[Before launching into the article, I wanted to explain that I have been researching Matthew in depth in order to write my next novel, The Life of Levi. I have commenced writing and expect to publish this new novel in 2017. I am sure that the wait will have been worth it.]
“At the Toll Gate of Capernaum” will look at Matthew from many different viewpoints in order to place him in the context of his times, his city, and his occupation. The article will examine some of the passages of the Gospel of Matthew wherein Matthew is mentioned to reveal what his role was in proclaiming the good news. Among items that will be covered is the meaning of his name and why he is called Levi as well as Matthew. The article will differentiate Matthew from Zacchaeus. It will finally cover whether Matthew was the author of the Gospel, when the Gospel was written, as well as the underlying message of the Gospel.
II. The Calling of Matthew
A. Where was Matthew called by Jesus?
- We read in Matthew 9:1 that Jesus left Nazareth and dwelt in Capernaum by the Sea. In fact, there is some evidence to support the contention that Jesus lived in Peter’s house in Capernaum.
- In Matthew 4: 1, Jesus is depicted as returning to Capernaum after a trip.
“And getting into a boat, he crossed over and came to his own city.” [This is just after Jesus casts the demons into the swine.] So we understand that Jesus had returned to his city. It is in this city that Matthew is called, because there is no other location mentioned after Capernaum in Matthew 9:1
I will cover more about Capernaum later.
B. How was Matthew called?
The Calling of Matthew is set forth in Matthew 9:9.
The New International Version (NIV) reads as follows:
9 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.
King James Version reads as follows:
9 And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.
Revised Standard reads as follows:
9 As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
What was Matthew giving up to follow Jesus? As you will see, actually quite a great deal. So was Matthew a tax collector or was he a collector of customs’ duties? We shall review this issue in detail alter.
III. Importance of Capernaum
- Where was Capernaum?
It is some 2½ miles from the Jordan River in Galilee. It stands on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, the modern Lake Kinneret. The Sea of Galilee has several names in the Bible including: Lake if Gennesart, Sea of Chinnereth, and Sea of Tiberias.
2. Galilee vs. Jerusalem
Today, we think of the Jews of ancient times as being a uniform group of people with no differences in beliefs or customs wherever they lived. Nothing could be further from the truth! I am sure that many of you have studied the northern versus the southern kingdom of Israel. This north-south dichotomy still existed in the times of Jesus and are very important for our understanding of the New Testament. One could say that the north had a distinctive culture, religion, political reality, history, and economy which clearly set it apart from the south.
First, Galilee is separated from the Jerusalem led south, ie Judea, by the non-Jewish territory of Samaria.
Second, politically, Galilee, since the tenth century had been separated administered. In Jesus’ time it was under a Herodian Prince, while Judea was under the direct control of a Roman Prefect.
Third economically, the north was richer! The land in Galilee was far more fertile. The fishing in the Sea of Galilee was considered a delicacy ion Rome. There was a lively trade in salted fish to Rome from the Sea of Galilee. More about this latter.
Fourth, the south thought the north as being deficient in being religious. They thought the north were lax in their observances of the rituals.
Finally, culturally, the south despised the north. The south thought the north as being country bumpkins. The south thought the north spoke a sloppy version of Aramaic. The south ridiculed the northern way of speaking. Many times in the NT we see a southerner mock a northerner’s accent. The south thought the north as being culturally unsophisticated.
Thus, Jesus being from Galilee, labeled him immediately in the eyes of the south as being a country bumpkin. They could easily dismiss him!