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Appendix B:

History of The Hebrew Version of Matthew

[PDF version]

Introduction

Excerpt from Standford Rives, The Original Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2 

Ebionites and later the Nazarenes — the names earliest used by Christianity internally to identify followers of Jesus (Uhlhorn:684) — ended up as sects within Christianity. They claimed to preserve the original autograph of Apostle Matthew’s Gospel in Hebrew. Epiphanius in the 300s said its title was “The Gospel according to Matthew.” (Epiphanius, Panarion 30, 13, 2-3.) Jerome referred to it as the “Gospel according to the Hebrews” by Matthew. We will refer to it here typically as GATHM—the Gospel according to the Hebrews by Matthew.

Eusebius in the 300s quoted Papias and Irenaeus from the 100s and Origen from the 200s as authorities for his statement that Apostle Matthew wrote his gospel first in Hebrew.

For example, Papias, a reputed pupil of Apostle John, around 90 A.D. explained: “Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.” (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39, quoting Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord, which in turn quotes Papias.) The latter remark has been interpreted to mean it was translated as best as could be done.

Irenaeus likewise says: “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect while Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel at Rome, and founding the church there.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk III:I quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book V, Chapter VIII.) This means GATHM was circulating by at least 54-58 A.D.

Epiphanius in the 300s Refers to Nazarene Successors

Epiphanius (310-403 AD), Bishop of Salamis, tells us in the quote to follow that the Nazarenes maintained Matthew’s Gospel in the Hebrew “as it was originally written.” This is his work Medicine Chest (“Panarion”) from 377 AD. In the same context, Epiphanius criticizes the Nazarenes for their persistence in following the Law given Moses, rejecting Paul while yet confessing Jesus as Son of God and as Messiah Christ. Epiphanius also notes the persecution they garnered from Jews for their maintenance of these positions: 

But these sectarians... did not call themselves Christians—but Nazoreans [i.e., ‘Nazarenes’] who confess that Christ Jesus is the Son of God, but all of whose customs are in accordance with the Law.... Everyone called the Christian Nazoreans, as they say accuse Paul the apostle: ‘We have found this man a pestilent fellow and a perverter of the people....’ They use not only the New Testament but the Old Testament as well, as the Jews do. For they do not repudiate the legislation, the prophets and the books which are called the Writings by the Jews and by themselves. They have no different view, but confess everything exactly as the Law proclaims it and like the Jews—except they are believers supposedly in Christ. For they acknowledge both the resurrection of the dead and the divine creation of all things, and declare that God is one, and that his son is Jesus Christ. They are perfectly versed in Hebrew. For among them the entire Law, the Prophets, and the so-called Writings—I mean the poetic books, Kings, Chronicles, Esther and all the rest—are read in Hebrew, as, of course, they are read by the Jews. They are different from the Jews, and different from Christians, only in the following. They disagree with Jews because of their belief in Christ, but they are not in accord with Christians because they are still fettered by the Law—circumcision, the Sabbath, and the rest. As to Christ, I cannot say whether they are too misled by the wickedness of Cerinthus and Merinthus, and regard him as a mere man—or whether, as the truth is, they affirm that he was born of Mary, by the Holy Spirit......[T]hey are nothing but Jews and nothing else. Yet to the Jews they are very much enemies. Not only do Jewish people bear hatred against them; they even stand up at dawn, at midday, and toward evening, three times a day when they recite their prayers in the synagogues, and curse and anathematize them—saying three times a day, ‘God curse the Nazoraeans.’ They have the Gospel according to Matthew in its entirety in Hebrew. For it is clear that they still preserve this in the Hebrew alphabet, as it was originally written. But I do not know if they have excised the genealogies from Abraham till Christ. (Epiphanius, Panarion.) [From Epiphanius, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis (trans. Frank Williams)(Netherlands: Brill, 2009) at 60, 127, 128, 129-30]

Jerome’s Repetition of This View

Jerome (342 AD–420 AD) was requested by Pope Damasus in 382 AD to revise the Old Latin texts of the Bible. In particular, the pope asked Jerome to restore the best original of the four gospels from what Jerome would conclude was the best Greek texts. Based upon this, the pope asked Jerome to produce a new standard Latin version of the Bible. Within two years—by 384 AD, Jerome had revised the four New Testament gospels.

Because the scope of his mission was to find the best approximation of the original written by the gospel-writer, Jerome did not stop with the oldest Greek manuscript when it came to the gospel of Matthew. Jerome knew Matthew wrote his gospel originally in Hebrew, and it was later translated into Greek. Jerome was clear that he believed the Hebrew Gospel preserved by the Nazarenes (handed down by the Ebionites) kept in a Library of Caesarea was the authentic original. But modern Christian scholars worried this would impugn tradition have unreasonably sought to downplay this fact. They misinterpret, whether consciously or not, that when Jerome later said “some supposed” and “most believe” it was the authentic original that this implied a feeling on Jerome’s part of less certainty than he previously expressed. 

However, these scholars are reading these later passages too negatively. Rather, one can regard those later statements by Jerome as consistent with his earlier very positive view. Jerome was simply noting how others came to believe what Jerome had previously affirmed—that this Hebrew edition at Caesarea was the original edition of Matthew. What else explains Jerome saying he translated the Hebrew Matthew at Caesarea into Latin and Greek (now lost), and then throughout his adult life in numerous commentaries Jerome repetitiously quotes 22 times from the GATHM-Hebrew Matthew? He does so to reveal how it originally read, and thus as a corrective to later corruptions. Thus, how can that fact be neglected by these same Bible commentators? 

To help the reader assess this matter, I will lay out Jerome’s remarks in chronological order, Jerome in 393 AD in his work The Lives of Illustrious Men made the following points: 

  • Matthew first composed his gospel in Hebrew.
  • It is not certain who translated the gospel of Matthew into Greek.
  • A copy of the Hebrew Matthew is in the library at Caesarea Maritima.

Jerome made a copy of this Hebrew Matthew which he received from the Nazarenes.

Jerome’s actual words from Lives of Illustrious Men, Chapter 3 are:

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 Caesarea which Pamphilus so diligently gathered. I have also had the opportunity of having the volume described to me by the Nazarenes of Beroea, 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 Savior 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.”

It is important to note that here Jerome says GATHM was written in Hebrew. When he inspected it, Jerome mentions at one point how he was interpreting mahar, a Hebrew word, to translate a passage. Thus, this destroys the unwarranted supposition by some scholars that GATHM was written in Aramaic. Rather, Jerome mentions it was also translated into Aramaic, but the version at Caesarea which he regarded as the original was written in Hebrew.

We also learn in the above quote that by Jerome’s day, the Nazarenes were the custodians of this original Matthew. Previously, however, it had been preserved by the first Ebionites. Irenaeus in the late 100s pointed out that the Ebionites only accepted the book of Matthew as authentic, and thus it was a special treasure to them. This was obviously a reference to the original Hebrew Matthew.

