Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A Life Changed: Matthew, the Apostle

Knowing I will be studying the Gospel of Matthew this year in Community Bible Study got me thinking that I could use a refresher on just who the Apostle Matthew was. I thought I’d share what I found with you.

In the first century, A.D. Judea, in a land under the thumb of pagan Roman rule, lived a Jewish man named Levi, the son of Alphaeus, (in Mark 2:14). Though another one of the disciples is James, the son of Alphaeus, most Bible scholars do not believe they were brothers.

Unfortunately, the Romans ruled with a heavy hand and tax collectors, such as Levi, had to pay the Romans before paying themselves. Anything collected in excess of what was due to the tax collector could take as pay. The average Jewish person looked on them as traitors, sinners, and outcasts from decent society. Social contact with them caused defilement.

The Calling of St. Matthew by
Hendrick ter Brugghen, 1621, {PD}

from Wikimedia Commons
It was just another day at the office for Levi. We can picture him in his tax collector’s booth, in luxurious clothing. Perhaps a canopy flapped in the breeze above him to protect him from the hot sun. He swats flies away from his face and argues with his neighbor over the tax due and moves a pile of coins into a wooden box. Perhaps, at that moment, he is sick of the whole thing: the cheating, the lying, being hated by his own people, enduring the prejudice of the Romans, having the trappings of outwardly being rich while feeling impoverished and lonely in his spirit.

But then Jesus walked down that road toward Levi, growing ever closer:

14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him.

15 Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) 16 But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”

17When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Mark 2:14-17, NLT)

St. Matthew and the Angel by
Guido Reni, 1635-1640, {PD}

from Wikimedia Commons
Levi was changed that day and we know him as Matthew, which in Hebrew means “gift of Yahweh.” It’s not known whether Jesus gave him the new name or he chose to use it for himself.

Bible scholars seem to concur that when Matthew wrote his account of the life of Jesus around twenty years later that his writings were especially targeted to communicate Jesus to the Jewish people as the fulfillment of the Old Testament law and prophets. On one website, Orthodox scholars broke the chapters into Jesus, the Messiah: “as Prophet and Law-Giver (Ch. 5-7), Lord over the world both visible and invisible (Ch. 8-25)," and finally as "High Priest offered as Sacrifice for the sins of all mankind (Ch. 26-27).” Scholars disagree as to whether Matthew’s account was first written in Aramaic and then translated into Greek.

Another biography cited that Matthew’s skills as a tax collector would have made him uniquely suited to writing an account of the gospel. As someone who worked with money and dealt with people he possibly had unique powers of observation and experience with record-keeping. I’d not quite thought of it that way before.

After Matthew repented, since he was one of Jesus’ twelve closest disciples, he would have witnessed the miracles and heard the Messiah’s life-changing teachings firsthand. He followed Jesus along this hard but amazing path, then experienced the agony of losing the Messiah to death by crucifixion and the blessing of the joyous Resurrection of Christ! 

The Martyrdom of St. Matthew
by Claude Vignon, 1617, {PD}

from Wikimedia Commons
After Jesus' ascension, it’s believed that Matthew remained in Judea, sharing the Good News with his people for the next fifteen years. Tradition says that he went on to Ethiopia and other countries on the continents of Africa and Asia to spread the Gospel of Christ.

Writings of the Roman Catholic Church and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs assert that Matthew was martyred in Ethiopia with a halberd (combination hatchet and spear). His death was estimated to be in 74 A.D. The Catholic Church celebrates his feast day on September 21 and the Orthodox Church in American celebrates it on November 16. He is considered the patron saint of accountants, bankers, and bookkeepers.

Matthew, the Apostle, was a sinner saved by God’s wonderful grace, an example of how our old lives can be made new and used by Him to accomplish His work.

Kathleen Rouser is the award-winning author of Rumors and Promises, her first novel about the people of fictional Stone Creek, Michigan, and the novella, The Pocket Watch. She is a longtime member of American Christian Fiction Writers. Kathleen has loved making up stories since she was a little girl and wanted to be a writer before she could even read. She longs to create characters who resonate with readers and realize the need for a transforming Savior in their everyday lives. She lives in Michigan with her hero and husband of 36 years, and the sassy tail-less cat who found a home in their empty nest. Connect with Kathleen on her website at kathleenrouser.com, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/kathleenerouser/and on Twitter @KathleenRouser. 


  1. Thanks for the informative post. I don't think I have studied the life of the disciiples enough, at least history-wise.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Connie. It's so easy for me to tuck away something I might learn in a sermon.
      only to wind up forgetting it. So I figured it would be helpful to remember just who Matthew was
      and probably wouldn't hurt to learn more about about the others, as well. I agree.

  2. Thank you for sharing more about Matthew, the Apostle. I studied some of the apostles in a college class which was a great insight into their background and history. I enjoy community Bible studies with ladies. Have a wonderful year with your study, Kathleen Rouser. God bless.

    1. Marilyn, thanks so much for stopping by. Always glad to hear from you! You probably
      know much more than I do about the apostles. And thank you, I look
      forward to a new year at CBS and have the privilege of teaching the the 4th-8th
      grade children's group this year, in addition to my time with the other leaders.

  3. Thank you, Kathy, for such a look into the life of a man who did all he could to spread good news.

    1. You're welcome, Susan. Thank you for taking time to stop by and to leave a comment. It's much