Scholarly Support For the Authorship of the Hebrew and Greek Gospels of Matthew by Matthew the Apostle


Many New Testament scholars past and present accept the position that Matthew wrote an original briefer edition of his gospel and then later wrote an expanded Greek version of his gospel.


General Statements by NT Scholars that Matthew wrote both the Hebrew and Greek Gospels of Matthew.

These statements are arranged chronologically.

1. Thomas Townson

“But there seems more reason for allowing two originals than for contesting either; the consent of antiquity pleading strongly for the Hebrew, and evident marks of originality for the Greek. There are instances of authors who have themselves published the same work in two languages. So Josephus wrote the History of the Jewish War. And as St. Matthew wanted not ability nor disposition, we cannot think he wanted inducement, to ‘do the work of an Evangelist’ for his brethren of the common faith, Hellenists as well as Hebrews; to both of whom charity made him a debtor. The popular language of the first believers was Hebrew, what is called so by the sacred and ancient ecclesiastical writers; but they who spoke Greek quickly became a considerable part of the church of Christ.”1

2. Nathaniel Lardner

“Here is an authentic testimony to the genuineness of the gospel of St. Matthew. It was well known in the time of Papias. No one doubted but it was written by him…Allowing St. Matthew's gospel to have been written in Hebrew, it does not follow from what Papias says that there was then no Greek gospel of St. Matthew, or that Papias knew of no such.

Papias collected accounts of former things from any persons whom he thought credible. What he says, therefore, of every one interpreting it as he was able, may relate only to some short time after it was written. All that can be concluded from what Papias says is that he thought the gospel of Matthew was written originally in Hebrew; and that for some time, till a Greek translation was published, every one interpreted it as he could. That at the time of Papias, and before, there was extant a Greek gospel of St. Matthew, is apparent from the quotations or allusions of the apostolical fathers, particularly those of Ignatius and Polycarp; there being a great agreement between them and our Greek gospel, not only in sense, but also in the very words.”2

3. Archibald Alexander

“By the testimonies already cited, it seems that there was but one opinion among the ancients in regard to this matter. With one voice they inform us, that it was written in Hebrew; or in the vernacular tongue of the Jews, which in the Scriptures, and by the Christian Fathers, is called Hebrew. This language is now called Syro-Chaldaic…Although the Greek language was understood by all the learned in Judea at this time, and by many of the people, yet it was not the vernacular language of the Jews dwelling in Palestine. In a book composed for the immediate use of the churches in Judea, it was necessary that it should be in that language which they all understood…This being the first gospel that was composed, it would naturally be in great request with all Christians who knew of its existence; and as none but the Jewish Christians could understand it, as first published, it is exceedingly probable, that a request was made of the author to publish an edition of it in Greek, also, by those who did not understand the Hebrew; or, by such as were going to preach the gospel in countries where the Greek language was in common use.”3

4. Johann Albrecht Bengel

“By the same authorities [the early church fathers], Matthew is said to have written his gospel in Hebrew. Why should he not have written the same work, the same without the slightest variation, in Greek as well as in Hebrew, even though he did not, strictly speaking, translate it from one language into another?”4

5. William Lee

“We cannot doubt, therefore, that, as soon as the want was felt of a Greek translation of the Hebrew Gospel, means were taken to supply it to which the additional motive was added of providing a work profitable for the Church universal, which day after day was taking deeper root among the Gentiles as it was spurned by the Jews. The Hebrew Gospel, therefore, was at once supplanted by its Greek successor, which from the earliest times has occupied the first place in the New Testament Canon. On no other hypothesis, indeed, than that of S. Matthew himself having supplied the present form of his earlier work, can we account either for the profound silence of ancient writers respecting the translator whose version, as we have seen, was everywhere received and quoted as if it actually proceeded from S. Matthew himself; or for the absence of the least trace of any other Greek translation of the Hebrew original.”5

6. John Kitto and Charles Hitchcock

“Many of the ancients say that he wrote it in the Hebrew or Syriac language…it is probable that there might be an edition of it in Hebrew, published by St. Matthew himself, at the same time that he wrote it in Greek; the former for the Jews, the latter for the Gentiles, when he left Judaea to preach among the heathen.”6

7. Thomas Hartwell Horne

“From a review of all the arguments adduced on this much litigated question, we cannot but prefer the last stated opinion as that which best harmonizes with the consent of antiquity, namely, that St. Matthew wrote first a Hebrew Gospel for the use of the first Hebrew convert…It also is clear, that our present Greek Gospel is an authentic original, and consequently an inspired production of the Evangelist Matthew…”7

8. Philip Schaff and M.B. Riddle

“Those fathers who assert that Matthew wrote in Hebrew, also assert that his work was translated into Greek, and unhesitatingly employ the present Greek Gospel as a faithful representative of the Apostolic production. If we accept a Hebrew original, then we must also conclude that when the necessity for a Greek version became obvious, Matthew himself made, or caused to be made, the present Greek Gospel…it accords with the testimony of the fathers, accounts for the double assignment of dates which we find, and also for the universal acceptance of our Gospel.”8

9. Frederic Louis Godet

“But what if we were led to this result, that the two opinions are each partly true, and that our first gospel is partly a Hebrew writing and partly an original Greek writing? In any case, is it not evident that if Jesus spoke in Aramaic, every Greek reproduction of His words is consequently a translation either of His spoken words or of His words committed to writing? But how can we pronounce with certainty on such an alternative?

We should mention yet a hypothesis…namely, that Matthew after having, as the Fathers say, written his gospel in Hebrew, published it anew in Greek. One can quote as an instance of a like procedure what Josephus tells us of himself, ‘that he had first written his book in Hebrew, his mother-tongue for the barbarians, — thus does he designate his own people, — and that then he translated it into the Greek language for those who are under the Roman dominion.’ Gloag cites further the procedure of the historian Ihne, who published an excellent Roman history in German, and then in English, while the English work was not precisely a translation of the German.”9

10. Louis Berkhof

“The evangelist after writing his Gospel in Hebrew with a view to his countrymen, possibly when he had left Palestine to labor elsewhere, translated or rather furnished a new recension of his Gospel in the Greek language with a view to the Jews of the Diaspora. The former was soon lost and altogether replaced by the latter. In formulating our opinion in regard to this question, we desire to state first of all that we have no sufficient reason to discredit the testimony of the early Church [that there was a Hebrew original]…the internal evidence of our present Gospel proves conclusively that this is not a mere translation of a Hebrew original. The evidence adduced seems quite sufficient. The Greek Matthew may be and most likely is in substance a translation of the original Hebrew; yet it must be regarded as in many respects a new recension of the Gospel…it seems most plausible that Matthew himself, shortly after he had written the Hebrew Gospel, translated it, adjusting it in several respects to the needs of the Jews that were dispersed in different lands.”10

11. Henry C. Thiessen

“Papias was right as to an Aramaic original, but Matthew also wrote our Greek Matthew. This hypothesis…is very plausible, for it reconciles the declarations of the Fathers concerning an original Hebrew (Aramaic) Matthew with the evidence that our present Matthew was written in Greek. It is evident that when the Greek Matthew had once become current in the Church, the Aramaic edition of it dropped out. Josephus wrote his Wars of the Jews in Aramaic and secured the help of Greek writers in freely reproducing and improving it in the Greek language. The Greek edition alone has come down to us. We believe that in the same manner, though perhaps without the assistance of Greek writers, Matthew reproduced his Gospel in Greek.”11

Later Thiessen attempts to reconstruct the possible circumstances surrounding Matthew’s writing of his Hebrew and Greek Gospels,
“Perhaps the tradition that after fifteen years of preaching in Palestine, Matthew left for foreign nations, but left behind his Hebrew (Aramaic) Gospel as a kind of compensation for his absence, is not far wrong after all. This would roughly give a date of A.D. 45 for the Aramaic Gospel of Matthew. It is the Aramaic Gospel that Papias refers to. When he said that ‘each one interpreted them [the oracles] as he was able,’ it is obvious that he was referring to a time when no translation was available, when each one who used the Gospel with Greek-speaking people was obliged to make an oral translation of it to the best of his ability.

Papias wrote about A.D. 130 and used the past tense; he was not referring to his own time, for the Greek Matthew was well known by that time. Since none of the Synoptics, not even the Greek Matthew, report the fall of Jerusalem and the temple, but speak of these events as still future, they must have been written before this tragedy or long after it. Few writers would put them long after it; so they must have been written before A. D. 70. Furthermore, since Acts also is silent with regard to these catastrophes, it, too, must have been written before A. D. 70. And since Luke's Gospel is earlier than the Book of Acts, and Matthew undoubtedly is earlier than Luke, we believe that Matthew must have prepared his Greek Gospel shortly after he wrote the Aramaic. We, therefore, date the Greek Matthew about A. D. 50.”12

12. D. Edmond Hiebert

“The other alternative is that Papias was correct concerning the original language of Matthew, yet he accepted the evidence that our Greek Matthew was originally composed in Greek. The reconciliation lies in the unexpressed assumption of the patristic witnesses that Matthew originally wrote a gospel in Hebrew for Jewish readers and later wrote our Greek gospel as a satisfactory representative of or replacement for the original work for a broader group of readers. Such a view, that Matthew produced a gospel in two forms, would suit the tradition concerning authorship and language yet account for the character of our Greek Matthew. When Matthew's ministry was extended beyond Palestinian Christian circles he found it necessary to put his account into a new form and language while retaining in essence the message of his other work.”13

