Matthew’s Gospel has been seen as one of the most important books to have ever been written. Why? Because it has shaped the thought pattern of the ecclesia since it was introduced to the congregation at Antioch. Though it was not the first Gospel written, it was placed first in the Second [New] Testament canon because of its unique structure and purpose. The genealogical account of the first few inserted verses (1.1-17) was a natural bridge from the First [Old] Testament to the Second [New] Testament. Its purpose was to train Jesus followers in their new faith. It is still as valuable in today’s ecclesia as it was in the first community in which it was received where Jesus followers were first identified by the term Christian.
This series of studies is intended to share this Gospel as a model to be used as a guide for new followers of Jesus as well as seasoned followers of Jesus. Craig Keener in his Matthew Commentary suggests that possibility.[ref]Craig Kenner. Matthew. Back Cover. “Drawing on its use as a teaching or discipleship manual, Craig Keener expounds Matthew as a discipleship manual for believers today.”[/ref] It might be best read and studied by a group rather than an individual. That procedure would be closer to what Matthew intended rather than an individual reading, which procedure we in the Western world have sanctified. As with the rest of the Second Testament documents, the reader(s) should have some familiarity with the kingdom of God theology, which believes that the kingdom of God is the rule of God. It has come in the words and works of Jesus, but it is not yet completely fulfilled. More on this idea anon.
First, my hope is that your community of faith (the ecclesia) will become stronger, after all, it was written to a community of faith, not to an individual. Your personal growth is secondary to the growth of the ecclesia. I realize that this might strike you in a strange way in that we have come to believe that the Bible was written for us personally as demonstrated by the plethora of Bibles produced by publishers for your personal use. Here’s an important thought to learn: Scripture was written to Jewish people as a group and to the ecclesia as a group of folks, not to specific individuals, although there are some books in the Second Testament that appear to be for specific individuals (example: Philemon). Learn to read with community eyes before personal eyes, otherwise, you might violate the meaning of the text you are reading.
When you finish this session, you should be able to:
- Know who Matthew was,
- Understand who the possible recipient of the book of Matthew was,
- Define the term Christian,
- Discern the purpose of Matthew,
- Observe a brief overview of Matthew.
When you receive a letter from someone you know, it is easy for you to read it. However, when you receive a letter from someone you don’t know, it may be difficult because you don’t know how the author of the letter uses words, figures of speech, etc. In today’s world, we are more likely to write a Facebook post, a blog post, or a tweet instead of a letter. In either case, the same reading rules apply. Reading and understanding Scripture is no different. To know the author is to get a step closer to the meaning of what is being read. In addition, it is also helpful to know something about the books in Scripture you are reading.
Matthew: A Social Outcast
The name Matthew, also known as Levi, meant “gift of God.” He made his home in Capernaum and his living as a Roman tax collector. In that timeframe, tax collectors were looked at as mercenaries who worked for the Roman Empire. Condemned by the religious leaders and ostracized by the general public, tax collectors were social outcasts befriended by prostitutes, criminals, and other social castaways. And yet, with such a pedigree, he was chosen to deliver the book that bears his name.
The Possible Recipient
The City of Antioch
It is traditionally held that Matthew wrote the book of Matthew to provide instruction for new Jesus followers in the ecclesia in Antioch of Syria.
Antioch was founded in 300 BC by one of Alexander the Great’s generals, Seleucus I. The favorable location of the ecclesia at Antioch promoted rapid growth. The population of Antioch during the first century was approximately 250,000 people. Greeks, Asians, Romans, and Jews lived there together. It was a part of the Roman Empire. The early historian Josephus wrote the following:
The Jewish race, densely interspersed among the native populations of every portion of the world, is particularly numerous in Syria, where intermingling is due to the proximity of the two countries. But it was specially in Antioch that they congregated, partly owing to the greatness of that city, but mainly because the successors of King Antiochus had enabled them to live there in security. [ref]Josephus , Jewish War. VII, iii. 3.[/ref]
The Ecclesia at Antioch
The ecclesia was planted as a result of the scattering of the disciples, which followed the death of Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:2) because of his persecution. A group of these scattered disciples, who may have been Hellenists, came to Antioch proclaiming Jesus to the Greeks and the Jews (Acts 11.20). The ecclesia included both Greeks and Jews from its inception. Historians believe that the ecclesia was predominately Greek as it grew. Luke did not give a further itinerary of these scattered disciples, so we may presume that they stayed in Antioch with the newly planted ecclesia. We can deduce this from the name Cyrene (11.20) who was among these scattered disciples. Cyrene is listed among the list of prophets and teachers in Antioch at Acts 13.1.
Gentile believers were increasing in the early ecclesia. The Jerusalem Jewish ecclesia had to grow accustomed to this fact. It was for this reason that Barnabas was sent to Antioch (Acts 11.22) to check in on this newly formed ecclesia. He was very pleased with what he saw occurring in the Antiochian ecclesia. He liked it so much that he stayed and identified with the new ecclesia instead of returning to Jerusalem.
The Ecclesia Grew
Luke records in Acts 11.24 that a large company of Jesus followers was added to the ecclesia in Antioch. This was immediately after the arrival of Barnabas. Help was needed to train these new followers of Jesus, so Barnabas searched out Saul in Tarsus. Together Barnabas and Saul taught a large number of people there (Acts 11.26). There is no mention of a ministry of these two or others in the Jewish synagogue in Antioch. This may indicate that the ministry was, from the beginning, largely a Gentile ministry. Luke does not tell us where the ecclesia met. We may assume from Paul’s later ministry, that the ecclesia met in homes as well as public meeting halls (Acts 19.9).
The Ecclesia was Blessed with a Wealth of Diversification
According to Acts 13.1, the gracelets of prophet and teacher were ministering through Jesus followers in Antioch. According to Ephesians 4.12 (written later by Paul to the Ephesian ecclesia), the purpose of these gracelets was to equip the believers, so that they could do the works of ministry that God put before them. For more information see my book Gracelets.[ref]Winn Griffin. Gracelets (v 1.5). Harmon Press, Woodinville, WA. 181-186.[/ref]
The Ecclesia Realized Unity
Greeks and Jews mixed like oil and water. It was difficult for the Jews, especially, to mix with those that they had been taught all of their lives were unclean people. It was from this mixture of believers that Barnabas and Paul were sent out to plant another ecclesia in largely Gentile areas using this model. Since it was working in Antioch, it could work in other places with like characteristics.
There was unity: both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 11.19-21). The concept of unity is one of the toughest things that you will face as a believer in the ecclesia. Unity does not mean uniformity. It does not mean sameness. While there is unity, there is also diversity. Since the Holy Spirit was distributing the gracelets to work through Jesus followers there was a diversity of ministry. This fact was a blessing, not a curse. We who presently live in ChurchWorld practice ecclesia in a completely different way than those folks in the first ecclesia in the Second Testament. Maybe we should take time to see the beauty of being Spirit-led vs. structure-led. Have we ever asked ourselves if our church structures hinder us from really fulfilling the commission of Jesus? Maybe we should!
The Ecclesia was a Missionary Ecclesia
The ecclesia at Antioch was a missionary ecclesia (Acts 13.3). So far as we know from Acts, the ecclesia at Antioch was the first to send out individuals to share the gospel of Jesus. The words of Jesus recorded in Acts 1.8 said that the ecclesia would reach out beyond the present boundaries to the end of the earth (this phrase was understood in that timeframe to mean Rome). The Antioch ecclesia continued this mission. They did this by sending out ecclesia creators.
The Ecclesia was a Giving Ecclesia
When the need was presented, the ecclesia at Antioch was able to send Barnabas and Paul with an offering to the ecclesia at Jerusalem during a famine (11.27-30).
