Attestation to the Hebrew Gospel, The principal source for Luke
Excerpts from James Edwards, The Hebrew Gospel & The Development of the Synoptic Tradition.
Summary of early Christian writings attesting to the Hebrew Gospel.
There is an extensive and diverse testimony in the early centuries of Christianity to an early Hebrew Gospel. Seventeen church fathers attest to the Hebrew Gospel. The combined testimony to the Hebrew Gospel in the early centuries of Christianity amounts to more than two dozen witnesses. Of these witnesses, a dozen attribute it specifically to the apostle Matthew and eleven specify that it was written in Hebrew. The geographical locations of these witnesses range from Lyons and Rome in the west to Alexandria and North Africa in the south, India in the east, and Jerusalem and Constantinople in between. These points do not exhaust the extent of a map of the world in late antiquity, but they come close to most of its borders. Perhaps more important than persons and places is the actual reputation of the Hebrew Gospel in the early church. Although the Hebrew Gospel does not appear in the canonical lists of either Origen or Eusebius, it occupied the “disputed” category of a select six or eight books throughout early Christianity and is cited more frequently and positively alongside canonical texts than any non-canonical canonical document of which I am aware. (742-750)
Origen on the Hebrew Gospel
Eusebius on the Hebrew Gospel
Eusebius's summary of the canonical status of various texts in circulation at the beginning of the fourth century is critical for a proper assessment of the Hebrew Gospel. He follows Origen's earlier threefold classification of Recognized Books, Disputed Books, and Rejected Books. The summary occurs in Ecclesiastical History 3.25 and is worth quoting at length since it preserves the most “authorized” report port of the emerging NT canon - and the Hebrew Gospel in relation to it - in the early fourth century... it does seem clear that Eusebius places the Gospel of the Hebrews and the Book of Revelation in the same category. Both enjoy wide recognition (Eusebius twice notes that the documents specified in this summary are “known to most”). The designation of Rejected Books “illegitimate,” “bastard” is an important clue to Eusebius's judgment of them. Their lack of ecclesiastical paternity, i.e., that they neither derive from nor transmit authorized tradition, makes them suspicious in the eyes of Eusebius and of the churches as a whole. That the Gospel of the Hebrews brews is not explicitly included in the rejected category but mentioned in correlation with the Book of Revelation strongly suggests that it, like the Revelation, fell into the Disputed Books of Eusebius's taxonomy. James R. Edwards. (498-526) Kindle Edition.
Quotations from the Hebrew Gospel in Early Christianity
Specific quotations from the Hebrew Gospel occur only in Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Didymus of Alexandria, Eusebius, Epiphanius, Jerome, Sedulius Scottus, and perhaps the Talmud.(755-756)
The comparison of Hebrew Gospel quotations with Synoptic optic texts requires careful lexical analysis. In several instances, judgments must be made with generous margins of uncertainty. Nevertheless, the mass of material from the Hebrew Gospel is large enough to reveal a pattern of correspondence with the Gospel of Luke that appreciably exceeds its correspondence with either Matthew or Mark.(762-764)
Four reputable witnesses in the early church - Ignatius, Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome - cite a text that bears an unmistakable correlation to Luke 24:39. None of the four, however, ascribes it to Luke. The most complete witness to the citation comes from Jerome, who ascribes it to the Hebrew Gospel, and by implication to the apostle Matthew. Jerome will not be alone in preserving a putative first-person testimony of the apostle Matthew in the Hebrew Gospel. (Vir. ill. 2.11.) (867-869)
Origen sees a redundancy in Jesus requiring the rich man to dispense with his wealth after having confessed to keeping all the commandments, including the commandment to love your neighbor. Because it is redundant, Origen argues it is a later addition of canonical Matthew. He saw it as unwarranted considering the command to “Go, sell all you possess and distribute it among the poor, and come, follow me,” which contains the substance of the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.”Origen believed the Hebrew Gospel preserved the most primitive version of the story, not exhibiting the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Since Origin uses the Hebrew Gospel for exegesis and is investing it with authority over canonical Matthew, he treats the Hebrew Gospel as an authority despite an opening declaimer to the contrary. In this case, Luke 18:18-23 reflects the Hebrew Gospel, exhibiting a reading that is preferred over Matthew's account of the rich man of Matt 19:16-22. In comparing Luke 18:18-23 with and Mark 10:17-22, the wording of Luke is nearer to the wording of the Hebrew Gospel. The command to the rich man, of the Hebrew Gospel to “Sell all you possess and distribute it among the poor, and come, follow me,” more closely matches the wording of Luke than either Matthew or Mark.
