The gospel of Matthew is anonymous. Second century Christians attributed the gospel to the disciple and apostle Matthw, and gradually the gospel came to bear his name. In Christian literature prior to our contemporary era the gospel according to Matthew was the most quoted of the first three gospels, which are known together as the "synoptic gospels" because they have so much in common. Perhaps it is placed first in the New Testament canon because, of the synoptic gospels, it is the only one attributed to a disciple of Jesus. Also, as this gospel affirms repeatedly that Jesus is fulfilling the prophecies of Jewish scripture, it makes sense to place it in the Bible immediately after the Old Testament.
As Paul sought to foster congregations of Gentile and Jewish Christians, he concluded that Jewish law should not be imposed on Gentiles or on Jewish Christians. Moreover, he believed that among Jewish Christians even the practice of keeping the law voluntarily might lead to arrogance and division. Therefore, he urged Christians to set aside Jewish law and proclaim salvation through faith.
The gospel of Matthew presents a different message to Jewish Christians. In the gospel Jesus affirms Jewish law but gives greater emphasis to its moral demands. Living righteous lives,rather than keeping the details of Jewish law, is the path to salvation. The gospel of Matthew reaches out to Gentiles as well as Jews, but does not embrace Paul's judgment of Jewish law. Instead, it passes judgment on Jewish hypocrites who demand adherence to the law but lack mercy and humility. The gospel of Matthew does not share Paul's concern that striving for perfection under the law may lead to arrogance and division in the church. On the contrary, in it Jesus teaches his disciples to give up everything in order to fulfill the Torah's call to embrace a righteous life.
Paul and the author of the gospel of Matthew agree about spiritual gifts. For each, teaching is the heart of the church. The gospel of Matthew takes the gospel of Mark, which presents Jesus largely as a healer, and fills it with teachings attributed to Jesus. Furthermore, the sermons seem to be a success, as the disciples in the gospel of Matthew finally understand their teacher and are commissioned to lead the church.
Both the gospels of Mark and Matthew agree with Paul that salvation is through Jesus Christ. In the gospel of Mark there is no other character who is in the right, except John the Baptist, and he points to Jesus as completing his mission. In the gospel of Matthew Jesus defeats all his adversaries in argument, has healing powers that are unmatched, and only just before his death prepares his disciples to take up the mission of the church. On their own, however, they will be unable to provide the leadership the churches need. Therefore, the last words of the gospel promise that Jesus will be with them always in order to inspire and encourage those who follow his teachings.
Finally, Paul's claim that risen Christ is the first fruit of the resurrection from the dead is also affirmed by the gospel of Matthew, as Jesus is raised from the dead after three days and thus fulfills messianic prophecy. But the gospel tells us that Jesus is not alone out of the grave and allows that there is some doubt within the church about the resurrection that Paul proclaims. A gospel that is extremely harsh in its judgments about the Pharisees who lead Jewish opposition to the Jewish Christians of the author's time is far more tolerant with respect to differences in belief and understanding among those with faith in Jesus as the Messiah.