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Religious Tolerance logo

An essay donated by T. Crosthwaite

The Gospel of Matthew -- for the Jews

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This essay was extracted from the article "Isaiah's Prophecy" by T. Crosthwaite. 1

The Gospel for the Jews:

Matthew wrote his gospel to convince fellow Jews that Jesus was the messiah foretold in the Old Testament. His gospel was written from a Jewish viewpoint for a Jewish audience. The internal evidence of this is so overwhelming that it is often called "The Gospel for the Jews."

This gospel does not see the need to explain Jewish tradition. It is the only gospel that reports the story which the Jewish priests put into circulation to explain the empty tomb. It uses the distinctly Hebraic formula "Kingdom of Heaven", where the other books in the New Testament speak only of the "Kingdom of God". It alone reports Jesus as saying, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel", and instructing the disciples "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel". It uses the term "son of David" more times than the other gospels combined. And so on. The Jewishness of Matthew's gospel is evident from start to finish.

As part of this, Matthew's gospel has far more references and allusions to the Old Testament than any other New Testament book. It systematically identifies Jesus' life with the history of Israel and the book of Israel (Old Testament). His formula "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet" occurs again and again.

A peculiar feature of several of these "formula prophecies" is that they refer to events or prophecies that have occurred or been fulfilled in Old Testament times. Matthew sees in Jesus a second manifestation of these particular events, and in doing this deliberately links the nation Israel with the individual Jesus. The best example of this is where Matthew says the prophecy "Out of Egypt I called My Son" was fulfilled in Jesus, knowing full well that this statement in the Old Testament is about the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt. (Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:15)

The Immanuel prophecy is also one of these. Matthew sought to show that just as the birth of Immanuel was an indication of God's presence, so too was the birth of Jesus. It is Matthew's purpose to link events in Israel's history with Jesus that leads him to this second application of Isaiah's prophecy. No other New Testament writer connects this prophecy to Jesus.

Whereas Matthew's intention was to show what the two fulfillments had in common, those who hold to the virgin birth story have manufactured differences between the two fulfillments. They cannot admit similar fulfillments of the same prophecy. What they claim for one fulfillment, a virgin birth, is emphatically denied for the other fulfillment.

Matthew's gospel deals severely with the Jewish religious establishment that opposed Jesus, particularly the scribes and Pharisees. As one commentator sums it up:

"... there is no gospel which so sternly and consistently condemns the Scribes and Pharisees. ... There is no chapter of condemnation in the whole New Testament like Matthew 23 which is the condemnation of the Scribes and the Pharisees." 2

The religious establishment considered itself the follower of Moses and custodian of the Law. Matthew's gospel would have galled them on several accounts:

bulletIt accused them of conspiring to bring about the death of Jesus (26:3-5, 27:1-10);
bulletIt branded them as full of hypocrisy and the children of those who killed the prophets (23:27-31);
bulletIt accused them of abiding by forms of the Law but neglecting the more important matters of justice, mercy and faith (23:23-25);
bulletIt sought to prove Jesus was the messiah on the basis of the Scriptures (2:1-6, etc.); and, crucially,
bulletIt was aimed directly at their audience -- the Jewish people.

Matthew would have known that those condemned by his gospel would grasp any opportunity to disparage it among the Jewish people. Are we to believe that Matthew would assist in undermining his own credibility among the Jews by citing a blatantly erroneous Greek translation of Isaiah 7:14 instead of the original Hebrew Scripture?

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. T. Crosthwaite, "Isaiah's Prophecy," Walls of Jericho, at: http://www.wallsofjericho.info/
  2. William Barclay, "Gospel of Matthew,"" Vol. 1, Pages xxiii-xxiv. Westminster John Knox Press (2001) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store Amazon.com often sells used copies of this book at a very low price.

Originally posted: 2009-AUG-04
Latest update: 2009-AUG-04
Author: T. Crosthwaite

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