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The Apostles: St. Matthew

posted Oct 27, 2018, 9:48 AM by Allen Bergstrazer

The Apostles

St. Matthew



Name:  Matthew is a Hebrew name which means ‘Gift of God.”  He is also known as “Levi, son of Alpheus” (Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27).


Who was he? 

    Among the early followers and apostles of Jesus, Matthew is mentioned in

Mt 9:9 and Mt 10:3 as a former tax collector from Capernaum who was called into the circle of the Twelve by Jesus. He is also named among the number of the Twelve in Mk 3:18, Lk 6:15 and Acts 1:13, but without identification of his background.  According to the New Testament he was one of the witnesses of the Resurrection and the Ascension.  Because he is a son of Alpheus he is a brother to another apostle, James the less.

    Matthew was a Galilean.  During the Roman occupation (which began in 63 BC with the conquest of Pompey), Matthew collected taxes from the Hebrew people for Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee. His tax office was located in Capernaum.  The common practice was to gather more than the government asked for, and keep the excess for themselves. Jews who became rich in such a fashion were despised and considered outcasts, counted among thieves and other sinners. However, as a tax collector he would have been literate in Aramaic and Greek.

     It was in this setting, near what is modern day Almagor, that Jesus called Matthew to be one of the Twelve Disciples. After his call, Matthew invited Jesus home for a feast (Luke 5:29-32). On seeing this, the Scribes and the Pharisees criticized Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners. This prompted Jesus to answer, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) This narrative tells us that in all likelihood none of the twelve were as notorious a sinner as Matthew.  Matthew invited the undesirable people no doubt because those were the only kind of people he knew or was allowed to associate with. Because of his occupation he was cut off from his own people and God. Because he was forbidden from the synagogue and the Temple he was worse off than a Gentile.  We often forget that when the Pharisees and other religious rulers confronted Jesus or his disciples, they would have known who Matthew was, and what he had done this would have surely been a factor in their opinion of Jesus’ choices for students. 

    Once Matthew left his work as a tax collector he would not have been able to go back.  Why did he follow Jesus?  Whatever Matthew’s tortured soul may have experienced deep down he was a Jew who knew and loved the Old Testament. He was spiritually hungry and had no way of being fed.  We know that he knew his Old Testament well because he quotes the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms 99 times in his gospel, more than Mark, Luke and John combined.


His discipleship under Jesus.

     When Matthew is mentioned in the New Testament, he is sometimes found paired with Thomas. The New Testament records that as a disciple; he followed Jesus, and was one of the witnesses of the Resurrection and the Ascension. Afterwards, the disciples withdrew to an upper room (Acts 1:10-14) (traditionally the Cenacle) in Jerusalem praying with Mary the Mother of Jesus, and with his brethren (Acts 1:10 and 1:14). The disciples remained in and about Jerusalem and proclaimed that Jesus was the promised Messiah.


After Pentecost:

     God used Matthew to provide His Church with one of the four Gospels, often called ‘the chief Gospel.’  Matthew’s Gospel portrays Christ as the new and greater Moses, fulfilling the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). In Matthew’s Gospel, we are given the account of the visit of the Magi, the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, the beloved text of the Our Father used throughout English speaking Christendom, and the most explicit reference to the Holy Trinity in the narrative by which our Lord commissions and institutes the Gospel ministry of the Church (Matthew 28:16-20).  It is thought that Matthew’s Gospel was written to Jewish converts to Christianity, telling them of how Christ fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah.  Matthew wrote about Jesus’ Incarnation and his Gospel makes clear that Jesus was true God and true man. Anyone who reads Matthew’s Gospel knows that money was no longer important to him. What was important was believing in and living as a follower of Christ. Matthew helps us to remember that it is our faith in Jesus that makes us truly rich!

     Although the first of the Synoptic Gospels is technically anonymous, traditionally has been held to be written by Matthew.  As previously mentioned, a government official in Capernaum, in "Galilee of the Gentiles" a tax-collector would probably have been literate in both Greek and Aramaic.  Greek was the language used in the market-place.   Some early church fathers recorded that Matthew originally wrote in Hebrew, but still regarded the Greek text as canonical. Of Matthew's subsequent career we have only inaccurate or legendary data.


Lore/Church Tradition:

     Later Church fathers such as Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria claim that Matthew, for 15 years, preached the Gospel in Hebrew to the Jewish community in Judea, before going to other countries. Ancient writers are not agreed as to what these other countries are.  Eusebius maintains that, before going into other countries, he gave them his Gospel in the mother tongue of Hebrew this cannot be substantiated, and some say this means it was in Aramaic however all of the earliest extant texts are in Greek. Almost all ancient mention Ethiopia to the south of the Caspian Sea (not Ethiopia in Africa), as a country evangelized by Matthew.  Some list Persia and the kingdom of the Parthians, Macedonia, and Syria.  The Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church each hold the tradition that Matthew died as a martyr.  It is said he was crucified on a tau cross (shaped like a T) and beheaded in Ethiopia.  His believed to be buried next door to the Cathedral in Salerno Italy. 

    St. Matthew's day is celebrated on 21 September in the Western church and 16 November in the Eastern. He is also commemorated by the Orthodox, together with the other Apostles, on 30 June (13 July)- the Synaxis of the Holy Apostles. His relics are said to be preserved in the Salerno Cathedral in Italy.  Like the other evangelists, Matthew is often depicted in Christian art with one of the four living creatures of Revelation 4:7. The one that accompanies him is in the form of a winged man.

    Various writings that are now considered apocryphal have been attributed to St. Matthew. In the "Evangelia apocrypha" (Leipzig, 1876), Tischendorf reproduced a Latin document entitled: "De Ortu beatæ Mariæ et infantia Salvatoris", supposedly written in Hebrew by St. Matthew the Evangelist, and translated into Latin by Jerome, the priest. It is an abridged adaptation of the "Protoevangelium" of St. James, which was a Greek apocryphal of the second century. This pseudo-Matthew dates from the middle or the end of the sixth century.

   The Quran does not mention the disciples, but Muslim exegesis and Qur'an commentary, however does name them and includes Matthew amongst the disciples. Muslim exegesis preserves the tradition that Matthew and Andrew, went to Ethiopia to preach the message of God.



  1. Notice the shield of St. Matthew at the beginning of this lesson, and read Matthew 25:14-30.  Given Matthew’s previous occupation, what do you think the impact of the parable of the Talents had on him?  If you had your own shield, how would what God has given you be represented?  How would what God has forgiven and taken from you be represented?


  1. Read Matthew 5:1-12.  Consider what these words of Christ might have meant to the man who had gained his wealth by cheating his neighbors. Which of the eight beatitudes might have applied most to Matthew? 


  1. In what way was Matthew ideally suited to be the disciple who brought the good news to the Jews, and to write a Gospel specifically for the Jewish hearer? 



Prayer: O Son of God, our blessed Savior Jesus Christ, You called Matthew the tax collector to be an apostle and evangelist. Through his faithful and inspired witness, grant that we also may follow You, leaving behind all covetous desires and love of riches; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen