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The title "Gospel According to Matthew" is not part of the body of the text of the Gospel of Matthew itself. This text refers to Matthew by name only in 9:9 and 10:3.

It has been widely held for centuries that the Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew, the tax-collector turned apostle. On what evidence/authority is this claim supported?


Inspired by this related but distinct question

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  • 1
    There are many examples in ancient literature where the author's name is not listed in the body of the text itself. A short little video that gives examples can be found here: youtube.com/watch?v=HFFyAPAkVBE
    – Jess
    Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 19:48

3 Answers 3

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There are two common answers to this question. I'll summarize both and offer a third.

1. Manuscript evidence

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.

If the authorship of the document were unknown or debated early on, we should expect to see a variety of attributions--but we never do.

2. Patristic citation

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)

100% of the later ante-Nicene writers who cover this topic also attribute the Gospel of Matthew to Matthew. This is never a topic of debate or confusion among the early Christian historians, the early Christian heretics, or the early Christian detractors.

3. Deductive argument

Both sources of evidence above provide at least a late 2nd century attestation that Matthew wrote Matthew. Through deductive reasoning it is possible to trace this attestation back to the first century.

The following is a deductive argument I published on my channel--a more extensive presentation of the argument is found here.


KEY

Ax: attributed by X

WK: the text was well-known

CA: the text was considered authoritative

AA: attributed to an authority

S: a substantial stir or debate

I: by Irenaeus

AF: by Apostolic Fathers


Formal logic

P1: AI = Matthew

P2: WKAF

P3: CAAF

P4: ~AAAF => ~(WKAF ^ CAAF)

P5: (AAAF ^ ~S) => (AAF = AI)

P6: ~S

C1: AAAF (P2,P3,P4)

C2: AAF = AI (P5,P6,C1)

C3: AAF = Matthew (P1,C2)


English interpretation of formal logic

P1: The text was attributed to Matthew by Irenaeus

P2: The text was well-known to the Apostolic Fathers

P3: The text was considered authoritative by the Apostolic Fathers

P4: If the text was not attributed to an authority by the Apostolic Fathers, it could not have been both well-known and considered authoritative by them

P5: If the text was both attributed to an authority by the Apostolic Fathers and there was no substantial stir or debate on authorship, the attribution by the Apostolic Fathers was the same as the attribution by Irenaeus

P6: There was no substantial stir or debate on authorship

C1: The text was attributed to an authority by the Apostolic Fathers (this follows deductively from premises 2, 3, and 4)

C2: The attribution by the Apostolic Fathers was the same as the attribution by Irenaeus (this follows deductively from premise 5, premise 6, and conclusion 1)

C3: The text was attributed to Matthew by the Apostolic Fathers (this follows deductively from premise 1 and conclusion 2)


Concluding thoughts

The deductive argument above is logically valid--this means that if the premises are true, the conclusion is proven.

The direct evidence allows us to trace attribution to Matthew to the late 2nd century--and perhaps a bit earlier. But we can determine deductively, from the surviving evidence, that the belief that Matthew wrote Matthew was already held by prominent Christian leaders in the late first century.

If the Apostolic Fathers--people taught by the apostles themselves--believed that Matthew wrote Matthew--that is exceptionally good historical documentation that Matthew really did write the gospel that bears his name.

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  • +1 The most convincing is 2nd century manuscript attributing it to Matthew. Irenaeus attributed a Hebrew/Aramaic gospel to Matthew. It was probably earlier than the NT Gospels and Matthew's Gospel in the NT is more than a translation of it.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 2:20
  • Indeed, the word that Papias uses is “interpretation.” The original word is more broad than just “translated.” See Anthony Thiselton.
    – Jess
    Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 4:34
  • Still, while the title is not in the body of the text, it is in the earliest texts. So, it’s likely that all that was in the body of the text and/or the title itself was written by Matthew himself, or close associates of his who kept as closely as possible to what he taught.
    – Jess
    Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 5:04
  • @Jess Look at the photograph in khazarzar.skeptik.net/books/titles.pdf
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 9:58
  • The photograph is what Gathercole is using to argue that while it is not in the body, it should be classified as still in the text. You think otherwise?
    – Jess
    Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 14:10
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Your question is subject to a bit of equivocation as Gathercole and others argue that the title is in the original text, but not in the main body itself. See the discussion here.

So, while the title is not in the body of the text, technically speaking it is still in the earliest texts. As such it’s likely that all that was in the body of the text and/or the title itself was written by Matthew himself, or close associates of his who kept the corresponding material in the text as closely as possible to what he taught.

