Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)



... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)

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The Historical Jesus
Nazorean Gospel

We know that there were more than the four Gospels traditionally used by the Church because fragments of them have survived.

The Nazorean Gospel is one such. We know about it only because it is quoted in later commentaries:

  • Epiphanius (315-403) was Bishop of Salamis (Cyprus). According to him the Gospel was written in Aramaic and was used by the Nazoreans of Berea (a town in Syria). He thought it was a version of Matthew's Gospel.
  • Hegesippus was a 2nd century Christian historian. From the fragments of his works which survive, it seems he knew of the Gospel of the Nazoreans in 180.
  • Eusebius (died about 359) was Bishop of Emesa in Syria and writer on biblical subjects and on doctrine. He also knew of the Gospel.
  • Jerome (345-420) was renowned scholar of his time. He identified the Gospel with another entitled The Gospel to the Hebrews, which he thought was closely related to Matthew's Gospel and had been written in a Semitic language. Jerome says the Nazorean Gospel was used by a community living in Berea in Syria.

Modern analysis of the Nazorean fragments shows that it is based on the Greek text of Matthew. This means that the later version could well have been translated from Greek into Aramaic - though not necessarily in a literal or even accurate form. Some fragments of the Gospel are preserved in Greek, others in Syriac and some in Latin.

The passages which have survived show differences from Matthew. In fact, they are cited by the early Christian writers precisely because they differ from Matthew's Gospel. Scholars speculate that perhaps the rest of the Nazorean Gospel did therefore not differ that much from Matthew. If it had, perhaps more passages would have been mentioned.

The Nazorean Gospel changes Matthew in a number of ways:

*  It gives an explanation of a difficult word in the so-called Lord's Prayer. Jerome writes: "In the so-called Gospel of the Hebrews, instead of 'the bread we need for today' I found mahar, which means 'for tomorrow' so that the sense is 'Provide us today with the bread we need for tomorrow' - that is, for the future." Jerome refers to the Greek word epiousios which could mean "daily" or "for subsistence" or "for the future." Its meaning is uncertain even today.

*  It corrects (wrongly) a reference in Matthew 23.35 to the "son of Baruch" by inserting "son of Joiada".

*  The story of the healing of the man with the crippled hand in Matthew 12.13 is filled out. Jerome writes, "In the gospel that the Nazoreans use, this man who had a crippled hand is described as a stonemason who called for help with words like this: 'I was a stonemason making a living with my hands. I plead with you, Jesus, give me back my health so that I won't have to beg for my food in shame.'"

So what Matthew and Luke do with Mark and the "Q" source, the Nazorean Gospel does with Matthew. There is a process of expanding, clarifying and correcting. It went on long after the four canonical gospels had been completed. At least one later community thought that Matthew's Gospel was the one to follow (perhaps it was the only one they possessed). But this didn't mean it was beyond correction and elaboration - a reminder that their way of looking at history differed greatly from ours.

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