Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


6. Matthew

Video Introduction


This chapter offers a brief overview of the contents of Matthew’s Gospel, followed by discussion of historical background, distinctive features, and major themes.

In terms of historical background, most scholars think that the author of Matthew’s Gospel was a Jewish Christian who used both the Gospel of Mark and the now-lost Q document as sources for his work. The book appears to have been intended for a community of mostly Jewish Christians in an urban setting some time after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple (70 CE).

Matthew’s Gospel contains a number of stories not found anywhere else, including ones in which Peter figures prominently and ones in which “the church” is explicitly mentioned. Scholars also compare Matthew to the Gospel of Mark and note ways in which Matthew appears to have edited or altered what was written in his source material; in general, there is enhancement of the divine power of Jesus, the leadership potential of his disciples, and the failings of Israel’s religious leaders.

The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes the presence of God, which is mediated first through Jesus and then through the church, which now manifests the presence of God in the world. Jesus comes as the Son of God and as the authoritative teacher who is able to instruct disciples concerning behavior that will accord with God’s will. Jesus is able to interpret Scripture authoritatively, and he continues to do so through the church, which binds and looses laws on his authority. Discipleship in Matthew is portrayed somewhat ambiguously: followers of Jesus worship in spite of doubt and understand God’s word in spite of their “little faith.” Matthew’s Gospel also exhibits a pronounced hostility toward the religious leaders of Israel, who in this book seem to function as literary personifications of evil.

Study Questions

  1. Indicate why the Gospel of Matthew is traditionally associated with one of Jesus’s twelve disciples and evaluate that tradition in terms of modern scholarship.

  2. List two features of Matthew’s Gospel that are noticeable in the material that is unique to Matthew (that is, in stories not found in any of the other Gospels).

  3. Explain why scholars compare the Gospel of Matthew to the Gospel of Mark in order to determine what seem to be specific priorities for the author of Matthew. Give three examples of instances in which differences between those two Gospels reveal something significant about Matthew’s particular interests.

  4. Explain how Matthew’s Gospel seeks to answer the question “Where is God?” State three propositions Matthew advances in response to this question and provide an example of how each of those propositions is developed within the Gospel.

  5. What is the Sermon on the Mount, and how does it function to support Matthew’s notion of discipleship? How might Matthew respond to theological claims that the Sermon’s ethic is unrealistic?

  6. What does the phrase “binding and loosing” mean, and what principles does Matthew’s Gospel offer the church for its exercise of this function?

  7. Discuss Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus’s disciples as “people of little faith”: how does this accord with his perspective on such matters as worship, doubt, and understanding?

  8. Indicate at least three ways in which hostility to the religious leaders of Israel is more pronounced in Matthew’s Gospel than in the other New Testament Gospels. What might account for this feature of Matthew’s Gospel?

Explore Readings

These readings provide a chance for you to explore the New Testament in more depth. The boxes from the text are included here, as well as bibliographies and outlines for the books of the New Testament.

All the Explore readings can also be downloaded as PDFs here.

Video: Binding and Loosing in the Gospel of Matthew