Some Interesting News Updates and Thoughts on Why the New Testament Was Given to Us in Greek

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Was the New Testament Written in Hebrew?

38 Comments
  1. Dr. Brown, the link isn’t up yet, so I haven’t heard it. But I am wondering if you would be interested in (and if so, able to arrange for) a possible debate with Nehemia Gordon, as you seem to have very different viewpoints on what a Hebrew Matthew can bring to our understanding?

  2. Yes, I’d be delighted to. I appreciate Nehemiah’s work and we have many points in common, and he is rock solid in his knowledge of Hebrew. I think it would be a very fruitful interchange. Plus, I’d be delighted if we really had an original Hebrew Matthew that was recovered.

  3. Dr. Brown, have you seen Nehemia Gordon’s video, The Hebrew Yeshua vs. The Greek Jesus?

    It’s online and free. If you go to video.google.com and then type in the search box: The Hebrew Yeshua vs. The Greek Jesus, it’ll come up; it’s from Hilkiah Press. It’ll be the first one to say “buffering…”

    It’s very long, but very interesting. I’ve seen it a couple of times, but it’s so packed with scholarly info, I likely missed much: for I am under the impression that Nehemia is certain there are several copies of Matthew in Hebrew, and he does make a good case for why the Greek had to have come from an earlier Hebrew version…

    ?
    Thanks

  4. Ruth, all this information is in his book by the same title, which I bought when it came out. I dealt with most of these issues — which are not new at all but have been known to scholars for decades — in the article linked to today’s show. Please read it if you haven’t done so already. The copies Nehemiah speaks of are not brand new discoveries but rather medieval and later copies of Matthew in Hebrew, which almost all scholars believe are simply translations from Greek into Hebrew. The fact there are some interesting word plays in the Hebrew may indicate some dependence on an earlier, Hebrew Matthew, but the argument is far from conclusive.

    Please take the time to read my article, which deals with all this at length (and was written in 1993).

  5. Dr. Brown, I’ve clicked on the link “Was the New Testament Written in Hebrew?” three times, but it doesn’t go there — it goes to “Israel Resources,” and none of the sub-links open.

    Maybe it’s just with my computer — or maybe there’s some code gone wonky with the link….

    ?

    THX!

  6. Well, I still can’t get to the article through the link above, but I did get your book, “What Do Jewish People Think About Jesus?” and page 170 deals with this very topic, so I’ll read it now.

    Thank you (o:

  7. Ruth,

    I touch on this subject in short form (but clearly) in the book you mentioned, so that should certainly help. The article I cited under Israel Resources should open as a Microsoft Word document. It is working fine without a problem on our computers.

  8. Ah! Well, I guess the wonkiness is at my end (I have had to recover some .exe files recently). Good to know all is ship-shape there. (o:)

    Back to Nehemia’s points…he’s saying that the medieval Hebrew Matthew 23 keeps Jesus’ comments about the Pharisees consistent, whereas in the Greek, they really do contradict one another. On the one hand, Jesus said do whatever they (Pharisees) tell you, but on the other hand, he’s later almost totally condemning them.

    Just the change of that one word, “they” as in:

    “…The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever THEY tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do…”

    for the word “he” as in:

    “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore, whatever HE tells you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say and so not do…”

    — this would seem to give Jesus’ declarations about the scribes and Pharisees a consistency which is absent in the Greek and which has therefore been somewhat puzzling.

    If, as Gordon contends, Hebrew Matthew actually has the word “he” — meaning Moses — versus “they” meaning the scribes and Pharisees, that betokens a world of difference, with a host of implications for “the Law.” Because here we would have a definition of what Jesus’ commandments would actually entail in the NT that not only upholds “Moses’seat,” but also dovetails nicely with Jesus’ other statements regarding the Pharisees.

    While I don’t relish pointing out the “can of worms” someone else (and a respected Hebrew scholar at that) has already opened, we ARE all trying to better understand the Word, so… I would really appreciate your opinion of this specific point of Gordon’s, Dr. Brown.

    Thank you!

  9. Ruth, I treat this in vol. 5 of my series. Do you have that?

    There is zero evidence in any ancient manuscript preserved in any language that the text in the Hebrew Matthew to 23 is original. The only evidence is the medieval Hebrew text — which is quite specious. So, there’s no can of worms.