Later, Heibert in writing of Matthew‘s abilities to write two works in different languages states,
“His bilingual abilities would equip him to produce a gospel in both languages. It may be assumed that when Matthew later wrote his gospel in Greek for a larger circle of readers he retained the essential thrust of his earlier work but felt free to modify and enlarge it as judged desirable. It is known that Josephus, who was bilingual, wrote his Wars of the Jews in Aramaic and then secured the assistance of Greek writers in freely reproducing and improving it in the Greek language.”14

13. Gijs van den Brink

“We may just as well assume Matthew wrote both an Aramaic and a Greek gospel. As Davies and Allison rightly observe, it is not easy to determine whether an ancient text, especially one so clearly bearing the marks of two cultures, as does Matthew, is or is not a translation. They mention the fact that learned Greeks, such as Eusebius, Origen, Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus, presumably knew the Greek language better than most modern scholars. And they all took canonical Matthew to be the translation of a Semitic original.

There are several arguments in favour of the traditional view concerning the person of the author which deserve serious attention. Firstly, there are the quotations of the Church Fathers who unanimously mention Matthew as being the author. Even though they speak of an original gospel in Hebrew, about which nothing is known to us, it is nevertheless remarkable that they do not question the identity of the writer.

Secondly, it is not impossible that Matthew first composed an Aramaic gospel for the Jewish Christians and afterwards wrote the Greek gospel that has been incorporated into our canon…a historical tradition exists which points to Matthew as the author of this gospel, and we cannot disregard this tradition…as a former tax collector Matthew was pre-eminently qualified to keep a report of Jesus' words and deeds. Among the twelve Matthew was without a doubt the person who was very capable with the pen and used to keeping accurate accounts.

Finally, if the apostle Matthew is not the author of this gospel, the actual author remains anonymous. In that case, two questions need to be answered in a satisfactory way. How is it possible that the original author was so quickly forgotten that the title 'according to Matthew' could be already added to this book before 100 AD? (cf. Hengel 1985: 64-85). Secondly, how did a tradition arise that Matthew was the author of the first gospel? As long as these questions remain unanswered, the traditional view concerning authorship has a good right to speak…”15

14. Robert Thomas and F. David Farnell

Thomas and Farnell give the following statement regarding their view of what the early church fathers believed about Matthew’s authorship of his Hebrew and Greek Gospel,
“Without exception they [the early church fathers] held that the apostle Matthew wrote the canonical [Greek] Matthew and that he wrote it first in a Semitic language.”16

Later, in writing an analysis of Papias’ statement that “Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language and each interpreted them as best he could” they give their view of the Matthew’s authorship of his Hebrew and Greek Gospel,
“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.

Several arguments support this proposal. First, it permits Papias to speak for himself and allows for an understanding of his words in their natural sense. Since he was closest to the events and relied on excellent sources, his information must have priority over speculative modern hypotheses.

Second, an expanded Greek version would have been quickly helpful among Matthew's targeted Jewish audience, especially those hellenized Jews who no longer spoke Hebrew (the Diaspora [Acts 6:1]). Although Matthew concentrated his efforts at first among Hebraistic Jews who spoke Aramaic, such a gospel would have limited appeal outside of the land of the Jews. Tradition has it that Matthew eventually left the environs of Jerusalem to minister among non-Aramaic-speaking peoples. The dominance of Greek in the Hellenistic world would have impelled him to produce another edition. Because he was a former tax collector for the Romans, he would most likely have been conversant in Greek as well as Aramaic, thus facilitating the writing of both versions. Once the Greek Matthew became current in the church, the limited appeal of Aramaic caused that edition to fall into disuse. Papias' statement that "each interpreted" Matthew's gospel (Aramaic version) "as best he could" probably hints at the reason why Matthew would have quickly produced a Greek version: to facilitate the understanding of his gospel in the universal language of Greek.

Third, this view accords with the very early and consistent manuscript ascription of the gospel to Matthew (KATA MATHAION). The title is not a part of the original text, but no positive evidence exists that the book ever circulated without this title. Moreover, the ascription has a very early date, approximately A.D. 125. As Guthrie notes, "the title cannot be dismissed too lightly, for it has the support of ancient tradition and this must be the starting point of the discussion regarding authorship.

Fourth, though patristic witnesses like Papias uniformly spoke about an Aramaic original for the gospel, they accepted the Greek Matthew as unquestionably authoritative and coming from the apostle Matthew himself. They offered no explanation concerning the change in language. Most likely, that indicates their regard for the Greek Matthew as authoritative and substantially representative of the Hebrew ta logia. Besides, all references to the gospel of Matthew in the early church fathers reflect the Greek Matthew rather than the Hebrew. They never viewed the Greek gospel of Matthew as inferior but as equal or better than the other Greek canonical gospels in terms of its authority and influence.

