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when Paul left Rome, Luke went into Greece, and there wrote his Gospel and the Acts.
From the introduction to Luke's Gospel, it would seem, that he knew nothing of any authentic written Gospel at that time; for he cannot be supposed to refer to such when he says, "Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth, in order, a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us;" and if he had known that Matthew had written a Gospel, he could not easily have avoided some reference to it in this place. But the inference of Lardner from this fact, that no authentic Gospel had been written before this time, is unauthorized, and repugnant to all the testimony which we have on the subject. The Gospel of Matthew might have been circulating for some time among the churches in Judea, and yet not be known to Luke, whose labours and travels led him, in company with Paul, to visit the Gentile countries and cities. If we pay any regard to the opinions of those who lived nearest the times of the Apostles, we must believe, that the Gospel of Matthew was first written, and in the vernacular dialect of Judea, commonly called Hebrew. The writer of this Gospel is also called Levi, the son of Alpheus. He was a Galilean, by nation, and a publican, by profession. When called to follow Christ, he was sitting at the receipt of customs, where the taxes were paid, but he immediately left all these temporal concerns, and attached himself to Christ, who afterwards selected him as one of the Twelve. From this time, he seems to have been constantly with Christ until his crucifixion, of which event he was doubtless a witness; as he was also of the resurrection and ascension of his Lord. On the day of Pentecost, he was present with his brethren, and partook of the rich spiritual endowments which were then bestowed on the Apostles. But, afterwards, there is no explicit mention of him in the New Testament. In his own catalogue of the Twelve, his name occupies the eighth place, as it does in the Acts; but in the lists of the Apostles, contained in the Gospels of Luke and Mark, it occupies the seventh place.
There is an almost total obscurity resting on the history of this Apostle and Evangelist. The scene of his labours, after he left Judea, seems to have been in regions of which we poslittle accurate information to this day. But whether he had Parthia and Persia, or Ethiopia, for the field of his apostolical labours, the ancients are not agreed. It is by no means impossible that he should have preached the gospel, and planted churches, in each of these countries. The his
torian Socrates, in his distribution of the Apostles among the countries of the globe, assigns Ethiopia to Matthew, Parthia to Thomas, and India to Bartholomew.
The testimony of EUSEBIUS is as follows:-" This then was the state of the Jews, but the Apostles and Disciples of our Lord, being dispersed abroad, preached in the whole worldThomas in Parthia; Andrew in Scythia; John in Asia, who having lived there a long time, died at Ephesus. Peter preached to the dispersed Jews, in Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Asia; at length, coming to Rome, he was there crucified, with his head turned down towards the earth, at his own request. Paul also died a martyr at Rome, as we are informed by Origen, in the third tome of his work on Genesis." But Eusebius makes no mention of the Apostle Matthew; nor does JEROME, in his account of Illustrious Men.
CLEMENT of Alexandria mentions a circumstance of this Apostle's mode of life, but nothing more; he says, "That he was accustomed to use a very spare diet, eating vegetables, but no flesh."
CHRYSOSTOM, in one of his Homilies, gives the character of Matthew, but furnishes us with no facts.
It is probable, therefore, that very little was known in the West, respecting the lives, labours, and death of those Apostles who travelled far to the East. None of them, it is probable, ever returned; and there existed no regular channels for the communication of intelligence from those distant regions. The honour of martrydom has been given to them all; and the thing is not improbable: but there are no authentic records from which we can derive any certain information on this subject. The Fathers, whose writings have come down to us, seem to have been as much in the dark as we are, respecting the preaching and death of the majority of the Apostles. There are, it is true, traditions in Ethiopia and the East, in regard to some of them, but they are too uncertain to deserve any serious consideration.
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.
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."
IRENEUS, bishop of Lyons, who was born in Asia, and was acquainted with Polycarp, the disciple of the Apostle John, gives the following testimony:-" Matthew, then among the Jews, wrote a Gospel in their language, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome. . . . And after their decease, Mark, also the disciple of Peter, delivered to us the things which had been preached by Peter; and Luke, the companion of Paul, put down in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, who leaned on his Lord's breast, published a Gospel for the inhabitants of Asia."
In another place, he says, "The Gospel of Matthew was delivered to the Jews."
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."
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, "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."
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."
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; that 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.
JER. 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."
LARDNER and 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 in 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
Tomline, Townson, Horne, Townsend, &c. plead for an early origin of this Gospel, referring it to A.D. 36, or 37.