Did Jesus Speak Greek?

I was somewhat surprised, after I posted about Jesus’ use of the diminutive κυνάριον in his delightful conversation with the Syrophoenician woman (Matt 15:26–27), to have several people make comments like this one:

Was the historical Jesus really speaking Greek with the woman? If not, then many things change about your study and conclusions.

The other language many people think Jesus might have been speaking is Aramaic, a language related to but distinct from Hebrew (and even more distinct from Greek). I answered the commenter this way:

The Aramaic question is totally fair, but it’s one I find never has any firm answer and never gets me anywhere exegetically. When it does get me somewhere (as with some interpretations of “Thou art Peter and upon this rock…”), I tend to think of it as cheating, special pleading. I agree with [the other commenter] that the final form of the (Greek) text is what I have to deal with.

I admit I’m suspicious of the whole question. What effect can it have other than to destabilize the Greek text we in fact have? When will we ever be able to uncover an Aramaic Vorlage (source text) with any certainty—much less one that actually helps us understand the words of Jesus in the New Testament? I’m already too good at evading what Jesus told me to do (“Love your enemies,” “Give to him that asks of you”). I don’t need a temptation to doubt that the New Testament faithfully records Jesus’ words.

But it’s not right for me to simply wish for Jesus to speak Greek because that would make me feel safer from challenge. So I did some study in my journals in Logos—this is precisely the kind of question that is too complicated for commentaries to handle and too narrow for monographs. So to journals I turned. And I was happy to see one of the premier New Testament scholars of the day directly taking up my question: Stanley Porter, in “Did Jesus Ever Teach In Greek?” (Tyndale Bulletin 44, no. 1 [1993]: 199–235).

I’m not going to do original research for this post; Porter’s command of the primary sources far exceeds my own. But I’m going to list in detail the major reasons why Porter’s answer to his own titular question was “Yes.” Jesus did most likely, at least on occasion, teach in Greek.

Porter says that “evidence is increasing that [lower Galilee] was the Palestinian area most heavily influenced by Greek language and culture.” Porter cites several books, as well as this interesting article by eminent Roman Catholic Joseph Fitzmyer (who writes, “There are some indications that Palestinian Jews in some areas may have used nothing else but Greek”), but Porter also points to evidence within the text of Scripture. We’ll start there.

Biblical Evidence

  1. “One indication of the pervasive influence of Greek [is that] in Acts 6:1 (cf. 9:29) a distinction is made between Ἐλληνισταί and Ἑβραῖοι, probably a linguistic distinction made between Jews who spoke mainly Greek and those who spoke mainly Aramaic or who also spoke Aramaic. Before the third century A.D. these terms were virtually exclusively linguistic terms referring to language competence. To distinguish those outside Palestine as Greek speakers would not have been necessary (it would have been assumed), but apparently there was a significant part of the population that spoke mostly Greek even of those resident in Jerusalem.”
  2. “The seven men appointed in Acts 6:5 to serve the Greek-speaking constituency all have Greek names.”
  3. “Referred to as the ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ in Matthew 4:15, lower Galilee was a center for trade among the Mediterranean, Sea of Galilee and Decapolis regions. Galilee was completely surrounded by hellenistic culture.”
  4. “Matthew (Mt. 9:9; Lk. 5:27-28) or Levi (Mk. 2:13-14), the tax collector in Capernaum, would probably have known Greek in order to conduct his duties with the local taxpayers and the tetrarch Herod Antipas’s officials. Many of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen who worked the Sea of Galilee, including Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. They almost assuredly would have needed to conduct in Greek much of their business of selling fish.”

Extrabiblical Evidence

Porter also points to evidence from outside the Bible.

More impressive than what is known even of Galilee for establishing the probability that Jesus spoke Greek is the epigraphic and literary evidence for the widespread knowledge of Greek throughout Palestine including Galilee…. That Greek was used not only in the Diaspora but also in Palestine, even for composition by Jews of distinctly Jewish literature including much religious literature, indicates that Greek was an important and widely used language by a sizable portion of the Palestinian Jewish population.

