Did Jesus and the Apostles Speak Greek?
The September-October 1992 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review contains several fascinating articles which bear heavily on the questions posed for this article. For centuries, scholars have believed -- assumed -- that very few Jews of the first century spoke Greek. They have believed, and taught, that ancient Judea was a "backwater" area of the Roman Empire, and the people were ignorant as a whole of the Greek language, although it is admitted that Greek was the "lingua franca" and "language of commerce" throughout the Roman Empire.
Today, however, new archaeological discoveries have undermined the speculations of scholars and brought into clear light the fact that Greek was well known among the Jews, especially the priesthood, leadership class, and the merchant class. In particular, Greek was well understood in "Galilee of the Gentiles," the region where Jesus Christ of Nazareth was raised, and grew up as a young lad. There is no doubt, therefore, that Jesus and the original apostles all spoke Greek -- commonly, as a "second language."
First, let us explore the recent findings in Jerusalem of the actual tomb of Caiaphas, the high priest who condemned Christ. Astonishing as it seems, the burial cave of the Caiaphas family was found, in Jerusalem, by "accident" -- the family of one of the priests who presided at the trial of Jesus. Workers building a water park in 1990 accidentally uncovered an ancient burial cave, underneath what is now a stretch of road in Jerusalem's Peace Forest. The surrounding area was used as an ancient necropolis during the late Second Temple period (first century B.C.- first century A.D.).
In the burial cave, archaeologists found twelve ossuaries, including one decorated with two six-petaled rosettes within concentric circles. The bone box displays a fluted column on a stepped base and topped by an Ionic capital. Inscriptions on two of the ossuaries found here indicate that this was the burial chamber of the Caiaphas family, and one of the ossuaries may well have contained the bones of the high priest who handed Jesus Christ over to the Romans and Pontius Pilate, after interrogating Him (see Matt.26:57-68).
Writes Zvi Grenhut, archaeologist involved in the discovery and identification of the site, "Reburial in ossuaries appears mainly at the end of the first century B.C.E. and in the first century C.E. Reburial in an ossuary was rare in Jewish tombs after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E." The archaeologist continues:
"But the most exceptional and significant finds were the two ossuaries that, for the first time in an archaeological context, contained a form of the name Qafa', or Caiaphas, a name known to us from both the New Testament and from the first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus . . . Suffice it to say that the form(s) of the name Caiaphas inscribed on these ossuaries is probably the same as that of the well-known family of high priests, one of whom presided at Jesus' trial" ("Burial Cave of the Caiaphas Family," BAR, Sept.-Oct. 1992, p.32-35).
One of the ossuaries is simply inscribed "Qafa" (ka-FA). On one the name is more complete -- "Yehosef bar Qayafa" and "Yehosef bar Qafa" (Joseph son of Caiaphas). The ossuary with the more complete forms of the name is the most beautiful one, decorated with a rare and intricate pattern. Says Greenhut:
"There is no doubt that this ossuary is special. Its elaborate decoration must have something to do with the name(s) inscribed on it. Could this be the ossuary of the high priest who presided at Jesus' trial?
"Inside this ossuary, we found bones from six different people: two infants, a child between two and five, a young boy between 13 and 18, an adult woman -- and a male of about 60 years!" (ibid., p.35).
Very few of the people mentioned in the pages of the Bible have been proved to have existed by means of archaeological evidence. Therefore, the discovery of the name of Caiaphas, the high priest who lived in Jesus' time, is of astonishing and paramount importance. It verifies a vital element of the story of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ -- the very existence of the high priest who was the head of the Sanhedrin at that very time. Though the New Testament refers to the high priest by the single name "Caiaphas," the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus refers to him as "Joseph who was called Caiaphas of the high priesthood." "
A person named Joseph with the nickname Caiaphas was the high priest in Jerusalem between 18 and 36 C.E.," writes Ronny Reich, in a companion article in the same issue of BAR (see "Caiaphas Name Inscribed on Bone Boxes," p.41). In the New Testament he is simply called "Caiaphas" (Matt.26:3, 57; Luke 3:2; John 11:49, 18:13-14,24,28; Acts 4:6).
In the next article in the same issue of Biblical Archaeological Review, the author, Pieter W. Van Der Horst, points out that no less than 1,600 Jewish epitaphs -- funerary inscriptions -- are extant from ancient Palestine dating from 300 B.C. to 500 A.D. The geographical spread of these inscriptions reveal that Jews were living all over the world at that time, especially the Roman period. In other words, when Jesus' brother James said in Acts 15, "Moses has been preached in every city for generations past and is read in the synagogues on every sabbath" (v.21), he was simply stating the truth. Peter, in his first sermon, enumerates a list of the countries from which Jews came to worship on that first Pentecost of the newly formed Christian Church (Acts 2:9-11).
