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Both Luke 5:27 and Mark 2:14 mention a tax collector named Levi:

27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

It sounds like these could be referring to Matthew and I've seen some footnotes that offer that as a possibility (or even as likely) but are there any good reasons to believe that this is or is not referring to Matthew?

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3 Answers 3

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It is almost certain that this person is Matthew. In the parallel account of this narrative in the Gospel of Matthew, we see that Levi appears to be "renamed" Matthew.

Matthew 9:9 (NIV)

9As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

It is unknown why Levi is called Matthew in this gospel. Like all the gospels, Matthew is actually an anonymous document, and our attribution of it to Matthew is based on the consensus of Church Fathers in the 2nd century. However, it appears that whoever wrote the gospel (hereafter called the evangelist) wants to show that Levi is the Matthew listed in the Twelve (cf Matthew 10:3).

This could be "...because the writer believed that Levi was or should have been one of the twelve, or is it perhaps because in writing of himself he preferred the name Matthew to his own pre-conversion name, Levi?" [Hagner, Introduction, lxxvi].

Though there are theories that claim the evangelist is playing with names, it must be said that it is very unlikely that he would get away with substituting the name Levi for Matthew if they were not the same person. It is not unusual for individuals in 1st century Israel to have more than one name. For example, it seems that another member of the twelve is known by two names: Jude, was also known by the name Thaddeus. (See Mark 3:16-19 vs Luke 6:14-16)

Suffice it to say, that the vast majority of scholars suggest that the "Levi" of Mark 2 and Luke 5 is indeed the Matthew of Matthew 9. Why the evangelist sought to enlighten his readers to this is speculative.


Hagner, D. A., Word Biblical Commentary - Matthew 1-13, Nelson, 1993.

Cole, A., Mark, IVP, 2008

Nolland, J., Word Biblical Commentary - Luke 1-9:20, Nelson, 1989

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Other examples: Simon to Peter, Saul to Paul – CameronW Sep 28 '11 at 16:17
This is true, although we are never told of the name change for Levi/Matthew or Thaddeus/Jude, unlike Simon Peter and Saul/Paul. – seraph Sep 28 '11 at 16:23
Right, I was just giving more well known examples to support the claim of it not being unusual – CameronW Sep 28 '11 at 16:39

It's more likely Matthew and Levi were different disciples than the same. A number of the disciples had other names like we do today, however, the Gospels refer to James the son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:18) as a different disciple from Matthew (Mark 3:18). The Bible also mentions a disciple : "Levi the son of Alphaeus" (Mark 2:14). It's more likely this James and Levi are the same person rather than Matthew and Levi.

Recall, the Gospels also mention "Simon the Caananite" as well as "Simon Zealotes". It is from the different lists of the twelve that we know they are the same person.

So I believe that there were two "receivers of the custom" amongst the disciples because Levi the son of Alphaeus is also mentioned as sitting at the "receipt of the custom" (Mark 2:14).

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This is a great answer, but I wonder if you could source it to make it more persuasive. – Affable Geek Jan 27 '13 at 13:21

Mark, the first New Testament gospel to be written, mentions both Levi and Matthew separately, referring to Levi, son of Alphaeus, as a tax collector whom Jesus called to follow him (Mark 2:14). So, we can identify Levi from two facts, that his father was called Alphaeus and that he was a tax collector (publican). As in Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27 also says Levi rose and followed Jesus, but he is never again mentioned in either gospel. The two gospels introduce the twelve disciples (Mark 3:14-19; Luke 6:14-16), including Matthew, Thaddaeus, and James, son of Alphaeus, but there is no mention of Levi. These lists do have a son of Alphaeus, although this disciple's name is James, but they do not have a tax collector (publican).

Matthew first appears in both gospels in the full list of disciples (Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15), but neither gospel says he was a tax collector, or that he was the son of Alphaeus and therefore brother of James, son of Alphaeus. Mark sets a precedent by describing another James and John as brothers, and Luke follows suit also mentioning Simon and Andrew as brothers in the same list, making the failure to mention that Matthew and (the second) James were brothers a puzzling omission if that were the case. The conclusion to be drawn at this stage is that Matthew was not the son of Alphaeus, although we know Levi was, so one possibility is that he changed his mind after first following Jesus.

Disciples are not meant to change their minds when called by Jesus, an issue that the author of Matthew recognises and then creates a solution. The anonymous author resolves Levi's unexplained absence among the disciples simply by not mentioning Levi at all, and by having Matthew as the disciple who was a tax collector, in the parallel account at Matthew 9:9, then including him as "Matthew the publican" in the list of disciples at Matthew 10:3. What Matthew fails to do is portray Matthew as the son of Alphaeus, or the brother of James the son of Alphaeus. The only possible reason for Matthew's portrayal of Matthew as a tax collector is one of apologetics, to resolve the continuing absence of Levi, but I believe this is unconvincing. Either Matthew was the son of Alphaeus and brother of James or he was not, and Matthew's author does not suggest that when you could expect him to have done so. Almost two thousand years of tradition have followed Matthew in holding that Levi and Matthew must be the same person, but this happens only in Matthew's Gospel, not in either Luke or Mark.

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