It can also be noted above that Matthew adds other interpolations, shown in bold, as compared to the more primitive Luke. These interpolations correspond to Matthew's emphasis on righteousness and perfection through keeping the commandments.
Another example of how Luke is the closest match with the Hebrew Gospel is the absolute use of “the Lord.” In the narrative that is common in the Hebrew Gospel, this appears more frequently in Special Luke (the material of Luke not seen in Mark or Matthew) than in sections paralleled by Mark or Matthew. Additionally, only in Luke 12:14, Luke 22:58, and Luke 22:60 is “Man” used as a form of address as used in the Hebrew Gospel. The content, imagery, and wording of the Hebrew Gospel, as quoted by Origen, also bears a distinct relationship with the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 19:19-31.
Eusebius in Theophania 4.22 makes reference to “the Gospel that has come to us in Hebrew characters” when he quotes a passage that is related to the parable of the Talent/Minas of Luke 19:11-27 and Matt 25:14-30. Much of the Greek terminology and phraseology in the quotation is special or unique to Luke, This includes nine Greek terms that are all characteristic of or unique to Luke-Acts among the Gospels. Both lexically and thematically, Eusebius's quotation of the Hebrew Gospel bears a clear relationship to the Gospel of Luke.
Epiphanius of 315-403, who was Bishop of Salamis, is known to have made eight references to the Hebrew Gospel. Epiphanius associates the Hebrew Gospel with the Ebionite sect when he addresses the “Ebionite” heresy. Modern scholars often refer to the Hebrew Gospel that Epiphanius associates with the Ebionites, as “the Gospel of the Ebionites.” This naming does not come from Epiphanius or any other church father. Epiphanius simply references it as “Hebrew Gospel” which he further describes as a corruption of the Gospel of Matthew.
The eight quotations of Epiphanius confirm (1) the quotations correspond predominately with Luke (not nearly as close to canonical Matthew) and (2) they are quotations from an original Hebrew Gospel authored by the apostle Matthew.
The first quotation of Epiphanius is as follows:
In what they [the Ebionites] call the Gospel according to Matthew, which, however, is not complete but forged and mutilated—they call it the Hebrew Gospel—it is reported: “There appeared a certain man by the name of Jesus about thirty years of age, who chose us. And having come to Capernaum, he entered the house of Simon who was called Peter, and having opened his mouth, said, “As I passed beside the Lake of Tiberias, I chose John and James the sons of Zebedee, and Simon and Andrew and Thaddaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the Iscariot, and you, Matthew, I called while you were sitting at the tax table, and you followed me. You therefore I desire to be twelve apostles for a witness to Israel.'” (Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13.2-3)
There are six specific ways that this passage is linked to the Gospel of Luke:
- The mention of Jesus being “about thirty years of age” parallels Luke 3:23. Luke is the only gospel that mentions Jesus' age.
- Reference to “the Lake of Tiberias” is only made in Luke. Moreover, the word for “lake” is not used in Mark, Matthew, or John, which uses sea, but is exclusive to Luke among the canonical gospels.
- Luke 4:38 is verbatim with the mention of entering the house of Simon. Mark and Matthew's wording of the same event does not match the way Luke does.
- As compared to the wording of Mark 3:16 and Matt 10:2, the wording of Luke 6:14 more closely corresponds to the further clarification of Simon's name as “Peter” as indicated by the quote.
