« PreviousContinue »
literally, with common hands; in the supposition that his readers might not be acquainted with the Hebrew signification of the expression, he has added the explanation, that is to say, with unwashed hands, TOUT' ÈOTIV άVITTOIS. Still fearing that they could not thoroughly understand the ground of this complaint and the explanation of it, he clears up the matter by an observation on the customs and opinions of the Pharisees, and states that these never eat but with washed hands, imagining that they would otherwise be defiled. He explains what is called apaσxen by the Jews, that is the Fore-Sabbath, TOUT' EσTIV проσaßßarov; and what xopßav means, as Josephus did for his Roman readers.
"Matthew recounts the same, even in the same expressions, and speaks of these and many other similar matters; but he abstains from every addition and observation for the instruction of his readers, supposing all this to be already known to them.
“Luke makes numerous observations of a geographical nature in order that his Theophilus, to whom the work was addressed, might briefly be instructed as much as possible concerning the place which was the scene of such an event.
"Matthew does not pursue a similar course. Finding it superfluous to make any observations for the purpose of throwing light upon the morals, customs, opinions, and mode of thinking, all of which might be proper, as to Palestine; he also conducts himself in the same manner with regard to the geography, and is unmindful that his narrations might be unintelligible and obscure to any person who was not acquainted with the country, neighbourhood, cities," &c.
This seems sufficiently decisive as to the Jews being the persons this evangelist had primarily in view, in writing his Gospel; but the question will naturally arise, Why then did Matthew write in Greek? It has been a long disputed question whether he did not write originally in Hebrew, that is, in the dialect of Palestine, vaguely so called. Those who contend that the Gospel was written originally in Greek, reply to the question, that that language was then very generally used in the civilized world, and particularly in Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, &c. This followed from the Macedonian conquests, and the establishment of Greek colonies by the successors of Alexander, as far as Babylonia, Persia, and even India. In Egypt the numerous Jews there colonised had long before required for their religious use the translation of the Old Testament into Greek, Hug's Introduction, vol. ii. 6.
which gave rise to the Septuagint version. Antioch, Tyre, Sidon, and other places, adopted the language of the conquerors; and even the Roman public edicts were in those cities ordered to be exposed in the Latin and Greek languages. The Greek language and manners prevailed in many of the cities of the Jews for several ages. Even in Rome debates in Greek were sometimes heard. Tiberius and other of the Roman emperors answered such foreign ambassadors as spake Greek, in the same language. The Roman officers of rank appear to have all spoken Greek, and in many of the provinces the judges gave judgments in it; so that this was the language of the courts of law. Thus it was in Syria and Phoenicia, and as several learned men, who have largely investigated this subject, have shown, there is no reason to doubt that Pilate and Festus used the Greek tongue in Judea; as neither in Josephus, nor in the New Testament, have we any hint that they made use of an interpreter. With the higher classes of Jews the Greek was a necessary branch of education; but great numbers of the common people of different ranks learned it by connexion and intercourse, in a more imperfect manner, but still in a sufficient degree for the ordinary purposes of life, with the numerous foreigners, and Hellenistic Jews, who abounded in their principal cities, and flocked to Jerusalem at their festivals. Our Lord is therefore supposed, not unfrequently, to have spoken in the prevailing Greek dialect; and judging from the apparently immediate communication between Philip and "the Greeks," that is to say, foreign Jews who did not speak the Hebræo-Aramean language of Palestine, who desired to see our Lord, the apostles also at that time were familiar with it. On this account too we observe that Jesus at once converses with these Greeks. As therefore a Gospel written in Greek would be so largely understood even in Palestine, and when read in the assemblies of the Christians could be so easily rendered into the common tongue, for the instruction of all, a constant practice in the synagogues as to the Hebrew Scriptures, little restriction was placed upon its utility by its being composed in Greek; whilst its benefit would be largely extended among that still more numerous class of Jews who lived beyond the boundaries of Palestine, in every noted city and country of the Roman empire, and who, though they might in some instances understand the Hebrew of the Old Testament, in scarcely any could they know the mixed Hebrew dialect of Judea. To all these the Greek was universally vernacular. When, however, we speak of the Greek language as in use among the Jews, whether in Palestine or in
distant places, the general reader needs to be informed, that, as Professor Winer has observed, "in the age which succeeded Alexander the Great, the Greek language underwent an internal change of a double nature. In part, a prosaic language of books was formed, xown diaλextos, which was built on the Attic dialect, but was intermixed with not a few provincialisms; and partly a language of popular intercourse was formed, in which the various dialects of the different Grecian tribes, heretofore separate, were more or less mingled together; while the Macedonian dialect was peculiarly prominent. The latter language constitutes the basis of the diction employed by the Seventy, the writers of the Apocrypha, and of the New Testament.
