Even if Matthew the apostle was not the final author, most scholars conclude he was a Jew as opposed to the author of Luke's Gospel who was almost certainly a Gentile physician, a companion of Paul in his third missionary journey.
There are many commentaries that collect massive amounts of information about every verse of Matthew's Gospel. They give historical notes, documents he may have used, explanations of allusions to the Old Testament and Apocrypha, and comparisons with similar ideas which floated around the world of that day. Readers of this brief commentary will find very little information of that kind. We will be narrowing down to a very sharp focus.
By any standards Matthew's Gospel is a literary classic. Many view it as a masterpiece. It has been translated and retranslated into a thousand languages, and it has been read again and again by millions of people every year for two thousand years. Our aim is to try out one explanation of why this book was written.
The writer of Luke's Gospel tells us exactly why it was written (Luke 1:1-4), and that is also the case with John's Gospel (20:30-31). But since Matthew gives us no obvious explanation of his purpose in writing, we will approach the book by trying out a model of what he wanted to communicate. Detective work of any kind proceeds by trying out one model at a time. If the model does not fit, we are then ready to try out another. But if we have no model in mind we have no way of making sense of the mass of clues we could work with.
That the writer had a logical structure in mind is suggested by the way the material is carefully arranged. The original Greek manuscript had no chapter or even text divisions, but groupings of the material can be recognized easily in the chapters of any Bible. For example the writer has put in one place what we call the Sermon on the Mount (5-7), the parables of the kingdom (13), strong words about Pharisees (23), the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (24), the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ (27), and his resurrection (28).
As in detective work, a model is not a proof, or the final conclusion of our investigation. It is a way of looking at what interests us from a particular point of view. For example if we want to find our way around the City of London, we might begin with a map of the Underground, or a tourist guide to all the sights. It would be helpful to view a plaster model of the area from Westminster Abbey to St. Paul's Cathedral. For special purposes we study maps of the city at various points in English history. Or we could look at tables of the average income of people in each borough, or their racial origins, or how they voted in past elections. Each of these models will give us new insights, but none can pick up the faith, and life and loves of any one of its people. It is also clear that the model we choose to use will only pick up the facts that relate to the model's special purpose.
Our model is focused on what Matthew tells us about the Messiah. This was and still is a topic of supreme interest to Jewish people. But to this day Jews have many different ideas of who their Messiah might be and do. So we will be looking at one Jew's account of why Jesus of Nazareth was not only his personal Messiah, but the one his own people should have recognized. By the end of the book he concludes that his people's failure to do this resulted in Jesus becoming the Messiah or Christ of all nations of the world.
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