Matthew’s Hebrew Gospel and the Gospel of the Hebrews

 

The historical literary evidence shows that the Gospel of the Hebrews was a middle second century document written in Aramaic based on the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and filled with additions, deletions, and changes to the text to reflect Jewish and Gnostic beliefs. It was probably created by the Ebionites, a Jewish Gnostic sect.

The Gospel of the Hebrews was quoted by several church fathers, but was not well-known among the churches and was never accepted as the authentic Hebrew Gospel of Matthew or equal in authority to the four New Testament Gospels because of its late date and all its corruptions.

This article explores the historical literary evidence for the nature of the Gospel of the Hebrews and its relation to the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew.

Note: There has been much scholarly speculation about the Gospel to the Hebrews and a wide variety of opinion.

The evidence for the Gospel of the Hebrews or the Gospel According to the Hebrews is not like the evidence for the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Peter. Those gospels were found intact, but the Gospel According to the Hebrews is found only in quotes from various church fathers. The quotes are often very brief with little context given and prefaced by or followed by brief statements about the gospel itself. It has also been associated with two groups, the Nazareans (also spelled Nazarenes) who attempted to combine Judaism and orthodox Christianity and the Ebionites who attempted to combine Judaism and Gnostic Christianity.

This has caused much speculation among scholars about this gospel with little consensus. There are basically three views regarding Jewish Christian gospels. The first and older one is that there was one Jewish Christian Gospel, which is the Gospel of the Hebrews used by the Nazareans and the Ebionites. The second view is that there were two Jewish Christian gospels, one used by the Nazareans and one used by the Ebionites. The third view is that there were three Jewish Christian gospels, one used by the Nazareans, one used by the Ebionites, and the Gospel of the Hebrews.

The author of this article takes a view similar to the first and older view that there was one Gospel of the Hebrews, which was most probably created by the Ebionites and possibly used by the Nazareans later in their history. This proposition is based primarily on the evidence of Epiphanius with corroborating testimony from Clement, Origen, and Jerome.

Although this view is not popular among present scholars, the other two views are based on identifying passages which various church fathers state are from the Gospel of the Hebrews and identifying them as coming not from the Gospel of the Hebrews, but coming from a supposed Gospel of the Nazareans or Gospel of the Ebionites. The author finds this difficult to accept. The testimony of the church fathers concerning the source of a quote should not be set aside unless there is a seriously strong reason to do so. The author’s view, which is the traditional view, is the only view based on the actual testimony of the church fathers as to its origin. That testimony combined with the consistent picture that emerges from the evidence of a Jewish Gnostic document matching the Ebionites’ belief system forms a solid historical basis for this view.

The literary evidence presented below will focus on the testimony of Epiphanius, a church father who quoted extensively from the Gospel of the Ebionites, whom he says they called the Hebrew Gospel or the Gospel of the Hebrews.

This article will also focus on the quotes from Epiphanius and the other church fathers that clearly name or refer to the Gospel of the Hebrews.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations except Epiphanius are from The Early Church Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff, William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, Reprint 2001 at CCEL Internet Library

Unless otherwise noted, Epiphanius quotes are from The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Tr. Frank Williams, BRILL, Boston, Mass. 1987

For a list of the early church fathers, who they were and when they lived, mentioned in this article, click here.

The Problem of the Jewish-Christian Gospel(s)

Philipp Vielhauer and Georg Strecker write about the tremendous difficulties faced by scholars in understanding the patristic evidence for the Jewish-Christian Gospels,
“In the second edition of this work H. Waitz rightly described the problem of the Jewish-Christian Gospels as one of the most difficult which the apocryphal literature presents, ‘difficult because of the scantiness and indefiniteness of the patristic testimonies, difficult also because the results of scientific investigation are often self-contradictory.’ There are preserved, mostly as citations in the Church Fathers, only small fragments from which conclusions as to the character of the whole book are difficult to draw, and also accounts which are in themselves often very vague and in their entirety make possible a whole kaleidoscope of interpretations.”1

Johann Michaelis mentions the reason for the scarcity of information about this gospel. He states,
“Very few ecclesiastical writers have taken notice of this Gospel at which we have no reason to be surprised as few of them understood Hebrew, and no translation of it had been made before that of Jerome. Besides, the copies of it were very scarce even in Palestine, for Jerome mentions it as an unusual book, which he found in the library of Caesarea. However its name and character were not unknown; though it is difficult to determine, what the majority of Christians in the three first centuries thought of it, because Eusebius has expressed himself in ambiguous terms. In the fifth century most persons believed it to be the original of St. Matthew's Gospel: but whether they knew that it was interpolated, and distinguished the genuine text from its additions, we are not informed.”2

There is one statement that has scholarly consensus, which is that the Gospel of the Hebrews was NOT the original Hebrew Gospel of Matthew in a pure form. However, many some scholars agree that it is likely a severely corrupted version of that text as Epiphanius so testifies.

M.R. James writes about the Gospel of the Hebrews,
“What may be regarded as established is that it existed in either Hebrew or Aramaic, and was used by a Jewish-Christian sect who were known as Nazareans (Nazarenes), and that it resembled our Matthew closely enough to have been regarded as the original Hebrew of that gospel. I believe, few if any, would now contend that it was that original.”3

Johann Michaelis summarizes the views of some scholars toward the Gospel of the Hebrews,
“We must likewise distinguish the Gospel of the Nazarenes in the state, in which it was known to the Fathers of the third and fourth centuries, from the original state of this Gospel: for in its original state it may have been the work of St. Matthew, and yet have been afterwards so interpolated and corrupted, as to be no longer the same Gospel.”4

Even though there is no scholarly consensus, I believe that some simple facts about the Gospel can be presented which are based on the actual passages from the text quoted by the church father, Epiphanius, and other church fathers.

Epiphanius, the Bishop of Salamis


Epiphanius was the bishop (the church leader of the churches of a city) of Salamis, a city on the island of Cyprus. He lived between 310 and 403 A.D. He wrote a book in several volumes called the Panarion where he outlined some eighty heresies and heretical groups. Two of those groups were the Nazareans and the Ebionites.

Epiphanius was familiar with the Ebionites, their views, and the Gospel of the Hebrews, which he says they called their gospel. He quotes directly from the Gospel of the Hebrews. Epiphanius gives clear testimony to the nature of the Gospel of the Hebrews by the passages he quotes and the comments he makes. Other church fathers also give evidence of the Gospel of the Hebrews that is in agreement with Epiphanius’ testimony. The author has used Epiphanius’ testimony as a basis of the nature of the Gospel of the Hebrews believing it to be the clearest testimony to it.

 

This article is divided into five main points.

