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Julian Pe- calamity, the members of the Christian Church stood in need of The Proriod, 4746. all the support, consolation, and assistance, that could be ad- vince of Ju- 50 | Vulgar Æra, ministered to them. But what comfort could they possibly dea, &c. receive, in their distressed situation, comparable to that which resulted from the example of their suffering Master, and the promise he had made to his 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 this 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 ancient 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 veneration 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 comparative gentleness in mentioning John the Baptist's reproof of Herod, and his silence concerning the insults offered by Herod to our Lord on the morning of his 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 sovereign'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 banished 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 he shows of the spirituality 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 extending 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 prejudices, and given him 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 exhibits 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 his divine 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 not 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 his
ST. MATTHEW WRITES HIS GOSPEL-CHAP. IX.
lian Pe- Gospel declare the extent of Christ's kingdom, and the calling The Prod, 4747. and acceptance of the Gentiles. But these events had been vince of Juigar Æra, plainly foretold by the ancient prophets, and were expected by dea, &c. devout Israelites to happen in the days of the Messiah (g); 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 Christ'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 generally agreed, that the inspired penmen often did not comprehend 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 history of our Saviour's ministry, to which the believing Jews might refer, when that extraordinary and unexpected 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 declared in a book, which they acknowledged as the rule of their 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 overthrow of the Jews, it may be observed, that if this argument means, that, being at first prejudiced 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 notify them to his 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 justified in assigning the date of this Gospel to the year of our Lord 37, or at the latest to the year 38.
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 orignals, 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 JuVulgar Era, pleading strongly for the Hebrew, and evident marks of origi- dea, &c. nality for the Greek.
The presumption, however, is unquestionably in favour of the opinion that St. Matthew wrote in Greek; for Greek was the prevailing language in the time of our Saviour and his apostles. Matthew, too, while he was a collector of customs, and before he was called to be an apostle, would have frequent occa sions 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 be understood Greek. Besides, as all the other evangelists and apostles wrote their Gospels and Epistles in that language for the use of Christians (whether 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 confess 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 shall 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, “Matthew 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 credulous man (o), is vague and indecisive; that he had not seen the
ST. MATTHEW WRITES HIS GOSPEL-CHAP. IX.
Julian Pe- Hebrew Gospel itself; that it could not have been intended for The Preriod, 4747. universal circulation by his own account, because every one vince of JuVulgar Era, was not able to interpret it; and that the Greek Gospel was dea, &c. 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 translated, 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 Church, and be deemed spurious.
3. The testimony of Origen perfectly corresponds with this: for, surely, when he cited tradition for the existence of a Hebrew Gospel, written by Matthew, for the converts from Judaism, he by no means denied, but rather presupposed his Greek Gospel, written for all classes of Christians, composing the whole Church of God under heaven," for whose use the Hebrew Gospel would be utterly inadequate. In fact, in his treatise on prayer, he intimates that the Evangelist published it in Greek also: for, discoursing on the word ouoov, he considers it as formed by Matthew himself (q). That Origen considered the Greek as the 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 Testament by the 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 production 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, which, 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. Matthew. 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. Bishop Gleig thinks, that St. Matthew, on his departure to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, left with the
Julian Pe- Church at Jerusalem, or at least with some of its members, the The Proriod, 4747. Hebrew or Syriac memorandums of our Lord's doctrines and vince of JuVulgar Æra, miracles, which he had made for his own use at the time when dea, &c.
the doctrines were taught, and the miracles performed; and
From a review of all the arguments adduced on this much
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 warranted 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 writing the memorable events of Christ's history, might have distributed among his own countrymen, the converts of Jerusalem, an account of the