- With respect to the list of apostles, the reference to “Simon the Zealot” is unique to Luke (6:15), and the order of “John and James,” rather than “James and John,” is found only in Acts 1:13. These are both Lukan matches with the quote
- Virtually verbatim with Luke 1:5 is the phrase “there appeared a certain man by the name of Jesus”
After many things had been said, it continues, "When the people had been baptized, Jesus also came and was baptized by John. And as he arose from the water, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Holy Spirit of God in the form of a dove descending and entering into him. And a voice came from heaven, saying 'You are my beloved Son, in you I am pleased''; and again, "Today I have begotten you.' And immediately a great light shone on the place. When John saw it, it is recorded that he said to [Jesus], 'Who are you, Lord?' And again a voice from heaven came to him, 'This is my beloved Son, on whom my pleasure rests.' And then, it is reported, John fell before him saying, 'I beg you, Lord, to baptize me.' But he prevented it saying, 'Let it be, for in this way it is necessary for all things to be fulfilled.'" (Epiphanius Panarion 30:13.7-8)
- The indication that Jesus was being baptized with the people corresponds solely to Luke 3:21, as also does the reference to the “Holy Spirit” in “the form of a dove” corresponding to Luke 3:22.
- The first expression of the voice from heaven addresses Jesus in the second-person singular, which Luke does, but Matthew uses the third-person singular
- With regard to “out of the heaven” Luke is in the singular corresponding to the citation, whereas Matthew and mark are in the plural (heavens).
- The reference to the “opening” of heaven corresponds to the verb of Luke 3:21 as opposed to Mark.
- The divine pronouncement, “Today I have begotten you,” a quote from Psalms 2:7, only occurs in the Western text of Luke 3:22 but is absent from any texts of Matthew or Mark.
Another notable quotation of Epiphanius regarding the Hebrew Gospel is:
For having removed the genealogies of Matthew, they begin, as I said earlier, by saying that “It came to pass in the days of Herod king of Judea, when Caiaphas was chief priest, a certain man named John came baptizing a baptism of repentance in the Jordan river,” etc. (Epiphanius, Panarion 30.14.3)
This quotation is related more specifically to Luke 1:4 and Luke 3:2 than to the Synoptic parallels of Mark 1:4 and Matt 3:1-2 as follows:
- Various phrases are a verbatim match to the opening line of Luke's infancy narrative of Luke 1:5.
- The reference to the high priesthood of Caiphas is found only in Luke 3:2.
- The reference to “the baptism of repentance in the Jordan river” matches Luke 3:3 more closely than the parallels of Matt 3:1 or Mark 1:4
- This introduction by Epiphanius, Luke 1:5 corresponds to the beginning of the body of the Hebrew Gospel. The body did not begin the birth of Jesus as recorded in Matt 1:18.
Other quotes by Epiphanius of the Hebrew Gospel are of a higher affinity with Luke than with Matthew. For example, specific verbs are used that are characteristic of Luke and Acts, but are absent from Matthew. With respect to the Gospel of the Ebionites, we see the closest correlation with Luke than with Matthew.
James Edwards summarizes his findings regarding the Gospel of the Ebionites understood from the citations of Epiphanius as follows:
The Hebrew Gospel cited by Epiphanius is not, as is often assumed, a general harmony of the Synoptic Gospels. Nor again are Epiphanius's citations of the Hebrew Gospel default reproductions of Matthew, nor do they favor Matthew. A synopsis of the above evidence, divided between passages in the Gospel of the Ebionites, that are either clearly or possibly related to the various Synoptic Gospels, reveals the following:
Luke: 13 Clearly, 14 Possibly
Matthew: 6 Clearly, 5 Possibly
Mark 3 Clearly, 3 Possibly
(James R. Edwards, The Hebrew Gospel & the Development of the Synoptic Tradition,Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2009, p. 76)
We see more than twice as many correlations between Luke and the Gospel of the Ebionites than with Matthew and Mark combined. Epiphanius's citations of the Gospel of the Ebionites show clear and repeated similarities to material unique to Luke.
Reviewing the citations from Jerome of 345 to 419, reveals many more correspondences of the Hebrew Gospel with Luke than with Matthew. In numerous instances, and especially in Jerome's Commentary on Matthew, Jerome appealed to the Hebrew Gospel, as Origen and Didymus also did, to interpret a canonical text, especially canonical Matthew. Thus, at least three church fathers attest to the Hebrew Gospel being a hermeneutical authority in the patristic period, despite its non-canonical status.