Van Der Horst goes on:
"One of the most surprising facts about these funerary inscriptions is that most of them are IN GREEK -- approximately 70 percent; about 12 percent are in Latin; and only 18 percent are in Hebrew or Aramaic.
"These figures are even more instructive if we break them down between Palestine and the Diaspora. Naturally in Palestine we would expect more Hebrew and Aramaic and less Greek. This is true, but not to any great extent. Even in Palestine approximately TWO-THIRDS of these inscriptions are in GREEK.
"APPARENTLY FOR A GREAT PART OF THE JEWISH POPULATION THE DAILY LANGUAGE WAS GREEK, EVEN IN PALESTINE. This is impressive testimony to the impact of Hellenistic culture on Jews in their mother country, to say nothing of the Diaspora.
"In Jerusalem itself about 40 PERCENT of the Jewish inscriptions from the first century period (before 70 C.E.) ARE IN GREEK. We may assume that most Jewish Jerusalemites who saw the inscriptions in situ were able to read them" ("Jewish Funerary Inscriptions -- Most Are in Greek," Pieter W. Van Der Horst, BAR, Sept.-Oct.1992, p.48).
These are shocking statements to all who have believed, and taught, that the Jews as a whole were ignorant of Greek during the time of Christ! Obviously, Judea was not a "backwater" and "boorish" part of the Roman Empire, but a most sophisticated and cultivated part. In fact, the Jewish Temple was acknowledged to be the finest building structure throughout the whole Empire! The Jewish people, because of their widespread dispersion in the Empire, for business and commercial purposes, mainly, spoke Greek rather fluently -- and this knowledge and usage of Greek was also common throughout Judea, as this new "funerary inscription" evidence attests!
This really should not be surprising at all. The Greek influence in Judea had grown very significantly since the days of Alexander the Great, circa 330 B.C. By the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, circa 168-165 B.C., Hellenism had become very strong, and many of the high priests had become "Hellenists," leading to the Maccabean revolt. In successive generations, the Greek influence never abated, particularly among the business, commercial and priestly crowd. Many of the priests, being Sadducees, were greatly influenced by Greek culture and contact.
Writes Van Der Horst further:
"The great rabbi Judah ha-Nasi, the compiler of the Mishnah (a collection of Jewish oral law) in about 200 C.E., was buried in Beth She-arim; the majority of pious Jews who wanted to be buried with him at Beth She-arim had their funerary inscriptions written in Greek.
"This is not to say Hebrew and Aramaic ever died out completely as languages for the Jews. Especially in the eastern Diaspora, Jews continued to speak a Semitic language. But IN THE FIRST FIVE CENTURIES OF THE COMMON ERA, exactly the period when rabbinic literature was being written in Hebrew and Aramaic, A MAJORITY OF THE JEWS IN PALESTINE and the western Diaspora SPOKE GREEK" (ibid., p.48-54).
All of this is very interesting, of course. But what about Jesus Christ, and the disciples? Did Jesus also use Greek, commonly, in speaking to the people of Judea? For centuries, theologians and scholars have assumed that He only spoke Hebrew or Aramaic. However, this assumption now seems to be far off the mark!
Another article in the very same issue of BAR discusses this very issue. The author, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, points out that there is no doubt Jesus spoke Aramaic. He shows that although a form of Aramaic was "the dominant language, it was not the only language spoken in Palestine at that time." He continues:
"The Dead Sea scrolls reveal that a TRILINGUALISM EXISTED IN PALESTINE in the first and second century of the Christian era. In addition to Aramaic, some Jews also spoke Hebrew or Greek -- or both. Different levels of Jewish society, different kinds of religious training and other factors may have determined who spoke what" ("Did Jesus Speak Greek?", same issue of BAR, p.58).
During the Babylonian captivity, many Jews came to use Aramaic as their first language, a sister language closely akin to Hebrew. Although Hebrew continued in use in the Temple, and the emerging synagogues, Aramaic was the common language of the people during the time of Christ. The majority of the people apparently did not fully understand Hebrew, for the custom arose to have an Aramaic translation read of the Hebrew Scriptures, following the reading in Hebrew, in all the synagogues. These readings and interpretations were done by a person called the meturgeman. In time, they were written down and were called targumin.
But what about Greek? Says Fitzmyer:
"Greek, of course, was in widespread use in the Roman empire at this time. Even the Romans spoke Greek, as inscriptions in Rome and elsewhere attest. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that THAT GREEK WAS ALSO IN COMMON USE AMONG THE JEWS OF PALESTINE. The Hellenization of Palestine began even before the fourth-century B.C. conquest by Alexander the Great. Hellenistic culture among the Jews of Palestine spread more quickly after Alexander's conquest, especially when the country was ruled by the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV Epiphanes (second century B.C.), and later under certain Jewish Hasmonean and Herodian kings" (p.59).
