Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
The Original Book of Matthew
The original Book of Matthew, used by the early Christians, was rejected by the Catholic Church and lost to history because it did not contain the first two chapters of the present Greek version.
by George Reber
Matthew, surnamed Levi, was a native of Galilee. Before his conversion to Christianity he was a publican, or tax-gatherer, under the Romans, and collected the customs of all goods exported or imported at Capernaum, a maritime town on the Sea of Galilee, and received tribute paid by passengers who went by water. From the position of Matthew, he must have been a man of some learning and judgment, and from what we know of the early lives of the other Apostles, the only one among them, except perhaps Peter and James, that was capable of writing out a correct account of what was said and done by the Messiah.
As the first church at Jerusalem increased in number, and new converts were added to it, there was a necessity that there should be some written history given of what was said and taught by the Messiah before his death; and as Matthew was in every way qualified, the task was imposed on him. Matthew wrote this book about A.D. 40, not much, if any, more than nine years after the death of the Messiah. Everything was fresh in his memory, and no doubt he was particular to give to the new converts a full and correct knowledge of all the doctrines taught by the Messiah, and especially to place before them his sermon on the mount, so full of divine morality, which was to form the soul of the new religion.
From all we know with certainty, this Gospel of Matthew was the only account of the Messiah in use among the members of the first Christian church, and their only means of information, except what they learned direct from the other Apostles. Everything, then, was just as it fell from the lips of the Messiah, and had the odor of fresh-gathered flowers. How the Christians at Jerusalem clung to this Gospel of Matthew, their sufferings and persecutions through a period of more than two centuries will bear witness. These Christians, afterwards called by way of aversion Ebionites, were charged with the alteration of the Scriptures. This alteration, according to Epiphanius, consisted in the omission of the first two chapters of Matthew, which contain the account of the miraculous conception of the Messiah.
The statements of Epiphanius are verified by the fact, that at the time these two chapters were added, by the men of the second century, we can trace through the pages of Ignatius, and other early fathers, numerous forgeries and interpolations which are unmistakable, and were intended to sustain the new aspect which Christianity took on in the early part of the second century. The addition of the two chapters, and the forgeries, belong to the period when the religion of the Messiah and the Apostles had morphed into the Philo-Alexandrian period of Christianity.
Eusebius informs us what were the crimes of the Ebionites: "They are properly called Ebionites by the ancients, as those who cherished a low and mean opinion of Christ. For they consider him a plain and common man, and justified in his advances in virtue, and that he was born of the Virgin Mary by natural generation." (Eusebius, Ecc. Hist., book iii. chap. 27.)
The views held by the Ebionites of the Messiah were derived from the Gospel of Matthew, and what they learned direct from the Apostles. Matthew had been a hearer of the Messiah -- a companion of the Apostles, and had seen and no doubt conversed with Mary. When he wrote his Gospel everything was fresh in his mind, and there could be no object on his part, in writing the life of Yeshua, to state falsehoods or omit important truths in order to deceive his countrymen. If what is stated in the two first chapters [of the Greek version] in regard to the Messiah is true, Matthew would have known of them; and, knowing them, why should he omit them in giving an account of his life?
It was impossible to pass from the first to the second stage of Christianity, as long as the Gospel of Matthew was recognized as authority in the church. It stood as a mountain in the way, and had to be torn down and made way with. The history of the Ebionites, from the time they are charged with altering the Scriptures, to the time when they disappear from history, is one of tyranny and bloody persecution. In the reign of Adrian, what was left of them settled in the little town of Pilla, beyond the Jordan, from whence they spread themselves into villages adjacent to Damascus. Some traces of them can be discovered as late as the fourth century, when they "insensibly melted away; either into the church or synagogue." (Gibbon, ch. xv. vol. I. p. 255.) With them perished the genuine Gospel of Matthew, the only Gospel written by an Apostle.
Much useless labor has been bestowed on the question, whether the genuine Gospel was written in the Hebrew or Greek language. How this may be is of little consequence, since the genuine writing is no longer in existence. It is just as certain that the present version of Matthew was written in Greek, as that the genuine one was published in the Hebrew tongue. To the church of Rome the world is indebted for the destruction of the only genuine Gospel, and with it the only authentic account of Christ. No greater loss could befall the world. It was written in the dawn of Christianity, before corrupt and ambitious men sought to make religion a way to power and distinction. The truths contained in this Gospel stood in the way of a gigantic scheme, conceived by corrupt and arrogant men, who saw in a church established by the authority of God, the road to the highest point of human power and grandeur. They succeeded, but their success, --
"Brought death into the world and all our woe."
