IN THIS STUDY WE LEARN:
- Historians, translators, scholars, dictionaries, and encyclopedias agree with what the Bible says about the language of the New Testament.
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers
brought forth on this continent a new nation
conceived in liberty and dedicated to the
proposition that all men are created equal.
You may remember this statement. It is the first sentence of one of the most recognizable speeches ever given. Like me, you may have memorized the complete speech when you were in school. Of course, it is President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The main speaker at Gettysburg spoke for over two hours. Mr. Lincoln had been asked to speak afterward. He spoke less than three minutes. His simplicity of expression and elevated sentiment make the speech one that perhaps will never be forgotten.
Our history teachers and our history books taught us this speech was given by President Lincoln at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was given at the dedication of a memorial to the soldiers who died in a civil war battle near that city. Not many, if any, people doubt this historical fact. I believed it when I was taught it. I believe it now. There is not even a shred of evidence to prove otherwise.
All the evidence that I have ever found simply confirms my conviction that this speech was given by President Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg. Not an encyclopedia I consult, not a history book I open, even hints otherwise. I have never found any information anywhere which contradicts this fact. It is what happened.
It is also a historical fact that the New Testament was written in Greek. We know the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. Just as surely, we also know the New Testament was written in Greek. First, we shall consult the historians. It is not a fact because historians say it. Historians say it, because it is a fact. Have you ever just looked up "New Testament" in a reference book? Have we checked it for ourselves? What do the historians say about the New Testament? What language did the writers use?
Will Durant is one of the most popular historians of this century. His eleven volume history, The Story of Civilization may be the most widely read history in existence. He gives his view of the language of the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.1
They were written in the Greek Koine of popular
speech, and were no models of grammar or literary
Professor Michael Grant is the author of many books on the ancient world. He is an eminent historian who has written extensively of the Roman Empire, In his History of Rome, he comments on both the Apostle Paul and the city of his birth.2
Tarsus was a center of advanced Hellenic culture,
so that Paul was familiar with Greek and wrote in
Though he was a scholar of a former century, the voice of Edward Gibbon is not at all silent. As his biographer James C. Morrison put it, "His word is still one of the weightiest that can be quoted."3
In his minutely detailed, voluminously written, and often reprinted work The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon tells about the Gospels in his fifteenth charter.4
The authentic histories of the actions of Christ were
composed in the Greek language, at a considerable
distance from Jerusalem, and after the gentile
converts were grown extremely numerous.
Ecclesiastical historian Henry Hart Milman addresses our subject in his History of Christianity. He refers to the language of the first Christian literature in his fourth book.5
The Greek already possessed the foundation of this
literature in the Septuagint version of the old, and
in the original of the New Testament.
It should be said that the word of many more historians can be given. We will count it sufficient to quote only one other. Dr. James Harvey Robinson has been called "one of the greatest of American teachers of history."6 In a very large measure he fathered the methods of the study of history at the turn of the twentieth century. Among his better known, and more widely used text books is An Introduction to the History of Western Europe. While explaining the influence of the Greek culture and language on the Roman Empire, Dr. Robinson makes note of the rise of Christianity and of Christianity's book.7
It had its origin in Palestine and was set forth in a
Greek book, the New Testament.
Are we to believe the witness of history and its writers? Or will we simply reject the facts and revise history to suit ourselves?
Another academic discipline open to our investigation is translation. Bible translators, of all people, should know the original language of the book. The fifty-four men of the committee to whom King James commended the work of translating the Authorized Version were Bible language scholars every one. In their high sounding way, they speak of "The Original Sacred Tongues" in the epistle dedicatory. Here is what the title page of their translation of the New Testament says.8
The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus
Christ translated out of the original Greek: and with
the former translations diligently compared and
Scottish scholar Dr. Robert Young, while best known for his monumental work, The Analytical Concordance to the Bible, also translated the Bible. In the preface to the first edition of his Literal Translation of the Holy Bible, we find these words.9
This work, in its present form, is not to be
considered as intended to come into competition
with the ordinary use of the commonly received
English Version of the Holy Scriptures, but simply
as a strictly literal and idiomatic rendering of the
Original Hebrew and Greek Texts.