Incidentally, the original Ebionites stayed in Jerusalem and were wiped out when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. Thus their canon-position is not a rejection of the Gospel of John or Revelation which were not yet written in 70 A.D. when the first Ebionites were wiped out. The first Ebionites should not be confused with the second Ebionites who emerged in the 200s, as noted by Origen.

Jerome’s Further References

In Jerome’s Commentaries that date to 398 AD and later, Jerome links the original Hebrew Gospel of Matthew with the Gospel of the Hebrews which he says was then being used by the Nazarenes and Ebionites. This autograph was preserved on Israel’s Mediterranean coast-city of Caesarea. His points in the next quote are:

The Nazarenes use the Gospel of the Hebrews. 

The Gospel which the Nazarenes and Ebionites use (and which he had translated into Latin and Greek) is called by many or most the authentic original Gospel of Matthew. 

The Gospel used by the Nazarenes is called the “Gospel according to the Hebrews” or the “Gospel of the Apostles” or as most term it, the “Gospel According to Matthew.” It is in the library of Caesarea.

Mention of this Hebrew Gospel of Matthew is often made in Jerome’s commentaries after this point. First, Jerome in his Commentary on Isaiah, Preface to Book 18, writes: “For when the apostles thought him to be a spirit or, in the words of the Gospel of the Hebrews which the Nazarenes read, ‘a bodiless demon’ he said to them...” This treats this alternative reading as canonical and valid. 

Then in his commentary on Matthew in 398 A.D., Jerome refers that “many” or “most” regard the Hebrew Matthew of the Nazarenes and Ebionites as the original. Jerome then uses this text as a positive corrective to the Greek text. Jerome, On Matthew 12:13 in 398 AD writes: 

In the Gospel which the Nazarenes and Ebionites use (which I have lately translated into Greek from the Hebrew, and which is called by many (or most) people the original Matthew [Lat. quod vocatur a plerisque Matt. authenticum], this man who had the withered hand is described as a mason, who prays for help in such words as this: ‘I was a mason seeking a livelihood with my hands. I pray thee, Jesus, to restore me mine health, that I may not beg meanly for my food.’ 

The Cyclopedia of Biblical literature says regarding these statements:

[W]e may safely accept Jerome as an additional witness to the belief of the early church that St. Matthew’s gospel was originally composed in Hebrew..., which he mentions as something universally recognized without a hint of a doubt.... 

According to competing translations into English, Jerome in 417 AD allegedly says instead that “most suppose” it is the authentic Gospel of Matthew. Based upon this word “suppose” in this translation, too many commentators have exaggerated this as Jerome’s expression of doubt. In one translation where we find ‘most supposed,’ Jerome says in the Dialogue against the Pelagians 3.2: 

In the Gospel according to the Hebrews, written in the Syro-Chaldaic language, but with Hebrew letters, the Gospel which the Nazarenes use to the present day, and which is also the Gospel according to the Apostles, or, as most suppose, the, Gospel according to Matthew, and which is preserved in the library of Caesarea, it is narrated, etc.’

But others do not render this as “most suppose,” but instead as “most term it.” This is a crucial difference. We find this as an alternate translation here:

In the Gospel according to the Hebrews which is indeed in the Chaldaean and Syriac speech but is written in Hebrew letters, which the Nazarenes use to this day, called ‘according to the apostles,’ or, as most term it, ‘according to Matthew,’ which also is to be seen in the library of Caesarea, the story tells, etc.

Which is the true translation? The Latin at issue is Ev. juxta Hebraos...secundum Apostolos sive ut plerique autumant juxta Matthaeum.

This literally means that “most claim the gospel of the Hebrews is of Matthew.” Norton Andrews renders it as “generally considered....”

There is nothing in the actual words by Jerome which expresses any doubt. There is no sense of ‘suppose’ in this sentence. Thus, Jerome continues to express affirmation in 417 AD that “most term” it is indeed the original gospel of Matthew. Jerome is not excluding himself.

But Montague James takes this in completely the wrong way, saying this quote means Jerome no longer believed that the Hebrew Matthew was the authentic original. 

What should we believe? In the modern era, there has been a great resistance to the acceptance of any authentic gospel but the Greek version. Then scholars of the 19th century formed a consensus that the Matthew spoken about by Jerome, Eusebius, Epiphanius, Papius and Origen was solely in Aramaic. (This was contrary to every early reference that GATHM was written in Hebrew except one reference by Jerome mentioning he heard of an Aramaic version at Caesarea—which is easily explainable.) This fed their view (now completely discredited) that Hebrew was not a spoken language in Jesus’ time. Hence, the opinions that read into “plerique autumant” a weakness of Jerome’s commitment to GATHM reflects biases that wished to dismiss any Hebrew-original of Matthew rather than letting Jerome’s words speak as they originally read. 

The facts are incapable of any dispute: Jerome simply said in 417 AD—three years before he died—that most “term” (call) GATHM the original gospel of Matthew. Had Jerome any doubt, he would instead say something like, “while most claim it is the original Matthew, it lacks x, y and z.” Much scholarship has skewed a fair reading of this quotation. It is time to regard those scholars’ readings as too narrow and driven by other suppositions that now have been discredited.

What Did Jerome Mean By The Following Early Comment?

Jerome in 383 AD in his Preface to the Four Gospels —a work prior to his Lives of Illustrious Men of 393 AD— affirmed a positive belief in the Hebrew Matthew as the original:

I am now speaking of the New Testament. This was undoubtedly composed in Greek, with the exception of the work of Matthew the Apostle, who was the first to commit to writing the Gospel of Christ, and who published his work in Judaea in Hebrew characters. We must confess that as we have it [New Testament] in our language it is marked by discrepancies, and now that the stream is distributed into different channels we must go back to the fountainhead [the Hebrew Matthew he translated into Greek? Only others Greek manuscripts of the Gospels?]…I therefore promise in this short Preface to the four Gospels only, which are to be taken in the following order, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, as they have been revised by a comparison of the Greek manuscripts. Only early ones have been used.

Some scholars interpret Jerome to be saying at this very earliest mention of the GATHM / Hebrew Matthew that in preparing the Latin Vulgate he would examine only the Greek versions of the New Testament, even though here he squarely affirms Matthew did not write in Greek. Because Jerome is aware there are “marked discrepancies” among Greek manuscripts, he believes the only way to correct them is to go to the “fountain-head.” Jerome then mentions he would use “only the early” Greek translations. But in context, did this really exclude the Hebrew Matthew of GATHM if he could get his hands on it? Does it imply that he distrusted it at this point? It goes too far to say so since Jerome had not yet seen it, but some read Jerome in just that way. 

