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NOTE E. (Page 163.)


There is no apocryphal book of the New Testament which has been so much spoken of, both by the ancients and moderns, as the gospel of the Nazarenes. By some, not only of the Romanists, but also of the Protestants, it has been exalted very nearly to an equality with the canonical books of the New Testament. It seems necessary, therefore, to examine its claims with more attention than is requisite in the case of other books of this class.

This gospel was known among the ancients under several different titles. It was sometimes called “the gospel according to the twelve apostles;” “the gospel of Bartholomew;” “the gospel according to the Hebrews;” “the gospel of the Ebionites,” &c.

It is the opinion of some that this is the gospel to which Paul alludes, Gal. i. 6, where he speaks of “another gospel.” However this may be, if we credit Eusebius, we must believe that it existed as early as the beginning of the second century; for he represents Hegesippus as writing some things concerning “the gospel according to the Hebrews and Syrians.”9090Ecc. Hist. lib. iv. p. 58.


Clement of Alexandria9191Strom. lib. ii. p. 380. cites from it the following passage: “He who admires shall reign, and he who reigns shall be at ease”

Origen speaks of it in this manner, “If any one will receive the gospel according to the Hebrews, in which our Saviour says, ‘The Holy Ghost my mother lately took me by one of my hairs, and led me to the great mountain of Thabor.’” And in another place, “It is written in a certain gospel, which is entitled according to the Hebrews, (if any one be pleased to receive it, not as of authority, but only for illustration of the present question,) ‘A certain rich man said to Christ, What good thing shall I do that I may inherit life? He said to him, O man, keep the law and the prophets; he answered him, That I have done. He said to him, Go sell all things that thou hast, and distribute among the poor, and come and follow me. The rich man hereupon began to scratch his head, and was displeased. And the Lord said unto him, How can you say that you have kept the law and the prophets, seeing it is written in the law, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; but behold, many of thy brethren, children of Abraham, are clothed with nastiness, and ready to perish for hunger, while thy home abounds with all sorts of delicacies, and nothing is sent out of it to them. And turning about, he said to his disciple Simon, who sat by him, Simon, son of Joanna, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.’”9292Hom. in Jerem.

Eusebius, speaking of apocryphal and spurious books, says, “In this number some have placed the gospel according to tile Hebrews, with which they of the Jews who profess Christianity are very much delighted.” And speaking of the Ebionites, he says, “They made use only of that which is called the gospel according to the Hebrews, very little esteeming any others.”9393Ecc. Hist. lib. iii. c. 25, 27.

Epiphanius has left several testimonies respecting this gospel, among which are the following: “The Nazarenes have the gospel of Matthew most entire in the Hebrew language; for this is still preserved among them, as it was at first, in Hebrew characters. But I know not whether they have taken away the genealogy from Abraham to Christ.

In another place, speaking of the Ebionites, he says, “They also receive the gospel according to Matthew. For this both they and the Corinthians make use of, and no other. They call it the gospel according to the Hebrews; for the truth is, that Matthew is the only one of the New Testament writers who published his gospel and preaching, in the Hebrew language and Hebrew characters.”

And again, “In that gospel which they (the Ebionites) have called, according to St. Matthew, which is not entire and perfect, but corrupted and curtailed, and which they call the Hebrew gospel, it is written, ‘That there was a certain man called Jesus, and he being about thirty years of age, made choice of us. And coming to Capernaum, he entered into the house of Simon called Peter, and opening his mouth, said, When I passed by the lake of Tiberias, I chose John and James the sons of Zebedee, and 350Simon and Andrew, and Thaddeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas Iscariot, and thee Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom, I called, and thou didst follow me. I will therefore that ye be my twelve apostles, for a testimony to Israel.’ . . . . The meat of John the Baptist, according to this gospel, was wild honey, the taste of which was like manna, or as cakes made with honey and oil. Thus they change the true account into a falsehood, and for locusts put cakes made with oil and honey.” “The beginning of the gospel was this, ‘It came to pass in the days of Herod,’” &c. After relating the baptism of Christ, as it is recorded in the other gospel, except that it asserts, that the voice from heaven saying, ‘This is my beloved Son,’ &c., was repeated, it goes on to say,’ That hereupon John fell down before him, and said, O Lord, I pray thee baptize me; but he hindered him, saying that it is fit that all these things should be fulfilled.’ “See,” says Epiphanius, “how their false doctrine appears everywhere; how all things are imperfect, disordered, and without any truth!” So also Cerinthus and Carpocrates, using this same gospel of theirs, would prove that Christ proceeded from the seed of Joseph and Mary.”9494Epiph. Hæres. But the testimony of Jerome respecting this gospel is the most full. “Matthew, also called Levi,” says he, “who became from a publican an apostle, was the first who composed a gospel of Christ, and for the sake of those who believed in Christ among the Jews, wrote it in the Hebrew language and letters, but it is uncertain who translated it into Greek. Moreover, the Hebrew copy is to this time preserved in the library of Cæsarea, which Pamphilus the martyr with much diligence collected. The Nazarenes, who live in Berœa, a city of Syria, and made use of this volume, granted me the favour of writing it out. In which gospel there is this observable, that wherever the evangelist either cites himself, or introduces our Saviour as citing, any passage out of the Old Testament, he does not follow the translation of the LXX, but the Hebrew copies, of which there are these two instances, viz. ‘Out of Egypt have I called my Son;’ and, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’” This testimony is found in Jerome’s life of Matthew. And in his life of James we find the following account. “The gospel also, which is called according to the Hebrews, and which I lately translated into Greek and Latin, and which Origen often used relates, ‘That after our Saviour’s resurrection, when our Lord had given the linen cloth to the priest’s servant, he went to James and appeared to him; for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he drank the cup of the Lord, till he should see the Lord risen from the dead. And a little after the Lord said, ‘Bring the table and the bread;’ and then it is added, ‘He took the bread and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to James the Just, and said to him, My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of man is risen from the dead.’”

