"The essence of prophecy is to give the message confirmed by Jesus." Rev. 19:10 NLT fn 10

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Howard’s Unsubstantiated Claims

[From Standford Rives, The Original Gospel of Matthew (2014)]

Professor George Howard, a leading translator of the Shem-Tob, tries to find significant differences in the Shem-Tob Hebrew Matthew and our Greek Matthew. These assertions have caused others to rely upon his claims without examining whether these assertions are true or mere speculation.

For example, Howard claims that the Hebrew Matthew never claims Jesus is Messiah (“never equated with Jesus.”) (Howard, The Hebrew Matthewsupra, at 212.) Yet, this is incorrect. To do this, Howard makes much of the fact the Greek Matthew has five times the word Christ used with Jesus’ name, but this is missing in the Hebrew. (Matt. 1:1, 1:17, 1:18, 11:2 and 16:21). Yet, the label Christ each time is itself likely an addition by the Greek translator of the word “Christ” to the original. No one can draw reliable conclusions that the mention of Jesus without adding “Christ” in the Hebrew version implied anything about a disbelief in Jesus as Messiah. 

[NOTE: Some scholars contend that the mark of later well-meaning but false additions in the book of Acts of "Christ" to the name Jesus is a mark of a degenerated form. Hence, Howard missed the potential significance that this difference in the Shem-Tob further corroborates the opinion of these scholars. The Shem-Tob's lack of "Christ" with Jesus may be evidence of how to identify the earliest form of manuscript lines of true early Christianity.  See, e.g., "The Text of Acts" by Peter M. Head, an article in The Book of Acts in its Ancient Literary Setting (Eerdman's 1993). Mr. Head mentions Boismard and Lamoule explain that the "pure" text of Acts has the "primitive" form of Jesus' name alone without "christological formulae" (e.g., "Christ" paired as second name), and they label such alteration as a "degenerate" form within the so-called Western line of NT texts.  While the Shem-Tob is corroborative evidence, Head unaware of that fact mentions that the Western line of texts - an older line - often enough do not add "Christ" to "Jesus" and thus Boismar and Lamoule's case does not hold up. Had Head factored the Shem-Tob in the mix as tracing to the earliest line of texts, which Howard himself is trying to prove, then Boismar and Lamoule's point can be regarded as validated. End of Note by Doug.] 

Moreover, the Shem-Tob includes the clear assertion that Jesus is Messiah in Matthew 16:16. This is Peter’s declaration that Jesus is Messiah. Howard acknowledges this, but then claims it was “clearly” an addition. (Id. at 218.) He cites as proof his own page 183. When you go there, you find speculation of how Shaprut’s comments on the Shem-Tob should be interpreted to imply an original text missing Peter’s confession that Jesus was Messiah. No substantial proof is offered.

Howard’s claim that Shem-Tob “never equated [Messiah] with Jesus” clearly runs also afoul of many other passages in the Shem-Tob. Specifically, the Shem-Tob contains

FOOTNOTE 55.For further discussion, see William Horbury, “The Hebrew Text of

Matthew in Shem Tob ibn Sharput’s Eben Bohan,’” A Critical and

Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Matthew (W.D.

Davies & D.C. Allison)(Edinburgh, 1997) Vol. III at 729-38;

W.L.Petersen, “The Vorlage of Shem-Tob’s ‘Hebrew Matthew,’” NTS

(1998) Vol. 44 at 490-512.

the account that John through his disciples asks Jesus whether He is Messiah, and Jesus responds positively—telling John’s disciples to see the lame walking, etc. (Matt 11:1-5.) The Davidic genealogy and the account of the Bethlehem birthplace are further proofs the Shem-Tob Matthew endorses Jesus as the promised Messiah.

Messianic References In Shem-Tob

In fact, let’s review the overwhelming proof that Shem-Tob (“S-T”) affirms Jesus is Messiah even if you ignored Matthew 16:16.