The most that can be said is Jerome only had access to the Greek texts at that early juncture. Then Jerome was implying that if he obtained the Hebrew Matthew / GATHM at some point, he would have considered it as a ‘fountainhead’ resource. This explains why years later he says he had found it at Caesarea and ‘lately’ translated it into Latin and Greek. Why do so? Because Jerome believed it would have improved his Vulgate translation into Latin. From the quote above dated to 383 AD, there is no reason to infer Jerome meant any slight on the Hebrew Matthew / GATHM by not citing it as a source at that juncture. He had not yet obtained and translated the Gospel According to the Hebrews (GATHM) until “circa 392 A.D.” 

Moreover, the fact years later, in Lives of Illustrious Men from about 393 AD, Jerome squarely says the Hebrew Matthew / GATHM at Caesarea is, in his opinion, the original only confirms that he would likely have meant to use it as a fountain-head source if he had access to it at the earlier juncture of 383 AD.

Hence, those who read the last quote above as an earlier expression of doubt by Jerome about GATHM have again read far too much into his words which actually in context are very positive or hopeful.

Hebrew Matthew: Any Significant Heretical Differences?

Is there any reason to believe this original Matthew / GATHM is significantly unlike our current Greek Matthew? Between Jerome and Epiphanius, we have twenty-eight quotes. From all sources, we have forty-nine quotes spanning through 410 AD.

Jerome is always intrigued by the differences and makes no charge of unorthodoxy against GATHM. He quotes the Gospel According to the Hebrews of Matthew with great respect and admiration. You can find Jerome’s full quotes in footnotes to Matthew in the Gospel Parallels edited by Throckmorton. (He often identifies the source as Gospel of the Ebionites but Jerome referred to it typically as either the Hebrew Matthew or the Gospel According to the Hebrews of Matthew held by the Ebionites and Nazarenes. Read together, Jerome appears to always be talking of the same work.)

In 1879, Edward Nicholson wrote The Gospel According to the Hebrews—a scholarly collection and defense of the orthodoxy of the forty-nine quotes from that gospel in the early church. He synopsizes that the early church overwhelmingly accepted this gospel as an authoritative and canonical fifth gospel. He explains:

The Fathers of the Church, while the Gospel according to the Hebrews was yet extant in its entirety, referred to it always with respect, often with reverence: some of them unhesitatingly accepted it as being what tradition affirmed it to be—the work of Matthew—and even those who have not put on record their expression of this opinion have not questioned it. Is such an attitude consistent with the supposition that the Gospel according to the Hebrews was a work of heretical tendencies? This applies with tenfold force to Jerome. After copying it, would he, if he had seen heresy in it, have translated it for public dissemination into both Greek and Latin, and have continued to favour the tradition of its Matthaean authorship? (Nicholson: 82.) 

Two Charge Heresy Over Jesus Being A Man

Epiphanius in the 4th Century attacked the Ebionites (who were custodians of GATHM) for believing Jesus was a true human being, not having flesh divine from birth due to a virgin birth. Initially, Epiphanius did not know if the genealogy was entirely missing in their Matthew. However, later Epiphanius confirmed a genealogy from Abraham, but that the virgin birth was missing and that instead Joseph begat Jesus: “The Ebionites, following these, assert that He was begotten by Joseph....” (See page 65 infra.) Epiphanius claimed this final begat made the Hebrew version of Matthew thereby “incomplete, corrupt, [and] mutilated.” 

Similarly, Eusebius circa 325 AD claimed that the Ebionites heretically believed Jesus was “a common man, who was justified only because of his superior virtue, and who was the fruit of the intercourse of a man with Mary.” (History of the Church ch. XXVII.) Eusebius noted that the Ebionites “used only the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews.” Id. Obviously GATHM had Joseph begetting Jesus, and there was no virgin birth story.

However, scholars now realize the absence of the virgin birth and other parts of the genealogy, especially the extended genealogy beginning at verse 17 of chapter one, would enhance the validity of our gospel of Matthew. It would make GATHM therefore an honest resource for Christians to defend criticism over the critically problematical verses in the surviving Greek Matthew.

What confirms that GATHM is more original on the virgin birth issue is that Christian scholars have pointed out that the virgin birth account (a) conflicts with the earliest NT manuscript (Syriac Sinaiticus from 340 AD), as well as early-church ‘fathers’ from the 100s and 200s—which all say that Joseph begat Jesus; (b) is not mentioned in any church literature until post-150 AD; (c) it conflicts with the prophecy in the Book of Samuel of a human lineage of the Messiah from the flesh of David; and (d) presents a docetic Christ who did not have true human flesh—a gnostic idea that Apostle John said in his epistle was the message of the Anti-Christ. (Incidentally, the virgin birth account in Luke rests on the presence of one single verse other than the ‘begat verse,’ suggesting that the virgin birth in Luke was also an addition.) 

Why should we consider the omission of the virgin birth account in the genealogy as more valid? The most Biblical reason to reject the account (even if one did not have to consider the GATHM) is simple: genealogy runs from the father (Numbers 1:18; 2:2). Then how could Jesus be a descendant of David if Joseph is not in his bloodline? 

We read in 2 Sam. 7:8-16:

‘The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’ (2 Sam. 7:8-16 NIV 2010)

This passage from Second Samuel is referenced by Peter in Acts as fulfilled in Jesus:

29 David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is among us unto this day; 30 a prophet, therefore, being, and knowing that with an oath God did swear to him, out of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, to raise up the Christ, to sit upon his throne.... (Acts 2:29-30, YLT.) 

The only passage Peter has in mind is 2 Sam. 7:8-16. It prophesies Messiah has David’s flesh. This matches the GATHM which depicts Jesus as a man born of Joseph in the Davidic line. Specifically, Second Samuel makes these statements that necessitate Jesus was a true man from birth:

  • “But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.” (v. 15) 
  • “When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands.”
  • “I will be his father, and he will be my son.” (v. 14.)
  •  “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” 
  • “I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.” (v. 13) 
  • “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (2 Sam. 7:13-16 NIV 2010.)

Certainly, God wanted us to know the Messiah would come from David’s “flesh and blood” (verse 13), yet he would be called “God’s Son” and not David’s son (verse 14). Then even though Jesus is depicted in the GATHM as sinless, God’s prophecy told us this “son” would be born entirely human: “when he does wrong, I will punish him....” This prophecy contemplates that there was no divine flesh that would guarantee Jesus the victory over sin. Jesus had to always obey His Father to become at 35 years of life indwelled by the Father at His baptism.

If we persist in not letting the original Matthew challenge us to accept changes more consistent with Second Samuel, we give needless grounds to scoff at Christianity. Here is an example of such scoffing: 

But what is most surprising is, that those very Evangelists, who labor to prove his hereditary Right to the Kingdom, as lineally descended from David, assure us at the same time, that he had no natural human descent at all; but that Mary conceived him by the Holy Ghost, or Immediate Power of God, while she was a pure Virgin. (Thomas Morgan, Moral Philosopher (1740) at 197.)

