Thursday, September 11, 2008

Appendix: What Languages Did Paul Speak?

Source (Quoted in its entirety)

"Some say that Paul's education didn't include the Greek language. Theories and speculation are offered in an attempt to support the pro-names argument that the NT was originally written in Hebrew, not Greek. Only a few details of Paul's education have been preserved. We do know that he spoke to Greek Gentiles, throughout Asia Minor, when Greek was the common language of the Empire as well as the native language of Asia Minor. Acts 2:4-6, shows that many Jews who lived outside Palestine, spoke in their "own languages," in other words, languages other than Hebrew. The divine gift of "tongues" acknowledged those languages. This "gift," which came from God in heaven, acknowledged their "own languages" and worked with them, not rejecting them or insisting that Hebrew be spoken. Everything that they heard on Pentecost was translated into their own languages.

If Paul spoke only Biblical Hebrew, he would have needed a translator to speak to the Aramaic-speaking Jews of Palestine, and a Greek interpreter for all his journeys to Asia Minor. Acts 21:37--22:2 shows a contrast between Paul speaking in Greek to the Roman captain, and addressing the Jews in "Hebrew" (Aramaic). When the crowd stopped listening to Paul and seemed to be on the verge of rioting, the captain had Paul taken into custody and ordered him to be beaten so that he would tell them why the crowd had become so agitated. In other words, the captain didn't understand Paul's speech in Aramaic or the crowd's response (Acts 22:2-24). Paul and the captain then have a second conversation, which would have been in Greek, without an interpreter (verses 25-29).

Paul told the Corinthians, "I thank my God, I speak with tongues (glossa) more than you all."(1 Cor. 14:18). "Glossa" is Strong's 1100, "glossa, the tongue; by impl. a language...". Many Bibles contain maps showing Paul's journeys. Although Jews did come to hear him speak, his purpose was to "go to the gentiles" (Rom. 11:13; 15:16; Gal. 2:2; Eph. 3:8; Col. 1:27; 1 Ths. 2:14-16; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11; 4:17. That purpose was not his own, but one given him by the resurrected Christ (Acts 9:10-17).

Paul not only spoke Greek, he read Greek literature and quoted Greek poets to help the Gentiles relate to the Gospel message. “For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." (Acts 17:28). Here Paul quoted, "the first half of the fifth line, word for word, of an astronomical poem of Aratus, a Greek countryman of the apostle, and his predecessor by about three centuries. But, as he hints the same sentiment is to be found in other Greek poets. They meant it doubtless in a pantheistic sense; but the truth, which it expresses the apostle turns to his own purpose--to teach a pure, personal, spiritual Theism. (Probably during his quiet retreat at Tarsus, ch. 9:30, revolving his special vocation to the Gentiles, he gave himself to the study of so much Greek literature as might be turned to Christian account in his future work. Hence this and his other quotations from the Greek poets, I Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12)." (Source: Commentary on the Whole Bible, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, [JFB] p. 1115).

Paul also quoted, "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners." (I Cor. 15:33). "...a current saying, forming a verse in Menander, the comic poet, who probably took it from Euripides (Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica, 3. 16)" (JFB, p.1223). "One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies." (Tit. 1:12). "One [being] Epimenides of Phaestus, or Gnossus, in Crete, about 600 BC. He was sent for to purify Athens from its pollution occasioned by Cylon. He was regarded as a diviner and prophet. The words here are taken probably from his treatise "concerning oracles." "(JFB, p. 1386). Notice that Paul quotes an inscription on a Greek monument, "...TO THE UNKNOWN GOD,..." (Acts 17:23). Greek monuments in Athens, Greece, would not have been inscribed in Hebrew or Aramaic.

Some have alleged that Josephus wrote, "almost no Jews could speak Greek", citing Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews, 20:11:2. Josephus wrote, "... I have also taken a great deal of pains to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language, although I have so long accustomed myself to speak our own tongue, that I cannot pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness; for our nation does not encourage those that learn the languages of many nations, and so adorn their discourses with the smoothness of their periods; because they look upon this sort of accomplishment as common, not only to all sorts of free-men, but to as many of the servants as please to learn them. But they give him the testimony of being a wise man who is fully acquainted with our laws, and is able to interpret their meaning; on which account, as there have been many who have done their endeavors with great patience to obtain this learning, there have yet hardly been so many as two or three that have succeeded therein, who were immediately well rewarded for their pains."

