Hebrew Gospel hypothesis
Hebrew Gospel hypothesis (or proto-Gospel hypothesis or Aramaic
Matthew hypothesis) is a group of theories based on the proposition
that a lost gospel in Hebrew or
Aramaic lies behind the four canonical
gospels. It is based upon an early Christian tradition, deriving from
the 2nd-century bishop Papias of Hierapolis, that the apostle Matthew
composed such a gospel. Papias appeared to say that this Hebrew or
Aramaic gospel was subsequently translated into the canonical gospel
of Matthew, but modern studies have shown this to be untenable.
Modern variants of the hypothesis survive, but have not found favour
with scholars as a whole.
1 Basis of the Hebrew gospel hypothesis: Papias and the early church
1.1 Quotes by Church Fathers
2 Composition of Matthew: modern consensus
3 Modern forms of the hypothesis: the synoptic problem
3.1 Early modern period
3.2 18th century: Lessing, Olshausen
3.3 Nicholson, Handmann
4 The Hebrew gospel hypothesis and modern criticism
4.2 19th century
4.3 20th century
Basis of the Hebrew gospel hypothesis: Papias and the early church
The idea that some or all of the gospels were originally written in a
language other than Greek begins with Papias of Hierapolis, c.
125–150 CE. In a passage with several ambiguous phrases, he
wrote: "Matthew collected the oracles (logia – sayings of or about
Jesus) in the Hebrew language (Hebraïdi dialektōi — perhaps
alternatively "Hebrew style") and each one interpreted (hērmēneusen
— or "translated") them as best he could." By "Hebrew" Papias
would have meant Aramaic, the common language of the Middle East
beside koine Greek  On the surface this implies that Matthew was
originally written in Hebrew (Aramaic), but Matthew's Greek "reveals
none of the telltale marks of a translation." However, Blomberg
states that "Jewish authors like Josephus, writing in Greek while at
times translating Hebrew materials, often leave no linguistic clues to
betray their Semitic sources."
Scholars have put forward several theories to explain Papias: perhaps
Matthew wrote two gospels, one, now lost, in Hebrew, the other the
preserved Greek version; or perhaps the logia was a collection of
sayings rather than the gospel; or by dialektōi Papias may have meant
that Matthew wrote in the Jewish style rather than in the Hebrew
language. Nevertheless, on the basis of this and other information
Jerome (c. 327–420) claimed that all the Jewish Christian
communities shared a single gospel, identical with the Hebrew or
Aramaic Matthew; he also claimed to have personally found this gospel
in use among some communities in Syria.
Jerome's testimony is regarded with skepticism by modern scholars.
Jerome claims to have seen a gospel in
Aramaic that contained all the
quotations he assigns to it, but it can be demonstrated that some of
them could never have existed in a Semitic language. His claim to have
produced all the translations himself is also suspect, as many are
found in earlier scholars such as
Origen and Eusebius.
to have assigned these quotations to the Gospel of the Hebrews, but it
appears more likely that there were at least two and probably three
Jewish-Christian gospels, only one of them in a Semitic
Quotes by Church Fathers
Matthew, who is also Levi, and who from a publican came to be an
apostle, first of all composed a Gospel of Christ in Judaea in the
Hebrew language and characters for the benefit of those of the
circumcision who had believed. Who translated it after that in Greek
is not sufficiently ascertained. Moreover, the Hebrew itself is
preserved to this day in the library at Caesarea, which the martyr
Pamphilus so diligently collected. I also was allowed by the Nazarenes
who use this volume in the Syrian city of Beroea to copy it.
— Jerome: De viris inlustribus (On Illustrious Men), chapter
He (Shaul) being a Hebrew wrote in Hebrew, that is, his own tongue and
most fluently; while things which were eloquently written in Hebrew
were more eloquently turned into Greek.
— Jerome, 382 CE, On Illustrious Men, Book V
Matthew also issued a written gospel among the Hebrews in their own
Against Heresies 3:1 [c.175-185 A.D.]
The first is written according to Matthew, the same that was once a
tax collector, but afterwards an emissary of Yeshua the Messiah, who
having published it for the Jewish believers, wrote it in Hebrew.
Origen circa 210 CE, quoted by Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 6:25
Composition of Matthew: modern consensus
The Gospel of Matthew is anonymous: the author is not named within the
text and nowhere does he claim to have been an eyewitness to events.