Perhaps the best known translator of the entire Bible was James Moffatt. He was expert in both Hebrew and Greek. In his introduction to the final edition of his translation, he said the following.10
The authors of the New Testament all wrote in
Hellenistic Greek, which was understood far and
wide throughout the Roman Empire.
Charles C. Torrey, a noted Semitic language professor, published The Four Gospels, a New Translation in the early part of this century. He was the most outspoken proponent of Aramaic originals of some New Testament books. Yet, even he found no grounds to deny that Paul wrote in Greek. He was convinced that only the Gospels, the Revelation, and half of Acts were translated from Aramaic originals. However, he believed the Gospel of Luke to have been translated by Luke himself, but from Aramaic sources. This is what he said in the preface of his book, Our Translated Gospels.11
Lk. made in Palestine, very likely during the
two years of Paul's imprisonment at Caesarea
(Acts 24:27), a collection of Semitic documents
relating to the life and work of Jesus, arranged
them very skillfully, and rendered the whole into
Grk. which is our Third Gospel.
Edgar J. Goodspeed was one of the most vocal opponents of Torrey's theory. While Goodspeed was a prolific writer on subjects biblical, he is principally remembered for his translation of the New Testament side of The Complete Bible, an American Translation. Here is what he says about the original language of the New Testament.12
It would seem to be an obvious fact that the New
Testament was written in Greek.
The Jewish New Testament has garnered mild interest since its publication in 1989. Its translator, David H. Stern, who calls himself a Messianic Jew, wishes "to restore the Jewishness of the New Testament." His efforts are diligent toward that end. In spite of his enthusiasm for Hebrew, he is compelled to state that Paul wrote in Greek. Hear what he says.13
Moreover, Sha'ul, whose letters were composed in
Greek, clearly drew on his native Jewish and
Hebraic thought-forms when he wrote.
You see then, there are one or two translators who believe a few New Testament books were originally Aramaic. When we check closely, we find even they do not believe the complete New Testament was Aramaic. They confess that most of the New Testament was originally Greek.
THE WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA:14
The original language of the New Testament is the
common vernacular Greek that was widely used at
the time of Jesus.
All of the books [of the New Testament] were
originally written in Greek.
NEW CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA:16
They [New Testament writings] were all written
originally in Greek.
THE ENCYCLOPEDIA AMERICANA:17
In this language [Koine Greek] the New Testament
was written, and thousands upon thousands of
papyri, contemporary with the New Testament, and
discovered only in the last few decades, have
contributed to give us a clear conception of this
wide spread lingua franca, that was found
wherever Greeks and Greek civilization penetrated.
THE NEW GROLIER MULTIMEDIA ENCYCLOPEDIA:18
The second part, called the New Testament, was
composed in Greek and records the story of Jesus
and the beginnings of Christianity.
The New Testament Greek, for example, is a
representative of Hellenistic Greek written in the
first century AD. Some Aramaic influences have
been discerned in parts of the New Testament that
have a Palestinian setting, but not to a point where
scholars are obliged to conclude that some books
were originally composed in Aramaic.
INTERPRETER'S DICTIONARY OF THE BIBLE:20
The Greek of the new testament is the Koine of
the first two centuries A.D. It is now generally
agreed by New Testament scholars that the books
as we have them were written in Greek.
HOLDMAN BIBLE DICTIONARY:21
The New Testament was written the universal
language of the empire.
HASTINGS' DICTIONARY OF THE BIBLE:22
But however far we may go... in allowing that
Aramaic writings are to be detected beneath and
behind our gospels, it cannot be held that any of
these gospels, or any other New Testament books,
are translations from that language.
All the new testament was originally written in
HARPER'S BIBLE DICTIONARY:23
The New Testament books were all written in
UNGER'S BIBLE DICTIONARY:24
The Old Testament is written mostly in Hebrew; the
New Testament wholly in Greek.
