Saturday, 20 October 2012

Matthew's Audience

      What readership did Matthew have in mind as he composed his Gospel? Matthew himself was a Galilean Jew1 and evidently shared a background in ethnic Judaism with his audience. The Gospel clearly betrays a strong Jewish orientation (cf. 5:17-18; 10:5; 15:24; 17:24-27; 23:2-3). The terminology employed is decidedly Jewish (2:20-21; 4:5; 5:35, 47; 6:7, 32; 10:6; 15:24; 17:24-27; 18:17; 27:53). A number of Aramaic expressions are found throughout the text, often without translation (5:22; 6:24; 16:17; 27:33, 46). The frequent use of tote ("then"), occurring no less than ninety times (more than anywhere else in the New Testament), reflects Aramaic thinking. Familiarity with Jewish history, politics, ideas, and customs is also assumed (1:18-19; 2:1, 4, 22; 14:1; 17:24; 23:2; 26:3, 57, 59; 27:2, 11, 13).
     The Hebrew Bible has a prominent place in Matthew, with about forty quotations and over 100 allusions, demonstrating a mutual knowledge of and respect for these writings. Jesus is portrayed as the promised Messiah of the Jewish scriptures, and more fulfilled Old Testament prophecies are cited in Matthew than in any of the other Gospels (1:1, 22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18, 23; 3:3; 4:14-16; 5:17; 8:16-17; 12:17-21; 13:14-15, 35; 21:4-5; 26:63-64; 27:9-10). Matthew opens with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, starting with Abraham and tracing the line of decent through David (1:1-16). The only other New Testament record of the Lord’s lineage (Luke 3:23-38) reaches all the way back to "Adam, the son of God," thereby linking him to the entire human race. In contrast, Matthew’s account is primarily concerned with Christ’s Jewish connection.2
     Admittedly the internal evidence does not always confirm whether the heavy Jewish flavoring pertains to the Gospel’s provenance or destination, but if Matthew lived among his audience, it would apply to both. While Palestine, especially Judea (cf. Jerome, De vir. ill. 3), is a plausible location, a more popular suggestion is Syria, particularly Antioch. The earliest clear usage of Matthew’s Gospel comes from Antioch in the early second-century writings of Ignatius (ca. 35-107), who made much use of the text (see Smyrn. 1.1; Eph. 19.1-3; Polc. 2.2). The Gospel fits well into the setting of Syrian Antioch, which had a large Jewish population, a well-established Christian community, and a church committed to the discipleship of all nations (Acts 11:29; 13:1-3; 14:27-28; 15:40; 18:22-23; cf. Matthew 28:18-20). The unique features of Matthew’s Gospel and its overall message make more sense when read from this first-century Jewish perspective.
–Kevin L. Moore 

Endnotes:
 
     1 See, e.g., Acts 2:7. Matthew was intimately familiar with Palestinian geography (2:1, 23; 3:1, 5, 13; 4:12, 13, 23-25; 8:5, 23, 28; 14:34; 15:32, 39; 16:13; 17:1; 19:1; 20:29; 21:1, 17; 26:6).
      2 Both Irenaeus and Origen affirm that Matthew’s Gospel was intended for a Jewish audience (see Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 5.8.2; 6.25.4).

Related Posts: Lineage of Jesus in MatthewMark's Audience, Luke's Audience, John's Audience

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