Fifth, the universal ascription of the Greek Matthew to the apostle Matthew and the failure of tradition to mention any other possible author except Matthew renders unconvincing any suggestion that the early church forgot the true author of the work. Only a brief span of fifty to sixty years passed between its composition and the statements of Papias. A less-prominent apostle such as Matthew would not have been a likely candidate to receive credit for such an important and influential document as the Greek Matthew unless he did indeed write it.

As indicated earlier in this chapter, ‘of all the New Testament Writings, the Gospel of Mt. was the one whose literary influence was the most widespread and the most profound in Christian literature that extended into the last decades of the second century.... [T ]he first gospel remained the gospel par excellence.... The gospel was, therefore, the normative fact of Christian life. It created the background for ordinary Christianity.’ The only explanation for the gospel's influence and overwhelming popularity in the early church is its apostolic authorship. That one of the Twelve wrote it soon after writing his Aramaic ta logia and before Mark and Luke wrote their gospels is far and away the most satisfactory explanation for the facts that remain from early church history.”17

Later Thomas and Farnell give the evidence for the originality of the Greek Matthew which demonstrates that the Greek Matthew was not simply a word for word translation of the Hebrew Matthew, but an authoritative expansion of the Hebrew written by the apostle Matthew himself. They write,
“The canonical Greek version shows no signs of being translated from Aramaic. For example, in certain places it transliterates Aramaic into Greek before giving a Greek translation—for instance, Matt. 1:23, Emmanouel, ho estin methermeneuomenon Meth'hemon ho theos (‘Immanuel, which is interpreted ‘God with us’); Matt. 27:33, Golgotha, ho estin Kraniou Topos legomenos (‘Golgotha,’ which is called ‘the Place of the Skull’); cf. also Matt. 27:46. Also, the Greek Matthew provides explanations of local customs among the Jews that would have been unnecessary for an Aramaic-speaking audience (for instance, Matt. 27:15). Though the Greek Matthew is not a translation, Matthew may have produced an expanded version of the life of Christ that incorporated much of the original Aramaic without being a direct translation of it. Such an entirely reworked version would have suited the needs of the Diaspora Jews and others.)18



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. Townson, Thomas, Discourses on the Four Gospels, Second Edition, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1788, 31

2. Kippis, Andrew, The Works of Nathaniel Lardner, Vol. 2, William Ball, London, 1808, 120

3. Alexander, Archibald, The Canon of the Old and New Testaments Ascertained, or the Bible Complete Without the Apocrypha and Unwritten Traditions, 1851, p.154-164

4. Bengel, Johann Albrecht, Bengel, Ernest, Steudel, Johann Christian Friedrich, Fausset, Andrew Robert, Gnomon of the New Testament, trans. by Andrew Robert Fausset, Smith, English & Co., 1860, 73

5. Lee, Willam, The Inspiration of Holy Scripture: Its Nature and Proof: Eight Discourses, Preached Before the University of Dublin, R. Carter & Brothers, 1860, 473

6. Kitto, John, Hitchcock, Charles Henry, An Illustrated History of the Holy Bible, unknown publisher,1869, 27

7. Horne, Thomas Hartwell (author and editor), Ayre, John, and Tregelles Samuel Prideaux (editors), An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, Vol.4, 1877, 420

8. Schaff, Philip, and Riddle, M.B., A Popular Commentary on the New Testament: By English and American Scholars of Various Evangelical Denominations, Scribner's, 1878, 21

9. Godet, Frederic Louis, Introduction of the New Testament, trans. William Affleck, T&T Clark, 1899, p.179

10. Berkhof, Louis, New Testament Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdman Sevensma, 1915), 64-71

11. Thiessen, Henry, Introduction to the New Testament, Hendricksen Publishers, 2002, 134 (originally published in 1943, Wm. B. Eerdmans)

12. Thiessen, Henry, Introduction to the New Testament, Hendricksen Publishers, 2002, 137 (originally published in 1943, Wm. B. Eerdmans)

13. Hiebert, D. Edmond, Introduction to the New Testament Vol.1 The Gospels and Acts, Moody Press, 1975, 54-55

14. Hiebert, D. Edmond, Introduction to the New Testament Vol.1 The Gospels and Acts, Moody Press, 1975, 56

15. Van den Brink, Gijs, Commentary On The Gospel of Matthew, Yesupadam: Vijayawada, 1997, Introduction

16. Thomas, Robert L. and Farnell, F. David, Jesus Crisis, Kregel Publications, 1998, 43

17. Thomas, Robert L. and Farnell, F. David, Jesus Crisis, Kregel Publications, 1998, 44-46

18. Thomas, Robert L. and Farnell, F. David, Jesus Crisis, Kregel Publications, 1998, Footnote 52, 79