Question: "What is the Gospel of the Hebrews?"
Answer: The Gospel of the Hebrews is an ancient, now lost work that apparently contained stories about the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Several of the early church fathers briefly quoted the Gospel of the Hebrews, but we do not have any copies of the book itself.
Because there are no extant manuscripts, it is impossible to say exactly what the Gospel of the Hebrews contained. Some scholars believe that it may have been a Hebrew version of the Gospel of Matthew, and a few argue that it preceded the canonical gospels. Most scholars, however, believe the Gospel of the Hebrews was composed in the late first or early second century and that its content was based on independent traditions about Jesus.
Some scholars believe that the Gospel of the Hebrews was originally written in Greek, although Jerome indicates that he had translated it from Hebrew (On Famous Men, 2–3). Jerome called it “the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which is written in the Chaldee and Syrian language, but in Hebrew characters, and is used by the Nazarenes to this day” (Against the Pelagians III:2). According to the historian Eusebius, the early church father Papias claimed that Matthew had originally recorded Jesus’ words in the Hebrew language (History, III:39.16). There is still much uncertainty concerning the origin and content of the Gospel of the Hebrews, in light of the current lack of manuscripts.
The Gospel of the Hebrews, as the name suggests, seems to have been oriented toward Jewish Christians. Some of the quotes are similar to Jewish wisdom literature. Jerome relates that, in the Gospel of the Hebrews’ resurrection account, the Lord’s brother James is prominent (On Famous Men, 2); this fact suggests a Jewish-Christian influence in the book. Despite the handful of allusions to it in early church writings, the Gospel of the Hebrews was never considered canonical. Origen cast doubt on the veracity of the book in that he preceded a quotation from it with the words “If any one should lend credence to the Gospel according to the Hebrews” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, II:6).
Two other works generally come up in any discussion about the Gospel of the Hebrews: the Gospel of the Ebionites and the Gospel of the Nazarenes. The Gospel of the Ebionites was a religious text used by the heretical Ebionites; it was perhaps a modified version of the Gospel of the Hebrews or an adaptation of the Gospel of Matthew. The Gospel of the Nazarenes was another early Hebrew or Aramaic text, though it may be another name for the Gospel of the Hebrews. The relationship of these three works to each other is a subject of debate among scholars and is unlikely to be resolved any time soon.
The early church ultimately rejected the Gospel of the Hebrews. Christians can be confident that, under the sovereign guidance of the Holy Spirit, the early church made the right decision. There are no “lost books” of the Bible, and all the books that are in the Bible are the books God intended to be in the Bible. The four gospels we possess accurately recount the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who achieved victory over death and paid the price for our sin so that we might live forever with Him.