The Gospel according to the
The Synoptic Solution
James Scott Trimm
The Synoptic Problem
Mattityahu, Mark and Luke are the synoptic gospels. In many
cases these three gospels even use identical phrasing. As a result
they are known as the "synoptic gospels." The Synoptic Problem
is the problem of explaining these similarities and their
interrelationships. This problem was first addressed in the fifth
century by the Christian "Church Father" Augustine.
The Semitic Source Document`
Many synoptic variances point to an underlying Semitic text as the
common synoptic source document. For example:
Mt. 4:19 = Lk. 5:10 "fisher's of men"/"catch men" =
Mt. 11:8 = Lk. 7:7:25 "In King's Houses"/"Among
Kings" = B'BAYET M'LAKIM (Heb.)
or B'BEIT MAL'KE (Aram.)
Mt. 11:27 = Lk. 10:22 "and no one knows the Son"/"and no
one knows who the son is" = V'LO 'NASHA YIDA L'B'RA
Mt. 12:50 = Mk. 3:35 & Lk. 8:21 "my brother"/"brother
of me" = AKHI (Hebrew or Aramaic)
Mt. 16:26 & Mk. 8:36 = Lk. 9:25 "his
soul"/"himself" = NAF'SHO (Heb.) or NAFSHEH
Mt. 27:15 = Lk. 23:17 "accustomed"/"necessary" = M'AD
The Gospel according to the Hebrews
The Gospel according to the Hebrews was a Gospel which was once used
by the Nazarenes and Ebionites. Eusebius said that GH was the
especial delight of those of the Hebrews who have accepted Messiah
(Eccl. Hist. 3:25:5). When speaking of the Ebionites, Epiphanius
calls GH their Gospel (Pan. 30:16:4-5) and Jerome refers to GH as the
Gospel which the Nazarenes and Ebionites use (On Mat. 12:13). The
actual document has been lost to history, but about 50 quotations and
citations of this document are preserved in quotations and citations from
the so-called Church Fathers and other commentators even into the
It is unlikely that the Hebrews themselves called their own Gospel
according to the Hebrews. This is likely a title given the book
by Gentile Christians. GH was also called the Gospel according to
the Apostles; the Gospel according to the Twelve; and the Gospel
according to Matthew and one of these may have been its name among the
Hebrews who used it.
Even the most conservative of scholars have given a very early date to
the composition of the Gospel according to the Hebrews. In his book
Evidence that Demands a Verdict
Josh McDowell (p. 38)
assigns GH a date of A.D. 65-100. The book certainly had to have
existed before the time of Hegesippus (c. 180 C.E.) who Eusebius tells us
made use of GH in his writings (Eusebius; Eccl. Hist. 4:22:8).
Ignatious (98 C.E.) quotes from GH in his letter to the Smyraneans (3:1-2
(1:9-12 some editions)). Although Ignatious does not identify his
quote as coming from GH, Jerome (4th
Century) does later cite GH as the source (Of Illustrious Men 16).
GH (in differing versions) was used by both Nazarenes and
Ebionites. Since neither group would have been likely to adopt the
others book after they split from each other around 70 C.E., it appears
that GH in its original form must have originated prior to that
There has been much debate about the original language of the Gospel
according to the Hebrews. Eusebius refers to GH as the Gospel that
is spread abroad among the Jews in the Hebrew tongue (Theophina 4:12 on
Mt. 10:34-36) and the Gospel [written] in Hebrew letters (ibid on Mt.
25:14f). Jerome refers to GH as written in the Chaldee and Syrian
language but in Hebrew letters (Against Pelagius III.2) but seems to
refer to the same document in another passage as in the Hebrew language
and letters (Of Illustrious Men 3). In context however Jerome
seems to say that GH was originally written in the Hebrew language and
letters but that the copy in the library at Caesarea is written in the
Chaldee and Syrian language but in Hebrew letters (i.e. Aramaic).