This says nothing about how many Jews spoke Greek. It does say that Josephus, who was a descendant of the High Priest, and who referred to himself as a Pharisee, spoke and wrote Greek. It also refers to "free-men" and "servants" among the Jews who chose to learn "the languages of many nations". It does refer to there being only "two or three" who were "fully acquainted with our (Jewish) laws".

Some say that the Romans hired Josephus to translate a call to the Jews to surrender at Jerusalem because the Jews didn't speak Greek. “But then Titus, knowing that the city would be either saved or destroyed for himself, did not only proceed earnestly in the siege, but did not omit to have the Jews exhorted to repentance; so he mixed good counsel with his works for the siege. And being sensible that exhortations are frequently more effectual than arms, he persuaded them to surrender the city, now in a manner already taken, and thereby to save themselves, and sent Josephus to speak to them in their own language; for he imagined they might yield to the persuasion of a countryman of their own."(Josephus, Wars, 5:9:2)
This indicates that Josephus was used, in hopes that the Jews would more readily listen to another Jew. Could any of the defenders speak or understand Greek? "2. Now when affairs within the city were in this posture, Titus went round the city on the outside with some chosen horsemen, and looked about for a proper place where he might make an impression upon the walls... But at this time, as he was going round about the city, one of his friends, whose name was Nicanor, was wounded with a dart on his left shoulder, as he approached, together with Josephus, too near the wall, and attempted to discourse to those that were upon the wall, about terms of peace; for he was a person known by them. ..." (Josephus, Wars, 5:6:2)

In 5:6:2, Josephus says that Nicanor, a Roman and friend of Titus Caesar, was wounded as he approached too near the wall and attempted to speak to them about peace. Then, in 5:9:2, Titus sends Josephus, "a countryman of their own" to speak to them "in their own language". Next, in 5:9:3, Josephus says, "3. So Josephus went round about the wall, and tried to find a place that was out of the reach of their darts, and yet within their hearing, and besought them, in many words, to spare themselves, to spare their country and their temple..."

Could Nicanor have tried to speak to them in Hebrew or Aramaic? In his work, Against Apion, Josephus said that he was the only one in the Roman camp to understand the Jews, whose language was Aramaic. "...For what happened in the Roman camp I saw, and wrote down carefully; and what informations the deserters brought [out of the city], I was the only man that understood them." Therefore, Nicanor did not speak Aramaic and when he spoke to the Jews, it would have been in Latin, or more likely, Greek. Josephus describes Nicanor as "a person known to them", which would imply that they had engaged in previous communication.

Some insist, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the New Testament was originally written Hebrew. Since no original Hebrew copy exists, the argument is used that, "The absence of evidence is evidence of nothing." In other words, they are saying that just because we don't have it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. (Note: There are later Hebrew copies of earlier Greek texts, and there are several efforts to produce a modern Hebrew version, also based on non-Hebrew texts, since, in it's earliest form, that's all that exists.)

Accepting this argument puts one in the position of selectively postulating about missing versions, missing books, even missing authors or missing commandments. It also accuses God of either hiding the truth, or being unable to preserve the knowledge we need to gain salvation. This leads one to questioning the accuracy of the Bible, especially the New Testament. In fact, some have followed this reasoning, to the point of rejecting the New Testament and Christ as the Messiah.

One argument along this line, is to quote that "speaking Greek was worse than eating swine's flesh". (We were unable to identify the original source of this quote. Among those who used this argument, one said it was from an introduction to a particular version of the Bible, while another said it came from the Talmud.)A Messianic web site offers the following, "The Talmud teaches us that it is far better for a Jew to eat pig, than to learn Greek!" (Source: They do not, however, say where in the Talmud, this may be found. The Talmud was written by the Jews that pursued Judaism, not the teachings of Christ. Actually, there are two Talmuds. For an explanation of the Talmud(s), see Appendix 8. The Mishna is a part of the Talmud. One source quotes the Mishna regarding public reading and writing of the scriptures in Greek and other languages. “The Jewish historian Josephus shows in his writings that the Greek language was understood well by Jews living in and out of Palestine. In fact, the Mishna shows there were synagogues in which the Jewish law permitted Greek to be spoken: "May be read in foreign tongue to them that speak a foreign tongue" (Megillah 2:1). And it further permitted: "That the books [the law, the writings, Psalms, etc.] may be written in any language." However, at the time of Christ these books were "only permitted to be written in Greek" (Megillah 1:8 The Mishnah, by Herbert Dandy)."(Source:

