The original text of the documents we have come to know as the New Testament was written by Christ-following Jews (in the ancient sense of the word) in a language that can best be described, not simply as Koine (or Common) Greek, but as “Koine Judeo-Greek.”

First of all, what is Koine Greek? Koine Greek (which is different from Classical Greek) was the common, multi-regional form of Greek spoken and written during Hellenistic and Roman antiquity. However, I do not think that the language we see in the New Testament can be described ONLY as Koine Greek. There are elements of the Koine Greek used in the New Testament that emphasize its significant connection to Hebrew and first-century Jewish culture. I prefer to call it “Judeo-Greek” (or Koine Judeo-Greek).

What is Judeo-Greek? Judeo Greek is simply a specialized form of Greek used by Jews to communicate. This form of Greek retained many words, phrases, grammatical structures, and patterns of thought characteristic of the Hebrew language.  We have similar examples in other languages: the well-known Judeo-German (Yiddish), Judeo-Spanish (Ladino), and the less familiar Judeo-Farsi, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Italian, and Judean-Georgian languages.

So is Judeo-Greek really Greek? Yes, but it is Greek that inherited the patterns of Semitic thought and expression. In this way, it differs from the forms of Greek used by other people groups.

I disagree that the New Testament was first written in Hebrew and then later translated into Greek.

Instead, I think it was written in Greek by people who thought “Jewishly.” More importantly, the authors of the New Testament thought multi-lingually. People who speak a variety of languages also manage to think in a variety of languages. When they do speak, however, they regularly import into that language something that comes from another. It is never a question of “if,” but only of, “how much.”

We must remember that the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible (commonly called the Septuagint) was translated into Greek by leading Jewish scholars of the day. Legend has it that each of the 70 individual Jewish sages made separate translations of the Hebrew Bible and when they were completed, all of them matched perfectly. As I said, “it is a legend.” The number 70 is likely symbolic of the 70 nations of the world in ancient Judaism. This translation was not only meant for Greek-speaking Jews, but also for non-Jews so that they too could have access to the Hebrew Bible. You can imagine how many Hebraic words, phrases, and patterns of thought are present on every page of the Septuagint, even though it is written in Greek. So aside from the authors of the New Testament thinking Jewishly and Hebraically, we also have the majority of their Old Testament quotations coming from another Jewish-authored, Greek-language document – the Septuagint. Is it surprising that the New Testament is full of Hebraic forms expressed in Greek?!

As a side note, the use of the Septuagint by New Testament writers is actually a very exciting concept. The Jewish text of the Hebrew Bible used today is the Masoretic Text (MT for short). When the Dead Sea Scrolls were finally examined, it turned out that there was not one, but three different families of Biblical traditions in the time of Jesus. One of them closely matched the Masoretic text, one closely matched the Septuagint, and one seems to have connections with the Samaritan Torah. Among other things, this indicates that the Septuagint quoted by the New Testament has great value, since it was based upon a Hebrew text that is at least as old as the original base text of the (later) Masoretic Text (MT).

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141 COMMENTS

  1. I think it's best put as Greek Jews using some Jewish terminology in writing to reach out to other Greek literate Jews and Goyim with the Good News of Yeshua the Messiah. Scholars have hinted at the possibility that the talmid Mattityahu originally wrote his Good News in Aramaic but was later translated into Koine Greek. And it is also possible that Mattityahu was the source material for Mark, Luke, and Yochanan.
    • The Gospel of Matthew as we currently have it is not translated Greek. If Matthew did write an original Aramaic (or Hebrew) Gospel it is lost entirely. Anyone who says differently cannot read Greek.
    • Well I had hoped for some honest scolarship here instead I a hip deep in tradition. Historicaly speaking we have it from the disciples of John the beloved that the Gospels were written in the Language of the Hebrews and translated with great difficulty to the the Aramaic and the the Greek, you really are not thinking if you think Yeshua quoted the 22nd Psalm in Aramaic. We also have the witness of Eusibeus as well Justin the author of the Latin Vulgate who went to Ceasarea to personally examine the Hebrew texts housed in the synagouge there. Maybe you scholars need to brush up on church history a bit