Thus Schonfield is correct in writing:
original language of the Gospel was Hebrew.
generally been assumed on insufficient grounds
Hebrew was in fact Aramaic (commonly called
to the Hebrews
Many misconceptions have circulated concerning the Gospel according to
the Hebrews. For example many scholars have attempted to make GH
into several documents. These refer to the Gospel according to the
Hebrews, the Gospel of the Nazarenes and the Gospel of the Ebionites as
three different documents. However nowhere do the Church Fathers
refer to a Gospel of the Ebionites. Epiphanius says that the
Ebionites used the Gospel according to the Hebrews and never refers to a
document titled Gospel of the Ebionites. The term Gospel of the
Nazarenes is never used by the Church Fathers either and only appears
in the middle ages where it is clearly a euphemism for the Gospel
according to the Hebrews. The presumption that there were three
documents called GH has taken root in scholarship. Part of the
basis for this assumption is that Clement of Alexander (who did not know
Hebrew or Aramaic) quotes GH in Greek before Jerome translated GH into
Greek. However it is quite possible that Clement obtained his
quotation from a secondary source who did know Hebrew and that had quoted
GH in ad hoc Greek, a secondary source which is now unknown. The
fact that Clement of Alexander quotes the book in Greek prior to Jeromes
translation is far to little evidence from which to conclude multiple
Another misconception is the presumption that thirteen readings in
marginal notes found in certain manuscripts of Greek Matthew and which
refer to alternate readings taken form the Judaikon (i.e. the Jewish
version) refer to the Gospel according to the Hebrews. While one of
these readings (a note to 18:22) agrees with the reading of GH as given
by Jerome (Against Pelag. III 2) that in itself is not enough evidence to
jump to the far reaching conclusion that the Judaikon is the same as
GH. The Judaikon readings may also be readings from a Jewish
(Hebrew or Aramaic?) version of canonical Matthew and not to GH at
While there is no reason to presume that there were three different
Gospels called the Gospel according to the Hebrews, it is certainly clear
that Nazarenes and Ebionites used different versions of GH.
Epiphanius describes the version of GH used by the Ebionites as called
according to Matthew, which however is not wholly complete but
falsified and mutilated (Pan. 30:13:2) however in speaking of the
Nazarenes he refer to the Gospel of Matthew quite complete in Hebrew
as it was first written, in Hebrew letters (Pan.
29:9:4). So it would appear that the Ebionite version of GH was
now wholly complete but falsified and mutilated while the Nazarene
version was quite complete
as it was first written..
This explains why the Ebionite version omitted the birth narrative and
opened with the ministry of Yochanan (Pan. 30:13:6) while the Nazarene
version is known to have included material parallel to the first two
chapters of Matthew.
There are also some important parallels between the Gospel according to
the Hebrews and our Hebrew and Aramaic versions of the Synoptic
Gospels. To begin with Jerome indicates that GH tended to agree
with the Hebrew Tanak against the Greek LXX in its quotations from the
Tanak (Of Illustrious Men 3).
In the account of the immersion of Yeshua GH as quoted by Epiphanius says
that the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) descended in the form of a
dove. This reading not only agrees with Luke (3:22) against
Matthew (3:16) it also agrees with DuTillet Hebrew Matthew and the
Siniatic Old Syriac text of Matthew 3:16. GH as quoted by Jerome
also says that the Ruch HaKodesh rested upon Yeshua at this
event. This agrees with the Old Syriac reading of Matthew 3:16
against Greek Matthew. The Shem Tob Hebrew Matthew similarly has
that the Rucah HaKodesh dwelt upon Yeshua in Mt. 3:16.
There may also be a tendency of GH to agree with the Greek Western type
text of the canonical Gospels. For example the immersion event GH
(as recorded by Epiphanius) has the voice say (in part) I have this day
begotten you which is also found in the Greek Western type text of Codex
D in Luke 3:22 (compare Ps. 2:7; Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5).
Moreover GH as cited by Jerome has the voice at the immersion of Yeshua
speak to him as does the Greek Western type text of Codex D in Mt.
3:17. This is important because as I have shown elsewhere the
Greek Western type text is the oldest most Semitic type of Greek
The Gospel according to the Hebrews: a Synoptic Source
Many scholars have seen within GH possible answers to questions about
A. S. Barnes proposed an identification between GH and the Logia document
which many scholars closely associate with "Q". Barnes
possible seriously to maintain that there were two separate
each of them written at Jerusalem during the Apostolic
age and in
the Hebrew tounge, each of them assigned to the Apostle
and each of them dealing in some way with the Gospel story?
Or are we
not rather forced to the conclusion that these two documents,
descriptions are so strangely similar, must really be identical,...
Barnes; The Gospel according to the Hebrews;
Theological Studies 6 (1905) p. 361)
Pierson Parker concluded:
presence in this gospel of Lukan qualities and parallels,
absence from it of difinitive... Markan elements... all point
conclusion, viz., that the source of the Gospel according
Hebrews... was most closely related to sources underlying
non-Markan parts of Luke, that is, Proto-Luke.