It was not necessary to reject all of Matthew's Gospel, and it is very evident that much was retained-- such as the discourses of the Messiah and some portions of history.
The rest of this article is taken from 1st Century Christian Ebionites -- The Original Christians? by Vexen Crabtree.
The Nazoreans and Other Jewish Christians
The very first followers of Yeshua were called the Nazoreans. This was a general name for the Israelite followers of the Messiah, but it is unknown to what extent they were actually Christian. They must have known and understood many aspects of Yeshua -- who spoke Aramaic like the Nazoreans -- which are now lost and misunderstood. From A.D. 70 cataclysmic events led to the Nazoreans being dispersed and broken, which led to their demise (except for a brief resurgence in the 2nd century). They were eclipsed by Roman converts to the Messiah (by the Simonian Christians, mostly).
Many gentiles already called the Nazoreans Christians, but, we still know little about them. The Ebionites are more distinct and had one of the first Christian documents, the Gospel of Matthew. Later Christians moved so far from their roots that they came to no longer recognize the earliest Christians.
“Besides the Ebionites, there were other Jewish Christian sects, such as the Nazarenes, the Symmachians, and the Elkasites, but it is difficult to distinguish one from the other, and the names are not used with any consistency. Ebionite is the most common designation, and it may simply have been a term used to characterize any form of Jewish Christianity with a stress on the observance of Jewish law” (The Encyclopedia of Religion by Eliade Mircea, 1987).
“Initially a sect of Judaism, Christianity first organized itself in Jerusalem. However, although Jewish Christianity was dominant at first, within 20 years it had moved out into the Gentile (non-Jewish) world” (Encyclopedia of New Religions, Christopher Partridge, 2004)
The First Recognized Christians in Antiquity
The first Christians were the Israelites who believed that Yeshua was the Israelite messiah. In his earliest work which mentions the Ebionites Eusebius, before A.D. 313, writes that in a village called Choba, "there are Hebrews who believed in Christ, called Ebionites" (Gregory C. Finley's essay, The Ebionites and "Jewish Christianity": Examining Heresy and the Attitudes of Church Fathers, 2009). They used an early Gospel of Matthew, and their beliefs are in accordance with the earliest reports of the gospels of Luke and Matthew, and with Israelite prophecy.
The term Ebionite "was at first [...] a common name for all Christians, as Epiphanius (d. 403) testifies (Adv. Haer., xxix. 1)" and it was "used by the Christian bishop Irenaeus of Lyons (Gaul) in the late second century to designate a Jewish Christian sect". Although some later Christians thought that it came from a person called Ebion, this is not the correct root of the word. Ebionites may mean "austere ones" but the origin of the term is obscure (Eliade, 1987, Volume 4 entry "Eastern Christianity").
The Ebionites justified all of their beliefs by the example of the Messiah himself: "he was circumcised, observed the Sabbath and celebrated the Jewish festivals, and taught that all the precepts of the law should be observed" (ibid.).
"The Ebionite Christians [...] believed that Jesus was the Jewish [Israelite] Messiah sent from the Jewish [Israelite] God to the Jewish [Israelite] people in fulfillment of the Jewish [Israelite] Scriptures. They also believed that to belong to the people of God, one needed to be Jewish [an Israelite]. As a result, they insisted on observing the Sabbath, keeping kosher, and circumcising all males. [...] An early source, Irenaeus, also reports that the Ebionites continued reverence to Jerusalem, evidently by praying in its direction during their daily acts of worship.
"Their insistence on staying (or becoming) Jewish [an Israelite] should not seem especially peculiar from a historical perspective, since Jesus and his disciples were Jewish [Israelites]. But the Ebionites' Jewishness did not endear them to most other Christians, who believed that Jesus allowed them [non-Israelites] to bypass the requirements of the Law for salvation. The Ebionites, however, maintained that their views were authorized by the original disciples, especially by Peter and Jesus' own brother, James, head of the Jerusalem church after the resurrection” (Lost Christianities by Bart Ehrman, 2003).
The Ebionites were adoptionists. The very first Christians, the Ebionites, Nazorenes, Gnostic Christians and others, were all adoptionists. In accordance with the first hundred years of Christian belief and with the oldest manuscripts of the Bible, the Messiah was born in a normal way like the rest of us, to his parents, Joseph and Mary, from the line of David as prophesized (Matthew 1:1,9:27, Luke 1:32, John 7:41-3, Acts 13:23, 2 Timothy 2:8, Revelation 5:5 and 22:16). The Messiah kept God's laws so well that on his baptism, God adopted him as his son, and sent him to the cross [tree] as a truly innocent, perfect sacrifice, to atone for the sins of all Israel, to fulfill promises made in the Hebrew scriptures.