It probably originated in a
Jewish-Christian community in Roman Syria
towards the end of the first century AD, and there is little doubt
among modern scholars that it was composed in Koine Greek, the daily
language of the time [although this is disputed; see, for example,
Carmignac, "Birth of the Synoptics", and Tresmontant, "The Hebrew
Christ", both of whom postulate early Hebrew gospels.] The author, who
is not named in the text itself but who was universally accepted by
the early church to be the apostle Matthew, drew on three main
sources, the Gospel of Mark, the alleged sayings collection known as
the Q source, both in Greek, and material unique to his own community,
called M. Mark and Q were both written sources composed in Greek,
but some of the parts of Q may have been translated from
Greek more than once. M is comparatively small, only 170 verses,
made up almost exclusively of teachings; it probably was not a single
source, and while some of it may have been written, most seems to have
Modern forms of the hypothesis: the synoptic problem
The synoptic gospels are the three gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke:
they share much the same material in much the same order, and are
clearly related. The precise nature of the relationship is the
synoptic problem. The most widely held solution to the problem today
is the two-source theory, which holds that Mark, plus another,
hypothetical source, Q, were used by Matthew and Luke. But while this
theory has widespread support, there is a notable minority view that
Mark was written last using Matthew and Luke (the two-gospel
hypothesis). Still other scholars accept Markan priority, but argue
that Q never existed, and that Luke used Matthew as a source as well
as Mark (the Farrer hypothesis).
A further, and very minority, theory is that there was a single gospel
written in Hebrew or Aramaic. Today, this hypothesis is held to be
discredited by most experts. As outlined subsequently, this was always
a minority view, but in former times occasionally rather influential,
and advanced by some eminent scholars:
Early modern period
Richard Simon of Normandy in 1689 asserted that an
Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, lay behind the Nazarene Gospel, and was the
Proto-Gospel. J. J. Griesbach treated this as the first of three
source theories as solutions to the synoptic problem, following (1)
Augustinian utilization hypothesis, as (2) the
original gospel hypothesis or proto-gospel hypothesis, (3) the
fragment hypothesis (Koppe); and (4) the oral gospel hypothesis or
tradition hypothesis (Herder 1797).
18th century: Lessing, Olshausen
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing whose New hypothesis on the Evangelists,
1778 suggested a lost Hebrew Gospel as a free source for the
A comprehensive basis for the original-gospel hypothesis was provided
in 1804 by Johann Gottfried Eichhorn, who argued for an Aramaic
original gospel that each of the Synoptic evangelists had in a
Related is the "
Aramaic Matthew hypothesis" of Theodor Zahn, who
shared a belief in an early lost
Aramaic Matthew, but did not connect
it to the surviving fragments of the
Gospel of the Hebrews
Gospel of the Hebrews in the
works of Jerome.
18th Century scholarship was more critical. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
(1778) posited several lost
Aramaic Gospels as Ur-Gospel or
proto-Gospel common sources used freely for the three Greek Synoptic
Johann Gottfried Eichhorn
Johann Gottfried Eichhorn posited four intermediate
Johann Gottfried von Herder
Johann Gottfried von Herder argued for an oral
Gospel tradition as an unwritten Urgospel, leading to Friedrich
Schleiermacher's view of
Logia as a Gospel source.Reicke 2005,
Hermann Olshausen (1832) suggested a lost Hebrew
Matthew was the common source of Greek Matthew and the
Jewish-Christian Gospels mentioned by Epiphanius,
others.Reicke 2005, p. 52 Léon Vaganay
(1940), Lucien Cerfaux,
Xavier Léon-Dufour and Antonio Gaboury
(1952) attempted to revive Lessing's proto-gospel
Edward Nicholson (1879) proposed that Matthew wrote two Gospels, the
first in Greek, the second in Hebrew. The International Standard Bible
Encyclopedia (1915) in its article
Gospel of the Hebrews
Gospel of the Hebrews noted that
Nicholson cannot be said ...[to] have carried conviction to the minds
of New Testament scholars."
Rudolf Handmann (1888) proposed an
Aramaic Gospel of the Hebrews
but reasoned that this was not the Hebrew Matthew and there never was
a Hebrew Ur-Matthew.
