BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (6) – Is Matthew the author of Matthew?

CAPTION: The Four Evangelists, Jacob Jordaens

– Rev José Mario O Mandía

Manuscripts of the Sacred Scripture (internal evidence) and early works referring to it (external evidence) provide the guarantee that our present-day Bible is not a forgery from the Middle Ages. We might, however, want to find out more about their authors. We are especially interested in the four Gospels because they narrate to us the life of Jesus.

Let us first see the external evidence pointing to the authors of the four Gospels.

Tertullian of Carthage (c. 160-220) mentioned the four evangelists in Adversus Marcionem. Aside from affirming that Marcion’s Gospel is a fake one, he added that “that [Gospel] which Mark produced is stated to be Peter’s, whose interpreter Mark was.” More on this later.

St Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (circa 140 – 203; Irenaeus was a disciple of St Polycarp of Smyrna – 155/156 – who in turn was a disciple of St John the Apostle) wrote in his Adversus haereses (“Against heresies”) that “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect.” Then he added that “Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.”

Origen (c. 185-254/255), in his Commentary on Matthew stated: “I have learned by tradition that the Gospel according to Matthew, who was at one time a publican and afterwards an Apostle of Jesus Christ, was written first; and that he composed it in the Hebrew tongue and published it for the converts from Judaism. The second written was that according to Mark, who wrote it according to the instruction of Peter, who, in his General Epistle, acknowledged him as a son, saying, ‘The church that is in Babylon, elect together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Mark my son.’ And third, was that according to Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, which he composed for the converts from the Gentiles. Last of all, that according to John.”

External evidence not only names the authors but even gives a background of their work.

MATTHEW. Writers such as St Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Eusebius declare that: (1) Matthew is the author of the first Gospel; (2) he addressed it to the Jews; (3) he wrote in the Aramaic language; (4) he intended either to strengthen converts from Judaism or to attract prospective ones.

MARK. Writers like Papias, St Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian associate St Mark with St Peter, and confirm that Mark was asked by the early Christians in Rome to write down St Peter’s preaching.

LUKE. St Jerome, Eusebius, Origen, Tertullian, St Irenaeus, St Polycarp and St Justin Martyr, attest that the Third Gospel was written by Luke, a Gentile, a physician and a close associate of St Paul. He was writing to the non-Jewish converts to Christianity.

JOHN. St Irenaeus, disciple of St Polycarp, who was in turn a disciple of St John himself is an outstanding witness that St John wrote this Gospel. Eusebius, Justin, and many others attest also to the authorship.

Next time, we will examine the internal evidence (content and style of the Gospels) and check if they are in accordance with the external evidence.