God signaled to Israel that this sacrifice had been accepted by raising the Messiah from the dead and raising him up directly into heaven. The doctrine of the Virgin Birth, so popular amongst Roman mystery religions and paganism at the time, was never accepted by adoptionists (Eliade, 1987, Volume 4 entry "Eastern Christianity"). It was only hundreds of years later when the concept of the Trinity was codified by the Constantine/Cappadocian Christians that adoptionist beliefs became condemned; yet, it represented the truer and original form of Christian belief (Ehrman, 2003, pp. 99-102).
Writes Joseph Wheless:
"That this Messiah Jesus who was come was mere man, but instinct with the spirit of God, is positively avowed by both Peter and Paul. Says Peter in his first sermon at Pentecost: 'Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, A MAN approved of God among you [etc.]. The patriarch David...therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had SWORN WITH AN OATH to him, that OF THE FRUIT OF HIS LOINS ACCORDING TO THE FLESH, he would raise up Christ to sit upon his throne.' (Acts, ii, 22, 29, 30.) And Paul: 'There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the MAN Christ Jesus' (1 Tim. ii, 5); and again: 'Jesus Christ of the SEED of David' (2 Tim. ii, 8)...Jesus was at that time regarded simply as a man, a 'son' or descendant of David. So, when, many years later, the [Greek] Gospels 'according to' Matthew and Luke came to be by whomever written, IN THEIR ORIGINAL FORM JESUS CHRIST WAS A MERE MAN...
"In 'John' Jesus is twice expressly called the SON OF JOSEPH; Philip says to Nathaniel 'We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, THE SON OF JOSEPH, whose FATHER and mother we know?' (vi, 42); -- all which 'convincingly proves that in the mind of the narrator Joseph and Mary WERE AND KNEW THEMSELVES TO BE, in the natural sense of the words, THE PARENTS of Jesus' (Encyclopedia Biblica iii, 3344)" (Forgery in Christianity, Kessinger Publishing Company, Montana, p. 205-6, 207-8).
In Constantinian/Catholic Christianity, the Messiah died for rather mystical reasons. It does not make sense to state that the Messiah died so that people could know him -- as worthy people such as Moses existed before the Messiah lived. Nor does it make sense to say that Yeshua died so God could forgive, or lower the wages of sin: God could do that whenever He pleased. Ebionite Christianity did not suffer these problems: Animal sacrifices were made to God but were never perfect; only when (finally) a human who followed the Law perfectly sacrificed himself, was the ultimate sacrifice made, thus ending the need for routine animal sacrifices (Ehrman, 2003, pp. 99-102). This simple and old Christian belief makes a lot of sense, without managing to introduce further complexities or scriptural contradictions, whereas the Christianity we know today struggles to explain why the Messiah was sacrificed at all.
The Easier "Christianity" of Simon Magus Eclipsed the Lawful Ebionites
Ebionite Christianity did not remain the only form of Christianity. Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24) took his perverted "Christianity" to Rome which became the doctrinal basis of the soon-to-emerge Roman Catholic Church. This less strict form of Christianity gained many converts, especially amongst the gentiles (non-Israelites), for whom circumcision was distasteful. The Ebionites repeatedly condemned the followers of Simon as their preachings gained support. Because of Simon's successors denigration of God's Law, the Ebionites considered all of their writings to be dangerous sources of sinful living.
Other Christian groups arose who rejected the Israelite foundation of Christianity. Bart Ehrman in Lost Christianities provides a detailed description of the history of many early Christian groups.
“We know of Christian groups taking stands on Judaism that were at polar ends of the spectrum, some groups insisting that the Jewish Law was to be followed for salvation and others insisting that the Jewish Law could not be followed if one wanted salvation. All of these groups claimed to be representing the view of Jesus himself” (Lost Christianities by Bart Ehrman, 2003).
Simonian Christians Go in Search of the Past
The success and popularity of these new groups caused the Ebionites to be eclipsed, and Simonian (Catholic) Christianity as we know it today flourished. This developing Church, and its founders, largely forgot and rejected the Israelite roots of their religion. But, curious Christians later wanted to know things that they did not know, for example when was the Messiah born, and when did he die? So they went in search of their past.
