Heidegger's Bible Handbook: Matthew: Originally Written in Hebrew?

5. A number of the ancients, and not a few of the more recent men, have asserted that the book was written in the Hebrew language, deceived by a tradition of Papias, and by a Hebrew Gospel of Matthew that was circulated in the age of Jerome.



Concerning the language in which Saint Matthew wrote his Gospel, the question is moved. And indeed, that it was written by him in Hebrew, is clearly asserted by a number of the ancients, Irenæus,[1] Origen,[2] Epiphanius,[3] Athanasius,[4] Jerome,[5] and others, by a tradition from Papias,[6] a man otherwise σφόδρα σμικροῦ τὸν νοῦν, furnished with very little judgment, as Eusebius says of him in Historia Ecclesiastica, book III, section 39: with the support of the Arabs in Kirstenius, de Vitis Evangelistarum, page 29; of Patricides in his Annalibus Alexandrinis,[7] page 328; and of not a few more recent men, not only of the Papists, Baronius,[8] Gualterius, Cajetan,[9] Huet;[10] but also of the Reformed, joined even by our ὁ πάνυ, famous, Bullinger, and Walther, and after them most learned Men, Casaubon, Salmasius, Grotius, and others (most of whom nevertheless do not deny that from the beginning the Church made use of the Greek Gospel, which Athanasius asserted to have been translated by the Apostle James, others by John or Barnabas). Are added the inscription of the Arabic version published by Herpenianus, and the subscript of the Syriac, of which the former relates that Matthew wrote the Gospel in the land of Palestine עבראניא, in Hebrew; the former that he preached the Gospel עבראית, in Hebrew. The Persic inscription of the Gospel also has it: The Gospel of Matthew, which was spoken in a city of Palestine in the Hebrew Language, but written at Antioch in Syriac. Finally, Saint Jerome, in his Catalogo Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum, relates that that Hebrew Gospel of Matthew was held in a Library at Cæsarea, most studiously amassed by Pamphilus the Martyr,[11] unto his own time: and that he was allowed an opportunity to copy it by the Nazarenes dwelling in Beroea, a city of Syria, and who make use of that volume. To this day, a twofold Hebrew edition of Matthew is extant, the first of which came into the light first by the labor of Sebastian Munster,[12] and again by the labor of Johannes Quinquarboreus;[13] the second, interpreted by John Mercerus[14] in Latin, was at length published by the beneficence of Jean du Tillet.[15] Nevertheless, it is believed that both were translated by the Jews from the Latin version. Thus the Most Learned Huet, de Claris Scriptoribus, page 112, writes, But I do not now ask, whether in certain passages those favoring their cause subvert the truth, and vitiate the sense with falsehoods: one thing is evident, that in other respects the greatest care of sentences and words is evident in them, although that former of Munster is lacking elegance, and sometimes also, where the codex has been torn, has been restored and completed by him; the other of du Tillet is more elegant and refined, but with slight and trifling difference between them. Nevertheless, that neither has the genuine flavor of ancient Hebrew, all the most learned in Hebrew literature pronounce.

6. Yet it is proven by several arguments that it was written, neither in Hebrew, nor in Syriac, as Widmenstadius, Guido Fabricius, and Walton think, but in Greek.