The Nature of the Gospel of the Hebrews
The Errors in the Gospel of the Hebrews
The Language of the Gospel of the Hebrews
The Date of the Gospel of the Hebrews
Orthodox Christians’ View of the Gospel of the Hebrews

 

The Nature of the Gospel of the Hebrews

1. The Gospel of the Hebrews was a severely corrupted version of Matthew’s Hebrew Gospel created by the Ebionites

According to Epiphanius, the Ebionites used a gospel in the Hebrew language, which they claimed was the Gospel of Matthew, which they referred to as “the Gospel according to (or “of”) the Hebrews” or “the Hebrew Gospel,” which was a severely mutilated version of the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew.

The Ebionites were a “Christian” sect of the second century that held some Gnostic beliefs with a Jewish emphasis and a commitment to vegetarianism. The Gospel of Thomas reflects the same kind of views of this group.

1) The Ebionites used the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, but called it the “Gospel of the Hebrews.”

Epiphanius writes of the Ebionites and their use of the Gospel of the Hebrews and states,

Epiphanius 30.3.7
“They too accept the Gospel according to Matthew. Like the Cerinthians and Merinthians, they too use it alone. They call it, ‘According to the Hebrews,’ and it is true to say that only Matthew put the setting forth and the preaching of the Gospel into the New Testament in the Hebrew language and alphabet.”

In this passage, Epiphanius tells us that the Ebionites used the Gospel of Matthew exclusively, but they called it by another name, the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Later he will reveal that they had changed it. He further tells us that it was written in the Hebrew language and alphabet. When the church fathers referred to the Hebrew language and alphabet they meant the Aramaic language, which was the language of the Jews in Israel at the time of Christ and the centuries that followed.

2) The Ebionites changed the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew into the Gospel of the Hebrews, a corrupted Matthew.

In another passage, Epiphanius relates that the Gospel of the Hebrews was not the pure Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew, but a severely changed and corrupted version of it. He states,

Epiphanius 30.13.2
“In the Gospel that is in general use amongst them [Ebionites], which is called according to Matthew, which however is not whole (and) complete but forged and mutilated - they call it the Hebrew Gospel - it is reported…” (Quote from New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1 Gospels and Related Writings, Ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Trans. R. McL. Wilson, Westminster John Knox Press 1990, 170)

In the first passage, Epiphanius writes that the Ebionites were using Matthew’s gospel, but they called it, “The Gospel according to the Hebrews.” In this passage he says that they had mutilated the gospel of Matthew and called it by a slightly different name, the “Hebrew Gospel.” They most likely referred to it by both names.

According to Epiphanius, the Gospel of the Hebrews was filled with additions, deletions, and changes to the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew to reflect the beliefs of the Ebionites, a Jewish Gnostic sect committed to vegetarianism. This will be evidenced in point 2. and 3. below.

3) Eusebius also states that the Ebionites used the Gospel of the Hebrews.

Eusebius describes the basic beliefs of the Ebionites and states that they used the Gospel of the Hebrews.

Eusebius, Church History, 3.27.1, 2, and 4
“The evil demon, however, being unable to tear certain others from their allegiance to the Christ of God, yet found them susceptible in a different direction, and so brought them over to his own purposes. The ancients quite properly called these men Ebionites, because they held poor and mean opinions concerning Christ. For they considered him a plain and common man, who was justified only because of his superior virtue, and who was the fruit of the intercourse of a man with Mary. In their opinion the observance of the ceremonial law was altogether necessary, on the ground that they could not be saved by faith in Christ alone and by a corresponding life…These men, moreover, thought that it was necessary to reject all the epistles of the apostle, whom they called an apostate from the law; and they used only the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews and made small account of the rest.”

Summary:
Before the time of Jerome, the Gospel of the Hebrews is only associated with the Ebionites. At the time of Jerome, the Gospel of the Hebrews is associated with the Nazareans and the Ebionites.

2. The Gospel of the Hebrews reflected Gnostic doctrine including vegetarianism.

Epiphanius clearly indicates that the Ebionites mutilated the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew to reflect their Gnostic views.

1) The Ebionites removed the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel to eliminate the virgin birth.

The Ebionites believed that there was a difference between the human Jesus and the Christ spirit. They believed that Jesus was born as a human being to human parents, Joseph and Mary. Therefore, they did not believe in the virgin birth. They believed the Christ spirit descended in the form of a dove at his baptism and came into the human Jesus. These are Gnostic beliefs. Gnosticism was a heresy prevalent in the second century.

Epiphanius explains this in the following passage from the Panarion as he speaks of the Ebionites.

Epiphanius 30.14.4
“This is because they mean that Jesus is really a man, as I said, but that Christ, who descended in the form of a dove, has entered him - as we have found already in other sects and been united with him. Christ himself is from God on high, but Jesus is the product of a man's seed and a woman.”

Because of these beliefs, Epiphanius says in the following passages that they falsified Matthew’s genealogy by eliminating the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel and beginning with John the Baptist in chapter three.

Epiphanius 30.13.6
“But their Gospel begins: ‘It came to pass in the days of Herod, king of Judaea, in the high priesthood of Caiaphas, that a certain man, John by name, came baptizing with the baptism of repentance in the river Jordan, and he was said to be of the lineage of Aaron the priest, the son of Zacharias and Elisabeth; and all went out to him.’”

Epiphanius 30.14.3
“But these people have something else in mind. They falsify the genealogical tables in Matthew, and start its opening as I said with the words, ‘It came to pass in the days of Herod, king of Judaea, in the high priesthood of Caiaphas, that a certain man, John by name, came baptizing with the baptism of repentance in the river Jordan and so on.’”

2) The Ebionites made an addition to the baptism of Jesus to prove a Gnostic origin for Jesus.

In the following passage from the Gospel of the Hebrews, added to what the voice from heaven said are the words, “I have this day begotten thee.”

Epiphanius 30.13.7
“And after saying a number of things, it adds, ‘When the people had been baptised, Jesus came also and was baptised of John. And as he came up out of the water, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, which descended and entered into him. And (there came) a voice saying, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.’ And again: ‘This day have I begotten thee.’ And straightway a great light shone round about the place. ‘Seeing this,’ it says, John said unto him, ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ And again (there came) a voice from heaven, ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’”

Klauck explains the Gnostic perspective, which this addition implies,
“The dynamite in this version of the baptism narrative is the fact that the heavenly voice is not content to quote only the first half of the verse from Ps.2 ("You are My Son"), but employs a transitional formula to add the second half: "This day I have begotten you."

This edition, ‘Today I have begotten you,’ makes possible an adoptionist or even a docetic interpretation of the baptismal scene. The former would say that it is only at his baptism that God adopts and publicly acclaims the man Jesus of Nazareth as his Son; the docetic reading would emphasize the fusion with the Spirit and say that it is only at his baptism that a heavenly spiritual being enters the man Jesus. It is obvious that the rigidly orthodox Epiphanius must reject this Christology as defective.”5

Johann Michaelis agrees,
“By none of the Evangelists are the words ‘This day have I begotten thee’ said to have been uttered at the baptism of Christ. They are an interpolation in the Ebionite Gospel, and are derived from the false notion, which prevailed in the first century, that Christ was a mere man till the time of his baptism, and that he then became the Son of God, and filled with the Holy Ghost.”6

3) The Ebionites changed the diet of John the Baptist to reflect their vegetarian views.