In this tenth study we have seen a cross section of authorities represented. Each is knowledgeable about our subject. They know what they are talking about. They would be called "Expert Witnesses" in court. If it would serve any useful purpose, the number could be multiplied.
We have already studied our subject in the Scriptures and reached the only possible conclusion. In this chapter, we are able to see the best scholars in the world agreeing with what we have learned from the Bible.
You might ask, with good reason, if there is not at least one scholar who believes the complete New Testament was written in Aramaic or Hebrew. The answer is a very emphatic no!
We have already studied C.C. Torrey. He led an early twentieth century charge for original Aramaic Gospels. A few men joined him. But the evidence for that position was too meager. It fell far short of proving their hypothesis. None of these men ever advocated the plainly false notion that the whole New Testament was originally written in Aramaic.
The pseudo scholars of the Sacred Name Movement are forced to advocate a complete Aramaic or Hebrew original New Testament. The only reason they do so, is because they first decided Jesus must be called by a Hebrew name. That was when they clearly saw the original Greek New Testament crushed such a teaching. It was then that they discovered the New Testament had to have been written in Aramaic or Hebrew.
The New Testament was originally written in Greek. Our study has proven this over and over. Hebrew is not a sacred language. The apostles wrote the name of Jesus in Greek, "Iesous." (The first letter, iota, is pronounced as our E.) You and I are free to call him by that same name. Or we may call him by the anglicized form, Jesus. (Our J is just an I used as an initial letter.) If we speak Spanish, we may call him Jesus. (The J is pronounced as our H.) Germans call him Jesu. (The J is pronounced as our Y.) Other people pronounce his name in their language, but it is still his name.
The Gospel, which includes the name of our Savior, is to every person, in every language. But the New Testament, by its original writers, was written in Greek.
Footnotes1. Will Durrant, The Story of Civilization: Part III, Caesar and Christ (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1944), p. 555. [back]
2. Michael Grant, History of Rome, (New York, Scribner, 1978). p. 342. [back]
3. James Cotter Morison, Gibbon, English Men of Letters, ed. John Morley (New York, Harper, 1902) p. 133-134. [back]
4. Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. (Boston, Phillips, 1865), I, 574. [back]
5. Henry Hart Milman, The History of Christianity, (New York, Armstrong), III, 357. [back]
6. James Harvey Robinson, An Introduction to the History of Western Europe, rev. James T. Shotwell, 1902; rev. Goston, Ginn, 1946), I, vi. [back]
7. Robinson, p. 26. [back]
8. The Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version (New York, Harper) p. 873. [back]
9. Robert Young, trans. Young's Literal Translation of the Holy Bible, (1862, rpt. Grand Rapids, Baker, nd.), p. iv. [back]
10. James Moffatt, trans. A New Translation of the Bible (New York, Harper, 1954), p. xxxvi. [back]
11. Charles Cutler Torrey. Our Translated Gospels, Some of the Evidence (New York, Harper, 1936) p. ix. [back]
12. Edgar J. Goodspeed, New Chapters in New Testament Study (New York, Macmillan, 1937), p. 128. [back]
13. David H. Stern, trans. The Jewish New Testament (Jerusalem, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1989), p. ix. [back]
14. "New Testament," World Book Encyclopedia, 1987, xiv, 19. [back]
15. "Bible," Compton's Encyclopedia, 1986, III, 183. [back]
16. "New Testament Literature," New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967. x. 390. [back]
17. "Greek Language," Encyclopedia Americana, 1948, xii, 397. [back]
18. "Bible," The Academic American Encyclopedia (Electronic Version). 1993. [back]
19. "Biblical Literature," Encyclopedia Britannica, 1987, xiv, 849. [back]
20. "Greek Language," Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, 1962, II, 485. [back]
21. "Greek," Holman Bible Dictionary, 1991, p. 584. [back]
22. "Bible," Dictionary of the Bible, 1944, p. 97. [back]
23. "New Testament," Harper's Bible Dictionary, 1985, p. 699. [back]
24. "Bible," The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, 1988, p. 169. [back]