Jewish critics quite sensibly refute Jesus is Messiah based upon the virgin birth claim:

The Messiah must be descended on his father’s side from King David (see Genesis 49:10 and Isaiah 11:1). According to the Christian claim that Jesus was the product of a virgin birth, he had no father— and thus could not have possibly fulfilled the messianic requirement of being descended on his father’s side from King David!

We will discuss in more depth later the many technical reasons why the virgin birth account is entirely flawed in the canonical gospels. For example, Isaiah did not prophesy about a “young virgin” would give birth to Messiah; instead, Isaiah prophesied about a “young maiden” who would do so. The Greek Septuagint of 257 BC mistranslated Isaiah to be speaking of a “young virgin,” and the Greek translator of Matthew obviously felt obliged to add details to fit that erroneous Greek translation which he incorporated into the Greek Matthew—oblivious how this would break the prophecy of Second Samuel.

While there are many reasons to doubt the virgin birth account is authentic, I trust that among evangelicals the most important concern is that Jesus would be invalidated as Messiah if Jesus did not have the flesh of David in His genealogy. 

Dilemma About First Chapter of Greek Matthew

Here is how a scholar discusses the problem presented by the Greek Matthew’s first chapter. Michaelis demonstrates how the GATHM version without the virgin birth account and several genealogical misstatements would solve several textual dilemmas. 

Specifically, there is internal evidence that a portion of chapter one is not originally written by Matthew. For example, to prove a prophecy of a “virgin” birth existed in the OT, the Greek Matthew quotes the Greek Septuagint translation of Isaiah rather than the Hebrew original of Isaiah. But the word for virgin in the Greek Septuagint translation of 257 BC was a mistranslation of the original Hebrew of Isaiah which spoke about a “young woman” who shall give birth, etc. Nowhere else in Matthew does Matthew side with the Greek Septuagint over the Hebrew original when they differ significantly in meaning. Michaelis explains how the original Hebrew Matthew could serve to purge chapter one of this error and many more errors:    

To illustrate its critical use [i.e. the use of the Nazarene / Ebionite gospel of Matthew], in determining the authenticity or spuriousness of doubtful passages, we may apply it to the two first chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel, on which doubts are entertained, whether they really proceeded from the pen of the Evangelist. It appears from the accounts of Epiphanius, which have been already quoted, that in the Hebrew Gospel used by the Ebionites, the genealogy was certainly wanting; and perhaps the whole of the two first chapters. Tatian likewise, who is said to have used the Hebrew Gospel omitted the genealogy: in two Capitulations and a Breviary published by Martianay it is wholly unnoticed [i.e., omitted].... 

No two chapters, in the whole New Testament are pressed with so many difficulties, as the two in question: not so much on account of the apparent contradictions to the genealogy given by St. Luke, which may be very satisfactorily reconciled, as on account of the quotations contained in them from the Old Testament, which I am wholly unable to explain.

Michaelis then says that the Nazarene Gospel / GATHM can allow us to remove doubts about the Greek Matthew’s validity. Michaelis said GATHM might one day erase these doubts, but at that time, we had an imperfect record:

Doubts of this kind might be either removed or confirmed by the Nazarene Gospel, were it now extant, and were we absolutely certain that it contained the original text of St. Matthew. But our imperfect accounts of this Gospel make it difficult to determine whether it began in the same manner as our Greek Gospel....

However, textual discoveries have indeed grown. We believe we are now ready to propose GATHM to help repair these textual problems in our current Matthew.

Then Michaelis, a Christian scholar, says he would not criticize anyone who would propose deleting the problematical aspects of chapters one and two of Matthew based upon Epiphanius’ claim that these elements were missing in GATHM: 

Should any critic therefore, in consequence of these difficulties be disposed to separate the two first chapters from the rest of St. Matthew’s Gospel, in order to prevent the objections which may be made to them from affecting the credibility and inspiration of the whole Gospel, I should not censure him for his conduct, though for my own part I am unable to come to a positive decision, whether they ought to be separated or not.

Thus, if scholars say we should not be censured for eliminating the problems in chapter one, we have good reason to turn to the Ebionites whose chapter one did not have a virgin birth account (i.e., from verse 17 to the end of the chapter). The Ebionites like the Greek Matthew trace Jesus’ lineage to Joseph’s Davidic lineage, but they did not stop one person short. Joseph too is in the lineage of Jesus. As this enhances the credibility of the whole, this would tend to prove the Ebionite version is the more original and authentic version of Matthew. 

Otherwise, what explains it appearing the Apostle Matthew made the mistakes that scholars of sincere Christian profession otherwise recognize in the Greek Matthew in chapter one? The answer is obvious: the Greek translator of Matthew is the source of these errors including the editorial addition of a virgin birth account, driven by the translator’s erroneous reliance on the Greek Septuagint version of Isaiah 7:14. The Septuagint of 250 BC mistranslated “young woman” as “virgin.” This Greek Septuagint error was adopted by the Greek translator into his Greek Matthew. Then one error led to the next. As a result, a birth tale never written by Matthew now appears in the Greek Matthew. 

Outside Chapter One, Differences Are Small

Putting aside this one difference, all the other differences raised by Epiphanius are slight. In fact, what is often overlooked is that Epiphanius was nit-picking at just a few slight differences. Otherwise, the verses he quotes from the Ebionite Matthew in Hebrew read identical to our Greek Matthew. This demonstrates the balance of the Gospel of the Hebrews according to Matthew must have been virtually identical to the Greek version we all have now. Otherwise Epiphanius would have skewered them on those variances as well. Epiphanius’ failure to do so allows an inference the Hebrew Matthew of the Ebionites otherwise largely matches our current Greek version. 

But if one insists that the mere fact that the Gospel According to the Hebrews does not contain any mention of the virgin birth account means it is entirely heretical, then this would equally impugn John’s Gospel and Mark’s Gospel, and even Paul, James, Jude, and the Book of Revelation. None of those sources mention it. So that cannot be a valid criticism of the Gospel according to the Hebrews.

Thereby, Nicholson makes a very pointed rejoinder to Epiphanius’ charge of heresy. He asks ‘What if we assumed Mark too was favored by the Nazarenes?’ Would we find heresy on the very same score that Epiphanius found with the Gospel According to the Hebrews? Nicholson aptly writes:

Or let us suppose Mark to have been the Nazarene Gospel. From the fact that it began with the Baptism, we should forthwith conclude that it was designed to support the heresy that Jesus was mere man until the divine Christ descended into him in the shape of a dove. And for [Mark] xiii. 32, “Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father,” we should have found no [in]sufficient justification. (Nicholson, The Gospel According to the Hebrews, supra, at 83.)