"All the nations who after Alexander's death came under Greek rulers, and gradually adopted the language of their conquerors in the common intercourse of life, particularly the Syrians and Hebrews, spoke the Greek less purely than the native Grecians, and enstamped upon it more or less of the characteristics of their respective vernacular tongues. Since now all the Jews who spoke the Greek language are commonly called Hellenists, so the dialect used by them has obtained the appellation of Hellenistic. On this account, the New Testament diction has been called Hellenistic."*
The chief difference between the classical Greek and the Hellenistic lies in the idiom: the inflections are the same, but the phrase is different. The sacred language, the Hebrew, and, in some instances, the Palestinian dialect, have each left its impress upon it. The phraseology, indeed, is often Hebrew, though the words are Greek; still it contains fewer Hebrew grammatical constructions than the Septuagint. The style of the New Testament was a circumstance, however, no doubt determined by the Holy Ghost himself, and by which we may conclude, in spite of the fastidiousness of many critics, the truth has been more fully enunciated than if the refined language of the Greek rhetors had been adopted; as at least being more simple, and for this reason more capable of nearly literal translation into the various tongues of mankind. We are always to remember that the gospel was communicated "in words which the Holy Ghost taught," and that the reasons for the choice must have been determined by infinite Wisdom. Some of these are even obvious; as, for instance, that it affords a strong point of evidence. that the language of the New Testament writers should be the language of men in the precise circumstances, and living in the precise places, which they profess. The only conclusion to
• Winer's Grammar, pages 22 and 27.
which any critic could come in reading the histories of the four Evangelists. is, that their works, being written in Greek, yet in none of the proper dialects of that language, and with such a resemblance to the Hebrew in idiom, were written by native Jews,-by Jews, too, living before the last expulsion of that people from their ancient seats; which is just what the Christian church has always affirmed of them. That they were plain men too, unacquainted with even that sort of philosophy which among the higher Jews was known and studied, is equally clear from the entire absence of all allusions to it in their writings. Here nothing of human speculation appears, nothing of rhetorical art, nothing of the inventive power of genius; and the reason is given by St. Paul, that "our faith might not stand in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God."
Some very learned but mistaken men, indeed, who appear to have been scandalized at the assertion, that the Greek of the New Testament was not classical, have bent their efforts to exhibit parallel phrases taken from the most approved Greek authors, and have, in fact, in some instances, succeeded. But the point is now generally given up as of no importance; or rather, because the fair admission of the fact, as far as it goes, is to the honour of the gospel. It is certain that the style lacks neither clearness nor strength,-two of the greatest qualities of writing; and how far it might have suffered in these respects by the trimming of the grammarian in a fastidious age, we know not. Few men of real taste would even exchange the prayers composed in the time of Elizabeth for the very same prayers cast into what is now called classical English; and not only does the style of St. Paul, for instance, rise to the fulness of perspicuity and vigour, but it has passages of elegant beauty and lofty majesty, to which no parallel can be found. The power which raised, sustained, and subdued the world with this force and majesty, could easily have conformed the idiom and construction to Greek usage and rules; but the Spirit designed not to speak independent of the men; but the men were to speak and write by the Spirit, and to preserve that appropriate dialect to which they and their countrymen were accustomed; yet so, that whilst their dialect preserved its distinctive character, it should yet be so under immediate control and direction, that as their Master spake "as never man spake," so they should write as never men wrote.
Reasons have been given above in favour of the opinion, that St. Matthew first wrote his Gospel in the Greek tongue, with which he, as a man in office, and of at least respectable education, was no doubt familiar;
but it is proper also to state the opposite opinion. So uniform is the testimony of antiquity, that he wrote a Hebrew Gospel, meaning thereby one in the common language of Judea, that did not the fathers rely wholly upon the testimony of a passage from Papias only, whom they have all followed, and of whose judgment Eusebius, though he receives his testimony in this respect, speaks very lightly, this question could not have been so warmly disputed. In the list of names ranged on each side of this controversy there is perhaps nothing to turn the scale, so high is the authority of most of them, both continental and British, in researches of this kind; but the question is, in fact, of almost no importance, since the undoubted antiquity of St. Matthew's Greek Gospel is so high, as to reach to the life-time of that apostle himself, to whom those fathers who allow that he wrote the Gospel in Aramean, ascribe the translation of that into Greek, or the composition of two original works. Eusebius expressly points out a passage quoted from the Psalms, in which St. Matthew, in his Greek translation, departed from the Septuagint, and rendered into Greek from his own view of the sense of the Hebrew text: and although Origen does not speak of St. Matthew's Gospel as a Greek translation of that written for the Jews in their own language, which he believed to exist, yet he speaks of the Gospel which St. Matthew wrote for all classes of Christians composing the whole church under heaven, which a work written in the Palestinian dialect could not be; and so, in fact, he gives his testimony to St. Matthew being the author of the Gospel in Greek commonly received as his, and indeed never questioned from the earliest times. Several of the learned have therefore adopted the theory of two originals, alleging the consent of antiquity for the Hebrew, and evident marks of originality for the Greek. Still, however, though the latter is a conclusive argument, the former, the consent of antiquity, is not in this case sufficiently decisive, to preponderate against those weighty reasons which those have adduced who advocate but one original in Greek. That there would be unauthorized but still very interesting accounts of our Lord's history, some longer and some shorter, written by many with honest intentions, even before Matthew wrote, is very probable; and we have strong proofs of the great antiquity of a work in the popular language, called " The Gospel according to St. Matthew," and another, "The Gospel according to the Hebrews," meaning the Jews in Palestine, and another, "The Gospel according to the Apostles,” if these were not varied forms of the same work, framed by the Nazaraans and Ebionites, Judaizing Christian sects, who in a short time became