Wikipedia also ignores this observation, as it (emphasis added) argues:

The gospel itself does not specify an author, but he was probably a male Jew, standing on the margin between traditional and non-traditional Jewish values, and familiar with technical legal aspects of scripture being debated in his time. Early Christian tradition, first attested by Papias of Hierapolis (attestation dated c. 125 AD), attributes the gospel to the apostle Matthew, but this is rejected by modern scholars.

That being said your other arguments you raise in answer to your own question are excellent compelling arguments, even if the title is discovered missing in the text of earlier manuscripts that we might find at some future date.

I will add that that if the author was indeed Matthew, a Jewish tax collector, he would have likely have been highly literate in multiple languages. His primary occupation was that of interviewing those owing taxes and getting to know their business dealings. For the most part, he would have likely interviewed most of the people he came in contact with in Aramaic. However, he would have written up his reports in the official language of those reading the reports - i.e. Greek.

Josephus points out how the Jewish kids were well educated:

Our principal care of all is this, to educate our children well; and we think it to be the most necessary business of our whole life to observe the laws that have been given us, and to keep those rules of piety that have been delivered down to us. (Flavius Josephus, Against Apion, Book 1, Chapter 12).

Also, this site, gives a pretty comprehensive pushback to the claims that Jews were illiterate in New Testament times. They note:

The Palestinian Talmud reports the rule of Simeon ben Shetach about 100 BC that all children should go to school (y. Ket. 8.32c), and instruction in the Torah started early, according to both Philo and Josephus (Leg. Gai. 210; Apion 2:178). (Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus, Alan Millard, p. 157).

A first century Levite, like Matthew, would normally have also been a Pharisee. So, he would have had advanced training. The Gospel of Matthew's use of quotes, typology and Jewish issues would be an example of his educational background.

Being rejected by his fellow Pharisees for making a living as a tax collector, Matthew would have had a good motivation for carefully collecting various reminiscent of Jesus' attitude toward the Law along with those who made oral interpretations of the law.

Mathew would have also been used to composing professional documents and signing them just like tax consultants do today. He would have been familiar with various forms of fraud, imposture, cunning deception. He would be used to often as a focus on scrutinizing and be cautious in recording information.

Being a tax collector back then was not like our modern practice of allowing for low educated, high school drop outs, to collect money at toll booths. As such it would be expected that Matthew would have likely put a title within the text, but outside the body of his writings, and not left it for others to do so.

Papias (Euseb. Hist. eccl. 3.39.15-16), the earliest witness, claims that Matthew authored the gospel in the Εβραιδι διαλεκτω (i.e. Hebrew style/dialect). Later in life, after likely acquiring even more fluency in Greek through living in different regions, Matthew expanded upon the sayings of Jesus with his Greek translation of his original work. An early analogy would be how Josephus reconstructed his Jewish War in Greek.

Irenaeus in his Against Heresy 3, 1, 1 states:

Matthew composed his gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul proclaimed the Gospel in Rome and founded the community there.

(After their exodus) Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter, transmitted his (Peter’s) preaching to us in written form. And Luke who was Paul’s follower set down in a book the gospel he preached. Then John, the Lord’s disciple who had reclined on his breast, himself produced the gospel when he was staying at Ephesus in the province of Asia.

The 2nd century church leader, Clement of Alexandria, in his Hypotyposeis apud Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.14.5-7 implies that the original Hebrew of Gospel of Matthew contained genealogies. That would indicate that the earliest version of what Matthew wrote in Hebrew (i.e. that the Greek version was based upon) was more substantive in content than just a collection of random notes conveying the oracles of Jesus.

But again in those very books Clement presented a tradition of the original elders about the disposition of the gospels, in the following manner:

He said that those gospels with genealogies were openly published, but Mark had this procedure: when Peter was in Rome preaching in public the word and proclaiming the gospel by the spirit, those present, who were many, entreated Mark, as one who followed him for a long time and remembered what was said, to record what was spoken; but after he composed the gospels, he shared it with anyone who wanted it;...

In a debate with Marcus, an early Marcianite whose leader was around in the first half of the second century, an orthodox writer Adamantius in the 3rd century states (emphasis added):

How is it, Marcus, that your party do not accept those who were sent out by Christ to proclaim the Gospel, yet you do not accept for whom you offer no proof? Why is that you disparage Matthew and John, whose names are recorded in Scripture... (De Recta in Deum Fide, Petty’s translation p. 91; See also an extended reference to this work here.)

As was mentioned above, the fly-leaf inscription of P4 (late 2nd century), as Gathercole notes here, is just one example of how it could be claimed the name Matthew was the recorded name in Scripture for indicating the author of the "Gospel of Matthew."

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There are numerous issues about the Gospels. Who wrote them and when they were written and if inspired how can they contradict each other. For example, Mark & Luke are not even named as apostles.