In his book, Is God a Vegetarian? Christianity, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights, Richard Young, writes of the vegetarian views of the Ebionites and other Gnostic groups,

“Gnostic groups of the first several centuries regularly forbade both marriage and meat eating…Ironic as it may seem, the devaluing of animals by the Gnostics led to a very strict vegetarianism, whereas today the devaluing of animals leads to an unrestrained eating of meat. The early church responded by condemning Gnostic vegetarianism.”7

Young later adds,
“In addition, the early church fathers fought against a heretical form of vegetarianism that sprang from Gnostic dualism. The Gnostic belief that the physical realm was evil turned meat eating and marriage into works of the devil. Since the fathers believed the world was good, they could not condemn meat eating. The willingness to eat meat was for them a certification of orthodoxy.”8

Epiphanius quoted from the Gospel of the Hebrews explaining that the Ebionites had changed the text of Matthew’s Gospel, which originally stated that John ate locusts, which violated their vegetarian beliefs. The “locusts” were deleted and the words “manna as a cake in oil” was added.

Epiphanius 30.13.4-5
“And John came baptizing, and there went out unto him Pharisees and they were baptized, and all Jerusalem. And John had a garment of camel's hair and a girdle of skin about his loins, and his meat, it says, was wild honey, whose taste was the taste of manna, as a cake in oil. This, if you please, to turn the speech of the truth into falsehood, and substitute a ‘cake in honey’ for ‘locusts.’”

Commenting on this change, Hans-Josef Klauck writes,
“An even more decisive reason for the replacement of the roasted locusts with honey cakes in the Gospel of the Ebionites was the strict vegetarianism of the Ebionites, who could not accept even the hint that John or Jesus ate meat…”9

4) The Ebionites also changed the words of Jesus concerning his role toward the O.T. sacrifices to reflect their vegetarian views.

Not only did the Gnostic vegetarian views of the Ebionites cause them to reject the eating of animal flesh, it also caused them to reject the sacrifice of animal flesh as was done in the Old Testament. That animal flesh could be acceptable to God for any reason was simply out of the question. Therefore, in their minds Jesus could not have come to fulfill the Mosaic Law and thus its sacrifices, having become the ultimate sacrifice for sin as the orthodox Christians taught. Rather he must have come to abolish animal sacrifices because they were wrong.

Epiphanius 30.16.4-5
“But they [Ebionites] say that he [Christ] is not begotten of God the Father, but was created as one of the archangels, and that he is ruler of both angels and of all creatures of the Almighty; and he came and instructed us to abolish the sacrifices. As their so-called Gospel says, ‘I came to abolish the sacrifices, and if ye cease not from sacrifice, wrath will not cease from you.’ These and certain similar things are their crafty devices.”

Epiphanius adds further that their vegetarian views also resulted in a change in the text which reveals Jesus’ attitudes and actions toward the Passover lamb. In the text of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus instructs his disciples where to go to prepare the meal (involving the Passover Lamb) they will eat together. However, in the Gospel of the Hebrews, Jesus is shown rejecting the eating of the Passover lamb with his disciples because it is animal flesh. He questions why they would think he desires to eat “meat” (animal flesh) with them.

Epiphanius 30.22.4
“But of their own will these people have lost sight of the consequence of the truth, and have altered the wording – which is evident to everyone from the sayings associated with it – and made the disciples say, “Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the Passover?” And the Lord, if you please, says, “Have I desired meat with desire, to eat this Passover with you?”

This rejection by Jesus is in direct contradiction to Luke 22:15 where Jesus says, “And he said to them, ‘With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.’”

Klauck comments on this passage,
“Jesus has words at Lk.22:15 expanded to specify that the meat of the Paschal lamb is consumed at the Passover meal, and the negation of the entire sentence [by Jesus in the Gospel of the Hebrews] offers a strong argument against eating meat and in favor of vegetarianism.”10

Clement of Alexandria – a Quote from the Gospel of the Hebrews Reflecting a Gnostic View of Salvation

The Gospel of the Hebrews contains an addition to Jesus’ words to describe the steps of the Gnostic view of salvation.

The very first quotes from the Gospel of the Hebrews come from Clement of Alexandria (c.150AD-215AD) and are filled with Gnostic terms and ideas. This is very significant and shows that from the very beginning of its creation the Gospel was Gnostic in some of its text.

The Gnostics taught that salvation was all about gaining a special knowledge about spiritual realities and it involved “steps.” These steps followed a sequence of discovery until one reached the goal, salvation “rest.”

Clement of Alexandria quoted the Gospel of the Hebrews as indicating some of these steps to greater knowledge of Gnosticism.

Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 2.9
“So also in the Gospel to the Hebrews it is written, ‘He that wonders shall reign, and he that has reigned shall rest.’

Vielhauer and Strecker, in their book, NT Apocrypha evaluates this saying from the Gospel in terms of its Gnostic perspective. “Our saying describes the steps of the revelation of salvation and of the way of salvation. This description is characteristic of the Hermetic gnosis, as Dibelius has pointed out; here also "to marvel" is found as a step and the ‘rest’ as eschatological salvation.”11

There is also an expanded version of this saying in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, which reads,

Gospel of Thomas, 2
“Jesus said, ‘Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the all.’” (Quote from The Nag Hammadi Library, James M. Robinson, ed., Revised Edition. HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1990)

A Coptic Discourse Attributed to Cyril – a Quote from the Gospel of the Hebrews Reflecting a Gnostic view of Christ and Mary.

Some Gnostics such as the Ebionites taught that the Holy Spirit was the mother of Jesus, the spirit being who embodied itself as Mary in order to come to earth and birth Jesus.

In a Coptic translation of a discourse ascribed to Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386AD), which probably did not reflect what Cyril actually wrote, but which definitely reflects a Gnostic view of the Holy Spirit and the human Jesus in the Gospel of the Hebrews.

Coptic Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386AD)
“It is written in the Gospel of the Hebrews: ‘When Christ wished to come upon the earth to men, the good Father summoned a mighty power in heaven, which was called Michael, and entrusted Christ to the care thereof. And the power came into the world and it was called Mary, and Christ was in her womb seven months.’” (From the Coptic translation of a discourse ascribed to Cyril of Jerusalem ed. E.A.W. Budge, Texts, Coptic p.60, English p. 637 quoted in the New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1 Gospels and Related Writings, Ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Trans. R. McL. Wilson, Westminster John Knox Press 1990, 177)

Origen – a Quote from the Gospel of the Hebrews Reflecting a Gnostic view of the Holy Spirit

Origen quotes a passage from the Gospel of the Hebrews, which sets forth the Gnostic doctrine that the Holy Spirit was the mother of Jesus.

Origen, Commentary on John, 2.6
“If any one should lend credence to the Gospel according to the Hebrews, where the Saviour Himself says, ‘My mother, the Holy Spirit took me just now by one of my hairs and carried me off to the great Mount Tabor.’”

However, Origen attempts to interpret this passage in a way that reflects orthodox Christian doctrine rather than Gnostic doctrine by attempting to interpret the passage from the Gospel of Hebrews symbolically. He uses the passage from the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus says that the one who does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother. In spite of Origen’s attempt, the passage cannot be reconciled with orthodox Christian doctrine. It clearly reflects Gnostic doctrine.

A parallel example of this doctrine can be seen in a passage from the Gnostic Gospel of Philip. It says,
“‘Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit?’ They are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive by a woman? Mary is the virgin whom no power defiled. She is a great anathema to the Hebrews, who are the apostles and the apostolic men. This virgin whom no power defiled…” (Quote from The Nag Hammadi Library, James M. Robinson, ed., Revised Edition, HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1990)

In speaking of this passage in Origen, Vielhauer and Stricker state,
“This Jewish Christianity however contains syncretistic-gnostic elements. The account of the carrying away of Jesus shows a strong mythological trait, the Holy Ghost being designated the mother of Jesus…the Coptic Cyril fragment belongs to the Gospel of the Hebrews, then the Holy Spirit is to be identified with the ‘mighty power in heaven’ and Mary to be understood as the incarnation of the heavenly power. Not merely for Jesus but also for his mother the pre-existence and incarnation myth may have been assumed. That the mighty power in heaven was called Michael is not surprising, in view of his importance in Egyptian magical texts and in the Pistis Sophia [a Gnostic text] and in the last analysis is no decisive objection to the identification of the ‘mighty power’ with the Holy Spirit. In the Coptic Epistle of James of the Cod. Jung, Jesus describes himself as ‘son of the Holy Spirit.’”12

The passage above is quoted by Origen twice and Jerome three times. One of Jerome’s quotes comes in his commentary on Isaiah. In this quote, Jerome mentions the Gospel of the Hebrews, gives this exact quote Origen gave, and, like Origen, attempts to explain its teaching symbolically.

Jerome – a Quote from the Gospel of the Hebrews Reflecting a Gnostic view of the Holy Spirit

Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah, 11. 9
“In the Gospel of the Hebrews that the Nazarenes read it says, ‘Just now my mother, the Holy Spirit, took me. Now no one should be offended by this, because ‘spirit’ in Hebrew is feminine, while in our language [Latin] it is masculine and in Greek it is neuter. In divinity, however, there is no gender.’”

This quote demonstrates that Origen (c.185–254 AD) and Jerome (c.342-.420 AD) both used the same Gospel of the Hebrews which contained Gnostic doctrine. In fact, in the passage below, Jerome himself says that Origen used the Gospel of the Hebrews which he was quoting.

Jerome, Illustrious Men 2
“The Gospel also which is called the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and which I have recently translated into Greek and Latin and which also Origen often makes use of, after the account of the resurrection of the Saviour…”

Jerome mentions another addition to the text of Matthew’s gospel where the Holy Spirit is described as the “mother” of Jesus.

Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah, 4 (on Isa. 11:2)
“According to the Gospel written in the Hebrew speech, which the Nazareans read, the whole fount of the Holy Spirit shall descend upon him ... Further in the Gospel which we have just mentioned we find the following written: ‘And it came to pass when the Lord was come up out of the water, the whole fount of the Holy Spirit descended upon him and rested on him and said to him: ‘My Son, in all the prophets was I waiting for thee that thou shouldest come and I might rest in thee. For thou art my rest; thou art my first-begotten Son that reignest for ever.’” (Quote from New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1 Gospels and Related Writings, Ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Trans. R. McL. Wilson, Westminster John Knox Press 1990, 177)

Leonard Swidler, writes in his book, Biblical Affirmations of Women, concerning this reference to the Holy Spirit as mother,
“Another motherly image of the Holy Spirit is found in the apocryphal Gospel to the Hebrews, written around 150AD, ‘And it came to pass when the Lord [Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan River] came up out of the water, the whole fount of the Holy Spirit descended upon him and rested on him and said to him, ‘My son…thou art my first-begotten Son that reignest for ever.’ If there be any doubt that the Holy Spirit was depicted in the Gospel of the Hebrews as Jesus’ mother, the following quotation will lay it to rest. ‘Even so did my mother, the Holy Spirit, take me by one of my hairs and carry me away onto the great mountain Tabor.’”13

3. The Gospel of the Hebrews reflected a Jewish emphasis.

Epiphanius indicates that the Ebionites mutilated the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew to reflect their Jewish emphasis.

1) The Ebionites changed the order in Matthew’s Gospel giving prominence to the Pharisees, an important sect of leaders in Israel.

Epiphanius quotes a passage where the order of the text has been changed to give more prominence to the Pharisees, a very important sect of leaders in Israel.

Matthew’s Greek Gospel text reads, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…And the same John had his garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then, Jerusalem went out to him, and all Judea and all the region around the Jordan. And they were being baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Oh generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’”

Epiphanius quotes the parallel passage in the Gospel of the Hebrews as follows:

Epiphanius 30.13.4
“And ‘John came baptizing, and there went out unto him Pharisees and they were baptised, and all Jerusalem.’ And John had a garment of camel's hair and a girdle of skin about his loins, and his meat, it says, was wild honey, whose taste was the taste of manna, as a cake in oil.”

In Matthew’s Greek text, the Pharisees are mentioned after all the people in the area and in the context of a rebuke. In the Gospel of the Hebrews the Pharisees are mentioned first demonstrating their desire to be baptized before all the people.

Johann Michaelis explains this Jewish perspective on the prominence of the Pharisees,
“Here the Pharisees are mentioned first, and then the inhabitants of Jerusalem in general, as if the Pharisees had set the example: whereas in our Gospels the Pharisees are mentioned last, which shows that they only followed the multitude. If Epiphanius has adhered closely to his original, this inversion in the Gospel of the Ebionites may have been owing to their respect for the Pharisees.”14

Jerome – a Quote from the Gospel of the Hebrews Giving James, a greatly admired Jewish-Christian Leader, Prominence

Jerome mentions a story added to the text of Matthew’s Gospel that gives prominence to James, the brother of the Lord, a highly esteemed leader by Jewish-Christians.

Jerome Lives Illustrious Men, 2
“The Gospel also which is called the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and which I have recently translated into Greek and Latin and which also Origen often makes use of, after the account of the resurrection of the Saviour says, ‘but the Lord, after he had given his grave clothes to the servant of the priest, appeared to James (for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he drank the cup of the Lord until he should see him rising again from among those that sleep)’ and again, a little later, it says ‘Bring a table and bread,’ said the Lord.’ And immediately it is added, ‘He brought bread and blessed and brake and gave to James the Just and said to him, ‘my brother eat thy bread, for the son of man is risen from among those that sleep.’”

Grant, Freedman, and Scheodel, point out the Jewish emphasis in this story,
“And the concern of this gospel for Jewish Christian tradition and authority is reflected in its story of the resurrection. Here it is James, the Lord’s brother who is the earliest witness - not Peter. In this story, the author of Hebrews has managed to include several highly biased notions. First, he has made James the Just (a second century title for the Lord’s brother) a guest at the Lord’s Supper. Second, he has made James take an oath there like that which Jesus himself took. Third, he has introduced ‘the high priest’s slave’ (Jn.18:10) into the resurrection story, though his reason for doing so is not clear. Fourth, Jesus appears in a Eucharistic setting strongly reminiscent of Luke 24:30, though James, not Cleopas and another is the witness to it. In general, the sole purpose of this story is to strengthen the claims of the Church of Jerusalem at the expense of the gentile Christians.”15

Klauck adds his comments to this theme of the importance of James,
“These two logia form a good introduction to a narrative in which James, the Lord's brother (not the Apostle James from the circle of the twelve), plays a key role alongside Jesus. The scene takes place after Easter, but also refers back to the pre-Easter situation of the Last Supper…The central concern of the text is to elaborate 1 Cor.15:7 by attributing the first appearance of the risen Lord to his brother James, thus legitimating him as head of the post-Easter community. James was the great hero of Jewish Christianity, where he was called "the just" (as in this text). So popular was this tradition among Jewish Christians that we have six attestations of it…The narrative retrospect intends to assert that James, the Lord's brother, was present at the last supper where he drank from the chalice of the Lord…James takes a vow, analogous to Jesus' vow at Mk.14:24, not to read again unless Jesus rises from the dead. Here too, an apologetic argument can be discerned: if James - the just man - deviates from his vow, the only reason can be that the resurrection has indeed taken place and the risen Lord has encouraged his brother to resume eating.”16

Vielhauer and Strecker also bring out the significance of this emphasis on James,
“The Jewish-Christian character of the Gospel of the Hebrews is indicated not merely by the title but above all by the emphasis on James the brother of the Lord, who according to the reports of the NT (Gal. 2; Acts 15; 21:18f.) and of Hegesippus (Eusebius, H.E. 1123.4-18) was the champion of a strict Jewish Christianity and leader of the early Jerusalem Church. Since contrary to the historical facts he is distinguished as a participant of Jesus' last supper and as the first witness and consequently the most important guarantor of the resurrection, it is clear that for the Gospel of the Hebrews he is the highest authority in the circle of Jesus' acquaintances. This trait also has a striking parallel in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas.”17

The Gospel of Thomas, another Gnostic-Jewish “gospel” also gives prominence to James.

Gospel of Thomas 12
“The disciples said to Jesus, ‘We know that you will depart from us. Who is to be our leader?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Wherever you are, you are to go to James the righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.’” (Quote from The Nag Hammadi Library, James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library, Revised Edition, HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1990.)

 

The Errors in the Gospel of the Hebrews

The Gospel of the Hebrews has two major errors in it, which are not in Matthew’s Gospel or the other New Testament Gospels.

1. A Historical Error Concerning the Time of John the Baptist’s Ministry

The Gospel of the Hebrews states that John the Baptist began his ministry at the time of King Herod of Judea who actually was king at the birth of Christ some thirty years earlier not during the time of John the Baptist’s ministry. This demonstrates that the Gospel of the Hebrews must have been written by an author(s) far removed from the actual time of the events. A contemporary author to the events would never have made such a serious historical mistake.

The following passage from the Gospel of Hebrews which Epiphanius quotes contains this historical error which is not in Matthew’s Greek Gospel.

Epiphanius 30.13.6
“But their Gospel begins: ‘It came to pass in the days of Herod, king of Judaea, in the high priesthood of Caiaphas, that a certain man, John by name, came baptizing with the baptism of repentance in the river Jordan, and he was said to be of the lineage of Aaron the priest, the son of Zacharias and Elisabeth; and all went out to him.’”

Johann Michaelis points out this historical error,
“This strange historical blunder, which makes John the Baptist preach in the time of Herod king of Judaea, who had been dead nearly thirty years, when John began to preach, is a very sufficient proof that St. Matthew was not the author of this passage: for no man who was a contemporary with John could have imagined that Herod was then king of Judaea.”18

This demonstrates that the author(s) of Gospel of the Hebrews was far removed from the time of the actual events of Jesus and the apostles.

2. A Chronological Error Concerning the Calling of Matthew by Jesus

The Gospel of the Hebrews states that Matthew appeared with Jesus before he was called as an apostle by Jesus as he is in the other gospels.

This chronological error appears in the following passage from the Gospel of the Hebrews given by Epiphanius.

Epiphanius 30.13.2-3
“Now in what they call a Gospel according to Matthew, though it is not entirely complete, but is corrupt and mutilated - and they call this thing ‘Hebrew’! - the following passage occurs, ‘There was a certain man named Jesus, and he was about thirty years of age, who chose us. And coming to Capernaum, he entered the house of Simon surnamed Peter, and opened his mouth and said, ‘Passing by the Sea of Tiberias I chose John and James, the sons of Zebedee, and Simon and Andrew and [Philip and Bartholomew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Thomas], Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot. Thee likewise Matthew, seated at the receipt of custom, did I call, and thou dist follow me. I will, then. That ye be twelve apostles as a testimony to Israel.’”

Johann Michaelis comments on this error,
“This history is not the same as that which is given Matt. 8:14 where it is related that Jesus went into the house of Peter, but no mention is made of any speech to the Apostles. It is one of the additions to this Gospel, and might possibly be true, if St. Matthew's name had not been mentioned, who was not called to be an apostle, till after this visit in the house of Peter.”19

3. An Error of Contradiction Concerning James the Just and the Last Supper

Jerome, as seen in an earlier point, quotes a passage from the Gospel of the Hebrews, which portrays James the Just, the brother of the Lord, at the Last Supper. However, Matthew and the other gospels clearly indicate that only the twelve were at the Last Supper and James the brother of the Lord, was not one of the twelve. This contradicts what the canonical gospels clearly state, including Greek Matthew. It was inserted to give James, the brother of the Lord, greater prominence. It also demonstrates that the Gospel of the Hebrews was written in the second century since the title “James the Just” was not used until then.

Jerome Lives Illustrious Men, 2
“The Gospel also which is called the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and which I have recently translated into Greek and Latin and which also Origen often makes use of, after the account of the resurrection of the Saviour says, ‘but the Lord, after he had given his grave clothes to the servant of the priest, appeared to James (for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he drank the cup of the Lord until he should see him rising again from among those that sleep)’ and again, a little later, it says ‘Bring a table and bread,’ said the Lord.’ And immediately it is added, ‘He brought bread and blessed and brake and gave to James the Just and said to him, ‘my brother eat thy bread, for the son of man is risen from among those that sleep.’”

Grant, Freedman, and Scheodel, point out this error,
“In this story, the author of Hebrews has managed to include several highly biased notions. First, he has made James the Just (a second century title for the Lord’s brother) a guest at the Lord’s Supper.”20

 

The Language of the Gospel of the Hebrews

1. Epiphanius indicates that the Gospel of the Hebrews used by the Ebionites was in the Hebrew (Aramaic) language.

Epiphanius 30.3.7
“They too accept the Gospel according to Matthew. Like the Cerinthians and Merinthians, they too use it alone. They call it, ‘According to the Hebrews,’ and it is true to say that only Matthew put the setting forth and the preaching of the Gospel into the New Testament in the Hebrew language and alphabet.”

The statement about Matthew’s writing in Hebrew implies that the Gospel of Matthew which the Ebionites called “According to the Hebrews” was written in Hebrew (Aramaic).

2. Jerome said that the Gospel of the Hebrews which was read by the Nazareans and Ebionites was in Hebrew which he had translated into Greek and Latin.

1) In his Dialogue Against Pelagius, Jerome stated that the Gospel according to the Hebrews was written in the Chaldean and Syriac language, but written in Hebrew letters.

The Aramaic language (Syro-Chaldaic) could be written in either Aramaic letters or Hebrew letters.

Jerome Dialogue against Pelagius, 3.2
“In the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which is written in the Chaldee and Syriac language, but in Hebrew characters, and is used by the Nazarenes to this day…”

2) In his commentary on Matthew, Jerome stated that he translated the Gospel according to the Hebrews into Greek and Latin from the Hebrew (Aramaic).

Jerome On Matt. 12.13
“In the Gospel which the Nazarenes and Ebionites use (which I have lately translated into Greek from the Hebrew, and which is called by many (or most) people the original of Matthew)…”
(Quote from M.R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament, The Apocryphile Press, 2004, 4-5)

3) In his commentary on Matthew, Jerome also demonstrates that the Gospel of the Hebrews was written in Hebrew (Aramaic) by giving a Hebrew word (mahar) that occurs in its text.

The Greek Matthew had “epiousion” for which Jerome translates “essential to existence.” However, the Gospel of the Hebrews had the Hebrew word “mahar” which means “of tomorrow.”

Jerome Commentary on Matthew 6:11
In the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews instead of ‘essential to existence’ I found ‘mahar’ which means ‘of tomorrow’ so that the sense is: ‘Our bread of tomorrow - that is, of the future - give us this day.’"
(Quote from New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1 Gospels and Related Writings, Ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Trans. R. McL. Wilson, Westminster John Knox Press 1990, 160)

 

The Date of the Gospel of the Hebrews

The Gospel of the Hebrews was most likely written in the middle to late second century. The earliest references to the Gospel of the Hebrews come from the latter part of the second century. There is no mention of it before that time.

Ron Cameron summarizes the evidence for the dating the Gospel of the Hebrews when he writes,
“Hegesippus (late in the second century) and Eusebius (early in the fourth century) attest to the existence of this gospel, but do not quote from it. Fragments are preserved in the writings of Clement of Alexandria (late in the second century), Origen (early in the third century), and Cyril (Bishop of Jerusalem, ca. 350 C.E.). Jerome (ca. 400 C.E.) also preserves several fragments, all of which he probably reproduced from the writings of Origen.”21

1. The first mention of the Gospel of the Hebrews does not come before the late second century.

Eusebius states that Hegesippus who wrote c.185 AD quoted from the Gospel of the Hebrews.

Eusebius Church History 4.22
“He [Hegisippus] wrote much else, some of which I have already quoted, and cites the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Syriac Gospel, and especially works of Hebrew language and oral tradition, showing that he was a Hebrew convert.” (Quote from Eusebius, Church History, tr. Paul L. Maier, Kregel Publications, 1999, 158)

Clement of Alexandria (c.150AD-215AD) quotes from the Gospel of the Hebrews.

Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 2.9
“So also in the Gospel to the Hebrews it is written, ‘He that wonders shall reign, and he that has reigned shall rest.’”

2. The Ebionites whom Epiphanius says mutilated the Gospel of Matthew and called it the Gospel According to the Hebrews emerged in the late second century as a heretical group.

Epiphanius indicated that the Ebionites forged and mutilated the Gospel of Matthew (as seen earlier) and called it the Gospel of the Hebrews. This coincides with the first mention of the Ebionites which was by Irenaeus in the late second century.

Irenaeus, who wrote in the latter part of the second century, is the first writer to mention the Ebionites. Their origin coincides in time with the origin of the Gospel of the Hebrews, which is consistent with the proposition that the Ebionites created the Gospel of the Hebrews.

Irenaeus, however, does not mention the Gospel of the Hebrews when he refers to the Ebionites. He says that they used the Gospel of Matthew.

Irenaeus 1.26.2
“Those who are called Ebionites agree that the world was made by God; but their opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law. As to the prophetical writings, they endeavour to expound them in a somewhat singular manner: they practise circumcision, persevere in the observance of those customs which are enjoined by the law, and are so Judaic in their style of life, that they even adore Jerusalem as if it were the house of God.”

Irenaeus 3.11.7
“For the Ebionites, who use Matthew’s Gospel are confuted out of this very same, making false suppositions with regard to the Lord.”

This is evidence of Epiphanius’ assertion that the Ebionites mutilated the Gospel of Matthew and referred to it as the Gospel According to the Hebrews.

Epiphanius tells us of two major groups claiming a “Jewish-Christian” gospel, the Nazareans and the Ebionites. The Nazareans were not Gnostic. They tried to combine the Jewish law with the Christian gospel. The Ebionites were a far more radical group that came out of the Nazareans. They combined the Jewish law, the Christian gospel, and Gnosticism.

Epiphanius 30.1.1
“Following these [Nazareans] and holding the same views, Ebion, the Ebionites founder, emerged in his turn - a monstrosity with many shapes, who practically formed the snake-like shape of the mythical many headed hydra in himself. He was of the Nazorean's school, but preached and taught differently from them.”

Epiphanius 30.2.1
For Ebion was contemporary with the Nazoraeans, since he was their ally, was derived from them.

The Ebionites and Nazareans most likely originally used the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew earlier in their history around middle of the second century, then the Ebionites began changing it to coincide with their Jewish Gnostic views. Irenaeus who had not seen their Gospel assumed that the Ebionites used the pure form of the Gospel of Matthew because this is what they originally did. Even after they had corrupted it, they still claimed it was the Gospel of Matthew, which they also referred to as the Gospel of the Hebrews. Irenaeus lived as the Gospel of the Hebrews first emerged and was probably not familiar with it. Eventually, by the time of Jerome, the Nazareans had adopted the Gospel of the Hebrews as well.

Philip Schaff explains why Irenaeus may not have mentioned the use of the Gospel of the Hebrews by the Ebionites and how that fits into the history of the Gospel of the Hebrews when he writes,
“Eusebius is the first to tell us that the Ebionites used the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Irenaeus says that they used the Gospel of Matthew, and the fact that he mentions no difference between it and the canonical Matthew shows that, so far as he knew, they were the same. But according to Eusebius, Jerome, and Epiphanius the Gospel according to the Hebrews was used by the Ebionites, and…this Gospel cannot have been identical with the canonical Matthew. Either, therefore, the Gospel used by the Ebionites in the time of Irenaeus, and called by him simply the Gospel of Matthew, was something different from the canonical Matthew, or else the Ebionites had given up the Gospel of Matthew for another and a different gospel...

The former is much more probable, and the difficulty may be most simply explained by supposing that the Gospel according to the Hebrews is identical with the so-called Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, or at least that it passed among the earliest Jewish Christians under Matthew’s name, and that Irenaeus, who was not personally acquainted with the sect, simply hearing that they used a Gospel of Matthew, naturally supposed it to be identical with the canonical Gospel. In the time of Jerome a Hebrew “Gospel according to the Hebrews” was used by the “Nazarenes and Ebionites” as the Gospel of Matthew. Jerome refrains from expressing his own judgment as to its authorship, but that he did not consider it in its existing form identical with the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew is clear from his words in de vir. ill. [Illustrious Men] chap. 3, taken in connection with the fact that he himself translated it into Greek and Latin, as he states in chap. 2...

But none of these facts militate against the assumption that the Gospel of the Hebrews in its original form was identical with the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, or at least passed originally under this name among Jewish Christians…Moreover, it is quite conceivable that, in the course of time, the original Gospel according to the Hebrews underwent alterations, especially since it was in the hands of a sect which was growing constantly more heretical, and that, therefore, its resemblance to the canonical Matthew may have been even less in the time of Eusebius and Jerome than at the beginning.”22

3. Epiphanius quotes a passage from the Gospel of the Hebrews that has incorporated parts of the synoptic gospels which evidences a date well into the second century.

Epiphanius 30.13.7
“And after saying a number of things, it adds, ‘When the people had been baptized, Jesus came also and was baptized by John. And as he came up out of the water, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove which descended and entered into him. And (there came) a voice saying, ‘Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.’ And again: ‘This day have I begotten thee.’ And straightway a great light shone round about the place. ‘Seeing this,’ it says, John said unto him, ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ And again (there came) a voice from heaven, ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’”

This passage from the Gospel of the Hebrews seeks to harmonize the different words of the voice coming from heaven in the synoptic gospels.

Matt.3:17 says,
“And a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’”

Mk.1:11 and Lu.3:22 says,
“And a voice came from heaven, which said, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.’”

4. Jerome mentions a passage that calls James, the brother of the Lord, “the Just” which is a second century title for James.

The use of this title demonstrates that the Gospel of the Hebrews had to have been written after the use of this title became popular. Therefore, the Gospel of the Hebrews was written in the second century or beyond.

Jerome Lives Illustrious Men, 2
“The Gospel also which is called the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and which I have recently translated into Greek and Latin and which also Origen often makes use of, after the account of the resurrection of the Saviour says, ‘but the Lord, after he had given his grave clothes to the servant of the priest, appeared to James (for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he drank the cup of the Lord until he should see him rising again from among those that sleep)’ and again, a little later, it says ‘Bring a table and bread,’ said the Lord.’ And immediately it is added, ‘He brought bread and blessed and brake and gave to James the Just and said to him, ‘my brother eat thy bread, for the son of man is risen from among those that sleep.’”

Grant, Freedman, and Scheodel, shares the age of this epithet,
“In this story, the author of Hebrews has managed to include several highly biased notions. First, he has made James the Just (a second century title for the Lord’s brother) a guest at the Lord’s Supper.”23

 

Orthodox Christians’ Views of the Gospel of the Hebrews

1. The Gospel of the Hebrews was not perceived as a heretical work at the time of Clement, Origen and Eusebius.

Clement and Origen quote the Gospel of the Hebrews to support their points as seen in the quotes above, but they do not give it the same authority or credibility as the canonical gospels. However, they do not call it heretical either.

In regard to Origen’s view of the Gospel of the Hebrews, Johann Michaelis writes,
“It is more certain that Origen was acquainted with this Gospel, for he has sometimes quoted it in his Commentary on St. Matthew: but he did not receive it as the genuine work of an Apostle.”24

2. Eusebius says that the Gospel of the Hebrews was considered part of the disputed books, but Hebrew Christians used it.

Eusebius 3.25.3-5
“At this point it may be appropriate to list the New Testament writings already referred to. The holy quartet of the Gospels are first, followed by the Acts of the Apostles. Next are Paul's epistles, 1 John, and 1 Peter. The Revelation of John may be added, the arguments regarding which I shall discuss at the proper time. These are the recognized books. Those that are disputed yet known to most are the epistles called James, Jude, 2 Peter, and the so-named 2 and 3 John, the work of the Evangelist or of someone else with the same name.

Among the spurious books are the Acts of Paul, the Shepherd [of Hermas], the Revelation of Peter, the alleged epistle of Barnabas, the so-called Teachings of the Apostles [Didache], as well as the Revelation of John, if appropriate here: some reject it, others accept it, as stated before. In addition, some have included the Gospel of the Hebrews in the list, for which those Hebrews who have accepted Christ have a special fondness. These would all be classified with the disputed books, those not canonical yet familiar to most church writers, which I have listed separately in order to distinguish them from those writings that are true, genuine, and accepted in the tradition of the church.

Writings published by heretics under the names of the apostles, such as the Gospels of Peter, Thomas, Matthias, and others, or the Acts of Andrew, John, and other apostles have never been cited by any in the succession of church writers. The type of phraseology used contrasts with apostolic style, and the opinions and thrusts of their contents are so dissonant from true orthodoxy that they show themselves to be forgeries of heretics. Accordingly, they ought not be reckoned even among the spurious books but discarded as impious and absurd.”
(Quote from Eusebius, Church History, Trans. Paul Maier, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 1999, 115)

Notice that Eusebius does not classify the Gospel of the Hebrews under the heretics’ writings such as the Gospels of Peter or Thomas. He classifies it as part of the disputed books.

3. Epiphanius says that the Gospel of the Hebrews was heretical, a corrupted and mutilated version of the Gospel of Matthew.

Epiphanius, in his Panarion, called the Gospel of the Hebrews a forged and mutilated Gospel of Matthew, thus heretical. He gave evidence of its heretical nature by sharing passages taken from the Gospel of the Hebrews. Some of these passages have been already seen in the section of this article detailing the Gnostic teachings of the gospel.

