St Matthew

Apostle, Evangelist

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St Matthew
Apostle, Evangelist
Image:St Matthew and the Angel by Rembrandt

Public Domain

Matthew is listed as one of the 12 apostles of Jesus in Mark, Matthew, Luke and Acts. In Matthew’s Gospel he is identified as the tax collector who left his occupation to follow Jesus. In Mark and Luke, this same tax collector is called Levi, and it is usually assumed that Levi and Matthew are one and the same person, though that cannot be proved.

If Matthew is Levi, then he apparently collected taxes around Capernaum, which was in the district controlled by Herod Antipas. In Palestine, as elsewhere in the Roman Empire, the collection of taxes was farmed out to private entrepreneurs. The taxes were for Herod’s treasury, not Rome’s. Rome exacted tribute from its subject territories rather than direct taxes. According to Luke, when Levi became a follower of Jesus, he held a feast in Jesus’ honour, possibly in response to Jesus’ acceptance of him despite his despised occupation. His occupation would have made his fellow Jews regard him as being in the same category as robbers, prostitutes and sinners generally who were beyond God’s grace.

The early church believed that Matthew was the author of the Gospel that bears his name. There is some debate among academics concerning this and in what language it was originally written. It is generally accepted that the Apostle Matthew had a strong association with it at least. The Gospel that bears his name may originate from a church associated with him, but it owes much also to other proclamations of the gospel message and that it was written for the Hebrews rather than for Gentile Christians. There are later legends surrounding Matthew and his exploits as an apostle and evangelist in the east, Islamic writings claim Matthew and Andrew were the two disciples who went to Ethiopia (not the African country but a region called 'Ethiopia' south of the Caspian Sea) to preach the message of God.