There is so much controversy that it would be impossible to explain here. The below is a small summary in relation to Matthew.

No mention of the author's name anywhere in this gospel. The earliest date (which is very arguable) that is given by Theologians is that it was written in the year 90 CE.

Papyrus (P64) if dated to 3 or 4 century according to palaeography, P104 second & P77 end of 2nd early third.

According to chapter 9, Matthew was a Palestinian Jew. The vast majority of Palestinian Jews in this period were illiterate – probably around 97%. The exceptions were urban elites. There is nothing to suggest that Matthew, the tax collector, was an urban elite who was highly educated. Albeit, not necessarily illiterate, he would have written in Aramaic, very unlikely to have known let alone written Greek in such manner.

Apart from the books written by the extremely highly literarily elite Josephus, we don’t have any literary books composed in written Greek by any Palestinian Jews of the first century.

Justin Martyr, writing around 150-60 CE, quotes verses from the Gospels, but does not indicate what the Gospels were named. these books are simply known, collectively, as the “Memoirs of the Apostles.”

Matthew is mentioned for the first time, in the writings of the church father and heresy-hunter Irenaeus, around 180-85 CE.

On the basis that Matthew was a similar age to Jesus who is said to have died at the age of 33, therefore Matthew was likely to be around 90 years old. Could he have really written it at the age of 90 and why wait so long?

If he was inspired by the HS why wait until after Marks Gospel who was not named in the bible as an apostle.

The writer of the Gospel of Matthew spoke about Matthew the publican, the disciple of Christ, in the form of absent, which means that Matthew the publican is not the author of the Gospel.

Example

As Jesus passed by from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax collection office. He said to him, “Follow me.” He got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9)

"50 And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus and took him. 51 And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear." (Matthew 26:50)

"56 But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled. 57 And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. 58 But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest's palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end." (Matthew 26:56-58) "1 And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, (so they) to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. 2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not." (Matthew 10:1-5)

As he sat in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. (Matthew 9:10)

Matthew as like John does not mention;

Jesus ascension

"51 And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven." (Luke 24:51)

"19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God." (Mark 16:19)

miracle of reviving Lazarus and the miracle of turning water into wine as mentioned by John

John (chapter 11 verse 1) & John (chapter 2 verse 2).

Difference with lineage of Matthew 1:1 & Luke - a number of issues with Matthew’s genealogy for another question.

Matthew 27:50-54

"50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. 51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, 53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. 54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God."

The bodies coming out of the grave never mentioned in any of the other Gospels. The Split of the temple not mentioned in John.

Papyrus 104 – versus 44 is missing.

Some examples of passages exclusive to Matthew (many more) Birth of Jesus and Joseph’s dream (1:18-25) Two blind men healed (9:27-31) Peter walking on sea (14:28-31) Disciples not to go to Gentiles but to lost sheep of Israel (10:5-8) Women worshipping risen Jesus (28:9-10)

Many people heard from stories about Jesus and wrote about what they heard; such is evident from;

Gospel of Luke chapter 1 verse 1: "1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2 Even as THEY delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; 3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, 4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed."27

More evidence to say that Matthew the disciple of Jesus DID NOT write the Gospel.

You may also be interested in the Gospel of John - https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/63568/33268

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    AD 90 would be near the tail end of the range of dates scholars suggest for the composition of Matthew. There are scholars who estimate it was as early as the 30s (Tresmontant) or 40s (Orchard, Eusebius) - quite a range that leaves open all manner of possibilities Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 17:59
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    It was not uncommon for authors to refer to themselves in the 3rd person -- Xenophon, Julius Caesar, Josephus, and others did so. See about minute 47 here youtu.be/gldvim1yjYM Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 17:59
  • @HoldToTheRod 1) dating is very controversial, however, Papyrus (P64) if dated to 3 or 4 century according to palaeography, P104 second & P77 end of 2nd early third. 2) Yes not uncommon to refer in 3rd person, but the examples above clearly someone else writing. Commented Jan 13, 2022 at 9:49
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    This makes several assertions which need either collaboration or citation. I'm looking past the fact that nearly all claims have already been refuted in other literature, such as The Case for Christ along with basic hermeneutic that narrative form itself is not any claim to testimony. Even with these weak defense points, this answer is still valuable for the sake of discussion. But, it needs either third party sources for the assertions, or the claims should be rewritten to sound like opinion or suggestion.
    – Jesse
    Commented Jan 13, 2022 at 13:42
  • @AT you write, “…if inspired how can they contradict each other.” If there are irresolvable contradictions between the Gospels that is an independent question from their authorship. But if you do think you have found an uncontestable contradiction in mind, please post it as a question.
    – Jess
    Commented Jan 13, 2022 at 16:48

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