Epiphanius 30.13.2
“In the Gospel that is in general use amongst them, which is called according to Matthew, which however is not whole (and) complete but forged and mutilated - they call it the Hebrew Gospel - it is reported…”
(Quote from New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1 Gospels and Related Writings, Ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Trans. R. McL. Wilson, Westminster John Knox Press 1990, 170)

4. Jerome quotes from the Gospel of the Hebrews and says it is thought to be the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, but he never uses it in an authoritative way.

Jerome never used the Gospel of the Hebrews in his interpretation of the Gospel of Matthew and never chose one of its texts as a superior reading over the Greek Matthew.

When Jerome found two different readings between the Gospel of the Hebrews in Hebrew and the Gospel of Matthew in Greek, he did not use the reading from the Gospel of the Hebrews although he mentioned it.

In the Greek Gospel of Matthew, the text in a sentence in the Lord’s prayer which says, “Give us this day our daily bread,” the Greek word translated “daily” is “epiousion.” The Gospel of the Hebrews had the Hebrew word “mahar” which means “of tomorrow.” Jerome chose the Greek Gospel reading in translating his Latin text.

Johann Michaelis mentions this choice by Jerome,
“Jerome used the reading from the Greek Matthew over the reading from the Gospel of the Hebrews in regards to epiousion.”25

Michaelis gives another example of Jerome not using the Gospel of the Hebrews to settle translation issues, “This answer applies with still greater force to another example quoted by Mill from Matthew 24:36. ‘But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.’ On this passage Jerome observes, that in some copies the words, 'nor the Son,' were added: but he does not appeal to the Hebrew Gospel to determine whether they were genuine. Now suppose he had found these words in the Hebrew Gospel, the question to be asked is: ought he, as a critic, to have used this as an argument in favour of their authenticity? Certainly not. For since many of the Nazarenes denied the divinity of Christ, and this very reading has been used as an argument against the divinity, Jerome must necessarily have suspected that it was one of the many additions, which had been made to the Hebrew Gospel.”26

Michaelis shows by these two examples, that although Jerome seems to give some credibility to the Gospel of the Hebrews, he never gave it the same authenticity and authority of the Greek Gospel of Matthew.

The Lack of Consensus


This lack of consensus of the orthodox church regarding the Gospel of the Hebrews may have been due to the following reasons:

1) The language of Hebrew (Aramaic) in which it was written was not well known in the Mediterranean world and therefore it would only be read by a small group of Hebrew Christians. Many church leaders did not have an opinion about it because they never read it.

2) Its Gnostic parts are spread throughout the book and are given in a far more subtle form than the more obvious Gnostic Gospels such as the Gospel of Peter or Judas. Origen and Jerome tried to interpret its Gnostic statements to align with orthodox Christian doctrine.

3) The Nazareans and Ebionites were not as well-known in Irenaeus’ and Eusebius’ time as they were in the time of Epiphanius and Jerome. Many Christian leaders in the second century such as Irenaeus may have taken the Ebionites at their word, that they were using the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew and not realized it had been changed.

4) It is only when the Ebionites became more and more radical in their Gnostic beliefs and a Christian leader such as Epiphanius investigated them and their Gospel of the Hebrews that its true nature became known. Then it was condemned as heretical.

For more scholarly support for the concept of the Gospel of the Hebrews as a severely corrupted version of the original Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, please see The Disappearance of Matthew's Hebrew Gospel.

 

ENDNOTES

References are given without use of abbreviations such as “ibid.” to make it simpler to understand and follow the references for those unfamiliar with reading the various abbreviations.

1.Vielhauer, Philip, Strecker, Georg, New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1 Gospels and Related Writings, Ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Trans. R. McL. Wilson, Westminster John Knox Press 1990, 135

2. Michaelis, Johann David, Introduction to the New Testament, tr., and augmented with notes by H. Marsh. F.C & J. Rivington, 1823, 189

3. M.R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament, The Apocryphile Press, 2004, 1

4. Michaelis, Johann David, Introduction to the New Testament, trans. by H. Marsh. Unknown Publisher, 1823, 161

5. Klauck, Hans-Josef, Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction, T&T Clark, 2003, 53

6. Michaelis, Johann, Introduction to the New Testament, tr., and augmented with notes by H. Marsh, Unknown Publisher, 1823, 180

7. Young, Richard, Is God a Vegetarian?: Christianity, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights, Open Court Publishing, 1998, 117-119

8. Young, Richard, Is God a Vegetarian?: Christianity, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights, Open Court Publishing, 1998, 128

9. Klauck, Hans-Josef, Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction, T&T Clark, 2003, 51

10. Klauck, Hans-Josef, Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction, T&T Clark, 2003, 52

11. Vielhauer, Philip, Strecker, Georg, New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1 Gospels and Related Writings, Ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Trans. R. McL. Wilson, Westminster John Knox Press 1990, 173

12. Vielhauer, Philip, Strecker, Georg, New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1 Gospels and Related Writings, Ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Trans. R. McL. Wilson, Westminster John Knox Press 1990, 173-174

13. Swidler, Leonard, Biblical Affirmations of Women, Westminster John Knox Press, 1979, 58

14. Michaelis, Johann David, Introduction to the New Testament, tr., and augmented with notes by H. Marsh. F.C & J. Rivington, 1823, 189

15. Grant, Robert, Freedman, David, Schoedel, William R., The Secret Sayings of Jesus, Barnes and Noble Books, New York, 19960, 35

16. Klauck, Hans-Josef, Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction, T&T Clark, 2003, 42

17. Vielhauer, Philip, Strecker, Georg, New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1 Gospels and Related Writings, Ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Trans. R. McL. Wilson, Westminster John Knox Press 1990, 173

18. Michaelis, Johann David, Introduction to the New Testament, tr., and augmented with notes by H. Marsh. F.C & J. Rivington, 1823, 179

19. Michaelis, Johann David, Introduction to the New Testament, tr., and augmented with notes by H. Marsh. F.C & J. Rivington, 1823, 177

20. Grant, Robert, Freedman, David, Schoedel, William R., The Secret Sayings of Jesus, Barnes and Noble Books, New York, 19960, 35

21. Cameron, Ron, ed., The Other Gospels: Non-Canonical Gospel Texts, Philadelphia, PA, The Westminster Press 1982, 83

22. Schaff, Philip, The Early Church Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff, William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, Reprint 2001 at CCEL Internet Library (from Footnote on Eusebius 3.27.4)

23. Grant, Robert, Freedman, David, Schoedel, William R., The Secret Sayings of Jesus, Barnes and Noble Books, New York, 19960, 35

24. Michaelis, Johann David, Introduction to the New Testament, tr., and augmented with notes by H. Marsh. F.C & J. Rivington, 1823, 164

25. Michaelis, Johann David, Introduction to the New Testament, tr., and augmented with notes by H. Marsh. F.C & J. Rivington, 1823, 182-183

26. Michaelis, Johann David, Introduction to the New Testament, tr., and augmented with notes by H. Marsh. F.C & J. Rivington, 1823, 172