James R. Edwards, in The Hebrew Gospel and the development of the
synoptic tradition (2009), suggested that a lost Hebrew Ur-Matthew is
the common source of both the
Jewish-Christian Gospels and the unique
L source material (material not sourced from Mark or Q) in the Gospel
of Luke. A review of Edwards' book, including the reproduction of a
diagram of Edwards' proposed relationship, was published by the
Society of Biblical Literature's
Review of Biblical Literature in
The Hebrew gospel hypothesis and modern criticism
Carl August Credner (1832) identified three Jewish-Christian
Gospels: Jerome's Gospel of the Nazarenes, the Greek Gospel of the
Ebionites cited by Epiphanius in his Panarion, and a Greek gospel
cited by Origen, which he referred to as the Gospel of the Hebrews. In
the 20th Century the majority school of critical scholarship, such as
Philip Vielhauer and Albertus Klijn, proposed a tripartite
distinction between Epiphanius' Greek Jewish Gospel, Jerome's Hebrew
(or Aramaic) Gospel, and a Gospel of the Hebrews, which was produced
by Jewish Christians in Egypt, and like the canonical Epistle to the
Hebrews was Hebrew only in nationality not language. The exact
identification of which Jewish Gospel is which in the references of
Origen and Epiphanius, and whether each church father had one
or more Jewish Gospels in mind, is an ongoing subject of scholarly
debate. However the presence in patristic testimony concerning
three different Jewish Gospels with three different traditions
regarding the baptism of Christ suggests multiple traditions.
Eichhorn's Ur-Gospel hypothesis (1794/1804) won little support in the
following years. General sources such as John Kitto's Cyclopedia
describe the hypothesis but note that it had been rejected by
almost all succeeding critics.
Acceptance of an original Gospel hypothesis in any form in the 20th
century was minimal. Critical scholars had long moved on from the
hypotheses of Eichhorn, Schleiermacher (1832) and K. Lachmann
(1835). Regarding the related question of the reliability of
Jerome's testimony also saw few scholars taking his evidence at face
value. Traditional Lutheran commentator Richard Lenski (1943) wrote
regarding the "hypothesis of an original Hebrew Matthew" that
"whatever Matthew wrote in Hebrew was so ephemeral that it disappeared
completely at a date so early that even the earliest fathers never
obtained sight of the writing".
Helmut Köster (2000) casts doubt
upon the value of Jerome's evidence for linguistic reasons; "Jerome's
claim that he himself saw a gospel in
Aramaic that contained all the
fragments that he assigned to it is not credible, nor is it believable
that he translated the respective passages from
Aramaic into Greek
(and Latin), as he claims several times." However, Lenski and
Koster’s views are in sharp contrast with those of Schneemelcher.
Schneemelcher cites several early fathers as seeing Hebrew Matthew
including Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 2.9.45 and 5.14.96), Origen
(in Joh. vol. II,12; in Jer. Vol. XV,4; in MT. vol. XV,p. 389
Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica 3.25.5, 3.27.1-4,
3.39.17. 4.22.8 “Regarding Hegissipus (c. 180) and his memoirs
Eusebius reports: He quotes from the Gospel according to the Hebrews
and from the Syriac (Gospel) and in particular some words in the
Hebrew tongue, showing that he was a convert from the Hebrews”,
3.24.6, 3.39.16, 5.8.2, 6.24.4, Theophania 4.12, 5.10.3),
by Schneemelcher “
Jerome thus reluctantly confirms the existence of
two Jewish Gospels, the Gospel according to the Hebrews and an Aramaic
gospel. That the latter was at hand in the library in Caesareas is not
to be disputed; it is at any rate likely on the ground of the
Eusebius in his Theophany. It will likewise be correct
that the Nazaraeans used such an
Aramaic gospel, since Epiphanius also
testifies to this. That the
Aramaic gospel, evidence of which is given
by Hegesippus and Eusebius, is identical with the Gospel of the
Nazaraeans, is not indeed absolutely certain, but perfectly possible,
even very probable…).
^ a b c Köster 2000, p. 207.
^ a b c Bromiley 1979, p. 571.
^ a b Turner 2008, p. 15–16.
^ Blomberg 1992, p. 40.
^ Translation from the Latin text edited by E. C. Richardson and
published in the series "Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der
altchristlichen Literatur,". 14. Leipzig. 1896. pp. 8, 9.
^ Duling 2010, p. 298, 302.
^ Aland & Aland 1995, p. 52.
^ Burkett 2002, p. 175–6.
^ Koester 1990, p. 317.
^ Van Voorst 2000, p. 137–9, 143–8.
^ Histoire critique du texte du Nouveau Testament, Rotterdam 1689.
