The Problem with the Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel of Matthew has a lot of information about Jesus that is not in any other of the gospels - but there is a problem you need to be aware of. There are a couple of serious mistakes in the Gospel of Matthew that follows a specific pattern.
The Old Testament did prophecy about Jesus, but in an attempt to make Jesus more likeable or believable to Jewish Christians, the Gospel of Matthew goes to far when linking Jesus to Old Testament. There are also things that Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, that are not in any of the other gospels, and that clearly could not have been something that Jesus have said. We will see a clear pattern of when something was added to what was likely the original message of Jesus.
The Gospel of Matthew was not written by the apostle Matthew. The author is unknown but it is very unlikely that the author was an apostle. An eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus would not have relied so heavily on the Gospel of Mark as a source. It was written between AD 80 and 90.
Note: The author of the Gospel of Matthew was not Matthew, but I will be referring to the author as 'Matthew' in the rest of the article - the same for Luke, Mark and John.
Apologies: This article is long, but we need to look at a lot of examples to determine a pattern.
Matthew and Luke
Most scholars agree that Mark is the first gospel that was written – and therefore the most reliable. Mark and Luke relied on Mark and another source (or sources). There are two prominent hypothesis for the content shared between Matthew and Luke that is not in Mark.
1) The Two Source Theory
The 'two source theory' where Matthew and Luke depended on Mark and another source called Q. Q was never discovered but could have existed in theory. This is the most popular theory.
2) The Farrer Theory
The 'Farrer theory' where Luke depended on Mark and Matthew. The reason why this theory is not as popular as the Q theory is because there are some serious differences between Matthew and Luke. However, I believe that this actually confirms the Farrer theory. Luke clearly says in the beginning of his gospel that he had other sources but wanted to give a reliable and accurate account (Luke 1:1-4) – implying that his sources wasn't always accurate.
Bethlehem and Egypt
Before you continue, carefully read the story of the birth of Jesus in Matthew and Luke. The stories are different.
Matthew places Jesus in Bethlehem at his birth. No reason is given why they were in Bethlehem. Looks like his family stayed there as Jesus was born in a house, not a manger. Soon afterwards they had to flee to Egypt because of the massacre of the infants.
I think according to Luke's sources, the family of Jesus was in Nazareth even before the birth of Jesus. Luke had to come up with a reason why the writer of Matthew placed the birthplace in Bethlehem. He came up with the census.
Luke left out the killing of the infants and the Egypt trip as he didn't believe it happened. To say that Luke simply didn't mention the Egypt trip is a desperate attempt to synchronize two stories that cannot be synchronized. Luke went into detail, step by step, even mentioning a trip to the temple a month or so after the birth of Jesus. He then clearly says they then moved back to Nazareth. A trip to another country that would have taken up a couple of years is not a small detail that was left out – it is a different story.
Luke's account does not make sense. According to historians, there has never been any record of a census where the Romans wanted people to travel to their place of birth. They were concerned about taxation – they wanted to know where everyone was currently staying – not where they were born.
Matthew's account also does not make sense. Imagine you have a new born baby, an angel appears to you telling you that he is the chosen one and that you need to flee the country. You then take your family, flee to another country - just in time as babies are being killed by the thousands (because of your son - confirming the message of the angel). These events must be something that you as a family regularly talk about at the dinner table. Wouldn't you as a parent be anxiously waiting to see when your child, the chosen one, will start his ministry?
That is however not how his family reacted - it is as if they had no clue that Jesus was the chosen one.
When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” - Mark 3:21
The stories in Luke and Matthew about the birth and early years of Jesus are different and does not make sense. If you say they tell the same story differently, you are lying to yourself in a desperate attempt to hold on to what you have always been told about Jesus.
Matthew wanted Jesus in Bethlehem to link Jesus to an Old Testament prophecy. The Bethlehem prophecy was misunderstood by Matthew and others at the time as it was not the place, but a person – Micah 5:2.
Matthew also wanted to place Jesus in Egypt because of an Old Testament prophecy – Hos. 11:1. Again, linking Jesus to Hosea 11:1 can be seen as a bit of a stretch as it was not a prophecy about Jesus but it was about Israel being freed from Egypt.