Hence, there is nothing inherently heretical omitting the virgin birth account in the Gospel According to the Hebrews. At least it is no more heretical than the impression than what the book of Mark would leave if you read it apart from the other gospels.

Ebionite-Nazarene Matthew—More Valid Than The Greek

There are more reasons to believe this Hebrew Matthew of the Ebionites and Nazarenes is a true autograph of the apostle Matthew. 

By contrasting to the Greek Matthew, let’s see whether the GATHM is correct where the Greek is wrong. Jerome in his Commentary on Matthew 23:35 says: “In the [Hebrew] gospel [of Matthew] which the Nazarenes use, for ‘son of Barachiah’ we find written, ‘son of Jehoiada.’” 

The Nazarene-Ebionite version of Matthew (GATHM) is the correct account. Zechariah was not the son of Barachiah who was killed prior to Jesus’ birth. In fact, Zechariah, the son of Barachia, was a person who died in 68 AD. The Greek version of Jerome’s day and our own is clearly incorrect, as Jerome noted. The Greek translator simply picked a name with which he was recently familiar.

Thus, this demonstrates the Ebionites-Nazarenes must have been preserving the original autograph of the apostle Matthew himself. And the Greek translation was near 68 AD.

The Lucan Connection

It is theorized by many scholars that the “eyewitnesses” upon whom Luke relied predominantly included the Gospel According to the Hebrews of Matthew (GATHM). Luke heard and too believed the tradition that Matthew wrote it. So he borrowed freely from it.

One of the reasons for believing this claim, of which Edwards is the most recent proponent, is that many semitisms appear in Luke’s text. A Semitism is a distinctly Hebrew way of phrasing or writing. For example, when you see sentences begin with “And” repeatedly, these collectively are regarded as Semitisms. 

In fact, there are direct links between GATHM and Luke. Specifically, there are several unique parallels between only Luke and the Gospel According to the Hebrews. Nicholson explained one in 1879:

Fragment 5 (Ebionite)...introduces mention, peculiar to Luke, of the parentage of John the Baptist and the priesthood of Caiaphas. (Nicholson: 92.)

While Nicholson ascribes this connection to “the certainty that they [i.e., the Ebionites] used Luke or a similar Gospel...” (id.), Edwards recently demonstrated that it is more likely that Luke borrowed from the Gospel According to the Hebrews which the Ebionites passed on to the Nazarenes.

Nicholson continues. He says Fragment 6 which has a Nazarene source uses “Behold.” This is a word “specially characteristic of Matthew and Luke.”

Nicholson then makes several similar observations and concludes: “Altogether the verbal analysis suggests relations to Luke.” (Nicholson: 93.) However, Edwards’ explanation makes more sense. The semitisms in Luke are because Luke is borrowing from the Gospel according to the Hebrews written by Matthew. It is not the Ebionites borrowing from Luke.

Two Primary Hebrew Versions Of Matthew

There are generally two competing texts today that scholars put forth as potentially close to the original Matthew in Hebrew. Jerome’s translation of the Gospel according to the Hebrews has been lost, so the best test is unfortunately unavailable. 

Nevertheless, there does appear to be a clear winner between the two texts. There is another clear error in our Greek Matthew which one of these two texts does not perpetuate. However, one of the two persists in the same error as in the Greek Matthew. This helps us discriminate between the two which is closer to the original Hebrew Matthew.

Let’s explore the background of these two versions of the Hebrew Matthew.

The Shem-Tob Matthew by Shaprut

In 1380 AD, a Hebrew Matthew was preserved in an appendix / chapter entitled Shem Tob belonging to a book entitled Eben Bochan. Its author was Yitschak ben Shaprut of Tudela in Castle, Spain. This was a polemical work against Christianity. To make his case, in one chapter / appendix, Shaprut incorporates Matthew in Hebrew. Eben Bocham was revised again in 1385 and 1400 AD, with several intermediate revisions. Then in 1987, two of the nine revisions of the Hebrew Matthew of Shaprut were combined into a single text by a responsible Bible scholar, George Howard. He published this collation as The Gospel of Matthew According To A Primitive Hebrew Text (Macon: Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1987). The 1995 reprint fixes various errors and is the preferred text. Shaprut’s text is commonly known as the Shem-Tob or Shem Tov. We call it here by the name Shem-Tob.

The Shem-Tob is basically written in Biblical Hebrew with a mixture of Midrashic Hebrew. It also has some later rabbinic vocabulary and idiom. In addition, there has been significant revision to make it conform to the standard Greek and Latin Gospel texts. Yet, it no doubt has an underlying authentic Hebrew composition that could have been written in Christ’s era. It does have unique variants but not for any agenda-driven rationale. Many are simply interesting. Professor Tabor notes:

The underlying text, however, reflects its original Hebrew composition, and it is the most unusual text of Matthew extant in that it contains a plethora of readings not found in any other codices of Matthew. It appears to have been preserved by the Jews, independent from the Christian community.

Significantly, the Shem-Tob’s Hebrew has the look-and-feel of Hebrew mixed with Aramaicisms from the first century—the latest date estimate for the Dead Sea Scrolls. As Professor Howard opined:

Moreover, the most primitive layer of Shem-Tob‘s Matthew is written in an unpolished style and is filled with ungrammatical constructions and Aramaicized forms and idioms. In these characteristics it resembles many of the Dead Sea Scroll fragments and gives the appearance of belonging to the same time frame. Reading Shem-Tob’s Matthew is often like reading one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

What verifies the Shem-Tob, however, is that it is consistent with early versions of the gospels and Christ’s saying which were lost by 1380 AD. That was the year when the Shem-Tob was published. Shem-Tob could not have plumbed some history book and found these variants to garner legitimacy. Thus, because these sayings uniquely are found in the Shem-Tob, we know a separate tradition—one among Jews—kept alive the original manuscript which Shaprut borrowed in 1380 AD. 

For example, one of these post-1380 discoveries was the misplaced Sinaiticus of 340 AD—found in 1892 AD—containing variants of Matthew which were unknown in print except in the Shem-Tob of 1380 AD. Another example is the Gospel of Thomas from 100 AD—found in 1945. Thomas similarly has variants to Matthean-parables which were unknown in church manuscripts until the Shem-Tob of 1380 AD happened to be published. Then scholars found Thomas had valid variants still preserved in the Shem-Tob. 

Hence, both the Sinaiticus and Gospel of Thomas validate the ancient-quality of the unique tradition found in the Shem-Tob of 1380 AD. Only happenstance proved this by two discoveries more than five centuries later: 

[Shem-Tob] sometimes agrees in odd ways with Codex Sinaiticus [of 340 AD but only found 1892 AD]. It contains some striking readings in common with the Gospel of John, but in disagreement with the other Gospels....ST also often agrees with the Lukan version of Q. ST also contains 22 agreements with the Gospel of Thomas [found in 1945].

These parallels with modern discoveries make the Shem-Tob “all the more remarkable,” says Dr. Tabor.

There are other parallels found between the Shem-Tob and obscure church quotes of Matthew from the first two centuries yet which are dropped in our current Matthew:

The Pseudo-Clementine writings (Recognitions and Homilies) [ca. 200s] when quoting or referring to Matthew occasionally agree with ST Hebrew Matthew against the canonical Greek versions.

An important point in favor of the Shem-Tob is that its version has Matthew 27:9 correctly attributing the prophecy about the 30 pieces of silver to Zechariah. (Zechariah 11:10-13.) However, all Greek manuscripts have it erroneously only ascribed to Jeremiah. For more background, see our footnotes to Matthew 27:9. 

Hence, the Shem-Tob is a more legitimate version than the Greek at that juncture, avoiding as it does an error by Matthew but inconceivably planted by Shaprut. He authored the Shem-Tob to criticize Christianity / Matthew rather than sparing Matthew from criticism by this helpful variance.

Du Tillet Matthew

After the Shem-Tob of 1385 AD, another version of a Hebrew Matthew was found in the 1550s and published in 1555. It was ostensibly brought forth by a Catholic bishop, Jean du Tillet, Bishop of Brieux, France. It had a similar story as the Shem-Tob. It was a copy maintained by Jews in polemical books critical of Christianity. During the Roman Catholic church purge of the Talmud in the 1500s, it was found at Rome. Bishop Tillet published it for the sake of preservation. Centuries later—in 1927—it was reprinted as An Old Hebrew Text of St. Matthew’s Gospel by Hugh J. Schonfield (Edinburgh: 1927). 

While Bishop Tillet was the discoverer of the text and first publisher of it in 1555, we should know something of the one who translated it into English—Schonfield. Who was Hugh Schonfield (1901-1988)?

Schonfield was a Jew who termed himself a ‘Nazarene,’ meaning that he believed, as a Jew, that the Messiah, as predicted in Judaism’s Hebrew Bible, had come in the person of Jesus. 

The Tillet has greater validity in containing the portion of Matthew 27:9-10 which includes what turns out to be the quotation of an apocryphon of Jeremiah. The Shem-Tob contains only the portion that comes from Zechariah. 

Tillet helps explain the textual confusion between Zechariah and Jeremiah in the hands of the Greek translator. See Matthew 27:9-11 in Vol. I of OGM. What happened is the Greek translator erased reference to Zechariah (recovered from the Shem-Tob) in verse 9. The Greek texts only reference Jeremiah. But then the Greek translator dropped it was a reference to words in verse 10 (not 9), and then dropped the words of Jeremiah in verse 10 which the Tillet allows us to recover. Thus, while Shem-Tob helps restore verse 9, the Tillet helps restore the original of verse 10. 

Likewise, at other points, it appears the Tillet version preserves verses that were original. These are noticeable because without them the text is choppy. Thus, many of our suggestions are to use Tillet to restore verses familiar to us in the Greek tradition which we believe Shem-Tob inadvertently failed to copy.

There are also many interesting variant readings in the Tillet that are more concrete and realistic than the Shem-Tob. They are provided for comparison when thought helpful.

Shem-Tob Differences From Original Hebrew Matthew

The Shem-Tob version does not appear to be 100% identical to the original Hebrew Matthew. The virgin birth account is missing in the original Matthew which Epiphanius identifies in the 300s. Yet Shem-Tob has it. Also, the Shem- Tob version does not contain the correct description of Zechariah’s father in Matthew 23:35. Shem -Tob follows the Greek text’s error in that regard. Yet, we know from Jerome that the original Hebrew Matthew / GATHM had Zechariah’s father correct in Matthew 23:35. 

Thus, someone tampered with the Hebrew Matthew that Shem-Tob used. They frequently changed it to fit the Greek Matthew, even when the Greek text was wrong. The Shem-Tob was otherwise more correct such as in Matthew 27:9 which correctly cites Zechariah as the source of the 30-pieces-of-silver-as-wages prophecy. If Shem-Tob were altering the text to fit errors in our Greek text, it could have changed Matthew 27:9 as well to match our Greek texts that all incorrectly say Jeremiah is the source of the prophecy Matthew quotes about the 30 pieces of silver. Thus, the error in Matthew 23:35 most likely was because someone altered the Hebrew Matthew / GATHM upon which the Shem-Tob relied so as to fit the canonical Greek Matthew.

Despite there being some unfortunate reversions to the errors in the Greek text, the Shem-Tob Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew once more proves the Greek Matthew is flawed and not fully inspired. This also highlights that the original Hebrew version was inspired and 100% accurate. 

A Third Version Of The Hebrew Matthew

This is not to say there are no other versions of Matthew in Hebrew to consider. Sebastian Münster (1488-1552) of Basel in 1537 published in Latin a version of Matthew from a Hebrew text discovered that same year. “He had received the text from Spanish Jews he had converted to Christianity in the 1530s.” Apparently, these Jews had previously been using the text to understand the Christian religion in order to counter it. There were several reprints of this text during the 16th century, e.g., at Paris in 1551 by Jean Cinqarbres , and at Basle in 1557 and 1582. However, the original Hebrew manuscript is lost. Yet Münster copied the Hebrew text into the left column. 

Münster is often erroneously dismissed as irrelevant due to a misinterpretation of something he said. Münster is interpreted as saying he filled in gaps in his manuscript. This statement supposedly minimizes any use of his work for critical analysis because this was misread to imply he made concocted inserts. 

Horbury pointed out the error in this interpretation, arguing Münster has been misunderstood when he says that he had to make alterations. Horbury contends Münster meant he found Matthew had been cut in pieces by earlier critics who laid out their critical statements in the middle of gospel-passages. Münster extracted those criticisms and grouped them together at the end of each chapter. This in turn left the gospel-chapters behind which now could be read chapter-by-chapter in one unbroken narrative. Thus, Horbury contends nothing was added or embellished to the gospel. 

Looking at the original of Münster’s work which books.google fortunately makes possible, Horbury is obviously correct. Münster clearly portrayed the Hebrew text in the left column, and it was being word-for-word translated into Latin within the right column. The impression he intended to give was certainly that nothing was added by himself to our gospels. Münster then placed the Hebrew commentary extracts on the left separate from the gospel-chapters. Finally, Münster on the right column provided a Latin translation—but again separated from the Gospel text.

Thus, Horbury is self-evidently correct. Münster found the Hebrew Matthew mixed with anti-Christian polemics. He painstakingly separated out the gold from the dross, thereby restoring our treasured gospel into the familiar shape of a chapter-by-chapter reading. 

Incidentally, contrary to what some claim, the Münster version is not the same as the Shem-Tob version. This was pointed out by Alexander Marx. After reading it, it is very similar to the Tillet and Vulgate yet differs from both at various times.

