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January 24, 2014


This might be a little off topic since it's about Matthew instead of Mark, but I wanted to make a comment about what Irenaeus said:

“Matthew composed his gospel among the Hebrews in their own language...

I was persuaded several years ago that Matthew was written in Greek. I don't remember the details of what persuaded me, but a lot of it had to do with word plays that work in Greek but that don't work in Hebrew or Aramaic. Also, Matthew's gospel quotes Jesus in Aramaic, then gives the translation.

Papias had said elsewhere that Matthew wrote the "oracles" or "sayings" of Jesus in the Hebrew language. But Matthew's gospel is not just a collection of sayings. It has a narrative. So a lot of people don't think Papias was talking about Matthew's gospel. It could be that Irenaeus, just like a lot of people today, mistook Papias to be saying that Matthew's gospel was written in Hebrew or Aramaic. That would tell us something about Irenaeus' sources.

But suppose Matthew was written in Hebrew or Aramaic. Wouldn't it follow that Bart Ehrman is right? He has said in numerous places that our textual evidence will not allow us to get back to the original documents because the best they can do is converge on the earliest copy of the original. So we can reconstruct what that earliest copy said, but if there were mistakes in it, then we can never recover what the original said.

If Matthew was written in Hebrew or Aramaic, but we have no Hebrew or Aramaic copies (except those that were translated from the Greek), then Ehrman is right because a translation is at least a copy. The best we can do with our textual evidence is to reconstruct what the earliest copy of the translation of Matthew said. The original is lost.

But if Matthew was written in Greek, then Irenaeus was just wrong. And I suspect he was wrong in what he said about Peter and Paul, too. He said, "Peter and Paul proclaimed the gospel in Rome and founded the community." I get the impression from the book of Romans that Paul had never even been to Rome when he wrote that letter. So he couldn't have possibly founded the community there.

Sam, some people have wondered if Matthew wrote the hypothetical Q. If so, the current "Matthew" could still have been named after him because he was the highest profile contributor.

Papias had said elsewhere that Matthew wrote the "oracles" or "sayings" of Jesus in the Hebrew language. But Matthew's gospel is not just a collection of sayings...

I guess it depends on what you mean by the words "oracles" or "sayings." Perhaps today we would equate "sayings" with something along the lines of what we see in Proverbs, for example...?

However, if we allow that "sayings" could mean other things beyond that, which I'm guessing that in the time period that Papias would have written it very well could have, and if you examine Matthew through your critical reading lens, then Matthew's Gospel becomes very much a collection of Jesus' "sayings," or perhaps more generically, "teachings."

Matthew breaks down into 5 major discourses, that are essentially compendiums of Jesus' teaching. These sections can be identified by their ending when Matthew writes something to the effect of "When Jesus had finished these sayings..." Examples of these include the Sermon on the Mount, the Parables, and Jesus' teaching on the End of the Age.

These sections are by no means contiguous, and interspersed between them are bits of narrative, and I almost get the impression that they are there to fill in the gaps between the teaching sections, but this may too bold of a statement?

Anyway, the point being that I don't think that Papias' use of the word "oracles" or "sayings" would be a knock against what we commonly hold to for that Gospel, and it certainly wouldn't support anything close to what that malcontent Ehrman would have us believe...


I guess a lot depends on whether that translation occurred during Matthew's lifetime. Descartes' Meditations were originally published in Latin in 1641. A French edition came out in 1647. Because this occurred during Descartes lifetime and he had ample opportunity to review the work, Descartes' scholars today view the French translation as having some authority, though certainly not the same as the Latin version.

The same goes for Matthew. If Matthew was alive when the translation was made, the same reasons we have for thinking that early bad copies would get flagged apply to suggest that a bad translation would also get flagged.

Translation, though, is not a mechanical process, so those clues you allude to above...plays on words that only make sense in Greek and what have you, could easily be explained by the fact that the translator was adept enough at Greek and Hebrew to make a translation which was not only faithful to the original, but of literary value in its own right.

