Someone asked a Question on Quora.com and requested an answer from me. Here's the question:
How can Christianity be true when one of the early church fathers claim the disciple Matthew wrote his gospel originally in Hebrew when all scholars say all of the earliest New Testament Gospels found were written in Greek?
Here is how I answered:
Christianity’s truth doesn’t depend on the language of the text of the Gospels. Their truth comes from the work of Yeshua of Nazareth and what He came to do.
There are about 27 copies of Matthew in Hebrew, also with some controversy, however, just because Matthew wrote in Hebrew doesn’t mean that the other Gospels writers who may have chosen to write in LXX Greek (not classical Greek) didn’t think in Hebrew.
There are so many Hebrew word puns in Matthew that it is not likely that it was written in Greek, because the word puns don’t make sense in Greek. For example in Matthew 1:21, the name Yeshua (Jesus’ real name) means salvation (BTW Jesus doesn’t mean salvation only Yeshua does). What the English or the Greek doesn’t show is that Yasha is the word for save. So it says
She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name YESHUA, for He will YASHA His people from their sins.”
The book of Matthew is riddled with these kinds of statements and word puns. So what we can infer from this is that at a minimum the writer was Jewish and wrote in Hebrew that was later translated into Greek.
What we find in the other Gospels, even though not as profound as Matthew, are similar Hebraisms and phrases and ideas in Greek that communicate Jewish ideas that would have been familiar to Jews at that time. If the Gospel writers were writing from a GREEK thinking paradigm, these Jewish ideas would not be prominent. This is what many scholars today are coming to the conclusion that the New Testament is a Jewish document.
So to address Christianity…here’s the scoop.
What is called “Christianity” today is NOT the same as what Jesus and the Apostles practiced. They were a sect of Jews (yes even the Gentiles who Paul brought in thought of themselves as part of Israel), that worshiped just like the Judeans of the first century until the Temple fell. Then, it was more like diaspora synagogues did. What the Church Fathers (Justin, etc) were facing after the Bar Kochbah rebellion was put down by Rome, is that they were Gentile believers who had not converted to Judean Judaism and were therefore not considered Jews. They had socio-religio-political issues with Rome because of their beliefs. So what Justin did (and wrongfully so) claimed that the God of Israel had given the Hebrew Scriptures and the Covenants to the Gentile believers, because Israel had broken her covenant with Him, this idea is called replacement theology or supercessionism. What Justin apparently was not aware of is that the covenant with Abraham is unbreakable; God would have to die for that to happen. Justin’s claim was false, however, it was popular among some sects of Gentile Christianity and grew into the main substrate of Christian Theology. Justin was trying to start a Philosophical School (of Christianity) which he did. In the Second Century, the Rabbis (from the Pharisees) went to Javneh and began to formulate what we now know as Judaism. The Gentiles, still in and around Jerusalem (Justin was in Shechem) were still trying to not be persecuted by Rome and so distancing themselves from the Jews. NOT GOOD. Today we know that Supercessionism is completely false and that anything built on that idea is also wrong. It is what people call today “a hot mess”. What many of us have done is to revisit the first century and how Jesus and the Apostles practiced. We take the valid and drop those “christian things” that were based on the heinous idea of supercessionism. It that way, we look to Israel as the community we must be, as Paul tells us, be ‘grafted into’, and respect those customs and practices God gave Israel as His chosen people. We do not try to BE Jews, we try to be godfearers among Jews with respect and love (chesed) toward God’s people. We do NOT try to take their place, that’s impossible. We just try to follow the God of Israel in spirit and in truth.
What do you think?
Cheryl Durham, Ph.D.
Cheryl is the Executive Director at Living Truth. She is also currently Dean of Students and Professor of New Testament Culture and History at Master's International University of Divinity. She holds a Bachelor and Master's Degree in Biblical Counseling, a Doctor of Biblical Studies in Worldview and a Ph.D. in New Testament History and Culture.