Page images

Soon after these had elapsed we hear no more of the Jewish Christians, and must naturally suppose that they dwindled away until they became extinct.

In the mean time it is altogether clear, that from a very early period, (there can be no good reason to doubt, that even before the expiration of the first century), they had a rallying-point for their sectarian views in the so-called Gospel κατά Ματθαίον or Gospel xato 'Espaious. They could not have kept themselves in countenance, nor even in existence, as a Christian sect, without some such central point around which they must revolve. That they regarded their Gospel as of apostolic origin, there can be no reasonable doubt, because they would otherwise not have rejected all other Gospels. That it originally had its basis in the Gospel of Matthew, one is strongly tempted to believe, from the manner in which Origen, Epiphanius, and Jerome speak of it. But whether it was translated from Matthew's canonical Greek Gospel, or vice versa, that is a point on which we have no explicit information; I mean none which, under circumstances like these, can be justly considered as decisive. We shall see in the sequel, whether I have assumed too much in this remark.

The great body of the Jewish Christians being thus early separated from the church catholic, by their language and by their opinions, and great aversion existing between the two parties, the church at large gave themselves little or no concern about them or their Scriptures. They indeed gave out that they had a Gospel κατά Ματθαίον. It was natural enough to suppose that Matthew might have left such an one for bis kinsmen after the flesh. It was reported among the churches, and commonly believed, that he did; and the fathers have given us that report as it came to them. They bave given it honestly, and their integrity is not at all impeachable.

But mark now the result in respect to all those fathers who made any particular examination into this matter. Origen gives us a long passage from the Jewish Gospel which is wholly spurious. He gives us another which is preposterous ; (p. 144 seq. above). He plainly discloses his views of the Jewish Gospel; and these are, that he does not deem it all authoritative. Epiphanius has given us many citations from the same Gospel, and expressly told us, that the Ebionites used a Matthew which was ούκ πληρέστατον, but was νενοθευμένος και ηκρωτηριασμέ

He has given us many extracts also from the Gospel of Vol. XII. No. 31.



the Nazarenes, which shew most fully that it was an adulterated Gospel and had been the subject of many interpolations, in case our canonical Matthew was the original basis of it. Jerome, who had a most intimate knowledge of this same Gospel of the Nazarenes, and translated it both into Greek and Latin, gives us a multitude of passages from it of the same tenor with those of Origen and Epiphanius ; and these fully demonstrate what he has himself explicitly avowed, viz., that one could not appeal to this Gospel as a matter of authority.

All the testimony, then, being taken and compared together in respect to this Jewish Gospel, nothing can be plainer and more certain, than that, whatever resemblances it might have to our canonical Matthew, yet it was plainly a very different book from this, and had no substantial claims on the church for reception as authoritative. On any other ground than tha which I have now taken, it is utterly incomprehensible how our canonical Matthew should have maintained its place as it did in the church. We cannot assume it as probable, that prejudice against the Jewish Christians hindered the church catholic from receiving their Gospel. The same prejudice would have operated in like manner in other cases. Yet it did not. In the controversy between the unconverted Jews and the Christians with respect to the meaning of the Old Testament predictions concerning the Messiah, the Jews accused the Septuagint of being a false translation ; while many Christian writers accused the Jews of having falsified their Hebrew Scriptures. Yet all this did not hinder Origen from correcting the text of the Septuagint so as to accord better with the Hebrew Scriptures; nor did it influence Jerome at all as to translating anew the whole, so as to free the Christian churches from deference to the defects of their Greek Scriptures. Origen and Jerome were indeed obliged to contest some points with many of their contemporaries; but they did so boldly, and won the victory.

With such facts in view, I now make the appeal to every candid critic, and ask : How can we possibly account for it, in case Origen and Jerome regarded the Nazarene Matthew as the real and authoritative one, that they did not at once lay aside the canonical Matthew, and appeal to the other? Jerome furnished the churches with a Greek and Latin translation of the other ; but not a word does he say in favour of receiving it as an authentic exemplar of Matthew; and so little regard was paid to it by the churches in general, that, to our deep regret and great loss, it soon perished, and is now known with any degree of minuteness, only by his report and the extracts which he has given us from it.

I repeat it, that such a view as I have given above, is the only one which can reconcile these seeming inconsistencies in the fathers between their narrations at one time and their declarations at another, or between their language respecting the Hebrew xarà Matgaiov and their habitual treatment of this same Gospel. Whatever may be said of the mass of Christians in ancient times, or of the great body of the fathers, we cannot well suppose that Origen and Jerome, who shewed such striking independence of mind, would have thought in one way and acted in another, in regard to this whole affair.

Here then we will rest this matter of ancient testimony about a Hebrew original of Matthew. We impeach neither the integrity nor the understanding of any of the fathers in regard to this subject. We have seen, that in the state in which they were, and that circumstances being such as they were, they can not rationally be supposed to have spoken differently from what they have done. We examine what they have said, just as we examine any testimony of a historical nature; and we find, in the result, that all which they have said can be explained consistently with their integrity, and yet that such declarations, in such circumstances as theirs, cannot establish the point, on account of which appeal is so confidently made to them. In a word, we may proffer as a cogent reason for pursuing the method of argument exhibited above, that we feel compelled to resort to explanations of such a nature, by circumstances already mentioned and yet to be mentioned, which seem to forbid and exclude the supposition, that a genuine Hebrew Matthew was current in the early centuries.

$ 3. Other circumstances which render the existence of an early genuine Hebrew Matthew improbable.

I now proceed to redeem my pledge, by offering to the reader some further specific reasons, why we may call in question the existence of an original Matthew in the Hebrew language.

(1) Those fathers who understood the Hebrew and were acquainted with the Jewish Gospel, never appeal to it as of authority, and never recommend it to others as such.

I merely mention this here, because I have already brought it to view more fully, as connected with the preceding discussion. The fact itself will not be denied; and when admitted it is inexplicable on any satisfactory grounds which I can even

imagine, supposing the Hebrew Matthew to have been really genuine and authentic.

(2) From the earliest period in which we have any means of knowing the state of the Hebrew Gospel, it appears to be of the same character which is developed in the later fathers.

Jerome (De Viris Illust. c. XVI.) in his account of Ignatius (A. 108), gives us the earliest quotation, I believe, from the Gospel in question. His words are: “He [Ignatius] wrote an epistle ... to Polycarp, in which he produces a testimony from the Gospel (of the Nazarenes) lately translated by me, respecting the person of Christ, saying: I indeed saw him [the Greek here in Ignatius Epis. III. ad Smyrn. is oida) in the flesh, after the resurrection, and I believe that he is living. And when he had come to Peter, he said to those around him, λάβετε, ψηλαφήσατέ με, ότι ουκ ειμι δαιμόνιον ασώματος. Και ευθυς αυτού ήψαντο και επίστευσαν.

Here is palpably an interpolation, borrowed for substance from Luke 24: 39–41; and this shews, that so early as the time of Ignatius the Gospel of the Jewish Christians bore the same character as in after ages. Several passages from Justin Martyr might be cited, which are of the like tenor ; but I refrain from quoting them, for reasons before stated on p. 144 above. It is possible, I admit, that Ignatius himself also borrowed his passage from some traditionary source. But the confidence of Jerome in regard to the subject, seems to be entitled to our credence. (3) We have no evidence of the existence of any

Hebrew Matthew, which does not at the same time, whenever it is such as is particular and explicit, testify to its spurious and interpolated condition.

For proof of this, I appeal to all the citations made in the preceding pages. There was but one Hebrew Gospel, of which we have any knowledge, among the ancient churches. Repeated testimony is given by Jerome and Epiphanius to this point ; although Epiphanius shews us, that one part of the Jewish Christians, viz. the Ebionites, rejected the two first chapters of Matthew. In other respects we know of no inportant difference between their Hebrew Gospel and that of the Nazarenes. This father says expressly, that he does not know whether the copies in circulation among the Nazarenes exhibited the like omission or not. But other circumstances, and especially the testimony of Jerome, render it probable that they did not. Every witness then that we have in respect to a Hebrew Matthew, when explicit and full, uniformly testifies to a spurious and interpolated Matthew, and to nothing else. Had there been any other in circulation, it could not have escaped the knowledge of some of the fathers, especially of Origen and Jerome.

(4) It is a fact, of which no one can give any satisfactory account in case a genuine Hebrew Matthew were extant in early ages, that antiquity knows nothing of the fate of it. This is the case, although we are told by many critics that such a Matthew was in extensive circulation, and was regarded as the original Scripture of Matthew. How is it that such men as Origen and Jerome should sleep over this subject, and be utterly silent ? And especially Jerome, who went even to Syria to get a copy of the spurious Nazarene Gospel. It cannot be justly pretended, that any testimony which we have, respects any other Hebrew Gospel than that which Jerome translated, nor any other than that which even in the time of Ignatius was grossly interpolated.

(5) Nothing can be more certain, than that more or less of the Jews, from the earliest age of Christianity downwards, belonged to the church catholic, assented to the doctrines of Paul, and rejected the opinions of the Judaizing Christians. Now if these Jews could read Hebrew, (and who will say that at least some of them could not ?) what reason can be offered why they should not have held on to the original Hebrew Matthew, and thus have preserved it in the church catholic? No good reason can be assigned, to account in a satisfactory manner for this.

(6) That a genuine Hebrew Matthew did not exist in the early part of the second century, seems to be rendered almost certain from a very curious but interesting fact in regard to the Peshito or old Syriac Version of the New Testament, which is demonstrably and confessedly made from our canonical Greek Matthew.

That this Version was made in the second century, and probably during the first half of it, seems now to be generally admitted. The fact that in its original state it does not contain the epistle of James, the second of Peter, the second and third of John, and the Apocalypse, is conclusive evidence that the Version was made before a corpus of the New Testament books had got into circulation. Of course it must have been made sometime before the end of the second century.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »