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The Gospel of Matthew has a title ευαγγελιον κατα Μαθθαιον (“The Gospel according to Matthew”).

Martin Hengel, defends an early fixation of the Gospels’ manuscript titles in his book, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ.

More recently, Simon Gathercole, takes Hengel's argument one step further and argues it was an authentic reading in the earliest aspect of its textual transmission. He argues that while it is not in the main body, it is still part of the received text.

Gathercole's article, on Matthew can be found here and his survey of its textual transmission can be found here.

The hermeneutical implications of how to interpret this part of the text in Matthew is significant. For example, in an article on the Gospel of Mathew, Wikipedia notes:

The work does not identify its author, and the early tradition attributing it to the apostle Matthew is rejected by modern scholars.

Another article on Authorship of the Bible in relationship to the Gospel Matthew in Wikipedia notes:

The majority of modern scholars believe it is unlikely that this gospel was written by an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus...

In relationship to the Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Wikipedia also notes:

Scholars doubt that the authors were the evangelists Matthew and Luke: it seems unlikely, for example, that Matthew would rely so heavily on Mark if its author had been an eyewitness to Jesus's ministry.

But if Gathercole is correct, the earliest text of Matthew contains the title, even though it is not in the body of the narrative. So, the hermeneutical question is relevant for New Testament studies.

The title, included in the text of Matthew, would work against the assumption that the Gospels resemble biographical literature such as the Life of Aesop and the Alexander Romance which are held to be anonymous.

Does the preposition κατα, mean “according to” in a strict limited sense or “handed down from” - i.e. in a broad sense of being passed down in the genre tradition of Matthew? If the former, would that indicate an explicit claim to authorship or at least editorial oversight in its final contents?

Gathercole notes how in early history genre it is more common for the main body to have the name of the author. However, he still adduces a number of examples showing this is not a rule. He also gives examples of biographies that don't mention their author in the main body: Josephus' Vita, Plutarch's biographies on Moses, etc.

So, from a form critical perspective, the hermeneutical understanding of the preposition κατα in its context is important.

Taking a strict view of the preposition meaning “according to” appears to support the view that the author himself put the title on his writing. After all, if the author of the Gospel was a tax collector than this might be an expected way to not write anonymously about Jesus.

Although, to be sure, the title could have been placed by a scribe after various notes were compiled and edited following Matthew’s death. Many of our modern books are published in a posthumous manner with the title of the author listed as if he or she were alive while writing the book.

Regarding the composition of Matthew, Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica 3.39.16) records Papias as stating:

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.'

ταῦτα μὲν οὖν ἱστόρηται τῷ Παπίᾳ περὶ τοῦ Μάρκου· περὶ δὲ τοῦ Ματθαῖου ταῦτ’ εἴρηται· Ματθαῖος μὲν οὖν Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ τὰ λόγια συνετάξατο, ἡρμήνευσεν δ’ αὐτὰ ὡς ἧν δυνατὸς ἕκαστος.

The understanding of the Papias use of "interpreted" is interesting. Anthony Thistleton presents detailed evidence concerning this use of διερμηνευω, even claiming that up to three quarters of the uses of διερμηνευωin by Philo means to "put into words." In other words it's a bit more than just meaning "to translate." It might also convey the idea of adding extra illustrations in from other sources to explain the oracles of Jesus. You can find Thistleton's thoughts on διερμηνευω expressed in an article of his in the Journal of Theological Studies, April 1979, pp. 13-36. Another discussion, related to the use of the word "interpretation" in Papias, can be found here.

In short, the proper contextual interpretation of the preposition κατα appears to me to be a useful hermeneutical question. That’s because some have argued that a late Greek version of Matthew was written by somebody besides Matthew. In other words, our Greek version could be an expanded interpretation (mentioned by Papias) of Mathew’s organized oracles of Jesus.

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  • "The Gospel according to Matthew" is an extra-Biblical phrase. It is not one which Matthew used. Rather, they wrote βίβλος γενέσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ υἱοῦ Δαυὶδ υἱοῦ Ἀβραάμ. Literally, Bible Genesis of Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham. Jan 8, 2022 at 18:32
  • I put a link to Simon Gathercole‘s article on the subject.
    – Jess
    Jan 8, 2022 at 18:46
  • Thank you. I am simply pointing out the title is not in the Biblical text and analyzing the meaning of those words do not necessarily correspond to uses in Biblical texts. Also it may lead to missing the significance of how Matthew did title the work: The Book of Genesis of Jesus Christ... Jan 8, 2022 at 18:52
  • It’s in the very early text that Gathercole writes about. So, I’m not sure where you are coming from. What text are you referring to?
    – Jess
    Jan 8, 2022 at 19:11
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    ευαγγελιον κατα Μαθθαιον (Μαρκον, ...) means Gospel according to the tradition of the author, where the Gospel itself is the properly the Message of Jesus. The manuscript linked is estimated 2nd or early 3rd century CE where the title ευαγγελιον κατα Μαθθαιον was already established, and many writers saw Matthew as the original author, which does not mean that Matthew really is the author of the edition we know.
    – SDG
    Jan 8, 2022 at 21:30