A reference to Greek-speaking Jews is found clearly in the book of Acts. In Acts 6:1 certain early Christians in Jerusalem are spoken of as being "Hellenists." The King James Version says, "And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians (Hellenistai) against the Hebrews (Hebraioi), because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration" (Acts 6:1). Who were these Hellenists or "Greeks"? The term applies to Greek-speaking Jews, in whose synagogues Greek was spoken, and where undoubtedly the Septuagint Scriptures were commonly used. This is verified in Acts 9:29 where we read: "And he (Saul, whose name was later changed to Paul) spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians . . ." The "Grecians" or "Hellenists" were the Greek-speaking Jews, who had their own synagogues, even in Jerusalem.
"Such Hellenistai may have spoken very little, if any, Hebrew or Aramaic. This is suggested by a reference in Philippians 3:5 where Paul stoutly refers to himself as 'a Hebrew of the Hebrews.' Paul also spoke Greek. Thus Hellinistai as C. F. D. Moule has suggested probably is the designation of those Jerusalem Jews or Jewish Christians who habitually spoke only Greek (and for that reason were more affected by Hellenistic culture), whereas Hebraioi designated those Greek-speaking Jews and Jewish Christians who also spoke a Semitic language, probably Aramaic, which they normally used" (ibid., p.60).
What about Jesus Christ, and the apostles? Did they, too, commonly speak Greek as a "second language"?
"The answer is almost certainly yes. The more difficult question, however, is whether he taught in Greek. Are any of the sayings of Jesus that are preserved for us only in Greek nevertheless in the original language in which he uttered them?
"That Aramaic was the language Jesus normally used for both conversation and teaching seems clear. Most New Testament scholars would agree with this. But did he also speak Greek? The evidence already recounted for the use of Greek in first-century Palestine provides the background for an answer to this question. But there are more specific indi- cations in the Gospels themselves.
"All four Gospels depict Jesus conversing with Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judea, at the time of his trial (Mark 15;2-5; Matthew 27:11-14; Luke 23:3; John 18:33- 38). Even if we allow for obvious literary embellishment of these accounts, there can be little doubt that Jesus and Pilate did engage in some kind of conversation . . . In what language did Jesus and Pilate converse? There is no mention of an interpreter. Since there is little likelihood that Pilate, a Roman, would have been able to speak either Aramaic or Hebrew, the obvious answer is that JESUS SPOKE GREEK at his trial before Pilate" (p.61).
Similarly, when Jesus conversed with the Roman centurion, a commander of a troop of Roman soldiers, the centurion most likely did not speak Aramaic or Hebrew. It is most likely that Jesus conversed with him in Greek, the common language of the time throughout the Roman empire (see Matt.8:5-13; Luke 7:2-10; John 4:46-53). A royal official of Rome, in the service of Herod Antipas, a Gentile, would most likely spoken with Jesus in Greek.
In addition, we find that Jesus journeyed to the pagan area of Tyre and Sidon, where He spoke with a Syro-Phoenician woman. The Gospel of Mark identifies this woman as Hellenes, meaning a "Greek" (Mark 7:26). The probability is, therefore, that Jesus spoke to her in Greek.
Even more remarkable, however, is the account in John 12, where we are told: "And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus" (John 12:20-21). These men were Greeks, and most likely spoke Greek, which Philip evidently understood, having grown up in the region of Galilee, not the back-water region many have assumed, but "Galilee of the Gentiles" (Matt.4:15) -- a place of commerce and international trade, where Greek would have been the normal language of business.
Having grown up in Galilee, it is evident that Jesus and His disciples must have spoken Greek, whenever it suited their purpose to do so. Declares Fitzmyer:
"Moreover, these specific instances in which Jesus apparently spoke Greek are consistent with his Galilean background. In Matthew 4;15, this area is referred to as 'Galilee of the Gentiles.' Growing up and living in this area, Jesus would have had to speak some Greek. Nazareth was a mere hour's walk to Sepphoris and in the vicinity of other cities of the Decapolis. Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, was built by Herod Antipas; the population there, too, was far more bilingual than in Jerusalem.
"Coming from such an area, JESUS would NO DOUBT HAVE SHARED THIS DOUBLE LINGUISTIC HERITAGE. Reared in an area where many inhabitants were GREEK- SPEAKING GENTILES, Jesus, the 'carpenter' (tekon, Mark 6:3), like Joseph, his foster- father (Matthew 13:55), would have had to deal with them in GREEK. Jesus was not an illiterate peasant and did not come from the lowest stratum of Palestinian society; he was a skilled craftsman. He is said to have had a house in Capernaum (Mark 2:15). He would naturally have conducted business in Greek with gentiles in Nazareth and neighboring Sepphoris" (ibid.).
Did Jesus also, therefore, teach in Greek? Were many of His parables and saying actually uttered in the Greek language?
If the answer is yes, as A. W. Argyle says, "We may have direct access to the original utterances of our Lord and not only to a translation of them."