Taking Stock of the Hebrew Gospel in the Early Church
The widespread and enduring testimony in early Christianity to a Hebrew Gospel is the single most important conclusion of the first two chapters. The evidence is more considerable than even specialists in the field often imagine. The tradition of an original Gospel written in Hebrew is attested by twenty church fathers - Ignatius, Papias, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Pantaenus, Hegesippus, Hippolytus, Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, Ephrem of Syria, Didymus of Alexandria, Epiphanius, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Theodoret, Marius Mercator, Philip Sidetes, the Venerable Bede, Nicephorus, and Sedulius Scottus. When references to the Hebrew Gospel by Pope Damasus, the Islamic Hadith, the scholia of Sinaiticus, and tractate Sabbat in the Babylonian Talmud (see Chapter Seven) are added to this number, the list lengthens to over two dozen different witnesses. It is highly probable, moreover, that the scholia in Codex Sinaiticus derive from several sources rather than a single source. The Hebrew Gospel is therefore identified by name in at least two dozen patristic sources. Jerome references the Hebrew Gospel twenty-two times. Combined, there are some seventy-five different attestations to the Hebrew Gospel, extending from the late first century to the early tenth century. Several of these references appear in Latin authors of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, and this is significant, for “the period from roughly 550 to 750 was one of almost unrelieved gloom for the Latin classics on the continent; they virtually ceased being copied. It is true that patristic and ecclesiastical texts fared better during this wintry interlude than did the Latin classics. Nevertheless, repeated references to the Hebrew Gospel from Latin authors of the period attest to the depth of its roots in ancient church tradition.
Specific witnesses to the Hebrew Gospel come from Lyons, Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Alexandria, and as far east as India. Those points are roughly coextensive with the Roman Empire in the same centuries, with the exception of India, which was well beyond its eastern frontier. Twelve fathers attribute the Hebrew Gospel to the apostle Matthew, and eleven specify that it was written in Hebrew. No other noncanonical document occupied the “disputed” category in canonical deliberations in the early church as long and consistently as did the Hebrew Gospel. To my knowledge, no other noncanonical text was cited as frequently and positively alongside canonical texts in early Christian exegesis. More important, witnesses to the Hebrew Gospel are as ancient as patristic witnesses to any of the four canonical Gospels. The Hebrew Gospel was the most highly esteemed noncanonical document in the early church. (Locations 1348-1363, Kindle Edition.)
The one factor that did compromise the Hebrew Gospel in the eyes of the early church was its (often exclusive) use by Jewish Christian communities such as Ebionites, Nazarenes, and others. These groups were early and increasingly rejected by “normative” Gentile Christianity for their adherence to Jewish rites and customs, their rejection of the apostle Paul, their Christological aberrations (primarily in denying the deity of Jesus and affirming adoptionism), and for their resistance to integration into the larger Gentile church. Negative judgments of such groups cast an inevitable shadow on the Gospel used by them. Guilt by association was increased by claims of alterations of the text of that Gospel in accord with aberrant Jewish customs and theology, real or imagined. Among the known detriments of canonization—or reasonable inferences of such—the establishment of the Hebrew Gospel by Jewish Christians as a rival tradition to the emerging Greek canonical tradition of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John certainly jeopardized the standing of the Hebrew Gospel in later Gentile Christianity, and almost certainly played a negative—and perhaps decisive role in debarring it from inclusion in the NT canon. (Kindle Locations 1374-1381)
The preeminence and pervasiveness of the Hebrew Gospel in the early church was due to a residual though unofficial authority with which it was endowed by early church testimony. No noncanonical text appears in patristic prooftexts as often and as favorably as does the Hebrew Gospel. The single most important evidence of this is that in their canonical deliberations both Origen and Eusebius place the Hebrew Gospel in a rare middle category of “disputed” works, along with the book of Revelation, James, 2 Peter, Jude, and 2-3 John. As late as the early ninth century Nicephorus continued to retain the Hebrew Gospel, along with the book of Revelation, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Epistle of Barnabas, in the disputed category. The placement of books into the recognized, disputed and rejected categories was not due to the judgment of any single church father or even of a church council, but rather to the reception and use of a given document within confessing ecclesiastical communities. The various works, in other words, were declared either authentic or spurious on the basis of their homiletical, catechetical, and disciplinary usefulness in active churches. The placement of the Hebrew Gospel in the disputed category attests to the very considerable status that it possessed in widespread Christian communities over long periods of time. (Kindle Locations 1381-1389). Kindle Edition.
