Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew?

As a matter of interest, some folks say that Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in the Hebrew language. This is hard to prove, as there are no extant copies. This, it then seems, is based solely on historical claims.

Papias of Hierapolis (circa AD 60 – circa AD 130), mediated through the church historian Eusebius (circa AD 262 – circa AD 339), since whatever Papias originally wrote about this has not survived to the present.
Eusebius, Church History, Book III, Chapter 38, Paragraph16. But concerning Matthew he writes as follows: So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able.
Irenaeus of Lyons (circa AD 130 – circa AD 202)
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 1. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church.
Clement of Alexandria (circa AD 150 – circa AD 215), via Eusebius of Caesarea (circa AD 262 – circa AD 339) re
Eusebius, Church History, Book III, Chapter 24, Paragraph 6. For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence.
Origen of Alexandria (circa AD 184 – circa AD 253)
Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Book I. Concerning the four Gospels which alone are uncontroverted in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the Gospel according to Matthew, who was at one time a publican and afterwards an Apostle of Jesus Christ, was written first; and that he composed it in the Hebrew tongue and published it for the converts from Judaism.
[Notice, though, that Origen does not claim personal knowledge of Matthew’s Gospel written in Hebrew, but that he learned it by tradition. rlv]
Origen of Alexandria (circa AD 184 – circa AD 253), via Eusebius of Caesarea (circa AD 262 – circa AD 339)
Eusebius, Church History, Book VI, Chapter 25, Paragraph 4. Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew language.
Jerome of Stridon (circa AD 345 – AD 420) says a Hebrew version of Matthew’s Gospel was extant in his day, though it is not clear whether he claims to have seen it:
Jerome, De Viris Illustribus (On Illustrious Men), Chapter 3. Matthew, also called Levi, apostle and aforetimes publican, composed a gospel of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek, though by what author is uncertain. The Hebrew itself has been preserved until the present day in the library at Cæsarea which Pamphilus so diligently gathered. I have also had the opportunity of having the volume described to me by the Nazarenes of Berœa, a city of Syria, who use it. In this it is to be noted that wherever the Evangelist, whether on his own account or in the person of our Lord the Saviour quotes the testimony of the Old Testament he does not follow the authority of the translators of the Septuagint but the Hebrew. Wherefore these two forms exist “Out of Egypt have I called my son,” and “for he shall be called a Nazarene.”
I make no claim that the Gospel of Matthew was written in the Hebrew language – only that it is true that some early church fathers believed that it was so written. One can take the claims as historical records, for whatever they might be worth.

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