Aramaic was the Language of Jesus, but not the Gospel Writers

On another website, in an article written by an author who is studying Aramaic, I found this:

The original Gospels were written in Palestinian Aramaic — the language of Jesus and the disciples. Just because they were lost and/or burned by men like Irenaeus, does not negate the fact that Papias (60-130), the Bishop of Hieropolis, said very clearly that Matthew wrote his gospel in Aramaic. Matthew was formerly a tax collector. He had to be literate and capable of writing.

It would be wonderful and also fruitful if that statement were true. Many Christians believe that some of the apostles who walked, dined and conversed with Jesus of Nazareth took notes along the way and, after the crucifixion of Jesus, penned a biography of the man. I would imagine that upwards of 90% of American Christians believe this.  And why not? They were never told otherwise in their religion classes or Bible school. It was ‘assumed’ that writers with the names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were his apostles and none of the teachers questioned that ‘truth’ either.

[more on this in a future post]

I return to the quote above. Apologetics is the art of attempting to establish a particular point of view which may been challenged by others. The author of the quote above attempts to prove that the gospels were written in Aramaic, even though there is not a extant copy or even a fragment of Gospel written in Aramaic. The only language found in any of the earliest fragments [from the first half of the 2nd century] is Greek,  Koiné Greek to be more precise.

There is no evidence of Gospels written in Aramaic even though apologist Papias claimed to have ‘seen’ one. New Testament scholars agree that Matthew, the author cited by Papias, was Greek and wrote an a rather elegant prose, sometime between 80 and 90 CE. The tax collector, Matthew, a contemporary of Jesus, would have been a stunningly old man at that time, if he were still alive. Most men of that era lived into their 40’s . A common tax collector could not possibly have fashioned the complex themes which are extant in the Greek gospel attributed to Matthew.

What Papias may have meant by this ‘Hebrew gospel’ is that there was a Hebrew-Greek dialect spoken in the region and that some of the oral tradition around Jesus may have been expressed in that dialect. According to Michael L. White, Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite, Matthew wrote for a predominantly Greek-speaking Jewish community of the Jesus movement in upper Galilee or lower Syria.

One must remember that the early Gospels were presented orally to groups of listeners who, no doubt, were illiterate. The gospel readings were, therefore, more like those of the Greek and Roman theater. Thus Papias may have mistakenly thought that it had been written in the Aramaic language.

Regarding the tax collector aspect, it is to be noted that only Matthew names the tax collector Matthew. Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27 name him Levi. Thus, the question arises: which man was the tax collector?

The point of all of this is the attempt to use apologetics to claim that the Gospels were written by the apostles of Jesus, thereby giving them more ‘authority.’ The fact is that modern new testament scholars report that none were written by the apostles and all were written by Greek writers.


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