The story of the founding of the ecclesia in Antioch is found in Acts 11.19-21. In Acts, 8.1b Jesus followers from the ecclesia in Jerusalem were scattered because of persecution. Some of these folks went to Antioch and preached only to Jews (Acts 11.19). Others went and preached only to Gentiles (Acts 11.20).
Luke, the author of Acts, tells us that the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number in Antioch became followers of Jesus (Acts 11.21). The phrase the Lord’s hand was with them, (Acts 11.21) is a metaphor for the power of God. Luke uses it in Acts 13.11 and Luke 1.66. This phrase is also a common expression for God’s power in the First Testament (Ex. 9.3; 1 Sam. 5.3, 6, 9). It is fair to say that the birth of the ecclesia at Antioch came by the power of God.
The concept of God’s power is a difficult idea for today’s Western ecclesia. There are those who argue that God acts differently today than he did in the days when the stories of the Bible were occurring. Our Western worldview helps us to draw this conclusion. However, the Bible was written to an Eastern mindset rather than a Western mindset. So, we must try to adopt the Eastern mindset as far as possible when reading the text of Scripture. Adopting this mindset will allow us not only to understand what Scripture says today but experience what Scripture says as well.
The ecclesia at Jerusalem heard what happened in Antioch from the stories of those who had gone to Antioch to minister. The Jerusalem ecclesia sent Barnabas to investigate and make sure that these Jesus followers were being cared for (11.2-26). Barnabas went to Antioch and recognized that God was there with them. The first thing he did upon his arrival was to give them encouragement (11.22-23). Luke describes Barnabas as a man full of the Holy Spirit and faith. These characteristics helped Barnabas convert people to Jesus (11.24).
Because of the growth of the ecclesia in Antioch, Barnabas realized that he needed some help in instructing these believers. So, he went to find Saul who had been living for almost eleven years since his conversion in his hometown of Tarsus. After finding Saul, he brought him to the ecclesia at Antioch and together they taught for one year (Acts 11.25-26).
A fact that is largely overlooked in the 21st century is: the ecclesia in the Second Testament age was charismatic. This includes the ecclesia at Antioch (Acts 11.27-29; Acts 13.1-3). Note the picture which Luke paints about the ecclesia and some of their activities.
- They accepted prophets and their message (Acts 11.27-28). You might wish to note that the message which they spoke to the ecclesia was not considered preaching by the ecclesia.
- They responded to the Spirit’s message (Acts 11.29). They did something about what they heard. In short, they became doers of the word.
- The ecclesia had “practicing” prophets and teachers (Acts 13.1). This idea and others is an area in which the ecclesia needs to allow Scripture to provide some guidance. The ecclesia knew these folks that prophesied among them and they were accountable to the ecclesia. While they may have moved from ecclesia to ecclesia, they appear to have had a foundation in one ecclesia. When practicing prophets are accountable, it makes their words much more effective. They can’t just hit and run as so many in ChurchWorld seem to do.
- The Jesus followers at Antioch received the message from the Spirit and acted upon it (Acts 13.2-3). One might note the action they took. After they heard the prophetic word about Barnabas and Saul, they fasted. When they were sure that the message was from God, they followed its directions. Following this model would keep many present Jesus followers free from trouble in their Christian life. Learn a lesson from this ecclesia. Listen to what a prophet (remember, not a position but a function) may have to say, fast and pray, and listen to God to see if the message is genuine. Then, and only then, move on it. Far too many folks have ruined their lives by following spurious words given by so-called prophets.
Understanding The Term Christian
It was at the Antioch ecclesia that believers were first called Christians (Acts 11.26b). This is one of the most notable features of Luke’s record of the ecclesia at Antioch. This designation came from the pagan population, which had to identify why these people were different. Let’s take a moment and see what the term Christian means.
Usage in History
The term was used in the Crusades (from a Spanish word which means marked with the cross). Crusades is the name given a series of wars undertaken by the Christians of Western Europe with the authorization of the papacy from 1095 until the mid-15th century for the purpose of recovering the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem from the Muslims and defending the possession of it.
