What Language Was the New Testament Written in?
What language was the new testament written in? Scholars generally agree that the New Testament was composed in Koine Greek, the form used in schools and written by educated people.
As they sought to reach as wide an audience as possible, apostles and evangelists opted for writing in Greek rather than Hebrew or Aramaic for letters and encyclicals they sent out. Otherwise it would have made no sense.
Nearly all of the New Testament was composed in Greek; all its original manuscripts have been found to be written in this language, while no Hebrew or Aramaic ones have ever been discovered. Furthermore, its writings not simply use secular Koine Greek but instead employ an uncommon variant known as biblical Greek that differs significantly from Classical Greek and more closely resembles everyday use within Hellenistic culture for such documents as shopping lists, grocery receipts, private letters or government edicts.
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At first, scholars were perplexed by how the New Testament was composed; some thought it incorporated Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic; others assumed it was created specifically for Bible. In reality though, New Testament Greek sits within a continuum with other forms of ancient Greek; it draws inspiration both from literary postclassical forms but also daily usage in everyday situations like everyday words kai and de that are sometimes combined like Hebrew waw.
Hellenized Greek or Koine came into being as a result of Alexander the Great's conquests and their impact on other cultures; it became the lingua franca of Mediterranean life until Latin rose as the main tongue at the end of Western Roman Empire. Though not static in form or function, however; Koine evolved and changed as Christian doctrine spread around. For instance, Jesus used Grecian words when conversing with Peter about his feelings for Peter (see John 21:15-17).
Some Christians believe the New Testament was originally composed in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus and his disciples. While this theory remains contentious, evidence exists for it - for instance there are words that seem to be Aramaisms from Hebrew that appear differently when rendered into Greek; furthermore some verses refer to events before Jerusalem was destroyed, suggesting Aramaic might have been spoken during that timeframe.
The New Testament writers were familiar with both the Septuagint Greek Old Testament, as well as Greek as a language spoken throughout Eastern Mediterranean regions at that time; hence many New Testament passages include quotations from this older text. Greek was also commonly spoken, which may account for why so much of its language appears throughout New Testament writings of that era.
As part of their efforts to reach a wide audience, early church writers decided on writing in Greek as their common regional tongue. Not wishing to exclude anyone, this decision meant not writing in Aramaic or Hebrew but using a unique form known as "koine", distinct from literary or classical Greek used by authors of original 27 books of New Testament.
There is some evidence of Hebrew and Aramaic influence in the writing of the New Testament; however, it should be kept in mind that its original version was written in Greek; most manuscript evidence supports this claim. Over time this tradition gave rise to multiple translations both ancient and modern.
As they were writing to reach a wide audience, New Testament authors utilized koine Greek, a form of Hellenized Greek that became common due to Alexander the Great's cultural influence.
Owing to its origin in Hebrew Old Testament, Greek had strong Jewish overtones in both its syntax and idioms, reflecting their Semitic language roots; for instance "hour" being used instead of "day" in Gospels as an idiom of Hebrew; similarly in Revelation "iris" signified both rainbow and messenger.
Evidence that the authors of the New Testament relied upon Jewish sources when crafting their writings is further proof of Koine Greek language usage by these writers. Their underlying Jewish text closely paralleled both Masoretic text (still used today), as well as Septuagint traditions that existed at Jesus' time.
Early Christian centuries saw only Latin translations of the Bible available, as it was the universal language of Rome at that time. Hieronymus of Cilicia translated all 66 books of Scripture into Latin to create what became known as Vetus Latina; later, Jerome made another translation known as Vulgate that was widely used within churches across Europe for several hundred years; however, this disallowance prevented other translations into local languages such as French preventing new converts from understanding its message and hindered its spreading.
Importantly, it should be emphasized that the Greek of the New Testament differs significantly from classical Greek in that its language has semitic influences from Hebrew and Aramaic; also included are many Hebraisms - Jewish-derived words spoken in Greek - reflecting its authors' goal of reaching a wider audience both with regards to Gentiles as well as Jews. They used an accessible language which they understood.
As is true with many literary works, the New Testament must also be read on a literary level rather than through everyday speech. An educated English speaker uses different language when writing formal letters than when conversing casually with their friends.
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