1 Answer 1

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It is unlikely that κατὰ Μαθθαῖον was in the original text of Matthew's gospel. Paul's letters give an example of how one would sign a document back then. Note P64 does show that the Gospel was attributed to Matthew by the second century (a good indication of authorship). There is no indication κατὰ Μαθθαῖον is how a document would be signed. However, it could have been added as soon as the original was copied.

The author of the Gospel of Matthew did not sign his name to the work that now bears the heading κατὰ Μαθθαῖον (‘according to Matthew’). Though Hengel has argued that the Gospels have always had their headings, it remains more likely that the headings were affixed sometime in the second century on a basis to which we no longer have access. The Matthew intended can only be the apostle Matthew of Mt. 9:9; 10:3. But did those who added ‘according to Matthew’ have a solid basis for their attribution? -- Nolland, J. (2005). The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 2). W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.

The quote from Eusebius says Matthew wrote a gospel in Hebrew/Aramaic. Many think this was a earlier gospel used as one of the sources for the Synoptics rather than Matthew's gospel in Greek being a translation. See If Matthew was an eyewitness why would he rely on Mark?.

The passing years do not make it any plainer who actually wrote our Greek Matthew. Papias records, as quoted by Eusebius, that Matthew wrote the Logia of Jesus in Hebrew (Aramaic). Is our present Matthew a translation of the Aramaic Logia along with Mark and other sources as most modern scholars think? If so, was the writer the Apostle Matthew or some other disciple? There is at present no way to reach a clear decision in the light of the known facts. There is no real reason why the Apostle Matthew could not have written both the Aramaic Logia and our Greek Matthew, unless one is unwilling to believe that he would make use of Mark’s work on a par with his own. But Mark’s book rests primarily on the preaching of Simon Peter. Scholfield has recently (1927) published An Old Hebrew Text of St. Matthew’s Gospel. We know quite too little of the origin of the Synoptic Gospels to say dogmatically that the Apostle Matthew was not in any real sense the author. -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament. Broadman Press.

Answer to question as initially worded

The preposition κατά has different meanings depending on if it has an accusative object or genitive object. I've quoted a concise New Testament Greek dictionary rather than an extensive lexicon because articles for κατά in an extensive lexicon has too much information to include here. But to answer your question, "according to" is a common meaning for κατά with the accusative, while "handed down from" is not listed as a possible meaning in the lexicons.

κατά prep. with: (1) acc. according to, corresponding to, with reference to, just as ( τὰ κ. τινα one’s case or circumstances; κ. τὰ αὐτά so, in the same way; κ. ἐμέ my; κ. τὸ αὐτό together Ac 14:1; κ. τί how Lk 1:18); used distributively with numerals and places; in; for; for the purpose of; at, about, (of time); on, upon, along, through, to, toward; off, opposite, near, bordering on; with, by means of, because of; (2) gen. against; down, down from; throughout; by (of oaths) ; over (of authority) -- Newman, B. M., Jr. (1993). In A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament. (p. 92). Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft; United Bible Societies.

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  • Thanks. I edited my question to take your observation into account.
    – Jess
    Jan 8, 2022 at 19:27
  • Thanks. That’s a good pushback. I gave you an up vote.
    – Jess
    Jan 8, 2022 at 20:18
  • Good answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Jan 8, 2022 at 20:42
  • Gathercole gives examples of biographies that don't mention their author in the main body: Josephus's Vita, Plutarch's biographies on Moses, etc. I wonder how a tax collector would have tagged their writings?
    – Jess
    Jan 8, 2022 at 20:55
  • Gathercole also notes how in early history genre it is more common for the main body to have the name of the author. However, he still adduces a number of examples showing this is not a rule. So, from a form critical perspective, I’m not convinced it is unlikely for the author himself to have put a title on his writing.
    – Jess
    Jan 8, 2022 at 21:59

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