In this project, the Proto-Gnostic Matthew, it is my hope to bring forth the spiritual essence of the Gospel of Matthew, which is to say, to bring forth the spiritual truth of the Gospel as the early Gnostics understood it. But it is important that my readers understand that this is not necessarily something that came straight from Jesus’s mouth, because the evidence in question is not that simple or harmonious. To be honest, I believe that the words compiled here were never literally spoken by an historical Jesus, and I will explain the reasons why below. Those words that probably were spoken by the historical Jesus will be compiled in a follow-up project called “Judean Matthew”. For me the evidence in Matthew shows that the spiritual essence of this Gospel emerged as part of a process of reflection and re-invention; a process which began when Jesus’s end-time prophecies failed to materialize, viz. that Jesus’s kingdom did not arrive at the end of his “generation” (e.g. Mt. 10:23, 16:28, 24:34-35).
All discerning readers and scholars are aware of this paradox and the fact that the Gospel message went through revision and re-invention. This evidence is still preserved in Matthew; and it can also be seen in the differences between Matthew and the Gospel of John. And the problem is stated explicitly in 2 Peter 3:3-8. In both the Gospel of John and in 2 Peter it can be seen how this original “end-time” Gospel message has been re-worked. In the Gospel of John the Kingdom becomes a spiritual reality and not an end-time expectation (Jn. 3:5-8). There is no clear end-time doctrine or second coming in John. And in 2 Peter we are introduced to the innovation that Jesus was never mistaken but that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pe. 3:3-8). Yet this is not what Jesus promised in Matthew: “Truly I say unto you, this generation shall not pass…” (Mt. 24:34, 10:23)
In Matthew it can be seen that two conflicting Gospel messages have been combined and one supercedes the other. In one Jesus sends his apostles to the Hebrews only; and he predicts an earthly kingdom, and that his disciples will not get through all the cities of Israel when it arrives (Mt. 10:5-6, 23). But then there is a second message which says that the Gospel must be preached in all the world first and then shall the kingdom arrive (Mt. 24:14, 28:18-20). What we have here is a process of reflection in which new ideas enter the picture.
From a Gnostic perspective the Gospel of John touches on the truth of the matter, that the kingdom is spiritual (whereas 2 Peter replaces one lie with another). And in John one can see where true spiritual inspiration has entered the process. The old end-time expectation has been replaced entirely by the spiritual Kingdom. And this was a situation where the Holy Spirit revealed itself through the writer’s process of repentance and reflection. A similar situation exists in the Gospel of Matthew: the old and original strata of the literal end-time prophecy is still present in the text (e.g. Mt. 10:23) and it even goes through a 2 Peter style twist (Mt. 24:14, 28:18f.). But even beyond this there was another teaching, and another meaning, that was introduced which was purely spiritual. This is what was inspired by the Holy Spirit upon repentance and reflection–that the true kingdom of Heaven, the kingdom of God, is a seed planted within a person, and not a literal worldly event.
In the Proto-Gnostic Matthew I endeavor to bring this latter message forth from the mainstream Gospel of Matthew as stated above, and to separate out the other theological and literal end-time elements, to get to the core of the true, spiritual message that is preserved in Matthew. Hence-forth the main-stream Matthew will be designated here as Catholic Matthew. And in my thesis there are at least three conflicting gospels preserved in Catholic Matthew: 1) the original Judean Gospel; 2) the Proto-Gnostic Gospel; and 3) the Catholic Gospel in which all these elements are preserved and which have been used to serve the interests of the later Catholic Church and reformations that followed. (Note: the Judean Gospel is comprised of two gospel themes: 1) the prophet who predicts the coming of the Messiah; and 2) the prophet who is identified with the Messiah. This will be documented in a seperate project which will be entitled Judean Matthew.)
An important note on the difference between the terms Gnostic and Proto-Gnostic, and how this applies my evaluation and editing of Catholic Matthew: The term Gnostic refers to the heretical movement as described by the Catholic Fathers. They describe a Gnostic movement that made full use of Catholic Matthew and attributed the diverse and conflicting elements to Sophia or the Demiurge (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.2.1.). The term Proto-Gnostic refers to an earlier period before the Catholic Church was organized and Catholic Matthew existed. In that earlier period the Gospel of Matthew existed in a different form as may be witnessed in the Gospel quotes of Justin Martyr and Clement of Rome (viz. 1 Clement). In both the sources mentioned the Gospel texts and passages from Matthew are quoted that do not match the Gospel of Matthew we know today, which first appears with the Catholic Fathers. In this context, the term Proto-Gnostic refers to a writer who was already expressing ideas that resembled and certainly did inspire later Gnostic thought, viz. the theme that Jesus came to reveal an unknown Father, a spiritual kingdom and a spiritual seed. Our present Gospel of Matthew contains these ideas which were added to the Judean Gospel at a time before Catholic orthodoxy was clearly defined, and gentile Christians and Hellenist Jews were open to a multitude of concepts that did not conform to the original Judean Gospel. Both of these conflicting themes, these conflicting forms of theology and spirituality, remain preserved in our present Gospel of Matthew, viz. Catholic Matthew.
In light of the confusion that remains preserved in Catholic Matthew I believe that modern Gnostics (or aspiring Gnostics) need their own version of Matthew and I submit this text as an alternative–mostly cleansed of other ecclesiastical or theological agendas. These teachings are a rich source of spiritual insight and can allow modern readers to understand why the Gospel of Matthew was so important to early Gnostics.
It may be a helpful note here for some readers, for the sake of context, that the diseases and curses healed by Jesus were the very curses prescribed in the Law of Moses, in Deuteronomy 28:15ff. Jesus is portrayed as accomplishing these things by the power of a “secret” and “perfect” Father who was unknown to Moses. These statements can be found in the text, and with so many irrelevant passages removed, I hope this message will be more clear and coherent.
Proto-Gnostic Matthew part I covers the first 13 chapters of Catholic Matthew, with either parts or all of chapters 1, 2, 4, 10 and 11 removed; and the remaining text edited and re-organized into 11 new chapters. Proto-Gnostic Matthew part II continues with the beheading of John the Baptist which begins with chapter 12 (Catholic Matthew 14) and covers chapters 14 – 26 of Catholic Matthew, with most of chapters 15 – 26 edited or removed, and chapters 27 – 28 omitted. The remaining text is consolidated into six new chapters, 12 – 17. Part II ends with a concluding essay on the Crucifixion myth. This text is subject to revision at any time as may be necessary due to further study or helpful feedback from readers.
And finally, if you consider yourself a Gnostic and you choose to believe that Jesus actually did speak the words compiled here, then I want to assure you that I respect your position–and there is nothing in the text that will threaten or interfere with your vision. I have stated my position here in the Intro not to dictate correct doctrine, but so that you the reader would know something about my mindset and my method for compiling this text. — jw (revised June 10, 2013)
By Jim West. Copyright © April 7, revised November 18, 2013. All Rights Reserved.