Introduction

Recently my fiancé sent me a 2 hour lecture youtube by Nehemia Gordon. in that lecture, he was making a contrast between a Hebrew Yeshua (the Hebrew name of Jesus) recorded in a Hebrew Version of the Gospel of Matthew (AKA Shem Tov’s Hebrew New Testament)  and the typical “Greek” Gospel that most Christian knew

His lecture provided very good insight into the mentality and the beliefs of the Pharisees  during the time of Christ as well as followers of Orthodox Judaism. I personally liked his insight into the commandments “You shall not cook a kid in his mothers milk”.  It was a command from God that always intrigued me. For I wonder why God is so concern how to cook a young goat.  It was mentioned 3 times in the Pentateuch

Thoughts Regarding The Lecture

As I go through the lecture, I was surprised when he viewed Matt 15 and Matt 23 as contradictory.  For me, Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees and that fact had always been obvious. Therefore Jesus point against the reforms (Takanot) and Precedents (Masim) should come without a surprise. 

However, there are certain views presented by Mr Nehemia Gordon that I find it hard to accept 

1. Jesus described in the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew is inconsistent with the Jesus describes in the Greek NT

2. The Greek New Testament is Internally Inconsistent citing vows as example
            a. Greek version (Matt 5, James 5:12 are against it) (Greek Matt 23 supports it) 
            b. The Greek NT Deliberately omit the fact that Jesus spoke Hebrew
3. The NT is originally in Hebrew and not Greek 
           a. Many expressions used in the Greek language are not typically used by Greek
           b. Textual analysis show Hebrew and Word puns can be found in Greek Text 
                  i. Matt 9:8 (Saw (Vayr’u) Feared (Vayiru) 
                  ii. Matt 18:25, 35 (To Pay (Shalem), from his heart (Shalem))
                 iii. Matt 16:16 (Stone (Even) , Build (Evneh)  
            c. These words pun cant be seen in the Greek Matthew
            d. But they can be found in Shem Tob’s Hebrew Matthew
            e. Writing of Church father Papias (60-130CE) revealed 
                      “Matthew Collected the words in Hebrew Language.. 
                        and translated them as best as he could”

4. Although there are thousand of ancient Greek manuscript of the gospel 
         a. Hebrew copy of Matthew exist, it was found in a book by Ibn Shaprut in 1385 
         b. It is known today as Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Gospel of Matthew   
         c. Most people felt Ibn Shaprut translated Matthew from Greek  
         d. But textual analysis proof his copy is “more original than the original” 

Whatever observation and views Mr Gordon made about Jesus is drawn from Shem Tob’s Hebrew Matthew. Which to him is the “Original version” of the Gospel of Matthew. Despite the fact that Shem Tobs Hebrew Matthew exists around 1385 CE. 1355 years after the death of Christ.

Initial Reaction To The Points Raised In The Lecture

Personally I am not surprised that Gordon found the Hebrew Matthew more palatable than the Greek New Testament, this is because he is a follower of  Karaite Judaism. Karaite Judaism do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah,  nor does it regard the Gospel as part of the Inspired scriptures of God.

But to claim that Shem Tob’s Hebrew Gospel Of Matthew as the “original script for the gospel of Matthew” disregards all the historical evidence of the Greek manuscripts  that survives the Ravages of time. 

His concluded his lectures saying this.

“I mentioned at the beginning that I don’t look at Yeshua as the messiah and that really hasn’t change , i believe strictly in the Tanakh which is the Old Testament. However my understanding of who Yeshua was has change . I started off doing the study believing like most Jews that Yeshua came to change and modify and to lead people away from the Torah. Now i found that in the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew the Hebrew Yeshua is actually leading people back to Torah upholding the Torah, claiming that if they (the Pharisees) claim to have the authority of Moses, they will do as Moses said. He is not here to change one jot or one title but he is simply upholding the Torah "

As far as Mr Gordon is concern, Jesus is not the messiah hence he regarded the gospel of Matthew as “A record of another Jewish Rabbi”. Therefore his approach to analyze the document is not one made with faith, it is relies mainly on his expertise in the Hebrew language.