    Until we have some ancient evidence to support this, it is simply one late text vs. thousands of ancient texts — and we have no reason to question the ancient texts. Is the reading possible? Barely, as in “Almost certainly NOT true according to everything we know, and not preserved in any ancient quote from anyone at any time or in any ancient text preserved for us throughout history.” That’s pretty weighty! If this reading existed, why didn’t anyone ever hear of it before? When Church leaders were quoting Matthew 23, why didn’t they quote this reading? When the Greek text was being translated into Syriac and Latin, why didn’t any of the translators know about this text? According to everything we know, it never existed.

    This is all in his book, and it’s really not worth worrying about at all. Hardly any NT scholars take it seriously in the least, for good reason.

    For the record, I’m perfectly fine with the reading, and I don’t reject the sense of it, but there is simply no evidence of any serious kind that Jesus ever said this.

    Try this link to go straight to my article: http://askdrbrown.org/media/albums/ICN/Israel/Review%20of%20Understanding%20the%20Difficult%20Words%20of%20Jesus%20.doc.

  10. Thanks, Dr. Brown.

    No, I don’t have vol. 5, but it’s on my “wish list”. In fact, the whole series is.

    Now, I guess until an ancient Hebrew Matthew turns up ( – hey, look how long it took for the Nag Hamadi material to appear ~ which, despite its controversial content, is materially dateable to what? the 3rd century?)- we really shouldn’t completely dismiss the possibility that Greek Matthew was translated from Hebrew originally. I think Gordon’s argument over the word-play which only makes sense in Hebrew but not in Greek is quite strong.

    I get your point (and it’s a beautiful point) that God wanted His Word to reach the broader masses; hence, plenty of Greek productions. But God, and Mattiyahu (Matthew), being a Hebrew speaker, would naturally want his own people to have the Good News ~ arguably, most especially, and so the old rumours of their being just such a text don’t seem far-fetched; in fact, in your (aforementioned) book, you also state that “I personally think there was a Hebrew Matthew, used for some time by some of the early Jewish believers, but it might well have been a collection of the Lord’s sayings in Hebrew, rather than the Matthew we know today…” [pg. 173, 4th para.] I strongly suspect it existed, too.

    The one-word discrepancy Gordon brings out is certainly a “hinge-point.” One might wonder, is Gordon especially keen on this because if true, it would make Jesus more of a Karaite [excluding all the “traditions of the elders,” or rabbinic authority] like himself? Well, but Jesus did display a vehemence against these sorts of “doctrines of men,” so…I say it’s very possible based on other things He spoke.

    Textual errors happen; and so do deliberate changes ~ not to fan ideas of conspiracy to life ~ only that when it came to so controversial a figure as Jesus, any small, one-word change which would bolster support for scribes and Pharisees (and they were already adding to the Law back then) which could be slipped in, really might have happened. If Hebrew Matthew did exist and was at some point destroyed, well — this issue might just have to wait until The Judgement Day to be resolved. No tiny change to the Book, either in adding or taking away, is to be considered inconsequential, we’ve been warned.

    But yes, I won’t worry about it! As you wisely pointed out, there is plenty of wealth in the Bible as it is which we can be certain is textually solid that we don’t need to be left hanging for some crucial “missing piece” to properly equip us for salvation. We have all we need in the PERSON of Jesus, our Redeemer. Thank you.

  11. Dr. Brown, what are your thoughts on the Peshitta? Is it anymore authoritative than our English translations?

  12. Ruth — trust me on this: This Hebrew Matthew stuff is very, very peripheral, and the texts that were more recently discovered, like the Nag Hammadi texts, were never part of God’s Word.

    Eric — the Peshitta is the oldest translation of the Greek NT into any language and is of therefore of real value, and because it is in Aramaic, it may contain some idioms that would be close to Yeshua’s actual words and teachings. That being said, English translators have the Peshitta to use as well, so there’s no reason to think that the Peshitta is any better than a modern English translation, and there’s nothing of some mystical value of some kind. In short, it is not more authoritative than our English translations.

  13. One last note to all who are interested in the question of an alleged Hebrew New Testament: Please do read the article that I have linked here. You’ll find it of real value, especially if you work through the data in the footnotes too.

  14. Erg! it’s my computer! Couldn’t get the article even from the new link you posted — is it in written form somewhere else? Like a book?

