Historical Champions

    Was there support for an early Matthew over recent centuries?

    • Recent champions include Bernard Orchard, John Wenham, and David Alan Black.
    • Survey the claims of historical champions for an early Matthew.

Here are some of the scholars who argued that Matthew was published within roughly a decade of the resurrection and ascension. (I will gradually post quotes from additional authors.)

Laurentius Codomannus (trans. 1590)1

Chronographia: A Description of Time, from the Beginning of the World, unto the Year of Our Lord

The 42nd year of Christ. About this time Saint Matthew wrote his Gospel in Judea. [According to this book, this is after Paul departs on his first missionary journey.]

Laurentius Codomannus, Chronographia: A Description of Time, from the Beginning of the World, unto the Year of Our Lord (London: Robert Dexter, 1590), 49.

Richard Ward (1646)

Theological Questions, Dogmatical Observations, and Evangelical Essays upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to St. Matthew

Another question here will arise: Why was the Gospel or any Scripture written?

To this I answer first: for the help of our knowledge, lest that in process of time, there should either have been no remembrance, or a false remembrance, of our salvation and redemption by Christ; to prevent which God in much mercy and love, hath committed the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ into writing, that the truth might remain and be known, for and unto all ages.

The Lord would have us remember what Christ did for us and what he undertook, and underwent for our Redemption; and therefore he commands that those things which are to be remembered should be written, lest otherwise the memory of them should perish. The Lord would have our memories to retain Truth, not lies, and therefore commands the Gospel to be written that the truth may not be corrupted.

I answer again, the Gospel was written for the help of our faith, lest it should been uncertain. If the history of Christ’s conception, birth, life, temptation, sufferings, obedience, and the life, had only been by tradition delivered from father to son, in process of time we should have questioned the truth of it, and so our faith would have been the more shaken and less sure. To redress which, the Lord commends all these things to writing, that so our faith might be firm and working, not frail, and wavering.

If the Gospel had been related unto us by others, not by the Apostles, we should have been prone to have called the truth and certainty of it into question—as the Sadducees, who will neither receive nor embrace any other Scripture, but only the Pentateuch, or five books of Moses, because none were written by him, but them—and therefore the Lord will have the Gospel written, and the Canon and Rule of faith taught, confirmed, and sealed by his Apostles, who were eye and ear witnesses of what they wrote, that we might the more undoubtedly believe the infallible truth of it.

Ward, Richard. Theological Questions, Dogmatical Observations, and Evangelical Essays, upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ According to St. Matthew. London, 1646, 3-4.

William Cave (1676)

Antiquitates Apostolicae: The History of the Lives, Acts, and Martyrdoms of the Holy Apostles of Our Saviour

The last thing that calls for any remarks in the life of this Apostle is his Gospel, written at the entreaty of the Jewish converts, and as Epiphanius tells us, at the command of the Apostles, while he was yet in Palestine, about eight years after the death of Christ; though Nicephorus will have it to be written fifteen years after our Lord’s ascension, and Irenaeus yet much wider, who seems to imply that it was written while Peter and Paul preached at Rome, which was not till nearly thirty years after. But most plain it is, that it must be written before the dispersion of the Apostles, seeing St. Bartholomew (as we have noted in his Life) took it along with him into India, and left it there. He wrote it in Hebrew . . . it was no doubt soon translated into Greek, though by whom St. Jerome professes he could not tell. . . . The best is, it matters not much whether it was translated by an Apostle, or some Disciple, so long as the Apostles approved the version, and that the Church has ever received the Greek copy as authentic, and reposed it in the sacred Canon.

William Cave, Antiquitates Apostolicae: Or, The History of the Lives, Acts and Martyrdoms of the Holy Apostles of Our Saviour, and the Two Evangelists SS. Mark and Luke (London: R. Royston, 1676), 180.

