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Who wrote the Gospel of Matthew?
Posted By Eric Sammons On August 13, 2010 @ 7:49 am In Scripture,Who is Jesus Christ? | Comments Disabled
This sounds a bit like the old standard, “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?” But of course the answer to many people today is no longer the obvious one: the apostle Matthew.
I have studied the issue of the authorship of the New Testament books for over a decade now, and my own thoughts on the matter have varied over the years. When I was an Evangelical Christian, I unthinkingly accepted the traditional authorship of all the NT books – Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew, Paul wrote the epistles which bear his name, etc. However, a few years after becoming Catholic and studying the issue more in-depth, I began to accept the scholarly consensus: that many NT books, including all of the Gospels except perhaps Luke, were not written by the traditionally-accepted author. After resting on that opinion for a few years, I then revisited the debate and the more I studied the issue, the less confident I grew in the “established” scholarship. So much of it, on further analysis, was based on false presuppositions and wild assumptions. Then, when I was writing my book Who is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Mystery in the Gospel of Matthew  (available for pre-order  now!), the issue came up again, as I had to decide if I was going to assume that the apostle Matthew was the author of this Gospel or not.
Ultimately, I have stuck to my final conclusion: I find that there is no reason not to accept the apostle Matthew as the author of the Gospel of Matthew. I don’t hold this as 100% scientifically provable, but no scholarly argument convinces me otherwise. In fact, I find many of the hypotheses posited for non-Matthean authorship to require a great deal more faith than just recognizing the apostle as the author. Furthermore, most of the arguments advanced in favor of authorship by a “Matthean community” (which never seems to include Matthew himself) rests on extreme speculation which has no empirical evidence.
I do believe it is quite possible that the Gospel as we have it today is not in every word exactly like the one that Matthew himself wrote. In fact, it is an ancient tradition that Matthew wrote his Gospel originally in “Hebrew” (most likely Aramaic) and then it was later translated into Greek. This process of translation, as well as the process of copying and distribution, might very well have edited the product which Matthew wrote. But, on a whole, the Gospel reflects the writing of Matthew himself (an aside: I also reject the Mark-Q two-source hypothesis and believe that Matthew was the first Gospel written, but I won’t get into that here).
But how important is authorship? As Catholics, we believe that the NT books are inspired by God and canonical because the Church led by the Holy Spirit has declared them to be so. And this belief is not founded on authorship. In other words, if Matthew didn’t write the Gospel that bears his name, it would still be an inspired writing and part of the New Testament. So authorship is not essential to the value of the text. However, most advocates of rejecting the traditional attributions of authorship also subscribe to many problematic presuppositions. For example, many of them reject that the words attributed to Jesus were actually said by Christ himself. Instead, they were inventions of the later Christian community. Obviously, if a first-hand witness like Matthew actually wrote his Gospel, these assumptions are much harder to sustain. But if the Gospel was instead written solely by a later Christian community, such a position becomes much more tenable, and can then lead to the denial of many Christian beliefs.
Therefore, I have seen no strong reason to reject the traditional consensus of the Church that the apostle Matthew is the author of the Gospel which bears his name. I do think the process in which this Gospel was produced was not as simple as Matthew merely writing exactly the Gospel we have today, but at the same time, the title “author” is a legitimate one for the former tax-collector.
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