In the time of Christ, three languages figured prominently in the lives of the people of Judaea -- the common language of Aramaic, the language of Hebrew, used in the synagogues, and the Greek language -- which was commonly spoken and understood throughout the Roman Empire.
Some Aramaic words and expressions are preserved in the Gospels, such as Talitha cum, which means, "Little girl, get up!" (Mark 5:41). Also, Abba ("Father"; Mark 14:36; Gal.4:6; Rom.8:15); Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"; Mark 15:34); Cephas ("Peter"; John 1:42); Mammon ("Wealth"; Matt.6:24, RSV); Raca ("Fool"; Matt.5:22, RSV). In fact, we can be specific and say that Jesus spoke a Galilean version of "western Aramaic," which differed from that which was spoken in Jerusalem (Matt.26:73; compare Acts 2:7).
Jesus could also read and speak Hebrew. The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls has proved that Hebrew was used quite extensively in certain circles, especially for religious purposes. Jesus stood up and read the Hebrew Scriptures in the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-20), showing He could also read and speak Hebrew. Some Hebrew words are also preserved in the gospels, such as, Ephphatha ("Be opened"; Mark 7:34); Amen ("Amen": Matt.5:26; Mark 14:30, RSV).
Writes Robert H. Stein, in Jesus The Messiah: A Survey of the Life of Christ:
"The third major language spoken in Palestine was Greek. The impact of Alexander the Great's conquests in the fourth century B.C. resulted in the Mediterranean's being a 'Greek sea' in Jesus' day. In the third century Jews in Egypt could no longer read the Scriptures in Hebrew, so they began to translated them into Greek. This famous translation became known as the Septuagint (LXX). Jesus, who was reared in 'Galilee, of the Gentiles,' lived only three or four miles from the thriving Greek city of Sepphoris. There may even have been times when he and his father worked in this rapidly grow- ing metropolitan city, which served as the capital city of Herod Antipas until A.D. 26, when he moved the capital to Tiberias" (Jesus the Messiah: A Survey of the Life of Christ, Robert H. Stein, InterVarsity Press,, 1996, p.87).
Stein further tells us that the existence of "Hellenists" in the early Church (Acts 6:1-6) implies that from the beginning of the Church, there were Greek speaking Jewish Christians in the Church. The term "Hellenists" suggests their language was Greek, rather than their cultural or philosophical outlook. Remember, these were Jewish Christians whose primary language was Greek -- they were not Greek philosophers or their followers, but followers of Christ Jesus.
Stein goes on to explain, further:
"Two of Jesus' disciples were even known by their Greek names: Andrew and Philip. In addition, there are several incidents in Jesus' ministry when he spoke to people who knew neither Aramaic nor Hebrew. Thus unless a translator was present (though none is ever mentioned), their conversations probably took place in the Greek language. Probably Jesus spoke Greek during the following occasions: the visit to Tyre, Sidon and the Decapolis (Mark 7:31ff), the conversation with the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30; compare especially 7?26) and the trial before Pontius Pilate (Mark 15:2-15; compare also Jesus' conversation with the 'Greeks' in John 12:20-36)" (p.87, emphasis all mine).
The fact that Jesus Christ and the disciples all knew and spoke Greek, as a "third language," in addition to Aramaic and Hebrew, is also indicated and supported by the fact that all the gospels and epistles of the New Testament are written and preserved in the Greek language.
Stop and think! It is very significant that no early Christian documents are extant in Aramaic! ALL the earliest New Testament documents and fragments are in Greek! Papias, a second-century bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor stated that Matthew had put together the "sayings" of Jesus in the Hebrew dialect, Aramaic. But no one has ever seen them. All we have are GREEK manuscripts, and as far back as we go, GREEK is the language of the New Testament! Strange, isn't it, that not one manuscript in Aramaic or Hebrew predates the Greek?
Scholars have long denied the veracity of the New Testament Scriptures, claiming that the earliest gospels were not eye-witness accounts of Christ and His life, but were written some one hundred years afterward, or about the middle of the second century, and were based on hearsay, myth, fable, and oral stories which had been passed down. Thus many scholars have regarded the very words of Christ, as recorded in the gospels, as "suspect."
Astonishing as it may seem, however, bits of papyrus in an Oxford University library puts the lie to the cherished theories of unbelieving, skeptical scholars! Three scraps of text of the gospel of Matthew, inscribed in Greek, have traditionally been believed to have been written in the late second century. But German papyrus expert Carsten Thiede has published a paper arguing that these fragments kept at Oxford's Magdalen College very likely represent an actual EYE WITNESS ACCOUNT of the life of Jesus!
The London Times reported that the evidence on an early form of writing paper was a potentially "important breakthrough in biblical scholarship, on a level with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947" (Los Angeles Times, Dec.25, 1994, "Gospel Fragments in Britain May Be Contemporary Account of Life of Jesus Christ, p.A42).
