An essay donated by T. Crosthwaite
The Gospel of Matthew -- for the Jews
This essay was extracted from the article "Isaiah's Prophecy" by T.
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."
The religious establishment considered itself the follower of Moses and
custodian of the Law. Matthew's gospel would have galled them on several
||It accused them of conspiring to bring about the death of Jesus
||It branded them as full of hypocrisy and the children of those who
killed the prophets (23:27-31);
||It accused them of abiding by forms of the Law but neglecting the more
important matters of justice, mercy and faith (23:23-25);
||It sought to prove Jesus was the messiah on the basis of the
Scriptures (2:1-6, etc.); and, crucially,
||It 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?
The following information sources were
used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not
necessarily still active today.
T. Crosthwaite, "Isaiah's Prophecy," Walls of Jericho, at:
William Barclay, "Gospel of Matthew,"" Vol. 1, Pages xxiii-xxiv.
Westminster John Knox Press (2001)
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Originally posted: 2009-AUG-04
Latest update: 2009-AUG-04
Author: T. Crosthwaite