Matthew the Evangelist & Apostle

Saint Matthew (Levi) of Capernaum, the Apostle; Matthew the Evangelist, and Levi, son of Alphaeus or Matthew the Publican, the Tax Collector

Icon of Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist

In Hebrew Matthew means “Yahweh’s Gift.” Matthew was a Galilean, who worked as a tax collector for the local Roman Tax Farmer (an imperial contractor) who taxed Judea. As a publican (a Roman civil servant), he was almost certainly literate in Aramaic, Greek and he probably understood some Latin.

Matthew was one of the twelve apostles chosen and invested (ordained)(Matthew 9:9 & Mark 2:14) by Jesus and one of the four evangelists (i.e., writers of the Gospel, along with Mark, Luke and John).

Despite a scholarly dispute to the contrary, he was almost certainly the author of the Gospel of Matthew, which is generally believed to have been written between A.D. 40 and A.D.67. The Gospel of Matthew was arguably the first of the so called synoptic gospels (the other two synoptic gospels are the gospels of Mark and Luke). Some attribute Mark’s gospel as having been written first.

Matthew was a “publican” (a government contractor, e.g. a tax collector). After Matthew was chosen as a disciple he invite everyone to his house for a feast which is consistent with the idea that Matthew was not only literate but he was most likely a wealthy individual as well.

He was, most likely employed by a Roman tax farmer. In that era, wealthy Roman citizens would “bid” to collect regional taxes due to Rome. The bid was an estimate of how much the bidder thought he could collect. The winner of the “bid” would then pay the amount of the bid to the Roman treasury in advance, out of his own pocket. It was then up to the winning bidder to recover his costs by collecting the taxes “due to Rome” (and any lucrative amount more that he could manage which would be his profit). Tax collectors routinely “skimmed” some of their collections for themselves. Hence an “honest tax collector” in Judea would have been a “rare bird,” and essentially all tax collectors were contemptuously hated and distrusted by the people of Judea. A Jewish tax collector would also have been seen as being a traitor to his own people.

On seeing Jesus dining with Matthew at his home the scribes and pharisees criticized Jesus for “eating with tax collectors and sinners”. This prompted Jesus to answer them that “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17 & Luke 5:32).

Papyrus 64 a fragment of the Gospel of Matthew. This fragment is dated to c. A.D. 80

Matthew was a direct eye witness to the events described in his gospel and to both the crucifixion of Christ and to His bodily resurrection from death back to life; back to being a physical person, walking, talking, having his wounds examined (not the ghost that some imagine). After living with Jesus for the ensuing 40 days, Matthew was also a direct witness to the ascension of Christ when He rejoining His Father, God 10 days before the Jewish festival of the Pentecost (Shavuot or the Festival of Weeks).

Early Church fathers such as Irenæus of Lugdunum (in his Against Heresies, see A.D. 180) and Clement of Alexandria (see A.D. 189) and report that Matthew preached the Gospel to the Jewish community in Judea, before going to other countries.

The orthodox oral tradition states that starting around 44 A.D. the Holy Apostle brought the Gospel of Christ to Syria, Media (the mountainous country of the north eastern region of modern-day Iraq), Parthia (the farm lands of the central Tigris-Euphrates region modern-day Iraq), Persia (modern-day Iran), and he finishing his preaching in Ethiopia (in north eastern Africa) with a martyr’s death. He founded the Church in the region of modern-day Ethiopia and he built a temple in the city of Mirmena, (in Ethiopia) and he seated his companion Platon as bishop of that region.

Early Christian illustrations of the four evangelists depict them as “the four living creatures” which are around the throne of God in Heaven (see Ezekiel 1:2-10 and Revelations 4:7-9). Saint Matthew is symbolize him as a winged man or angel, (with Mark, who is shown as a winged lion, Luke who is shown as a winged ox or bull, and John who is shown as an eagle).