Archive for the 'Gospel of Matthew' Category

Was the Gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew?

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Hebrew Commandements Clip Art

(Hebrew commandments, courtesy clker.com)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Since the original documents of the New Testament (known as the autographa) are no longer available to us, what evidence do we have that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Aramaic or Hebrew? How soon after Jesus’ crucifixion was it written?

This has been an issue raised by both scholars and the laity. John Wenham, in his Redating Matthew, Mark & Luke (1992) claimed that the dating of Matthew was ‘more complicated’ than for Mark and Luke. ‘The universal tradition of the early church is that Matthew “in the Hebrew dialect” was the first gospel’. For Wenham, he argued ‘with some reserve that Matthew was indeed the first gospel, and that it may possibly have been written in Hebrew or Aramaic, and that it was known to Mark’. He left open the ‘question whether Mark knew Matthew in a Semitic or a Greek form’ (Wenham 1992:xxiii). Wenham’s ‘chronological table’ of the synoptic gospels dates Matthew about AD 40, Mark about AD 45, Luke about AD 54, and the Acts of the Apostles AD 62 (Wenham 1992:xxv -xxvi). With qualifications and alternatives not stated, J A T Robinson argued for a dating of the Gospel of Matthew to about 40-60+ (Robinson1976:352).

A couple of the laity online wanted to debate this, ‘I believe Matthew to be the oldest writing of the Synoptic Gospels. The original Script was written in Hebrew for the Jew’.[1] A retort was: ‘Our Matthew was pretty clearly composed in Greek; it is not a translation. In any case, most Jews of that time read Greek rather than Hebrew; that is why the OT had been translated into Greek long before’.[2]

1. What does early history indicate?

Let’s check out the information from early Christian writers.[3]

1.1 Papias

(image of Roman Calendar ca. 60 BC, courtesy Wikipedia)

 

Papias (ca 70-163), bishop of Hierapolis, Asia Minor was said to be ‘a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp’. There are five extant writings of Papias and Irenaeus claimed that these were the only writings from the pen of Papias (see ‘Writings of Papias’, Philip Schaff). Irenaeus’s words were, ‘For there were five books compiled (suntetagmena)[4] by him’ (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:3.4).

In Papias’s writings, known as Expositions of the Oracles of the Lord, it is stated by Eusebius of Caesarea, that he wrote: ‘So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able’ (in Eusebius, Church History, 3.39.16). Papias lived within 50 years after the death and resurrection of Christ.

Details of the life, ministry and writings of Papias are found in St. Papias (New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911).

1.2 Origen

(Origen, image courtesy Wikipedia)

 

Eusebius also wrote that Origen (ca 185-232) stated: ‘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’ (in Eusebius, Church History 6.25.4).

1.3  Irenaeus

About AD 180, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul, wrote:

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. (Against Heresies 3:1:1).

Information about Origen’s life and ministry are available at, Origen and Origenism (New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911).

1.4  Eusebius of Caesarea

File:Eusebius of Caesarea.jpg(Eusebius of Caesarea, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

 

This early church historian (ca 260-341), wrote himself: ‘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’ (Eusebius, Church History, 3.24.6).

Details of the life, writings and ministry of Eusebius are found in Eusebius of Caesarea (New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909).

2. What about the dating of Matthew?

How would you respond to this online post on a Christian forum concerning the dating of Matthew and Mark?

The date of the writing of Matthew is thought to be around 50 A.D. and Mark around 68 A.D. None of this is important to our Salvation of what book was written first, and if you are a born again believer, you should know that. Men waste more time on defending their knowledge or what they know about God instead being known by God. We all spend too much time on talking instead of listening to God. The Lord is weeping.[5]

I replied:[6] I wished he would document the sources from where he obtained the information that Matthew was written around AD 50 and Mark around AD 68. To say that it ‘is thought to be’ hardly presents convincing evidence.

Everett Harrison, in his Introduction to the New Testament (1971) gave reasons for contradicting your view and then draws this conclusion: ‘A date for Matthew sometime between 70 and 80 seems to fit the circumstances [which he has articulated] to best advantage. It may be of interest that Eusebius held that Matthew had been written after Mark and Luke’ (Harrison 1971:176). The reference that Harrison gave was to Eusebius stated:[7]

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.

7. And when Mark and Luke had already published their Gospels, they say that John, who had employed all his time in proclaiming the Gospel orally, finally proceeded to write for the following reason. The three Gospels already mentioned having come into the hands of all and into his own too, they say that he accepted them and bore witness to their truthfulness; but that there was lacking in them an account of the deeds done by Christ at the beginning of his ministry (Eusebius, Church History, 3:24.6-7).

The person online wanted to brush aside the importance of the date of composition of Matthew with this language, ‘None of this is important to our salvation of what book was written first, and if you are a born again believer, you should know that ‘.

I beg to differ. Knowledge of salvation is obtained from the Scripture. Does the book of Matthew contain reliable information or knowledge about the Gospel? One element in determining the reliability of Matthew’s Gospel includes external evidence. This evidence includes knowledge of authorship, date of writing, and the recipients of the letter.

It may not be important to this Christian, but for me as a Bible teacher it is one piece of information that I seek – to determine the authenticity and validity of the Gospel of Matthew.

3. Conclusion

The earliest evidence we have available to us through the secondary source of Eusebius is that Papias and Origen supported Matthew’s gospel originally written in the Jews own dialect, which would be Hebrew or Aramaic. Eusebius gives his own primary evidence that Matthew preached to his own people and wrote his Gospel in his native tongue. As a Jew, Matthew would have spoken Hebrew or Aramaic as his language.

Harrison’s investigation of the dating of Matthew concluded with a possible date was about AD 70-80. However, Robinson placed it between 40 and 60. Wenham’s calculation was about AD 40.

Works consulted

Harrison, E F 1971. Introduction to the New Testament, rev ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Robinson, J A T 1976. Redating the New Testament. London: SCM Press Ltd.

Wenham J 1992. Redating Matthew, Mark & Luke: A fresh assault on the Synoptic problem. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Notes


[1] Christian Forums.net, The Lounge, Who checks the facts (online), Douglas Summers#52, 6 May 2016. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/who-checks-the-facts.64442/page-3#post-1197477 (Accessed 7 May 2016).

[2] Ibid., Radagast#53.

[3] This was my reply at ibid., OzSpen#54.

[4] The original Greek used was in Irenaeus’s writings and it is here transliterated because of this website’s difficulty in uploading documents with Greek characters.

[5] Ibid., Douglas Summers#55.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#56.

[7] The reference was in Harrison (1971:176, n 18).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 8 May 2016.

How do we know Matthew wrote his Gospel?

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

(3rd century AD papyrus of Matthew 26, courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

In a discussion of the origin of the Gospels, it is not unusual to hear statements like this from an unbeliever: ‘And there absolutely is reason to believe that Christianity is wrong concerning the historicity, authenticity, inspiration, and authority of the NT, not mention the entirety of the Bible (at least depending on your version of Christianity).[1]

Part of a Christian’s response was: ‘Regarding authenticity, Christianity teaches that certain persons wrote the Bible at certain times. As it pertains to this discussion, the Gospels were written by those whose names are on them, all followers of Christ, prior to A.D. 100. In fact, all the NT was written prior to A.D. 100’.[2]

I asked concerning the Gospels written by followers of Christ: ‘Would you please provide evidence to support this statement?’[3] A rather dogmatic reply came:

The authors names are in bold type
Matthew

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
Mark
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Luke
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
John
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21[4]

This sounds like a reasonable, though somewhat cynical, response as the beginning of each Gospel in English translations has something like, ‘The Gospel according to Matthew’, ‘The Gospel according to Mark’, etc. Most people accept that this is what the original text states. But is that the case?

My response was:[5]

Gospel of Matthew: Original or not?

That doesn’t answer the issue of the origin of, say, ‘The Gospel according to Matthew’. Was that statement in the original text?

Let’s use Matthew as an example. The language that appears at the beginning of my ESV copy of Matthew, ‘The Gospel according to Matthew’, was not in the original text. It is tradition that tells us that Matthew is its author. This article by Olugbenga Olagunju, ‘Provenance [source] of the Gospel of Matthew‘, explains this. The traditional view is that

the apostle Matthew wrote a Gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic…. This tradition stems from the testimony of Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia (died c. A.D. 130). The record of Papias’s statement about Matthew survives only in Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 3.39.16). It reads, “Matthew collected (synetaxato) the oracles (ta logia) in the Hebrew language (Hebraidi dialekto), and each interpreted (hermeneusen) them as best he could.” On first analysis the tradition of Papias appears to say that the apostle Matthew wrote a Gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic, and various translations were made of this work. So it was apparently understood, with minor modifications, in the early churches (McKnight 1992:527).

