TOP 10 REASONS GIVEN BY GREEK PRIMACISTS FOR MAINTAINING A GREEK
ORIGIN FOR THE NEW TESTAMENT
(and the 10 reasons they are wrong on each account)
1. The oldest manuscripts are Greek.
Yes it is true that our oldest Hebrew copies of Matthew and Hebrews
(the only NT books we have in Hebrew) only date back to the middle
ages. And it is true that our oldest Aramaic copies of New Testament
books date back to the 4th century C.E..
However there are some important facts that those making the above
argument fail to account for.
To begin with, prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947
our oldest Hebrew copies of any Tanak ("Old Testament") books dated
only to the Middle Ages. And our oldest copies of any Tanak books
were Greek LXX copies from the fourth century. Yet no one would have
argued that this pointed to a Greek origin for the Tanak.
Since no copies of Ester were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, our
oldest copies of Ester are still Greek LXX copies from the 4th
century. And our oldest copies of Ester in Hebrew only date back to
Middle Ages. Yet this does not in any way indicate that the original
language of Ester was Greek.
The time-lapse from the time of the composition of the Book of Ester
to our oldest Hebrew copies of Ester is about 1,500 years. This is
about the same as the time lapse from the composition of Matthew to
our oldest Hebrew copies of Matthew. So the fact that our oldest
Hebrew copy of Matthew dates to about 1,500 years after the initial
composition of Matthew does NOT negate the Hebrew from being the
Although there have been no Papyri fragments of Hebrew Matthew found
among the Christian Papyri fragments there have also been no Papyri
fragments of Hebrew Isaiah or of the Hebrew of any of the other "Old
Testament" books found among them. The only Hebrew Papyri fragments
of Tanak books have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and not
discoveries of Christian Papyri fragments. Why should we expect
Matthew (or any Hebrew or Aramaic NT books) to have been better
preserved than the Hebrew Tanak? Whoever were the owners of the NT
Papyri fragments we have found clearly had no copies of ANY Hebrew
books of the Bible at all even from the "Old Testament" books which
we know were composed in Hebrew. So the fact that we have found no
Hebrew or Aramaic copies of NT books among them is no more
significant than the fact that we find no Hebrew copies of "Old
Testament" books among them.
The oldest Greek Papyri fragment of any NT book is P52 which is a
fragment of a few verses of John. The word order of this fragment
agrees with the Greek Western Type of text which has close agreement
with the Aramaic Old Syriac text.
Our oldest **complete** Greek manuscripts of NT books date to the
fourth century and that is also the age of our oldest coplete Aramaic
manuscripts of NT books.
The Hebrew and Aramaic origin of the New Testament cannot be
dismissed or disproven by the existence of Greek papyri fragments
that predate the oldest Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts.
2. The NT quotes the Greek LXX "Old Testament".
RESPONSE: 1) Actually this is mainly a tendency of the Greek NT.
The Hebrew and Aramaic mss. tend to find agreement with the Masoretic
Text and the Peshitta Aramaic Tanak. 2) Agreements with the LXX do
not prove the LXX is being quoted. Hebrew copies of Tanak books have
been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls that agree with the LXX. Such
agreements may be the result of these types of Hebrew manuscripts
rather than any dependence on the Greek LXX.
3. Testimonials "Such-and-such scholar said so".
RESPONSE: These do not prove anything. In fact once can also quote
various scholars which have declared that parts or all of the NT were
written in Hebrew or Aramaic.
4. Luke was a Greek who would have written in Greek.
RESPONSE: Actually Luke was a Syrian of Antioch (Eusebius; Eccl.
Hist. 3:4) so his native language would have been Syriac, an Aramaic
5. Luke and Acts were written to a Greek named "Theophilus".
RESPONSE: Actually Theophilus was a Jew who had been High Priest from
37-41 CE (Josephus; Ant. 18:5:3). A Syrian convert to Judaism such
as Luke would likely have written the High Priest in Aramaic.