Thomas Allen (1688)

A Chain of Scripture Chronology from the Creation of the World to the Death of Jesus Christ

This book includes a page, “A Chronological Table for Six Hundred Years after the Death of Our Lord,” which indicates that in the year 41 after the birth of Christ, “The Gospel [was] written by Matthew, as is thought.”

Thomas Allen, A Chain of Scripture Chronology from the Creation of the World to the Death of Jesus Christ, 1688, approx. page 135.

Nicolas Fontaine (trans. 1691)

The History of the Old and New Testament

Thus, the 4th of Caligula, and the 1st of Claudius concur with the 41st of our Lord. … It”s held that S. Matthew wrote his Gospel about this time, as under the particular inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so by the common advice of the other Apostles, for the instruction of those of the circumcision, who had believed. And tho several have been persuaded that he wrote it in Hebrew, but that by himself or some other it was since translated into Greek, such as we have it, yet may we with greater likelihood of truth say, that he himself wrote it in Greek, because the number of the Hellenistic Jews converted to the faith, was at first greater than that of the Hebrews, witness the first seven Deacons being taken thence.

Nicolas Fontaine (Sieur de Royaumont), The History of the Old and New Testament, trans. John Coughen and Joseph Raynor (London: Richard Blome, 1691), 411.

John Edwards (1695)

A Discourse Concerning the Authority, Style, and Perfection of the Books of the Old and New Testament

But afterwards [Christ’s ascension] some of the Apostles and Disciples resolving, according to their Master’s order, to go and preach in foreign regions, and to disperse the Christian religion over all the world, put forth the history of the gospel in writing before they went about this great work. St. Matthew was the first inspired person that committed the evangelical transactions to writing, which he did about eight years after Christ’s passion, AD 42. He alone of the Evangelists, say St. Jerome, Eusebius, St. Augustine, Chrysostom, and most of the ancient writers of the Church, wrote his Gospel first in Hebrew : which partly appears from this, that some of the Hebrew words are explained by the person who translated it into Greek; who it is probably was St. Matthew himself, as the ancients generally agree; and so the Hebrew and Greek copies are both of them the originals. . . . But as for the punctual time when the Evangelists put forth the Gospels, it is doubtful, and I do not find any certain ground whereupon we may fix a satisfactory resolution of the doubts.

John Edwards, A Discourse Concerning the Authority, Stile, and Perfection of the Books of the Old and New Testament, vol. 3, 3 vols. (London: J. D., 1695), 416.

Thomas Ellwood (1709)

Sacred History; or, The Historical Part of the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament

Of these, the common opinion is that Matthew wrote in the Hebrews tongue (as it was then used, with a mixture of the Chaldee or Syriac) and that his book was afterwards translated into the Greek tongue, though not certainly known by whom. … Yet this is not agreed by all; others supposing that book to have been written originally in Greek by Matthew.

Matthew is supposed to have written his Gospel about eight years after the ascension of our Lord. Some reckon it to have been fifteen years after; but that cannot be, if he wrote before Mark, and Mark wrote (as it is generally held he did) in the fourteenth year after Christ’s ascension. Luke, some say, wrote fifteen years; others say, twenty years after our Lord was taken up.

Thomas Ellwood, Sacred History; or, The Historical Part of the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament (London, 1709), i–ii.

Samuel Humphreys (1746)

The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. With Explanatory Notes and Practical Observations

He [Matthew] wrote his Gospel at the request of the believers in Palestine, whom he had instructed in the way of Christ, or as Irenaeus and Eusebius tell us, by the desire of his fellow-Apostles, in the Hebrew or Syriac language, which was then common in Judea, before he departed from Jerusalem to preach in the province, which was fallen to his particular lot or charge.