“Indeed, when in 160 Bishop Melito of Sardis went to Judea to discover what had become of the legendary Jerusalem Church, to his dismay he found not the descendants of the apostles, but instead a small group of [...] Christians, who called themselves the Ebionites or 'Poor Men', [who] had their own Gospel of the Ebionites and also a Gospel of the Hebrews, a Gospel of the Twelve Apostles and a Gospel of the Nazarenes. All of these gospels differed significantly from the gospels of the [Greek] New Testament” (The Jesus Mysteries by Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy, 1999).
This is not the only time that Church elders went in search of their history, only to discover that what they found was not what they expected. They did not realize that over time their religion had changed, the same as with all other religious groups in history. They discovered that the beliefs of the early Ebionite Christians differed from those of their own developing Church.
The Gospel of Matthew
From a selection of hundreds of possible Gospels, the early Catholic Church in the 3rd century chose the Gospel of Matthew to became the first book of the New Testament canon. The version they chose was written after the fall of Israel's Temple in A.D. 70, in Syria, probably at around the same time as the Gospel of Luke was written (as they were unaware of each other's writings). This version contained the virgin birth fable, the infancy verses and the genealogy in its first two chapters. The first two chapters of this Matthew, the virgin birth and the genealogy, were not contained in the first versions of Matthew's gospel written prior to A.D. 70, and were added at a later date by an unknown author.
The Greek version of Matthew's gospel contains 92% of the text of Mark! This is almost a copy; but the author of this Matthew proceeded, a few versions of the book later, to add the chapters about the virgin birth. The author of Matthew also uses a source that historians call "Q" ("Q" simply comes from the first letter of the French word for "source") -- a source who was supposedly an original disciple of the Messiah (or a friend of Paul), none of whose work has survived, but which was quoted/copied/used by Matthew and Luke.
Joseph Wheless, in Forgery in Christianity, notes that
"the later [Greek] writers of 'Matthew' and 'Luke' copied bodily from 'Mark,' with the utmost literality in many places, but with the greatest freedom of changes, additions and suppressions at others, to suit their own purposes. But one comparison, that between 'Mark' and 'Matthew,' can here be given....Thus the Catholic Encyclopedia discloses the process: 'Mark is found COMPLETE in Matthew, with the exception of numerous slight omissions and the following pericopes....In all, 31 verses are omitted'" (Kessinger Publishing Company, Montana, p. 192).
However, it was not until about A.D. 150 that the author "Matthew" was assigned to these writings (Ehrman, 2011, p. 228). We know that the Book of Matthew -- as we have it today -- was not written by an eye-witness of the Messiah because it is a copy of Mark. No eye witness of such an important person would have needed, or wanted, to simply copy someone-else's memories about him. It is written in Greek and not in the native tongues of anyone who met and followed the Messiah, and it was written too late to reasonably be the mémoires of an eye-witness of the Messiah or of the Messiah's disciples.
The Ebionites had a very early version of the Gospel of Matthew. There were many versions and editions of the gospels in the early years of Christianity. The Ebionites, being such an early group of Christians, had access to the earlier, less edited, version of Matthew.
“Jesus himself spoke Aramaic in Palestine, as did his earliest followers. It would make sense that a group of Jewish followers of Jesus that originated in Palestine would continue to cite his words, and stories about him, in his native tongue. It appears likely that this Aramaic Matthew was somewhat different from the Matthew now in the canon. In particular, the Matthew used by Ebionite Christians would have lacked the first two chapters, which narrate Jesus' birth to a virgin -- a notion that the Ebionite Christians rejected. There were doubtless other differences from our own version of Matthew's Gospel as well” (Lost Christianities by Bart Ehrman, 2003).
Official Catholic Church reference books note that the first two chapters of "Matthew's" Greek Gospel in today's Bibles did NOT appear in the original Aramaic version of that Gospel, but were apparently inserted into the manuscripts during the fourth century A.D. According to Tony Bushby:
"Those 48 passages, totaling more than 1,200 words, are made up basically of existential theology current at that time....They were created and used as new opening chapters for a document that originally started its story: 'In those days came John the Baptist...and then Jesus came...to be baptized by him,' when Jesus was 'at about the age of thirty years.' In its original form, the Gospel of Matthew, like Mark and John, did not record a virgin birth nor any aspect of the infancy narratives carried in today's Bibles" (The Crucifixion of Truth, Joshua Books, Queensland, Australia, 2005, pp. 107-8).
Regarding the Greek version of "Matthew's" Gospel, the Catholic Church admits that "the Gospel is not noteworthy for the high quality of its style" and that the artificial chapters in that Gospel provide further evidence that the story of the Messiah was further embellished in the decades following the Council of Nicaea.
