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I have heard it taught in several places that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew and it's intended audience was the Jew (which does help explain why it seems a bit more vague on key Christian concepts). But recently I have been told that there are no Hebrew manuscripts of this text. I assume at least that he meant there are no Hebrew manuscripts that out date the Greek ones.

So in what language was Matthew written?

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This might be better as two questions. –  Narnian Mar 7 '13 at 20:08
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Gospel to the Hebrews: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_the_Hebrews –  aceinthehole Mar 7 '13 at 20:19
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It was probably composed by Aramaic speakers, but the emmaneusis would have penned it in the lingua Franca- koine Greek. Note that the oldest fragments date to the 100s, but that just establishes proof of existence and a top date. Internally, there is a lot of evidence to place it in the 60s or 70s ad –  Affable Geek Mar 7 '13 at 20:20
    
@AffableGeek Congrats on 25k! –  Narnian Mar 7 '13 at 20:27

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New Testament scholars have no doubt that Matthew was written in Greek. Certainly, it was attributed to the apostle Matthew in the second century, but before this the book was anonymous. By laying the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke in parallel and reading them synoptically ('with the same eye') in Greek, scholars have established that Matthew and Luke were substantially copied from Mark, with Matthew using some 90 per cent of the verses in Mark. Much of the text even uses the same words in the Greek language, which would only be possible if the copying were done in the Greek language. Further sayings material not found in Mark but common to Matthew and Luke is attributed to the hypothetical 'Q' document, and once again, this could only come from Q in the Greek language.

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It's hard to know for certain, but there are very good reasons to believe all four gospels were written in Greek. However, according to the earliest Christian tradition, Matthew was written in Hebrew.

Papias, an early second century bishop and a disciple of the Apostle John, is our earliest witness to the tradition that Matthew was the author of this gospel.

Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.

Irenaeus, writing in the late second century, elaborated on this.

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church.

All four gospels were originally published anonymously, and it is only through the testimony of these two second century bishops that we attribute this gospel to Matthew. If we take their testimony at face value, then we might say the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew.

Parallels between Matthew and Mark

However, the Gospel of Matthew in its current form—that is, the one that appears in every copy of the New Testament going back to the oldest surviving copies—was almost certainly written in Greek.

As Dick Harfield mentions in his answer, we find close parallels between Matthew and Mark in several places. In this example from the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8 || Mark 9:2-8) I have bolded exact parallels and italicized words and expressions that the later writer has modified.

Matthew 17:1-8

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

Mark 9:2-8

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

Although these are not exact copies of each other, the presence of so many exact phrases is a strong indication that one author used the other as a source. There are good reasons to believe that Matthew used Mark as a source, and not the other way around.

Differences between Matthew and Mark

First, there are a number of passages where Matthew elaborates on what is written in Mark. For example, compare their accounts of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness.

Mark 1:-12-13

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.' " Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you,' and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.' " Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' " Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.' " Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

It is hard to see why Mark might have left out these details if he had them available, but it is easy to see why Matthew might have added them if he had them available.

In some places, Mark displays an apparent lack of geographical knowledge. In Mark 5:1 Jesus is said to have crossed the sea of Galilee to "the country of the Gerasenes". The parallel in Matthew 8:28 says "the country of the Gadarenes". Gadara (modern Umm Qais) is located by the sea of Galilee, while Gerasa (modern Jerash) is more than 30 miles away.

Following the feeding of the four thousand, Mark 8:10 states that Jesus got in his boat and went to a place called Dalmanutha. This name is not mentioned anywhere else in ancient writings, and no town by that name has ever been uncovered. Matthew 15:39 says Jesus went to Magadan (or Magdala in some manuscripts).

It's hard to imagine why Mark would choose the words "Gerasenes" and "Dalmanutha" if he had a copy of Matthew's gospel in front of him, but it's easy to see why Matthew would have chosn "Gadarenes" and "Madagan" if he had a copy of Mark along with additional knowledge.

Conclusion

So how do we reconcile the evidence that Matthew used the Greek Gospel of Mark as a source with the tradition that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Hebrew or Aramaic?

One possible explanation is that Papias and Irenaeus are referring to an early gospel written by Mathew in Hebrew, and that the book we know as the Gospel of Matthew drew upon this (or a translation of it) to supplement the information he got from Mark. Since we have no surviving Hebrew manuscript, it's hard to say how likely this is. But in either case, the gospel that made it into the Bible with Matthew's name was composed in Greek.