6. Greek was the common language of Jews at the time.
The first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37-c.100 C.E.)
testifies to the fact that Hebrew was the language of first century
Jews. Moreover, he testifies that Hebrew, and not Greek, was the
language of his place and time. Josephus gives us the only first
hand account of the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. According
to Josephus, the Romans had to have him translate the call to the
Jews to surrender into "their own language" (Wars 5:9:2) . Josephus
gives us a point-blank statement regarding the language of his people
during his time:
I have also taken a great deal of pains
to obtain the learning of the Greeks,
and understanding the elements of the Greek
language although I have so long accustomed
myself to speak our own language, that I cannot
pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness:
for our nation does not encourage those
that learn the languages of many nations.
Thus, Josephus makes it clear that first century Jews could not even
speak or understand Greek, but spoke "their own language."
Confirmation of Josephus's claims has been found by Archaeologists.
The Bar Kokhba coins are one example. These coins were struck by
Jews during the Bar Kokhba revolt (c. 132 C.E.). All of these coins
bear only Hebrew inscriptions. Countless other inscriptions found at
excavations of the Temple Mount, Masada and various Jewish tombs,
have revealed first century Hebrew inscriptions
Even more profound evidence that Hebrew was a living language
during the first century may be found in ancient Documents from about
that time, which have been discovered in Israel. These include the
Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Bar Kokhba letters.
The Dead Sea Scolls consist of over 40,000 fragments of more
than 500 scrolls dating from 250 B.C.E . to 70 C.E.. Theses Scrolls
are primarily in Hebrew and Aramaic. A large number of the "secular
scrolls" (those which are not Bible manuscripts) are in Hebrew.
The Bar Kokhba letters are letters beteween Simon Bar Kokhba
and his army, written during the Jewish revolt of 132 C.E.. These
letters were discovered by Yigdale Yadin in 1961 and are almost all
written in Hebrew and Aramaic. Two of the letters are written in
Greek, both were written by men with Greek names to Bar Kokhba. One
of the two Greek letters actually apologizes for writing to Bar
Kokhba in Greek, saying "the letter is written in Greek, as we have
no one who knows Hebrew here."
The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bar Kokhba letters not only
include first and second century Hebrew documents, but give an even
more significant evidence in the dialect of that Hebrew. The dialect
of these documents was not the Biblical Hebrew of the Tenach (Old
Testament), nor was it the Mishnaic Hebrew of the Mishna (c. 220
C.E.). The Hebrew of these documents is coloquial, it is a fluid
living language in a state of flux somewhere in the evolutionary
process from Biblical to Mishnaic Hebrew. Moreover, the Hebrew of
the Bar Kokhba letters represents Galilean Hebrew (Bar Kokhba was a
Galilean) , while the Dead Sea Scrolls give us an example of Judean
Hebrew. Comparing the documents shows a living distinction of
geographic dialect as well, a sure sign that Hebrew was not a dead
Final evidence that first century Jews conversed in Hebrew
and Aramaic can be found in other documents of the period, and even
later. These include: the Roll Concerning Fasts in Aramaic (66-70
C.E.), The Letter of Gamaliel in Aramaic (c. 30 - 110 C.E.), Wars
of the Jews by Josephus in Hebrew (c. 75 C.E.), the Mishna in
Hebrew (c. 220 C.E.) and the Gemara in Aramaic (c. 500 C.E.)
But regarding Paul's letters to the diaporia, Aramaic is the issue.
It is known that Aramaic remained a language of Jews living in the
diasporia, and in fact Jewish Aramaic inscriptions have been found at
Rome, Pompei and even England.
(see Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology "Note on a
Bilingual Inscription in Latin and Aramaic Recently Found at South
Shields"; A. Lowy' Dec. 3, 1878; pp. 11-12; "Five Transliterated
Aramaic Inscriptions" The American Journal of Archaeology; W.R.
Newbold; 1926; Vol. 30; pp. 288ff)
7. Paul was a helenist and would have written in Greek.
In addressing the issue of the Pauline Epistles, we must first
examine the background of Tarsus. Was Tarsus a Greek speaking city?