Literary Evidence

Porter gives several examples of literary evidence for the use of Greek:

  1. “There have been a number of papyrus texts (including a number of fragments) found in Palestine written in Greek by Jews. The papyri of the Judaean Desert include a wide range and variety of artifacts, such as commercial transactions, fiduciary notes, contracts of marriage, and fragments of philosophical and literary texts, among others.”
  2. “So far as Jewish literature is concerned, there is also significant evidence of composition being done in Greek in Palestine by Jews for Jewish audiences. For example, the book of Daniel, besides using Greek names to refer in 3:5 to three musical instruments (lyre, harp and pipes [NIV]), and being composed in Hebrew and Aramaic, in its deuterocanonical form includes additional sections composed in Greek (Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Children, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon).”
  3. “Worth noting as well is the fact that, although 2 Esdras and Judith were written in Hebrew, they survive virtually entirely or at least in significant part in Greek versions, quite possibly reflecting Jewish linguistic priorities for preservation of religious texts.”

Inscriptional Evidence

Porter also gives examples from inscriptions.

The inscriptional evidence points in the same direction…. There are a number of crucial texts that do point to the early and sustained, widespread use of Greek in Palestine and in particular in Galilee.

For example:

  1. “Kee notes that ‘when the synagogue movement began to flourish and to take on architectural forms in the second century C.E., the inscriptions were in Greek, even in Jerusalem.’”
  2. “The best indicator of the language of the common people is the sepulchral inscriptions, and the evidence certainly indicates a widespread and constant use of Greek in Palestine, including especially Galilee. To put the evidence from funerary inscriptions into its proper context, it is worth noting that, according to the latest statistics on published inscriptions, 68% of all of the ancient Jewish inscriptions from the Mediterranean world are in Greek (70% if one counts as Greek bilingual inscriptions with Greek as one of the languages).”

Porter concludes from the above:

In the light of this accumulated evidence, which is overwhelming when compared to the equivalent Aramaic evidence, it is surprising that many scholars have not given more consideration to the hypothesis that Jesus spoke and even possibly taught in Greek.

So what about Jesus’ own speech as recorded in the New Testament? Does it point in the same direction?

Evidence from the Recorded Speech of Jesus

Porter thinks so. He offers this evidence from within Jesus’ own words in the New Testament:

  1. “The first and most important example, and the one that sets the tenor for the subsequent treatment of passages, is Jesus’ trial before Pilate (Mk. 15:2-5; Mt. 27:11-14; Lk. 23:2-5; Jn. 18:29- 38; cf. 1 Tim. 6:13). It is highly unlikely that Pilate, the prefect assigned to this remote posting in the Roman empire, would have known any Semitic language. No translator or interpreter is mentioned for the conversation that occurs between Jesus and Pilate, making it unlikely that Latin or Aramaic was used. In fact, the pace of the narrative, in which conversation is held between not only Pilate and Jesus but Pilate and the Jewish leaders, Pilate and the crowd, and the Jewish leaders and the crowd, argues against an interpreter intervening. It is most likely, therefore, that Jesus spoke to Pilate in Greek.”

And that brings us back to the diminutive κυνάριον and Jesus’ conversation with the Syrophoenician woman. Porter actually cites this very passage as a reason to believe that Jesus spoke Greek:

  1. “The first example of a passage in which Jesus may well have spoken Greek is Mark 7:25-30, when Jesus travels to the area of Tyre. A woman with a daughter possessed by an evil spirit hears of his presence there and begs for Jesus’ help. The woman is called in Mark’s Gospel a Ἑλληνίς, a Συροφοινίκισσα by birth, i.e. a gentile (7:26). Even though the indigenous language of the area was Semitic, this area had long been under hellenistic influence (and antagonistic to the Jews; see Josephus, Ag. Ap. 1.69-72) and evidenced widespread use of Greek, as has been noted above. The description of the woman in the Gospel makes sure that the reader knows that the woman was a Greek-speaker despite her birth. Otherwise the reference is gratuitous. There is no indication of an interpreter being present.”

Did Jesus speak Greek? The New Testament doesn’t directly answer all the questions we like to ask it. But when combined with archaeological evidence, Porter concludes that

the evidence regarding what is known about the use of Greek in ancient Palestine, including the cosmopolitan hellenistic character of lower Galilee, the epigraphic and literary evidence, including coins, papyri, literary writers, inscriptions and funerary texts, but most of all several significant contexts in the Gospels, all points in one direction: whereas it is not always known how much and on which occasions Jesus spoke Greek, it is virtually certain that he used Greek at various times in his itinerant ministry.

