I found an interesting article to share about reasons to believe Matthew was originally written in Hebrew found here.
“Matthew is the first book in the New Testament, and according to ancient church tradition, it was the first of the four gospels to be written. However, when we endeavour to date the time of writing of the New Testament books, we believe the reader may be best served to first read the article on Luke and Acts. There we date Luke between 60-62 A.D., and can use that as a reference to discuss the date of writing for Matthew.
Matthew, Mark and Luke together are called the synoptic (“same eye”) gospels. This is due to the close relationship between the three, as all three tell many of the same stories, often in the same way and with the same words. Of the 661 verses in Mark, Matthew reproduces 606 of them and Luke reproduces 320 of them. Of the 55 verses in Mark but not Matthew, 31 are present in Luke.[William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, pp. 2-3] One clear example of the connection between the gospels is the story of the man who was sick of the palsy (Mark 2:1-12, Matt 9:1-8 and Luke 5:17-26). The accounts are so similar that even a little parenthesis -“he said top the paralytic”- occurs in all three accounts in exactly the same place.
An additional point to make about the relationship between Mark and Matthew is that the connection between the two books is a written connection rather than an oral connection. In other words, the connection is not due to an account passed down by word of mouth, but rather, one book used a written copy of the other. This can be shown by comparing Mark 13:14, which says: “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains” with Matt 24:15-16: “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.” Here both books interrupt a speech by Jesus in the same place, to make the same side note to the reader – “let the reader understand.” This is a “reader”, implying a written book.
Early Christian witnesses indicate that Matthew was the first gospel written, and that it was originally written in Hebrew. Papias (ca. 70-155 A.D.), bishop of Hierapolis, wrote that “Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as best he could.” This witness by Papias has been treated quite roughly, as modern writers first have assumed he meant Aramaic when he said Hebrew, and then rejected his comment anyway. There are multiple reasons for this, but one primary reason is that a Hebrew Matthew is inconsistent with the modern two-source theory, the predominant theory of the origin of Matthew. (The two-source theory stipulates that Matthew and Luke drew from the gospel of Mark and a second source of Jesus sayings, usually designated as “Q”). Nevertheless, other church fathers repeated and expanded on the comments of Papias. Irenaeus wrote: “Matthew also issued a written gospel among the Hebrews in their own language.” Origen, quoted by Eusebius wrote: “Matthew…composed as it was in the Hebrew language.” Finally, Jerome wrote: “Matthew, who wrote in the Hebrew language…” (Epist 20.5). Jerome was a formidable scholar who translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin, and he certainly knew the difference between Hebrew and Aramaic.
I believe that Matthew (and Mark) are gospels which had what could be called a complex origin, and this is the reason for the complexities modern in comparisons of Matthew, Mark and Luke. By a complex origin, I mean that both Matthew and Mark were originally written close in time to the life of Christ, perhaps within a year or two of the crucifixion. These gospels were nurtured, revised, and extended by the early church until they came into the form we have today. In the case of Matthew, the modern form of the gospel is in Greek, but I believe the first version was written in Hebrew.
The Original Language of Matthew
Before we address the date of writing for Matthew, I believe we do need to address the language in which it was written. The best source for Matthew as we have it today is, like the rest of the New Testament, the common Greek version, of which there are numerous ancient manuscripts or manuscript fragments. Still, it would not be surprising in principle to learn that Matthew, Mark or any other early Jewish Christian wrote a gospel in Hebrew; Hebrew was the language used in the synagogue, and Christians initially tried to witness within the synagogues. First century Jews would be accustomed to dealing with religious texts written in Hebrew. If Matthew was originally written in Hebrew, this would imply that the Greek Matthew we have today is a translation from the Hebrew.
Most modern scholars deny that Matthew was written in Hebrew originally, but the question is actually very complex. It is nearly certain that the dialogue between characters in the gospels was originally almost entirely in Hebrew or Aramaic. Therefore, any verse that quotes someone speaking is necessarily a translation – the only question is whether the translation occurred from a spoken Hebrew/Aramaic into written Greek, or from a written Hebrew/Aramaic into written Greek. For example, Matthew 1:21 says “You shall call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins.” This verse, though very familiar, doesn’t actually make sense in Greek (or English). It is only when one reads the text in Hebrew, and realizes that the name “Jesus” (Yeshua) is derived from the word “save” (Yoshia) that the sentence makes sense. There are numerous cases like this, and they are not limited to just Matthew.
