Why Did Matthew Write His Gospel? Here Are 4 Possible Reasons
Rodney Reeves thinks asking questions of the Bible is important and relevant to preaching and teaching. So he introduces his new Matthew commentary (SGBC series) by asking a number of them them—including “Why?”
Why did Matthew write his gospel, and in the way he wrote it? Consider the material the Evangelist added to his narrative:
- He began with an extensive genealogy
- He grouped together Jesus’s teachings into a sermon
- He has Jesus sending the disciples first to the Jews
- He made a big deal about Peter’s confession
- He added several parables after the Olivet Discourse
Why did Matthew include all of this extra, particular material?
Scholars think it may have something to do with Matthew’s purpose.…The trick is finding a literary or theological thread that holds the fabric of Matthew together—not only the unique material but also his version of episodes shared by the other Gospels. (27)
So why did Matthew write his gospel account of Jesus, what threads might hold this gospel-fabric together? Here are four possible reasons, four possible threads.
1) Thread 1: Jesus as the New Moses
First, many scholars believe Matthew’s goal was to present Jesus as the New Moses. Like the original one, Jesus was appointed by God to lead Israel out of exile into a new exodus. To illustrate, they point to a number of purposefully arranged material:
- The last fourteen generations in Jesus’s linage end with Israel’s exile
- As if he were a New Moses, “the first thing Jesus does is to ascend a mountain and deliver his version of the law of righteousness” (28)—the so-called Sermon on the Mount
- The imagery of Jesus as the Great Shepherd reclaiming the lost sheep images Israel’s prophet-priest-king heroes embodied in him
“Therefore, the culminating effect, the undeniable inference, the force of Matthew’s purpose is this: the exile is over; the meek will inherit the land; the kingdom of heaven has come to earth because the true Son of God has ascended to David’s throne forever” (28).
2) Thread 2: Jesus Loves Gentiles, Too
Others believe Matthew was trying to reconcile problems that developed between Jewish Christians and the influx of gentile believers. Believing Jesus had not intended from the beginning to include gentile converts in his messianic mission, “Jesus’s mission to reclaim the lost sheep of Israel had to be refashioned in light of the early church’s experience” (28).
Therefore, this school of thought holds Matthew “wrote his Gospel to redirect the predominantly Jewish-Christian community to embrace their new mission” (28). To help them, Matthew included a number of unique features:
- Jewish leader rejection of Jesus is highlighted
- From the beginning it's shown how gentiles were included in God’s plan
- Gentiles are listed in Jesus’s genealogy
- The magi are included in Jesus’s birth narrative
- Jesus praises the Roman centurion for his faith
“To be sure, Jesus’s first priority was the reclamation of Israel and the land. But, just like the prophets before him, Jesus was rejected by his own people….All of this was by divine design, and Matthew’s Gospel shows his readers how and why it happened” (29).
3) Thread 3: Jesus and the Not-Yet Kingdom
Some others think Matthew was trying to answer the difficult eschatological problem of whether the kingdom of heaven has come to earth or not. This is why the dating of Matthew is so important—either before or after the destruction of the temple.
If his gospel was written before the destruction of the temple, then Matthew was encouraging his readers to see the ‘signs of the times’…On the other hand, some scholars think Matthew wrote his Gospel after AD 70—a disaster that created a crisis in the early church. Since Jesus seemed to tie his second coming to the destruction of the temple, then there must have been some sort of delay in the parousia of Christ. (30)
Reeves thinks there is something to the expanded version of the Olivet Discourse, believing it “may be key to understanding the ambiguity of the already/not yet kingdom of heaven coming to earth…” (30).
4) Thread 4: Jesus’s “Who” is What’s Important
Finally, rather than locate Matthew’s purpose in the reader, some locate it in the person of Jesus himself. “In other words, Matthew wrote his Gospel to present his Christology, his theological view of the significance of the person and work of Jesus” (31).
So where others might see Jesus as the New Moses, these scholars see him as the embodiment of Torah; “who” he is is what’s important, not what he did. While Matthew did resolve some issues facing the early church, his motivating purpose “was to present Jesus as the king of Israel for the sake of the whole world” (31).
This would inevitably have led to him attending to the issues from the other threads, like Jesus as New Moses and his mission to the gentiles. “For he was convinced that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior, the Immanuel, the Son of God. And he would use every argument, promise, prophecy, typology, and commandment to prove it” (31).
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