remains that Jesus had not written or dictated any formal Gospel. Instead He had simply chosen His Twelve, solemnly placed Simon of Bethsaida at their head with the new title of Kepha (Aramaic for ‘Rock’), and invested them with His own priestly, teaching and ruling power over his Church.* 5
During His public life, to ensure that they learned their Gospel properly, Jesus had sent his Apostles out in pairs on practice missions to preach it. These practice missions ensured that, by sheer repetition in preaching, teaching and answering questions, the Apostles quickly standardised their accounts and His essential teaching word perfect. In these very first years the Apostles may have wished to conform to the rabbinical precept to ‘Put nothing in writing’. (All the leading rabbis such as Hillel, Gamaliel and Shammai had followed this precept, and gloried in possessing all their learning in their memory alone.) In the wake of Pentecost however the demand for a written Gospel was soon too strong. In the first years after Pentecost the Apostles soon commissioned their ex-tax collector, Levi Matthew, to compose an official teaching summary of Jesus’ Life and Teaching: the Gospel according to St. Matthew. As the rabbis frowned upon writings on sacred matters in any language other than Hebrew, St. Matthew compiled his Gospel in Hebrew. His Gospel was written especially for Jews: it not only outlined the Life and teachings of our Lord, it also contained many quotations from the Scriptures (now called the Old Testament) showing how Jesus had fulfilled all the prophecies by which the true Messiah was to be recognised. Within a few years the Apostles had instituted the Diaconate, i.e. ‘Deacons’ (Greek diakonos: ‘minister’) for looking after the community’s material affairs. Deacons were also ordained to preach and baptise. Perhaps it was for their training and preaching needs that St. Matthew had first written. By 37 at the latest, in the wake of the Jewish persecution which followed the martyrdom of the Deacon St. Stephen (26 December, 36), St. Matthew was commissioned for formal use in the Nazarene churches being founded in the Jewish diaspora.* 6
St. Matthew’s Gospel was entrusted by the Apostles only to priests and deacons for use in preaching and at assemblies for offering the holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It was the first book officially for use in the Church’s liturgy. (For centuries the words of the holy Sacrifice itself were too sacred to be written at all. Only some five centuries later were they first fully committed to writing.) Certainly St. Matthew, like all the rest of the Church’s official teaching documents, was for centuries kept as utterly sacred, and was never meant to be published or sold like a common book. 7
In these earliest years the Apostles’ preaching was directed solely to those who were already familiar with the Old Testament scriptures and the Messianic promise. At this time their message was to the worldwide diaspora of the Jews and to such groups as the Samaritans and the Essenes. Indeed for the first twelve years after that first Pentecost Sunday, the Apostles concentrated their missionary efforts in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.*
Published on Nov 29, 2011
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...