« PreviousContinue »
clude, that he means to be understood as intimating such to be the case.
His words are ; “Matthew wrote oracles (Cógia, accounts, narrations) in the Hebrew dialect ; and then each one interpreted them as he could.” *
That by the Hebrew dialect is here meant the language which the Jews of that day spoke and wrote in Palestine, there cán be no rational doubt. This was a mixture of Hebrew, Chaldee, and Syriac, with some modifications in grammar .peculiar to itself; as we know from the Jerusalem Targum, written not long after this period. We know this, also, from the few sentences of the native language of Palestine, at that time, which are preserved in the Gospels.
No claim has ever been set up, I believe, for Papias as a Hebrew scholar. There is no evidence, and no probability, that he had any acquaintance with the Hebrew language. He could not judge, then, of a supposed original Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, in consequence of any intimate personal knowledge of the subject. From common report, or (as in this case seems most probable) from John the Presbyter, he must have derived this tradition. From what source John derived it, or who this John was, or whether he had himself any personal knowledge of the Hebrew—are questions which history does not enable us to answer. The probability seems to be, from the name of this Presbyter (ʻlwávvns), that he was of Jewish origin.
But what is the meaning of the clause : “Each one interpreted them (the narrations] as he could ?”
Of a written interpretation we cannot think, even for a moment. Had there been many such, as would have been the case provided we are so to understand Papias, we can scarcely imagine that this would not have been mentioned. The simple ineaning seems to be, that each one into whose hands Matthew's original Gospel fell, who had any ability to interpret the Hebrew original, did it according to the measure of his ability. Another limitation still must be added, in order to 'make out any tolerable sense. Papias cannot be understood as referring to readers to whom the Hebrew was vernacular. These had no need of interpreting a Hebrew Gospel; for they understood it better as it was, than they could do in the language of any version. Papias, then, must have meant to say, that every
* Μαθθαίος μέν ούν εβραϊδι διαλέκτω τα λόγια συνεγράψατο, ηρμένευσε δ' αυτά ως ήδύνατο έκαστος. Εuseb. Ηist. Ecc. III. 39.
person who spoke Greek and had more or less knowledge of the Hebrew, made out the sense of Matthew's Hebrew Gospel as well as he could. This would seem to imply, either that there had been a time when there was no regular written translation of Matthew into the Greek, or else that such as could not, or did not, obtain this translation, made out the meaning as well as they could from the original Hebrew. The latter seems to be the more probable meaning of Papias here; for inasmuch as he speaks of Mark in conjunction with Matthew, there can be scarcely a doubt, as Olshausen has remarked, that the Corpus Evangelicum, or Collection of the Four Gospels, (Ευαγγέλια, Ευαγγελικόν) was already in circulation among the churches; and if so, then undoubtedly the Greek translation of Matthew had already been made, and was in use by the churches at large.
On this account, the declaration of Papias, viz., that “each one interpreted them (the narrations] as he could,” has been thought to be very strange, and much severe comment has been made upon the good father, on account of this inaccurate and seemingly unmeaning expression. A little candour, however, would remove, as it seems to me, all serious difficulty. We have only to imagine the limitations above stated, and there is nothing in the declaration of Papias which would seem to deserve any special animadversion, believing, as he did, in the existence of a Hebrew original of Matthew.
But we have not yet done with this subject. The testimony of Papias, in this case, like all other testimony of the fathers, is a fair subject of examination, while the cause is pending. The witness inay lawfully, and in this case must, be cross-examined.
At all adventures, so far as we know, Papias speaks, in regard to the matter before us, what he had learned only by tradition, and not from any personal acquaintance with a Hebrew Gospel. It matters not whether he had this traditionary account from John the Presbyter, (as seems most probable), or from any
other source entitled to the like credit. There can be no reasonable doubt, that such a view of this subject prevailed extensively in the ancient churches; and, I doubt not, it must have been prevalent in the time of Papias. But whence did it originate? And what are the circumstances which will account for its origin, without necessitating us to suppose it to be matter of fact, that Matthew actually wrote his Gospel in Hebrew? This is the cross-examination which should be made of Papias' testimony, before the cause comes to a final issue.
It is a matter well known among all who are acquainted with the writings of the earlier fathers, that there existed in very early times a Gospel κατα Μαθθαίον, or, as it was perhaps more frequently namned, a Gospel xal? Zpoalous, and sometimes και αποστόλους. This Gospel was current among the Jewish converis, who began very early to be called by way of distinction Ebionites, and afterwards Nazarenes, and then Nazarenes and Ebionites, because they were divided into two different sects. Several of the fathers make no distinction, however, sometimes comprising them all under the one name, and sometimes under the other. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen, call them Ebionites. The leading distinction of these sects seems to have been, that the Ebionites to the universal obligation of the Mosaic law, and also maintained the mere humanity of Christ; while the Nazarenes held the law to be obligatory only upon Jews, and in other respects do not seem to have been justly exposed to the charge of heresy, although this was sometimes made against them.
Among both of those sects (how early they were divided we know not), there was in circulation, the so-named Gospel according to the Hebrews ; among the Ebionites, as Epiphanius testifies (Habres. c. 3. 13. al.), with the two first chapters excluded; but among the Nazarenes, unimpaired, i.e. not curtailed.
What sort of a Gospel this was, we shall have occasion to inquire in the sequel. Here we confine ourselves to the simple inquiry : At how early a period can we trace any testimonies of its being in existence.