Still, there are reasons to believe that beyond just transcribing spoken Hebrew/Aramaic into written Greek, Matthew may have originally been written in Hebrew. The genealogy of Matthew 1:1-16 uses the identical wording pattern as many of the Hebrew Old Testament geneologies (X begat Y, Y begat Z, etc.). This could be just coincidental, but by comparison the genealogy in Luke 3:23-38 uses wording unlike any Old Testament genealogy (Luke being originally written in Greek). Furthermore, Matthew ends his genealogy with the comment that there were 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 generations from David to the Babylonian exile, and 14 generations from the exile to Christ. Hebrew letters double as numbers, and as a result, every Hebrew word has a number associated with it, the number usually being calculated by summing the individual letters. David’s name has a very low number – 14. This would have been common knowledge to Jewish Hebrew language readers, and Matthew is perhaps using the three 14’s to further point to Jesus being the Son of David, the Messiah. This interesting point of course makes sense only in Hebrew and is obliterated in any translation. Matt 1:25 says Joseph did not “know” his wife before Jesus was born, using a familiar Hebrew (but not Greek) euphimism for sexual relations between a husband and wife. Note that the examples we have offered so far are all limited to just the first chapter of Matthew. We could offer more, but for purposes of brevity, will stop at this point.
It has been much observed that the New Testament writers quote more from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, than they do from the Masoretic Text, the most common Hebrew Text. Now often it is impossible to tell which Old Testament version is being used, since the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text are frequently essentially identical. Still, when there are differences, the New Testament writers usually draw from the Septuagint. This is understandable, since the New Testament was written in Greek, and the Septuagint was a readily available Greek translation of the Old Testament. Also, in a Greek speaking congregation, the Septuagint would be the Bible used by the people, providing the apostles all the more reason to quote from it. However, Matthew (along with the letter to the Hebrews) goes against the trend. In places where the Hebrew Old Testament Masoretic Text differs from the Septuagint, Matthew’s quotes usually (not always) more closely match the Masoretic Text. An example of this can be seen in Matt 2:15: “Out of Egypt I called My Son”. This is a case where the Hebrew Text and the Septuagint are substantially different, as the Septuagint of Hosea 11:1 says “Out of Egypt I called his children” and misses the point of the prophecy. Matthew’s quote exactly matches the Hebrew of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
At this point, we will introduce an unusual piece of evidence in the discussion of the original language of Matthew. A complete Hebrew text of Matthew appears in a 14th century text entitled Even Bohan. This book was written in Aragon, Spain by a Jewish man named Shem-Tov ben-Isaac ben Shaprut. This is a lengthy text written in opposition to Christianity, so Shem Tov uses his Gospel of Matthew in a hostile fashion, to attack it. It is beyond the purpose of this book to deal with the Shem Tov Matthew in great detail. For this, the reader is directed to George Howard’s Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. However, there are still some useful points that can be made.
Some fringe organizations have seized on the Shem Tov Matthew as being a significant text, but mainstream scholarship has largely set it aside. The weaknesses of the Shem Tov Matthew are very apparent:
There are numerous Greek texts of Matthew much older than the 14th century
The book shows signs of significant tampering in important theological areas. All references to the need to spread the gospel to gentiles (as in Matt 28:19-20) have been struck or reworded out. Narrative references to Jesus as Christ have also been changed, though the characters in the story are still allowed to call Him Christ. Also, passages dealing with John the Baptist have been altered to give him a somewhat more elevated status than appears in the canonical gospels.
The book looks as if the Hebrew has been updated from what it would have been in the first century A.D. In some cases, this has wiped out Hebraisms that actually remain in the Greek text of the book. For example, the Greek New Testament always says “amen” (A Hebraism) for “truly”, as in Matt 5:20, while the Shem Tov Matthew says “in truth” (b’emeth).
In a few places, it looks like the book was modified to conform to the Vulgate, which was the primary Christian Bible used in the Middle Ages.
Finally, the only witness for this gospel of Matthew comes from Shem Tov, not an individual who loved the book and wanted to preserve it, but rather an individual who was writing a polemical treatise against it.