Eusebius’s statement about Papias and Matthew is: ‘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’ (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.16).

This fellow’s response to me was, ‘Where are you going with this “original text” statement?’[6] My reply was, ‘From where do we obtain the evidence that Matthew wrote ‘The Gospel according to Matthew’? Was it stated in the first document that Matthew wrote – the original text?’[7]

His comeback was: ‘When did you find it necessary to have evidence to believe Gods (sic) word, I’ve been reading the same bible for over 40 years and have never doubted its contents’.[8] How do you reply to someone who keeps repeating the same idea that God’s Word says Matthew wrote it. My response was:[9]

‘The Gospel according to Matthew’ is not in the original text of God’s Word. We receive that understanding from the tradition handed down to us from Papias.

You can ‘never doubt its contents’, as I do, but we have to be truthful about the ‘contents’. The title, ‘The Gospel according to Matthew’, is not in the contents of God’s word. We have to be careful not to attribute to Scripture what is not there in the original text. We know from Papias’s statement that the people of his day were unsure who wrote Matthew. The text obviously didn’t say so, but he knew from other sources that the original was written by Matthew in Hebrew or Aramaic. But this information is not enshrined in the absolute authority of Scripture in the original manuscripts.

I’ve believed God’s word for 53 years, but my study of Scripture and its background has helped me to learn that the title, ‘The Gospel according to Matthew’, is from Papias. It is not from the original Scripture. That does not make the content of the Gospel any less authentic.

Conclusion

Traditionalists who have been reading the Bible for many years and have accepted the title, ‘The Gospel according to Matthew/Mark/Luke/John’, as in Scripture, find it nigh impossible to reject that view that this title is not a part of Scripture as I’ve been trying to show this fellow.

Therefore, the evidence points to the fact that the heading, ‘The Gospel according to Matthew’, in our New Testaments is based on tradition, starting with Papias (now Papias’s statement is only available in Eusebius’s writings and he died ca. 339),[10] and is not stated directly in the original Greek text. There would be no point in Papias making such a statement if it was clearly stated in the original text that Matthew wrote the Gospel.

Works consulted

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the centuries: A history of the Christian church.

Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

McKnight, S 1992. Matthew, Gospel of, in Green, J B; McKnight, S; Marshall, I H (eds), Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 526-541. Downers Grove, Illinois / Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press.

Notes


[1] Christian Forums.net 2014, ‘A statement from a recently turned non-Christian’, Blue-lightning#7. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/a-statement-from-a-recently-turned-non-christian.53564/ (Accessed 19 February 2015).

[2] Ibid., Free#10.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#53.

[4] Ibid., turnorburn#54.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#55.

[6] Ibid., turnorburn#56.

[7] Ibid., OzSpen#57.

[8] Ibid., turnorburn#58.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen#59.

[10] Christian historian, Earl Cairns, give the lifespan dates for ancient church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, as ‘ca. 265 – ca. 339’ (Cairns 1981:143).

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.
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What’s the meaning of Matthew 24:34?

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

   

Explosions (courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

This is a rather tricky verse that has caused lots of debates over the years. Matthew 24:34 states: ‘Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place’ (ESV).

It has created a number of challenges with interpretation, so much so that it has been included in this wonderful resource that is now available as a pdf document online: Gleason L. Archer 1982. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House). Available at: http://www.tsbalan.com/books/Difficulties.pdf.

The following comments on Matt 24:34 are on pp 343-344.

Did Jesus mean in Matthew 24:34 that all the signs of His second coming were really fulfilled before His generation passed away?

Matthew 24:34 reports our Lord as saying, “Truly I say to you, this generation [genea] will not pass away until all these things take place” (NASB). What things? The rise of false teachers and prophets, the persecution and martyrdom of believers, and all the horrors of the Great Tribulation will occur (vv. 9-22). Also, there will be false Christs, deceitful miracles, and strange phenomena in the heavens (vv. 23-29). Then at last the “sign of the Son of Man” (v.30) will appear in the heavens; and all the world will witness His return to earth with power and great glory, when he sends forth His angels to gather together all the “elect” from every part of the earth.

