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What Ever Happened to the Apostles? – Saint Matthew


New Testament Data

Matthew’s name in the Bible is the Greek Matthaios, which is from the Aramaic or Hebrew name mattanyāh or mattiṯyāh, which mean “Gift of Yahweh.”[1] The name is found in each of NT list of the disciples (Mt. 10.2-4; Mk. 3.16-19; Luke 6.14-16; Acts 1.13) and its only other location is found in his calling (Matt 9.9).[2]

Due to his pairing with Thomas in the listing of the Apostles, some have wondered if he was the twin brother of Thomas, or if the two merely worked closely together.[3] If we equate his name with Levi then we know a little of his family. That is he was a son of Alphaeus (Mk. 2.14), but it is uncertain whether this Alphaeus was the same as the father of James son of Alphaeus (Mk. 3.18).[4]

In his gospel, Matthew noted that prior to being called by Christ he had worked as a tax collector (Mt. 9.9); in the parallel accounts (Mk. 2.14; Lk 5.27) his name is given as Levi.[5] In the Matthean listing of the twelve he also stresses his former life as a tax collector (Mt. 10.3).[6]

As noted above, the parallel passages of his calling gives his name as Levi. Traditionally, the Church has accepted that Levi is simply another name for Matthew, either as a result of his conversion, or that he was given it after his baptism on account of the tribe he was from.[7] The Biblical record, however is silent on the reason for the dual names.[8]

Most likely, he worked as a tax collector on one of the main trade highways near Capernaum, perhaps collecting tolls for Herod Antipas, “from the commercial traffic traveling through this area.”[9] The NT suggest that quickly after his conversion, he arranged for Jesus a banquet at his residence, where he invited people of ill repute (tax collectors and sinners (Lk. 5.29-30).[10] This also suggest that Matthew was very wealthy and his following Christ would have been a dramatically different lifestyle.[11]

Patristic Tradition

Early on in the Patristic tradition, Matthew was associated with the writing of the Gospel that bears his name. Papias, mentions that Matthew collected the sayings of Jesus in Hebrew, which was associated with the creation of the Gospel.[12]

It is uncertain where his ministry was located during his “Apostolic labors.”[13] Eusebius, recorded that Matthew went to the Jewish people and then to others (HE 3.24).[14] Later traditions expanded on these others to include places such as Ethiopia, Persia, Parthia, Macedonia, and Syria.[15] One interesting patristic tradition according to Clement of Alexandria was that Matthew was a vegetarian (Paed 2.1).[16]

“And happiness is found in the practice of virtue. Accordingly, the apostle Matthew partook of seeds, and nuts, and vegetables, without flesh.”

The earliest traditions give him a peaceful death, but later traditions say that he was martyred like many of the other Apostles.[17] His place of martyrdom is given as several, the Roman Maryrology places him in Ethiopia; the Hieronymianum places him in Tarrium, Perisa; Apocryphal Acts in Pontus; and finally, he is said to have been killed with Salerno.[18] The confusion of his death may be due to the similarity of his name with Matthias.[19] When and if I ever to get Matthias we’ll look at the Babylonian Talmud and other places for the death of Matthew/Matthias.

It seems most likely, that he, like John, did not face a martyr’s death, instead dying a “normal death.”[20] This seems implied in Clements’s discussion with Heracleon (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 4.90).[21] This is also related by Pseudo-Hippolytus On the Twelve Apostles 7

“And Matthew wrote the Gospel in the Hebrew tongue, and published it at Jerusalem, and fell asleep at Hierees, a town of Parthia.”

End Notes

[1] D.A. Hagner, “Matthew,” ISBE, 3:280.

[2] Dennis C. Dulling, “Matthew (Disciple),” ABD, 4:618.

[3] Philip Schaff, History of the Church, 1:613.

[4] D.A. Hagner, “Matthew,” ISBE, 3:280.

[5] M.J. Wilkins, “Disciples,” in DJD, 180.

[6] Dulling, 4:618.

[7] Ibid., 4:619.

[8] Wilkins, 180.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] D.A. Hagner, “Matthew,” ISBE, 3:280.

[12] ODCC, s.v., “Matthew, St.”

[13] Schaff, 1:613.

[14] ODCC, s.v. “Matthew, St.”

[15] D.A. Hagner, “Matthew,” ISBE 3:280

[16] Ibid.

[17] Schaff, 1:613.

[18] ODCC, s.v. “Matthew, St.”

[19] Hagner, 3:280.




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