    And — based on everything I’ve read of the Nag Hammadi texts ~ I have to agree with you totally ~

  15. Do you imply here that the Nag Hammadi texts have something to do with Baal Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew, Dr. Brown??

    And is there any evidence for the Church’s assumption (except for that assumption) that Baal Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew is a translation from the Greek?

    And did not early church fathers like Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor record that “Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as best he could.”?

  16. Erika,

    For your first question, I meant the opposite.

    For your second question, plenty of evidence that it’s a translation. Check the scholarly literature on this.

    For your third question, I cover this issue in the article linked here. Please take the time to read it. Papias, preserved by Eusebius, was the only one to write this, and most scholars believe that whatever he was referring to was not Matthew as we have it but rather a collection of the Lord’s saying in Hebrew (or Aramaic) — but again, I get into these issues in the article cited. You will benefit by reading it.

  17. Dr. Brown, what would to you be the most convincing argument that Baal Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew is a translation from the Greek besides the argument that there are already many Hebrew translations from the Greek of the gospel of Matthew?

  18. Erika,

    Some of the strongest arguments would be:

    1) There is not a trace of an earlier version of any such Hebrew manuscript dating back to the first five centuries of this era (or even for some centuries after that).

    2) There is not a single reference I am aware of to a single quotation of a major variant reading reflected in Shem Tob (such as the aforementioned variant reading of Matt 23) cited in any ancient Church literature, even when other variants are cited in that literature.

    3) The word plays found in the Hebrew could readily be explained if this was a translation by Jewish believers into Hebrew at some point in history, with this translation then being used or modified by rabbinic opponents.

    Given the fact that there are so many varied ancient witnesses to the NT text in Greek, Syriac, Latin, Coptic, etc., and yet there isn’t the slightest trace of some of the major, variant readings reflected in Shem Tob, then this Hebrew work obviously comes later, rather than earlier.

    Furthermore, even with regard to Matt 23, remember the textual principle called lectio difficilior, meaning, the more difficult reading is to be preferred. In other words, scribes might consciously or unconsciously clarify a difficult text and modify it, but they are not likely to take a clear text and make it more difficult. In the case of the variant reading of Matt 23, the Shem Tob text is the easier one and would have been readily adopted by other scribes had it been ancient, since it takes the seeming difficulty of Yeshua calling on His disciples to submit to the scribes and Pharisees, yet the Shem Tob reading is found in no other ancient text, even as a minor variant. Why? Because it didn’t exist.

    I would personally be happy to see this in an ancient text or version, but since it doesn’t, it must be dismissed as a later addition.

  19. Ok, thank you Dr. Brown for the clarification.

    Funny Dr. Brown, this night I had a dream about you. In the dream you told me: “I am going to stay in this country!” (meaning Germany).
    I replied: “But how can you even stand it here???”

    This was all of our conversation, and I woke up.

    Not to say this has any meaning, just thought it was funny. Shalom!

  20. Oh really?? Tübingen is not too far from me!! Will you have it on your website when you are there? I would come!

    But Dr. Brown, really, you are getting on the wrong side of me when you are making your statements about Michael Rood. I’m still his coworker and don’t plan to give up on this. He is truly a man of God and has inspired me a great deal!!

  21. Erika,

    I remember your positive comments about Michael Rood many months ago, and I don’t judge him personally. I hope he is a real saint! But I would love to help him work through what I believe are some serious errors in his teaching. I only want to help!

  22. Dr. Brown, Michael Rood has helped me with problems that other people don’t even bother to think about! Yes, he is a real saint, I surely would say so. He’s not therefore becoming my “Rabbi” or something, and what I’m doing for him occasionally, I’m doing as a volunteer.

    It’s great to hear that you too only want to help. Hopefully this issue can be resolved.

  23. Erika,

    I’m blessed to hear the positive, personal report. It’s the doctrine that concerns me more than anything, especially the very extreme statements that I critiqued in my review. Please let him know my offer to help straighten some things out.

  24. Dr. Brown,

    In regards to Zephaniah 3:9, it speaks of God restoring His people to a pure language in the end days..

    What language do you believe the safah virurah is? Also, do you believe one language is holier than another?

