The Original Languages of the Bible

In spite of some people’s belief to the contrary, the books of the Bible (any one of the three or more) were not written in English.  Old English did not come into existence until after the 5th century CE, whereas all of the books of the Bible were written at least by the 2nd century CE.  What languages did the writers use?  

Without English at their disposal for recording their words, the authors of the books of the Bible had to use other languages.  It is only natural to think that they would have used their “native” languages.  The facts do not support this idea, however, unless one includes in “native” the lingua franca of the 4th century BCE through the 1st century CE—i.e., Greek.

Because descendants of Abraham were the primary authors of the books of the Bible (the only certain exception being the author of the books of Luke and Acts in the New Testament), one would assume that all of the books would have been written in Hebrew.  That is certainly a logical conclusion, and it is true of the Tanakh (Old Testament), with very few exceptions.  The exceptions were written in Aramaic, the daily language of the Jews.

The Jewish authors of the books of the New Testament, along with the books written by the Gentile physician, Luke, were written in Greek.  One can justifiably ask why these books were written in Greek when the recipients of many of these books were or included other Jews.  There are two historical facts that provide some evidence for an answer to this question.

The united monarchy of Solomon was divided into two kingdoms after his death: 
(1) Israel, the northern kingdom (10 tribes)
(2) Judah, the southern kingdom (2 tribes)

The Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom in 722/721 BCE and deported the majority of the populace into other areas of the Assyrian Empire.  These deportees, who are referred to as the 10 lost tribes of Israel, adjusted to their new environments, learned the native languages of their respective locales, and eventually learned Greek as the common language of that part of the world.  In this process, they forgot their Hebrew.

Alexander the Great became King of Macedonia in 336 BCE and conquered all the tribes and nations between Greece and India.  Because of his exploits, Greek became the language of choice for communication among the many different languages spoken by the conquered people.  Greek continued as the common language even after Rome became the dominant power during the 3rd century BCE through the 1st century CE.

Therefore, the Jewish writers of the books of the New Testament, even when writing to or for other Jews, used Greek as the common language for communication.




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