First, numerous Messianic prophecies are cited in the Shem-Tob Hebrew Matthew as in the Greek Matthew, but there are many other clear references. For example, John the Baptist tells Jesus he should be baptized by Jesus, obviously because Jesus was on a higher level. (Matt 3:14 S-T.) Jesus is the light to shine to the Gentiles. (Matt 4:16 S-T.) Jesus is “worshipped” or “given obeisance” worthy of a King-Messiah without comment. (Matt 8:2 S-T.) John the Baptist’s followers ask if Jesus is the Christ, to which Jesus gives an implicit affirmative, citing the blind see, the lame walk, etc. (Matt. 11:1-5 S-T.) The Son of God is not merely akin to us. He alone knows the Father. (Matt 11:22 S-T.) And a unique variant of the Shem-Tob gives Jesus a divine omniscience, saying “Jesus knows everything in regard to any matter done....” (Matt. 26:10 S-T.) And on and on it goes. See also Matt 21:9 S-T (“savior of the world”); Matt 23:10 S-T (“one is your Rabbi, Messiah.”)

Howard’s reason for not acknowledging the pervasive appearance in the Shem-Tob of a Messianic identification is unclear. Regardless, his conclusion that the Shem-Tob does not endorse Jesus as Messiah is unsustainable. This affirmation appears repeatedly in the Shem-Tob.

Higher Position of Christ In Shem-Tob

In fact, in two respects the Shem-Tob elevates Jesus’ nature over that presented in the Greek version.

First, in the Greek Matthew 24:36, it says that the time of the tribulation no one knows, “neither the Son,” but only the Father. (Matt. 24:36 NIV, etc.) If Jesus is divinely indwelled by the Father (as Jesus claimed in John 14:10-11), how can He not also know the time? As a result, critics who do not believe Jesus was truly indwelled by the Father, as He claimed, cite 24:36 to prove Jesus was not divinely

indwelled.56 While most reply the Father restricted this knowledge from the Son (which is plausible), the knock on Jesus’ own knowledge is not present in the Shem-Tob.

Instead, in the Hebrew Matthew of Shem-Tob, it says “there is none who knows, not even the angels, but the Father only.” Jesus does not exclude himself (indwelled by the Father) from knowing in the Hebrew Matthew. Because in John’s Gospel, Jesus says the Father in-dwells Jesus, such intimacy would seemingly impart naturally such knowledge.

56.This “neither the Son” was unconvincingly explained by Chrysostum, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory the Great and Bengel as Jesus intentionally suppressing his knowledge within the Trinity. (Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28 (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004) at 522.) Many opt today instead to say this “neither the Son” in the Greek tradition proves Jesus’ human nature did not disappear by God-the-Father’s indwelling him. (Bruner, id.) Yet, it does not fit the fact that the Father indwelled Him.

Second, there is another fact to consider: Mark 13:32 says “neither the Son” and it has no Greek variants that omit it. What does this signify? That the “neither the son” in the Greek Matthew was more likely added to conform Matthew to Mark. This is because if one thought for theological reasons ‘neither the son’ is deleted deliberately from some Greek Matthews, then why was this not likewise deleted in Mark? Hence, it is more likely that the Hebrew Matthew lacked ‘neither the son,’ but gradually the Greek Matthew was modified to read more like Mark. Hence, ‘neither the son’ is not original to Matthew, and was introduced via the influence of Mark 13:32. See J. Ed Komoszewski,

M. James Sawyer, Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus (Kregel Publications, 2006) at 111-12. Hence, this comparison to Mark supports the view once more that the Shem-Tob Hebrew Matthew reflects the more likely original of this verse.

See John 14:10-11. Thus, the Hebrew version of Shem-Tob has a text more open to Jesus being indwelled fully by God-the-Father than does the Greek text, in conformity with Jesus’ own depiction of the Father as indwelling Himself.

A similarly troublesome verse in the Greek is Matthew 19:17 (KJV): “Why callest me good? There is none good but one, that is God.” This implies Jesus says it is wrong to call him good. God is alone good. However, the Hebrew Matthew of Shem-Tob has it: “Why do you ask about good? No man is good because God alone is good.” Jesus does not exclude himself in the Hebrew Matthew from being called good. Yet, in the Greek Matthew, Jesus denies being good at all. “Why call megood?”

Thus, we see our Greek Matthew has two passages that seriously undermine Jesus’ divinity as He explained it (i.e., an indwelling by the Father), but the Hebrew Matthew of Shem-Tob lacks these problems.