A key part to understanding the four gospels that are found in the Bible is to recognize who the authors are and who they are writing too. Attempts have been made to synchronize and consolidate the four gospels into one which eliminates the “unnecessary repetitive stories”, but this does violence to original author’s intentions. The gospels are not, after all, straightforward eye-witness accounts of mere facts. The Gospels are carefully compiled stories and sayings of Jesus, with the intent of their authors to communicate to their audiences who they believed Jesus to be and what they believed He had accomplished. It is vital for us to hear the four distinct voices of the gospels if we want to truly understand why they are written and what they are trying to say. Even if it is true that they borrowed information from one another that does not negate the fact that they each had a unique perspective and purpose in writing and organizing their various gospels as they did.
Matthew’s gospel is an intriguing one to consider. Some scholars question whether or not Matthew was the actual author of this gospel which bears his name and I can’t say I know much about that. I do know that it seems that nearly every book of the Bible has its’ author in question by someone. That is not a bad thing, if the actual author is someone else that is fine. But I am going to assume here that Matthew is the actual author, unless I see really conclusive evidence for thinking otherwise. Matthew would have been considered a traitor by many of his countrymen for serving as a tax collector for the Romans and Herod, the occupying forces, as many of the Jews perceived them. I imagine that Matthew himself had many arguments put together for justifying himself as a good Jew who was just finding a way to get by. Unlike the Apostle Paul, who was a zealous Pharisees and scholar of the Torah, before and after He met Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), Matthew doesn’t have an impressive scholarly pedigree. It makes you wonder where he comes off to be saying “this happened in order to fulfill what the prophet said…” all over the place in his gospel. Did a tax collector for the occupying forces really know that much about the sacred scriptures of Israel? If he did, how did he manage to justify helping to oppress the Israelite people through heavy taxes?! Didn’t he fear God? What kind of contortions had his soul experienced as he lived this double life? Some scholars have said that Matthew tells the story of his conversion at the end of a long line of healing stories of Jesus, as if to say, for Matthew, this was the personal climax of Jesus’ healing ministry. It also makes me wonder how awkward and uncomfortable Matthew must have felt as the Pharisees posed this question to Jesus: “So tell us what you think, is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar, or not?” Matthew 22:17. Maybe the Pharisees said this with a sideways glance at Matthew himself as he shuffled from side to side. But maybe Matthew was equally self-satisfied when Jesus responded to the question by saying that, since the Roman coin had the stamped image of Caesar on it (which some Pharisees regarded as blasphemy and therefore would not even touch a Roman coin), the Pharisees ought to give back to Caesar what belongs to him, but to give to God what belongs to Him (the human race which is stamped with God’s image. See Matthew 22:17-21). Earlier, the Pharisees had questioned Jesus’ eating with “tax-collectors and sinners”. Maybe Jesus’ answer here was at least partially in defense of Matthew’s presence with Him. “Look,” Jesus is saying, “This man is stamped with God’s image. It is more important that I give Him back to God, than it is that I give some worthless coin to Caesar. If that is what Caesar is after, He can have it. I am after a better prize.” There is certainly more going on in this famous exchange than Matthew’s personal welfare, but I imagine it was quite important to Matthew on a personal level. Matthew may not have the scholarly pedigree of the Apostle Paul, but He has all the confidence in his writing of someone who had actually been with Jesus, and that seems to be qualification enough. And this is my point for this article: Matthew was a real human being with thoughtful, prayerful, logical, and strategic reasons for composing his Gospel the way that He does. One major key to understanding Matthew’s Gospel is learning to think his thoughts after him. Matthew writes with clarity, confidence and enthusiasm. Matthew’s Gospel is a labor of love that is filled with passion and depths of meaning on a personal level and on a national, even cosmic, level. Matthew himself is worth getting to know and His Gospel is worthy of a lifetime of study.