But, although Epiphanius, hæresi 30, acknowledges, that this Gospel was written in Hebrew, from the ancients, from an uncertain tradition of Papias φιλομύθου, lover of fables, and from the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew made use of by the Nazarenes and Ebionites,[16] and which is quite different from the Greek edition in many passages; and that it was corrupted and mutilated:and it was rather translated from the Greek, so that learned Jews especially might all the more willingly read it; either with it not seen, or, as most of the Fathers were little or not at all skilled in the Holy Tongue, not examined (for Jerome alone, most learned in Hebrew, after he recalled that to the anvil, left it in doubt, whether the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew seen by himself was that very one that he thought Matthew had composed), it satisfied those deceived:nevertheless, that it was written in Greek, and that the Greek Exemplar, which we use today, is authentic, we certainly do not doubt.And indeed, first, Saint Matthew wrote his Gospel, for the use of the Hebrews in Palestine, and of those living outside of it, and also for the conversion of the nations to the faith of Christ, undoubtedly in that Language that was generally known to them.But such was undoubtedly the Greek Language, as the vernacular, not only to a great many nations, but also known to almost all the Eastern peoples about those times.Thus the Jerusalem Talmud, “Megilla”, folio 9, There are four noble languages, of which the world makes use, the vernacular (that is, Greek, as both from the encomiums attributed to that Language in the Talmud, and from this, that once and again in the Babylonian Talmud, “Megilla”, occurs בלעז יוני, in the Greek vernacular Tongue, the Most Learned Lightfoot proves, Horæ Hebraicæ in Matthew, page 16) for poetry:the Roman for war:the Syriac for mourning:the Hebrew for elocution.And there are those who might say, the Assyrian for writing.It is certain that pure Hebrew at that time was familiar only to the learned among the Jews, and was not vernacular to the rest, both because in the Synagogues, while the law and Prophets were read in the Hebrew speech, a translator, who might render the readings in the vernacular idiom, and whose office is set forth in Babylonian Talmud, “Megilla” 25 and elsewhere, was wont to stand next to the Reader:and because about the time of the birth of Christ the Old Testament books of history and of Prophecy were rendered in Chaldean, so that they might more easily be understood by all, by Jonathan ben Uzziel, disciple of Hillel;[17] and a little afterwards the Pentateuch also by Onkelos:[18]and finally because it is evident that Christ Himself spoke not in Hebrew, but in Syriac.Nevertheless, the Gospel was not like to be written in the Syriac or the Syro-Chaldean idiom, generally vernacular to the Palestinian Jews (as in that idiom for that reason Men most learned, Widmenstadius,[19] Guido Fabricius,[20] and after them Brian Walton, Prolegomenis in Biblia Polyglotta[21] XIII:6, think), both because that Language, although vernacular to the Jews, yet was unpleasant to them, such that they did not allow prayers to be offered in the Syriac Language:and because, with the Jewish people soon to be rejected, it was by no means suitable that their vernacular language lifted to such a height of dignity that it might be the Original Language of the New Testament, and so the Gospel committed to writing in their language, who conducted themselves with more hostility toward it than all others.Second, if Matthew had written his Gospel in Hebrew, undoubtedly the Providence of God and the industry of the Church would have been continually active for the preservation of it.But as matters stand, the Church did not formerly hold the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew to be γνήσιον/genuine, especially in the time of Jerome; neither today is that certainly to be held as an acknowledged fact by all.Third, that Matthew wrote in Greek, is argued by the interpretation of the Hebrew names, as in Matthew 1:23, Ἐμμανουήλ/Emmanuel (or עִמָּנוּ אֵל[22]) is immediately rendered in Greek, μεθ᾽ἡμῶνὁθεός, God with us; and in Matthew 27:33, Γολγοθᾶ/Golgotha[23] is next explained as κρανίουτόπος, the place of the skull; and in Matthew 27:46, the dying words of Christ are immediately represented in Greek.[24]For, although the Septuagint translators, otherwise quite free, occasionally interpreted proper names in Greek; nevertheless, you nowhere find entire sentences, of which sort is that dying sentence of Christ, both set down in Hebrew, and translated into Greek.Fourth, it furnishes an argument, that the Greek edition of Matthew in many passages, in which it cites the Old Testament, follows the Greek translation of the Septuagint:but it would certainly not do that, but would rather express accurately its Hebrew Archetype, if it had emanated from such a Hebrew Archetype.Finally, there is no reason why Matthew would not have written in the same language as the rest of the writers of the New Testament wrote their books, since all wrote to the same, believers among the Jews, not ignorant of the Greek language, and Gentiles to be converted to Christ.But, that all the rest wrote in Greek, we will make manifest in its place.