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  2. Dr Eli, thanks for this cool idea, e.g., not quite Greek. Regarding the language spoken an written, I’m sure you’re right (my opinion) that a local Greco dialect was common as also was Hebrew. As in many places today, folk converse comfortably in 3 or 4 languages. But there is an important aspect of a people in subjection regarding the language they prefer and the strategic choice of language based on the goal of writing or speaking. I think of the Irish separatist who demanded Gaelic, I imagine the 1st century Zealots had a similar view, and there could easily
    • I wish I can interact intelligently with you about the Irish separatists, but I can't! I know about Russian Bolsheviks and Menshviks, but that takes to another part of the world :-). I think we are on the same page though. :-)
    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Apostle Paul I: His World and The Revelation in a Jewish Context II : Discovery. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!
    • It seems you are right Dr. Eli. The ancient Greek 'codex W' has the 4 Gospels in Greek with dates written very early. It seems that the Greek Text was written as well as a Hebrew Matthew very early by The Apostles. So both languages for the 4 Gospels.
  3. What about Paias’ statement, quoted by Eusebius, that Matthew was originally wriitten in Hebrew ... and Jerome’s statement that he had seen a Hebrew copy of Matthew’s Gospel? When you compare the form of the Hebrew text preserved in Eben Bohan, it has evidence of a missing final page much like that of the old Syriac’s missing final page of the Gospel. Also we see a variety of forms usually translated “in the name of,” that may represent the differences deen in the Hebrew idioms בשם and לשם (Greek en enomati and eis onoma). Jeewish-Greek or Hebrew original
    • Hebraic forms in Greek New Testament are easy to explain. Hebraic grammar is often met in this Judeo-Greek version of Greek it got there via LXX another Judeo-Greek document. Jerome seeing Hebrew Gospel of Matthew may still be a possibility. Translation into Hebrew? Another version of Judeo-Greek Matthew? Until we find something it remains only that pretty much - something that Jerome saw.
  4. That 'common' Greek dialect was probably nuanced in many ways depending on where it was used and who was using it. Certainly, Jewish people used it to express Jewish thoughts, especially those of the Diaspora who used Greek as their first and primary language. A good question might be how Koine influenced Jewish thought rather than the reverse. Hellenization of Jewish society is obvious. It goes both ways. Perhaps, another reason for using Koine is that it allowed the expression of new ideas beyond the Jewish norm which was necessary for the rise of a new devotion to God.
  5. Dr. Eli, The seventy Jewish scholars of the Septuagint, representing the nations of the world, seems to indicate God’s concern for all people to obtain knowledge of who He is from His people. That seems to go along to Israel’s call as a light to the nations and as a mediating nation for the world. Do you think that this is another description of Israel’s call as a kingdom of priests just as seventy bulls were sacrificed for the seventy nations of the world during Sukkot? Blessings, Jay
  6. Dr. Eli, Thank you for addressing this very important topic. I believe only you have my email address. Is there a way that I may privately share with you my study on this topic? I would appreciate your opinion. An private l response would be greatly appreciated.
    • A good friend of mine, Andrew Roth, thinks (if I am not mistaken) that the NT or at least some books in the NT (gospels) were written in both Judeo-Greek and Aramaic/Syriac roughly at the same time. Two versions for West and East so to speak. I find this possible.
    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including Exodus and The New Testament and The Stories of Jewish Christ: First Century Diversity. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!
  7. Is it possible that the only reason that we think the early church writers used the Septuagint is that the Hebrew text they were quoting was the same text that the translators of the Septuagint used. Therefor any translation into Greek would mirror the Septuagint.
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