It is thought that he undertook this work about the year 41 of the Vulgar Era, which was the eight year after our Savior’s resurrection: And therefore we find this account at the end of his Gospel in almost all the Old Greek manuscripts. Some pretend it was written sooner, amongst whom are the famous historian Baronius, and the commentator Cornelius e Lapide, who, following the same authority of the author of the unfinished Commentary on St. Matthew, say, that he wrote it on the first dispersion of the Apostles, after the stoning of St. Stephen, which fell in the third or the beginning of the fourth year of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And again, Irenaeus thinks that he composed it while St. Peter and St. Paul preached the Gospel at Rome about the year 61 of the Vulgar Era. But if it is true, as is commonly granted, that St. Matthew is the first who committed the Gospel to writing, and that the same was abridged by St. Mark about the 43rd year of Jesus Christ, it follows plainly, that it must be placed before the year 61 of the Vulgar Era, and that it will be enough to place it towards the year 41.

Samuel Humphreys, The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. With Explanatory Notes and Practical Observations (London: Samuel Birt, 1746), 41.

NOTE: Irenaeus does not articulate a specific date. For a solution to the conflict which arises because of Irenaeus’s apparent claim that Matthew was written in Rome, refer to https://atrustworthygospel.com/irenaeus-at-rome-an-early-matthew/

Robert Cockburne (1755)

Dissertation on the Books of the New Testament

All civilized nations have agreed in a concern to preserve their religion, and to transmit it to posterity. To this general inclination we ought to ascribe the common practice of committing to writing the institutions of common belief and practice, in order to preserve them from such accidents as might intercept the conveyance. And indeed this was a necessary provision, to secure religion from the injuries and corruptions which time brings along with it. It is plain that oral tradition is liable to so great uncertainties, that if the positive laws of a country were to be trusted to this method, there would be a very great hazard of having them eight entirely lost, or at least considerably changed, even in a few descents. . . .

Besides this uncertainty of oral tradition, there was another reason for recording the laws of religion, that these could not have had the advantage of a sufficient promulgation, but in this method. And this was more requisite, that mankind, by an innate propensity to licentiousness, are apt enough to consider all restraints and limitations of their passions as disagreeable encroachments on natural liberty; it would not have been safe for this reason to trust that to their memory which they did not care to practice.

It is not easy to determine at what particular time this custom of making religion the subject of writing was first introduced, as we are not able to trace the use of letters to the original; it is very probable however, that this custom has been general, and so very ancient as to be very near of the same date with that invention.

Not to mention instances of a remoter antiquity, the political and moral institutions of Confucius, the famous Chinese lawgiver, were received with the highest veneration by the eastern nations, some centuries before our Savior.

The Persians afford us another example of the same care to preserve their religion; and the Arabians, though a nation of a different character, agreed with them in this method of transmitting it to posterity.

It would not be hard to bring other examples of the same veneration to positive and written laws concerning the worship of the deity and the duties which men owed to him; but as this would be a needless talk, we shall only observe what veneration of the ancient Romans, as first the most virtuous, and in later ages the most polite nation of the world, entertained for the Books of the Sibylles, who did nothing in peace or war without consulting these oracles, and who to secure them from accidents, from a sentiment of religious respect, committed them to the keeping of certain persons of quality. . . . [And so on!] . . .

Though it is a point not easily determined when St. Mathew wrote his Gospel, it seems to have been generally agreed among ancient writers that it was published a few years after our Savior’s ascension, and before the apostles left Jerusalem to execute the commission they had received to proselytize all nations.

It is certain that they remained in Judea after the martyrdom of Stephen, though the severities which were then used against Christians gave others occasion to disperse. It is not unlikely, that the year in which the church was opened to the Gentiles by the baptism of Cornelius, or the 41st of our Lord, was the era of their dispersion. Before this time, Matthew the apostle appears to have published his Gospel for the use of the church of Jerusalem, to supply the want of his verbal instructions.

Robert Cockburne, An Historical Dissertation on the Books of the New Testament; or, An Enquiry into Their Authority and Particular Character, vol. 1, 1755, iii–vi, 191–192.

Henry Owen (1764)

Observations on the Four Gospels

From these accounts, delivered down to us by the ancient Fathers, the only inference we can draw with certainty is that of all the Evangelists, St. Matthew, in their opinion, wrote first; St. Mark next; then St. Luke; and last of all St. John : though perhaps the Gospels themselves, carefully examined, may afford us reason to doubt the exactness of this order. [Note that Owens elsewhere favors a Matthew, Luke, Mark, John order.]

