Did Jesus Speak Greek?

"Throughout Jesus’ ministry we see some very interesting examples of interactions that seem to make far more sense if they happened in Greek. For example, Jesus’ conversation with Pilate at his interrogation (Mark 15:2-3, Matthew 27:11-14, Luke 23:2-4, John 18:29-38), his conversation with the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13, John 4:46-54), or his interaction with the Syrophoenician (or Canaanite gentile) woman (Mark 7:25-30, Matthew 15:21-28). These examples make the most sense if, taking into considering both the flow of the conversation (as it’s recorded in the Greek gospels) as well as who these individual Jesus is speaking to are, speaking Greek specifically and not Aramaic or Hebrew.

Either way, the language spoken at that time was a bit of a mix. For example, in Matthew 5:22 it is recorded that Jesus says “But whoever says to his brother' ‘Raca’ will be liable to the Sanhedrin.” If Jesus spoke these words in Aramaic, he used the Greek-origin word “Sanhedrin” in the sentence. If he spoke that sentence in Greek, he still used the Aramaic word “raca.” This is just one example of many that we can see being a mix of cultures and languages. First century Aramaic would have been interspersed with all sorts of Greek phrases and terms.

Although not specifically the first century, we do know that Greek ended up becoming seamless with a lot of the regional dialects like Coptic and Syriac between the second and fourth centuries. One only has to look through lexicons of these two languages to see that Coptic, as it was read in the fourth century, had developed into just over 15% Greek in its vocabulary.

Another fascinating example pointing to a high probability of Jesus speaking Greek is that within the Gospel of Matthew Jesus starts his opening speech with alliteration of Greek words. The first four beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-6 all begin with pi (π):

”Blessed are the poor (πτωχοὶ - ‘ptochoi’)…”
”…those who mourn (πενθοῦντες - ‘penthountes’)…”
”…the meek (πραεῖς - ‘praeis’)…”
”…those who hunger (πεινῶντες - ‘peinontes’)…”

In fact, Greek alliteration is all over the place in this sermon. Matthew 5:6 states, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Thirst is the word “διψῶντες” (dipsontes) and righteousness is “δικαιοσύνην” (dikaiosynen).

Matthew 5:8 goes on to say “Blessed are the pure in heart.” “Pure” is the word “καθαροὶ,” (katharoi) “heart” is the word “καρδίᾳ” (kardia). They are kappa alpha (κα) repeats.

The beatitudes have eight initial terms, of which the third declension plurals are all grouped in beatitudes two to five. Beatitudes two and four to seven end with the rhyming sound “ontai,” which ends a verb. The final position of these verbs is not compulsory and so therefore, seems to be organized that way on purpose. In addition, the initial phrase “poor in spirit” has two consonant clusters beginning with pi (π).

Matthew 4:25 states that “Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” Broad Galilean Aramaic would not have helped the folks form the notoriously Greek Decapolis. It is far more likely that those from “Jerusalem, Judea…. and the region across the Jordan” would have spoken Greek as opposed to those from the Decapolis speaking Aramaic / Hebrew."

Wesley Huff, Did Jesus Speak Greek?


Anonymous said…
Interesting about the alliteration, I had not heard about that.

Greek was the lingua franca of the time, like English today. It is very believable that Jesus spoke both Greek and Aramaic. However, it seems unlikely he preached in Greek. His message was for the Jews; he was proclaimed as the messiah, the guy who would lead the Jews to victory over their oppressors, so it would be odd to use the language of the oppressors.

Matthew was written decades after the event. I would suggest the sermon on the mount was originally in Aramaic, later translated and the alliteration added, and that was recorded.

they spoke Greek That's where koine comes from. Spoken by army and trading the general public picked it up.
If I recall I think Papias said Matt was first written in Hebrew then translated into Greek by Matt But he does use Hebrew words..
The Pixie said…
Joe: If I recall I think Papias said Matt was first written in Hebrew then translated into Greek by Matt But he does use Hebrew words..

Papias said there was a text - a logia - written by Matthew in Hebrew. Christians have subsequently equated that text with the gospel that today is associated with Matthew, but most scholars agree the gospel was originally written in Greek and of course the gospel is much more than a logia, so is not the text Papias was talking about.
true but it could heavy been the basis of the GMatt we have, ?They took Matt;s saying list and fleshed it out with a narrative,
Anonymous said…
Not that heavily. That was Mark.


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