Parker; A Proto-Lukan Basis for the Gospel according to the
Biblical Literature 59 (1940) p. 478)
And Hugh Schonfield concluded of GH:
be argued that there has been dependence not of 'Hebrews'
Synoptics but vice versa-- that 'Hebrews' was one of the sources
one or more of them drew.
Schonfield; According to the Hebrews; 13-18)
As this article will demonstrate, the Gospel according to the Hebrews
does indeed lie at the root of all four of our canonical
Mark: A Secondary Gospel
The original documentary theory claimed that Mattitiyahu and Luke
were dependent on a collection of sayings known as the Logia or as
"Q". "Q" is from the German word "Quelle"
meaning "source" and a narrative document usually identified as
Mark. This may be illustrated as follows.
Streeter developed this theory further. He realized that Luke and
Mattitiyahu contained narratives in common which could not be found in
Mark. He attributed these to a third document, which he called
"Proto-Luke". Proto-Luke was said to have had
incorporated into it "Q", the non-Markan portions of Luke
and the narrative material which Luke and Matthew held in
The late Dr. Robert Lindsey made further observations. Lindsey points out
that the phrase "and immediately" occurs in Mark over 40 times.
Luke contains this phrase only once and then in a portion with no
parallel in Mark. Lindsey pointed out that it is unimaginable that Luke
systematically purged the phrase "and immediately" from every
portion of Mark which he used, especially since he uses the phrase
himself elsewhere. This means that Luke could not have copied from Mark
and that Mark therefore copied from Luke. If we eliminate all of the
Lukan passages from Mark then almost everything else can be found in
Mattitiyahu. In fact only 31 verses of Mark cannot be found in either
Luke or Mattitiyahu. It is clear as a result that Mark was compiled using
Luke and Mattitiyahu. The following three facts also support this
1. When Mark and Matthew differ in chronology Luke agrees with
2. When Mark and Luke differ in Chronology, Matthew agrees with
3. Matthew and Luke never agree in chronology against Mark.
Mark therefore is secondary, compiled from Matthew and Luke with only 31
lines of original material. It plays no part in synoptic
Matthew: An Abridgement of the Gospel according to the
The so-called Church Fathers do not hesitate in hinting to us that
Matthews source document was the Gospel according to the Hebrews.
Jerome writes of GH:
Gospel which the Nazarenes and Ebionites use
have lately translated into Greek from the Hebrew
is called by many people the original of Matthew
On Matt. 12:13)
Jerome is not the only Church Father to identify GH with Matthew.
Irenaeus says that the Ebionites used only the Gospel of Matthew
(Heresies 1:26:2), Eusebius says they used only the Gospel called
according to the Hebrews (Eccl. Hist. 3:27:4) while Epiphanius says that
the Ebionite Gospel
is called "Gospel according to Matthew, or
Gospel according to the Hebrews (Panarion 30:16:4-5). Moreover
Jerome seems to refer to the original Hebrew of Matthew and GH
This led Hugh Schonfield to conclude:
opinion is that the canonical Gospel [of Matthew]
- is an abridged edition of a larger work, of which fragments
- still survive,
I believe that this Protevangel was written in
- Hebrew, not in Aramaic,
Whatever may have been its
- original title, we have early allusions to it under the name
- of the Gospel the Gospel of the Lord, the Gospel of
- the Twelve, or of the Apostles, the Gospel of the Hebrews
- and the Hebrew Matthew.
- - Hugh J. Schonfield
- (An Old Hebrew Text of St. Matthews Gospel; 1927 p.
However ten years later Schonfield writes:
difficulty in fact that stands in the way
accepting the Greek [of Matthew] as really
from the Hebrew [of Matthew], instead
, is undoubtedly the irrefutable evidence
has largely used Mark
- Hugh J.
to the Hebrews
; 1937; p.248)
Schonfield finally comes to the conclusion of
strong probability that Hebrews
sources of canonical Matthew
The pseudo-fact that Matthew used Mark as one of his sources (a theory
Lindsey has since disproven) is the only thing which held Schonfield back
from concluding that Greek Matthew is a translation of Hebrew Matthew and
that Hebrew Matthew was an abridgement of the Gospel according to the
Hebrews. With the barrier of presumed Markan priority being removed
we may now adopt the logical conclusion that Schonfield hesitated
The Gospel according to the Hebrews as Lukes Source
Now having explained the origin of Mark as secondary we need not look
to Mark as a primary Gospel source for Luke either. Instead we need
concern ourselves only with Proto-Luke (and perhaps Q).