With regard to the times, in which the Gospels are said to have been published, and which differ so widely from each other, it may be sufficient to observe at present, that the circumstances of things, and the necessities of the Church, seem to plead in favour of the earliest, rather than of the latest [proposed] dates. For we can hardly suppose, that the Church would be left for so many years … without any authentic account in writing of facts so highly important not only to its edification, but also to its very being.

Henry Owen, Observations on the Four Gospels: Tending Chiefly, to Ascertain the Times of Their Publication; and to Illustrate the Form and Manner of Their Composition (London: T. Payne, 1764), 67.

Thomas Townson (1778)

Discourses on the Four Gospels, Chiefly with Regard to the Peculiar Design of Each, and the Order and Places in Which They Were Written

But a circumstance in his [Matthew’s] Gospel respecting Pilate may dispose us to fix the date of it still a little nearer to the ascension. As soon as he begins to relate, chap. xxvii., that our Lord was led prisoner from the Jewish council to the praetorium, he begins to speak of Pilate as governor: the governor asked, the governor answered, and so on. Why this frequent mention of governor, for it occurs nine times, unless it belonged to Pilate as still governor of Judea, while St. Matthew was writing? St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John, say only Pilate on the same occasion, and never once call him governor.

Upon a complaint of the Samaritans, Vitellius president of Syria ordered Pilate to Rome, to answer to it before the Emperor. Josephus says, that in obedience to this order he made haste to Rome, but before he got thither the Emperor was dead. The death of Tiberius was in the spring, AD XXXVII. By which time probably St. Matthew’s Gospel was written. . . .

The presumption is strong, that a work compiled for the use of the Jews was published in the country which the great body of them inhabited, and to which they resorted from all quarters of the earth. But a certain proof is the date of this Gospel; which, within a few years of the ascension, could be written only in Judea, where the twelve apostles then constantly resided.

Thomas Townson, Discourses on the Four Gospels, Chiefly with Regard to the Peculiar Design of Each, and the Order and Places in Which They Were Written (Oxford: Clarendon, 1778), 107–108, 128.

Jeremiah Jones (1798)

Settling the Canonical Authority

Christianity, in its very infancy, made a very great noise in the world: the doctrines of it were new and surprising; vast numbers continually embraced it: one would think therefore, that, had there been nothing else, men’s curiosity would have influenced them to procure those authentic accounts, which the Gospels contain; that so they might know the history of a person’s life and doctrines, who had been so remarkable, and made so great a figure in the world.

Jeremiah Jones, A New and Full Method of Settling the Canonical Authority of the New Testament, vol. 3, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1798), 164.

George Tomline (1822)

An Introduction to the Study of the Bible

It appears very improbable, that the Christians should be left any considerable number of years without a written history of our Saviour’s ministry. It is certain that the Apostles, immediately after the descent of the Holy Ghost, which took place only ten days after the ascension of our Saviour into Heaven, preached the Gospel to the Jews with great success; and surely it is reasonable to suppose, that an authentic account of our Saviour’s doctrines and miracles would very soon be committed to writing, for the confirmation of those who believed in his divine mission, and for the conversion of others; and, more particularly, to enable the Jews to compare the circumstances of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus with their ancient prophecies relative to the Messiah;: and we may conceive that the Apostles would be desirous of losing no time in writing an account of the miracles which Jesus performed, and of the discourses which he delivered, because the sooner such an account was published, the easier it would be to inquire into its truth and accuracy; and consequently, when these points were satisfactorily ascertained, the greater would be its weight and authority. I must own that these arguments are, in my judgment, so strong in favour of an early publication of some history of our Saviour’s ministry, that I cannot but accede to the opinion of Mr. Jones, Mr. Wetstein, and Dr. Owen, that St. Matthew’s Gospel was written in the year 38.

