Timeline, from 301 until 500 C.E.
The ‘fathers’ of the early church began to produce commentaries on the Gospels and several influential early manuscripts were produced during this period.
Selection of events
At some point during this period
Augustine of Hippo (354-430) produced his commentary on The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. His title is the first known reference to the passage as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Ferguson 1987, 2), a pithy title that stuck.
At some point in the fourth century C.E. the two oldest extant full manuscripts of the New Testament were produced. These are the Codex Siniaticus and the Codex Vaticanus. By the time the Codex Siniaticus was discovered, parts had been re-cycled as book binding material and a bookmark (for further details see www.codexsinaiticus.org).
The first Council of Nicaea was called, at the initiation of the Roman Emperor, Constantine I (272-337). The purpose was primarily the resolution of a theological rift, but the council also passed a body of church legislation. The suggestion, as circulated in some quarters (e.g. ), that this legislation decreed the destruction of Jewish Gospels (and with them any copies of the Hebrew version of Matthew) appears unfounded. Schaff (1997, 8-45) lists the canon laws officially attributed to this council, and amongst them are none relating to the censorship of any literature. Schaff (1997b, 46-50) also gives an expanded list of 70 canons, attributed to the Council of Nice by those in Arabia, but again there is no mention of censorship. Moreover, well after this Jerome (347-420 C.E.) was still able to find a treasured Hebrew version of the Gospel of Matthew in the library of Caesarea Maritima (see below).
About 390 C.E.
John Chrysostom (ca. 347–407), Archbishop of Constantinople, produced his Homilies on Matthew, several of which relate to the Sermon.
By early in the fifth century, the Peshitta, or common version, of the New Testament had become the dominant Syriac version, the old testament having been translated from Hebrew into Syriac in the second century C.E.
Jerome (347-420 C.E.), commenting on the Gospel composed by Matthew, states “The Hebrew itself has been preserved until the present day in the library. at Caesarea which Pamphilus so diligently gathered. I have also had the opportunity of having the volume described to me by the Nazarenes of Beroea, a city of Syria,who use it” (Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, 3 Schaff). Syria being the area in which many believe Matthew’s Gospel to have originated (France 1985, 27). He believed that the apostle Matthew wrote the original version in Hebrew and that the Greek was some form of later ‘translation’ by an unknown author. In support of this, he noted that the aforementioned Syrian text based its biblical quotations on the Hebrew rather than taking them from the Greek (i.e. the Septuagint).
ReferencesFrance, Richard T. 1985. Matthew. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries; Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985.
Furguson, Sinclair B. 1987. The Sermon on the Mount:Kingdom Life in a Fallen World. Edinburgh, UK: The Banner of Truth Trust.
Schaff, Philip. 1997. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. III. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.
Schaff, Philip. 1997. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. XIV. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.