Eusebius (H. E. IV. 22) has given us an account of Hegesippus, an ecclesiastical historian of much credit, who flourished in the time of Justin Martyr, i. e. about 140 seq. From him Eusebius states that he had copiously extracted in his own work ; and he then adds: “Some things he (Hegesippus) produces from the Gospel according to the Hebrews, even the Syriac, and appropriately of the Hebrew dialect, thus showing that be was bimself a believer of Hebrew origin."* The word Syriac has been much commented upon in this place; and many have
* "Εκ τε τον καθ' “Εβραίους ευαγγελίου, και του Συριακού, και ιδίως έκ της Εβαΐδος διαλέκτου, τινά τιθεσι, εμφαίνων εξ Εβραίων εαυτόν πεπιστευκέναι. .
felt it to be very obscure, while others have deduced strange conclusions from it. Jerome (adv. Peleg. III, 1) bas afforded 'us a satisfactory solution of the difficulty ; where, speaking of this same Gospel, he says: Evangelium juxta Hebraeos, quod Chaldaico Syroque sermone scriptum est," i. e. “it is written in the Syro-Chaldaic;' which was the Hebrew of that day.
There can be no doubt, then, that very early in the second century the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews was extant, and also in the Hebrew language of the day.
After this period we meet with still more decided evidence of its existence. Clement of Alexandria, at the close of the second century, cites a passage from it, i. e. from some Greek translation of it, (for Clement did not understand the Hebrew), which he prefaces by the following expression : 'Ev to zas' “Εβραίους ευαγγελία γέγραπται. Τhat this was in some respects a different Gospel from our present Greek Matthew, is evident from the fact, that the passage which Clement here cites is not found in our copies; Clem. Opp. II. p. 453. ed. Potteri.
Eusebius, moreover, in his Hist. Ecc. VI. 17, speaks of Symmachus, the well known early Greek translator of the Scriptures, who was contemporary with Clement of Alexandria, as having appealed to the Gospel according to the Hebrews, in order to confirm his own heretical sentiments. But as the passage in which Eusebius thus speaks is obscure in some respects, and has been a matter of controversy in regard to its real import
, I will not cite it at length in this place. I may, however, confdently refer to it as one of the clear proofs of the supposed existence of the Gospel in question, in the time of Symmachus.
Origen (about 240) speaks often of this same Gospel, and makes several quotations from it. He thus introduces it in his Tract. VIII. in Matthew, of which we have the Latin translation : “Scriptum est in evangelio quodam, quod dicitur secundum Hebraeos, etc.” Again, (Comm. in Jer. Homil. XV. and Comm. in Johann. II. p. 53, ed. de La Rue), he professedly cites another passage from this Gospel. Both of the passages which Origen cites, are wanting in our present Gospel; as we shall hereafter see.
Eusebius (H. E. III. 27), speaking of the Ebionites, says: Ευαγγελίω δε μόνο το καθ' “Εβραίους λεγομένω χρώμενοι, των loutāv quixqov ảnoloūvto lóyov, i.e. using the Gospel according to the Hebrews, they make very little account of the others.'
Epiphanius, at the close of the fourth century, speaks often
of the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Haer. XXX. 3, he says of the Ebionites, that “they receive the Gospel xata MatJalov, and this only do they( as well as the Cerinthians) use. They call it, moreover, nara EBoulous," i. e. 'the Gospel according to the Hebrews. In Haer. XXX. 13 he speaks still more expressly : “In the Gospel named wara Mar Jaiov, which is current among them (the Ebionites), not in its complete and entire form, but adulterated and curtailed, and which they call 'Eppaixóv, it is said, etc."*
Jerome speaks many times of the Gospel secundum Hebraeos or jurta Hebraeos ; sometimes he called it the Gospel duodecim apostolorum, and then the Gospel juxta Matthaeum. In his book de Viris Illustribus (c. III.), he says that “Matthew wrote the Gospel of Christ in Hebrew letters and words. . . A copy in the Hebrew is preserved at the present time in the library at Caesarea. . . . I also obtained an exemplar from the Nazarenes of Beroea in Syria, who gave me leave to copy it." of this copy Jerome made both a Greek and a Latin translation.
The reader should be notified here, that while the words of Jerome, in this passage, seem to confound the original Gospel of Matthew with this Gospel of the Nazarenes, yet he elsewhere makes a distinction so clear between them, besides giving quotations from the latter which exhibit important discrepancies, that there can be no doubt that he did not consider them in all respects, or even in all important respects, as one work.
From very early times, then, i. e. from the time of Hegesippus (about 140) we have decisive testimony that a Gospel according to the Hebrews was in circulation. But nothing decisive as to the similarity of this with our canonical Matthew, is produced by Eusebius, in his narrative respecting the quotation from it by Hegesippus.
Besides Hegesippus, we have no testimony which will satisfy us, that any of the Christian fathers, excepting Clement of Alexandria and Origen, ever saw this Gospel, until we come down to Epiphanius and Jerome, at the close of the fourth century. As to Clement, who quotes from it, he had no knowledge of Hebrew, and therefore, as we may reasonably
'Εν τω παρ' αύτοϊς ευαγγελία κατά Ματθαίον ονομαζομένω, ουκ όλω δε πληρεστάτω αλλά νενοθευμένη και ακρωτηριασμένω, Εβραικόν δε καλούσι, έμφέρεται και. τ. λ.