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Is Levi Really Matthew, the Apostle?

20 Oct
levi-the-tax-collector

from Google Images

Some people today maintain that Levi of Mark and Luke is not Matthew. While both Levi and Matthew are tax-collectors (publicans), it is thought that the writer of the first Gospel was merely trying to reconcile the fact that Levi doesn’t appear among the Twelve in any of the four lists.[1] Why would Mark and Luke record Levi’s conversion (Mark 2:13-15; Luke 5:27-29), if he is never heard of again, not even appearing in any of the lists of the Twelve? So, the theory is that the writer of the first Gospel merely picked an otherwise unknown apostle to be Levi!

Another point brought up is Levi’s father in Alphaeus (Mark 2:14), which is also the name of the father of James the Less (Mark 3:18), implying the two are brothers. Yet, when one considers James’ mother, Mary, we find she has two sons (James the Less and Joseph),[2] but neither Levi nor Matthew is ever mentioned with her. Therefore, Levi’s father (Alphaeus) must be a different man with the same name as the father of James, making reconciliation of the Synoptics more difficult and more complex. What can be said of these things?

First of all, each of the four Gospel narratives are very particular when naming a person who could be confused with another of the same name. For example Peter’s given name is Simon, yet he s never confused with any other person having the same name that the author mentions. This is done even when the four lists of the Twelve show another Simon among those closest to Jesus. The same is so concerning the multiple women named Mary in the accounts and the three important people named James in the New Testament (two apostles and the brother of the Lord).

If the above is true, it seems logically sound that there is only one Alphaeus in the New Testament! How so? Levi’s father is never distinguished in any way from James’ father. He is never called, for example, the other Alphaeus (cf. Matthew 27:61; 28:1) or Alphaeus, not the father of Levi (cf. John 14:22). Therefore, James and Levi, must be brothers, perhaps half brothers, since Levi is never mentioned in connection with James’ mother, Mary. It may be that Levi’s mother died, perhaps in childbirth, and Alphaeus remarried.

Another possibility is that Levi was disowned or disinherited when he became a tax-collector, because of repercussions that would be brought to bear upon the family. In Jewish society the tax-collector and his family were considered alike–neither could be a judge or a witness. All were considered dishonest. Notice:

‘For all transgressions in the Torah he alone is punished, but here he and his family.’ — And for all transgressions of the Torah is not his family punished? Lo, it is written, And I will set My face against that man, and against his family (cf. Leviticus 20:5). And it was taught: R. Simeon said: If he sinned, what sin did his family commit? But this shows you that there is not a family containing a tax-collector, in which they are not all tax-collectors; or containing a robber, in which they are not all robbers; because they protect him![3]

The picture that the Synoptics paint is that the natural inclination, after reading the Matthew / Levi conversion accounts, is they are speaking about the same man. The only significant difference is the publican named is Matthew in Matthew’s record, but Levi in both Mark and Luke’s record. Otherwise no one would think the accounts describe two different people. The problem with the criticism, namely the writer of Matthew was merely seeking to reconcile the fact that Levi isn’t mentioned ever again in the Gospel narratives, is James the Less is a better choice, if apologetics is the only factor in view. Both Levi and James are the sons of Alphaeus. Why not make James and Levi the same person, if, indeed, Matthew’s account of the publican’s conversion is intended as an apology? Naming Matthew as the tax-collector that Jesus called is the more difficult choice. If it isn’t true, why would the writer of Matthew choose the name Matthew over the easier to reconcile James, who already has the same father as Levi?

Why record more than one name, knowing the difficulty in determining the identity of the apostle? One possibility is the consideration of the meaning of both names. Levi, according to Thayer, means joined. Leah named her third son Levi, hoping her husband would be joined to her in a closer relationship. In Mark and Luke it appears Levi had joined himself to the enemy—probably Herod Antipas, but some say the Romans. He was not welcome in the synagogues, banished by his countrymen. Matthew, according to Thayer, means gift of Jehovah (Yehweh), meaning Jesus valued him and would give him to his Church (cf. Ephesians 4:8, 11).

Mark and Luke in one sense hide Matthew’s identity but expose his sin by using his former name Levi. Levi is his old life, while Matthew is his life after receiving Jesus as his Messiah. Matthew, on the other hand, is Levi, and will not hide his own sin. Rather he confesses it to all who read his witness. “A righteous man accuses himself at the beginning of his speech…” (Proverbs 18:17 Septuagint). Matthew is the one sitting at receipt of customs, whom the Lord tells: “Follow me!” (Matthew 9:9). Matthew is that publican, and he admits to his bondage to materialism, having joined himself to a citizen (Herod Antipas) of that country (Matthew 10:3; cf. Luke 15:15). Thus, near the beginning of his record, and in its proper place, Matthew does what he challenges all to do who read his account: Confess yourself a sinner before God, repent and believe the Gospel.

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[1] Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:14-19; Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:13, 26.

[2] Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; 16:1; Luke 24:10

[3] Babylonians Talmud, Shevuoth 39a; see also Sanhedrin 25b.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by on October 20, 2016 in Gospel of Luke

 

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