George Tomline, An Introduction to the Study of the Bible: Elements of Christian Theology, 14th ed., vol. 1 (London: T. Cadell, 1822), 211.

Thomas Horne (1825)

Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures

Matthew is generally allowed to have written first of all the evangelists. His Gospel is uniformly placed first in all the codes or volumes of the Gospels: and the priority is constantly given to it in all the quotations of the primitive fathers, as well as of the early heretics. Its precedence therefore is unquestionable, though the precise time when it was composed is a question that has been greatly agitated. Dr. Mill, Michaelis, and Bishop Percy, after Irenaeus, assign it to the year 60; Modenhawer, to 61 or 62; Dr. Hales, to 63; Dr. Lardner and Mr. Hewlett, to 64; Baronius, Grotius, Wetstein, Mr. Jer. Jones, and others, after Eusebius, to 41; Dr. Benson, to 43; Dr. Cave, to 48 [although the citation above says otherwise]; Dr. Owen and Bishop Tomline, to 38; and Dr. Townson, to the year 37. In this conflict of opinions, it is difficult to decide. The accounts left us by the ecclesiastical writers of antiquity, concerning the times when the Gospels were written or published, are so vague, confused, and discordant, that they lead us to no solid or certain determination. The oldest of the ancient fathers collected the reports of their own times, and set them down for certain truths; and those who followed adopted their accounts with implicit reverence. Thus traditions, true or false, passed on from one writer to another, without examination, until it became almost too late to examine them to any purpose. Since, then, external evidence affords us but little assistance, it becomes necessary to have recourse to the internal testimony which the Gospel of Saint Matthew affords, and we apprehend that it will be found to preponderate in favour of an early date.

In the first place, it is by no means probable that the Christians should be left any considerable number of years without a genuine and authentic written history of our Saviour’s ministry. …

Secondly, as the sacred writers had a regard to the circumstances of the persons for whose use they wrote, we have an additional evidence for the early date of this Gospel, in the state of persecution in which the church was at the time when it was written: for it contains many obvious references to such a state, and many very apposite addresses both to the injured and to the injurious party. …

These and similar arguments, which St. Matthew has inserted in the body of his Gospel (by the way of comfort to the afflicted Christians, and also as a warning to their injurious oppressors and persecutors), evidently refer to a state of distress and persecution under which the church of Christ laboured at the time when the evangelist advanced and urged them. Now the greatest persecution ever raised against the church, while it was composed only of Jewish and Samaritan converts, was that which was commenced by the Sanhedrin, and was afterwards continued and conducted by Saul, with implacable rage and fury. During this calamity, which lasted in the whole about six years, viz. till the third year of Caligula, AD 39 or 40 …

Thirdly, … the evangelist’s comparative gentleness in mentioning John the Baptist’s reproof of Herod, and his silence concerning the insults offered by Herod to our Lord on the morning of his crucifixion, are additional evidences for the early date of his Gospel … If he was influenced by these motives, he must have written before the year 39, for in that year Herod was banished to Lyons by Caligula.

Lastly, to omit circumstances of minor importance, Matthew’s frequent mention … of Pilate, as being then actually governor of Judea, is an additional evidence of the early date of his Gospel. For Josephus informs us, that Pilate having been ordered by Vitellius, governor of Syria, to go to Rome, to answer a complaint of the Samaritans before the emperor, hastened thither, but before he arrived the emperor was dead. Now, as Tiberius died in the spring of 37, it is highly probably that Saint Matthew’s Gospel was written by that time. …

Since, therefore, the objections to the early date by no means balance the weight of evidence in its favour, we are justified in assigning the date of this Gospel to the year of our Lord 37, or at the latest to the year 38. And as the weight of evidence is also in favour of Saint Matthew’s having composed his Gospel in Hebrew and Greek, we may refer the early date of AD 37 or 38 to the former, and AD 61 to the latter. This will reconcile the apparently conflicting testimonies of Irenaeus and Eusebius above mentioned, which have led biblical critics to form such widely different opinions concerning the real date of Saint Matthew’s Gospel.

