Why the New Testament was written in Greek
Hebrew was the language of the Jews while the Old Testament was being written. But during the Babylonian captivity, Chaldean, the language of the Babylonians, influenced Hebrew, resulting in a dialect known as Chaldee or Aramaic. By New Testament times, the Jews spoke and wrote both Hebrew and Aramaic, but they spoke Aramaic. Thus the Old Testament is written primarily in Hebrew with a few sections in Aramaic.
Between the close of the Old Testament and the birth of Christ, Alexander the Great swept through Palestine on his conquests. In his campaign to spread Greek culture to the world, he established Koine (or common) Greek as the language of trade. Even though Rome ruled the Mediterranean world during New Testament times, Greek was the “lingua franca”, the international written and spoken language. Paul could travel everywhere and be understood speaking Koine Greek.
Since most people understood Koine Greek, it was the language most suited to spreading the gospel message. The New Testament authors wrote in Greek to assure wider understanding, though they (and Jesus) most likely spoke in Aramaic.
5 Stages of Greek Language
- Mycenean Greek – approximately 14C BC; very early form of the language which used a script called “Linear B.”
- Classical Greek – from Homer (8C BC) to Plato (4C BC). Classical Greek had many dialects. The 3 primary dialects were Doric, Aeolic and Ionic. Attic is a branch of Ionic.
- Hellenistic Greek or Koine Greek – the common, daily language spoken on the street, established by Alexander the Great (who spoke Attic Greek). The New Testament and the Septuagent were written in Koine Greek. Koine Greek is a simplified version of classical Greek and lost many of its subtleties.
- Byzantine Greek – from 4C BC- 1453 AD; the language that developed when the center of Greek culture moved to Byzantium (later Constantinople, then Istanbul).
- Modern Greek – the language as it adapted and is spoken today.
Linguistics think a hypothetical base language called “Proto-Indo-European) branched into the following 4 language groups:
- Romance Languages (Latin, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish and others)
- Germanic Languages (English, German Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and others)
- Greek Languages (Linear B, Classical, Koine, Byzantine, Modern Greek)
- Indo-Iranian (Iranian, Sanskrit)
By contrast, Hebrew and Aramaic are Semitic languages.