The Gospel According to Matthew and Q

Summary of the Tradition

    Papias: Matthew composed the sayings of the Lord in the Hebrew language, and everyone translated them as best as they could (Eusebius's Church History 3.39.16).

    Muratorian Fragment: The fragment indicates that there are four Gospels, but the surviving text only names the Gospels of Luke and John.

    Irenaeus: Matthew wrote a Gospel in the Hebrew language, while Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel and founding the church in Rome (Against Heresies 3.1.1).

    Clement: Matthew was written before Mark and John and at the same time as Luke (Eusebius's Church History 6.14.5-7).

    Tertullian: Matthew wrote a Gospel (Against Marcion 4.5).

    Origen: The first Gospel was that according to Matthew, who was once a toll-collector but later an apostle of Jesus Christ. He published it for those who became believers from Judaism, since it was composed in the Hebrew language (Eusebius's Church History 6.25.4).

    Jerome: Matthew – who was also (called) Levi – was an apostle and former tax-collector. He first composed the Gospel of Christ in Hebrew letters and wrote for the Jews of Judea. It is not known who translated the Gospel into Greek. The Hebrew Gospel still exists, and Jerome claimed to have read it. [It is unclear whether this is an original or whether it is a translation from the Greek.] Matthew used the Hebrew Old Testament for quotes rather than the Greek one [This is not true. Current scholarship indicates that Greek Matthew used the Greek Old Testament.] (Illustrious Men 3)

    Augustine: Matthew wrote first and gave the basic story of Jesus's life (Consensus of the Gospels 1.2.4).


    First, we must understand that the Gospel of Matthew heavily relies on the Gospel of Mark as a source. We get this from the four source hypothesis. Mark was not nearly as close to Jesus as Matthew, the apostle. He was an associate of Peter, not of Jesus, like Matthew. It is extremely unlikely that the apostle Matthew would quote Mark as heavily as the author of this Gospel does. He would rely on his own memories or those of others very close to Jesus. This implies that the author of Matthew is not the apostle. However, when looked at carefully, it appears that the tradition is referring to a different text, a Hebrew Gospel, when identifying the author. The Gospel that we now have was originally written in Greek. Also, this Hebrew Gospel of Matthew was originally identified as a sayings Gospel, which implies that it may have been a list of the teachings of Jesus, and not a full fledged story. At some time between Papias and Jerome, the church forgot that there were two different texts, a Hebrew Matthew and a Greek Matthew, and therefore identified Matthew as the author of both, even though current scholarship clearly shows that this cannot be the case.

    It is commonly asserted that the Hebrew Matthew has been lost. While it is true that it no longer exists as an independent document, we must realize that its contents would not have been lost. The apostle's writings are of extremely high importance, because they are eyewitness accounts of Jesus. The early church would not have thrown them away or allowed them to be lost. However, they could have incorporated them into other writings. That is, the Hebrew Matthew has been included somewhere in the other Gospels. This is the only way that the church would not have seen the need to keep the Hebrew Matthew (quite likely not a complete Gospel) as a separate text. Now, we know that both Matthew and Luke have included within them the group of sayings known as Q. This is an early collection that we do not know the author of. Possibly, this is the Hebrew Matthew or an early translation of it. There is no other reasonable explanation that matches the facts.[12] This would also help explain how the church fathers could start saying that the Greek Matthew was written by the apostle. If the Hebrew Matthew is part of the Greek Matthew, it is not that gigantic a mistake.

    Unfortunately, all this means we don't really know who the author of the Greek Matthew was. What we do know is that he was a Jewish Christian who combined Q, Mark, and some other sources together. We know that he was Jewish because he deals heavily with the place of Judaism in Christianity and quotes the Old Testament extensively.


    Since we are now discussing two texts, we should discuss two sets of dates. It is difficult to date either based on tradition because the church fathers do not carefully state which text they are talking about. Therefore, we must use the texts themselves and accept fairly wide ranges. We know that the Q was written before Luke (A.D. 60-75). Also, Mark (A.D. 55-70) did not use it, so it was probably not written long before Mark wrote. This allows us to date it between A.D. 45 and 70. To date the Greek Matthew, we know that it does not depend on Luke; and Luke does not depend on it; so they must have been written at about the same time. We also know that it was written after Mark and Q. Therefore, we know that it was written sometime between A.D. 60 and 85.

This page was last changed on 2011/08/28