Perhaps more important than the formal position of the Hebrew Gospel in the canonical taxonomy of the early church was its practical viability as an auxiliary resource in patristic hermeneutics. Clement's Stromata prefaces a quotation from the Hebrew Gospel with “it is written;” a terminus technicus for the written Word of God. In seeking to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian revelation to Greek philosophy, Clement assigns greater authority to the Hebrew Gospel than to Plato! In his exegesis of Isa 11:1-2, Jerome quotes sixteen canonical texts; in the same exegesis there are only two noncanonical texts—and both come from the Hebrew Gospel. Origen, Didymus, and Jerome all appeal to the Hebrew Gospel to assert a proper interpretation (or correct a false interpretation) of sacred Scripture. They reference the Hebrew Gospel, in other words, as a defacto authority over Scripture. (Kindle Locations 1389-1394)
Holtzmann says it “rank[ed] as equal to the Johannine Gospel in value;” (O. Holtzmann, The Life of Jesus, 46.)
Findlay's assessment is that several fathers, Origen among them, felt compelled to show that their opinions did not conflict with the Hebrew Gospel. (A. F. Findlay, Byways in Early Christian Literature, 50)
Pierson Parker, who in an article on the Hebrew Gospel of some seventy years ago wrote that “. . . it can be shown that ... the Gospel according to the Hebrews is not Matthean, and is to be related to the non-Markan Markan portions of Luke.”” (P. Parker, “A Proto-Lukan Basis for the Gospel According to the Hebrews,” 472. Many scholars have recognized similarities between the Hebrew Gospel and Luke without pursuing them further)
The foregoing analysis shows the unusually strong correlation of the Hebrew Gospel and the Gospel of Luke. Of the 41 texts considered, 25 demonstrate an explicit or close thematic likeness to the Third Gospel. Three-fifths of the purported citations of the Hebrew Gospel, in other words, exhibit stronger agreement with Luke than with Matthew and/or Mark. Moreover, over, the texts cited with reference to Luke are, on the whole, longer excerpts of the Hebrew Gospel. Longer texts provide more comparative data, and multiple instances of longer texts constitute stronger evidence for relationships between two texts than do agreements of single words, short phrases, or isolated details, which may be coincidental. Patristic citations of the Hebrew Gospel are thus not of a “general Synoptic text type.” On the contrary, they demonstrate a clear affinity with the Lukan text. (A point emphasized by R. Handmann, Das Hebrder-Evangelium, 128, and recognized but not argued by O. Holtzmann, The Life of Jesus, 51) (Kindle Locations 1442-1461).
The composite evidence points rather persuasively to the conclusion that the Hebrew Gospel is not, as commonly assumed, a compilation of the Synoptics, but rather one of the sources of the Gospel of Luke to which the author alludes in his prologue (Luke 1:1-4). The Hebrew Gospel authored by the apostle Matthew may have been translated into Greek quite early. Jerome mentions such a translation into Greek prior to his own, and given the pervasiveness of Greek in the Mediterranean world, this is not at all surprising. At a somewhat later date, the Hebrew Gospel evidently underwent textual alterations in accordance with the tenets of the Jewish Christian sects that used and copied it. Evidence of at least two such recensions appears in Epiphanius and Jerome... Not surprisingly, the original Hebrew Gospel suffered changes at the hands of its host communities and interest groups.(Kindle Locations 1467-1474)...
Nearly a century ago M.-J. Lagrange asked the same question and came to virtually the same conclusion. “If the Gospel (of the Ebionites) is no nearer to Matthew than it is to Luke, why is it named for Matthew? It surprised Epiphanius that he could find no other cause than an original Hebrew Matthew. His thought was that the Gospel in question depended on a Hebrew writing. (1480-1482).