Proto-Luke or the Proto-Narrative would be the common source behind
Matthew and Luke, explaining their common material.
Now we may easily conclude that the Gospel according to the Hebrews is
the Proto-Luke or Proto-Narrative which served as the common source for
both Luke and Matthew.
To begin with Luke admits to having had source documents when writing his
gospel (Luke 1:1-4).
Secondly we have already established that the Gospel according to the
Hebrews served as the source for canonical Matthew. If Matthew and
Luke had a common source (which is clearly the case) then that source was
almost certainly the Gospel according to the Hebrews.
Finally several of the surviving readings from the Gospel according to
the Hebrews parallel Luke only and not Matthew. For example only
Luke gives Yeshuas age as being 30 (Lk. 3:23); only Luke includes the
account of Yeshua being comforted by an angel (Lk. 22:43); only Luke
includes the discussion about eating the Passover as described in Luke
22:45 and only Luke includes Yeshuas words at the crucifixion father
(Lk. 23:34). There are also Lukan elements even in
the material that also parallels Matthew. As shown earlier the
immersion account as cited by Epiphanius also included the words in the
form of [a dove] (as in Lukes account) and the phrase I have this day
begotten you (as in Lukes account in the Greek Western type text
of Codex D). In fact we should expect that the Proto-Narrative
would have readings which parallel Matthew only, readings which parallel
only Luke and readings which are common to Matthew and Luke (and
sometimes Mark) but should not expect readings which parallel only
Mark. This is exactly the case with the Gospel according to the
The Gospel according to the Hebrews and John
The Gospel of Yochanan (John) also seems to have made some use of the
Gospel according to the Hebrews but on a much smaller scale. The GH
account that Yeshua kissed the feet of each one of them recalls the
foot washing of Jn. 13:5. The account that one of the talmidim were
known to the High Priest also found in GH is found in John only (Jn.
18:15) and the crucifixion as described in John 19 was said to parallel
somewhat that of GH. Thus it appears that even the non-synoptic
Gospel of John made some use of the Gospel according to the
The Five Fold Gospel
While the Gospel according to the Hebrews is at the root of the four
canonical gospels, this in no way reduces the value of the four
Gospels. While the Gospel according to the Hebrews was the original
Gospel used by the Nazarenes (and in a variant form by Ebionites) other
gospels were fashioned to meet various needs. I believe the four
canonical Gospels were composed to present the Gospel story to four
specific non-Nazarene groups.
I believe that Matthew was an abridgement of the GH designed to present
Yeshua as the Messiah to the Pharisee audience. This is evidenced
by: 1) The many parallels with the wisdom sayings in the Mishna, Talmud,
Midrashim etc. 2) The frequent citations of the Tanak (128 quotations)
aimed at establishing the Messiahship of Yeshua. 3) The defense of
Nazarene Halachic authority (16:18-19; 18:18; 21:20-21, 23-27 &
23:1-34) 4) More discussion of halachic issues than any other Gospel
(5:21-7:12; 9:14-17; 12:1-14; 15:1-6; 17:24-27; 19:3-9; 22:15-22;
I believe that Luke used GH as a source document in writing a Gospel
account aimed at Sadducees. The book of Luke was written originally
to Theophilus, who served as High Priest from 37 to 42 C.E.. Theophilus
was both a priest and a Sadducee. It would appear that the Gospel was
intended to be used by others as well and was likely targeted at Sadducee
readers. Theophilus was the son of Annas and the brother-in-law of
Caiaphas, as a result he grew up in the Temple. This explains many
features of Luke. Luke begins the story with an account of Zechariah the
righteous priest who had a vision of an angel at the Temple (1:5-25) he
quickly moves on to an account of Miriam's purification and Yeshua's
redemption rituals at the Temple (2:21-39) and then to the event of
Yeshua teaching at the Temple at the age of twelve (2:46). Luke makes no
mention of Caiaphas' role in Yeshua's crucifixion and emphasizes Yeshua's
literal resurrection (24:39) (Sadducees did not believe in the
resurrection of the dead).