I believe these weaknesses render the Shem Tov Matthew essentially useless for any religious purpose, and it also should not be trusted as a primary source in any textual criticism study of Matthew. However, there are two things about the book that seem instructive:
The Shem Tov Matthew has many examples of puns, alliteration and word connections, far more than in the Greek text of Matthew or even modern Hebrew texts that were translated from the Greek. These types of literary devices are common in Biblical Hebrew, but it is unlikely that Shem Tov created them, as he was opposed to the Christian message and would not want to make the text more literary than it really was. It is also unlikely that this text was translated from Greek, as modern Hebrew translations of Matthew do not have many of these literary devices. The literary nature of the book indicates that its ancestral text, its original, may not have been a translation at all, but rather may have been originally written in Hebrew. In one example of word-play, the Hebrew of Matt 10:36 says the “enemies” (oyevim) are to be “loved ones” (ohuvim). There are too many such examples to list. There is one very prominent play on words in the Greek text of Matthew, and it occurs in 16:18, where Jesus says to Peter, “you are Peter (Petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church.” Interestingly, the Hebrew text of that verse contains a different play on words. Jesus says, “You are a stone (Eben), and upon you I will build (Ebenah) my house of prayer.”
In the canonical New Testament, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is a single long message spoken by Jesus, without any narrative interruption. However, in the Shem Tov Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount is interrupted 16 times by the introductory phrase “Again Jesus said to His disciples”, or something similar. These interruptions occur in Matt 5:13, 5:17, 5:20, 5:25, 5:27, 5:31, 5:43, 6:2, 6:5, 6:16, 6:19, 6:24, 7:6, 7:13, 7:15 and 7:24. The location of the interruptions is significant when placed in parallel with Luke’s usage of the same verses. Every time the Hebrew has an interruption, Luke either jumps to a different place in his gospel, or Luke does not have those verses. This curious fact may suggest that a common source or sources for the sayings of Jesus stand behind both Matthew and Luke. In a way, these interruptions could be considered fingerprints of the famous Q source. But if so, it would point to a Hebrew language Q. A similar thing happens in the Olivet discourse of Matthew 24-25. The Shem Tov version of Matt 24:27 interrupts Jesus’ talk with the narrative “Again Jesus said to His disciples.” This ends a section that appears also in Mark, while the following passage (Matt 24:27) does not appear in Mark. Interruptions also in Matt 24:37 (Luke diff spot, Mark doesn’t have it), 24:42 (Mark has it, diff spot, Luke does not), 25:1 (not in Mark or Luke), 25:14, 25:31 (not in Mark or Luke).
Bases on the testimony of the Early Church Fathers, the characteristics of the Shem Tov Matthew, and the internal evidence of Matthew itself, I would conclude that the earliest version of the Gospel of Matthew was written in Hebrew. Furthermore, the differences between the Shem Tov Matthew and the canonical Matthew give evidence that various significantly different renditions of Matthew once existed. Our canonical Greek Matthew would necessarily be the final, most polished rendition. Luke would have had access to an earlier rendition of Matthew (one which still retained the sermon interruptions found in the Shem Tov Matthew but not the canonical Matthew) and also an early rendition of Mark, along with other sources. I believe this is the best explanation for the similarities and the differences between the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
This would mean the first Hebrew rendition of Matthew was written close in time to Christ’s earthly ministry – probably not more than a year or two after the founding of the church. The earliest rendition was refined, perhaps in multiple stages, and eventually translated into Greek for use in the larger church.
When then, would Matthew have reached its final canonical form? There are clues to the answer in the passages dealing with Matthew’s attitude toward Jewish institutions. In Matt 17:24-27, Peter is challenged as to whether or not Jesus pays the two-drachma tax. This was a tax collected to maintain the temple. The short account ends with Jesus and Peter both paying it. The most immediate application of the story seems to address Jewish Christian readers, to inform them that they ought to continue to pay this tax. Needless to say, this points to a date of writing before 70. Matthew also has a good deal to say about the Sadducees, a sect controlling the priesthood and dependent on Roman favor. The Sadducees essentially disappeared after 70. Matt 12:6 quotes Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” This Old Testament passage may have been chosen instead of other similar passages, in order to negate the requirement for sacrifices for Jewish Christians.
So overall, the culture behind the book of Matthew seems to indicate an audience of Jewish Christians, who still have a connection to the Jewish faith and ought to continue paying the temple tax, but who are beginning to separate themselves from non-Christian Jews in other ways, such as the practice of animal sacrifice. The Jewish Christians abandoned Jerusalem some time after 62 A.D., but either before the Roman Jewish war or shorty after its start in 66 A.D. This would have been a major step in the breach between Christians and Jews. The gospel of Matthew was likely completed before such a permanent breach was in sight. A date around 60 A.D. would seem reasonable.”
Safar. Is the Hebrew word meaning to count, to document,to inscribe, to allow, also learned man, muster officer, scribe, rehearse. The paleoHebrew. Pictures spell thorn..mouth..head of a man. Omer is a tenth measure of dry grain..for instance fruis offering.Thank
The 10 Commandments carved in a script like Moses, David and Daniel would have used was known to exist in New Mexico USA since at least 1880 BCE. Hebrews would likely have come during the reign of King Solomon who had a fleet of ships for extended voyages and an insatiable thirst for knowledge of what the world had to offer. He was known for amassing much wealth from far away places.
When you want to change a people, change their language. They will lose touch with their identity.
The Bible alphabet was changed during Daniel’s time (Babylonian captivity of Judah). Recall Daniel was instructed to ‘seal up the book until the time of the end’. Was this laying aside of the Paleo Hebrew the mechanism to accomplish this? It is becoming open to us now…are we in the time of the end?
“People who study Hebrew without studying linguistics will make horrible mistakes. This is one of the things I plead about often when speaking to people within this movement. We all need to go back to school and study linguistics. MP is light years ahead of a fluent Hebrew speaker even though he feels quite inadequate with the language. One can be fluent, think in Hebrew, dream in Hebrew and have no clue about grammatical nuances and how these things fit when translating into other languages. I know many people who are fluent in both English and Hebrew, that would make numerous errors in their analysis of a Hebrew text because they do not understand linguistics. He has done a great job in explaining how the term is used.
Now for an additional piece of information that will make a non-Hebrew speaking individual find stand alone ets. The Aleph and the Tav together as a word has several meanings in addition to being and indicator of the direct object. First is the word “you.” Masculine singular is the word atah which does not look like the et only because it adds a hey on the end. The feminine form has no hey, so it looks exactly like the direct object indicator in an unpointed text. When someone doesn’t know Hebrew very well, they will often say that the pointing is a rabbinic tradition, therefore invalid. Well, I guess you can have that opinion if you want, but when it is based totally on, I want it to read this way, then I suspect there will not be any truth in their findings. So the female word for you, pronounced “at” (a as in car) rather than “et” is one way an aleph and tav will be together and not be indicating a direct object. It may appear unneeded in the text since the verb will also be in second person feminine singular doing double duty for the word you. That is done often in Hebrew and can be found in all forms of the word you.
On another note, the word et (the vowel pronounced “eh” as in head) or eit (the vowel pronounced “a” as in hate) can both be a sign of the direct object or the word “with.” When used as with, it will appear to have no relationship to the direct object since it has no relationship to the direct object other than it has two nouns tied together rather than a verb tied with a noun. Example: John et Mary ran (John ran with Mary) rather than John chased et Mary (John chased Mary) In the first sentence the noun John is connected to a second noun with et while in the second sentence the verb “chased” is connected to the second noun “Mary.” Context clarifies meaning. Since not many people study Hebrew grammar to that degree, there is a lot of confusion when they merely look at the text and pick out a word formed by an aleph and a tav.
Now there is another idea that is being missed here. First you can find many Rabbis who have suggested similar reasons for the et. Many of them famous. While they are not necessarily claiming that the et refers to messiah, there have be other allegoric interpretations. One must fully understand what they are doing or it will lead to discussions like this. First they are taking the literal reading of the text and saying the et is an indicator of the direct object. This is called the pashat meaning. Then they expound upon the text making a drash (allegoric meaning). So in their homily, they explain that the et has other meanings. That is somewhat different from what you are understanding these messianic teachers to be doing. They seem to be saying that the et literally means Messiah. That is what Maggid, Tonga and MP are protesting. No, this is a grammatical term and it does not literally mean Messiah. Now allegorically, it might mean that, and could be argued by the revelation passage which is making an allegorical usage of the Alpha and Omega. There is a basis from the Prophets to form this conclusion, but that alone is insufficient to prove that God intended to sneak in the et to always stand for Messiah. I must add my vote with Maggid, Tonga, and MP stating that this is stretching things quite a bit.”
Frank Houtz on the Aleph Tav…not literal (p’shat), but per John’s Revelation and John 1 take the hint (remez) and we can midrash (drash) about it and come up with an esoteric (sod) idea from it.