The most economical hypothesis that satisfies the foregoing evidence is that the author of the Third Gospel utilized an early Hebrew Gospel (perhaps in Greek translation) as one of the sources to which he refers in his prologue (Luke 1:1-4). (1489-1491)
The various patristic citations of the Hebrew Gospel, and especially the latest and most numerous texts cited by Epiphanius and Jerome, continue to evince a pronounced correlation with the Gospel of Luke, as opposed to Matthew or Mark or the Synoptic tradition in general. Whatever “delta”effect the textual tradition of the Hebrew Gospel underwent, it appears to have remained integral enough to be referred to as “the Hebrew Gospel.” It is with this or some similar epithet that Eusebius at the beginning of the fourth century continues to refer to it, as do Epiphanius and Jerome nearly a century later. The plenary evidence of the fathers justifies the conclusion that the original Hebrew Matthean Gospel and the “Hebrew Gospel” constituted a continuous and integral textual tradition.
This conclusion is supported most recently by P. F. Beatrice, “The Gospel According to the Hebrews' in the Apostolic Fathers;' 191, who argues that the Hebrew Gospel was composed “In the first century CE, [and was] not a document written by Greek-speaking Alexandrian Jewish-Christians in the first half of the second century. The existence of other Judaeo-Christian Christian gospels, such as the Gospel of the Nazoraeans and the Gospel of the Ebionites, whatever ever their relationship may have been, appears to be at least improbable, and at any rate should be judged a superfluous hypothesis. Only one Judaeo-Christian gospel, the Gospel of the Hebrews, seems in fact to be sufficient to explain coherently and economically all the data supplied by the ancient sources, (4531-4535, and footnote 87)
Select Summary Thesis points
- (Patristic quotations from the Hebrew Gospel exhibit a stronger correlation with the Gospel of Luke, and especially material in Special Luke, than they do with either Matthew or Mark
- Patristic quotations from the Hebrew Gospel exhibit a stronger correlation with the Gospel of Luke, and especially material in Special Luke, than they do with either Matthew or Mark (ii) The Hebrew Gospel was most plausibly a source of the Gospel of Luke, and specifically either the primary or sole source of Special Luke.
- The Semitisms in Luke cannot be properly explained as "Septuagintisms;" i.e., as imitations of the language and style of the LXX. Nor can they be explained as reliance on an Aramaic spoken Vorlage. Semitisms in Luke are most plausibly explained by reliance on the Hebrew language of the original Hebrew Gospel.
- The Hebrew Gospel was not a compilation of the Synoptic Gospels, but repeatedly and distinctly similar to Luke.
- Semitisms appear in Special Luke nearly four times as often as they appear in those sections of Luke that are shared in common with Matthew and/or Mark.
- The distinct and unusually high number of Semitisms in Special Luke is most plausibly explained by Luke's reliance on the Hebrew Gospel for those parts of his Gospel not shared in common with Matthew and/or Mark.
- The Hebrew Gospel, although not specified, is most probably one of the eyewitness sources that Luke used as a source of the Third Gospel and to which he refers in the prologue.
- It appears that the Hebrew Gospel, at least in order and sequence, forms the Grundtext of the Gospel of Luke, into which Luke integrated grated material from Mark.
- A sum of 177 verses in Luke does not appear to derive either from the Hebrew Gospel or from Mark. These verses, which are present in one form or another also in Matthew, could be accounted for in various ways, none of which is conclusive. The verses, which I refer to as the double tradition, do not appear to have derived from a hypothetical sayings source, however, and thus cannot be explained or associated with the traditional "Q" hypothesis.
- A plethora of evidence, including factors related to the design, style, vocabulary, and historical allusions in canonical Matthew, argue for Matthean posteriority, i.e., that the Gospel [of Matthew] was the final and consummate Gospel in the Synoptic tradition
(James R. Edwards. The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition (2009). pp. 260-261)
For more on solving the synoptic problem, see the site https://lukeprimacy.com