Jewish Christians were widely thought to have preferred the Gospel of Matthew, since that one was written to the Jews too. However, there is evidence that, at least for a particular group of Jews, this gospel was preferred.
When it was written: It was produced somewhere near the end of the first century/beginning of the second. Intended Audience: probably Jews
Why it was lost: possibly for two reasons:
1. Few Christians in later centuries could read Aramaic. It was actually thought, for a long time, that The Gospel of the Nazareans was merely an Aramaic version of St. Matthew.
2. Early Christians were suspicious of it because it was “too Jewish.” Antisemitism started early, I suppose.
Only fragments of this gospel remain, most of which are quoted in other sources. There’s this guy named Jerome. The author of this book assumes I know who that is, but he is sadly mistaken, and I think a lot of Christians even, and secular people who are curious, probably will not. Anyway, Jerome quoted from this gospel a lot, mostly in the Greek manuscripts of the book of Matthew.
These quotations reveal that, according to this gospel, Jesus was not born of a virgin, but was just a man chosen by God to be the Messiah because he was more righteous than anyone else.
Again, keep in mind that these ideas were highly contested in that time, and until NT scripture was fully formed, no one could really be sure of anything.
Now, on to the fragments!*
(commentary on Matthew 25:14-30, which is the parable of the talents) For the Gospel that has come down to us in Hebrew letters makes the threat not against the one who hid the master’s money, but against the one who engaged in riotous living. For the master had 3 slaves, one who used up his fortune with whores and flute players, one who invested the money and increased its value, and one who hid it. The first was welcomed with open arms, the second was blamed, and only the third was locked up in prison. Eusebius, Theophania, 4, 22
I think I get what they’re trying to say here, but the way this reads is that the riotous liver was welcomed with open arms, the investor was blamed, and the guy who hid it thrown into prison. Maybe the person who wrote the commentary got it confused and did it backwards? Anyway, it’s an interesting take on the story and, in my head, makes more sense than the canonical version.
In any case.
There’s no context for this next fragment, but I include it anyway for the wtf factor:
But the Lord taught about the reason for the division of souls in the houses, as we have found somewhere in the gospel used by the Jews and written in Hebrew, where he says, “I will choose for myself those who are good –those given to me by my Father in heaven.” (Eusebius, Theophania 4, 12)
I have no idea to what this verse refers: predestination, perhaps? Supporting the doctrine that Jesus has chosen in advance who will be saved, and the rest can all rot in hell? Or is he saying something like, I will choose for myself among the people, and I will only choose people who are good? How is he choosing, anyway, if the Father is giving them to him?
This fragment makes no friggin’ sense. Or maybe it would with some extra context, I just don’t know. And who is Eusebius, anyway? And this Jerome guy is referred to a lot, who is he? I feel like we should be given some background about the commentators so as to understand why these fragments might have been chosen and in what light they were viewing said fragments.
In the Gospel of the Nazareans… [b]which most people consider the authentic version of Matthew,[/b] the man with the withered hand is described as a mason, who sought for help in words like these: “I was a mason who made a living with my hands; I beseech you, Jesus, restore my health so I do not have to beg for food shamefully.” (Jerome, commentary on Matthew, 12, 13)
Apparently the church fathers, like Jerome (fathers of what church?) thought that the Gospel of the Nazareans was just another translation of Matthew, and perhaps more authentic. Interesting, then, that it never made the canon, and presumably didn’t survive to do so.
I also find it an interesting take on the story of Withered Hand Man. The fact that he was a mason would’ve made his disease even more dramatic. Perhaps he even hurt his hand by the very work he did to provide for himself, and possibly a family, if he had one. We don’t get to know. Either way, it makes the story a lot more personal and dramatic.
One last fragment I wanted to discuss, because this is the one that really stood out to me the most when I read this:
In the Gospel…which the Nazareans still use today…the following story is told: Behold, the mother of the Lord and his brothers were saying to him, “John the Baptist is baptizing for the remission of sins. Let us go and be baptized by him.” But he replied, “what sin have I committed that I should go to be baptized by him? Unless possibly what I just said was spoken in ignorance.” (Jerome, Against the Pelagians, 3,2)
Very interesting. I’m not sure how to make of it. Is Jesus, in this quote, implying that his ignorance was a sin, or that what he was saying could be in ignorance? Could he possibly have said this before he had a talk with his Father and was told that, yes you DO need to be baptized? Did Mary and Jesus’ brothers ever actually get baptized by John the Baptist? Was Jesus actually with them when he got dunked? We Don’t Get To Know.
Should this gospel be taken as inspired fact? I don’t know that, either. Possibly not. It is, however, at least one group’s interpretation of events, and it does have historical context both in that respect and culturally. For that reason alone it is worth reading. Did Jesus really ever make such a statement? We’ll probably never know that.
I would, however, like to draw everyone’s attention to John 25:21
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
John seems to be implying that there are other books about Jesus. Even if he isn’t, of course there would have been. Of course more than 4 people would’ve written these things down.
It’s my personal belief that these things are true in some way, because they were taken as truth at one point by a group of people, and so to them it became truth whether it actually was/is truth or not.
Maybe some of the things in some of these gospels are true and some are not. Maybe we have to take these gospels the same way we take ever other history book: with a grain of salt and a lot of other research.
You’ll have to decide for yourself, obviously. But know that wondering these things is not a sin, for if, in studying our holy book, we can only gain. If we find that the whole bible is crap, well and good. If the bible is true, however, such study will stand the test, and we will draw even closer to our savior.
*In these post I am not going to quote every single fragment. That would take too long, and some of it’s just the same stuff that’s already in the Canon. I’m just going to quote the stuff that’s different, or note if a lot of it is similar.