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TESTIMONIES TO MATTHEW’S GOSPEL—TIME OF PUBLICATION—LANGUAGE IN WHICH IT WAS ORIGINALLY COMPOSED.
BUT while we know so little of the apostolical labours of the Evangelist Matthew, it is pleasing to find that the testimonies respecting the genuineness of his gospel are so early and full. To these we will now direct our attention.
Barnabas, the companion of Paul, is said by the ancient ecclesiastical writers, to have left an Epistle of some length. This is mentioned by Origen, Jerome and Eusebius, and is frequently quoted by Clement of Alexandria. An Epistle under his name is still extant, but whether written by this apostolic man is very much disputed. Whoever was the author, it seems to have been written shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem, and by a zealous Christian. In this Epistle, there are many sentences found in the gospel of Matthew, but no reference to any book of the New Testament. In some of them, however, there are evident signs that these passages which are found in the gospel were quotations. One of these is in Matthew xx. 16. And in this Epistle it is thus introduced; “Let us, therefore, beware, lest it should happen unto us, as it is written, There are many called, but few chosen.”
As the Christians who lived at the beginning of the 155gospel, did not receive their instruction from written gospels, but from the preaching of the apostles, they would often express in their writings the same things in substance which we read in the Evangelists, so that unless they use marks of quotation, it cannot be certainly known that these phrases are cited from any book. They may have learnt them from hearing the apostles, or even Christ himself. But when they in the text cited, say, as it is written, it may fairly be inferred, that when found in one of the gospels it was taken from it.
The circumstance above mentioned furnishes a satisfactory reason for the fact, that in the writings of the apostolical Fathers, there is so seldom any reference to the books of the New Testament. These men received their knowledge of Christianity before any of the books of the New Testament were written; and although they existed when they wrote, they would not be so likely to refer to them as if they had derived their knowledge from them.
Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, who was acquainted with the Apostle John, expressly mentions Matthew’s gospel; and asserts,’ That he wrote the divine oracles in Hebrew.”5151See Euseb. Ecc. Hist. lib. iii. c. xxxix.
Justin Martyrr, who lived in the middle of the second century, has in many places cited the very words of the gospel of Matthew, but without mentioning his name. One instance will be sufficient: “And it is written in the gospel, that he said, All things are delivered to me of my Father, and no man knoweth the Son but the Father: neither the Father, save the Son, and they to whom the Son will reveal 156him.” This is taken from the gospel of Matthew, xi. 27.5252Dialogue with Trypho.
Irenæus, bishop of Lyons, who was born in Asia, and was acquainted with Polycarp, the disciple of the apostle John, gives the following testimony: “We have not received the knowledge of the way of our salvation by any others, than those through whom the gospel has come down to us; which gospel they first preached, and afterwards, by the will of God, transmitted to us in writing, that it might be the foundation and pillar of our faith.”—“For after our Lord had risen from the dead, and they were clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit descending upon them from on high, were filled with all gifts, and possessed perfect knowledge, they went forth to the ends of the earth, spreading the glad tidings of those blessings which God has conferred on us, and announcing peace from heaven to men; having all, and every one alike, the gospel of God. Matthew among the Hebrews published a gospel in their own language; while Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel at Rome and founding a church there. And after their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself delivered to us in writing what Peter preached; and Luke, the companion of Paul, recorded the gospel preached by him. Afterwards John, the disciple of the Lord, who leaned upon his breast, likewise published a gospel, while he dwelt at Ephesus, in Asia. And all these have taught us, that there is one God, the maker of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christt, the Son of God.”5353Contra Hæres. lib. iii. c. i. p. 173.
In another place Irenæus characterizes all the four 157gospels, by setting down the beginning of each; where of Matthew he says, “Matthew proclaims his human generation, saying, The genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.”
In another place he says, “The gospel of Matthew was delivered to the Jews.”
This early testimony from a learned man living so near the times of the apostles is invaluable, and must be satisfactory to every candid mind of the genuineness of the four gospels. Other decisive testimonies might be adduced from the same author, but they are unnecessary.
Hegesippus, who also lived and flourished in the second century, was the author of an Ecclesiastical History extending from the death of Christ to his own times, which unhappily has not come down to us. All that remains is a few fragments preserved by Eusebius. In one of these he cites a passage from the gospel of Matthew xiii. 16, “Blessed are your eyes which see, and your ears which hear.”
Athenagoras also was a writer of the second century. He wrote two books, one on the Resurrection, the other, an Apology for the Christians. Of this man Philip Sidetes says, “that he was a heathen and determined to write against Christianity, but by reading the gospels was converted. He has citations from nearly all the books of the New Testament. From the gospel of Matthew he quotes the following words; “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for, them that persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and unjust.” Matt. v. 44, 45.158
Origen, who was born in the second century, and wrote and flourished in the beginning of the third, has left us the following testimony: “According to the traditions received by me, the first gospel was written by Matthew, once a publican, afterwards a disciple of Jesus Christ, who delivered it to the Jewish believers, composed in the Hebrew language.” And in another place he says, ” Matthew wrote for the Hebrews.”
Eusebius, who lived about a hundred years later than Origen, informs us, that ” Matthew, having first preached the gospel to the Hebrews, when about to go to other people, delivered to them, in their own language, the gospel written by himself; by that supplying the want of his presence with them, whom he was about to leave.”5454Euseb. Ecc. Hist. lib. iii. c. 21.
In the Synopsis, which has been ascribed to Athanasius, it is said, “Matthew wrote his gospel in the Hebrew, and published it at Jerusalem.” Cyril of Jerusalem testifies, “That Matthew wrote in Hebrew.” Epiphanius says the same, and adds, “Matthew wrote first, and Mark soon after him, being a follower of Peter at Rome.” Gregory Nazianzen says, ” That Matthew wrote for the Hebrews.” EBEDJESU, the Syrian, “That Matthew, the first Evangelist, published his gospel in Palestine, written in Hebrew.”
Jerome, in his Commentary on Matthew, testifies that “The first Evangelist is Matthew, the publican, surnamed Levi, who wrote his gospel in Judea, in the Hebrew language, chiefly for the Jews who believed in Jesus, and did not join the shadow of the law with the truth of the gospel.”159
Again, in his book of Ecclesiastical Writers, he says, “Matthew, called also Levi, of a publican made an apostle, first of all wrote a gospel in the Hebrew language, for the sake of those in Judea who believed. By whom it was afterwards translated into Greek is uncertain.”
Chrysostom, in his introduction to this gospel, writes, “Matthew is said to have written his gospel at the request of the Jewish believers, who desired him to put down in writing what he had said to them by word of mouth; and it is said he wrote in Hebrew.”
Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, lived in the latter part of the second century, and wrote several works. Jerome in his prologue to the gospel of Matthew, says, “I have read the commentaries of Theophilus, bishop of Antioch.” In another place he says: “Theophilus, the seventh bishop of Antioch after Peter, who collected into one the words of the four gospels.”
It would be unnecessary to adduce any testimonies from later writers; but as they mention some circumstances probably received by tradition, and not contained in the earlier testimonies, I will subjoin a few of them.
Cosmas, who lived in the sixth century, reports, that “Matthew is the first that wrote a gospel. A persecution having arisen after the stoning of Stephen, and he having resolved to go from that place, the believers entreated him to leave with them a written instruction; with which request he complied.”
Another author of this century, who wrote a discourse on Matthew, has left this testimony: “The occasion of Matthew’s writing is said to have been this—there being a great persecution in Palestine, so that there was danger lest the faithful should be dispersed; 160that they might not be without teaching, they requested Matthew to write for them an accurate history of all Christ’s words and works; that wherever they should be, they might have with them the ground of their faith.”
In the Paschal Chronicle, written in the seventh century, it is intimated, that Matthew published his gospel about fifteen years after our Lord’s ascension.
Euthymius, in the beginning of the twelfth century, says, “That this gospel was first written in the Hebrew language for the Jewish believers, eight years after our Lord’s ascension.”
From these testimonies, it appears, that the Fathers had no certain knowledge of the exact time when Matthew wrote his gospel. Irenæus refers it to the period when Paul and Peter were preaching at Rome, but he speaks vaguely on the subject.
The writers who mention a precise time, lived at too late a period to give testimony on this subject. But all agree, that this was the first gospel written.
Among the moderns, there is much diversity of opinion, as might be expected, where there is little else than conjecture to guide them. Lardner and Basnage supposed that this gospel was not written before A. D. 64. Cave thought that it was written fifteen years after the ascension of Christ. Jeremiah Jones is in favour of that opinion which places it eight years after the ascension. Grotius and G. J. Vossius are of the same opinion. So also is Wetstein. But Tillemont carries it up to the third year after the crucifixion of our Saviour.5555Tomline, Townson, Horne. Townsend, &c. plead for an early origin of this gospel, referring it to A. D. 36 or 37. Lardner 161and Percy have adduced arguments for a late origin of this gospel, derived from internal evidence, but they are of very inconsiderable weight.
As it is agreed that it was written before Matthew left Judea to preach the gospel in foreign parts, and as this event seems to have occurred after the persecution which was raised at Judea against the church, it seems probable, that they are nearest the truth, who place it about eight years after the ascension of Christ; which date unites more writers in its support than any other.
Not only the date, but the original language of this gospel has been made a subject of controversy. By the testimonies already cited, it seems that there was but one opinion among the ancients in regard to this matter. With one voice they inform us, that it was written in Hebrew; or in the vernacular tongue of the Jews, which in the Scriptures, and by the Christian Fathers, is called Hebrew. This language is now called Syro-Chaldaic, or Western Aramean, but it consisted chiefly of words derived from Hebrew origin, and was, in fact, the Hebrew corrupted by a large mixture of foreign words, and by various changes in the prefixes and affixes of the words. This was the language in which Jesus Christ spoke and delivered all his discourses; and which the apostles were accustomed to speak from their childhood.
Although the Greek language was understood by all the learned in Judea at this time, and by many of the people, yet it was not the vernacular language of the Jews dwelling in Palestine. In a book composed for the immediate use of the churches in Judea, it was necessary that it should be in that language which they 162all understood; which was neither pure Hebrew nor Greek. The testimony of the Fathers is, therefore, strengthened by a consideration of the nature of the case. And if it were not so, yet when the judgment of modern critics stands opposed to the universal testimony of the ancients, in regard to a matter of fact, which occurred not long before their time, there ought to be no hesitation which is most deserving of credit.
There is, however, one difficulty attending this opinion, which is, that it supposes that the original of this gospel is lost, and we have now nothing but a translation, which opinion would lessen its canonical authority.
It must be confessed, that this is a consequence of a serious kind, and one which ought not to be received respecting any canonical book without necessity. But does this conclusion necessarily follow from the admission, that this gospel was originally composed in the Hebrew language? Might there not have been a version immediately prepared by the writer himself, or by some other person under his superintendence? This being the first gospel that was composed, it would naturally be in great request with all Christians who knew of its existence; and as none but the Jewish Christians could understand it, as first published, it is exceedingly probable, that a request was made of the author to publish an edition of it in Greek, also, by those who did not understand the Hebrew; or, by such as were going to preach the gospel in countries where the Greek language was in common use.
It has been considered a strong objection to the Hebrew original of this gospel, that no person, whose writings have come down to us, has intimated that he 163had ever seen it; and from the earliest times it seems to have existed in the Greek language. But this fact is perfectly consistent with the supposition now made; for the desolation of Judea, and dispersion of the Jewish Christians, having taken place within a few years after the publication of Matthew’s gospel, the copies of the original Hebrew would be confined to the Jewish converts; and as other Christians had copies in the Greek, of equal authenticity with the Hebrew, no inquiries would be made after the latter. These Jewish Christians, after their removal, dwindled away in a short time, and a large part of them became erroneous in their faith; and though they retained the Hebrew gospel of Matthew, they altered and corrupted it to suit their own heretical opinions. There is reason to believe, that the gospel of the Nazarenes, was the identical gospel of Matthew, which in process of time was greatly mutilated and corrupted by the Ebionites. Of this gospel much is said by the Fathers, and, in the proper place, we shall give some account of it.5656See Note E.
The only remaining objection of any weight against the ancient
opinion, is, that the gospel according to Matthew, as we now have it, has no
appearance of being a translation, but has the air and style of an original. But
if the hypothesis, suggested above be adopted, this objection also will vanish;
for according to this the Greek is an original, as well as the Hebrew, it having
been written by Matthew himself, or by some disciple under his direction. But
whether the Greek of Matthew was written by himself or not, it is certain that
it was not later than the apostolic age, and received the approbation of
164or apostolic men, which is sufficient
to establish its authenticity.5757 The learned world have been nearly equally divided
on the question, whether Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew or Greek. In favour
of the former opinion, may be cited, Bellarmine, Grotius, Casaubon, Walton, Tomline,
Cave, Hammond, Mill, Harwood, Owen, Campbell, A. Clarke, Simon, Tillemont, Pritius,
Dupin, Calmet, Michaelis, and others. In favour of the Greek origin of this gospel
the names are not less numerous, nor less respectable. Among these maybe mentioned,
Erasmus, Paræus, Calvin, Le Clerc, Fabricius, Pfeiffer, Lightfoot, Beausobre, Basnage,
Wetstein, Rumpæus, Whitby, Edelman, Hoffman, Moldenhawer, Viser, Harles, Jones,
Jortin, Lardner, Hey, Hales, Hewlett, and others.
The two opinions were supported by a weight of argument and authority so nearly balanced, that Dr. Townson, and a few others, have adopted a middle course, viz. the opinion stated above, that there were two originals; by which theory all difficulties are removed. The only objection is the want of evidence. Horne and Townsend have adopted this opinion. See Horne’s Introd. vol. iv. Part ii. c. ii. Sec. ii. p. 267.
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