His name in Hebrew, Matityahu, means “Gift from God.”
The Church Fathers tell us that Rabbi Matityahu originally wrote his Gospel in Hebrew. St. Irenaeus wrote, “Matthew produced his Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue and writing,” and, “The first [Gospel] is written according to Matthew … who, having published it for Jewish converts, wrote in Hebrew letters.” Eusebius added, “Matthew also having first proclaimed the Gospel in Hebrew … committed it to writing in his native tongue.” St. Jerome wrote, “First of all Matthew produced a Gospel in Judea in the Hebrew tongue,” and, “Matthew was the first in Judea to compose the Gospel of Christ in Hebrew letters and words … who it was that later translated it into Greek is no longer known with certainty. Furthermore, the Hebrew text itself is still preserved in the library at Caesarea which the martyr Pamphilus assembled with great care.”
We no longer have his original Hebrew Gospel, but St. Jerome told us that in it he quoted from the Hebrew Old Testament. His Gospel in koine Greek remarkably uses Hebrew word sequences in the Greek language to create an appearance of “Hebrew under the Greek,” and quoted from the Septuagint, which also shows signs of Hebrew under the Greek. His use of language also indicates that he wrote mainly for Jews.
Rabbi Matityahu in his own Gospel calls himself Matityahu, Matthew in English. “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” Mt 9:9. Rabbi Marcus and Rabbi Lucas call him Levi. “And as he passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” Mk 2:14. “After this he went out, and saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he left everything, and rose and followed him” Lk 5:27–28.
Perhaps he used his name, “Gift from God,” to point out God’s constant readiness to rescue the “lost sheep of the House of Israel” Mt 10:6; 15:24. As a tax collector, Matityahu himself was probably a “lost sheep” who took money for himself under the table. He collaborated with the Romans, whose tax collectors could be arbitrary and capricious. The Gospels often associate “tax collectors and sinners” Mt 9:10, 11; 11:19; Mk 2:15, 16; Lk 5:30; 7:34; 15:1. Rabbi Yeshua observed, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” Mk 2:17.
Rabbi Yeshua gave us the way of perfection: “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” Lk 18:22. Matityahu did that; leaving behind all his worldly goods, he rose and followed Mt 9:9.
Finally, the ancient Church agreed that this Matityahu who became Rabbi Yeshua‘s fifth Apostle also authored the First Gospel. Pope Benedict XVI tells that the Church’s tradition of Rabbi Matityahu’s authorship began with Bishop Papias of Hierapolis in Frisia around the year AD 130.