.
5: 23-24 Bringing gifts to the altar.
5: 35 Swearing by Jerusalem.
10: 6 and 15: 24 The lost sheep of the house of Israel. 
15: 22 The Samaritan woman
24: 21 The Sabbath.
19: 28 The twelve tribes.
23: 16-22 Swearing by the Temple and the altar. 
23: 27 White-washed tombs.

Luke and Peter/Mark addressing mainly Gentile audiences omit these subjects.

Matthew was very conscious of Jews living by ‘The Law’. He used the words: Just, Justice, Lawlessness, worthy and judgement fifty times. Luke uses them twenty four times and Mark twice ((NCCHS 710B)). Here is a sign of a moving away from the Palestinian environment.

Matthew assumes his readers are familiar with the views and customs of the Scribes, Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees. He never explains who they are, which would be expected if he had a mixed Gentile-Jewish audience towards the end of the first century  ((RO 233)).  He is busy solving the problems of Christian Jews, while ignoring those of the Gentiles who later poured into the Church. Major theological concepts in Matthew’s Gospel presume an audience possessing a good understanding of the Old Testament. Matthew uses concepts foreign to Greek thought such as:  9: 14-15 Nuptial Tent.  17: 10-13   Bridegroom.  22: 7   Marriage Feast

The Greeks, thanks to Aristotle, had a word for ‘species’. The Hebrews didn’t. They used expressions such as: ‘Son of Man’, ‘Son of Ox’, ‘Son of Crow’ etc. ((CTH 30-45, 87, 131)).

Matthew in 24: 19-20 writes of the Sabbath, yet the corresponding passages in Luke 21: 23 and Mark 13:17 omit it. Again we see the Church drawing further away from her Jewish roots.

Matthew in 16: 1-12 attacks the Pharisees and Sadducees four times in a long passage. In the related passage in Mark 8: 11–27, we see the mention of the Pharisees reduced. There is no mention of the Sadducees. If Matthew had written second, why would he have doubled the references to the Pharisees, and insert the phrase ‘and the Sadducees’ four times? Remember that after 70 AD the Sadducees did not exist. Why would Matthew (17: 24-7) be preoccupied with the half- shekel Temple tax? The Temple had ceased to exist fifteen years earlier?

Comparing the two stories in Matthew 15: 1-2 and 15: 21, with Mark 7: 2-4 and 7: 28, we see Mark finding it necessary to explain the act of ‘washing’ and the nationality of a Canaanite. Matthew writing for Palestinians had no need to do this.  If Matthew was writing years after Mark for a mainly Gentile readership, and basing his Gospel on Mark’s Gospel, why did he leave out the helpful explanations provided by Mark?

Matthew’s Gospel is full of examples claiming Christ fulfilled the prophecies of the Hebrews (e.g. 1:22,  2:15,  2:17,  4:14,  8:17,  12:17,  13:35,  21:4,  27:9). He reports the rending of the Temple veil (27: 51), yet not the destruction of the Temple.

According to Matthew in 12: 38-42, Christ said the story of Jonas would be a sign to a disbelieving Jewish generation. The point of the story (see Jonas chapters 1and 2) is that the pagans would flock to be righteous while the chosen people would keep their hard hearts. The three-day whale incident is ancillary to the main story. If Matthew had written towards the end of the century when the Gentiles were flooding into the Church, he would have been able to show the full fulfilment of the prophecy ((CTH 42)). These are all signs of Matthew writing pre-70 AD.

The disciples knew Christ was aware of the future and asked questions. But Christ was aiming to make his Apostles single-minded and not waste time on idle curiosity (John 21: 22). He gave them answers, but Christians have been puzzled ever since as to what applied to the immediate future and what to the end of the world. Whether this was deliberate on the part of Christ or whether the Apostles became confused, we do not know. We know that a major part of the prophecy, the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, had been fulfilled within forty years.

If Matthew wrote after 70 AD, why did he fail to unscramble the words of Christ?

Orchard has pointed out that the letters of Paul to the Thessalonians, written in the 50s, show the influence of Matthew’s Gospel. Orchard comments: “We find the same teaching, the same metaphors and similes and the same key words, some exceedingly rare”. Apart from two in 4: 16, the words are used in the same order. The order is not so close in the second Epistle, but even here the words all appear in chapter 24 and the beginning of chapter 25.

Other powerful supporting reminiscences of Matthew are to be found in Galatians 1: 12, 16, and 1 Cor. 7: 1ff and 9: 14 ((RO 119-120)).  For a fuller description of these relationships see ‘Biblica 19 (1938): 19-42’.This is more evidence of Matthew writing before the 50s AD.

Every ancient historical source says the Apostle Matthew wrote the first Gospel and most of them record that it was in Hebrew or at least in a Semitic language or style.


V: 13/2/13

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