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See my other question first.

I have heard it taught in several places that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew and its intended audience was the Jew (which does help explain why it seems a bit more vague on key Christian concepts). But recently I have been told that there are no Hebrew manuscripts of this text. I assume at least that he meant there are no Hebrew manuscripts that out date the Greek ones.

So this makes me wonder that if there are no Hebrew manuscripts of Matthew why would one argue this point? Essentially the question is then, who is the intended audience?


Ultimately it's everybody, right, but I mean were a specific people in mind when it was written?

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3 Answers 3

Matthew was likely written for Greek-speaking Christians of Jewish descent.

In my answer to your first question, I discussed reasons for believing Matthew was written in Greek rather than Hebrew. And it should be self-evident that the gospels were written to Christians. So here I'm going to list the reasons for believing the intended audience was specifically Christians of Jewish descent.

Scriptural fulfillment

The Gospel of Matthew, more than the other gospels, often concludes a passage by introducing a Jewish Scripture and claiming Jesus has now fulfilled it.

In many cases, Matthew is simply drawing a parallel between events from the life of Jesus and events from Israel's history. Examples are Matthew 1:22-23 quoting a passage about a sign given to King Ahaz, Matthew 2:15 quoting a passage about the exodus from Egypt, and Matthew 12:17-21 quoting a passage about God's servant Israel (see Isaiah 41:8-9 for identification of the servant with Israel).

Structure of the Gospel

Just as Matthew draws parallels between Jesus' experiences and those of Israel, the gospel itself parallels the Torah, the five books of Moses. In Matthew, Jesus' teachings are combined into five long discourses.

  • Sermon on the Mount - Matthew 5-7
  • Missionary Discourse - Matthew 10
  • Parabolic Discourse - Matthew 13
  • Discourse on the Church - Matthew 18
  • Olivet Discourse - Matthew 24

Each of these discourses contains more uninterrupted teaching than the parallel sections of Mark or Luke.

Respect for Jewish law and customs

The phrase "kingdom of God" appears 62 times in the New Testament, but Matthew uses the substitute phrase "kingdom of heaven" 31 times, even where the parallel accounts in other gospels say "kingdom of God". This is likely due to a Jewish custom of never writing the word "God" as a precaution against using God's name in vain.

In Jesus' teaching about handwashing, Mark 7:19 indicates that Jesus thereby "declared all foods clean".

He said to them, "Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

But in the parallel in Matthew 15, this parenthetical comment is omitted. We know from Paul's letters that some Jewish Christians kept part of their unique dietary restrictions as a matter of conscience. Matthew perhaps did not want to offend their sensibilities.

In Mark 10 Jesus prohibits all divorce. However, in the parallel in Matthew 19, Jesus makes an exception for marital unfaithfulness. The version found in Matthew acknowledges that divorce is allowed in Deuteronomy under certain circumstances.

Furthermore, Jesus says in Matthew 5:17, in a statement not found in the other gospels, that he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. (Fulfill is probably used here in the same sense as above.)

Conclusion

Matthew's attention to the Jewish scriptures and respect for Jewish customs, as well as the structure of this gospel, indicate that it was written primarily for Jewish Christians rather than pagan converts.

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Because Matthew's Gospel, more than any other, relies on quotations and apparent prophecies from the Old Testament, some believe that the author was a Jew who wrote his gospel for other Jews. However, the Gospel was written in Greek and the Old Testament references were clearly taken from the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. For this reason alone, he must have been writing for a Greek-speaking audience.

When the author of Matthew cited the Septuagint, he accepted it as an accurate translation of the Hebrew Bible and was unaware of a number of errors in the Septuagint. Any Jew familiar with the Bible in its original Hebrew, would have quickly realised that Matthew was very much in error regarding the Hebrew Bible and could not have taken this gospel seriously. If the author of Matthew was writing for a Jewish audience, it would have been a Greek-speaking Jewish community that relied on the Septuagint and had little or no knowledge of Hebrew.

It could also be argued that it was written for illiterate Palestinian Jews who, following the destruction of the Temple, had no one they trusted to compare Matthew's Old Testament references with the Hebrew scriptures and would not listen to the teachings of the rabbis. A problem with this last argument is that the gospel was not written in Aramaic or Hebrew and would have been incomprehensible to most Palestinian Jews.

Bishop Spong says that the author knew little about Jewish religious laws and customs. He points out that in Matthew's nativity account, the presentation and purification stories are hopelessly muddled. If the author was writing for Jews, they would have become quickly aware of these problems.

It would seem more likely that Matthew was written for gentiles, and very likely for those gentiles known as 'God-fearers'. God-fearers were pagans who also worshipped the Jewish God.

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One option is that it was written for the Jews of the Diaspora. These are still Jewish people, but few of them spoke or used Hebrew.

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