The Inquisition Period
Before the 12th Century, when a person was denounced as a heretic, the penalty was exclusively spiritual, usually ex-communication. When the emperors became Christian, penalties included confiscation of property, exile, loss of civil rights, and in some cases death by burning or hanging.
During the Medieval Inquisition, Christian leaders handed out sentences of lesser misdeeds which were a recitation of prayers, fasting, almsgiving, flogging. Wearing a yellow cross, imprisonment, and confiscation of property was imposed for more serious heresy. Life imprisonment was the extreme penalty the inquisitor could impose. If the heretic would not recant or relapse into his heresy after condemnation and repentance, he was turned over to the secular arm for punishment, which was usually death.
- In the Spanish Inquisition (1878) the grand inquisitor put to death 2,000 people during his reign.
- The Roman Inquisition was established in 1542 by Pope Paul III to combat witchcraft and Protestantism.
All of these inquisitions were done in the name of Christianity by Christians. One might say that the word “Christian” came into disrepute during this period of Church History.
Popular Meaning Of Christian
One of the popular usages of the word Christian is to signify conformity to an ethical standard and social attitude, which is often cultural and has nothing to do with being a Christian. It has often become mixed up with a particular political allegiance, which alleges to reflect the spirit of a basic Christianity. Today, a Jehovah Witnesses come to the door and introduce themselves as Jehovah Christian Witnesses. We are told that Christians are fighting in Lebanon. Some Americans believe they are Christians because they live in America. For them, the word Christian is synonymous with American. That idea is the product of not knowing American History.
The way the word Christian is used most often is to make it synonymous with perfect. To be a Christian, in some people’s minds, means that the person professing to be a Christian is perfect. You may have heard some of these statements:
- “You mean you can say that word and call yourself a Christian?”
- “You’re drinking a glass of wine and you say you are a Christian?”
- “You smoke and you think you are a Christian?”
- “You go to movies, and you believe that you are a Christian?
- “You voted for ??? and you call yourself a Christian.”
- “You believe that (a specific belief which usually does not meet the view of the one speaking) and you call yourself a Christian?”
- “You voted for him or her in the last election and you call yourself a Christian?”
There are groups who have made up their own criteria about who a Christian is and they wish to impose their belief system on anyone who says they are a Christian.
The popular definition of Christian, even by Christians, is to be Christlike. It only follows that since Christ was perfect, to be like him means that Christians are perfect. Scripture does not use the word in this way. Christlike is simply a popularization of the word in the culture of the day.
In fact, the word Christian has lost whatever positive meaning it may have had in most people’s minds. The word in the Second Testament Greek is christianos (chris ti a nos). It appears only three times in the Second Testament (Acts 11.26; Acts 26.28; 1 Peter 4.16). Chrio is the root word from whence christos and, then, christianos comes. The word is found in Homer and defined as to bathe, or to caress with oils. Usage varies:
- the oiling of weapons,
- the smearing of poison on weapons,
- whitewashing or painting,
- rubbing with a garment,
- anointing after bathing.
Christos, as a noun, is defined as to smear on or to anoint. It is defined as an ointment. It never relates to a person outside of Scripture.
It was naturally in Gentile circles that christos first came to be used as a personal name rather than as a title. The populous of Antioch (Acts 11.26), hearing the disciples use the name christos frequently, added a colloquial suffix (originally Latin) to christos, and called those who so often name the name of Christ, Christians. Christos meant nothing to the unbelieving Gentiles who confused it with the identically pronounced christos, defined as kindly or useful. The word christianoi is never used by Christians of themselves in the Second Testament. In Acts 26.28, King Agrippa II used it. In 1 Peter 4.16, it represented the language of accusation.
The word christian means to be an adherent to Christ, one who becomes a believer in Christ, bonds himself or herself to Christ. The word was not originally pejorative (to become worse), but descriptive. In historical writings of classical times, it is used to define a group in terms which meant allegiance, (fidelity, loyalty, faithfulness). It was not a sarcastic term! Caesar’s opponent, Pompey, had troops who were called Pomperians.
The act of Barnabas bringing Paul to Antioch (Acts 11.26) can be dated at around AD 40-44. Fifteen (15) years later Herod Agrippa II, after listening to Paul, remarked ironically: “In a short time you think to make me a Christian” (Acts 26.28). The old King James Version (KJV) leaves us with a misunderstanding of this passage with its translation, “Almost thou hast persuadest me to become a Christian,” inferring that Paul did not quite have what it took to convince Agrippa to become a Christian. In fact, Agrippa was telling Paul that he needed time to make up his mind on such an important issue. The usage of the word, however, was not in the mouth of Paul, but in the mouth of the one who had yet to be persuaded, Agrippa.
Approximately five years later, when the Neronian persecution was near or even a present reality, Peter wrote from Rome and instructed those who were in the ecclesia in certain eastern provinces not to be ashamed if called to suffer as a Christian (1 Peter 4.16).
Three Roman writers (Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny) suggested that the word Christian was in common use among the citizenry of Rome by the reign of Nero (AD 37-68) and elsewhere in the empire by the end of the first century. Ignatius, also writing from Antioch, is the only one of the Apostolic Fathers to employ the term. By the end of the second century, it was well established in the ecclesia. It was too fitting not to use. It meant something like …you belong to Christ… Mark 9.41.
Remember, the word was not used by Jesus followers of themselves. It was originated by pagans. It was not pejorative, only descriptive. As far as the evidence in the Second Testament, the usages are uniformly set in the context of the persecution of Christians.
There are other names for Christians in Acts:
- the being saved ones (hoi swzomenoi): Acts 2.47
- the disciples (mathetai): Acts 6.1
- the saints (abioi): Acts 9.13
- the brothers (adelphoi): Acts 9.30
- the faithful (circumcised believers; pistos): Acts 10.45
- the Nazarene sect (Nazwraoio): Acts 24.5
So, then, what is a Christian? Simply, to be a Christian means to be in the process of bonding with Jesus.
Christians are not perfect people. The goal of a Christian is to have a relationship with the one whom he or she is following. Becoming like the one being followed is secondary to having a relationship with him.
The Purpose Of Matthew: Why Did He Write?
To Provide a Training Manual
As already alluded to above, one of the most important facts for a believer to understand is that the Second Testament is the literature that was written to answer problems. One of the most interesting things about Matthew’s Gospel is that he was struggling with many of the same problems that the ecclesia is struggling with today. The first-century ecclesia was experiencing a basic shift in her existence. She had largely existed in Jerusalem where she was Jewish. Now she was faced with surviving in an arena with both Jews and Gentiles. The ecclesia, then and now, has to adopt her sacred traditions to meet new times. Up to Antioch, the ecclesia had been almost stringently Jewish in origin and makeup. By the time Matthew writes his Gospel, the Jerusalem ecclesia (Jewish) was on her last leg, if not already destroyed (depends on dating: near the end equals the ‘60s; destroyed equals ‘70s-‘80s). The influx of Gentiles raised many problems for Matthew and the ecclesia of his day. Questions needed answers.
- How does one adapt the past to the present?
- How does one wean the ecclesia away from legalism without slipping into license?
- In America, how does one discourage the pregnancy of the American church from the idea that political alignments and ecclesia alignments are not one and the same?
These ideas should be reflected upon and discussed. Jesus followers, new and seasoned, have a need to deepen their understanding of who Christ is and how he works in their lives. There is just simply too much popular theology built on personal feelings or on the misnomer that “the Spirit has directed” the Jesus follower to follow. Conversations that are only directed by one’s feelings that are attributed to the Holy Spirit will only end poorly among Jesus followers not to mention how those who are not Jesus followers form their opinions about us.