It is only Matthew and Luke that tells the story of the birth of Jesus. In Mark Jesus simply comes from Nazareth. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is referred to as 'Jesus of Nazareth' or ''Jesus of Galilee'. Never 'Jesus of Bethlehem'.
In John, it is clear that Jesus wasn't born in Bethlehem, but in Nazareth.
Others said, “He is the Messiah.”Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. - John 7:41-43
Keep in mind that Matthew were written 80-90 years after Jesus was born and Luke even later. There must have been 'cleverly devised stories' going around about Jesus, because Peter refers to these stories in a letter - a letter that was written before the gospel of Matthew and Luke were written.
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. - 2 Peter 1:16
I know it is not easy to let go of the image of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem - you don't have to. Maybe He was born in Bethlehem - it doesn't really matter - you can believe what you want.
What is important is to start to see Matthew as someone writing his gospel in a way that he tries to link Jesus to the Old Testament as much as possible. That you start to see discrepancies and mistakes in the gospels. Not in order to discredit the Bible, but in order to look for the truth - who Jesus really was.
The Two Donkeys
In Matthew 21:1-17, Jesus asks for a donkey and a colt and he 'sat on both'. In Luke (Luke 19:28-40) and Mark (Mark 11), he just asks for one and only rides on one. John states that there was only one (John 12:14-15).
Those who want to defend the Bible as inerrant, will say that 'sat on both' means he sat on one and used the other for his baggage. They will also say that the other gospel writers didn't feel it was important to mention the second donkey.
However – 'sat on both' is not a normal way to say you used two donkeys. Also, they might have felt it is not important to mention the second donkey, but all three gospel writers quote the words of Jesus. Only Matthew quotes him as asking for a colt and a donkey.
You might argue that they quoted Jesus differently because the number of donkeys was not important. That is exactly my point. The exact words of Jesus were quoted differently because to Matthew, the number of donkeys was important. The exact words of Jesus change from gospel to gospel, depending on what is important to the writer. In other words, the writer's own ideas play a role and can change small things Jesus could have said.
Matthew wants Jesus to 'sit' on two donkeys because he again is over zealous in linking Jesus to the Old Testament. He is referring to the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9.
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. - Zech 9:9.
He makes a mistake by interpreting it literally as two animals. Zechariah is not saying the King will ride a colt and a donkey. Instead he is using synonymous parallelism that is often used in Hebrew literature - something is repeated that has already been expressed just with different wording – for example see Psalm 18:4-5.
Again, why does it matter if there were one or two donkeys? It matters, because we see a pattern where Matthew is desperate to link Jesus more to the Old Testament, making him more acceptable and favourable for the Jews.
It matters, because in other places a word of two is added to what Jesus said that could change how Jesus is seen completely.
Matthew and The Law
In Matthew 5 Jesus changes or removes some of the Old Testament laws. This must have been a bit much for Matthew and his Jewish audience. In the middle of Matthew 5 we then find two verses that doesn't make sense - that contradicts the rest of Matthew 5.
For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:18-19
The same thing happens in Matthew 23 Jesus goes all out against the teachers of the law and Pharisees, calling them hypocrites, blind guides, fools, snakes and vipers. Just before Matthew records these words of Jesus, that again must have been difficult for Jewish Christians to hear, he writes 3 verses that doesn't make sense where it looks like Jesus is contradicting Himself.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. - Matthew 23:1-3
Whenever Jesus spoke against the Old Testament laws or against those that teaches the law, Matthew added something to what Jesus said to soften the blow for his Jewish audience. It is simply not possible that Jesus could have instructed us to follow every letter of the Old Testament, or to do everything the Pharisees taught.
Let's look at a couple of examples where Jesus clearly did not believe that we should follow every letter of the Old Testament law:
- Leviticus 11 forbids unclean food - Jesus says that there is no such thing (Matthew 15:11, Mark 7:15)
- The law says an eye for an eye (Exodus. 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21) - Jesus says that is wrong (Matthew 5:38)
- Leviticus 20:10 says the punishment for adultery is death - Jesus stopped the stoning of an adulterer (John 7)
- In Deuteronomy 24:1-4 Moses wrote that a man can divorce his wife with a letter if he wants. Jesus says that is wrong - Mark 10:4-9.
- There are many more examples where Jesus strongly disagreed with the teachers of the law.