The title for the Gospel of Matthew, "According to Matthew". Does anyone know who and when the earliest reference was made that St. Matthew wrote his own Gospel?
Eusebius, writing in the fourth century, referred to Papias as having written about Matthew as an author of what may be the Gospel that now bears the name of Matthew:
Church History 3:39:16: But concerning Matthew he writes as follows: “So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able.
Assuming Eusebius' sources were good, Papias would therefore have made this attribution around 120 CE.
Although tradition says that Papias was indeed attributing the Gospel to Matthew, there is some uncertainty as to the reliability of Papias and even of Eusebius. Bart D. Ehrman says, in Forged, page 226, there is nothing to indicate that when Papias referred to Matthew and Mark, he was referring to the gospels that were later called Matthew and Mark. Others point out that Papias refers to the writing of Matthew as sayings, or 'oracles', but what we now know as Matthew's Gospel is not a list of sayings. So, although Papias, in around 120 CE, is likely to have made the earliest attribution to Matthew of the Gospel that now bears his name, this is not entirely certain. We know that by the latter half of the second century, the attribution to Matthew was well established.
The earliest manuscript bearing the title "according to Matthew" is very likely P64/67 (these fragments are usually considered part of the same original manuscript). This manuscript is typically dated to around AD 175 (see here); though a variety of earlier & later dates have been proposed.
There are no intact manuscripts of Matthew without a title, and there are no manuscripts of Matthew attributing the document to anyone else. The title would have been listed in the superscript (top) and/or subscript (bottom) of a manuscript. For surviving manuscripts where the super/subscript has not been lost (many are fragmentary due to damage over the years), all of them have Matthew's name in the title.
As noted by Dick Harfield, Papias attributes the "logia" to Matthew. There has been much debate regarding what this "logia" is that Papias refers to...but at the very least it should be noted that:
- Papias uses this term to refer to sayings & doings, not just sayings. Regardless of the usage of this term by others, it is what Papias means by the word that counts
- The writings of Papias on this matter should be dated no later than the first decade of the 2nd century (as covered by Eusebius HE Book III); and Papias indicates that he's quoting a first-generation Christian source.
The earliest statement that is 100% unambiguous on this matter comes from Irenaeus of Lyons, writing approx. AD 180. He attributes the Gospel of Matthew to Matthew, quotes repeatedly from the document, and there is no question that what he has in mind is the document known today as the Gospel of Matthew (see Irenaeus Against Heresies 3.1.1)
The earliest, direct, surviving attribution to Matthew is no later than the late 2nd century.
However, I have argued elsewhere that the surviving evidence shows, through deduction, that attribution to Matthew dates back to the first century.