***

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Mark Ward

Christian, husband, father, writer, ultimate frisbee player when possible.

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40 comments
  • I would draw slightly different conclusions. Whether or not Jesus spoke any or much Greek, I think the central point is that Greek was not his mother tongue (hence the frequent insertions of Aramaic words in the gospels) nor the language in which he composed his parables. which makes it all the more extraordinary that the second covenant is framed in the common language with no concession to an original collection of Jesus sayings and parables for those who wanted to take the trouble to learn Aramaic. The Logos of God suffers the indignity of having his work translated. How much is lost in translation?

    I would want also to cite the Greeks asking to see Jesus and Andrew (also not a Greek speaker?) going to find Philips from Bethesda on the caravan trail across Galilee up to Damascus. conclusion perhaps Jesus and Andrew had little need of Greek but Philips would have. The gospel is cross cultural as soon as it begins to spread.

    the other evidence you don’t reference is Jesus use of scripture. Surely the influence of the Septuagint would mean that other contemporaries were using it. Even if Jesus wasn’t. So when he (mis) reads the passage in the Nazareth synagogue he’s reading in Hebrew? Or Greek? Prob not aramaic.

    • As a tribal person whose families live and co-exist with the dominant American society, I have made these observations about speaking both the dominant language, English, in our case, and also speaking our own languages (which I do not).

      My own grandma, whom I miss so very much, grew up speaking Kiowa. I’m not certain when she learned to speak English. Yet in her last years, she would read her Bible in English, pray in and communicate in both English and Kiowa, and sing her Kiowa hymns. I remember her sitting on the bed in my aunt and uncle’s house and singing and praying and crying because she was essentially isolated in her Kiowa-ness. My aunts, uncles, and cousins and my family loved her, but we could not appreciate her experiences. She could tell us about many things, but we could not appreciate them as she did.

      She would talk about going up to the spring on a hot day. The spring gurgled up cold water, the taste of which she simply loved. Yet, we did not understand what the water actually tasted like as she understood it. The Kiowas were a meat-eating society. She told us about eating the steaks, ribs, and roasts of buffaloes. We understood steaks, ribs, and roasts of cattle, but it’s not the same thing at all. I didn’t taste buffalo meat until I was in my late 30’s. Grandma was with the Lord, reunited with her family in heaven.

      I said all of this to make this observation. When my grandma would speak English, she would occasionally slip into Kiowa phrasing and vocabulary. She would tease us about being crazy kids–there are many Kiowa synonyms for that concept. When she slipped in the ocassional Kiowa word as she spoke to us, she did it without really understanding that perhaps we didn’t understand what she meant or what she was saying. She simply did it as part of her own speech pattern.

      That’s what I see in the speech of Jesus. He would speak, occasionally dropping in the Aramaic phrase, word, or thought. When he went in to the the young girl who was dead, He took her hand, and said, “Talitha, cumi.” Jesus apprently had sisters. Being the oldest, he apparently heard his Mother, on many occasions, awaken them. I think he had heard her say on most or many morning to the particular girl, “Talitha, cumi.” Little lamb, arise. His words were both the call out by the Messiah to the girl who was in eternity, and it was the tender call of an older brother relating to a girl as if she were His sister. That’s what my grandma would do. Occasionally, as she spoke to me, she would call me tul-lee, boy or son.

      So I see Jesus, who spoke Greek, lapsing occasionally or even frequently, into His native Aramaic. It was the Messiah relating to the human race both as Messiah and as the very human Jesus.

      In my thought life, occasionally, I hope there is a place in Heaven where the Kiowas get together and speak and pray and worship the Lord, perhaps around the fruit-bearing tree. And occasionally, Jesus comes and speaks a little Kiowa to them and eats with them. Kiowas love to eat. My grandma would love that.

      • This is a thread with many helpful and thought-provoking replies, but yours wins for most charming and memorable. I’ll be putting it in my notes.

        It’s along the lines of what I was saying. If I’d remembered the story better I’d’ve related something my Hebrew prof told of a bilingual lady in a church he served who, seeing this, exclaimed something like “He’s talking his home-talk!”

        Thanks so much for sharing that, Jim.

      • This is really beautiful, and beautifully written.