A second reason Matthew wrote his book was to assist followers of Jesus with their struggle regarding the person and work of Jesus. How does one theologize concerning Jesus? He was not only the Jewish Messiah but also the King of the Gentiles and Lord of the Universe. Questions may have arisen like: Why was salvation through the Son of God? Why did he perform all those miracles? These early Jesus followers needed to understand the nature of the ecclesia and participate in the ecclesial mission. Also, as a new creation, how was he or she to live life as a member of the ecclesia? These same concerns absorb the ecclesia in the second millennium, just as they did to the ecclesia Matthew was a part of and wrote to.
The end of the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 28.16-20) establishes the commissioning of the ecclesia. The eleven disciples, as representatives of the ecclesia, were told to make disciples. There are two parts to this commissioning. The responsibility placed on them is the same responsibility placed on Jesus followers today.
They were told:
- First, to make disciples by baptizing them. This was the beginning of the process of transformation.
- Second, to teach the disciples. This activity of teaching was passing along the information so that the new convert could understand who he or she was in Christ.
With these ideas in mind, one discovers the purpose of Matthew’s Gospel. He demonstrates for us that Jesus taught using the show and tell model. New and not so new Jesus followers today have the same need.
The Comparison Of Jesus And Moses
Matthew goes to great extremes to compare Jesus and Moses. This helps his readership understand that Jesus was the New Moses and the ecclesia was the New Israel. Here are a few examples (This will be clarified throughout these studies in Matthew).
There are five (5) sections in the Gospel of Matthew. These five sections are compared with the Pentateuch, which is the first five books in the First Testament, commonly held to have been written by Moses. Remember, they did not have Bibles to carry around. The authors used what they could use for memory tools. Here are some examples of Matthew’s comparison:
- The killing of the children by Herod in order to have Jesus killed is not unlike the killing of the children in the First Testament book of Exodus with the hopes that Moses would be killed.
- The Sermon on the Mount by Jesus and Moses on the sermon on Mount Sinai is another analogy. Matthew desires his readers to see both Jesus and Moses as teachers giving instructions. He does this by parading contrasts in the Sermon on the Mount. There you can hear Jesus comparing the old by saying “You have heard it was said…” (Matt. 5.21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43) with the new, “but I tell you…” (Matt. 5.22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). For Matthew, Jesus was the New Moses and the ecclesia was the New Israel. This will be important when we discuss the chapters in Matthew where he shares the teaching of Jesus concerning his coming.
Overview of Matthew
As we have said, in Matthew there are five books within one. Each of these books has a narrative and an instruction section. The following is an overview of each section.
The Gospel of Matthew has a lot to say to the twenty-first century ecclesia. The problems which Jesus followers had then are the same ones that are occurring now. Matthew shares with us the teaching of Jesus in these vital areas in order to help us begin to grow and become the people that God has created us to be.
Community Discussion Questions
➡ |CDQ Info|
- How does your ecclesia train believers who are new to the faith? How would you train new believers if you were called to that ministry?
- How are unity and diversity possible at the same time? Are both together healthy?
- In what way is your ecclesia a missionary ecclesia? What specific things does it do to reach beyond its walls?
- How is the power of God manifested in your local ecclesia? Is your ecclesia more or less like the ecclesia at Antioch?
- How do your ecclesia and life measure up to the charismatic activities which occurred in the ecclesia at Antioch?
- How does the popular meaning of Christian influence the people at your ecclesia and in your workplace?
- When have you been guilty of making Christian and perfect equal in meaning?
- When has the meaning of Christian as perfect been used against you by well-meaning but uninformed believers and nonbelievers? What steps can you take to reduce this misuse of the word Christian?
- How does your relationship with Jesus show allegiance, fidelity, loyalty, and faithfulness?
- How can you incorporate other terms into your language system when referring to believers? What are some good modern English equivalents to these biblical terms?
- Why do you believe that so many believers are not willing to be trained by the ecclesia? What can the ecclesia do to attract more of the followers of Jesus to be biblically educated and trained?