  25. Hi Eric, I’m not Dr. Brown as you know ;-)but this is my take on this question:

    In my opinion this verse is very closely tied to Matthew 7:16-23

    ” By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? 7:17 Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. 7:18 A good tree can’t produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit. 7:19 Every tree that doesn’t grow good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. 7:20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. 7:21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 7:22 Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ 7:23 Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’

    A clean language is in the first place a clean heart. With a sincere heart we will talk sincerely (language) and act sincerely (our acts are our fruits).

    That aside, I do believe that Hebrew is a very enriching language, the language that God used to reveal Himself in a very special way 🙂

  26. Erika, thanks for your reply. I don’t see the connection between the two passages. I believe in Tzfaniah it was a reference to a literal language and not using symbolism. Whereas Yeshua was speaking in a parable which He was speaking of how to recognize false prophets.

    However, thank you for your input and I appreciate your comment.

  27. Thank you Eric. Not to change your opinion, but does not Zephaniah 3:9 read

    “For then I will purify the lips (or language) of the peoples, that they may all call on the name of YHWH, to serve him shoulder to shoulder.”

    “…that they may all call on the name of YHWH, to serve him shoulder to shoulder.”

    This is about having an undivided heart for YHWH, no?

  28. P.S. and then read verse 13:

    “The remnant of Israel will not do iniquity, nor speak lies, neither will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth, for they will feed and lie down, and no one will make them afraid.”

  29. Erika,

    Honestly I was just curious Dr. Brown’s interpretation on the verse, I don’t see the need for me to defend what the text clearly says or does not say. One reason being I am not here to debate. I hope you can understand, thanks.

    Blessings.

  30. Eric,

    It’s a debatable verse, since we don’t have anything definitive to go with, and in Isaiah 19, Hebrew is referred to as the language (lip) of Canaan, since it is, after all, a Canaanite dialect (rather than some supernatural, heavenly language).

    Ralph Smith’s comments in the Word Biblical Commentary series could well be correct:

    Gen 11:1 says that all the earth had “one lip,” that is “one language” (שֹפה). The prophet Isaiah had said that his lips (שׂפתים) were “unclean” (טמא), a cultic term. Zephaniah seems to have combined the ideas in Gen 11 and Isa 6 and looked for a time when all of the uncleanness and impurity on the lips of the peoples of the world would be removed and they would come to worship Yahweh with one accord.
    Smith, R. L. 2002. Vol. 32: Word Biblical Commentary : Micah-Malachi.

  31. Dr. Brown,

    Thank you for your answer, I don’t know if I agree with that but I appreciate your input, thanks.

  32. Isn’t the context of Zeph 3:9-13 about a time of national regeneration and restoration, including the reference to a pure language for Zion’s worship debated a bit in this forum in the city of God? This would be in the chosen land, among those there, for the future blessing too of all nations (2:11 & 3:9).

    E. Stanley Jones wrote in the 1950s about the then current phenomena of the American English Language being pretty solidly linguistically understandable, person to person, as influenced by the cultures here derivative of the Christian Bible affecting the larger society. Since that time language in the USA has become most ambiguous, confusingly subjective, and emotionally and religiously politicized due to citizen foci other than a Biblically based worship.

    Zeph. seems to be saying that such a purity of language would be unifying of the hearts of the people of God to whom he was referring. Reading on, with that language of understanding, they are called to sing as one, as their deliverance has come. The passage is unified, not about pure language as such.

    “They will see me again when they say [in union?}, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Certainly the tense there is present and future altogether, indicative of the arriving deliverer’s restoration of a unified outlook on deliverance.

    Like many of the prophets of Old (Peter 3:21) Zeph.’s word is awaiting completion in terms of the deliverer coming to restore Zion. It would likely be a language of the heart, more than an external confomity in the linguistic sense. “How blessed it is for brethren to dwell together in unity,” might best apply here to the whole written passage, as it has come to then be.

    The Song of Moses, and the Song of the Lamb are harmonious references of outlook as to their own purity of thought, expression, and heart. This kind of expression is most hopeful, in awe of the deliverance at hand, and a remnant’s fulfilling connection to it. The King has returned to Jerusalem to rule (3:15, Revl. 21: 1-6). Singing for gladness has become the timely knowledge of He who grant salvation to a people–for the edification and governance of the whole wide world.

  33. Hey folks,

    I want to apologize publicly for promoting Michael Rood on this website! I take everything back that I said about him, and I’m sorry for this! I do stand to the other comments I made though.

    For a better understandig of these things I would recommend this site here: http://www.restoringisrael.org/

    Thank you!

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