Due to the pagan mythologies extant at the time, the virgin birth narrative in the Greek "Matthew" was fabricated to appeal to the pagan gentile masses the neophyte Catholic Church was trying to reach. Thus, in the Gospel, the Messiah had to have been a supernatural, preexistent being and to have been humanly conceived in a befitting manner. To emphasize the point the author used a passage from the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament to bolster the virgin birth fable -- and he reproduced it verbatim in his Gospel:
"Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel."
However, the word "almah" -- not "virgin," was used in the original Hebrew text of Isaiah -- and that simply translated to "young woman." Despite its inclusion in the Greek version of Matthew, "Isaiah's Emmanuel was simply a reference to a son born to Isaiah some centuries before New Testament times and NOT a prediction of a future 'divine' birth for Jesus that the Gospel writers made it" (ibid., p. 109).
We need to understand from WHERE the early Catholic scribes took their story for the introductory chapters of "Matthew": "Gospel writers simply copied the announcement to Joseph by an angel 'in a dream' from the message of Apollo to Ariston, Periktione's husband. In that myth, Apollo said the child to be born to Periktione was the offspring of that god who 'came to her and said, "Hail O favored one, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women"' Those words are found verbatim in the Gospel of Luke" (The Crucifixion of Truth, p. 110).
Early Followers of Simon Edited the Gospels to Make the Ebionites Look Wrong
Early Simonian scribes were not beyond editing the text in order to prove their own views or to disprove the views of others. When the later Catholic "Christians" went in search of their own history and discovered the Ebionites, they found that their Israelite and adoptionist beliefs were different to their own. They could not accept that they were the ones who had deviated from the truth. So, first, they set out to discredit and disprove the Ebionites in literature. Secondly, they burnt all the Ebionites' books.
Luke was edited in three places. Luke 2:33 and Luke 2:48 both contain verses that state that Joseph was the Messiah's father. At least, that is what is said in the oldest manuscripts. Verses such as Luke 2:33 supported Ebionite Christians' belief in adoptionism. Strangely, in some later manuscripts Luke 2:33 and Luke 2:48 both had the word "father" edited out although over half of our bibles today have thankfully reverted to the original version. Luke 3:22 where God clearly says that he is adopting the Messiah was also edited so that it did not say so.
"This is one proto-orthodox alteration that proved remarkably successful. Even though the potentially dangerous ("heretical") form of the text is found in virtually all our oldest witnesses [...] it is the altered form of the text that is found in the majority of surviving manuscripts and reproduced in most of our English translations" (Ehrman, 2003, p. 222).
Later editors, as we have seen, "mistranslated" Isaiah 7:14 in the Septuagint and handily turned the prophecy that a young woman would have a child, to a prophecy that a virgin would have a child. This was used heavily in the debate against the Ebionites and other adoptionists by later Catholic "Christians".
Conclusion and the Demise of the Ebionites
The Ebionites were some of the original Christians: Israelites who believed that Yeshua was the Messiah. They populated the legendary Jerusalem Church. "Ebionite" was sometimes used as a term to describe all Christians (www.earlychurch.org.uk). Those who we now know of as Catholic Christians opposed the Ebionites, after discovering them and realizing that their beliefs differed. Authors such as Tertullian, Origen of Alexandria, and many other intolerant "heresy-hunters" wrote at great length against the Ebionites. Many of the claims made against them were based on misunderstandings of their beliefs, and many anti-Ebionite claims were plainly ridiculous.
Catholic "Christians" eradicated the Ebionites, burning all of their books (none survived) and harassing and arresting the people until none were left. They edited Luke 2:33 and Luke 2:48 where Joseph was twice called the "father" of the Messiah so that it did not say so, and they also edited Luke 3:22 where it plainly stated, in accordance with Ebionite beliefs, that God adopted the Messiah. Catholic "Christians," as non-Israelite Romans, handily came across a mistranslated prophecy that said Yeshua would be born of a virgin (like other Roman sons-of-gods), adding a whole two chapters to the beginning of Matthew to prove their point.
These edits, when they were uncovered, have shown that the Ebionites were treated very cruelly and unfairly, and that the original readings of Matthew and Luke both support Ebionite Christianity, rather than the Simonian/Catholic Christianity that the West has inherited.
If we were to guess which group was the more austere, holy and godly, we would have to guess it was the Ebionites rather than the Catholic "Christians" who slaughtered, slandered and oppressed them. Unfortunately the victors get to write history, and it is pagan Simonian Christianity that became the legacy of the Roman Empire. After the fourth century, the Ebionites were vanquished.
Editor's Note: The first part of this article by George Reber was extracted from chapter XI of his book, The Christ of Paul; or the Enigmas of Christianity, published in 1876.
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