        And, to me, perfectly plausible. I’ve just been reading in A Brief History of Ancient Greek about the different linguistic influences that have been brought to bear on Greek in its various stages of existence. The situation you describe with your grandmother, and the one you imagine with Jesus, are consistent with the kinds of things that happen in other languages.

      • Thank you, Jim, that was beautiful and so lively. I wish we could save all the languages and cultures. I’m sure your grandmother is in a good places, a heavenly place where all human languages are embraced and transcended.

        Here’s my experience. I grew up in Finland speaking perfect Finnish. At the age of 8, we moved to Canada and stopped speaking Finnish altogether. By 18 I had forgotten my Finnish altogether but I could still vividly remember conversations I had with Finns in Finnish without being able to reproduce it in Finnish. The conversations were coded in my memory in a non-linguistic form, i.e., not Finnish or English or anynother language. I could recount the conversations in English or any other language I had learned.

        Here’s a funny example. During the snowy winters, we would build big forts made of snow and have snowball fights against the kids from across the street, they in their fort and we in ours. Once, we captured a kid from across the street and put him in the “prison” in our fort. As soon as we put him in there, he said that we have to let him go because he has to go to the bathroom. We thought it was a trick and refused. He then said “OK, guys, I’m not kidding, I really have to pee and if you don’t let me go, I’m going to pee in your fort”, which put us in a dilemma as we didn’t want our fort to be peed in but we also didn’t want to let him go and have him yell “suckers!” as he ran away laughing at our credulity.

        I have learned some 11 languages, more or less, forgetting or getting rusty in languages I never use anymore or hardly use, English is my third language and I also learned university-level Hebrew and Arabic. Spanish, French, Italian. Dutch and German. Swedish and Norwegian. The world looks very different through different language-telescopes. Most terms have no one-to-one translation. The connotations are different, like your eample tul-lee, boy or son. What is expected of a boy or a son changes in cultures, so the word would have a different colour, nuance, radiance. The words before and after the word, the context, would also give it different shades of meaning.

        Do I think Jesus spoke Greek? Yes, definitely. Do I think that Jesus was influenced by
        Greek culture? Yes, definitely. I base this on my years with the Arabs and Hebrews, who are much more insular, tribal, than the Greeks and the Europeans in general. Jesus had no problem extending His kindness and attention to non-Jews, which many Jews and non-Jews found shocking. Jesus also had more Greek metaphysical “language”, “imagery”, “metaphors”, than Hebrew, more universal, less tribal, more heavenly, less earthly, all more Greek and less Hebrew. More Plato and less Moses.

        God bless and thank you for introducing your grandmother. She sounds wonderful and I can imagine the pain she went through no being able to share her Kiowa worldview with her family. In the end, we are all family in the LOGOS.

        Anders

      • Thank you! Culturally dominant peoples do not even begin to understand the nuances of having to traverse more than one culture and language as a culturally non-dominant person.

    • Also when Jesus recites the Shema to the Pharisees, I can’t imagine the addition of the fourth “with all your” (mind, a Greek construct) to be something He said, but rather something the Septuagint added after what He said was written and spread. Hebrew Matthew has the list of “with all your” ‘s abbreviated, so there is no telling about Matthew’s quote. But Mark has Jesus adding “with all your mind” to the original Hebrew Tanak’s Shema. But I cannot see the Son of God adding to the main credo of Judaism with a misquote from Deuteronomy.
      Deuteronomy 6:5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
      Mark 12:30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

    • I doubt anyone took the trouble to translate and make copy of the Scriptures into Aramaic and the Hebrew was probably kept by the priests. I imagine Jesus’ access to the LXX would have made a carpenter’s education as a rabbi more likely. Otherwise he would likely only have access to the Scriptures on Saturdays. No poor rabbi could avoid learning Greek. Could they?

  • Another support for your conclusion comes (oddly?) from the places where Gospel writers quote an Aramaic word. Without exception, they are unremarkable words. That is, with the debatable exception of Abba, none is the kind of word that would itself raise an eyebrow.

    Here’s the point: why bother? Why draw attention to the Aramaic word? It isn’t the uniqueness of the words themselves.

    My answer: the Aramaic words are cited because the fact that He was speaking in Aramaic is what was exceptional. Most of them time, therefore, He taught in a different language.

