PAUL AND THE GREEKS
IN THIS STUDY WE LEARN:
- Paul was sent to people who spoke Greek.
- Paul spoke Greek.
- Paul wrote his letters in Greek.
Twice each month I receive a newsletter from a company in Colorado. I usually read almost everything it says. It is written with a purpose. Its stated purpose is to bring the best information on a variety of subjects to people who are very busy. It is to select and generate that information completely free of advertisements. Also, it is to get that information to these people quickly, accurately, and efficiently.
Knowing the purpose, and knowing I speak English, you will of necessity, conclude that this newsletter is written in English?
The reason for such a conclusion is simple. The writers speak English. I speak English. The writers read and write English. I also read and write English. It is my native language. It can certainly go without saying; I want information in English.
While the newsletter I receive is not the New Testament, the purposes of the two are not so different. Both want to get information to people. Surely the prime rule for disseminating information is to do so in the language of those addressed. Otherwise, as Paul so bluntly put it, "he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me." This is such a basic principal of communication, we might assume everyone already knows it. But for the sake of clarity, we are digging out and explaining the most minute and elementary details.
Think about Paul. He was one of the great communicators of the New Testament. Paul sent more letters to more people than all the other writers combined. He was a Jew. He spoke the language of the Jews.
He learned the Mosaic law under the instruction of Gamaliel. He said he had been a Pharisee. He was born in Tarsus, a city in the Roman province of Cilicia.
Cilicia was part of Asia, which had been conquered by Alexander the Great about 300 years before Paul was born. The whole area was thoroughly Greek, both in culture and in language. The Romans took control of it about 100 B.C. Paul was born a Roman citizen and probably knew Greek from childhood. Regardless of when he learned it, he was fluent in it. From these facts, we realize the diverse abilities of the Apostle of the Gentiles.
The one fact that overarches this section of our study is Paul's ability to communicate in the Greek language. He was sent by the Lord to the very people he had grown up among and whose language he knew.
To whom did this great man write his letters? If to Greek speakers, then he would have written in Greek. Shall we check? Look at a list of his letters.
These are fourteen letters in all, written to eleven groups and individuals. Nine of them were written to churches in specific cities. Every city was Gentile, most were Greek. These are the people to whom Paul was sent.
Of the individuals, we know Timothy, whose mother was a Jew and his father a Greek, had not been circumcised by the time he was a young adult. Though he had learned the Old Testament from childhood, he could not have been raised strictly according to the religion of the Jews. The Law required circumcision on the eighth day of life or at conversion.
He grew up in a Greek speaking area. His name is Greek. He traveled with Paul to Greece to minister to Greek speakers. Paul once asked him to remain in Ephesus to work among Greek Christians there.
That he spoke Greek, just like Paul, cannot be doubted. If he could not speak Greek, he could not have performed his duties in assisting Paul's work for the Lord.
TITUS AND PHILEMON
About Titus, we know he was a Greek. From Paul's letter to him, we also know at least part of his work was on the Greek Island of Crete.
Of Philemon we know little. His name is Greek. He was very likely a Gentile of the church at Colosse.
Paul would have written to these men in their own language. There can be no reason to doubt that they spoke Greek.
Now look at the churches to whom Paul wrote. With the exception of Hebrews, they are Gentile, every one. The book of Hebrews comes in question only because we are considering Paul's work, based on what the Bible says. First, the Bible does not say Hebrews was written by Paul. He does not put his name on it anywhere. Second, the letter itself does not say it was written to Hebrew people. Paul, in every other letter, gave his name when he wrote. He also addressed his letters to someone (or the saints at some place) by name.
We will accept two very ancient traditions here. One: Paul wrote this book. Two: it was written to Jewish Christians. Only one point will I make then. Paul quotes numerous times from the Old Testament. These quotations come largely from the Greek Old Testament.1 This indicates that the Jews to whom Paul wrote were familiar with that version of the Bible.2 If they had read the Old Testament in Greek, they could speak Greek.
Many Jewish Christians whom Paul won to the Lord were Greek speakers. Even before Paul's conversion, there were numerous Greek speaking Jewish Christians in the church at Jerusalem. The New Testament calls them Grecians. This letter, Hebrews, was written to Greek speaking Jewish Christians, Grecians.
All the other letters of Paul are the direct result of his work among the Gentiles, the non Jews. These non Jews spoke Greek. Greek was the language of the Roman empire.
Corinth was in the country of Greece. It was only a few miles from Athens, where Paul also preached. Philippi was in Macedonia, as was Thessalonica. Macedonia was the first kingdom of Alexander the Great. Need I say it was Greek.
The use of Greek was widespread during that time. It was as English today. Much of the world spoke it as a first language. It was the second language of many other people.
IN GREEK AND FOR GREEKS
The gospel is to people in their own language. See what the prophesy says.
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven,
having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them
that dwell on the earth, to every nation, and
kindred, and tongue, and people.
The gospel is to be preached in every tongue, every language. If the gospel was to the Greeks, then it was to them in their language. Paul once said, "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." When Paul preached the gospel among the Greeks, he preached in their language. When he needed to write to them, he wrote to them in their language.
Would all those Gentiles to whom Paul preached in those many countries have known Hebrew or Aramaic? They wouldn't have. They could not have. In those areas, many of the Jews did not even know these languages. They also spoke Greek.
Over the years, a few scholars have made some efforts toward proving that one New Testament book or another was written in Aramaic. Only one or two of these have been able to push common sense and logic out of the way long enough to suppose Paul wrote letters to Greek churches in the Aramaic or Hebrew language. Paul's letters, like the rest of the New Testament, were written in Greek.
Footnotes1. Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, Broadman, 1932). IV, 327-451. [back]
2. Robertson, IV, 330. Dr. James Moffatt reasoned that because of the extensive quotations from the Greek Old Testament by the writer of Hebrews, the book was not written to Jews at all, but to Gentile Christians. [back]