The original Hebrew text of St. Matthew has been lost. In the mid second century a missionary named St. Pantaenus reported sighting a Hebrew copy of St. Matthew’s Gospel in India. In the fourth century St. Jerome saw a version of this Hebrew Gospel in the library at Caesarea in Palestine.* 9
Another work of these first years was the other Apostolic Gospel: the Gospel according to St. John. Unlike St. Matthew which was composed for ‘public’ use at Mass, however, this Gospel was originally composed for the followers of St. John the Baptist and for members of the Jewish priesthood. Its first readers were men like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. These were each a priestly ‘leader in Israel’, already well-versed in Jewish Scripture and priestly orthodoxy. Like the followers of the Baptist these priests were the best of Jews: they sincerely awaited the Messiah. They needed however to be shown how their Jewish priesthood had been superseded by that of Jesus Christ. They were simply not yet fully convinced that Jesus was not only that Messiah but also was in Himself divine. As late as 54 in faraway Ephesus, individuals and groups were still being found who ‘knew only the baptism of John’. This Gospel was originally written for such as these: not for teaching already convinced believers, but ‘that you may believe’. 10
Unlike St. Matthew who focussed on Jesus as the Messiah, St. John emphasised His full divinity from eternity yet His full humanity in time. St. John also records His full teaching on His real Presence in the Eucharist and His formal institution, after His Resurrection, of the Sacrament of Penance. No doubt this Gospel was quickly found especially useful in the preparation of Christian priests. St. John’s heavily Semitic Greek indicates that this Gospel was translated from a Hebrew original. Indeed some Greek manuscripts contain variant readings which are readily explained as different translations of the same Hebrew expression. Because of its original special purpose for special groups, St. John did not come into ‘public’ use until 50 when its use at Mass was authorised by that year’s Council of the Apostles at Jerusalem. 11
These ‘Nazarenes’ continued to practise as Jews. As special leader in their efforts for the evangelisation of the Jews, the Apostles recognised Jacob bar Hilfai (James son of Alphaeus). This St. James was the ‘brother’ (cousin) of our Lord. Also called St. James the Lesser (to distinguish him from Jacob bar Zibdai, St. James the Greater, St. John’s brother), this St. James remained to head the church in Jerusalem. Leading a life of unremitting prayer in the Temple for his people, St. James scrupulously observed the full Mosaic Law of the Jews. According to traditions, St. James, at the time of his martyrdom in 62, was 89 years old. This ‘brother of the Lord’ had therefore been born about 26 BC, before our Lady herself had even been born!* 12
This St. James was the author of the Epistle of St. James. This ‘epistle’ (formal letter) was written in the first two decades when the Church’s missions were concentrated almost exclusively on the Jews. More than any
Published on Nov 29, 2011
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...