It is quite often argued that the Gospels could not have been written by the original disciples of Jesus since the earliest copies are written in Greek, not Aramaic. As is noted, “The first issue is related to the nature of the Greek language of the New Testament, and the second one is concerned with the languages used or spoken in ancient Palestine, and consequently, by Jesus (14).” So why is the New Testament written in Greek and not Aramaic? If we look at Hypothesis Q, it is very plausible that oral tradition or the originals documents were written in Aramaic then Greek.
Either way, it is not an argument against the authorship of the Gospels by any means. “This means that the historical and social situation during the time the Gospel writers penned their accounts of the Jesus story is different from that of Jesus and his disciples when the actual events took place, even though the hiatus between the event stage and the Gospel composition stage may have been only a few decades (14).” Therefore, we must not conclude that just because the language spoken by Jesus or the disciples must be the same as the written accounts.
What was Jesus’ language?
Many do conclude that Jesus’ native tongue was Hebrew, however this most likely is not linguistically the case. “Hebrew perhaps was not a vernacular variety anymore during the first century CE, having been replaced by Aramaic (16).” Vernacular meaning, “an uncodified and unstandardized language, which can refer either the native tongue or the first language acquired at home, an unofficial language of a country or state, or a language used for relatively circumscribed and informal functions (15).” It is probably the case that Jesus spoke Aramaic as the tongue he grew up with in his household and learned Greek for official or state purposes. His first language would have been Greek, but his tongue would be Aramaic meaning that he learned from Joseph and Mary.
Standard Language on First Century Palestine:
“Any of the four languages—Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or Latin can be considered as a standard language, since all of them have been standardized and codified (16).” Latin most likely would not have been in Palestine since that was mostly a west speaking language, while Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew are Eastern languages. Aramaic would have been the vernacular language, while Greek most likely the standardized language of the State.
“It is most likely that during Jesus’ time, Greek would have been more prestigious variety of the community, as it is the language used in the government administration, higher education (e.g., grammar, classics, and rhetoric and philosophy), and the trade and industry of the time (16-17).” Greek most certainly would have been present in first century Palestine since officials of Rome and of Israel would need this lingua franca (contact language) for official purposes.
Herod the Great most likely would know Greek and his predecessors would, or at least have translators. Higher scribes and officials like the Pharisees would have known Greek, like Saul of Tarsus. Hence, those of religious status would probably know Greek, including tax collectors like Matthew. Greek was the most common Gentile language of the day, so we would expect Luke and Acts to be written in Greek. The Hellenistic program of Alexander the great set the road for Greco Roman world Koine Greek to be spoken during Jesus’s time and the entire empire. “The expansion of Greek in the ancient world would also entail the waning or weakening of other living languages that simultaneously existed with it (23).” The language that Jesus’ followers would have translated these documents into would be the lingua franca of the period, since all languages spoken only in specific groups would die out with its people.
Greek of the New Testament:
Scholars debate whether the New Testament was written in a Holy Ghost, Classical (attic), Semitic, or Hellenistic Greek. As discussed before, the main concern for scholars is why the New Testament was written in Greek vs. Aramaic. As was pointed out earlier, the lingua franca was Greek, so to make the New Testament a standard document and to get the message out to more people (gentiles), it would be best suitable for the New Testament to be written in Greek. Plenty of means to accomplish this task.
It is believed by some Scholars like Henry Gehman, “that Semitic languages spoken in Galilee influenced the kind of Greek that Jesus and his disciples used (24)”. Another possible view is that Jesus spoke on type of Jewish Greek spoken in synagogues. “Walser argues the Greek of the LXX evinces the polyglossic(more voices or languages) nature of the Greek in the Hellenistic period (26).” However, it is most likely the case that the New Testament was written in non-literary Greek of the Hellenistic Greek period due to Alexander the Great’s Hellenization program of the Mediterranean. This was the contact language in both the speech and writing language of first century Palestine due to Hellenization. The discovery of Egyptian papyri and Greek inscriptions in the 19th & 20th centuries prove that this Greek was a vernacular language spoken by people.
Usage of Hebrew, Aramaic:
The most common language spoken in first century Palestine would be Aramaic and would be a native tongue. “The prevailing view of the nineteenth century was that Aramaic had totally replaced Hebrew shortly after the Babylonian captivity (ca. 586-536 BCE) (37).” Hebrew would have only been spoken by high authorities like priests during the exile. Hebrew survived but would have been used for liturgical and educational contexts by Pharisees and other high sects of Judaism.
When Papias says that Matthew wrote to the Hebrews, he is most likely referring to Hebraic people instead of those who literally speak Hebrew. Hence, why it is not necessary for the Gospel of Matthew to be written in Hebrew because most were speaking Aramaic or Greek. There are also uses of Hebrew on ossuaries, which are bone boxes. It could be the case that the Hebrew inscripted boxes could have been bone boxes for priests, like the Caiaphas ossuary.
The Dead Sea scrolls also preserved multiple Hebrew documents; however, this is not proof that it was spoken during the time they were preserved. Josephus uses both Hebrew and Aramaic words in his historical accounts, but this shows that those highly educated would have known Hebrew for writing purposes. Ultimately, it must be concluded that Aramaic had replaced Hebrew as the native tongues for the Jews and Greek was the lingua franca.