[1] Against Heresies, book 3, section 1. Irenæus was a second century Church Father, born near Smyrna, but serving as Bishop in Lyon. He was a disciple of Polycarp, who was in turn a disciple of the Apostle John. [2] Eusebius’ Church History, book 6, section 25. [3] Panarion, book 51, section 5. [4] Synopsis. [5] On Illustrious Men, chapter 3. [6] Papias was Bishop of Hierapolis circa 100. His Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord is preserved only in fragments. [7] Eutychius, or Patricides (877-940), was Patriarch of Alexandria, and known as the first Christian Egyptian to write in Arabic. His Annales run from the creation to his own time. [8] Cesare Baronio (1538-1607) was an Italian Cardinal and Vatican librarian. He is remembered primarily for his work in ecclesiastical history, Annalibus Ecclesiasticis. [9] Thomas Cajetan (1469-1534) was an Italian Dominican. He was a theologian of great repute, and a learned proponent of a modified Thomism (Neo-Thomism). Due to his considerable talents, he was made a cardinal. Cajetan proved to be one of the more able opponents of the Reformation. [10] Pierre-Daniel Huet (1630-1721) was a Roman Catholic churchman and a universal scholar. He was the cofounder of the Academie du Physique in Caen. [11] Pamphilus of Cæsarea (died 309) was a Christian pastor. He traveled to Alexandria to study, and devoted himself particularly to the works of Origen. Through this rigorous course of study, he became one of the great Biblical scholars of his age, and amassed a considerable library. Pamphilus was martyred under Diocletian. [12] Sebastian Munster (1489-1552) was a German scholar of great talent in the fields of mathematics, Oriental studies, and divinity. He joined the Lutherans, became Professor of Hebrew at Basil, and produced important early Reformation commentaries on the Old Testament (Annotationes in Vetus Testamentum) and on Matthew (Annotationes in Matthæi Evangelium Hebraicum). [13] Jean Cinqarbres (c. 1520-1565) was a French Hebraist. He was a colleague of Jean Mercier as a Royal Professor of Hebrew and Syriac at the College Royal in Paris. [14] John Mercerus (died 1562) began his career as a Roman Catholic scholar. He was one of the sixteenth century’s greatest experts in Hebrew, and he served as Professor of Hebrew and Chaldean in the Royal College, Paris (1549). Roman Catholics lamented his conversion to Protestantism. [15] Jean du Tillet (c. 1500-1570) was a French bishop and participant in the Council of Trent. In 1553, he obtained at Rome a Hebrew edition of the Gospel of Matthew. [16] The Ebionites were a second century Judaizing sect, who insisted upon the keeping of Jewish religious rites and laws. They denied the Deity of Jesus Christ. The existence of a second century heresiarch by the name of Ebion is a matter of some dispute. Unlike the Ebionites, the Nazarenes held orthodox views concerning the person of Christ, but they tenaciously held to the ceremonial law of Moses. Remnants of this sect seem to have survived into the twelfth century. [17] Jonathan ben Uzziel (first century) was one of the great pupils of Hillel. It is a matter of some doubt whether Jonathan ben Uzziel is actually responsible for the translation of this portion of the Chaldean Version. For the most part, Targum Jonathan tends to be more paraphrastic and expansive than Targum Onkelos. [18] According to Jewish tradition, Onkelos, a first century Roman nobleman, was a convert to Judaism. His translation of the Hebrew Pentateuch into Aramaic is, on the whole, quite literal; however, Onkelos does depart from the literal sense of the text in poetry and in places of theological difficulty. [19] Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter (1506-1557) was a German Roman Catholic humanist, diplomat, theologian, and Orientalist, pioneering the study of Arabic and Syriac among Christians. He published a Syriac New Testament. [20] Guy Le Fevre de La Boderie (1541-1598) was a French Roman Catholic, and expert in Syriac. He contributed the Syriac New Testament to the Paris Polyglot, and compiled a Syro-Chaldean Lexicon. [21] Brian Walton (1600-1661) was an Anglican priest and scholar. The great work of his life was the Polyglot Bible, published in the 1650s. [22] Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (עִמָּ֥נוּ אֵֽל׃).” עמנואל is a compound of אֵל/God and עִמָּנוּ, with us. [23] גֻּלְגָלְתָא/Golgotha is from גָּלַל, to roll. [24] Matthew 27:46: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani (Ἠλί, Ἠλί, λαμὰ σαβαχθανί; אֵלִי אֵלִי לָמָּה שְׁבַקתַּנִי, in Chaldean)? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me (Θεέ μου, Θεέ μου, ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες)?”

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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