    Like…Greek?

  • Mine may not be a scholarly answer, but I would also point out that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. He is the creator of the universe. I believe Jesus Christ could, and can, speak any Earthly language.

    • I totally agree. If when the Spirit fell upon the body in the Day of Pentecost, and they were given tongues to speak of the glory of God to the visitors from all around the world, would he not do the same? Besides, is “Koine” Greek was the “common” language of the region, than it does make sense for him to speak Greek, at the very least occasionally.

  • Isn’t it relevant to include, admittedly speculative and conjectural, Joseph being a carpenter, making his living performing such work, Jesus apprenticing with him or at least accompanying him to and from clients, obtaining raw materials, etc.?
    Nazareth might well have been as large as 12,000 – 15,000 in population, more than sufficient to support a family business in carpentry. But, they might well have had to speak Greek as the language of the marketplace, and even have had Greek customers not able to speak Aramaic.
    Does not seem on its face u reasonable.

  • Very interesting indeed. It seems to confirm that the timing of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection was carefully planned by The Father to show the message of salvation to Jews and gentiles as well, as He himself would have laid the foundation of preaching to gentiles.

    Thanks for this very informative and interesting article.

  • It is very clear to me that the distinctions made in Matthew’s Gospel at Matthew 16:18 require that Jesus was speaking in Greek. Scholars have long noted that such distinctions would not appear in “translation Greek,” if Matthew were a Greek translation of an Aramaic original. See, for example, Nigel Turner, Grammatical Insights, p. 181; Grammar of NT Greek, volume 4, p. 38).

    Further evidence is the presence of the Figure of Speech Paronomasia, as at Matthew 21:41; 22:3; 24:7. See my Note in The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge at Matthew 16:18.

  • In all likelihood, Jesus spoke Aramaic, Greek, and Latin to some extent. Most business people in first century Palestine did, and Jesus was a business person for at least half of his lifetime. As a carpenter, or as I understand his occupation, a contractor, he dealt with various people who spoke any one of the three languages. He could well have used his woodworker skills in the building of Sepphoris, a new city being constructed only a few miles distant from Nazareth where he could have found work in Herod’s pet project. There he’d run into Jews, Romans, and others who spoke the lingua franca, Greek, or the up-and-coming language of the occupation army, Latin. He could probably write in the three languages, too. Education of the time included lessons in reading and writing, not just with the scriptures, but with language skills needed in trade or other occupations.

  • This sheds some light on Bart Ehrman’s (uncompelling) argument that Jesus’ engagement with Nicodemus could not have happened:

    In the Gospel or John chapter 3, Jesus has a famous conversation with Nicodemus in which says, “You must be born again.” The Greek word translated “again” actually has two meanings: it can mean not “a second time” but also “from above.” Whenever it is used elsewhere in John, it means “from above” (Jn 19:11, 23). That is what Jesus appears to mean in John 3 when he speaks with Nicodemus: a person must be born from above in order to have eternal life in heaven above. Nicodemus misunderstands, though, and thinks Jesus intends the other meaning of the word, that he has to be born a second time. “How can I crawl back into my mother’s womb, he asks, out of some frustration. Jesus corrects him: he is not talking about a second physical birth, but a heavenly birth, from above. This conversation with Nicodemus is predicated on the circumstance that a certain Greek word has two meanings (a double entendre). Absent the double entendre, the conversation makes little sense. The problem is this: Jesus and this Jewish leader in Jerusalem would not have been speaking Greek, but Aramaic. But the Aramaic word for “from above” does not also mean “second time.” This is a double entendre that works only in Greek. So it looks as though this conversation could not have happened—at least not as it is described in the Gospel of John” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted, p. 155).

  • Of course Jesus spoke Greek. But did God the Father? That was my original query to your original post.

  • Many good points raised above re Jesus and Greek. If interested in exploring additional points of evidence, both scriptural and linguistic (including dialogues with Jesus), see article, “Jesus Spoke Greek Also” at http://www.Greekllinguistics.net. Scroll down near the end of the page.
    Blessings,
    Phil Zachariou

  • As as speaker of two languages, English not being my first language, and living in a country where my second language is spoken, I am inclined to believe that Jesus’ primary language was Aramaic. it was the language He spoke at home. Whenever he was in public, however, He always spoke in Greek, the tongue understood by all of his hearers, both Jew and Gentile, but primarily Jews. That Jesus primarily spoke Aramaic, His first and primary language at home, is borne out by the fact that His first words as He agonized on the cross was in Aramaic – “Eli, Eli, lamah sabachthani?” It is the language between God the Father and His only-begotten Son.

  • Relevant to the topic are the recent in depth articles:
    Prof Steven E. Fassberg, “Which Semitic Language Did Jesus and Other Contemporary Jews Speak?,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 74 (2012) 263-280. It surveys and supersedes previous studies in an irenic manner.

    Randall Booth, & R. Steven Notely, Eds., “The Language Environment of First Century Judaea”, Brill, 2014, (pp.vi, 457). I don’t agree with everything in this large and often groundbreaking recent work, but important articles include:
    Randall Buth & Chad Pierce; “Hebraisti in ancient texts; Does ἑβραϊστί ever mean ‘Aramaic’?”, p.66-109.

    This article could be extended further by examining the endings of the three rare place names which John’s gospel cites in transliteration from a language he calls ” ἑβραϊστί “, namely; Bethesda/Bethzatha, Gabbatha, Golgo(l)tha. Research to see if these type of endings also existed in first century Hebrew as well as first century Aramaic would be important. If such Greek transliterated endings can be shown to be typically mid first century AD Hebrew, then the main evidence for John meaning Aramaic when he said ἑβραϊστί is very much depleted. Furthermore there was a Greek word for Aramaic, and it was suristi, see Hatch & Redpath etc, (not in BAGD). Surveying the Hebrew word for Hebrew, is also worthwhile.

  • To add some different thoughts to this discussion (I have personally believed for 50 years that Jesus was bilingual):
    1. The Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research has analyzed almost every word and phrase of the Gospels in terms of Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic origins or precedents. Most relevant to this discussion is: Buth, R. and Notley, R.S. (2014) The language environment of first century Judaea .
    2. In Acts 21:37 Claudius Lysias was surprised by Paul’s language in the temple, and asked, “Do you know Greek?!” (Ἑλληνιστὶ γινώσκεις;) but in verse 40 Paul speaks to the Jews in the Aramaic language (suggesting that many of them did not understand Greek well. (About 2 million Jews attended the Passover in the first century and most of them spoke Greek rather than Aramaic.)
    3. In John 19:20 Pilate’s inscription was “read by many of the Jews” because it was “written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek”.
    4. Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are written in Hebrew with a few lesser works in Aramaic. Even rarer are the Greek translations of the Old Testament Hebrew that differ from the Septuagint.
    5. Alexander the Great (333 B.C) desired that “all men everywhere speak Greek” and did what he could to make that happen. Antiochus Epiphanes (170 B.C) took extreme measures to force all Jews to speak Greek, but the Maccabees rebelled against that effort. This struggle continued to Jesus’ time.
    6. Papias (A.D. 90) in An Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord stated that “And so Matthew collected the sayings in the Aramaic tongue, and each one translated them to the best of his ability.” Irenaeus makes a similar claim (A.D. 180). These are the two earliest discussions of the language that Jesus spoke.
    7. John Griffiths mentions the use of the Greek Septuagint in quoting the Old Testament. This is particularly relevant in Matthew’s many quotations and in Hebrews, both of which were addressed to Jewish audiences.
    8. The two most prolific Jewish writers (with surviving works) of Jesus’ time, were Philo of Alexandria and Josephus of Jerusalem. They both chose to write in Greek although they spoke other languages.

    • The above are great thoughts and ones which Christians suffering from acute monolingual-ism in the west tend to forget. It seems to me that the question in the west is often something like “What language did Jesus speak?”, “Did he speak —?” , those types of question ‘seem to’ portray the assumption that Jesus was or had to be monolingual.

      Very rarely, does one hear, “How many languages did Jesus speak?” or “Which languages did Jesus speak/use?”.