I believe that Mark used elements of Matthew and Luke to compile a
shortened simplified Gospel account for the Gentiles. He probably
wrote the book for use by Aramaic speaking Syrians and Assyrians he
encountered while in Babylon with Kefa (1Kefa 5:13). Since Mark was
addressing Gentiles he did not include Yeshua's genealogy, the Semon on
the Mount, makes fewer quotations from the Tanak and makes less mention
of Jewish customs that the other Gospels.
I believe that John made some use of GH in composing a Gospel account
aimed at the Essenes. This is evidenced by the fact that only
Yochanan reveals the fact that Yochanan the immerser had an (Essene)
community of talmidim living with him in the wilderness (Yochanan 1).
This is further evidenced by the mystical nature of Yochanan's account.
(The Essenes were mystics and in fact many scholars see the roots of what
we now call "Kabbalah" as stemming from the
The result was four Gospels which covered all four levels of
understanding of the original Gospel according to the Hebrews. The
Hebrew/Aramaic word PARDES is spelled in Hebrew and Aramaic without
vowels as PRDS. PaRDeS refers to a park or garden, esp. the Garden of
Eden. The word PRDS is also an acronym (called in Judaism
(Heb. "simple") The plain, simple, literal level of
(Heb. "hint") The implied level of understanding.
(Heb. "search") The allegorical, typological or homiletically
level of understanding.
(Heb. "hidden") The hidden, secret or mystical level of
These are the four levels of understanding. The Four Gospels each express
one of these four levels of understanding of The Gospel according to the
Hebrews. Each also expresses a different aspect of the Messiah and
corresponds to each of the four faces of the living beings in Ezekiel
The Pashat Gospel is Mark. Mark presents the Messiah as the servant (the
servant who purifies the Goyim in Is. 52:13, 15) the "my servant the
Branch" of Zech.3:8 who is symbolized by the face of the Ox in
Ezekiel 1 (the Ox being a servant, a beast of burden). Mark does not
begin with an account of the birth of Messiah as do Matthew and Luke
because, unlike the birth of a King, the birth of a servant is
unimportant, all that is important is his work as a servant which begins
with his immersion by Yochanan. Thus Mark's simplified account omits any
account of Yeshua's birth or preexistence and centers on his work as a
servant who purifies the Goyim.
The Remez Gospel is Luke. Luke wrote a more detailed account for the High
Priest Theophilus (a Sadducee). The Sadducees were rationalists and
sticklers for details. Luke presents Yeshua as the "Son of Man"
and as "the man whose name is the Branch" (Zech
6:12) who is presented as a High Priest and is symbolized by the face of
the man in Ezekiel 1. Luke wants to remind by remez (by implication) the
High Priest Theophilus about the redemption of the filthy High Priest
Joshua (Zech. 6) and its prophetic foreshadowing of a "man" who
is a Messianic "Priest" and who can purify even a
The Drash Gospel is Matthew. Matthew presents his account of Yeshua's
life as a Midrash to the Pharisees, as a continuing story tied to various
passages from the Tanak (for example Mt. 2:13-15 presents an allegorical
understanding of Hosea 11:1).. As a drash level account Matthew also
includes a number of parables in his account. Matthew presents Messiah as
the King Messiah, the Branch of David (Jer. 23:5-6 & Is. 11:1f)
symbolized by the face of the lion in Ezekiel 1.
The Sod Gospel is Yochanan (John). Yochanan addresses the Mystical Essene
sect and concerns himself with mystical topics like light, life, truth,
the way and the Word. Yochanan includes many Sod interpretations in his
account. For example Yochanan 1:1 presents a Sod understanding of Gen.
1:1. Yochanan 3:14; 8:28 & 12:32 present a Sod understanding of Num.
The Gospel according to the Hebrews which was the especial delight
of those of the Hebrews who have accepted Messiah was a primary source
document either directly or indirectly for all four of our canonical
Gospels. The Gospel of Matthew was an abridgement of that Gospel
made originally to bring the message of Yeshua to the Pharisees.
The Gospel of Luke was drawn largely from GH and was composed to present
the message of Yeshua to the Sadducees. The Gospel of Mark was
compiled from Matthew and Luke in order to present a shorter, simpler
account to the Gentiles. And the Gospel of John made some use of GH
in composing a Gospel account aimed at the Essene community. The
resulting four Gospels covered all of the levels of understanding
(PaRDeS) of the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Mark gives us the
pashat, Luke the remez, Matthew the drash and John the Sod. Thus
the four canonical Gospels provide us with a complete understanding of
the Gospel according to the Hebrews which lies at the root of all of