There are two main arguments defined the Aramaic Hypothesis: “(1) the weight of inscriptional and documentary evidence, and (2) the practice of translating Scripture into Aramaic (the targums) for the benefit of synagogue congregations (50).” There are hundreds of inscribed ossuaries in Aramaic that support the first point. We also find many translations of targum in the dead sea scrolls like the book of Job, which are translated from Hebrew to Aramaic. Suggesting that they were being translated to a universally used language for possible usage of those who did not know Hebrew. Aramaic copies would have been needed for synagogues, which if this is the case, then Hebrew was clearly not the vernacular language.
We must conclude therefore, that first century Palestine was a multilingual speaking place. Aramaic as the vernacular language, Greek as the lingua franca, and Hebrew used by high priests and those in higher education.
BibliographyOng, H. T. (2015). The Multilingual Jesus: An Analysis of the Sociolinguistic Situation of Ancient Palestine With Special Reference To The Gospel of Matthew. Hamilton, Ontario: McMaster Divinity College.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus begins his public ministry by cleansing the temple of the moneychangers. But in the synoptic gospels, the temple cleansing takes place near the end of his ministry. Did the author of John make a chronological mistake?
Looking at the temple cleansing in the four gospels, we can see there are significant differences between them. One possible explanation for this is that Jesus cleansed the temple twice, one at the beginning of his ministry, and one near the end.
In the synoptics, the temple cleansing is preceded by Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. It is after this he storms into the temple, whilst in John, there is no mention of the triumphant entry until chapter 12.
The synoptics also do not record the same words of Jesus. He calls the temple a house of prayer and rebukes the moneychangers for making it a den of robbers. But in John, Jesus makes a whip out of cords and forcefully drives them out. He does not speak about a den of robbers or a house of prayer, but simply tells the moneychangers not to make the temple a house of trade. John’s version of the temple cleansing is also the only one to include Jesus’ declaration that he will raise up his body in 3 days after it has been destroyed.
Andreas J. Kostenberger suggests the account of the temple cleansing in John, “…may represent a “doublet,” a certain type of event occurring more than once during Jesus’ ministry… If so, Jesus cleared the temple twice, with John recording only the first instance, and the Synoptists only [recording] the second.” (John: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2004, pg. 111; See also: D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 1991, pg. 178)
While this explanation is a good possibility, I think there is a deeper and more profound explanation as to why John moved the cleansing to the beginning of the ministry.
Johannes Beutler argues that John’s account of the temple cleansing would make more sense if it was originally in John chapter 11. “…Jesus continues to visit the temple, and, in the following eight chapters, he makes it the preferred place for his teaching and preaching. A conflict in this place with the Jewish authorities is easier to understand at the end of Jesus’ public life than at it’s beginning…
The danger to which Jesus exposes himself when he sets out to go and find his friend in Bethany, and the readiness of the disciples to go and die with him (John 11:16), are more easily understood in connection with Jesus’ action in the temple than in connection with the miracle of raising Lazarus.” (The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 2017, pg. 84)
So in the sources John was drawing on to compose his gospel, his version of the cleansing would have been initially located in chapter 11. It appears that John has moved the cleansing to chapter 2 in order to make a theological point.
The temple cleansing in John is split into two chunks that display similar structure. The first chunk, verses 13-15, frame the narrative and describes the cleansing. Verse 16 gives the words of Jesus. Verse 17 then describes the disciples remembering a Word from scripture (from Psalm 69:9).
In the second chunk, verse 18 gives the question of authority from the Jews, 19-21 is Jesus’ dispute with them, and verse 22 describes the disciples remembering a Word from scripture.
The concluding verses (23-25) bind the whole chapter together with the Passover Feast, and the wedding in Cana, which was mentioned before the cleansing. The themes that appear to be communicated here are the signs Jesus performs (11, 17, 23) and belief and remembrance in the scriptures (17, 22).
John wished to send a theological message by placing the temple cleansing earlier on:
Jesus’ citation of the Old Testament being placed early in John’s gospel is clearly intentional on the authors’ part. As Rudolf Bultmann states, “…the meaning can scarcely be that Jesus’ action was an expression of his consuming zeal. Rather, the Evangelist (or the Editor) is looking forward to what is to come – or alternatively the whole of Jesus’ ministry – and he means that Jesus’ zeal will result in his death.” (The Gospel of John, 1971, pg. 124)
Given that Jesus routinely said to his followers to keep quiet about him in the early stages of his ministry, a public cleansing of the temple, likely causing outrage amongst the locals and the Jewish authorities would seem to contradict this.
So, we have at least two good reasons as to why John rearranged the order of events in his gospel. I personally think both are good enough, but the theological argument appears to be stronger and more reasonable than two temple cleansings. So therefore, John’s placement of the cleansing at the beginning of the gospel is not a contradiction in the Gospel accounts.
Kerruso Apologetics: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrQomNYP7r7J-u1IZJkF-Tg