Thus, is this Münster version an edition to consider? I believe yes, but Christian scholar Michaelis in 1823 said no, and here is his explanation:

We have two editions of a Hebrew Gospel in print: but it is certain that neither of them is St. Matthew’s original, and that neither of them was used either by the Nazarenes or by the Ebionites. Of Münster’s edition I can make this assertion from actual examination, for I have found that it has none of the distinguishing passages of the Nazarene Gospel: and they who have examined Tillet’s edition, say the same.

But I disagree. The fact it is missing any of the 49 quotes of GATHM in the early church is not a sufficient reason to reject the Münster Gospel. Our Greek texts lack those 49 quotes as well, but it does not mean none of our Greek text is valid. There could be treasures likewise in the Münster Gospel. 

Regardless, there are only a few Münster Gospel variants that are important to consider. First, Yahweh frequently appears as God’s name in Münster when the other competing Hebrew Matthew’s use familiar substitutes of either HaShem or three yods. “The Münster Hebrew text of Matthew actually contains the name off YHWH spelled out where it belongs.” 

In the 1537 edition, YHWH is at Matt 1:20, 22, 24, 4:4, 7, 10; 5:33; 21:42; 23:39. It is noted that in the 1551 edition YHWH is also at Matt 2:19; 3:3; 21:9; 22:44; 23:39; 27:10; & 28:2.

This usage appears more valid, as explained in a later appendix. See “Appendix I: Importance of The Divine Name” on page 123 et seq. The other Hebrew manuscripts reflect the unbiblical late oral doctrine that Yahweh’s name should not be written down, and substitutes had to be used instead. 

The other significant alteration Münster provides is that it confirms the Hebrew word translated as carpenter (talking of Joseph) was actually black-smith. (This is also true of Tillet and Shem-Tob.) See Matt 13:55 in OGM Vol. I.

Thus, other than that these two important changes, the others provided by Münster are simply interesting and clarifying. The Münster text often reads smoother than our Greek text.

Thus, I will treat as largely irrelevant the Münster version. It infrequently plays a part in our effort to recover the Original Gospel of Matthew. It only serves primarily to confirm the proper use of Yahweh in Matthew and the term carpenter in Matthew was a mistranslation of black-smith.

Shem-Tob Is Closer To The Original

What the Shem-Tob Gospel of Matthew represents is the closest to the original Matthew that we will find in terms of total words. It reads almost identical to our Matthew, but with minor and subtle differences. There is nothing heretical. 

Howard’s Unsubstantiated Claims

Professor George Howard, a leading translator of the Shem-Tob, tries to find significant differences in the Shem-Tob Hebrew Matthew and our Greek Matthew. These assertions have caused others to rely upon his claims without examining whether these assertions are true or mere speculation.

For example, Howard claims that the Hebrew Matthew never claims Jesus is Messiah (“never equated with Jesus.”) (Howard, The Hebrew Matthew, supra, at 212.) Yet, this is incorrect. To do this, Howard makes much of the fact the Greek Matthew has five times the word Christ used with Jesus’ name, but this is missing in the Hebrew. (Matt. 1:1, 1:17, 1:18, 11:2 and 16:21). Yet, the label Christ each time is itself likely an addition by the Greek translator of the word “Christ” to the original. No one can draw reliable conclusions that the mention of Jesus without adding “Christ” in the Hebrew version implied anything about a disbelief in Jesus as Messiah.

Moreover, the Shem-Tob includes the clear assertion that Jesus is Messiah in Matthew 16:16. This is Peter’s declaration that Jesus is Messiah. Howard acknowledges this, but then claims it was “clearly” an addition. (Id. at 218.) He cites as proof his own page 183. When you go there, you find speculation of how Shaprut’s comments on the Shem-Tob should be interpreted to imply an original text missing Peter’s confession that Jesus was Messiah. No substantial proof is offered. 

Howard’s claim that Shem-Tob “never equated [Messiah] with Jesus” clearly runs also afoul of many other passages in the Shem-Tob. Specifically, the Shem-Tob contains the account that John through his disciples asks Jesus whether He is Messiah, and Jesus responds positively—telling John’s disciples to see the lame walking, etc. (Matt 11:1-5.) The Davidic genealogy and the account of the Bethlehem birthplace are further proofs the Shem-Tob Matthew endorses Jesus as the promised Messiah. 

Messianic References In Shem-Tob 

In fact, let’s review the overwhelming proof that Shem-Tob (“S-T”) affirms Jesus is Messiah even if you ignored Matthew 16:16. 

First, numerous Messianic prophecies are cited in the Shem-Tob Hebrew Matthew as in the Greek Matthew, but there are many other clear references. For example, John the Baptist tells Jesus he should be baptized by Jesus, obviously because Jesus was on a higher level. (Matt 3:14 S-T.) Jesus is the light to shine to the Gentiles. (Matt 4:16 S-T.) Jesus is “worshipped” or “given obeisance” worthy of a King-Messiah without comment. (Matt 8:2 S-T.) John the Baptist’s followers ask if Jesus is the Christ, to which Jesus gives an implicit affirmative, citing the blind see, the lame walk, etc. (Matt. 11:1-5 S-T.) The Son of God is not merely akin to us. He alone knows the Father. (Matt 11:22 S-T.) And a unique variant of the Shem-Tob gives Jesus a divine omniscience, saying “Jesus knows everything in regard to any matter done....” (Matt. 26:10 S-T.) And on and on it goes. See also Matt 21:9 S-T (“savior of the world”); Matt 23:10 S-T (“one is your Rabbi, Messiah.”) 

Howard’s reason for not acknowledging the pervasive appearance in the Shem-Tob of a Messianic identification is unclear. Regardless, his conclusion that the Shem-Tob does not endorse Jesus as Messiah is unsustainable. This affirmation appears repeatedly in the Shem-Tob. 

Higher Position of Christ In Shem-Tob 

In fact, in two respects the Shem-Tob elevates Jesus’ nature over that presented in the Greek version. 

First, in the Greek Matthew 24:36, it says that the time of the tribulation no one knows, “neither the Son,” but only the Father. (Matt. 24:36 NIV, etc.) If Jesus is divinely in-dwelled by the Father (as Jesus claimed in John 14:10-11), how can He not also know the time? As a result, critics who do not believe Jesus was truly indwelled by the Father, as He claimed, cite 24:36 to prove Jesus was not divinely indwelled. While most reply the Father restricted this knowledge from the Son (which is plausible), the knock on Jesus’ own knowledge is not present in the Shem-Tob.

Instead, in the Hebrew Matthew of Shem-Tob, it says “there is none who knows, not even the angels, but the Father only.” Jesus does not exclude himself (indwelled by the Father) from knowing in the Hebrew Matthew. Because in John’s Gospel, Jesus says the Father in-dwells Jesus, such intimacy would seemingly impart naturally such knowledge. See John 14:10-11. Thus, the Hebrew version of Shem-Tob has a text more open to Jesus being indwelled fully by God-the-Father than does the Greek text, in conformity with Jesus’ own depiction of the Father as indwelling Himself.