And in a work against Pelagius, he says, “In the gospel according to the Hebrews, which is written in the Chaldo-Syriac language, which the Nazarenes use, and is that according to the twelve apostles, or as most think, according to Matthew, which is in the library of Cæsarea, there is the following history: ‘Behold 351the mother and brethren of Christ spake to him; John the Baptist baptizes for the remission of sins; let us go and be baptized of him. He said, In what have I sinned, that I have need to go and be baptized of him? Unless my saying this proceeds, perhaps, from ignorance.’ And in the same gospel it is said,’ If thy brother offend thee by any word, and make thee satisfaction, if it be seven times in a day, thou must forgive him. Simon his disciple said unto him, What! seven times in a day? The Lord answered and said unto him, I tell thee also till seventy times seven.’”

The same author, in his commentary on Isaiah, mentions this gospel in the following manner: “According to their gospel, which is written in the Hebrew language, and read by the Nazarenes, the whole fountain of the Holy Ghost descended upon him. Besides, in that gospel just mentioned we find these things written. ‘It came to pass when the Lord ascended from the waters, the whole fountain of the Holy Ghost descended and rested upon him, and said to him, My son, among (or during the time of) all the prophets, I was waiting for thy coming, that I might rest upon thee; thou art my first begotten Son, who shall reign to everlasting ages.’”

And in his commentary on Ezekiel, “In that which is entitled the gospel according to the Hebrews, it is reckoned among the chief of crimes for a person to make sorrowful the heart of his brother.”

In his commentary on the gospel of Matthew he has the following: “In the gospel which the Nazarenes and Ebionites use, which I lately translated out of Hebrew into Greek, and which is by most esteemed the authentic gospel of Matthew, the man who had the withered hand is said to be a mason, and prayed for relief in the following words: ‘I was a mason, who got my livelihood by my hands; I beseech thee, Jesus, that thou wouldst restore me to my strength, that I may no longer thus scandalously beg my bread.’”

“In the gospel which the Nazarenes use, for the son of Barachiah, I find written, the son of Jehoiada.” “In this gospel we read, not that the veil of the temple was rent, but that a lintel or beam of a prodigious size fell down.” “In the Hebrew gospel we read, that our Lord said to his disciples, ‘Be ye never cheerful, unless when you can see your brother in love.’”

Concerning this gospel according to the Hebrews, very different opinions have been expressed by learned men. Some have even pretended, that if it was now in existence it would be greatly superior to the Greek copy, but generally it has been considered apocryphal, for very good reasons, some of which I will now set down.

1. It was never received by any of the Fathers as canonical, or cited as of any authority, by any writer, during the first foul centuries.

For full proof of the fact here stated, I would refer the reader to Jones on the Canon, vol. iii.

2. This gospel was apocryphal, because it contained several things contrary to known and undoubted truths. Of this sort are the passages which have been cited respecting Christ’s manner of speaking, in regard to the baptism of John. Also the account 352which it contains of the oath of the apostle James; for it is evident that the disciples knew nothing of Christ’s resurrection from the dead until after that event occurred.

3. A third argument of the apocryphal character of this gospel, is derived from the ludicrous and silly relations which it contains—as that of the rich man scratching his head, and the Holy Ghost taking up Christ by one of his hairs, and carrying him to the great mountain Tabor, &c.

The most probable opinion of the origin of this gospel is, that it was a corruption of the original Hebrew gospel of Matthew, by the Ebionites. These heretics having this gospel in their possession, and having departed from the true faith, mutilated the gospel of Matthew, by striking out such things as were unfavourable to their heresy, and adding such fabulous stories as suited their purpose. Of the fragments which remain, there is not one which agrees exactly with the authentic gospel of Matthew. Epiphanius expressly asserts, that the Ebionites used the gospel of Matthew alone, and that in Hebrew, but not entire, but corrupted and adulterated; and that they had taken away the genealogy from the beginning, and commenced their gospel with these words, “And it came to pass in the days of Herod,” &c.

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