[Horne then goes on to weigh the various arguments and opinions concerning what language Matthew wrote in.]

Thomas Hartwell Horne, Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, 4th ed., vol. 4 (Philadelphia, PA: E. Littell, 1825), 229–234.

Edward Greswell (1837)

Dissertations upon the Principles and Arrangement of an Harmony of the Gospels

If St. Matthew was among the number of those who departed at that time [about AD 43 or 44], it may be taken for granted that his Gospel was not written after AD 44; yet there is no reason to suppose it would be written long before it; and if we place its composition between the time of the conversion of Cornelius, AD 41, and the time of St. Paul’s first circuit to the Gentiles, AD 44, and even in AD 42 itself, we may not be far from the truth.

Edward Greswell, Dissertations upon the Principles and Arrangement of an Harmony of the Gospels, 2nd ed., vol. 1, 4 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1837), 152.

Richard Watson (1844)

An Exposition of the Gospels

Still many became Christians in Judea, and other countries, who could only be generally and vaguely acquainted with the public life and discourses of their Redeemer; persons brought to faith and salvation by the impression of the miracles of the apostles, the convincing native energy of truth, and the secret influences of grace upon their hearts, for whose confirmation in faith, and the holy comfort of the Gospel, that history of Christ, that exhibition of his doctrine, that powerful impression of his whole extraordinary character, which every single gospel contains, was essential. The Gospels were books to be read in their assemblies, as being placed upon a level with the sacred books of the Old Testament by their inspiration, and as being also the key to the law and the prophets . . . All these present strong reasons for an early composition of an authorized history of Christ, and favor, as a presumptive argument, the early dates ascribed to that of St. Matthew, which was undoubtedly the first published.

Richard Watson, An Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark and of Some Other Detached Parts of Holy Scripture (New York, NY: G. Lane and P. P. Sandford, 1844), 9.

Thomas R. Birks (1852)

Horae Evangelicae

The Apostles were still in Judea after the conversion of Cornelius, A.D. 41, but three years later, at the visit of Barnabas and Saul, only James the Lord’s brother, beside Peter, seems to have remained. If the conversion of Cornelius, and the call of the Gentiles, were viewed by them as the preparation for entering on a wider sphere, this would form a new motive for recording the discourses and miracles of Jesus, both for the use of the converts in Palestine, and for a testimony to the unbelieving Jews. Hence the year A.D. 42 may be viewed with reason as a near approach to the date of this first gospel.

Thomas R. Birks, Horae Evangelicae: The Internal Evidence of the Gospel History (London: George Bell & Sons, 1852), 243.

Alexander Roberts (1862)

Discussions on the Gospels

The Greek of Irenaeus, as preserved by Eusebius is as follows . . . The meaning simply is, that St Matthew, after preaching to the Hebrews, also published a Gospel in their dialect. The date assigned to this alleged fact (AD 61–63) is, in all probability, as erroneous as the fact itself is misstated. The early publication of St Matthew’s Gospel (AD 37–41) appears to admit of no question.

Alexander Roberts, Discussions on the Gospels (London: Nisbet, 1862), 390.

Joseph Angus (1866)

The Bible Handbook: An Introduction to the Study of Sacred Scripture

The exact date of this Gospel is not known. By some it is placed, as early as AD 37; by others as late as 63. The weight of evidence, however, is in favor of a few years later than the earlier date (i.e., about AD 42), and it was certainly written before the destruction of Jerusalem.

Joseph Angus, The Bible Handbook: An Introduction to the Study of the Sacred Scripture, Rev. (Philadelphia: James S. Claxton, 1866), 620.