      • Josephus (a priest turned military commander) made the assumption that most people spoke Greek and that most Jews in Judea and Galilee spoke both Hebrew and Aramaic in addition. The inscriptions in the surviving Jewish synagogues of Asia Minor were more often in Greek than in Hebrew. Because Parthia had invaded Judea several times, many Jews in Judea also spoke Parthian (today’s Iran). Herod Antipas was removed from his tetrarchy in Galilee and exiled to Lyons, France (along with Herodias) because he was accused of collaborating with Parthia. He also spoke the language of the Nabataeans (close of Arabic) and his first wife (before Herodias) was Nabataean, the daughter of King Aretas (2 Cor.11:32). It is hard to read Acts 2:8-11, without thinking there were quite a few languages spoken in Jerusalem. “Trilingual” means speaking 3 languages. “Bilingual” means speaking 2 languages. “Monolingual” means “American”.

  • Jesus is God and he created all languages so why would it be surprising for him to speak Greek. At that time Jesus was on earth, Koine` Greek was the international language. Even the Jews were speaking Koine Greek. God has planned it that way so everyone would hear the good news about salvation and Jesus was the Messiah they were waiting for. The New Testament was first written in Koine` Greek and that is the reason why every pastor must learn Koine Greek in able to get the interpretation of the Scriptures. Even the Septuaginta was translated in Koine` Greek. Koine Greek is a language that is necessary to get a precise interpretation of the Scripture for it is designed in that way.

  • Thank you for sharing your fascinating insights. I agree with your suspicion and assessment of the “Aramaic question” as cheating.

    I believe a more important question is, what language did the Holy Spirit choose when He breathed the words of truth through the mouths and pens of the human authors of the New Testament scriptures? “All scripture is God-breathed…”, 2 Tim. 3:16 NIV, translated from “theopneustos” in the Greek. In 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter made it clear that he considered Paul’s writings to be every bit as much scripture as the “other” scriptures. Also, in 2 Peter 1:20-21, he referred to the scriptures as being the result of holy men speaking as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

    This is the same Peter who was given the keys to the Kingdom by the King Himself. Both Peter and Paul wrote their scriptures in Greek. So did Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, James, Jude and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The scarcity of the non-Greek exceptions in the Greek texts proves the rule. There are also thousands of Greek NT manuscripts (many partial), but not one in Hebrew or Aramaic.

    Jesus trusted the Holy Spirit to lead His disciples into all truth. God the Father is the one who anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit. To question and cast doubt on the Holy Spirit’s word choices and suggest we should be doing exegesis on some other words that we, in our human wisdom, believe to be more appropriate is blasphemy against God the Father, the Son, and especially against the Holy Spirit.

    Twisting God’s words is the devil’s job, and he is so good at it that he doesn’t need any help from us. I have no doubt that this “question the Greekness of the Greek New Testament” meme is of satanic origin. Whatever language Jesus spoke most of the time, even if not Greek, the Holy Spirit chose to send the official record of it to us mostly in Greek. That makes it our baseline. It wouldn’t matter if Jesus had actually spoken Swahili, Eskimo, or 21st century English with a Texas drawl.

    At Pentecost, Peter and the disciples spoke, but individuals from all over the known world miraculously heard them in a language each could understand, his own native tongue. For the New Testament Scriptures, the Holy Spirit chose primarily Greek words to miraculously convey His meaning. And that includes Old Testament citations and exegesis on those citations. The Holy Spirit’s New Testament witness of the Old Testament controls any discrepancy with any Hebrew or Aramaic textual variant that may have been selected and vowel-pointed by anti-Christian Masoretes between the sixth and tenth centuries. For more information, see the Logos offering, “When God Spoke Greek, the Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible”, by Timothy Michael Law.

  • “And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I AM ALPHA AND OMEGA, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.” (Acts 21:5-7, KJV)

    There’s only one alphabet that starts and ends with those two letters (Α & Ω) and that’s not the Hebrew one, but GREEK …

  • Thank you, I have found all this very interesting and helpful.
    However, there is one thing that deeply grieves my spirit. Why do so many people insist on calling 1st century Israel ‘Palestine’? Is it political bias or simply abysmal ignorance? The land was ISRAEL! Palestine did not exist in the 1st century. Although it was divided into various provinces – Galilee, Samaria and Judea – the land as a whole was still regarded as by Jews as ISRAEL, see Matthew 2:19-23.
    After the Romans had quashed the Bar Kochva uprising, in A.D.135, they renamed Israel ‘Syria Palestina’, that being the Latin for ‘Land of the Philistines’. This name was chosen as a deliberate insult to the Jews, because the Philistines had been their ancient enemies.
    Given the current tensions in the Middle East, it would be far better if Christians could avoid any suggestion of political bias. Thank you.

