Page images

Julian Pe- calamity, the members of the Christian Church stood in need of The Pro-
riod, 4746. all the support, consolation, and assistance, that could be ad- vince of Ju-
Vulgar Æra, ministered to them. But what comfort could they possibly dea, &c.
34. receive, in their distressed situation, comparable to that which

resulted from the example of their suffering Master, aud the
promise he had made to bis faithful followers? This example,
and those promises, St. Matthew seasonably laid before them,
towards the close of this season of trial, for their imitation and
encouragement, and delivered it to them, as the anchor of their
hope, to keep them stedfast in this violent tempest. From tbis
consideration Dr. Owen was led to fix the date of St. Matthew's
Gospel to the year 38.

St. Matthew ascribes those titles of sanctity to Jerusalem,
by which it had been distinguished by the prophets and an-
cient historians, (Comp. Neh. xi. 1. 18. Isa. xlviii. 2. lii. 1.
Dan. ix. 24. with Matt. iv. 5. v. 35. xxvii. 52, 53.) and
also testifies a higher vencration for the temple than the other
Evangelists. (Comp. Matt. xxi. 12. with Mark xi. 15. Luke
xix. 45. and Matt. xxvi. 51. with Mark xiv. 58.) His compa-
rative gentleness in mentioning Jobn the Baptist's reproof of
Herod, and his silence concerning the insults offered by Herod
to our Lord on the morning of bis crucifixon, are additional
evidences for the early date of his Gospel : for, as Herod was
still reigning in Galilee, the Evangelist displayed no more of
that sovereigo's bad character, than was absolutely necessary,
lest he should excite Herod's jealousy of his believing subjects,
or their disaffection to him. If he was influenced by these mo.
tives, he must have written before the year 39, for in that year
Herod was deposed and hapished to Lyons by Caligula.

Lastly, to omit circumstances of minor importance, Matthew's frequent mention (not fewer than nine times) of Pilate, as being then actually governor of Judea, is an additional evidence of the early date of his Gospel. For Josephus (c) informs us, that Pilate having been ordered by Vitellius, governor of Syria, to go to Rome, to answer a complaint of the Samaritans before the emperor, hastened thither, but before he arrived the emperor was dead. Now, as Tiberius died in the spring of 37, it is highly probable that St. Matthew's Gospel was written by that time (d).

Dr. Lardner(e), however, and Bishop Percy (f), think that
they discover marks of a lower date in St. Matthew's writings.
They argue from the knowledge which be shows of the spiri.
tuality of the Gospel, and of the excellence of the moral above
the ceremonial law; and from the great clearness with which
the comprehensive design of the Christian dispensation, as ex-
tending to the whole Gentile world, together with the rejection
of the Jews, is unfolded in this Gospel. Of these topics they
suppose the Evangelist not to have treated, until a course of
years had developed their meaning, removed his Jewish preju.
dices, and given bim a clearer discernment of their nature.

This objection, however, carries but little force with it. For,
in the first place, as Dr. Townson has justly observed, with
regard to the doctrinal part of his Gospel, if St. Matthew ex-
hibits a noble idea of pure religion and morality, he teaches no
more than he had beard frequently taught, and often opposed
to the maxims of the Jews, by bis divide instructor. And when
the Holy Spirit, the guide into all truth, had descended upon
him, it seems strange to imagine that he still wanted twenty or
thirty years to enlighten his mind. If he was pot then furnished
with knowledge to relate these things as an Evangelist, how was
he qualified to preach them to the Jews as an apostle ?
· In the next place, it is true that the prophetic parts of bis

Julian Pe- Gospel declare the extent of Christ's kingdom, and the calling The Proried, 4747. and acceptance of the Gentiles. But these events had been vince of JuValgar Ara, plainly foretold by the ancient prophets, and were expected by dea, &c.