Some scholars have questioned the accuracy of the New Testament as historical, believing that the earliest texts were written long after the actual events described. However, careful new analysis by Professor Thiede has dated the fragments to the middle of the first century, thereby indicating that they are evidence that the Matthew Gospel was written only a generation after the crucifixion, or even earlier! Says William Tuohy of the Los Angeles Times, "Parts of the New Testament may have been written by men who actually knew Christ, rather than authors recounting a 2nd-Century version of an oral tradition."
The Magdalen fragments have been at the Oxford college since 1901. Little work has been done on them since 1953 when they were last edited by biblical scholars. But earlier this year, Thiede visited Oxford and inspected the papyrus. He concluded,
"The Magdalen fragment now appears to belong to a style of handwriting that was current in the 1st Century A.D., and that slowly petered out around the mid-1st Century. Even a hesitant approach to questions of dating would therefore seem to justify a date in the 1st Century, about 100 years earlier than previously thought."
The lines on the fragments are from Matthew 26 and include the oldest written reference to Mary Magdalene and the betrayal of Christ by Judas. This fragment, written soon after the death of Christ, in the first century, is written in the Greek language, putting in the trash compacter once and for all the notion that the apostles did not speak or write Greek!
This new discovery by Professor Carsten Thiede, a papyrus expert, will provoke controversy among scholars, if not even dismay and consternation on the part of disbelievers and skeptics. His discovery is strong evidence that the gospel accounts regarding the life of Jesus Christ are accurate, and reliable historical documents.
The Magdalene fragment from the Gospel of Matthew has been identified as coming from a document dated to the middle of the first century A.D. -- during the very lives of the apostles! This fragment is written in GREEK, and could even be a fragment from an original monograph written by the apostle Matthew himself! This amazing new discovery is powerful evidence, obviously, that the writer, evidently the apostle Matthew, was very familiar with the Greek language and was capable of writing intelligently in it.
Furthermore, it is interesting to note that some of the disciples of Christ had Greek names -- Andrew, Philip, Simon (a Grecized form of the Hebrew Sim on), Levi/Matthew, a tax collector. It is possible that many Greek terms preserved in the New Testament may be there because they were originally uttered in Greek. One such word is "Sanhedron," which comes from the Greek synedrion. It is of Greek, not Hebrew, derivation, and was the common term used for the Jewish high court.
A word often used by Jesus, "hypocrite," in describing the Pharisees and Sadducees, comes from the Greek word hypokrites, a compound word with the Greek preposition hypo for "under" and krites, meaning "judgment." This form is wholly lacking in Semitic languages. The word hypokrites basically means, "one who answers" (i.e., one who always has an answer, or excuse), but came to mean over time not only "expounder" or "interpreter," but "orator," "actor," stage actor, or one who spoke from behind a dramatic mask on stage. From this it came to mean "pretender," "dissembler." But this Greek word, so familiar in the denunciations of Christ, has no counterpart in Hebrew or Aramaic.
What difference does it make, anyway, what language Jesus and His disciples spoke? The answer becomes clear when we realize that there are churches, sects and cults today which make a great issue over the subject of "holy names." These churches will not use ANY name for God or Christ in ANY language except what they call the original "Hebrew" names for God and the Messiah.
According to these people, it is a SIN to mention on one's lips the word Adonai in Hebrew, translated "Lord" in the Old Testament! According to them, the word "Adonai" is a name for Baal the sun-god, and so "Lord" is a title for Baal, the sun-god! It does not seem to matter to them that the Scriptures themselves use this very word repeatedly in reference to the True God of Israel! Similarly, they condemn the use of the Hebrew name El, Elohim, Eloah, and all its derivatives as being PAGAN terms, used of the pagan gods of antiquity. They condemn the use of such words, including any and all translations from them, such as "God," "Most High God," etc. Any titles used for pagan gods they forbid to be used of the True God! Yet the Scriptures themselves repeatedly refer to the true God as El, Elohim, Eloah, etc., in the Old Testament, which translates into English as "God" (Gen.1:1, etc.).
Of course, the fact that God preserved the entirely of the New Testament in the Greek language seems to give these people "fits." They claim Greek is another pagan language, and that such terms as Iesous translated "Jesus," and Theos translated "God" are also pagan names and must not be used. They claim that a vast, overriding "conspiracy" in the first century destroyed all the "missing" Hebrew original documents, and that the New Testament we have today is essentially a forgery -- at least where the names of God are involved!
Proof or evidence of this conspiracy? There is none. Does God Almighty have the power to preserve His name in whatever language He chooses? Of course He does! And it is patently obvious that He choose to preserve the New Testament Scriptures in Greek -- not Hebrew! The fact that Jesus and the apostles all spoke Greek is another nail in the coffin of these "language-worshippers" and conspiracy addicts.
