Matthew's Authorship of a Hebrew and a Greek Gospel - More Evidence


In our main article we saw the testimony of three early church fathers, Irenaeus, Origen, and Eusebius indicate that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew (Aramaic) and in Greek. In this article is more testimony from other early church fathers.

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

For a list of the early church fathers mentioned in these articles, click here.


The historical literary evidence demonstrates that the early church understood Matthew the Apostle to have been the author of an original Hebrew (Aramaic) Gospel of Matthew and an original Greek Gospel of Matthew.

Note: It is held by virtually all scholars that the early church fathers had only the Greek Gospel of Matthew. Any commentary on the text they make comes from their reading and study of the Greek text of Matthew. Hence, all statements made by the church fathers about the prominence and widespread use of the Gospels always refer to the Greek Gospel of Matthew. There were references to the existence of a Hebrew Matthew at one time, but there is no clear evidence that a church father actually possessed it and used it.

Only Origen and later Jerome even understood Hebrew and could have used it anyway. Jerome mentions that he had what people in his time were calling the "Original Hebrew Gospel of Matthew," but he never uses it as if it were indeed the original Hebrew Matthew. For more information on Jerome's statements see "Jerome's Scholarly Speculation."

4. The Testimony of Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis (AD 60-130)

4.1 Papias testified that Matthew wrote a Gospel in Hebrew.

Eusebius preserves a statement written by Papias concerning the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew.

Eusebius Church History 3.39.16
"But concerning Matthew he [Papias] writes as follows: 'So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able.'"

There are several views that scholars take regarding what Papias' brief statement means. It is the view of the author that Papias is most likely describing a Hebrew original version of Matthew's Gospel, which at the beginning needed to be translated into Greek to be understood by Greek speaking Gentiles of which there were many. Once Matthew wrote the Greek version a Hebrew version was no longer necessary.

Thomas and Farnell hold this view, They write "A final view, distinct from the others (and also from their synoptic hypotheses) is that Papias referred to an earlier edition of Matthew. This was written entirely in Hebrew (namely, Aramaic) and preceded the Greek version of the gospel. That was perhaps a proto-Matthew, namely, a shorter version that eventually came to be incorporated into (not necessarily translated from but contained within) an expanded Greek version, namely, the canonical gospel of Matthew. Thus, Papias indicated that Matthew wrote first (prior to the other gospels) and that in so doing, he produced an initial Aramaic edition. The Aramaic edition served as a model and/or source for some of the contents of his Greek edition that he most likely produced as a fresh work soon after he wrote the Aramaic one."1

The Importance of Papias

James Morison explains his significance to the question of a Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, "But let us the earliest and most important of all the testimonies on the subject. It has been singularly preserved in a fragment of the writings of Papias, that has itself been happily preserved by Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History. Papias flourished in the beginning of the 2nd century. He was, says Irenaeus, 'a companion of Polycarp.' He became bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia. He had been a hearer of Aristion and John the Presbyter, personal disciples of the Lord."2

5. The Testimony of Tertullian, Christian Apologist (AD 160-225)

5.1 Tertullian names the authors of the four Gospels sharing their impact and widespread use which can only include the canonical Greek Gospel of Matthew.

Tertullian Against Marcion 4.2
"We lay it down as our first position, that the evangelical Testament has apostles for its authors, to whom was assigned by the Lord Himself this office of publishing the gospel. `Since, however, there are apostolic men also, they are yet not alone, but appear with apostles and after apostles...because the preaching of disciples might be open to the suspicion of an affectation of glory, if there did not accompany it the authority of the masters, which means that of Christ, for it was that which made the apostles their masters. Of the apostles, therefore, John and Matthew first instill faith into us; whilst of apostolic men, Luke and Mark renew it afterwards. These all start with the same principles of the faith, so far as relates to the one only God the Creator and His Christ, how that He was born of the Virgin, and came to fulfill the law and the prophets."

In the above passage, Tertullian shares his knowledge of the authorship of the four NT Gospels. They were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and states their impact as instilling the Christian faith in them.

Tertullian Against Marcion 4.5
"The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage - I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew - whilst that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter's whose interpreter Mark was. For even Luke's form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul. And it may well seem that the works which disciples publish belong to their masters."

In this second passage, Tertullian again gives the names of the Gospel authors as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and He then states that the churches "possessed" the four gospels, referring to the widespread use of the four gospels (4.5).

The Gospel of Matthew that Tertullian is referring in these passages must be his Greek Gospel which was the only one the apostolic churches possessed. Tertullian obviously did not believe anonymous editors wrote the four Gospels as many modern New Testament scholars believe.

6. The Testimony of Epiphanius (c.320- 403AD)

Epiphanius was bishop of Salamis, a city on the east coast of the island of Cyprus.

6.1 Epiphanius indicates in his Panarion that Matthew wrote first in Hebrew (Aramaic) for the Hebrews.

Epiphanius Panarion 51.5.1

"For Matthew was the first to become an evangelist. He was directed to issue the Gospel first. (I have spoken largely of this in another sect; however I shall not mind dealing with the same things again, as proof of the truth and in refutation of the erring.) As I said, Matthew, was privileged to be the first Gospel, and this was absolutely right. Because he had repented of many sins, and had risen from the receipt of custom and followed him who came for man’s salvation and said, ‘I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance, it was Matthew’s duty to present the message of salvation first as an example for us, who would be saved like this man who was restored in the tax office and turned from his iniquity. From him men would learn the graciousness of Christ's advent."3

Epiphanius Panarion 51.5.3

"Matthew himself wrote and issued the gospel in the Hebrew alphabet, and did not begin at the beginning, but traced Christ’s pedigree from Abraham. ‘Abraham begat Isaac’ he said, ‘and Isaac begat Jacob’ and so on down to Joseph and Mary."4

The Significance of Epiphanius
Epiphanius is significant because he lived at the same time as the Bible scholar Jerome and reflects what was held by the bishops of the church concerning the authorship of the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. He also, as we shall see, gives us a record of what happened to the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew.

7. The Testimony of Jerome, Christian Scholar (AD 331-420)

Jerome was a Biblical scholar who studied Greek and Hebrew, wrote the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible and several commentaries. He was well-known and well-respected in his time.

7.1 Jerome indicates that Matthew wrote in Hebrew (or Aramaic) for the Hebrews.

Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, 3

"Matthew also called Levi, apostle and aforetimes publican, composed a gospel of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed."

For more testimony on the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew by Jerome, see the section "Jerome's Scholarly Speculation."

8. The Testimony of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (AD 354-430)

8.1 Augustine implies that Matthew wrote the Greek Gospel of Matthew by quoting a passage that could only have come from Greek Matthew and naming Matthew as its author.

Augustine Harmony of the Gospels 3.17.54

"Matthew proceeds in the following terms: 'Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.' The same fact is attested by two others of the evangelists. Luke adds, however, a statement of the cause of the darkness, namely, that the sun was darkened. Again, Matthew continues thus: 'And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani! That is to say, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' And some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, 'This man calls for Elias.' Mark's agreement with this is almost complete, so far as regards the words, and not only almost, but altogether complete, so far as the sense is concerned."

In the passage above, like Eusebius, Augustine quotes the words of Jesus on the cross in Matthew's Gospel. These words are first given in the Hebrew and Aramaic which Jesus spoke to explain why people thought Jesus was crying out for Elijah. It is then translated into Greek by the author whom Augustine says is Matthew when he writes "Matthew continues [in his narrative]." This could only be true of the Greek Matthew where the author would have translated them into Greek to help his readers understand what Jesus was saying. There would have been no need for this in the Hebrew Matthew. This is similar to what Eusebius wrote about this verse.

8.2 Augustine also acknowledges the original Hebrew Matthew, but refers to Matthew as the author of the Greek Matthew thus implying he saw them as one work by one author.

Augustine Harmony of the Gospels, 1.2.3

"Now, those four evangelists whose names have gained the most remarkable circulation over the whole world, and whose number has been fixed as four - it may be for the simple reason that there are four divisions of that world through the universal length of which they, by their number as by a kind of mystical sign, indicated the advancing extension of the Church of Christ - are believed to have written in the order which follows: first Matthew, then Mark, thirdly Luke, lastly John...But as respects the task of composing that record of the gospel which is to be accepted as ordained by divine authority, there were (only) two, belonging to the number of those whom the Lord chose before the Passover, that obtained places - namely, the first place and the last. For the first place in order was held by Matthew, and the last by John. And thus the remaining two, who did not belong to the number referred to, but who at the same time had become followers of the Christ who spoke in these others, were supported on either side by the same, like sons who were to be embraced, and who in this way were set in the midst between these two."

In this first part of this passage, Augustine refers to the wide circulation of the four Gospels then names the authors as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Because only the Greek Matthew was widely circulated, he implies that Matthew is its author.

Thomas and Farnell agree with this position in their comment that this passage reveals Augustine's belief that Matthew authored both the Hebrew and Greek versions of Matthew's Gospel. They write, "Here Augustine implicitly accepts that the Greek Matthew came from the apostle Matthew as its author and that John was written by the apostle John."5

8.3 Augustine indicates in his Harmony of the Gospels that Matthew wrote his gospel in the Hebrew (Aramaic) language.

Augustine Harmony of the Gospels 1.2.4

"Of these four, it is true, only Matthew is reckoned to have written in the Hebrew language; the others in Greek...For Matthew is understood to have taken it in hand to construct the record of the incarnation of the Lord according to the royal lineage, and to give an account of most part of His deeds and words as they stood in relation to this present life of men."

In this next paragraph (above), Augustine acknowledges the original Hebrew Matthew as his predecessors had before him.

Thomas and Farnell further comment,

"Augustine goes on to note that prior to the Greek version of Matthew, the apostle wrote first in the Hebrew language, once again confirming the tradition set forth in the other church fathers: 'Of these four, it is true, only Matthew is reckoned to have written in the Hebrew language; the others in Greek.' Yet as with other church fathers, Augustine does not explain the transition from Aramaic to Greek, but accepts without question that the Greek version was from the apostle. He confirmed that latter point by following up his comments on the order of the Gospels and on Matthew's composition of his gospel in Greek before the others with his analysis of the Greek Matthew (as well as the other Greek gospels) as to their themes and character, thereby leaving the strong impression that he saw no significant difference between the Aramaic and Greek versions of Matthew's gospel."6

The Significance of Augustine

Augustine, like Epiphanius, is important because he lived at the same time as Jerome and most likely reflects the views of the bishops and other leaders of the church apart from Jerome's scholarly speculation concerning the Gospel of Matthew which we will see later.

9. Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome (AD 395-461)

9.1 Leo, like Augustine, indicates that Matthew wrote the Greek Gospel of Matthew by quoting a passage that could only have come from Greek Matthew and naming Matthew as its author.

Leo the Great Sermon 23, On the Feast of the Nativity III

"And so God, the Son of God, equal and of the same nature from the Father and with the Father, Creator and Lord of the Universe, Who is completely present everywhere, and completely exceeds all things, in the due course of time, which runs by His own disposal, chose for Himself this day on which to be born of the blessed virgin Mary for the the holy Virgin produced in her offspring one person which was truly human and truly Divine."

He states "Matthew says" and then quotes the same Greek text that Irenaeus quotes which is "Emmanuel which is interpreted 'God with us.'" This is a translation of the Hebrew (Aramaic) word "Emmanuel" which Matthew added to explain the word to Gentile readers and would have only appeared in the Greek text. Like Irenaeus, Leo therefore must have assumed Matthew wrote the Greek text.

The Significance of Leo the Great

Leo was a significant leader in the church of the 5th century who lived after Jerome. He also shows that the bishops of the church believed that Matthew wrote the Greek Gospel of Matthew.



1. Thomas, Robert L. and Farnell, F. David, Jesus Crisis, Kregel Publications, 1998, 44-45

2. Morison, James, A Practical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, Hodder and Stoughton, 1902, xl-xli

3. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Tr. Frank Williams, BRILL, Boston, Mass. 1987, 29

4. Ibid.,30

5. Thomas, Robert L. and Farnell, F. David, Jesus Crisis, Kregel Publications, 1998, 55

6. Ibid.,55