Francis Upham (1881)

Thoughts on the Holy Gospels

The twelve Witnesses lived together in the same town with the purpose of framing the Gospel, they were busy in recalling and arranging its facts, which were fresh in their memories, and they heard each other as they taught them. among the three thousand converts there must have been many who could have written out the oral teaching of the Witnesses. There must have been some who tried to do so; and to think that the writing out of the oral Gospel could have been put off till the second century is foolish, though some profess to believe it. It is so natural that some should have written out the Gospel, as they heard it from “the eye-witnesses’’ of the Lord, that it would be certain, even if St. Luke had not told us, that “‘many”’ took this “in hand.” No doubt such transcripts of the apostolic Gospel were unsatisfactory; and the Witnesses must then have seen, if they had not seen before—which is not possible—that it was their duty to have the Gospel properly written out by one or more of themselves.

Francis W. Upham, Thoughts on the Holy Gospels: How They Came to Be in Manner and Form as They Are (New York, NY: Phillips & Hunt, 1881), 4445.

But I think I can show that it is St. Matthew’s caution as to [identifying] certain persons and events that gives this appearance [of disjointedness] to his Gospel at those points. I am now to prove this caution; and, by the same evidence, to prove that St. Matthew’s Gospel was written as early as the time of the persecution that began with the murder of St. Stephen.

Francis W. Upham, Thoughts on the Holy Gospels: How They Came to Be in Manner and Form as They Are (New York, NY: Phillips & Hunt, 1881), 163.

Their foreknowledge of the troubles, that sooner or later were sure to come [ref. John 16:14], must have deepened their conviction that the oral Gospel would not always suffice for the wants of the Congregation; and we shalt prove that within the seven years after the Pentecost, St. Matthew either finished his Gospel, or that, when the persecution came, he did so at once. In seven years there had been time for him to plan and to think over his closely-reasoned and mighty argument. His Master gave him no such intimation of length of days as He did to his brother Evangelist, St. John, and the coming on of the persecution warned him against delay.

Francis W. Upham, Thoughts on the Holy Gospels: How They Came to Be in Manner and Form as They Are (New York, NY: Phillips & Hunt, 1881), 173.

Arthur Carr (1898)

The Gospel according to St. Matthew

1. The authorship of the first gospel has been ascribed by an unbroken tradition to the Apostle Matthew.

2. The date is uncertain. Irenaeus however states that St Matthew wrote his gospel when SS. Peter and Paul were founding the Church in Rome: and the fact that it was published first of the written Gospels rests upon early and uncontradicted testimony. The date of publication then should probably be fixed not many years after the Ascension.

3. St Matthew’s Gospel was primarily intended for the use of the Jewish converts in Palestine. It is this fact that gives its special character to this Gospel. No other of the evangelists has so completely developed the idea that in Christ the nation lived again, that towards Christ all prophecy moved, that in Him all national aspirations were centered and satisfied. No other inspired writer has pictured so vividly the critical interest of the Messianic days as the meeting point of the world’s past and future.

Arthur Carr, The Gospel According to St Matthew, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1898), 9.

The following publications are more recent, so am only briefly summarizing, rather than generousty excerpting, to avoid copyright issues.

John Chapman (1944)

Note: Chapman defends Matthean priority, but does not speculate on the date of Matthew’s Gospel (at least not in this publication). I have not yet been able to acquire access to a copy of Chapman’s Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

The Four Gospels

Matthew was first. (Four Gospels, 6)

Per Chapman, it is “paradoxical” to contend that Matthew was based on Mark, and that Matthew was “adapted in 70 or 80 by many additions and excisions, and furnished with prophecies from the Old Testament, for the use of those Jews of Palestine who had already been massacred or dispersed in the Jewish War of Vespasian and Titus” (Four Gospels, 11)

The interpretation of the “oft-quoted testimony of Irenaeus (Adversus Haereses, III:1)” is too “uncertain and a matter of controversy” to assert “that the publication of Matthew’s original text preceded the arrival of St. Paul in Rome” (Four Gospels, 76–77)

John Chapman, The Four Gospels (New York, NY: Sheed & Ward, 1944), 6, 11, 76–77.

Basil Butler (1951)

Note: In the book listed below, Butler defends Matthean priority, and proposes that Matthew was written before the apostles dispersed beyond Palestine; however, he does not assign a particular date to Matthew’s Gospel (at least not in this publication). However, in his The Church and the Bible (1960), he has apparently abandoned this early Matthew view, as he merely echoes the popular view of Markan priority, with Mark being published around AD 67 (p. 35). And in his subsequent autobiography, A Time to Speak (1972), he reflects on his support of Chapman; yet at the same time, he posits that the Gospels were published 37 to 70 years after the crucifixion, with Mark first and Matthew third, perhaps 65 years after Christ. He also suspects that Mark and Luke may have been based on an earlier revision of Matthew (p. 78–79).

The Originality of St Matthew: A Critique of the Two-Document Hypothesis

If Matthew was first, then it “probably originated before the Church bifurcated into Jewish and Gentile parallel streams” and thus it had an “early date.” And if there was an Aramaic original behind the Greek Matthew, then “there is a great deal to be said for, and virtually nothing against, the view that it emanated in its Aramaic form from the body of our Lord’s own companions before they dispersed beyond the borders of Palestine.” Further, we can then envision the early missionaries as carrying copies of Matthew’s Gospel.

B. C. Butler, The Originality of St Matthew: A Critique of the Two-Document Hypothesis (Cambridge: University Press, 1951), 165–166.

Bernard Orchard (1979)

“Why Three Synoptic Gospels? A Statement of the Two-Gospel Hypothesis”

Orchard envisions the Synoptic Gospels as being “written within the time-span covered by the Acts of the Apostles” and that the Greek form of St. Matthew was published “between AD 30 and 44,” corresponding to the events “Acts 1–12.” “Our Greek Matthew is just the kind of written document that the Primitive Church of Jerusalem needed to defend itself against the attacks of the then dominant Jewish establishment.”

Bernard Orchard, “Why Three Synoptic Gospels? A Statement of the Two-Gospel Hypothesis,” The Irish Theological Quarterly 46, no. 4 (December 1979): 241–42; Bernard Orchard and Harold Riley, The Order of the Synoptics: Why Three Synoptic Gospels? (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1987), 232–33.

John Wenham (1992)

Redating Matthew, Mark & Luke: A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem

Wenham dates Matthew “before the dispersal of the apostles in 42” and claims that “Irenaeus is often misinterpreted in favor of a date after Paul had reached Rome.” His claim is that Irenaeus is not addressing chronology, in his discussion of the Gospels. Wenham also dates Mark to AD 45, on the supposition that Peter visited Rome in 42–44 [which I do not accept, despite the account of Justin Martyr, given that Acts does not describe such a trip].

John Wenham, Redating Matthew, Mark & Luke: A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem (Sevenoaks, Kent: Hodder and Stoughton, 1991), 223, 242.

David Alan Black (2001, 2010)

Why Four Gospels?: The Historical Origins of the Gospels

Black supposes that “Matthew was probably composed in Greek, because this was the only appropriate language for use by a church that saw the whole world as the field of its evangelism.” The book targets “a Christian minority in the midst of a hostile Jewish environment,” at a time before this minority had “begun in earnest its mission to the Gentiles.” Black contends that Matthew was the only Gospel “available to Paul for his three missionary journeys” and was “published before the apostles separated under the persecution of Herod Agrippa I in AD 42.”

David Alan Black, Why Four Gospels?: The Historical Origins of the Gospels, 2nd ed. (Gonzalez, FL: Energion, 2010), 50, 73.

With the modern popularity of the theory that Mark was the first Gospel, written around the AD 60s, and that Matthew was not written until the 80s, give or take a couple decades, modern students of the Bible may not be aware that there have been many advocates of an early Matthew over the centuries. These advocates offered a variety of arguments to support their perspectives, which went beyond the modern emphasis on the use of comparative analysis between the Synoptic Gospels, for speculating on the publication order. The above quotations offer a sampling of their arguments.

  1. Dates are publication dates. ↩︎