We need not worry about ancient conspiracies to destroy the word, or "name" of God. As Christ said, "Thy word is truth" (John 17:17); "the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35).
Peter wrote that the word of God "liveth and abideth for ever" (I Pet.1:23). The word of God, which He inspired to be preserved, is in all essential and crucial respects, inspired and correctly preserved, to all generations. As Paul wrote to Timothy, "ALL SCRIPTURE" -- and that includes the NAMES AND TITLES USED FOR GOD, in both the Old and New Testaments -- "IS GIVEN BY INSPIRATION OF GOD [Greek, "God-breathed"], and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for CORRECTION, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (II Tim.3:16).
Wouldn't it seem awfully strange that if God only intended all mankind to use only the Hebrew names of God and the Messiah, that He Himself divided all mankind into many language groups at the tower of Babel? Wouldn't it also seem strange that this same God, who created mankind, and later gave him different languages (Gen.11), required that in order to receive salvation one would have to know, and pronounce "correctly," the Hebrew name of God and Christ -- and that ONLY THE HEBREW PRONUNCIATION WOULD SAVE ANYBODY?
What kind of God would that be? Generations of man have come and gone, and even the Jews say today that they have forgotten exactly how to pronounce the YHVH or Tetragrammaton of the Old Testament name of God! "Jehovah" is obviously in error, yet many use that name today. "Yahweh" is the more recently "scholarly" pronunciation suggested by many; yet historical evidence indicates that is just an "approximation" of the divine name, and "Yahveh" would be closer to the truth.
Others claim "Yahuveh" is more accurate. And on and on the argument goes -- where it will stop, nobody knows! Some claim "Christ" is a pagan (Greek) term, and that "Jesus" comes from the Greek god "Zeus." Both claims are patently false. "Christ" is merely the English form of the Greek word Christos, which merely means "Anointed" (just as the Hebrew word Moshiach literally means "Messiah"). The name "Jesus" comes from the Greek Iesous, and means "Saviour," just as does the Hebrew original Yeshua.
The important thing in God's sight is not whether we pronounce the syllables and consonants of His name in some precise manner directed by heaven. But rather, whether we love Him with all our heart, mind and soul, and love our neighbor as ourselves. As Jesus Christ said: "For this is the (whole) law and the prophets."
Some today teach that that the Greek names for God, found in the New Testament, are PAGAN! And, furthermore, they claim that the names for God in the various languages around the world are all pagan and idolatrous! To them, only the original Hebrew name is right!
What is the truth? Is the name "Jesus" -- Iesou in the Greek language -- derived from the name of the pagan god "Zeus"? Is the Greek name for God -- Theos -- merely another name for "Baal" and pagan in origin? Is it wrong to use the Greek names for God?
These questions cut to the very heart of the controversy over the "divine names" sects and churches who insist that the names of God in all other languages are pagan in origin and blasphemous to use. Such sects claim that the New Testament itself was originally written in the Hebrew language, and that the Greek manuscripts are frauds -- deliberate attempts by apostates to corrupt the names of God and change the teachings of Christ.
Is there any evidence to back up such sensational claims? Is the New Testament, as we have it today, a trustworthy document -- or a compilation of lies and forgeries, foisted upon the world by Catholic theologians of the fourth and fifth centuries?
What is the truth? If the Greek New Testament is a fraud, then we need to know it! Our salvation could be at stake -- and certainly it is, if we have believed a "lie"!
The fact is, there is no Biblical evidence that God must be called only by His Hebrew names and titles. There is no Biblical or linguistic evidence that prohibits the use of English names and titles for God.
If Almighty God only wanted us to use the HEBREW names for God, then we would expect that the writers of the New Testament would have inserted the Hebrew names for God whenever they mentioned Him! But they do not do so. Instead, throughout the New Testament they use the Greek forms of God's names and titles. They call God "Theos" instead of "Elohim."
Furthermore, even if some parts of the New Testament were written in Hebrew (such as the gospel of Matthew), as some suggest, isn't it amazing that God did not preserve those manuscripts -- instead He chose to preserve His New Testament Scriptures in the GREEK LANGUAGE, with the Greek forms of His name and titles!
Not one book of the New Testament has been preserved in Hebrew -- only in Greek. This is prima facie evidence that one language is not necessarily any "holier" than another, and that it is NOT wrong to use the forms of God's name as they would translate from the Hebrew or Greek.
Those who insist on using only the Hebrew names of God are straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel! Nowhere does the Bible tell us that it is wrong to use the names of God in Aramaic, Greek, or any other language of the earth.
Since Almighty God has preserved the New Testament Scriptures in the Greek language, and many if not all of them were originally written in Greek, it is obvious that God Himself INSPIRED the usage of Greek to write and to maintain and preserve HIS HOLY WORD! Therefore, it is self-evident that the Greek forms of God's names and titles are perfectly all right for us to use, and translations of those forms and names into other languages, including English.
