A Hebrew Matthew?

Even if we step back and grant that Matthew’s gospel was written in Hebrew, where does that leave us. Luke, no doubt, was written in Greek. Along with Acts. John, as well, was certainly written in Greek. All of Paul’s letters were written in Greek.

Now, let us assume that Matthew is in Hebrew, but that we have no extant copies of Matthew in Hebrew (none). The earliest translation we have comes from the 14th century. Then at best all we can do is compare it with the Greek translation. One, cannot necessarily take priority over the other, even if the original Hebrew (which we have not even a copy of) is the true original.

Let us assume that that the one that Shem Tov uses is the absolute original, wrote by Matthew Himself. It would seem, then, that the best approach to a understanding of the NT, would be to recognize Paul, who around 35 A.D. began to corrupt Christianity and to Hellenize it. His influence was pervasive and since Jerusalem was shortly destroyed, his influence became the powerhouse of the next generation of Christianity. For this reason, Matthew, which was written in Hebrew, was translated into Greek and specfically to accomodate Paul’s theology. Luke wrote his account, as a companion of Paul, and followed his thoughts on all of his teachings. Later, disciples of John, and lovers of Paul, put their version of John together, again to accomodate what was already clear in Paul. Jesus was not just a man, He was God, as Paul stresses more than anyone except John. Paul also developed a need for a Trinity. John’s Gospel was developed to meet that need. Paul’s teachings on the law, as the apostle to the Gentiles, in many ways contradicted the Hebrew Matthew, as he clearly taught that Jesus brought the law to an end, teaching that the Mosaic law was temporary, and that it was brought to an end in Christ, and that Christ has freed us from it, and that we have died to it. We must note too that Paul’s letters were the first to circulate in the church. This would be good evidence that he quickly jacked stuff up. Im sure the Gentiles loved Him.

Now, if this position is taken it is much more tenable I think that to twist Paul’s writings like they are origami. I devoted the bulk of my studies to Paul, and feel confident that if we study what he taught, we will come to the conclusion that Christ is the end of the law, and that the law is temporary, and has been brought to its consummation and termination. Instead of going this route, though, I will defend our view of Matthew. If this view of Matthew turns out to be less warranted, I don’t see how Hebrew Christianity (Goshen) can hold up. The Hebrew Matthew seems to be the lincpin holding it all together.

What I am going to do however is give lines of evidence that teaches first that Matthew was originally written in Greek.

Part 1:
First, like in Acts 26, the Greek phrase used there is “te Hebraidi dialekto” which is “in the Hebrew dialect (that is, or could be Aramaic).” When Paul said that Jesus spoke to him te Hebraidi dialekto, did he mean “in Hebrew” or “in Aramaic” or even “in a Hebrew dialect that could be either Hebrew or Aramaic.”

[Translatios differ here: in the Hebrew tongue” – KJV “in the Hebrew language” – NRSV “in Aramaic” – NIV “in Aramaic” – TNIV (with note: Or Hebrew). “in Aramaic” – NLT(SE) “in Hebrew” – The Message]

There is a case where Aramaic is the only tenable option of what Jesus spoke: John 19:13 reads: “When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha [Hebraisti de Gabbatha].” Gabbatha is an Aramaic word that means “height” or “eminence.” Thus, in this case, Hebraisti means “in Aramaic,” not “in Hebrew.”

Part 2: Papias has no writings extant today, his writings are quoted by Eusebius from the 4th century.

There are a variety of reasons (scholarly and apologetic as well as evangelical) why the book of Matthew may have been translated into Hebrew in later centuries. But the existence of a 14th century translation doesn’t seem to me to be particularly convincing evidence that Matthew wrote the book in Hebrew originally (or that this is it, even if he had)

The difficulty for us is that the Greek Gospel of Matthew shows not the slightest sign of having been translated from a Semitic language. As we will discuss below, Matthew not only seems to have been written in Greek but also to have drawn on sources which were at least predominantly in Greek. If Irenaeus has in mind our Gospel of Matthew, then he is clearly wrong. If he has in mind some other document, then it has not survived and has, in any case, no close relationship to canonical Matthew.

A few rebuttals: 1. If matthew was originally wrote in Greek, then, his use of the LXX and the Hebrew, and unique variations would conincide seeing as he was writing to Hebrews, using Greek language. If Matthew wrote his work in Hebrew, though, he would not have quoted Greek sources. Matthew, the book, points to someone writing in Greek who was very knowledgeable of the Hebrew language.
2. As far Hebraisms, it is generally agreed that Jesus spoke Hebrew, Aramiac, and Greek. Most believe that Jesus spoke Aramaic (a Hebrew dialect) mainly, and if this is true, then Matthew’s Hebraisms are instances of him translating Jesus’s words into Greek. He collects Jesus’s saying, which were in Aramaic, and he writes them into Greek. It is the sayings of Jesus mainly that contain the Hebraisms, and this is consistent with Matthew not translating a Letter, but recording what he heard.

Biggest piece of evidence from either side: The existence of Matthew in Greek in various forms and in incredible volume from the 2-3 century forward compared to the existence of not one line of a Hebrew gospel in any early manuscript or papyrus form is to me still decisive. I don’t see how any line of evidence presented so far can trump that one argument for a Greek Text. To recapitulate this: there are zero manuscripts from the first 1200 years after Christ of a Hebrew manuscript of Matthhew. There are numerous Greek manuscripts, some of which date back to pre 150 a.d. FYI: The first Hebrew manuscript was recorded by a Christ rejecting Jew around 13-1400 a.d.

My personal position is this: What seems most likely, is that Matthew wrote his original letter in Greek, but that he compiled memoirs of Christ and his sayings, which would have been most likely in Aramaic (or possibly but less likely Hebrew). This is a common thing for a writer to do. So, to say that Matthew wrote his work in a Hebrew dialect (Which Aramiac is a Hebrew dialect along with Hebrew itself), does not mean that it is the original. Matthew’s original doesn’t show signs of translation, but of historical retellings. It is very likely that Matthew gathered all of the Oral teachings of Jesus, which were in Aramaic, in preparation for writing his work. This would fit well with most of the quotes from the Fathers as well.

Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on ajrogersphilosophy and commented:
    A Hebrew Matthew?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: