Antioch and the Gospel of Matthew by Warren Carter

We do not know for sure where any New Testament gospel was written. Nevertheless, scholars use various clues and observations to propose places of origin. The hope is that persuasively establishing a place of origin might assist our understanding of any given gospel. As possible places of origin for Matthew’s Gospel, scholars have proposed Sepphoris or Tiberias in Galilee, Caesarea Maritima, and the Transjordan at Pella. The most supported option, however, has been the ancient province of Syria, particularly the city of Antioch, which lies on the Orontes river.

One factor supporting this suggestion is Antioch’s size and strategic location. As the capital city of the Roman province of Syria, and located on major east-west and north-south trade routes, Antioch was the Roman Empire’s third-largest city, behind Rome and Alexandria. During the second century, Matthew became the most commonly quoted gospel. Its origin from and association with a group of Jesus followers in an influential city assisted its widespread popularity.

Moreover, the earliest citations of Matthew’s gospel appear in writings associated with Syria and Antioch. The early second-century church leader and letter writer Ignatius from Antioch refers to material found only in Matthew (the star at Jesus’ birth; Jesus’ baptism by John to “fulfill all righteousness” in Matt 3:15). Another document from Syria, the Didache, or Teaching, cites Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13) rather than Luke’s version (Luke 11:1-4).

Matt 4:24 refers to Jesus’ fame spreading “throughout all Syria.” This reference to Syria is missing from the likely source passage in Mark 1:28 and Mark 1:39. It is a somewhat surprising reference in Matt 4:24 since the narrative emphasizes Galilee (Matt 4:12-15, Matt 4:23, Matt 4:25). One explanation is that the author of Matthew writes his own location and audience into the story.

Further, we know from Gal 2:11-14 that Peter, or Cephas as he is also known, was prominent in Antioch where Paul had a fight with him. Peter is also prominent in Matthew’s Gospel. He is the first disciple to be called (Matt 4:18-20), and his is the first name on the list of disciples (Matt 10:2). He tries to imitate Jesus in walking on the water (Matt 14:28-32) and confesses Jesus correctly as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). Jesus designates him the rock on which Jesus will build his church (Matt 16:18) and gives him “the keys of the kingdom” (Matt 16:19). He witnesses the transfiguration (Matt 17:1-8). He is often a spokesperson for the disciples (Matt 15:15, Matt 16:22, Matt 18:21, Matt 19:27). He is prominent in events leading up to Jesus’ death (Matt 26:1-75). Peter’s significant role in Matthew’s Gospel may reflect his importance in the church at Antioch.

There are, finally, significant resonances between emphases in Matthew’s Gospel and features of life in Antioch. Matthew’s Gospel, for instance, draws extensively on Jewish scriptures. It debates Jewish practices and heightens conflict between Jesus and Jewish leaders and synagogues (Matt 5:17-6:18, Matt 23:1-39). Antioch had a significant Jewish population among which such debates would be familiar. Likewise, Matthew’s Gospel is concerned with making sense of the Romans’ destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 C.E. It explains this destruction as God’s punishment for rejecting Jesus (Matt 21:12-22, Matt 22:1-10) and declares Jesus to be greater than the destroyed temple (Matt 12:6) in manifesting God’s presence, forgiveness, and will (Matt 1:21-23, Matt 5:17-48). Antioch was a marshaling place for troops and supplies in Rome’s campaign against Jerusalem. After 70 C.E., Jewish groups in Antioch, including Matthew’s Jesus followers, faced the difficult task of negotiating this freshly asserted Roman power. This Gospel can be read as offering guidance for this context to followers of Jesus, whose Messiah had been crucified by Rome yet raised by God.

Warren Carter, "Antioch and the Gospel of Matthew", n.p. [cited 21 Oct 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.org/en/places/related-articles/antioch-and-the-gospel-of-matthew

Contributors

Warren Carter

Warren Carter
Professor, Texas Christian University

Warren Carter is professor of New Testament at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. He is the author of numerous books, including What Does Revelation Reveal? (Abingdon, 2011), John and Empire: Initial Explorations (Continuum, 2008), and The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide (Abingdon, 2006).

A gospel is an account that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

An abbreviated reference to the source of a piece of information.

A very early composite Christian text about church rules and Christian discipline.

A broad, diverse group of nations ruled by the government of a single nation.

A written, spoken, or recorded story.

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

Literally "across the Jordan," generally used to refer to the land lying immediately to the east of the Jordan River, which according to the Hebrew Bible includes some Israelite tribal territory, along with the territory of neighboring nations such as Ammon and Moab.

The third division of the Jewish canon, also called by the Hebrew name Ketuvim. The other two divisions are the Torah (Pentateuch) and Nevi'im (Prophets); together the three divisions create the acronym Tanakh, the Jewish term for the Hebrew Bible.

Matt 3:15

15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

Matt 6:9-13

9“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.10Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.11Give us this day our ... View more

Luke 11:1-4

The Lord's Prayer
1He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his d ... View more

Matt 4:24

24So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics ... View more

Mark 1:28

28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Mark 1:39

39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Matt 4:24

24So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics ... View more

Matt 4:12-15

Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee
12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernau ... View more

Matt 4:23

Jesus Ministers to Crowds of People
23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every ... View more

Matt 4:25

25And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

Gal 2:11-14

Paul Rebukes Peter at Antioch
11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned;12for until certain people came from ... View more

Matt 4:18-20

Jesus Calls the First Disciples
18As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net int ... View more

Matt 10:2

2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John;

Matt 14:28-32

28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water ... View more

Matt 16:16

16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Matt 16:18

18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

Matt 16:19

19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in h ... View more

Matt 17:1-8

The Transfiguration
1Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.2And he was transfi ... View more

Matt 15:15

15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.”

Matt 16:22

22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”

Matt 18:21

Forgiveness
21Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Matt 19:27

27Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”

Matt 26:1-75

The Plot to Kill Jesus
1When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples,2“You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the ... View more

Matt 5:17-6:18

The Law and the Prophets
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.18For truly I tell you, ... View more

Matt 23:1-39

Jesus Denounces Scribes and Pharisees
1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,2“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat;3therefore, do what ... View more

Matt 21:12-22

Jesus Cleanses the Temple
12Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money ... View more

Matt 22:1-10

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
1Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying:2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banqu ... View more

Matt 12:6

6I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.

Matt 1:21-23

21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the ... View more

Matt 5:17-48

The Law and the Prophets
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.18For truly I tell you, ... View more

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