    • No, Jenny, you’re the only one bringing in a political bias. This was a discussion on Jesus speaking Greek, not on what various peoples call the land of Canaan, the original name as far as we know – or who the present Palestinians are – descendants of the original Canaaniites and Philistines and Hebrews? – or who the present Israelis are – descendents of Asian Khazar warlords? – or who has right to the land or who has obidiently followed the 613 laws or which sect of Jews should we follow as to the propriety of Jews returning to that land before their messiah comes, and what exactly God promised exactly whom under exactly what conditiond, etc., etc., etc. You see, it’s a complicated question, an open question, an unresolved question, that I, as a Christian, have no strong views on. It’s irrelevant. It’s not about the “eathly Jerusalem”; it’s about the “heavenly Jerusalem”. The various sects of the Palestinians and the various sects of the Jews can work out the bricks and mortar, stones and thistles, real estate issue, hopefully without too much further bloodshed.

      We were hoping to leave all that aside but you just had to bring it up. Why? What does it have to do with Jesus speaking Greek or His message of universal love?

      That could be a whole other dissertation, but I will quickly say this: the lack of grace, love and empathy shown towards the poor, defenseless, dispossessed, disenfranchised Palestinians by many so-called “Christians” is appalling. The slaughter of the defenseless Palestinians by the high-technology Israeli armed forces is disgusting. The trying to hurry on the rapture by collecting and paying money is laughable if it wasn’t so sad, I’m sure God moves at his own good graceful time and won’t be swayed by money. Mammon.

      So let’s leave all the spiteful, divisive, tribalist politics for snother time.

      Peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind.

    • Because Palestine is a geographical region. Judah and Israel were political states, consisting of people either the tribe of Judah, or “everyone else from Israel (Jacob).”

      The Assyrians hauled all the Israelites away, and they never returned. The Babylonians hauled the Judeans away, and eventually they returned to Jerusalem. Notice, they are no longer called “Judeans,” but “Jews” at this point. Soon after these “Jews” fell once again under the political power of someone else… By Jesus’ time it was Rome.

      You can hardly call a province of pagan Rome “Israel” when there are no Israelites around. 😛

  • The blog is well written…but ultimately completely irrelevant, because we’re grasping at straws hoping to justify why we cannot find the original text, the Gospel.

    The gospel is not the words of Jesus Christ…it is the Word of God almighty, and as such even Jesus has no right to modify it in any way, including by translating it. Jesus in his ultimate honesty in delivering the Word of God, would have relayed the revelation EXACTLY as it was delivered to him. In the same exact words as was revealed to him. In the exact same language. And God in his infinite wisdom would not have revealed some vague general concept to Jesus and left it up to Jesus’s interpretation to put it into words as he understood it. Just think: When God gave Moses the Commandments, he didn’t just have a casual discussion with Moses and left it up to him to convey the ideas…God actually had the commandments WRITTEN DOWN so there could be no doubt as to their provenance and t preserve their exactness for his people.

    Every prophet in history has delivered his message in the language spoken by his people. Not just the elite of his people. Nor the occupying nations oppressing his people. Just think about it: What would a prophet ever hoped to change if he comes to arrogantly pontificate by speaking a language many of his soon-to-be-followers consider foreign, or anathema, or simply do not fully understand.

    The focus should be on finding the original text, and of finding those scoundrels who thought it fitting to translate the Word of God without clearly indicating that their work is not the Gospel, but merely a translation of the original, and thus potentially subject to human error and lapses in human interpretation and skill.

    • @hops “The gospel is not the words of Jesus Christ…it is the Word of God almighty, and as such even Jesus has no right to modify it in any way, including by translating it.”

      All Christians that affirm the Nicene Creed will notice that you are making a very explicit distinction between God and Jesus. However, within orthodox Christianity, Jesus *is* God; two parts of the Triune. Jesus, the Logos, had every right to modify the Word of God, because he *is* God and he *is* the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

  • Also, Luke 11:11 will rhyme (which makes more sense) only in Greek. bread – stone = arton – lithon; fish – snake = ichthyn – ophin; egg – scorpion = ōon – scorpion.

Written by Mark Ward
theLAB