« PreviousContinue »
rogative, in having it first offered to their accep. tance. To You FIRST, says he 20, God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you,
in turning away every one of you from his iniquities. And when the disciples began to spread their Mas. ter's doctrine through the neighbouring regions, we know that, till the illumination they received in the affair of Cornelius, which was several years after, they confined their teaching to their countrymen, the Jews. And, even after that memorable event, wherever the Apostles came, they appear first to have repaired to the synagogue, if there was a synagogue in the place, and to have addressed themselves to those of the circumcision, and afterwards to the Gentiles. What Paul and Barnabas said, to their Jewish brethren at Antioch?, sets this matter in the strongest light. It was necessary that the word of God should FIRST HAVE BEEN SPOKEN TO YOU: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. Have we not then reason to conclude, from the express order, as well as from the example, of our Lord, and from the uniform practice of his disciples, that it was suitable to the will of Providence, in this dispensation of grace, that every advantage should be first offered to the Jews, especially the inhabitants of Jerusalem ; and that the Gospel, which had been first delivered to them by word, both by our Lord himself, and by his Apos
20 Acts, iii. 26.
Acts, xiii. 46.
tles, should be also first presented to them in writing, in that very dialect in which many of the readers, at the time of the publication, might remember to have heard the same sacred truths, as they came from the mouth of Him who spake as never man spake, the great oracle of the Father, the interpreter of God ?
§ 13. If the merciful dispensation was, in effect, soon frustrated by their defection; this is but of a piece with what happened in regard to all the other advantages they enjoyed. The sacred deposit was first corrupted among them, and afterwards it disappeared : for that the Gospel according to the Hebrews, used by the Nazarenes (to which, as“ the original, Jerom sometimes had recourse , and which, he tells us, he had translated into Greek and Latin,) and that the Gospel also used by the Ebionites, were, though greatly vitiated and interpolated, the remains of Matthew's original, will, notwithstanding the objections of Mill and others, hardly bear a reasonable doubt. Their loss of this Gospel proved the prelude to the extinction of that church. But we have reason to be thankful, that what was most valuable in the work, is not lost to the Christian community. The version we have in Greek is written with much evangelical simplicity, entirely in the idiom and manner of the Apostles. And I freely acknowledge, that if the Hebrew Gospel were still extant, such as it was in the days of Jerom, or even of Origen, we should have much more reason to confide in the authenticity of the common Greek translation than in that of an original wherewith such unbounded freedoms had been taken. The passages quoted by the ancients from the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which are not to be found in the Gospel according to Matthew, bear intrinsic marks, the most unequivocal, of the baseness of their origin.
22 Hier. Com, in Mat. lib. i. cap. 16. Matth. vi. 11. N.
§ 14. It may be proper here to inquire a little more particularly what language it was that the ancient ecclesiastical writers meant by Hebrew, when they spoke of the original of this Gospel. I should have scarcely thought this inquiry necessary, had I not observed that this matter has been more misunderstood, even by authors of some eminence, than I could have imagined. Beausobre and Lenfant in particular, go so far as to argue against the probability of the fact, because, what we commonly call Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, was not then spoken either in Palestine, or any where else, being understood only by the learned. And that the common language of the country was not meant, they conclude, from the use which Eusebius, who calls the original of Matthew's Gospel Hebrew, makes of the word Syriac, when he says of Bardasenes, that he was eloquent in the Syrian language.
Thus,' say they, he knew how to distinguish between Hebrew and the language of the country, • which he calls Syriac.' But in this these critics themselves have unluckily fallen into a mistake, in supposing that Syriac was, in the time of our Lord and his Apostles, or, during the subsistence of the Jewish polity, the language of Palestine. That their language, at that time, had a mixture of the Syrian language, is acknowledged ; but not that it was the same. It was what Jerom very aptly calls Syro-chaldaic, having an affinity to both languages, but much more to the Chaldean than to the Syrian. It was, in short, the language which the Jews brought with them from Babylon after the captivity, blended with that of the people whom they found, at their return, in the land, and in the neighbouring regions. It is this which is invariably called Hebrew in the New Testament ; I might have said, in Scripture, no language whatever being so named in the Old Testament. It is denominated Hebrew, as Lightfoot has, from some rabbinical writings, with great probability, suggested 23, because the language of the persons who returned from captivity, would readily be called, by those who possessed the land, lingua transfluviana, or transeuphratensis, the language of the people beyond the Euphrates, the river which they had passed in returning to their own country; and the name, as often happens, would be retained, when the language was much altered. We are surprised, indeed, to find this learned author, in another place , in contradiction to this, maintaining that the Syriac was the mother-tongue of the
Jews, after the captivity; and still more, to observe, that he advances some things, on the subject, which will be found, if attended to, totally to subvert his argument.
15. ABRAM was in Canaan called the Hebrew ?s, for this reason, probably, because he was from the farther side of the great river, not because he was descended from Heber, one indeed in the line of his progenitors, but one of whom nothing remarkable is mentioned to distinguish him from the rest. Heber was neither the first after the sons of Noah, nor the immediate father of the Patriarch. Accordingly, the word is, in that passage where Abram is so named, which is the first time it occurs, rendered by the Seventy o nepatns transitor. The Canaanites, amongst whom he sojourned, appear to have used the name Hebrew in a manner similar to that wherein the Italians use the word Tramontani for all who live north of the Alps. The peculiarity, in respect both of religion and of customs, which continued in Abram's posterity, in the line of Jacob, and prevented them from mingling with other nations, or adopting their manners, must have been the reason why this appellation was given to the descendants in continuance, which, in strictness, was applicable to the first comers only. But, let it be observed, that, though this term was very early used of the nation, it was not applied to the language
25 Gen. xiv. 13.