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INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF MATTHEW The subject of this book, and indeed of all the writings of the New Testament, is the Gospel. The Greek word euaggelion signifies a joyful message, good news, glad tidings of good things; such as Christ was anointed to preach, the Angels brought to the shepherds, and the Evangelists, Apostles, and Ministers of Christ published to the world. ( Isaiah 61:1, Isaiah 52:7 Luke 2:10). And such is the account given by this inspired writer, of the incarnation, life, actions, ministry, miracles, sufferings, and death of Jesus Christ; whereby peace and reconciliation, pardon and righteousness, atonement and redemption, life and salvation, are obtained for lost, perishing sinners. The Jews, to whom the message of grace was first sent, and among whom the Gospel was first preached, having despised and rejected it; they and their posterity, in allusion to the word “Evangelion”, most wickedly and blasphemously call the whole New Testament, ˆwylg ˆwa or ˆwylg ˆw[ “Aven Gilion” f1 , a “revelation”, or “volume of iniquity and vanity”; but “blessed are the people that know the joyful sound”, (see Psalm 89:15).
The writer of this Gospel, Matthew, who also was called Levi in ( Luke 5:27) was by occupation a publican, or tax-gatherer, and was in his employ when Christ called him by his grace. He was one of the twelve Apostles sent forth by Christ to preach the Gospel of the kingdom, ( Matthew 10:3) and was honoured to be the first of the writers of the New Testament, and to be the first publisher therein of the good news of the incarnate Saviour; and was a wonderful instance of the rich and sovereign grace of God. Though he was employed in collecting the Roman tax, yet he was of Jewish extract; as appears from his being called the son of Alphaeus, ( Mark 2:14) and from his name Matthew Levi; for as the latter, so the former is an Hebrew name. The Jews say one of the disciples of Jesus was called yatm , Matthai or Matthew: his name signifies a “gift” or “given”; he was one of those the Father had given to Christ, and was kept by him, when the son of perdition was lost, ( John 17:6,9,11,12).
It may not be improper to inquire in what language this Gospel was written. The ancient Christian writers were generally of opinion, that Matthew wrote it in Hebrew; Papias and Pantaenus were of this mind, as also Irenaeus f4 , Origen Eusebius f6 , Athanasius f7 , Epiphanius f8 , and Jerom f9 ; and it is asserted in the titles of the Arabic and Persic versions, and at the end of the Syriac version of this Gospel, that it was written in that language; and this opinion is espoused by Grotius and Hammond, though justly exploded by others; for what has been published by Munster, Mercer, Hutter, and Robertson, are translations, made by themselves or others, and of no antiquity: and since Hebrew and Syriac words are interpreted in this Gospel, (see Matthew 1:23, Matthew 27:33,46) which would not have been done, had it been written in either language; and since Matthew generally follows the Septuagint version in the passages cited by him out of the Old Testament; and since the Hebrew language was not generally known at that time to the common people, only to the learned; for the law and the prophets, when read in the synagogues in that language, required an interpreter; and since the Greek tongue was the language more commonly spoken, and the rest of the Evangelists wrote in Greek, and the Gospel was designed for the Gentiles as well as the Jews; it is most reasonable to conclude that this Gospel also was wrote in Greek; whereby that ancient prophecy was fulfilled, at least in part, “God shall enlarge” or “persuade Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem”, ( Genesis 9:27) the Gospel being published in the language of Japheth, the Greek language, which the Jews, the posterity of Shem, now understood; agreeably to which the Palmudic writers interpret the prophecy; says Bar Kaphra, mentioning the above words, “They shall speak tpy lç wnwçlb in the language of Japheth, in the tents of Shem;” or, “the words of the law shall be spoken in the language of Japheth, in the midst of the tents of Shem f11 .”
R. Jochanan explains them thus: “ tpy lç wyrbr “the words of Japheth” shall be in the tents of Shem; and says R. Chiya ben Aba, the sense of it is, The beauty of Japheth shall be in the tents of Shem.”
The time when this Gospel was written is said by some to be in the eighth or ninth, by others, in the fifteenth year after the ascension of Christ, when the Evangelist had received the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, among which was the gift of tongues; and when the promise of Christ had been made good to him, ( John 14:26).