Husband and Wife in Hebrew include the word fire in each plus an extra letter. In Husband that extra letter is yud (the arm, hand, work) and for Wife it is hey (window, behold!, ‘what comes/results from’). Yud Hey spells … Continue reading
An answer to a blog from a former pastor of mine…
You should be proud…when I learned as a young SBC child and teen and continued to hear from you in later years how the Baptist tradition is to emulate the era of the disciples…I took you a little too seriously. I really believe that I am to do as Jesus and the disciples did. I believe I should not be swayed by the latter decisions of Constantine and the popes, but that I ought to take the reformers ideals to heart so much that I do the Leviticus 23 Feasts and Sabbath.
When one just picks up a Bible and reads and does not have someone to sway them into traditions that came up later, one will just research and live that way. That is who I want to be. I want to understand the Hebrew and the Greek as it was intended from the Hebraic cultural point of view. I want to look at the Paleo Hebrew pictographs in regard to a Hebrew word and ask God ‘what did this particular word mean to Moses when he shared it with Your people?’ That is possible now.
The resurrection of the Hebrew language to modern usage is also a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy: “For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of YHWH”(Zephaniah 3:9)
Every letter of the Hebrew alephbet is in the preceding verse which indicates to me we are to take notice of the entire alephbet and know something important is being communicated through it.
The Hebrew word for “letter of the alephbet” is owt (aleph-vav-tav pronounced ‘oat’), which can also mean “sign” or “wonder.” When the Creator spoke the world into existence this means he used a divine language to do it…one which transcends time and space. Messiah is ‘devar elohim’, the Word of God made flesh according to the Gospel of John. Acrostics are embedded in the book of Esther which spell God’s name several time, but weren’t we all taught God’s name was not there?
The Paleo Hebrew alephbet was set aside during or just after the time Daniel and Ezra and of the Babylonian captivity. Recall the instruction in Daniel 12:4: “But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.”
Link to Ancient Hebrew Chart:
So God hid/planted the seed/word of God until the time of the end/harvest! Too cool!
This time has come. The pure language is there for us to find. Interestingly, an elephant is spelled in pictures as ‘staff which is both mouth and hand’, eretz /earth is spelled strong head with fishhook (gravity)! An example of how this works is the root word ‘ab-’ meaning father and spelled aleph (ox/strong leader), bet (tent/house/family). So the meaning is the spelling. Mother is spelled ‘im-’ aleph (strong), mem (flow, womb, river). This works on so many levels…she births, she cries, she is often the flow of emotions. This is the root for amen (add a nun for seed the continuance of the strong flow, emet (truth….add a tav for the sign of the strong flow…aleph is the first letter of the alephbet, mem the middle, tav the last…so truth is the first last and all in between!!!), emunah (faith…is amen plus the letter hey [window,see, behold] which implies behold the strong flow is continuing into the future with an heir)!!! Every Hebrew word works this way. Your Bible will open up to you in exciting ways you never imagined.
A child (of Western Language heritage) can recognize the letters (upside down or sideways) to pronounce it and the letters are pictures which form the agri-biological meanings that inspired the words.
And there are other ways to study like chiastic structures (a-b-c-d-c’-b’-a’) comparisons, etc. Various scriptures have the same structures if you look in the Hebrew for what verbs are used in the stories. This was a mnemonic device for oral recall, however God also ordained these so we will see patterns he wants us to notice. Look at all the ‘say you are my sister’ stories…and compare the variations and consider how they relate to messianic prophecy. Look at all the stories where a child dies, almost dies, possibly dies (Jephthah’s daughter, Ishmael, Shunamite’s son, Isaac, etc.) and is resurrected/yet lives/is delivered…or in the case of Jephthah’s daughter the olah is generally considered a whole burnt offering that goes ‘up’ but there is a possibility that the meaning of the word doesn’t necessarily mean she was killed but set apart to go ‘up’ to mountain and serve God for her whole life as a virgin. The important part is not to decide which happened but to notice there is a sense of death and yet raising ‘up’!
Jeremiah 6:16 in the NIV just for you, Pastor :
This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
‘Safar’ in Hebrew means count, number accurately, rehearse, a scribe, inscribe, declare, relate, a learned man, talk, tally, a muster officer who makes sure the entire regiment is present and accounted for, score with a pen knife, a writer. … Continue reading