^ Commentatio qua Marci evangelium totum e Matthaei et Lucae
commentariis decerptum esse monstratur, Ienae 1794,
^ Marcus non epitomator Matthaei, Programme Universität Gottingen
(Helmstadii, 1792); reprinted in D. J. Pott and G. A. Ruperti (eds.),
Sylloge commentationum theologicarum, vol. I (Helmstadii, 1800), pp.
^ Von Gottes Sohn, der Welt Heiland, nach Johannes Evangelium. Nebst
einer Regel der Zusammenstimmung unserer Evangelien aus ihrer
Entstehung und Ordnung, Riga, 1797.
^ Reicke, Bo (1965), Monograph series, 34, Society for New Testament
Studies, pp. 51–2, ...whereas the last one was made public only
after the final version of his Commentatio had appeared. The three
source-theories referred to are these: (2) the Proto-Gospel
Hypothesis; (3) the Fragment Hypothesis; (4) the Tradition Hypothesis.
…Richard Simon... He asserted that an old Gospel of Matthew,
presumed to have been written in Hebrew or rather in
Aramaic and taken
to lie behind the Nazarene Gospel, was the Proto-Gospel.
^ Einleitung in das neue Testament, Leipzig, Weidmann 1804.
^ Schnelle, Udo (1998), The history and theology of the New Testament
writings, p. 163 .
^ Einleitung in das Neue Testament, Leipzig 1897.
^ A. T. Robertson (1911), Commentary on the Gospel According to
Matthew, What is its relation to the
Aramaic Matthew? This is the crux
of the whole matter. Only a summary can be attempted. (a) One view is
that the Greek Matthew is in reality a translation of the Aramaic
Matthew. The great weight of Zahn's...
^ Homiletic review, 1918, The chief opponent is Zahn, who holds that
Aramaic Matthew comes first. Zahn argues from Irenseus and Clement
of Alexandria that the order of the gospels is the Hebrew (Aramaic)
Matthew, Mark, Luke…
^ "Neue Hypothese über die Evangelisten als blos menschliche
Geschichtsschreiber betrachtet", in Karl Gotthelf Lessing (ed.),
Gotthold Ephraim Lessings Theologischer Nachlass, Christian Friedrich
Voß und Sohn, Berlin 1784, pp 45-73.
^ Mariña, Jacqueline (2005), The Cambridge Companion to Friedrich
Schleiermacher, p. 234, Lessing argued for several versions of an
Aramaic Urgospel, which were later translated into Greek as the...
Eichhorn built on Lessing's Urgospel theory by positing four
intermediate documents explaining the complex relations among the...
For Herder, the Urgospel, like the Homeric...
^ Neue Hypothese über die Evangelisten als bloss menschliche
Geschichtsschreiber [New hypothesis on the Evangelists as merely human
historians], 1778 .
^ Nellen, Rabbie & 1994 1994, p. 73: ‘I am referring here
to the Proto-Gospel Hypothesis of Lessing and the Two Gospel
Hypothesis of Griesbach. These theories tried to explain the form of
the Gospels by assuming that they are...
^ Edwards (2009), The Hebrew Gospel and the development of the
synoptic tradition, p. xxvii .
^ Neusner, Jacob; Smith, Morton (1975), Christianity, Judaism and
other Greco-Roman cults: Studies for..., p. 42, ...developed out
of this latter form of the proto-gospel hypothesis: namely Matthew and
Luke have copied an extensive proto-gospel (much longer than Mark
since it included such material as the sermon on the mount, etc.
^ Bellinzoni, Arthur J; Tyson, Joseph B; Walker, William O (1985), The
Two-source hypothesis: a critical appraisal, Our present two-gospel
hypothesis developed out of this latter form of the proto-gospel
hypothesis: namely Matthew and Luke have copied an extensive
proto-gospel (much longer than Mark since it included such material as
the sermon on...
^ Powers 2010, p. 22‘B. Reicke comments (Orchard and Longstaff
1978, 52): [T]he Proto-Gospel Hypothesis... stems from a remark of
Papias implying that Matthew had compiled the logia in Hebrew
(Eusebius, History 3.39.16). Following this, Epiphanius and...’
^ Nellen & Rabbie 1994, p. 73: ‘I am referring here to the
Proto-Gospel Hypothesis of Lessing and the Two Gospel Hypothesis of
Griesbach. ... 19 (on Lessing's Proto-Gospel Hypothesis, "Urevangeli-
umshypothese") and 21-22 (on Griesbach's Two Gospel Hypothesis).’
^ Vaganay, Léon (1940), Le plan de l'Épître aux Hébreux (in
^ Hayes, John Haralson (2004), "The proto-gospel hypothesis", New
Testament, history of interpretation, The University of Louvain was
once a center of attempts to revive Lessing's proto-gospel theory,
beginning in 1952 with lectures by Leon Vaganay and Lucien Cerfaux 8,
who started again from Papias's reference to a...
^ Reicke, Bo (1986), The roots of the synoptic gospels
^ Hurth, Elisabeth (2007), Between faith and unbelief: American
transcendentalists and the…, p. 23,
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson was
even prepared to go beyond Johann Gottfried Eichhorn's Proto-Gospel
hypothesis, arguing that the common source for the synoptic Gospels
was the oral tradition. The main exposition of this view was, as
Emerson pointed out in his fourth vestry...
^ Interpretation, Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, 1972,
Gaboury then goes on to examine the other main avenue of approach, the
proto-Gospel hypothesis. Reviewing the work of Pierson Parker, Leon
Xavier Leon-Dufour (who is Antonio Gaboury's mentor), the
writer claims that they have not...
^ Hurth, Elisabeth (1989), In His name: comparative studies in the
quest for the historical…, Emerson was even prepared to go beyond
Proto-Gospel hypothesis and argued that the common source
for the synoptic Gospels was the oral tradition. The main exposition
of this view was, as Emerson pointed out in his fourth...
^ Orr, James, ed. (1915), "Gospel of the Hebrews", International
Standard Bible Encyclopedia .
^ Handmann, R (1888), "Das Hebräer-Evangelium" [The Hebrew Gospel],
Texte und Untersuchungen (in German), Leipzig, 3: 48
^ Schaff, Philip (1904), A select library of Nicene and post-Nicene
fathers, Handmann makes the Gospel according to the Hebrews a second
independent source of the Synoptic Gospels, alongside of the
"Ur-Marcus" (a theory which, if accepted, would go far to establish
its identity with the Hebrew Matthew) .
^ Friedrichsen, Timothy A (March 2010), "Review" (PDF), RBL .
^ Beitrage zur Einleitung in die biblischen Schriften (in German),
Halle, 1832 .
^ Vielhauer, cf. Craig A. Evans, cf. Klauck
^ Vielhauer, Philip, "Introductory section to Jewish Christian
Gospels", Schneemelcher NTA, 1 .
^ Powers 2010, p. 481: ‘Others have taken up this basic concept
of an Ur-Gospel and explained the idea further. In particular JG
Eichhorn advanced (1794/1804) a very complicated version of the primal
Gospel hypothesis that won little support, and then K Lachmann
developed (1835) the thesis that all three Synoptics are dependent on
a common source...’
^ Kitto, John (1865), A Cyclopedia of Biblical literature,
p. 158, We are thus brought to consider Eichhorn's famous
hypothesis of a so-called original Gospel, now lost. A brief written
narrative of the life of Christ is supposed to have been in existence,
and to have had additions made to it at different periods. Various
copies of this original Gospel, with these additions, being extant in
the time of the evangelists, each of the evangelists is supposed to
have used a different copy as the basis of his Gospel. In the hands of
Bishop Marsh, who adopted and modified the hypothesis of Eichhorn,
this original Gospel becomes a very complex thing. He supposed that
there was a Greek translation of the Aramaean original Gospel, and
^ Davidsohn, Samuel (1848), An Introduction to the New Testament, 3,
p. 391, Perhaps Eichhorn's hypothesis weakens the authenticity.
It has been rejected, however, by almost all succeeding critics.
^ Farmer, William Reuben, The Synoptic Problem a Critical Analysis,
pp. 13–6 .
^ Lenski, Richard CH (2008) , "The Hypothesis of an Original
Hebrew", The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel 1–14,
pp. 12–14, Various forms of this hypothesis have been
^ Introduction to the New Testament, 2, p. 207, This hypothesis
has survived into the modern period; but several critical studies have
shown that it is untenable. First of all, the Gospel of Matthew is not
a translation from
Aramaic but was written in Greek on the basis of
two Greek documents (Mark and the Sayings Gospel Q). Moreover,
Jerome's claim that he himself saw a gospel in
Aramaic that contained
all the fragments that he assigned to it is not credible, nor is it
believable that he translated the respective passages from Aramaic
into Greek (and Latin), as he claims several times. ...It can be
demonstrated that some of these quotations could never have existed in
a Semitic language.
^ Wilhelm Schneelmelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, volume 1, 1991 p.
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Jerusalem school hypothesis
Hebrew Gospel hypothesis