Luke the physician, who wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, was a highly trained physician who evidently was trained in his craft at Alexandria, Egypt. He addresses his gospel to the "most excellent Theophilus" (Luke 1:3), as he does also the book of Acts (Acts 1:1). Theophilus, from his name, was undoubtedly a Greek. The gospel of Luke and book of Acts were undoubtedly written by Luke in the Greek language.
Says the New Bible Dictionary: "It is generally admitted that Luke is the most literary author of the New Testament. His prologue proves that he was able to write in irreproachable, pure, literary Greek" (p.758). He was a Gentile. Says this same source, "From the literary style of Luke and Acts, and from the character of the contents of the books, it is clear that Luke was a well-educated Greek."
This evidence, of course, provides further proof that God does not take exception to the Greek forms of His name and titles. He inspired Luke to use the Greek language! And Luke was writing primarily for the Greek-speaking, Gentile world!
The apostle Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. He spoke Greek fluently, and used it continually as he went throughout the Roman world preaching the gospel. Only when he was in Judea, and Jerusalem, did he generally use Hebrew (Acts 22:2). In writing his epistles to the churches throughout the region -- Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, Philippi -- undoubtedly he also wrote in the Greek language. There is no evidence whatsoever that he originally used Hebrew names for God instead of the Greek forms, as they have been preserved through the centuries.
Did God Himself inspire the New Testament to be written and preserved in the Greek language, instead of Hebrew? What was the original language of the books of the New Testament?
The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, by Eusebius, provides us with greater insight into the writing of the New Testament. Eusebius records that after Peter first went to Rome, and preached the gospel there, that the people were so enthusiastic that they wanted a written record of the gospel he preached. Writes Eusebius:
"So brightly shone the light of true religion on the minds of Peter's hearers that, not satisfied with a single hearing or with the oral teaching of the divine message, they resorted to appeals of every kind to induce Mark (whose gospel we have), as he was a follower of Peter, to leave them in WRITING a summary of the instruction they had received by word of mouth, nor did they let him go until they had persuaded him, and thus became responsible for the writing of what is known as the Gospel according to Mark" (p.88).
This occurred in Rome. The request was made by Romans. The language Mark wrote in was Greek, which was commonly understood by all learned Romans, as Greek was the universal language of that time.
Eusebius tells us more about the original writing of the gospels. "Matthew," he records, "had begun by preaching to Hebrews; and when he made up his mind to go to others too, he committed his own gospel tow riting IN HIS NATIVE TONGUE, so that for those with whom he was no longer present the gap left by his departure was filled by what he wrote. And when Mark and Luke had published their gospels, John, we are told, who hitherto had relied entirely on the spoken word, finally took to writing for the following reason.The three gospels already written were in general circulation and copies had come into John's hands. He welcomed them, we are told, and confirmed their accuracy, but remarked that the narrative only lacked the story of what Christ had done first of all at the beginning of His mission" (p.132).
It is obvious that Mark, Luke and John, therefore, were written in Greek. John's headquarters, at this time, was undoubtedly Ephesus, where he finally died. Ephesus was in the middle of a Greek-speaking region, and John was writing for the entire Church, not just the Jews at Jerusalem.
Eusebius quotes Irenaeus also concerning the writing of the gospels, as follows:
"Matthew published a written gospel for the Hebrews in their Rome and founding the church there. After their passing, Mark also, the disciple and INTERPRETER of Peter, transmitted to us in writing the things preached by Peter. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel preached by him. Lastly, John, the disciple of the Lord, who had leant back on His breast, once more set forth the gospel, while residing at Ephesus in Asia" (p.211).
Obviously these three gospels were written in Greek, as their audience was Greek-speaking, and only the gospel of Matthew is singled out as having been written in Hebrew!
Irenaeus is also quoted concerning the writing of the book of Revelation, and the mysterious number "666," the number of the Antichrist. Irenaeus writes:
"Such then is the case: this number is found in all good and early copies and confirmed by the very people who was John face to face, and reason teaches us that the number of the Beast's name is shown according to GREEK numerical usage by the letters in it. . . ." (p.211).
Again, here is further evidence that even the book of Revelation was originally written in Greek.
The distinguished scholar F. F. Bruce, in The Books and the Parchments, tells us that Greek was undoubtedly the language of the New Testament. He asserts, "Although Aramaci appears to have been the common language of our Lord and of the earliest Christians, it is not the language of the New Testament. . . .
