Questions From Readers
● Why do the Watch Tower publications state that Matthew wrote his Gospel first in Hebrew, since it is supposed that Hebrew was a dead language in his day?—E. W., United States.
There are a number of reasons for believing that Matthew wrote his Gospel first in Hebrew. For one thing, we cannot assume that Hebrew was a dead language, as G. Ernest Wright points out in his work Biblical Archaeology (p. 240): “Roman soldiers and officials might be heard conversing in Latin, while orthodox Jews may well have spoken a late variety of Hebrew with one another, a language that we know to have been neither classical Hebrew nor Aramaic, despite its similarities to both.” Also, in the book Daily Life in Bible Times, Albert Edward Bailey gives a picture of the training of Jewish youths in the time of James, son of Zebedee:
“Boys were trained in piety from their earliest days. This would mean that the boys had a knowledge of the Law, which they showed by being able to read it, write it and explain its obvious meaning. . . . The boys sat on the ground in a half-circle facing the teacher. There James was taught to read the Law in Hebrew beginning with the Book of Leviticus, the contents of which it was necessary for every Jew to know if he was to regulate his life acceptably to God; and he must pronounce the words correctly and reverently. Hebrew was a strange language to him, for at home and at play they spoke Aramaic, and later when he began to do business he would have to speak Greek. Hebrew was only for the synagogue. . . . After learning to read came writing, probably in Hebrew and certainly in Aramaic.”—Pp. 248, 249.
As to the testimony that Matthew wrote his Gospel first in Hebrew, there is a considerable array of statements from writers of the second through the fourth centuries A.D. A few of them are here given: Papias of the first and second centuries wrote: “Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language.” (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, p. 155) Origen of the second and third centuries wrote that Matthew’s Gospel was “published for Jewish believers, and composed in Hebrew letters.” (M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia, Vol. 5, p. 890) Quoted in the same work are the words of Eusebius of the third and fourth centuries who states: “The evangelist Matthew delivered his Gospel in the Hebrew tongue.”
Then there is Jerome of the fourth and fifth centuries who said in his Catalogue of Ecclesiastical Writers that Matthew “composed a Gospel of Christ in Judaea in the Hebrew language and characters, for the benefit of those of the circumcision who had believed. . . . Furthermore, the Hebrew itself is preserved to this day in the library at Caesarea which the Martyr Pamphilus so diligently collected.”
A statement by a modern Bible scholar, Hugh G. Schonfield, is also of interest. He writes on page 11 of An Old Hebrew Text of St. Matthew’s Gospel: “As far back as the fourth century we hear of a Hebrew Matthew preserved in the Jewish archives at Tiberias.”
Further reason for believing that Matthew wrote his Gospel first in Hebrew is based on the fact that a careful examination of his quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures shows that he quoted directly from the Hebrew and not from the Septuagint Version. If Matthew had written his Gospel first in Greek, it is likely he would have quoted from the Septuagint.
In view of the testimony of the early writers, the use of Hebrew in synagogues and Matthew’s quotations from the Hebrew, we arrive at this conclusion: It seems reasonable to believe that Matthew first wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, and later he himself most likely translated it into the koine Greek.
The account at 2 Kings 9:27 reads: “Ahaziah the king of Judah himself saw it and took to flight by the way of the garden house. (Later Jehu went in pursuit of him and said: ‘Him also! Strike him down!’ So they struck him down while in the chariot on the way up to Gur, which is by Ibleam. And he continued his flight to Megiddo and got to die there.)” As for the account at 2 Chronicles 22:8, 9, it reads: “It came about that as soon as Jehu had entered into controversy with the house of Ahab, he got to find the princes of Judah and the sons of the brothers of Ahaziah, ministers of Ahaziah, and he proceeded to kill them. Then he went looking for Ahaziah, and they finally captured him, as he was hiding in Samaria, and brought him to Jehu. Then they put him to death and buried him.”
The apparent difficulty is solved when we note that Bible writers did not always put events in strict chronological order. Also, they did not have punctuation as we do today to indicate parenthetical expressions or diversions from the chronological order. The writer of the account of Kings, having touched on Ahaziah and his flight, simply continued with the information he had as to the rest of his life, or his death, not indicating whether all this followed in chronological order with what he had yet to tell or not. That is why the New World Translation not only puts in parentheses these events that happened later but also translates the Hebrew conjunction waw, which opens the parenthetical material, as “later.” In regard to this Hebrew word waw, the Foreword of the New World Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Volume 1, page 18, 1953 edition, says:
“Although waw (‘and’) is very repetitious in Hebrew, we do not ignore it and leave it untranslated as if unnecessary or cumbersome or old fashioned in style, but we express it by using transitional words or phrases with the sense that the Hebrew leads us to feel. We bring out the force of the waw in its relationship to the verb with which it is combined. So this simple word waw in the Hebrew is used to convey many a shade of meaning besides its mere basic meaning ‘and.’”
So it was later that Jehu resumed his pursuit of King Ahaziah by sending his men after him. It appears that the record in the book of Chronicles relates the incidents as they occurred, although that account does not name the location where Ahaziah was mortally wounded at Jehu’s command nor does it tell of the place where the king finally died, as does the account in Kings.
Combining the two accounts, we have what apparently took place: Jehu, on the way to Jezreel, met Jehoram and Ahaziah. Jehu struck down Jehoram but Ahaziah fled. At this time Jehu did not pursue Ahaziah, but continued to Jezreel to finish his executional work there. Meanwhile, the fleeing Ahaziah tried to make his way back to Jerusalem; however, he only got as far as Samaria, where he tried to hide himself. Jehu’s men, pursuing Ahaziah, discovered him in Samaria and captured him, and he was brought to Jehu, who was near the town of Ibleam, not far from Jezreel. When Jehu saw Ahaziah, he ordered his men to kill him in his chariot. They struck and wounded him on the way up to Gur, near Ibleam; but Ahaziah was allowed to escape, and he fled to Megiddo, where he died of his wounds.