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TO THE GOSPEL OF ST. MATTHEW.
MATTHEW, who was also called Levi, the writer of this Gospel, was a tax-gatherer among the Jews, usually denominated a publican. He was a native Hebrew, and an inhabitant of some part of Galilee, bordering on the lake of Genesareth, in the north of Judea. It is generally supposed that his Gospel appeared sooner than either of the others; and that it was written originally in the language coinmonly spoken by the Jews at that period ; which was not precisely the pure Hebrew, but the Syro-Chaldaic, a dialeet derived chiefly froin the Hebrew. Some learned men have supposed, that it was written in Greek, as there was very early a Greek version of this Gospel extant. And it is true also, that the Greek language was generally anderstood by the Jews in the time of Christ, especially by those in public life ; and that the books of the Old Testa ment were then in use among them, in the Greek translation, called the Seventy. It seeins probable however, and This is the opinion adopted by most learned men, that this Gospel appeared originally in the common and vulgar tongue of the Jews of that age. It was written in Judea, for the instruction and benefit of the Christians of that nation; and some time before the destruction of Jerusalem. We know that our Lord's personal ministry was confined tu the Jews; and that his Apostles, for several years after his resurrection, were wholly engaged in preaching the doctrinas ef the Gospel to their own countrymen. It seems indeed to have been determined in Providence that they should first be instructed in the knowledge of Christianity. In conformity to this plan, it is highly reasonable to suppose, that the Gospel was first written for their information and benefit. But it may be said, that in a case of this sort, we should not rest in conjecture. The general belief, bowever, among the learned is, that Matthew's Gospel was written at an earlier period than the others, and in the vernacular language of the Jews. As to the precise time, there is a diversity of opinion among ecclesiastical writers, though they all agree that it was previous to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. Sonre have set it at 20 years and some at 30, after the death of Christ. But this is very unimportant, and affects not at all the genuineness of the Gospel.
Irenæus, Bishop of Lyons, who in his youth was acquainted with one of St. Jolin's disciples, says, “Matthew among the Jews wrote a Gospel in their own language, while Paul and Peter were preaching at Rome. After their death, Mark, also, the disciple and attendant of Peter, delivered to us in writing the things which had been preached by Peter : And Luke, the companion of Paul, put down in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, Jolin, the beloved disciple of Christ, likewise published a Gospel, while he dwelt at Ephesus in Asia." In another place, he says, “the Gospel of Matthew was delivered to the Jews.".
St. Matthew has preserved more of the parables and discourses of our Lord than any other of the evangelical writers : And he was an eye witness of most of the events and miracles which he relates. He records some things omitted by the other Evangelists ; and omits some things which they have preserved in their writings. This shews indeed, that there was no concert between them in preparing their several narratives ; and probably at the time Mark and Luke wrote, they had not seen the Gospel of Matthew, nor that of each other. Yet they agree in the material facts and doctrines; nor is there any contradiction as it regards things of less importance.
Matthew and Lake are very minute in their account of the birth of Christ. This was particularly requisite for Matthew, if he wrote his Gospel originally and principally for the benefit of the Jews. Their holy prophets had predicted the place where, and the family from which he should be born. He was to be descended from David and Abraham. To the Jews, then, the genealogy of the Messiah, given by Matthew, was very important. This Evangelist seems also to have been more particular than the others in referring to the passages in the Jewish Scriptures, which might be considered as predictions concerning the Messialı.
Aceording to the testimony of ancient Christian writers, St. Matthew, after several years preaching to his own countrymen in various parts of Judea, travelled into Parthia, and thence into Ethiopia, to make known the gracious truths and doctrines of the Gospel. In this latter kingdom he met a favorable reception from the Eunuch, who had been baptized by the Evangelist Philip; and here he continued and taught the heathens with great success.
"That this Gospel was composed by a Jew," says the celebrated Dr. Campbell, “well acquainted with the opinjons, ceremonies and customs of his countrymen ; that it was composed by one conversant in the sacred writings and habituated to their idiom ; a man of plain, good sense, but of little learning, except what he derived from the books of the Old Testament; and that it was the production of one who wrote seriously and from conviction ; who had been present and attended closely to the facts and speeches he related, but who had no view to render himself conspicuous or promote his own interest; we have as strong evidence as the nature of the thing will admit. Now, exactly such à man, the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew must have been ; and that he was the author of this Gospel we have historical evidence perfectly unexceptionable.”