A similarly troublesome verse in the Greek is Matthew 19:17 (KJV): “Why callest me good? There is none good but one, that is God.” This implies Jesus says it is wrong to call him good. God is alone good. However, the Hebrew Matthew of Shem-Tob has it: “Why do you ask about good? No man is good because God alone is good.” Jesus does not exclude himself in the Hebrew Matthew from being called good. Yet, in the Greek Matthew, Jesus denies being good at all. “Why call me good?”

Thus, we see our Greek Matthew has two passages that seriously undermine Jesus’ divinity as He explained it, but the Hebrew Matthew of Shem-Tob lacks these problems.

Benefits of Recognizing Antiquity and Authenticity Of Shem-Tob Hebrew Matthew

The proof that portions of the Shem-Tob must have pre-existed our Greek text are both fascinating and encouraging. By realizing a possible Hebrew original, we can compare this to the Greek majority text of Matthew, and see it made translation errors by mistaking a single letter from the Hebrew original. Specifically, in over eight places the Greek translator mistook a single letter in Hebrew and then rendered the Greek equivalent. (Howard, Hebrew Gospel of Matthew (1995) at 226-28.) 

Beatitude Repair: Small Yet Significant

For example, Jesus actually says in Hebrew “blessed are those who wait” but if you mistakenly read just one little letter of Hebrew, it comes out “blessed are those who mourn.” (Matt 5:4.) Likewise, Jesus at the Last Supper says one of them will “sell me” in Hebrew, but if you mistake just one little letter, it comes out “betray me.” (Matt 26:23.) The Shem-Tob Matthew clearly demonstrates it is more original than the Greek version upon which we depend today. (See Howard, The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew.) One could not easily forge innocuous variants like this into Hebrew that has a paired Greek word which is one letter apart from the final Greek we have today. (And why forge such a Hebrew variant when the variants are theologically neutral and innocuous?)

Hence, the odds are astronomical that our Greek text would have such proximity to the Shem-Tob Hebrew word if you just changed one Greek letter before translating from Hebrew to Greek (but not the other way around). This leaves only one explanation: the original text was Hebrew. The Greek Matthew is a translation. As Professor Howard deduces, in eight places, the translator mistook a single Hebrew letter and rendered the Greek of that wrongly-read Hebrew word into the Greek text we have today. This fact verifies the Hebrew of the Shem-Tob contains in those eight instances the original Matthew used by the Greek translator. 

Thus, the Shem-Tob Matthew contains an obvious original substratum upon which our Greek Matthew is based. At least in several demonstrable places. This means the Shem-Tob is closer to the Apostle Matthew’s writing than any other version of which we know. 

Shem-Tob Confirms The Correct Name To Baptize In

There is no variant in the Greek text tradition that predates 325 AD which covers Matthew 28:19. This is the verse that tells us to baptize in the name of the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” 

However, all scholars insist, even Roman Catholic ones, that the RCC tampered with the verse and added a trinitarian formula. See also our note on Matthew 28:19 supra, at OGM Vol. 1 at page 219 et seq.

This is bolstered by the fact that in Acts, the baptismal formula is consistently different than in the Greek version of Matthew 28:19. First, Acts 19:3-5 teaches: “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.” Likewise in Acts 2:39, Peter teaches: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In Acts 8:16 “because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.” In Acts 10:48, we read: “So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” In Acts 22:16, we read: “And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Thus, the Greek-Matthew 28:19 has Jesus command use of a trinitarian formula which, if valid, would implausibly mean the apostles and early church disobeyed Jesus and improperly baptized in only Jesus’ name. Hence, the trinitarian formula is highly doubtful.

Further proof is we have the parallel passage in Mark that also lacks the trinitarian formula. Thus, both the Shem-Tob Matthew and the parallel Marcan text lack a trinitarian baptismal formula. We find Matthew 28:19 in the Shem-Tob reads simply—just as simply as Mark’s Gospel reads: 

Go

Thus, the Shem-Tob allows us to confidently tell our brothers and sisters in Christ that the name in which to baptize is simply the name of the Lord Jesus Christ: Yahshua. 

Dating The First Publication of GATHM

The date in which the “Hebrew Gospel of Matthew [was] composed” is given in Blair’s Chronological Tables (1856) as 38 A.D. It then says in 62 AD “the Hebrew gospel of Matthew is rendered into Greek by an unknown translator.” 

Subsequently, scholars began to doubt such early dating of Matthew. This arose when the notion that Mark’s Gospel came first began to gain traction. However, in 1995 Jewish scholars brought again to light that the Talmud records a Jewish teacher who lived no later than 72 A.D. who quotes Jesus from a passage that appears only in Matthew—Matthew 5:16-19—which also includes a unique portion we find in the Shem-Tob Hebrew Matthew of the 1300s. This has convinced modern scholars that indeed Matthew came very early in church history.

In the 1999 book, Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times (Notre Dame Press), Israel J. Yuval of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University revived attention to this particular Talmudic passage. It states that Rabbi Gamaliel, a leader of rabbinical scholars who died around 72 AD, parodied the Pauline reading of Jesus’ gospel. Craig Blomberg, a professor of the New Testament at Denver Theological Seminary, comments that if Gamaliel quoted the Gospel of Matthew, then Matthew “had to be before 70 AD.” Nicholson nudges the date so this gospel is no later than 72 AD.   

In Rabbi Gamaliel’s story, a daughter whose father had died offers a golden lamp as a bribe to a Christian judge known for his honesty, seeking a decision that would allow her to share her father’s estate with her brother. When the judge suggests that dividing the estate would be proper on the basis of the “Gospel [being] given in the place” of Torah to supersede it, Gamaliel argues that the son should inherit over the daughter, relying upon Numbers 27:8 from the Law given Moses. (Herford:149.) Second, Gamaliel quotes a statement exclusively attributed to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. It also includes a portion of what we now know belongs to the Shem-Tob Hebrew Matthew at 6:2. Gamaliel says: “Look further in the book [i.e., the Gospel], and it is written in it, ‘I have not come to take away from the Law of Moses nor add to the Law of Moses.....” The first part is in both the Greek and Shem-Tob Hebrew Matthew, but nor add to the Law is only in the Shem-Tob Hebrew Matthew at 6:2. (See Matt 6:2 OGM Vol. 1.) Based on this argument, Gamaliel wins before the Christian judge. 

The late English scholar, R. Travers Herford, discussed this Talmud passage in his book Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (Williams & Norgate: 1903) at 148 et seq. He infers from it that Matthew’s text was obviously well-known by 72 A.D. And we now know the Hebrew version was being quoted.