devout Israelites to happen in the days of the Messiab (9); and
in those passages which relate to the universality of the Gospel
dispensation, the Evangelist merely states that the Gospel
would be successfully preached among the Gentiles in all parts
of the earth. He only recites the words of our Saviour without
any explanation or remark; and we know it was promised to
the apostles, that after Cbrist's ascension, the Holy Spirit
should bring all things to their remembrance, and guide them
into all truth. “Whether St. Matthew was aware of the call
of the Gentiles, before the Gospel was actually embraced by
them, cannot be ascertained; nor is it material, since it is ge-
nerally agreed, that the inspired penmen often did not compre.
hend the full meaning of their own writings when they referred
to future events; and it is obvious that it might answer a good
purpose to have the future call of the Gentiles intimated in an
authentic bistory of our Saviour's ministry, to which the be-
hieving Jews might refer, when that extraordinary and unex-
pected event should take place. Their minds would thus be
more easily satisfied; and they would more readily admit the
comprehensive design of the Gospel, when they found it de-
clared in a book, which they acknowledged as the rule of tbeir
faith and practice (h).

Once more, with respect to the argument deduced from this
Evangelist's mentioning prophecies and prophetic parables,
which speak of the rejection and overtbrow of the Jews, it may
be observed, that is this argument means, that, being at first pre-
judiced in favour of a kingdom to be restored to Israel, he could
not understand these prophecies, and therefore would not think
of relating them if he wrote early ;-though the premises should
be admitted, we may justly deny the conclusion. St. Matthew
might not clearly discern in what manner the predictions were
to be accomplished, yet he must see, what they all denounced,
that God would reject those who rejected the Gospel : hence,
he always had an inducement to botify them to bis countrymen ;
and the sooner he apprised them of their danger, the greater
charity he shewed them (i).

Since, therefore, the objections to the early date by no means balance the weight of evidence in its favour, we are justificd in assigning the date of this Gospel to the year of our Lord 37, or at the latest to the year 20.

The next subject of inquiry respects the language in which St. Matthew wrote his Gospel, and which has been contested among critics with no small degree of acrimony; Bellarmin, Grotius, Casaubon, Bishops Walton and Tomline, Drs. Cave, Hammond, Mill, Harwood, Owen, Campbell, and A. Clarke, Simon, Tillemont, Pritius, Du Pin, Calmet, Michaelis, and others, having supported the opinion of Papias as cited by Irenæus, Origen, Cyril, Epiphanius, Chrysostom, Jerome, and other carly writers, that this Gospel was written in Hebrew, that is, in the Syro-Chaldaic dialect then spoken by the Jews. On the other hand, Erasmus, Paræus, Calvin, Le Clerc, Fabricius, Pfeiffer, Dr. Lightfoot, Beausobre, Basnage, Wetstein, Rumpæus, Whitby, Edelman, Hoffman, Moldenhawer, Viser: Harles, Jones, Drs. Jortin, Lardner, Hey, and Hales, Mr. Hewlett, and others, have strenuously vindicated the Greek original of St. Matthew's Gospel. A third opinion has been offered by Dr. Townson, and some few modern divines, that there were two origuals, one in Hebrew and the other in Greek.

Julian Pe. He thinks that there seems to be more reason for allowing two The Proriod, 4747. originals, than for contesting either; the consent of antiquity vince of J Vulgar Æra, pleading strongly for the Hebrew, and evident marks of origi- dea, &c. 34.

nality for the Greek.

The presumption, however, is unquestionably in favour of tbe opinion that St. Matthew wrote in Greck; for Greek was the prevailing language in the time of our Saviour and his apostles. Mattbew, too, while he was a collector of customs, and before he was called to be an apostle, would have frequent occasions both to write and to speak Greek, and could not discharge his office without understanding that language. We may therefore consider it as highly probable, or even certain, that he understood Greek. Besides, as all the other evangelists and apostles wrote their Gospels and Epistles in that language for the use of Christians (wbether Jews or Gentiles) throughout the known world; and as St. Matthew's Gospel, though in the first instance written for the use of Jewish and Samaritan converts, was ultimately designed for universal dissemination, it is not likely that it was written in any other language than that which was employed by all the other writers of the New Testament. This presumption is corroborated by the numerous and remarkable instances of verbal agreement between Matthew and the other Evangelists; which, on the supposition that he wrote in Hebrew, or the vernacular Syro-Chaldaic dialect, would not be credible. Even those who maintain that opinion are obliged to confoss that an early Greek translation of this Gospel was in existence before Mark and Luke composed their's, which they saw and consulted. The main point in dispute is, whether the present Greek copy is entitled to the authority of an original or not: and as this is a question of real and serious importance, we sball proceed to state the principal arguments on both sides.

