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New Testament was written in Greek. But Jesus lived in Israel and was supposed to be the next King of Israel. I think it is probably fair to assume that he and his twelve apostles spoke Hebrew. Then why would the New Testament be written in Greek? I would think at least the Gospels part would be written in Hebrew.

share|improve this question –  SSumner Mar 29 '13 at 4:29
@SSumner That is a good synopsis. –  fredsbend Mar 29 '13 at 5:12
Think about Greek in the New Testament as the role the English language is playing today. It's understood by a lot of people in a lot of different cultures all around the world. This is why the language of this site is English, probably a lot of our readers don't speak English as their native language, but still English is the most practical language you can use today for a message to reach people all around the world. –  vsz Nov 29 '13 at 22:47

3 Answers 3

up vote 17 down vote accepted

First, actually, it was very likely that Jesus and His followers spoke no fewer than these three languages: Aramaic, Greek, and Hebrew. What language did Jesus speak?

Aramaic was the primary language of the land, Greek was the language of business, education, and for communication with foreigners (because it was a wide-spread language), and Hebrew was the religious language of the Jews and was primarily reserved for prayers, religious teaching, and communication with other Jews.

But why did they choose Greek? Well, first, we don't have the originals of any of the texts, but it is likely that most were written in Greek, however, there is some debate over a few of the books, just for your information.

The primary reason would be portability. Greek was a very wide-spread language. Hebrew and Aramaic were not. Further, after Peter had an encounter with Gentiles that had him declare that the message of Christ's resurrection was for the Gentile too, it became an international matter that all hear the Good News.

48 So he ordered that they [Gentiles] be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Acts 10:48

Greek was the language that made sense. It was wide-spread, it was for the foreigner, and the Jew knew it as well. Greek was the language that would affect the most people.

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Many people believe that this is what the Bible means when it says in Galatians 4:4, that the fullness of time had come. The time and culture were properly set at that moment, and that moment only, to accept and spread the good news. –  David Morton Mar 29 '13 at 11:38
@DavidMorton I've heard that before, but that seems to miss the point. Was God constrained by technology or language? God was not "waiting around" for the Greeks to come along and build roads. He ordered the whole universe! Ask why He placed the Greeks at the time of His coming, not why He came at the time of the Greeks. We have absolutely no idea why God thought that was the right time. Likewise, I do not think this question is asking only about the practical aspects. –  Alypius Mar 29 '13 at 16:17
Good points, and of course, God isn't constrained by technology. I think it emphasises God's wisdom in that he put all the right people at all the right places at all the right times, all throughout history, distinctly for the purpose of preparing all things for Christ's coming. I agree 100% with your overall argument. God is no servant to history, instead history is God-ordained to serve His purposes. In other words, the fullness of time came, not with a God in waiting, but because He orchestrated it, including, but not limited to, technology & political and social climates. –  David Morton Mar 29 '13 at 16:34
@DavidMorton When talking about things like this I prefer to look at history as a symphony that God conducts. He orchestrates all the parts, signaling one after the other, following His own score to the very note. He has the violins start when they should, the trumpets sound on cue, and the cymbal clash at exactly the right moment. –  fredsbend Mar 29 '13 at 17:45
@fredsbend Exactly. That's the point I was trying to get across in both my original comment, and in my follow up. –  David Morton Mar 29 '13 at 18:04

"But Jesus lived in Israel and was supposed to be the next King of Israel. ... Then why would the new testament be written in Greek?"

There would be no special spiritual connection with Hebrew in particular; Christ did not come to reign over Israel. Christ is the King of Kings, and He rules over all the earth and heaven. He came for our salvation, to die a horrible death on the cross. His status as King of Israel was only "formally" recognized by Pilate, who had these words attached to the cross above Christ's head, in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek:

Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum
Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews John 19:19-20

The authors of the New Testament were not really trying to write scripture. St Paul's letters were exactly that: letters that he sent to other diocese. For the most part, the various authors were simply telling what they had heard, or what had been passed down to them. Later, these works came to be recognized as scripture.

Greek was the language everyone spoke at the time. Even the Jews spoke Greek, and most Jews could not actually read Hebrew. The Letter to the Hebrews, directed to Jewish Christians, has Greek that "is in many ways the best in the New Testament". Matthew might have originally been written in Aramaic. Muslims might have a problem with something like the Koran not being written in Arabic (it is supposed to be the literal word of God). But Christians do not see a problem with the New Testament not having been written in Hebrew. It is the Gospel, not the language, that matters.

So major parts of the New Testament were written in Greek and not Hebrew because:

  1. Hebrew was not considered a "Sacred Language"
  2. The authors were not trying to write scripture
  3. Greek was (only incidentally) the most popular language of the time, so it turned out to be the primary language the authors used
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I don't think this deserves downvotes, but the last sentence seems to imply you are not answering the question, unless you read the whole answer –  SSumner Mar 29 '13 at 15:11
@SSumner Thank you. Perhaps people were only reading the last sentence. Hopefully this clarifies. –  Alypius Mar 29 '13 at 15:52
Actually, I would think it quite likely that the Jews of that time would call Hebrew a sacred language. There is no doubt in my mind that they would have preferred it over Greek if the Gospel was only for the Jew. –  fredsbend Mar 29 '13 at 17:50
The article illuminates many things, however, it makes no indication that the Jews of the time heavily used the Septuagint. Remember that the Jews in question are ones in Israel. The Greek speaking Jews that most refer to are the foreign, usually converted Jews. Also, considering the completion of Herod's Temple Hebrew was likely on the rise, in that area. This might have combine with Jewish nationalism, which was present, if it were not for Peter baptizing Gentiles. But now we are moving into hypothetical histories. Not too constructive. –  fredsbend Mar 29 '13 at 20:23

The New Testament was written in Greek by Greek-speaking writers for a Greek-speaking, largely Gentile audience.

Paul was a Jew of the diaspora, and diaspora Jews used Greek in their everyday lives, with many of them unfamiliar with the Aramaic (or Hebrew) of Palestinian Jews. The development of the Septuagint is evidence of this language difference.

Tradition says that the New Testament gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, of whom three were Palestinian Jews. Ian Wilson says in Jesus, page 25, it can therefore come as quite a shock to discover that no-one can even be sure who wrote the gospels, and most scholars now agree that the authors were unlikely to have been disciples of Jesus. There is a strong consensus among scholars that Matthew and Luke were based on Mark's Gospel, and a lesser but still significant consensus that John was inspired by Luke's Gospel. A linguistic comparison of the gospels shows that they were derived from Mark in the Greek language.

If John was originally written in Greek, then the three Johannine epistles can be expected to have been written in Greek. The Book of Revelation was written on the Greek island of Patmos and appears to be addressed to churches in Greek-speaking Asia Minor, so naturally it was written in Greek.

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