(mat' thew) Personal name meaning “the gift of Yahweh.” A tax collector Jesus called to be an apostle (Matthew 9:9;
Matthew 10:3). See Apostle; Disciples. Matthew's office was located on the main highway that ran from Damascus, down the Jordan Valley to Capernaum, then westward to Acre to join the coastal road to Egypt or southward to Jerusalem. His duty was to collect “toll” or “transport” taxes from both local merchants and farmers carrying their goods to market as well as distant caravans passing through Galilee. He was an employee of Herod Antipas. See Tax Collector. Matthew knew the value of goods of all description: wool, flax, linen, pottery, brass, silver, gold, barley, wheat, olives, figs, wheat. He knew the value of local and foreign monetary systems. He spoke the local Aramaic language as well as Greek. Because Matthew had leased his “toll” collecting privileges by paying the annual fee in advance, he was subjected to the criticism of collecting more than enough, growing wealthy on his “profit.” Thus he was hated by his fellow Jews.
Matthew is the same person as Levi, a tax collector (Mark 2:14;
Luke 5:27), and thus the son of Alphaeus. James the son of Alphaeus is also listed among the Apostles (Mark 3:18;
Acts 1:13). This indicates that both Matthew and his (half) brother were in close association with Jesus. Mary, the mother of James, keeps the vigil at the foot of the cross with Mary, the mother of Jesus (Matthew 27:55-56;
Mark 15:40). If the James mentioned here is the same as the son of Alphaeus, then we have a larger family closely associated with the family of Jesus.
Later legendary accounts tell of Matthew's travel to Ethiopia where he became associated with Candace, identified with the eunuch of
Acts 8:27. The legends tell us of Matthew's martydom in that country.
Why did Jesus call Matthew? Because Matthew had the gifts to be trained as a disciple to share with others, could keep meticulous records, and was a potential recorder/author of the Gospel. From earliest times Christians affirmed that Matthew wrote the Gospel that bears his name. See Matthew, the Gospel of.