Though I have no doubts with regards to his knowledge of the Hebrew language, but I do doubt if his study was one made with the guidance of God. 

Important Questions To Consider

Yet as I read his lecture, and as I took his notes, I believe there are certain questions that we as Christian ought to ask ourselves

1. Will this Lecture create doubt in us about the Authenticity of the New Testament

2. Was the Gospel of Matthew first written in Hebrew, then translated into Aramic and then to Greek? If No, How do we explain the Hebrew Puns and textual evidence provided?

My approach to these questions is simple, my approach is summarized in a quote from a Video game that I was playing together with my RE class students. 

“Try thinking out of the box! Don’t waste time doubting the facts. Assume the clock was three hours slow and… Think through it! Ask yourself, "Why was the clock three hours slow"? Figure out the reason, and you’ll have your proof!” – Mia Fey in Ace Attorney “The First Turnabout”

The facts I have taken into consideration is this.

1. There are indeed Hebrew Word Puns all over the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew
2. There are 24000 copies of the Greek NT, including fragments
         a. Many were written around 100-120 CE, 50-60years after the Apostles
         b. They are recorded in many languages, Predominantly Greek/Latin 
         c. Others include Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian
3. Papias said that Matthew Gathered the word of Jesus in Hebrew and Translated it 
          a. Most people felt that he wrote it in Greek, as most early manuscripts are Greek
4. There are no surviving Hebrew Manuscript of NT Historically

These are the facts regarding Shem Tob’s Hebrew Matthew

1. Shem Tobs Gospel of Matthew was a appendix to a book The Touchstone (Eben Bohan).
           a. It was written in 1380 by a Jewish Rabbi who live in Spain called Ibn Shaprut 
           b. He wrote it to help Jews defend themselves in the Spanish Inquisition  
           c. He added the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew at the back for reference  
2. The modern Shem Tob’s Gospel of Matthew is printed base on 9 manuscripts
             a. The earliest date is 1380 CE
             b. There are only 23 Manuscript of it , and 9 are used for the modern copy 
             c. 2 Manuscripts are closer to Hebrew, 7 manuscripts are influenced by Greek

Now with these facts in mind, lets consider the follow question

 1. Is it possible That Ibn Shaprut kept a Hebrew Manuscript of Matthew?

Personally I would doubt it, because he is a Jewish Rabbi who followed Judaism, I would picture him with lots of Torah within his procession, but I doubt he would have kept a ancient copy of the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and to have copied it into the Eben Bohan.

Jewish Rabbi do not regard Gospel books as scriptures, hence it would be odd to see a Jewish Rabbi holding on to an ancient Hebrew Manuscript of the Gospel since he does not use it for anything (unless its during the Spanish inquisition) . He would have translated it to from Greek to Hebrew for the sake of helping the Hebrew reader understand the content of the Gospel

In fact, the other authors who copied his book did not copy his translation of the Hebrew Matthew faithfully using the scribes methods of copying scriptures. We see 7 of the 9 manuscripts to be “Assimilated” to Greek and was different from the Hebrew Matthew.

2. Is it possible that Matthew have written the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew first?   Why are the Hebraism Lost? Why are there Greek Words used in the NT that are not common in Greek. 

According to Papias,  Matthew Gathered the teaching of Jesus in Hebrew, and then translated it. The lecture did not indicate the language which Matthew translated to, I think an educated guess would be Greek. It was the lingua franca of those days. 

Anyone who had translated between languages will understand that word puns could not be translated most of the time, this is because each language expresses an idea different. 

With regards to why are there “Uncommon” Greek expression in the New Testament

From personal experience, I am a Chinese speaking in English, sometimes it is possible for one to borrow terms from their native languages in their daily writing.

We all know that Apostle Matthew is a Jew, so why is it so surprising to find non common Greek words in his gospel of Matthew?

Wouldn’t this be a stronger proof that the author was a Jew? Does this cast doubt on his authorship?