Some have claimed that there are manuscript fragments of Matthew in Greek in codex form that should actually be dated much earlier, e.g circa AD 65. If they are right, the answer to the question of whether Matthew was alive when the gospel was translated is certainly "yes".

x, I agree with you that Papias' use of the word, "sayings," doesn't necessarily exclude a narrative gospel, and that he may have been referring to Matthew's gospel. However, I think his use of the word, "sayings," opens the possibility that he was referring to a collection of sayings, like the gospel of Thomas, which doesn't have much narrative. But the fact that Matthew seems to have been written in Greek, not Hebrew, leads me to believe Papias was probably talking about a different document.


It doesn't look my first first response to you went through. Lemme try again. And if my first response magically reappears, I apologize for the duplicate.

Although I'm skeptical of Q, I do think it's possible the reason Matthew's name got attached to that document is that some of the information in Matthew's gospel came from a collection of sayings that Matthew himself wrote down, and that's what Papias was talking about. Another possibility, though, is that the community Matthew's gospel came from was a community that Matthew established, and as it was copied and distributed, it was referred to as "Matthew's gospel."

The reason I say I'm skeptical of Q, while still thinking maybe Matthew's gospel was based in part on Matthew's sayings collection, and while not believing it is the same thing as Q is because of how Q is arrived at. Q is arrived at by assuming Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels independently of each other while both relying on Mark. Q is the material found in both Matthew and Luke that is not found in Mark, and since they are supposedly written independently of each other, they must've relied on a common source. It's thought to be a sayings source because the commonality is primarily in the sayings rather than in the narrative.

But I think a better explanation of the commonality between Matthew and Luke is that Luke used Matthew as a source in addition to Mark. I won't go into the details of why, but Mark Goodacre wrote a book about it that I found persuasive.

That still leaves a lot of information in Matthew that is not found in Mark, and Matthew must've gotten that information from somewhere. I suspect it could've come from the collection of sayings that Matthew himself wrote and that Papias referred.

I'm not certain of any of this, but this is my opinion.


You're responding to my comments about Ehrman, right? If so, then yes, I agree with you insofar as you're raising mere possibilities. If Matthew himself went over the Greek translation of his gospel with a fine-toothed comb, and if he approved it or made any necessary corrections, then the Greek translation could be considered "original." in some sense.

After all, John's gospel appears to have underwent some revision or addition. Ehrman said in one of his debates that it's ambiguous what "original document" means since any document might've undergone revision by the author himself. I think that was in his debate with Dan Wallace because I remember Wallace responding by saying that "the original" would be considered the final version that was published, meaning that's the one people made copies from in order to distribute them.

So maybe Matthew wrote the original version in Hebrew or Aramaic, it was translated, Matthew approved the translation, and it became "The Gospel of Matthew." And maybe Papias happened to know that Matthew originally wrote it in Hebrew or Aramaic. That's possible.

And I agree with you that it's possible to create word plays in a translated language when there are word plays in the original language. Last year, I read On the Nature of Things by Lucretius. Originally, the whole thing was written in poetry, but the translation I read was also in poetry. Now, I know translations are difficult to begin with, but to translate a poem accurately, and have it come out as poetry in the translated language as well must've taken some serious talent. As I read it, I was really impressed with how well it worked in English.

So I grant the possibility that something similar could be done with word plays.

But I don't think granting mere possibilities does much work for us in determining what Papias was talking about, whether Matthew was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, or, assuming it was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, whether our best reconstruction of the Greek translation accurately preserves everything that was originally in the original Hebrew or Aramaic.


Agreed, possibilities don't prove anything in and of themselves.

However, if we have good reason to believe that the Gospel, was translated (if it was translated) from Hebrew to Greek during Matthew's lifetime, I think it likely that the apostle himself would be highly motivated to make sure it was faithful.

As such, I think that if there is good reason to believe that the gospel was translated during Matthew's lifetime, then I think that gives us pretty good reason to think that the gospel that came down to us is faithful to the original and retains its apostolic authority.

That, btw, is also true if we have good reason to think that Matthew wrote Matthew originally in Greek. However, part of the reason we believe that Matthew wrote Matthew is Papias. So if his credibility is undermined, then that undercuts our confidence in Matthew also.

My point about word-plays in the Greek Gospel was meant to show that such literary flourishes are not probative as arguments against Papias' claim. A translation can on every point be better literature than the original and yet remain faithful to the original.

Because of this, there is no literary flourish that proves that a text was written in a given language. I doubt that any literary flourish even counts as slim evidence in favor of any claim about the original language.

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