Tax Collector to Gospel Writer: Patristic Traditions about the Evangelist Matthew by Michael Kok
The text entitled as the “Gospel according to Matthew” was written anonymously. Matthew, the formerly despised tax collector whom Jesus appointed as one of his twelve apostles, is just briefly mentioned twice within its pages. The internal evidence within the text offers little support for the long-standing tradition accepted by innumerable Christians throughout the last two millennia that the Apostle Matthew was the evangelist who composed it. This has led Michael J. Kok to investigate anew the origins and development of the Patristic traditions about the Evangelist Matthew. Kok’s investigation starts by tackling the question about why the Gospel of Matthew disagrees with the Gospels of Mark and Luke over the identity of the person whom Jesus approached when he was sitting at a toll booth near the Galilean village of Capernaum. Although it distinctively names Matthew as the tax collector in the narrative, it does not identify him as the one responsible for its composition. Kok’s next step, then, is to ascertain why a tradition emerged in the early second century CE that Matthew recorded the oracles about the Lord in his native language before they were translated into Greek. Matthew’s work was contrasted with Mark’s rough draft documenting the words and deeds of Jesus that was based on his memories of what the Apostle Peter had preached. These traditions about the two evangelists may have had few adherents at first, but they eventually commanded unanimous consent among Christian interpreters once titles were affixed to the four Gospels identifying their authors as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the late second century. The postulation that there was an original edition of Matthew’s Gospel in a Semitic language had far-reaching consequences when the “Gospel according to the Hebrews” was eventually ascribed to Matthew too. This re-examination of the internal and external evidence regarding Matthew’s authorship of a Gospel has important historical and theological implications.
About the author: Michael Kok is New Testament Lecturer and Dean of Students at Morling College Perth.