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Referring to:

  • Matthew 9:9 - "a man called Matthew"
  • Mark 2:14 - "Levi the son of Alphaeus"
  • Luke 5:27 - "a tax collector named Levi"

Is it widely regarded that Levi and Matthew are the same person referred to in the three passages.

My question is: what is the significance of the fact that it is in Matthew's Gospel (alone) that Levi is referred to as Matthew (in the triple tradition passages above)?

How and when exactly (or traditionally) did the Gospel according to Matthew become so named? The Levi-Matthew question has obviously been discussed / raised previously, thus, what explanation is generally provided for the fact that it is only "Matthew's Gospel" where Levi is (originally) called Matthew?

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    Adding to the confusion, shortly after Matthew 9:9 there is this verse mentioning Matthew: "Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;" (Matthew 10:3). So at first brush, the text appears to imply that Matthew and Levi were the same person, as were Levi and James, though James was not the same person as Matthew(?!). Possible ways out of this paradox have included that (1) Levi and James were brothers; (2) multiple people named Alphaeus; (3) the Church fathers were just as confused as we are. – David H Dec 2 '14 at 14:11
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    FWIW it was not uncommon in their culture to have more than one name. Jesus Himself gave people new names. If Matthew was Levi's new name from Jesus, it would make sense that Matthew would identify himself with this new name, while Mark and Luke would be more interested in his name at the time of the event being recorded. It may also be helpful to note that there is evidence that suggests Matthew was written to a more Hebrew audience. So if Mark and Luke were written to gentile audiences and Matthew was his Hebrew name, that would also explain it. – Jas 3.1 Dec 2 '14 at 16:32
  • @Jas3.1 I think your confusing Matthew the author of the gospel with Matthew the character referred to in the gospel. These are two different people, and for that matter the author of the Gospel of Matthew most likely wasn't a person named Matthew. Remember the gospels are anonymous. So the author would have had no more reason to refer to Levi by his new name than the authors of Mark or Luke would have. – David H Dec 2 '14 at 17:37
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    @DavidH I take Matthew the tax collector to be the author of the Gospel. From your perspective I'm confused, from my perspective you are confused. If you want to make a case for Matthew not being the author of the Gospel (as he has traditionally been taken to be) you might consider posting a separate Q&A on that topic. – Jas 3.1 Dec 2 '14 at 19:54
  • Jas 3.1 - I also believe that Matthew the tax collector was the author of the Gospel of Matthew. Never heard differently until now. – user862 Dec 3 '14 at 0:50
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We need to start with Mark's Gospel, as this is the earliest source available to us. Matthew's Gospel is known to have been based substantially on Mark and, when copying the original gospel, its anonymous author sometimes resolves what he sees as errors in Mark's Gospel. An example is in Mark 5:1, where Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to the land of the Gerasenes. As Gerasa is more than thirty miles from the lake, Matthew 8:28 substitutes 'Gadarenes', since Gedara is not far from the lake shore. You won't see this in the King James Version (KJV) because the translators substituted 'Gadarenes' into Mark, in conformance with Matthew, but other English translations follow the original Greek.

Mark's Gospel mentions both Matthew and Levi separately, referring to Levi, son of Alphaeus as a tax collector whom Jesus called to follow him (Mark 2:14). Mark never again refers to Levi, who is not mentioned in the full list of the twelve disciples (Mark 3:14-19), where Mark introduces other disciples including Matthew, Thaddaeus and James, son of Alphaeus. Here there is no good reason to see Levi and Matthew as being the same person. Luke follows Mark closely, in that it mentions Levi but only in the context of a story in which Jesus is criticised for consorting with tax collectors, with Matthew being one of the twelve (Luke 6:15).

Disciples are not meant to change their minds when called by Jesus, yet this seems to happen when Mark omits Levi in the list of all the twelve apostles. Matthew's author resolves Levi's unexplained absence simply by not mentioning Levi at all, and by having Matthew as the disciple who was a tax collector, so that two thousand years of tradition have held that Levi and Matthew must be the same person.

The second-century decision that Matthew was probably the author of what is now known as Matthew's Gospel is thought to have come in part from an early attempt to resolve the synoptic problem. That there was a literary relationship among the three gospels was clear, and the Church Fathers felt that the earliest synoptic gospel must have been written by an apostle,since anything else would have placed the truth of the gospels in doubt. Matthew's Gospel was judged to be the first, because it contains the greatest number of citations and allusions from the Old Testament, and was thought to have a Jewish feel about it, such that the original was probably written in Hebrew or Aramaic. It then only remained to decide which apostle wrote this gospel. Because it was the only gospel to 'correctly' name Matthew as sitting at the seat of customs, it was thought likely that Matthew was the author.

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  • Thanks for your answer. The second part of the question is around the origin of the traditional attribution of Matthew's gospel with the disciple Matthew. – user2754486 Dec 8 '14 at 6:31
  • @user2754486 I have added a paragraph summarising what I have read on the likely reason that this gospel was attributed to Matthew, bearing in mind that the Church Fathers did not record their reasons, but at least we know they were aware of the synoptic problem and were likely to make an attribution based on the text. – Dick Harfield Dec 8 '14 at 19:54
  • thanks again. Do you have any reference / citation which links the 'correct' identification of the tax collector as Matthew with assumed authorship of the Gospel? – user2754486 Dec 8 '14 at 23:26
  • @user2754486 Sorry. The specific reason for the first gospel being identified with Matthew is one of those things I learnt in my earlier days and remember, but I have not been able to find a citation. – Dick Harfield Dec 9 '14 at 2:02
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Regarding the difference in names, we recognize that the Disciples generally went by two different names: one Greek, and one Aramaic (or Hebrew). Simon (bar-Jonah), for example, was also known by his Greek name "Petros" (an interesting anglicization for Peter could have been "Rock Johnson"); Levi was also known as Matthaios, anglicized as "Matthew". Although the Disciples Aramaic/Hebrew names are frequently given, they are generally referred to in the New Testament Scriptures - which are written in Greek - by their Greek names.

This explains how Matthew is named differently in the Gospels, but it doesn't answer your question as to why specifically in Matthew's Gospel he is named with his Greek name.

The consensus of the Church Fathers regarding the disparity in names in these passages is that the Luke and Mark did not wish to call attention to Matthew's sinful past as a publican. One finds that when Luke and Mark refer to Matthew elsewhere they use his Greek name (Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15), but when they are referring to the time when he was still a publican they refer to him as "Levi" (Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27,29). John Chrysostom (ca 349-407) notes, "And we have cause also to admire the self-denial of the evangelist, how he disguises not his own former life, but adds even his name, when the others had concealed him under another appellation."1 Theophylact, a later Byzantine commentator (ca 1055-1107) explains:

Marvel at how the evangelist displays his own former way of life, while the other evangelists disguise his name, calling him "Levi".2

A similar interpretation is found in the writings of the western Fathers. Jerome (ca 347-420) writes, for example:

Out of respect and deference, the other Evangelists were unwilling to call him by the common name of Matthew but said Levi. So Matthew went by a double name in accordance with what Solomon noted: An accuser is righteous at the beginning of his words.3 And in another place: Tell your sins, and you will be justified.4 Matthew also calls himself a publican to show his readers that no one must despair of salvation if he has changed for the better, for he was suddenly changed from a publican to an apostle.5


1. Homily XXX on Matthew (tr. from the Greek)
2. Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew (tr. from the Greek; Chrysostom Press, 2008, p.77)
3. Proverbs 18:17 LXX
4. Isaiah 43:26 LXX
4. Commentary on Matthew I.IX.9

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