Feastday: September 21
Matthew the Apostle (Hebrew: מַתִּתְיָהוּ
Mattityahu or מתי Mattay, "Gift of YHVH"; Greek: Μαθθαῖος Matthaios; also known
as Saint Matthew and as Levi) was, according to the Bible, one of the twelve
apostles of Jesus and, according to Christian tradition, one of the four
In the Bible
Among the early followers and apostles of Jesus, Matthew is mentioned in Matthew
9:9 and Matthew 10:3 as a publican who, while sitting at the "receipt of custom"
in Capernaum, was called to follow Jesus. Matthew may have collected taxes
from the Hebrew people for Herod Antipas. Matthew is also listed among
the twelve, but without identification of his background, in Mark 3:18, Luke
6:15 and Acts 1:13. In passages parallel to Matthew 9:9, both Mark 2:14 and Luke
5:27 describe Jesus' calling of the tax collector Levi, the son of Alphaeus, but
Mark and Luke never explicitly equate this Levi with the Matthew named as one of
Matthew was a 1st-century Galilean (presumably born in Galilee, which was not
part of Judea or the Roman Iudaea province), the son of Alpheus. As a tax
collector he would have been literate in Aramaic and Greek. After
his call, Matthew invited Jesus home for a feast. On seeing this, the Scribes
and the Pharisees criticized Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners.
This prompted Jesus to answer, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to
repentance." (Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32)
The New Testament records that as a disciple, he followed Jesus, and was one of
the witnesses of the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus. Afterwards, the
disciples withdrew to an upper room (Acts 1:10–14) (traditionally the Cenacle)
in Jerusalem. The disciples remained in and about Jerusalem and proclaimed
that Jesus was the promised Messiah.
In the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a) "Mattai" is one of five disciples of "Jeshu".
Later Church fathers such as Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.1.1) and Clement of
Alexandria claim that Matthew preached the Gospel to the Jewish community in
Judea, before going to other countries. Ancient writers are not agreed as to
what these other countries are. The Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox
Church each hold the tradition that Matthew died as a martyr, although
this was rejected by the gnostic heretic Heracleon as early as the second
The Gospel of Matthew is anonymous: the author is not named within the text, and
the superscription "according to Matthew" was added some time in the second
century. The tradition that the author was the disciple Matthew begins
with the early Christian bishop Papias of Hierapolis (c. 100–140 CE), who is
cited by the Church historian Eusebius (260–340 CE), as follows: "Matthew
collected the oracles (logia: sayings of or about Jesus) in the Hebrew language
( Hebraïdi dialektōi), and each one interpreted (hērmēneusen – perhaps "translated")
them as best he could."(Notes 1) On the surface, this has been taken to
imply that Matthew's Gospel itself was written in Hebrew or Aramaic by the
apostle Matthew and later translated into Greek, but nowhere does the author
claim to have been an eyewitness to events, and Matthew's Greek "reveals none of
the telltale marks of a translation". Scholars have put forward several
theories to explain Papias: perhaps Matthew wrote two gospels, one, now lost, in
Hebrew, the other our Greek version; or perhaps the logia was a collection of
sayings rather than the gospel; or by dialektōi Papias may have meant that
Matthew wrote in the Jewish style rather than in the Hebrew language. The
consensus is that Papias does not describe the Gospel of Matthew as we know it,
and it is generally accepted that Matthew was written in Greek, not in Aramaic
Non-canonical or Apocryphal
In the 3rd-century Jewish–Christian gospels attributed to Matthew were used by
Jewish–Christian groups such as the Nazarenes and Ebionites. Fragments of these
gospels survive in quotations by Jerome, Epiphanius and others. Most academic
study follows the distinction of Gospel of the Nazarenes (26 fragments), Gospel
of the Ebionites (7 fragments), and Gospel of the Hebrews (7 fragments) found in
Schneemelcher's New Testament Apocrypha. Critical commentators generally regard
these texts as having been composed in Greek and related to Greek Matthew. A minority of commentators consider them to be fragments of a lost Aramaic or
Hebrew language original.
The Infancy Gospel of Matthew is a 7th-century compilation of three other texts:
the Protevangelium of James, the Flight into Egypt, and the Infancy Gospel of
Origen said the first Gospel was written by Matthew. This Gospel was
composed in Hebrew near Jerusalem for Hebrew Christians and translated into
Greek, but the Greek copy was lost. The Hebrew original was kept at the Library
of Caesarea. The Nazarene Community transcribed a copy for Jerome which he
used in his work. Matthew's Gospel was called the Gospel according to the
Hebrews or sometimes the Gospel of the Apostles and it was once believed
that it was the original to the Greek Matthew found in the Bible. However,
this has been challenged by modern biblical scholars such as Bart Ehrman and
James R. Edwards.
Jerome relates that Matthew was supposed by the Nazarenes to have composed their
Gospel of the Hebrews though Irenaeus and Epiphanius of Salamis consider
this simply a revised version canonical Gospel. This Gospel has been partially
preserved in the writings of the Church Fathers, said to have been written by
Matthew. Epiphanius does not make his own the claim about a Gospel of the
Hebrews written by Matthew, a claim that he merely attributes to the heretical
Matthew is recognized as a saint in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox,
Lutheran and Anglican churches. (See St. Matthew's Church.) His feast day is
celebrated on 21 September in the West and 16 November in the East. (For those
churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, 16 November currently
falls on 29 November of the modern Gregorian Calendar). He is also commemorated
by the Orthodox, together with the other Apostles, on 30 June (13 July), the
Synaxis of the Holy Apostles. His tomb is located in the crypt of Salerno
Cathedral in southern Italy.
Like the other evangelists, Matthew is often depicted in Christian art with one
of the four living creatures of Revelation 4:7. The one that accompanies him is
in the form of a winged man. The three paintings of Matthew by Caravaggio in the
church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, where he is depicted as called by
Christ from his profession as gatherer, are among the landmarks of Western art.
The Quran speaks of Jesus' disciples but does not mention their names, instead
referring to them as "helpers to the work of God". Muslim exegesis and
Qur'an commentary, however, name them and include Matthew amongst the disciples. Muslim exegesis preserves the tradition that Matthew, with Andrew, were the two
disciples who went to Ethiopia (not the African country, but a region called 'Ethiopia'
south of the Caspian Sea) to preach the message of God.
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