The modern advocates of the Hebrew Gospel, above enumerated, lay most stress upon the testimonies of Papias (Bishop of Hierapolis, A. D. 116,) of Irenæus (A. D. 178), and of Origen (A. D. 230); which testimonies have been followed by Chrysos. tom, Jerome, and others of the early fathers of the Christian Church. But these good men, as Wetstein has well observed, do not so properly bear testimony, as deliver their own conjectures, which we are not bound to admit, unless they are supported by good reasons. Supposing, and taking it for granted, that Matthew wrote for the Jews in Judea, they concluded that he wrote in Hebrew (k): and because the fathers formed this conclusion, modern writers, relying on their authority, have also inferred that Matthew composed his Gospel in that language. Let us now review their testimonies.

1. Papias, as cited by Eusebius, says (1), “ Matthew composed the divine oracles in the Hebrew dialect, and each interpreted them as he was able.”

2. Irenæus, as quoted by the same historian (m), says, “Mat. thew published also a Scripture of the Gospel among the Hebrews, in their own dialect.”

3. Origen, as cited by Eusebius (n), says, “ As I have learned by tradition concerning the four Gospels, which alone are received without dispute by the whole Church of God under heaven.-The first was written by Matthew, once a publican, afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, who published it for the believers from Judaism, composed in Hebrew letters."

In opposition to these testimonies, it is contended by the advocates for the Greek original of the Gospel,

1. That the testimony of Papias, who was a weak and credu. Jous man (0), is vague and indecisive; that be had not seen the

Jalian Pe- Hebrew Gospel itself; that it could not have been intended for the Pro.
riod, 4747. universal circulation by his own account, because every one vince of Ju.
Valgar&ra, was not able to interpret it; and that the Greek Gospel was dea, &c.
34. published before his time, as appears from the express or tacit

references made by the apostolical fathers, who were all prior to
Papias, and all of whom wrote in Greek.

2. The passage of Irenæus above given, more critically trans-
lated, may be understood to signify that, in addition to his
Greek Gospel, Matthew published Also a Hebrew Gospel, for
the benefit of the Hebrews, or converts from Judaism, who
used no other language but the vernacular dialect of Palestine.
This, Dr. Hales thinks, was most probably the fact (p). This
might be the original basis of the Gospel of the Nazarenes, the
Gospel of the Ebionites, the Gospel according to the Hebrews,
cited by Origen, Epiphanius, and Jerome, which in process of
time became so adulterated by these Judaizing converts, as to
lose all authority in the Churcb, and be deemed spurious.

3. The testiniony of Origen perfectly corresponds with this:
for, surely, when he cited tradition for the existence of a He-
brew Gospel, written by Matthew, for the converts from Ju-
daism, he by no means denied, but rather presupposed his Greek
(iospel, written for all classes of Christians, “composing the
whole Church of God under heaven,” for whose use the He-
brew Gospel would be utterly inadequate. In fact, in bis trea.
tise on prayer, he intimates that the Evangelist published it in
Greek also: for, discoursing on the word Štloủolov, be con-
siders it as formed by Matthew himself (g). Tbat Origen con-
sidered the Greek as tbe only authentic original in his time, is
evident, for the following reasons 1. Origen, in his Hexapla,
was accustomed to correct the Greek version of the Old Testa-
ment by tbe Hebrew original; but he virtually confesses that
he had none by which he could correct the text of Matthew's
Gospel (r); and, 2. He expressly cites (8) "a certain Gospel
according to the Hebrews, if any one chooses to receive it, not
as of authority, but for illustration" of the question he was
then discussing. Now, if this Hebrew Gospel had been the
prodaction of St. Matthew, he certainly would have cited it in
a different manner.

4. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, as we now have it, there is
certainly no appearance of its being a translation ; but many
considerations prove the contrary. For how can we account
for the interpretation of Hebrew names, whicb, by an author
writing in Hebrew, was by no means necessary, (compare Matt.
i. 23. xxvii. 33. 46.) Again, why should the testimonies and
parallel passages of the Old Testament be cited, not from the
original Hebrew, but generally from the Septuagint version,
even when that differs from the Hebrew? Lastly, how does it
happen, that all the versions which are extant, such as the
Latin, the Syriac, the Coptic, the Armenian, and the Ethiopic,
are adapted, not to the Hebrew original, but to the Greek
translation These questions are all readily answered, if we
admit that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Greek (t.)

It only remains, that we briefly notice the third opinion above mentioned, viz. that there were two originals-one in Hebrew, the other in Greek, but both written by St. Mattbew. This opinion, we believe, was first intimated by Dr. Whitby (x) and is adopted by Dr. Hey, Dr. Townson, Bishop Gleig, and some other modern divines. The consent of antiquity pleads strongly for the Hebrew, and evident marks of originality for the Greek. Bisbop Gleig thinks, that St. Matthew, on his departure to preach the Gospel to the Gentilus, left with the

Julian Pe- Church at Jerusalem, or at least with some of its members, the The Pro-
riod, 4747. Hebrew or Syriac memorandums of our Lord's doctrines and vince of Ju-
Vulgar Æra, miracles, which he had made for his own use at the time when dea, &c.
34. the doctrines were taught, and the miracles performed; and

that the Groek Gospel was written long after the apostles bad
quitted Jerusalem, and dispersed themselves in the discharge of
the duties of their office. This conjecture receives some coun-
tenance from the terms in which Eusebius (y), when giving his
own opinion, mentions St. Matthew's Gospel. "Matthew,"
says that historian, “having first preacbed to the Hebrews,
delivered to them, when he was preparing to depart to other
countries, his Gospel composed in their native language; that
to those, from whom he was sent away, be might by his writ-
ings supply the loss of his presence (z.) This opinion is
further corroborated by the fact, that there are instances on
record, of authors who have themselves published the same
work in two languages. Thus Josephus wrote the History of
the Jewish War in Hebrew and Greek (aa). In like manner,
we have two originals, one in Latin, the other in English, of
the thirty-nine articles of the Anglican Church, and also of Sir
Isaac Newton's Optics. As St. Mattbew wanted neither ability
nor disposition, we cannot think he wanted inducement to
“ do the work of an evangelist” for his brethren of the com-
mon faith, Hellenists as well as Hebrews; to both of whom
charity made him a debtor. The popular language of the first
believers was Hebrew, or what is called so by the sacred and
ancient ecclesiastical writers : but those who spoke Greek
quickly became a considerable part of the Church of Christ.

From a review of all the arguments adduced on this much
litigated question, we cannot but prefer the last stated opinion
as that which best harmonizes with the consent of antiquity,
namely, that St. Matthew wrote first a Hebrew Gospel for the
use of the first Hebrew converts. Its subsequent disappearance
is easily accounted for, by its being so corrupted by the Ebio-
nites that it lost all its authority in the Church, and was deemed
spurious, and also by the prevalence of the Greek lavguage,
especially after the destruction of Jerusalem, when the Jewish
language, and every thing belonging to the Jews fell into the
utmost contempt. It also is clear that our present Greek Gos-
pel is an authentic original, and consequently an inspired pro-
duction of the Evangelist Matthew, written (not as Bishop
Gleig and other writers suppose, long after our Lord's resurrec.
tion and ascension,) but within a few years after those me.
morable and important events (bb).

This view of the probability that the Gospel of St. Matthew was written in both languages, appears to me, to be most correct. I have given from Mr. Horne, the arguments on both sides. The authorities which he and Dr. Lardner have collected, to prove that the Gospel of St. Matthew was composed in Hebrew; or that there were some documents called the Gospel of St. Matthew, compiled in that language, are so numerous, and so decisive, that I think we are hardly war. ranted in rejecting these testimonies; and there are again, on the other hand, such evident marks of originality in the present Greek Gospel of St. Matthew, that we are not justified in esteeming it, with Michaelis, a mere translation. It is possible that the real state of the case might be this. When the persecution began, or was beginning, St. Matthew, who perhaps might have already committed to writiog the memorable events of Christ's history, might have distributed among his own countrymen, the converts of Jerusalom, an account of the

« PreviousContinue »