Why would Matthew, a tax collector, rely so much on Mark’s account? The answer? He didn’t. He was an eyewitness.
Matthew the Tax Collector
Matthew was presented as a tax collector – “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'” (Matthew 9:9-11)
The fact that he was a tax collector is very unlikely to be fabricated. This would have been very embarrassing for the writer. Tax collectors were classed with the worst of people. (Matthew 11:19; 18:17; Luke 18:11)
Matthew 23:37 – “Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often I wanted to gather your children–”
How could this be true if Jesus had not visited previously, as some critics claim, during his ministry? The eyewitness, however, Matthew, puts Jesus in the temple complex, when he reports:
“The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared, ‘This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.”” (Matthew 26:59-61) – This statement or charge does not make much sense without John 2:19, which says: “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (NIV). The two false witnesses perverted Jesus’ statement, because “the temple he had spoken of was his body” (John 2:21 NIV). Eyewitness Matthew shows us why they were false witnesses because of their misquote.
The title ascribing the first gospel to Matthew is in the earliest extant Greek manuscripts and is possibly original.
Early church fathers acknowledged Matthew as the author with no hints of doubt. They accepted the authority Papias (60-130). And they also said Matthew was originally written in Hebrew and later translated to Greek. Irenaeus (180); Eusebius (260-340), Athenagoras Pantaenus, Ignatius (110), Theophilus Origin, Tatian, Hegesippus, Tertulian, Clement of Alexandria, are all testify to Matthew’s authorship.
Early manuscripts unanimously affirmed Matthew as the author, without any contrary evidence (2 Peter 3:2). This was not doubted until the eighteenth century.
Subscriptions at the end of some later manuscripts said he wrote it in 41 CE.
Clues from the Gospel itself
“As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.” (Mark 2:14) “After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus said to him.” (Luke 5:27) – Both of these scriptures identify the text collector called by Jesus as Levi.
Only Matthew’s Gospel identifies Matthew as Matthew, Jesus’ name for him. Mark and Luke identify him as Levi, his birth name. The Gospel of Matthew contains clear evidence that the writer had a very strong ability in both Aramaic and Greek, which would have been a prerequisite for most tax collectors.
Matthew used the more precise term according to its usage, nomisma, in addition to “denarion”, for the coin Jesus referred to in answering the tax question.
“‘Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought him a denarius.” (Matthew 22:19)
Mark and Luke use denarion.
“‘Should we pay or shouldn’t we?’ But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. ‘Why are you trying to trap me?’ he asked. ‘Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.'” (Mark 12:15)
“‘Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.” (Luke 20:24)
This linguistic specificity strongly implies that the writer, Matthew, was conversant in the fine details of money and finance, a fact that supports the tax collector’s writership.