St. Matthew (active 1st century), one of the Apostles chosen by Jesus, is traditionally considered the author of the First Gospel.

The first recorded information of Matthew tells of a meeting between him and Jesus. At that time Matthew's name was Levi; he was the son of Alphaeus. He was sitting at his tax collector's desk near the Sea of Galilee when Jesus told him to follow him (Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14). Levi did this promptly. It is supposed that Jesus, as he did in other cases, gave Levi another name, Matthew, meaning "gift of Yahweh." After this event Matthew Levi threw a feast for Jesus and his companions in his own house (Luke 5:9). Apart from some other passing references to him, there are no further precise details concerning Matthew's life, except that he seems to have been associated closely with the Apostle Thomas in the ministry of preaching the Gospel (Matthew 9:3; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:13-16). The Apostles of Jesus generally worked in pairs, and the above texts seem to associate Thomas and Matthew. It is not known how or where Matthew ended his life. Traditions and legends differ as to whether he died a martyr's death or of natural causes.

Outside the New Testament, the most ancient and authoritative reference to Matthew is found in fragments of a work by Papias (born ca. A.D. 70), who apparently knew some of the early Apostles, including Matthew. Papias tells us that "Matthew wrote down the sayings in the Hebrew language." The "sayings" refer to the oral traditions concerning Jesus which circulated after his death. Scholars generally agree that the term "Hebrew" in Papias's mouth refers to the Aramaic language and not to Hebrew. This testimony of Papias, in addition to extensive examination of the Gospel text, has led most modern critics to conclude that the First Gospel is a Greek text modeled on an Aramaic original which has been lost. Modern research has not been able to decide definitively whether Matthew was the author of the First Gospel in its present Greek form or in the Aramaic original.

The framework of the present Greek Gospel of Matthew seems to have been taken from the Gospel of Mark, but the author of the First Gospel filled in the gaps between units of the Marcan text with material drawn from another source. This source, it has been surmised, may have been the original Aramaic text. Matthew also introduced collections of sayings which Mark apparently did not possess.

According to Matthew, also, the content of the Gospel message is not the life and personality of Jesus but the doctrine and the preaching of Jesus, by which he gave a new and final interpretation to the Law of Moses. Matthew's Gospel is also the one which makes abundant use of Old Testament texts and a rabbinic method of exegesis in order to establish the authenticity of Jesus as the expected Messiah of Israel. Finally, Matthew stresses the ecclesiastical aspect of Jesus' preaching and his new movement. The composition of the First Gospel in its present Greek form is generally assigned to the years 75-80.

Further Reading on St. Matthew

For information on Matthew consult George D. Kilpatrick, The Origins of the Gospel according to St. Matthew (1946), and Krister Stendahl, The School of St. Matthew and Its Use of the Old Testament (1954).