Would Paul have learned Greek there? Tarsus probably began as a
Hittite city-state. Around 850 B.C.E. Tarsus became part of the
great Assyrian Empire. When the Assyrian Empire was conqured by the
Babylonian Empire around 605 B.C.E. Tarsus became a part of that
Empire as well. Then, in 540 B.C.E. The Babylonian Empire, including
Tarsus, was incorporated into the Persian Empire. Aramaic was the
chief language of all three of these great Empires. By the first
century Aramaic remained a primary language of Tarsus. Coins struck
at Tarsus and recovered by archaeologists have Aramaic inscriptions
on them .
Regardless of the language of Tarsus, there is also great
question as to if Paul was actually brought up in Tarsus or just
incidentally born there. The key text in question is Acts 22:3:
I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city of Cilicia,
but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel,
taught according to the strictness of our father's Torah.
and was zealous toward God as you all are today.
Paul sees his birth at Tarsus as irrelevant and points to his
being "brought up" in Jerusalem. Much argument has been given by
scholars to this term "brought up" as it appears here. Some have
argued that it refers only to Paul's adolescent years. A key,
however, to the usage of the term may be found in a somewhat
parrallel passage in Acts 7:20-23:
At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God;
and he was brought up in his father's house for three months.
And when he was set out, Pharaoh's daughter took him away
and brought him up as her own son.
And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians...
Note the sequence; "born" (Greek = gennao; Aramaic =
ityiled); "brought up" (Greek = anatrepho; Aramaic =
itrabi); "learned/taught" (Greek = paideuo; Aramaic = itr'di).
Through this parallel sequence which presumably was idiomatic in the
language, we can see that Paul was born at Tarsus, raised in
Jerusalem, and then taught. Paul's entire context is that his being
raised in Jerusalem is his primary upbringing, and that he was merely
born at Tarsus.
The claim that Paul was a Hellenist is also a
misunderstanding that should be dealt with. As we have already seen,
Paul was born at Tarsus, a city where Aramaic was spoken. Whatever
Hellenist influences may have been at Tarsus, Paul seems to have left
there at a very early age and been "brought up" in Jerusalem. Paul
describes himself as a "Hebrew" (2Cor. 11:2) and a "Hebrew of
Hebrews" (Phil. 3:5), and "of the tribe of Benjamin" (Rom. 11:1). It
is important to realize how the term "Hebrew" was used in the first
century. The term Hebrew was not used as a geneological term, but as
a cultural/linguistic term. An example of this can be found in Acts
6:1 were a dispute arises between the "Hebrews" and
the "Hellenists." Most scholars agree that the "Hellenists" here are
Hellenist Jews. No evangelistic efforts had yet been made toward non-
Jews (Acts 11:19) much less Greeks (see Acts 16:6-10). In Acts 6:1 a
clear contrast is made between Hellenists and Hebrews which are
clearly non-Hellenists. Hellenists were not called Hebrews, a term
reserved for non-Hellenist Jews. When Paul calls himself a "Hebrew"
he is claiming to be a non-Hellenist, and when he calls himself
a "Hebrew of Hebrews" he is claiming to be strongly non-Hellenist.
This would explain why Paul disputed against the Hellenists and why
they attempted to kill him (Acts. 9:29) and why he escaped to Tarsus
(Acts 9:30). If there was no non-Hellenist Jewish population in
Tarsus, this would have been a very bad move.
Paul's Pharisee background gives us further reason to doubt
that he was in any way a Hellenist. Paul claimed to be a "Pharisee,
the son of a Pharisee" (Acts 23:6) meaning that he was at least a
second generation Pharisee. The Aramaic text, as well as some Greek
mss. have "Pharisee the son of Pharisees," a Semitic idiomatic
expresion meaning a third generation Pharisee. If Paul were a second
or third generation Pharisee, it would be difficult to accept that he
had been raised up as a Hellenist. Pharisees were staunchly opposed
to Hellenism. Paul's claim to be a second or third generation
Pharisee is further amplified by his claim to have been a student of
Gamliel (Acts 22:3). Gamliel was the grandson of Hillel and the head
of the school of Hillel. He was so well respected that the Mishna
states that upon his death "the glory of the Torah ceased, and purity
and modesty died." The truth of Paul's claim to have studied under
Gamliel is witnessed by Paul's constant use of Hillelian
Hermaneutics. Paul makes extensive use, for example, of the first
rule of Hillel. It is an unlikely proposition that a Hellenist would
have studied under Gamliel at the school of Hillel, then the center
of Pharisaic Judaism.
8. Paul wrote to groups in their own languages.
Paul's audience is another element which must be considered when
tracing the origins of his Epistles. Paul's Epistles were addressed
to various congregations in the diasporia. These congregations were
mixed groups made up of a core group of Jews and a complimentary
group of Gentiles. The Thessalonian congregation was just such an
assembly (Acts 17:1-4) as were the Corinthians. Certain passages in
the Corinthian Epistles are clearly aimed exclusively at Jews (1Cor.
10:1-2 for example.) Paul was writing first and foremost to the
Jewish leadership of mixed congregations.
If Paul wrote his Epistle's in Aramaic to a core group of Jews at
each congregation who then passed the message on to their Gentile
counterparts then this might give some added dimension to Paul's
phrase "to the Jew first and then to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16; 2:9-
10). It would also shed more light on the passage which Paul writes:
What advantage then has the Jew,
or what is the profit of circumcision?
Much in every way!
To them first, were committed the Words of God.
- Rom. 3:1-2
One final issue which must be discussed regarding the origin of
Paul's Epistles, is their intended purpose. It appears that Paul
intended the purpose of his Epistles to be:
1) To be read in the Congregations (Col. 4:16; 1Thes. 5:27)
2) To have doctrinal authority (1Cor. 14:37)
All Synagogue liturgy during the Second Temple era, was in Hebrew and
Aramaic (see The Words of Jesus By Gustaf Dalman; Edinburg, England;
1909) Paul would not have written material which he intended to be
read in the congregations in any other language. Moreover all
religious writings of Jews which claimed halachic (doctrinal)
authority, were written in Hebrew or Aramaic. Paul could not have
expected that his Epistles would be accepted as having the authority
he claimed for them, without having written them in Hebrew or
9. There are built in explainations of Hebrew and Aramaic words in
the NT and there would not be if it had been written in Hebrew and/or
RESPONSES: These "expanations" are an added feature to the Greek
translations and are not a feature of the Hebrew and Aramaic texts.
10. The NT was written for use by Gentiles and Gentiles of the time
RESPONSE: The original believers in Yeshua were Jews. The first
gentile "Christians" were centered at Antioch in SYRIA (Acts
11:26). Syrians spoke Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic. These "first"
groups would have had a need for Scriptures in Hebrew and Aramaic.
Even *IF* parts of the NT were intended for gentiles, this does not
mean they were initially Greek speaking Gentiles. To the contrary
the ealiest Gentile believers were Aramaic speaking Syrians and
MATTHEW - Written according to Origen "for the Jewish believers...
in Hebrew" (Origen quoted by Eusebius; Eccl. Hist. 6:25) and
according to Jerome "in Hebrew... for the benifit of those of the
circumcision who had believed" (Jerome; Of Illustrius Men 3). This
book may have been addressed to Pharisees.
MARK - Mark probably wrote his Gospel for use by Gentile Assyrians
he encountered while in Babylon with Kefa (Peter) (1Kefa 5:13).
LUKE/ACTS - Luke a Syrian (Eccl. Hist. 3:4) wrote his Gospel to
Theophilus who had been the Jewish High Priest from 37-41 CE
(Josephus; Ant. 18:5:3).
YOCHANAN - To the "chosen lady" (2Jn. 1:1) a euphamism for Israel.
Yochanan (John) probably wrote his "mystical" Gospel to
the "mystical" Essene sect of Jews.
JAKOV (JAMES) - "to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad"
KEFA (Peter) - "to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus,
Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, the Chosen..." (1Pt. 1:1-2)
I.E. The scattered Chosen people, Israel.
Y'HUDAH (Jude) - Probably written to the Jews.
PAULINE EPISTLES (Except Hebrews) - Written to core groups of Jewish
leaders in mixxed congregations throughout the world. For example
1Corinthians is written to a group whose "fathers were under the
cloud and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto
Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1Cor. 10:1-2) These would be
Jewish Corinthians not native Corinthians.
Hebrews - Obviously written to Jews.
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