Was Matthew’s Gospel Originally Written in Hebrew?

The writings of two second-century church leaders — Papias of Hierapolis and Irenaeus of Lyon — both seem to agree that the Gospel According to Matthew was originally written in the language of the Hebrew people.

Timothy Paul Jones
3 min readMar 15, 2021
Photo by Tim Wildsmith on Unsplash

“Matthew set sayings in order in a Hebrew dialect,” Papias wrote in the early second century, “and each interpreted them as he was able” (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, 3:39). Irenaeus made much the same point with these words: “Matthew issued a written gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect” (Adversus Haereses, 3:1).

What they almost certainly meant by “Hebrew dialect” was Aramaic, which was the spoken language of the Jews at the time and which shares the same alphabet as Hebrew. No ancient Aramaic version of Matthew’s Gospel has, however, survived. The Gospel According to Matthew is in Greek. Further complicating matters, the version of Matthew’s Gospel that has survived in Greek reads smoothly and elegantly, not at all like a literal translation from Aramaic might read. Plus, Matthew’s Gospel incorporates much of Mark’s Gospel-often word-for-word.

Many different solutions to this dilemma have been proposed over the centuries. Here’s the reconstruction that I find most convincing, though others are certainly possible:

Gospel According to Matthew in Aramaic

  • Sometime prior to the mid-60s, the apostle Matthew wrote a Gospel in Aramaic, focusing on the teachings and sayings of Jesus.

Gospel According to Mark

  • John Mark wrote a Gospel in Greek, based on Simon Peter’s accounts of the life of Jesus, in the mid-60s.

Gospel According to Matthew in Greek

  • Later in the first century or perhaps even in the early second century, Matthew’s Aramaic Gospel was re-rendered into a Greek text that constituted a separate literary production distinct from the Aramaic version. Portions of Mark’s Gospel and other testimonies were incorporated into this Gospel. The Greek version of the Gospel According to Matthew was widely accepted and in circulation no later than the early second century; Ignatius of Antioch, writing in the early second century, included a unique expression in Greek that seems to allude to Matthew’s Gospel (“plerosai pasan dikaiosunen”) in his letter to the Smyrneans (1:1, “plerothe pasa dikaiosune”). It is not at all inconceivable that the apostle Matthew approved this production of a Greek Gospel that greatly expanded his Aramaic Gospel. Ancient examples of literary productions in two different languages in two distinct editions by the same author can easily be found elsewhere. Less than a generation after Matthew’s Gospel, the Jewish historian Josephus produced two versions of his work The Jewish War-one in Greek and one in Aramaic-that seem to have presented overlapping content in two separate literary productions. The version in Greek is polished, with no evidence of being a wooden rendering of an Aramaic original.

What Did Papias Mean When He Described Matthew’s Gospel?

  • According to the description of Matthew’s Gospel found in the writings of Papias, each person translated the Aramaic edition of Matthew’s Gospel “as best he could.” The Greek version of Matthew that has survived to us may have constituted one of the translations described by Papias. The Gospel According to Matthew was thus rightly received by Christians as God-breathed and authoritative based on the apostolic authority of Matthew.

I’m a professor and pastor who writes about apologetics, theology, and culture. To learn more about me, go to https://www.timothypauljones.com/about/



Timothy Paul Jones

Professor. Pastor. Bestselling author of WHY SHOULD I TRUST THE BIBLE?, THE DA VINCI CODEBREAKER, and more. http://www.timothypauljones.com/books/