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Gospel of Matthew was actually written in Aramaic. Not in Greek or Hebrew. The language of first century Israel was Aramaic. Not Hebrew or Greek. Check here for more details on the language of first century Israel - Why didn't the Jews understand "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani"?

There are thousands of textual variations in Greek NT.

Let me take famous Greek NT manuscripts - Codex Vaticanus (B) and Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph).

According to Greek NT Scholar Herman C. Hoskier, there are, without counting errors of iotacism, 3,036 textual variations between Sinaiticus and Vaticanus in the text of the Gospels alone, enumerated as follows:

Matthew: 656

Mark: 567

Luke: 791

John: 1022

There are 656 textual variations between Gospel of Matthew in Codex Sinaiticus and Gospel of Matthew in Codex Vaticanus.

Check here for more information on this - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_codices_Sinaiticus_and_Vaticanus

Aramaic New Testament is called Eastern Aramaic Peshitta. In Aramaic Peshitta, there are no textual variations. Check this website for more infos - www.peshitta.org

Aramaic Peshitta even clarifies many of the errors and tamperings found in Greek NT Manuscript.

Here is an example from Gospel of Matthew.

Simon the leper or potter/jar maker? – Matthew 26:6 / Mark 14:3

The KJV says (Matthew 26:6): “Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,”

The KJV says (Mark 14:3): “And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head.”

The Greek reads ("Simônos tou leprou"), which literally means "Simon the Leper" or "Simon the Skin-Diseased" ("λεπρου" (leprou, or lepros in the nominative case) can stand for various skin diseases like it's Hebrew-Aramaic counterpart). This seems strange, because according to the Law laid down in Leviticus, Lepers are not allowed within the city:

Leviticus 13:45-46 - And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean. All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.

Gariba' can easily be confused with Garoba' since Aramaic at that time was written without vowel markers.

Gariba' means POTTER or JAR MERCHANT where, Garoba' means LEPER or SKIN DISEASE

But both are spelled with the same consonants: Gomal - Reesh - Beyth – Alap

In addition, why was there no record of Jesus healing Simon? If he were a leper, it would be very dangerous for His disciples and other people in the house. Leprosy is a very contagious disease and not worth the risk of catching. Here the Aramaic sheds some light on a story whose host was a non sequitur of the circumstances.

Since Aramaic was written without vowels in first century AD, there was no distinction between the Aramaic words. Since in this story a woman pours oil from a jar it is apparent that Simon was a jar merchant or jar maker and not a leper.

While Aramaic words are identifical, they are not in Hebrew. The Hebrew for a potter is יוצר (yotser) while leper is צרוע (tsaru'a).

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What was the woman to pour oil from but a jar? It doesn't mean that Simon made it. The Aramaic word could just have easily been gariba as garoba because without contemporary vowel markers there is no way of knowing. To overturn 1900 years of tradition is a tall order! –  Andrew Leach Oct 30 '13 at 8:25
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Is it not possible that he was already healed (We have numerous accounts of Jesus healing lepers in the New Testament), and he became a follower at that point? But since he had always been known as a leper, he kept the nickname "the leper"? Also remember that the Jews did not live under the Torah at the time of Christ. They lived under Roman law. They followed the ceremonial and moral laws, but they could not follow the civil laws because the Jews did not rule over Israel. (That is why the Jews had to take Jesus to Pilate.) Did Roman law also banish lepers? On this point I do not know. –  ByronArn Oct 30 '13 at 14:36
    
Andrew, So called 1900 years tradition taught that Greek was commonly spoken in first century Israel. But First century Jewish Priest and Historian Josephus (in Antiquities of Jews XX XI) clearly states that Jews didn't speak Greek in first century Israel and Josephus points out the "extreme rarity" in terms of a Jew knowing Greek. Byron Arn, If Jesus cured Simon, then the verse would have been at least like this - “Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon who was a leper.” Although Jews lived under Roman law, still they kept their religious and their language which was Aramaic. –  konwayk Oct 30 '13 at 15:12
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If there are no textual variants in the Peshitta, then why did the United Bible Societies need to publish a critical edition? –  curiousdannii May 12 at 4:04
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I don't think I'd trust a wiki that says that "Adolf Hitler remains one of the preeminent individuals in human history." –  curiousdannii Jun 8 at 23:46

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