A Hebrew Matthew and Jerome (Q&A)

Q:  [In response to our Q&A on the Du Tillet manuscript:]  ...I believe, based on the statements of various "early church fathers," that the Gospel of Matthew WAS written in Aramaic. I do not agree with those who try to "prove" that the other Gospels or even the entire New Testament were written in Hebrew or Aramaic!!!!!!!!!! If you would like I can e-mail you a website that I know about that shows many of the textual variants of the New Testament. Yet the issue of who the manuscripts of the New Testament come from bothers me. What do you think of the fact that it is said that Jerome got manuscripts for his gospel of Matthew from Jewish believers in Yeshua?...--Jeremy J.

A:  You are right that there is quite a bit of evidence among the early church fathers for a non-Greek original to the gospel of Matthew.  This evidence comes from places as diverse as India (in the early Christian community there), Arabia, and Israel itself.  In all of these reports, this original Matthew is reported as being in Hebrew.  There is no similar historical evidence for a Hebrew original of any other book in the New Testament. 

That Matthew was originally written in Hebrew is sometimes contested by scholars who cling to the outdated notion that Jesus taught in Aramaic.  But the evidence for Hebrew literacy in Israel in the Second Temple period is clear, both from archeology and textual sources. Today there is no legitimate reason to deny that these church fathers knew what they were talking about when they said that Matthew wrote in Hebrew. 

Sabbath for Non-Jews? (Q&A)

Q:  Very good comment on Isa 56 about Jesus as Salvation [see our Q&A on Isaiah 56]. But what about the context: Israel has to offer also Sabbath-keeping as a sign of the new covenant that is brought about by the Messiah (verse 8 "to HIM" will be gathered all). Do you agree that the Sabbath is also the sign of the new covenant for non-Jews, for all Christians? –Jens S.

A:  Thank you for bringing up the issue of Sabbath with regard to Isa. 56.  As you correctly point out, this is a key element in the chapter.  I'm not sure exactly what you mean by Sabbath-keeping being a “sign of the new covenant” for Israel, since Sabbath-keeping is usually considered a sign of the old covenant as it specifically says in Exo. 31:13; Eze. 20:12.  But if you simply mean that it continues as part of the practice of Jewish believers in Jesus, this is certainly true. 

With regard to Isa. 56:8 ("The Lord GOD, who gathers the banished ones of Israel, declares, 'Yet others I will gather to him, to those already gathered.'"), the phrase "yet others will I gather to him" is a reference back to Israel in the same verse, and as a result, is often translated for clarity “to them.”  This is how Jesus understood it when he alluded to this verse in John 10:16, speaking of the "other sheep" that were to be added to the Jewish people who had already believed in him.

Was Early Christianity a Mystery Religion? (Q&A)

Q:  I heard that early Christianity was a mystery religion in Rome.  Is this true and does anyone know any of the characteristics of mystery religions? (I know that they were a secret but has anything come out about them?)  Was it a popular one, like were there many Romans who joined it?  Also did mystery religions have supernatural events that happened, as I read that in some mystery religions, people would enter the spirit world or supernatural realm.

Anyway, I hope that made sense, and thanks for any help.

A:  The main focus of the most important rituals of the ancient mystery religions, as far as we know,  was the revelation of some secret act or ritual object with deep symbolic meaning for those trained in the belief system of the religion.  This took place toward the end of a lengthy and elaborate ritual.  This revelation was often intended to produce a specific spiritual or emotional effect on the initiates that were experiencing it for the first time.  They were then sworn to keep this ritual a secret, and in most cases they did, as we are still ignorant of most of the core mysteries today.

When was Jesus' Last Supper? (Q&A)

Q:   In your review of "The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot" by Ernest Martin, the article was interesting. I came on this page of the web looking for what the word meaning of the “common hall” was in the Bible [Matt. 27:27 KJV]. 

I disagree that the Last Supper was the night before the crucifixion. In John 19:14, it states, "And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour: and he [Pilate] saith unto the Jews, Behold your King." With Jesus on the cross the third hour, then this has to be the day before the crucifixion, at least. If you look at John 4:6, the passage with the woman at the well, it's also the sixth hour. Any commentary I've read states that this was noon . If it's noon here, then in John 19:14 it is also noon. In John 13:1 it states, "Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end." This is just before the Last Supper. In Josephus it states that the 14th, "The Lords Passover" had become a feast day during the time of Jesus. This is twice that the Bible states that the Last Supper was not the evening before the crucifixion.  Before the feast means before the feast. The 14th was a feast day, but not a holy day. I have been working on this question off and on for about four years. Take a look at another possibility. Please read www.holyweekrevisited.com  --Joseph L.

A:  Many Gentile Christians are misled by the phrase, "the preparation of the Passover" in John 19:14.  It appears to them to indicate a day of preparation before the beginning of the Passover holiday itself.  But as with so many other details of Jewish observance, what may seem logical to us as Gentiles is no guarantee of a correct understanding of the culture of that day.  The only way to correctly understand it is according to the original Jewish understanding.  Among the Jewish people, the "Preparation" was their name for the day preceding the Sabbath (i.e. Thursday evening and Friday until sunset).  This, by the way, is still the name for Friday in Greece today (Paraskeue, which means “Preparation”).  The "preparation" day in John 19:14 therefore refers not to a day preceding the Passover celebration, but to the Preparation day (the Friday) that fell in the Passover week.  This Preparation day was especially important, because the Sabbath that fell during the Passover week was considered a "high" Sabbath (as explained in John 19:31).  What this means is that the Preparation day of the Passover always falls within the Passover week, and never before it.  As a result, these events could only have happened after the evening Passover Seder meal (Jesus’ Last Supper) held on the first evening of Passover, and not before.