For me Matthew indeed translate his compilation and written it in Greek, it would not have been surprising that the Hebraism is lost, but it would not affect my view that he wrote the Gospel of Matthew in Greek.

3. Why are there Hebraism found in the Hebrew Matthew?

Considering that Matthew was a Jew who compiled the teaching of Jesus in Hebrew before  translating them to Greek, why is that not possible?

Allow me to quote an example from my own real life experience.

Once in a meeting, my customer made a ridiculous suggestion, when my colleague heard it, he made a remark in English saying “This is like looking for a needle in the ocean” . His remarks bewildered a lot of my customers who are non Chinese.

During the break, they asked me what does it mean to “Look for a needle in the ocean?”

My colleagues and I explained that it is the Literal translation of the Chinese phrase “海底捞针 (hǎi​ dǐ ​lāo ​zhēn)​” Which carries the same meaning as “Looking for a needle in the haystack”.

We joke that Chinese feels that it is still possible to find a needle in a hay stack therefore we extended the idea and said “Try finding needle in the ocean”

Now if I were to encounter someone using the remark “To find a needle in the ocean” I would be able to detect the original meaning  and use “海底捞针” without any problem.

Since Matthew translated the saying of Jesus to Greek in his New testament, a native speaker like Ibn Shaprut would have easily detected the word puns and put them back in his translation of the Greek Matthew to Hebrew Matthew.

In fact, all the verses quoted by Mr Gordon are all evidence that Rabbi Ibn Shaprut would have make good use of his knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures to put back Hebrew verses such as “Eli Eli Lama Sabathani” and he was using the Hebrew version of Isaiah 29:13 in Matt 15:9

But are these verses an evidence of his knowledge of the scriptures, or an evidence that Matthew is written in Hebrew?

In fact, I believe the words of “Hebrew Yeshua” could be the Rabbis understanding of the words of Jesus. It is possible for him to insert his thoughts into his translation of  the Hebrew Matthew.

This is not a problem as Ibn Shaprut is not a Christian and he does not regard adding his thoughts into Matthew as “adding and subtracting” from the words of God.

But does all these things makes his translation “more original than Original”?  Does it discredit the fact that Matthew wrote the gospel of Matthew in Greek?

 4.If there was a Hebrew New Testament, why is there a lack of Manuscript?

This question is important to me, as there are 24000 new testament copies and they are all in various languages. We know as the matter of fact the church was first made up of Jews, why is it that no one ever wanted to record down the New Testament in Hebrew?

My Conclusion 

While Mr Gordon’s lecture was packed with lots of interesting facts about the Pharisees and I have learnt much with regards to the world of Jesus and the thoughts of the Pharisees from him. I do not think he had the authority to discredit the authenticity of the new testaments 

Most of his points made during the lecture were centered around his belief that the 23 Manuscripts of Shem Tobs Hebrew Matthew is a more “original” compared to all the ancient copies of NT Greek text. Even though the latter are closer to the time of original authorship.

I do not have a problem with his view, because he is not a Christian nor does he regard Jesus as the messiah. It is his faith and I am in no position to question or challenge it.

But the question I would like to ask all my Christian friends is this

Would you base your understanding of Jesus on 23 Hebrew manuscripts written by Hebrew Rabbis who do not believe in Jesus, or would you base them on the 24000 manuscripts that are copied by faithful Christians all over the world?

For me I would place my support for the latter.

I regard the works of Apostles as much as I esteem the works of Moses and the prophets of Old. For it is the same spirit that inspired all their works 

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,
  and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for
  correction, for instruction in righteousness,
  that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly
   equipped for every good work.” – Paul (2 Tim 3:16-17)

Although the NT was not completed by the time Paul make such a declaration. We have to remember that we have a God who transcends time , he had given  his Holy Spirit to the disciples while the new testament is penned down.

This Holy Spirit was promised by God in the OT and fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, denying the authorship of the NT is as good as nullifying the words of the Prophets in the OT

I have attached a link to the lecture to those who are interested to find out more about Mr Gordons Lecture.           

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