Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Are Matthew and Levi the Same Person?

When I started the sermon series on the Gospel of Mark, I indicated I would blog about some of my learnings that don't make it into the Sunday messages. I have always "heard" that Levi and Matthew are the same person. But are they? Was Levi one of the twelve disciples?

Here is the issue. In Mark 2, Jesus calls a tax collector named Levi, son of Alphaeus, to follow Him. In the next chapter, Mark lists the twelve disciples by name; but he doesn't mention Levi (3:17-18). Matthew 9:9 mentions that someone named Matthew was called by Jesus from his tax-collecting booth. And his name appears in the list of disciples in all four gospels.

There is also a James listed in all four gospel lists, and he is identified as the son of Alphaeus (same Dad's name as Levi's). The father's name was listed probably to distinguish him from James, the son of Zebedee.

So what's the solution? We can't be certain because the evidence is not definitive. One explanation is that the tax collector was known by two names--Matthew and Levi, much like Simon was also known as Peter. If this is the case, then Mark uses the name Levi, and Matthew uses the name Matthew.

Another solution is that James and Levi were brothers--sons of Alphaeus. Or maybe there are two dads named Alphaeus. (See how this can get confusing?) Or maybe James and Levi are the same person since they both have Dads named Alphaeus. If that is the case, then both Matthew and Levi were tax collectors. This is not a far-fetched explanation. In fact, some ancient texts use the name James instead of Levi in Mark 2:13-17. If this is the case, then Levi was a Christ-follower but just not one of the Twelve.

So, are you utterly confused? What do I think? Just my opinion...but I believe Levi and Matthew are the same person (although I don't understand why Mark would call him Levi in chapter 2 and Matthew in chapter 3. The joys of digging into God's Word. We may not know all the answers. But the Bible is an endless treasure hunt. I love it!

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