Obviously these apocalyptic scenes and earth-shaking events did not take place within the generation of those who heard Christ’s Olivet discourse. Therefore Jesus could not have been referring to His immediate audience when He made His prediction concerning “this genea.” What did He mean by this prophecy?

There are two possible explanations. One is that genea (“generation”) was used as a synonym of genos (“race,” “stock,” “nation,” “people”). This would then amount to a prediction that the Jewish race would not pass out of existence before the Second Advent. Whatever other races would die out before that event—and most of the races contemporaneous with Jesus of Nazareth have in fact died out already–the Jewish race, however persecuted and given from one country to another, would survive until our Lord’s return. No other nation has ever managed to live through all the dispersions and persecutions and uprooted conditions to which the Jews have been subjected. Yet they live on until this day and have reestablished their independence in the State of Israel. Although this meaning for genea is not common, it is found as early as Homer and Herodotus and as late as Plutarch (cf. H.G. Liddell and R. Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed., [Oxford: Claredon, 1940], p. 342).

The other possibility is that genea does indeed mean “generation” in the usual sense of the word, but refers to the generation of observers who witness the beginning of the signs and persecutions with which the Tribulation will begin. Many of these will live to see the Lord Jesus come back to earth, as Conqueror and Judge, with great power and glory. This interpretation has the merit of preserving the more common and usual meaning of the word. But it suffers from the disadvantage of predicting what would normally be expected to happen anyway. Whether the Tribulation will last for seven years or for a mere three and a half years, it would not be so unusual for most people to survive that long. Seven years is not a very long time to live through, even in the face of bloody persecution.

Perhaps it should be added that if the Olivet Discourse was originally delivered in Aramaic (as it probably was), then we cannot be certain that the meaning of this prediction hinged entirely on the Greek word used to translate it. Genea and genos are, after all, closely related words from the same root. The Aramaic term that Jesus Himself probably used (the Syriac Peshitta uses sharbeta’ here, which can mean either “generation” or “race”) is susceptible to either interpretation, and thus could mean the Jewish “race” rather than the circle of Christ’s own contemporaries.

 

Copyright © 205 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 November 2015.

Corn or grain? KJV or NIV in Matthew 12:1

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

                                         

       Corn or maize (Wikipedia)       Oats, barley & food products from cereal grains (Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

In Matthew 12:1, the KJV states that Jesus and his disciples went “through the corn”. The NRSV and NJB use “cornfields”. The NIV translates as, “through the grainfields” on the Sabbath. The ESV, NET, NLT, and NASB agree with the NIV’s “grainfields”. Which is it? Corn or grain?

There was a discussion of this on Christian Forums. One poster came across this difference in translation between KJV and NIV:

I don’t think that the KJV is the best translation. I just came across this verse today.

At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred (sic), and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. (Matthew 12:1 King James Bible, Cambridge Edition)

Corn was discovered in the western hemisphere and brought back to the eastern hemisphere. Corn was not grown in Israel. Other translations say “grain” which is more accurate. The greek word is stachuas[1] and means “the heads of grain”.[2]

A KJV-only supporter responded,

Nope. Corn and grain are the same thing. Always have been just like wheat, barley, and oats are also grain.
Def; grain – A small, dry, one-seeded fruit of a cereal grass, having the fruit and the seed walls united: ( it even includes sugar according to the Free Dictionary definition). [3]

[4]When we seek a definition of a NT word, we do not go to dictionary.com for an English definition. We go to the Greek language. The word used for “the corn” (KJV) and “the grainfields” (NIV) is stopimos in the plural. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon tells us that:

  • The etymology of the word is “sown”, i.e. that which is sown;
  • The meaning is “standing grain, grain fields”.[5]

So the meaning is NOT corn, but the generic grain fields. Therefore, the NIV is the more correct translation. The word is also used in Mark 2:23.
In Mt. 12:1ff, the context tells us that when the journey by the disciples through the grain fiends was made, it happened during or shortly before harvest time as they “began to pick some ears of grain” (NIV). It is literally, “began to pick ears [of grain]”.

Notes:


[1] This is the word for “head” and not “grain”.

[2] Christian Forums, Christian Scriptures, ‘King James Version why the best?’, Timothew #72, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7656653-8/ (Accessed 11 July 2012).

[3] Martyrs44 #73, ibid.

[4] The following information is my response as OzSpen #78, ibid.

[5] Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[5] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House), p. 770.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

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