"The language most appropriate for the propagation of this message would naturally be one that was most widely known throughout all the nations, and this language lay ready to hand. It was the Greek language, which, at the time when the gospel began to be proclaimed among all the nations, was a THOROUGHLY INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE, spoken not only around the Aegean shores but all over the Eastern Mediterranean and in other areas too. Greek was no strange tongue to the apostolic church even in the days when it was confined to Jerusalem, for the membership of the primitive Jerusalem church included Greek-speaking Jews as well as Aramaic-speaking Jews. These Greek-speaking Jewish Christians (or Hellenists) are mentioned in Acts 6:1, where we read that they complained of the unequal attention paid to the widows of their group by contrast with those of the Hebrews or Aramaic-speaking Jews. To remedy this situation seven men were appointed to take charge of it, and it is noteworthy that (to judge by their names) all seven were Greek-speaking" (p.49).
Bruce discusses the differences in style of writing in the Greek language that are found in the New Testament books. He declares:
"Paul, we may say, comes roughly half-way between the vernacular and more literary styles. The Epistle to the Hebrews and the First Epistle of Peter are true literary works, and much of their vocabulary is to be understood by the aid of a classical lexicon rather than one which draws upon non-literary sources. The Gospels contain more really vernacular Greek, as we might expect, since they report so much conversation by ordinary people. This is true even of Luke's Gospel. Luke himself was master of a fine literary literary style, as appears from the first four verses of his Gospel, but in both Gospel and Acts he adapts his style to the characters and scenes that he portrays" (p.55-56).
All scholars of repute, today, admit that the original language of the New Testament was Greek, although the writers sometimes drew upon Hebraisms to be translated into the Greek.
Says the New Bible Dictionary: "The language in which the New Testament documents have been preserved is the 'common Greek' (koine),which was the lingua franca of the Near Eastern andMediterranean lands in Roman times" (p.713).
This same authoritative source adds the following information:
"Having thus summarized the general characteristics of New Testament Greek, we may give a brief characterization of each individual author. Mark is written in the Greek of the common man. . . . Matthew and Luke each utilize the Markan text, but each corrects his solecisims, and prunes his style . . . Matthew's own style is less distinguished than that of Luke -- he writes a grammatical Greek, sober but cultivated, yet with some marked Septuagintalisms; Luke is capable of achieving momentarily great heights of style in the Attic tradition, but lacks the power to sustain these; he lapses at length back to the style of his sources or to a very humble koine. . . .
"Paul writes a forceful Greek,with noticeable developments in style between his earliest andhis latest Epistles . . . . James and I Peter both show close acquaintance with classical style, although in the former some very 'Jewish' Greek may also be seen.The Johannine Epistles are closely similar to the Gospels in language. . . Jude and II Peter both display a highly tortuous an involved Greek. . . The Apo- calypse, as we have indicated, is sui generis in language and style: its vigour, power, and success, though a tour de force, cannot be denied" (p.715-716).
There is no evidence at all to suppose that the New Testament was originally written in anything but ancient Greek! Concludes the New Bible Dictionary, "In summary, we may state that the Greek of the New Testament is known to us today as a language 'understanded of the people,' and that it was used with varying degrees of stylistic attainment, but with one impetus and vigour, to express in these documents a message which at any rate for its preachers was continuous with that of the Old Testament Scriptures -- a message of a living God, concerned for man's right relation with Himself, providing of Himself the means of reconciliation."
Now consider this.
The evidence all shows that Almighty God INSPIRED Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and the rest of the writers of the New Testament -- even including Peter and James -- of having written their gospels and epistles IN GREEK! Only Matthew's gospel was apparently written first in Hebrew or Aramaic. The other New Testament writers, in using the Greek language, also used the GREEK FORMS of God's name, and the name of Jesus Christ, repeatedly and consistently! Clearly, therefore, God Himself does not disapprove of His name being translated into different human languages!
It is a spurious, specious argument to claim that the New Testament had to have been written in Hebrew, and had to contain only the Hebrew names for God. All the evidence of the manuscripts points otherwise.
Those who deny that the Old Testament faithfully preserves the knowledge of God's name, and who claim the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew, utilizing the Hebrew names for God, have no evidence or proof whatsoever to back up their claims. Should we believe them when they have no evidence, but only a "theory"? Should we take their speculations as "fact"? Of course not!
The apostle Paul cautions true Christians, "PROVE ALL THINGS; hold fast that which is good" (I Thess.5;21). We must not allow men to wrap us around their little fingers, and make mincemeat of us, just because they sound convincing and positive in their writings and arguments. The truth is, they don't know what they are talking about. They don't have a leg to stand on. They have placed their personal theological beliefs before the record of history. They have denied the facts in order to keep their own cherished beliefs.
Those who claim that the original manuscripts were not properly preserved in the language in which they were written, seem to think that God Almighty is UNABLE or UNWILLING to faithfully preserve and protect HIS WORD from the corruption and perversion of men!
God is not prejudiced against the Greek language, or Russian, Italian, German, Chinese, Spanish, French, or English. But, as Peter declared: "Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:34-35). Amen to that!
Created by Corey Keating at: http://www.ntgreek.org/