Some pro-names groups go to great lengths to attempt to prove that the NT was originally written in Hebrew, even while some other pro-names groups admit that there are no original copies in Hebrew. This is one of the pro-names arguments which leads ultimately to rejection of the NT. "In the article “Exploding The Inspired Greek New Testament Myth” by Assemblies of Yahweh, we find the following statement: "We believe that although the original text was inspired, there is no such thing as an inspired translation. Therefore, until such time as the original documents are unearthed, we must base all doctrine on the Old Testament. We should utilize the New Testament, however, and always allow the Old Testament to interpret the New . . .The oldest manuscripts extant with the exception of some Syriac fragments are Greek . . .The first point we would like to establish is that there are no original manuscripts of any book or portion of the New Testament extant today."

It is interesting that all of the Sacred Names groups seem to agree that the original New Testament was inspired. However, they say there are no inspired or accurate translations of these original texts in existence today. If the New Testament is not the inspired Word of God, there is no reason to use it for spiritual guidance or quote from it. Moreover, if there are no accurate translations, we do not have a guide to salvation. And if there is no guide, we are all without hope of eternal life, because in this age we do not have a means of atoning for our sins, which those of ancient Israel had (i.e., the sacrificial system and the priesthood). (Source:

Christ promised that after he returned to God's throne, another "Comforter" would be sent. He described it as "the Spirit of truth" (Jn. 14:16-17). He said it "will guide you into all truth". On Pentecost, that Spirit of truth gave the gift of tongues to the speakers so that everyone present heard in his own language. Those present included people from Cappadocia, Pontus, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, all in Asia Minor where the common language was Greek. In addition, some were from Rome, where the official language was Latin, and the common language of the Empire was Greek. The others who are mentioned include people from Mesopotamia (where Babylon was located), North Africa (including Egypt), and Crete, all of which were areas under the Greek Empire, and all of which shared Greek as the "common" language.

Another argument regarding the original language of the New Testament is that the books of the NT use "bad Greek grammar". However, this opinion is widely disputed among linguistic scholars (see Tyndale's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Vol. 2, article "Language"). Most agree
that the "grammar" varies in quality, which would be consistent with the fact that it was written by multiple authors, at different times. If it is true that some of it is "bad Greek grammar", it indicates only that Greek was not the primary language of its Jewish authors. It does not prove that the NT authors could not or did not write in Greek.

The opinion that the NT suffers from "bad Greek grammar" has been more recently demonstrated to be a misconception. The discovery of "papyrus documents of every type from Graeco-Roman Egypt--Imperial rescripts, judicial proceedings, tax and census papers, marriage contracts, birth, death and divorce notices, private letters, business notices, private letters, business accounts, and a host of others." has greatly reduced the number of what was thought to be unique Semitisms in the NT. Parallel expressions in the papyri show that these "Semitisms" were common in the Koine Greek of the time. "'Even Mark's Semitisms are hardly ever barbarous Greek, though his extremely vernacular language makes us think so, until we read the less educated papyri' (Howard)." (Source: Papyri, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3, pp. 1142-1150).

While proponents of "Hebrew names" cannot dispute that most of the New Testament was written from cities outside Palestine, to congregations or individuals also outside Palestine, they maintain that all these congregations were primarily "Jewish". They offer Rom. 1:16 in support of this argument, " the Jew first, and also to the Greek." This scripture is addressing God's power and plan and not Paul's missions. Actually this statement helps us understand why the OT was preserved by the Jews while the NT was preserved in the Greek language.

What is overlooked here, is that, while Paul made this statement, he also said earlier, in Acts 18:6, "...from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.". In Acts 22:19-21, Paul quotes Christ's assignment to him, "And he said unto me, ‘Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.’” The “twelve” were told by Christ not to go to “the gentiles” and not to “the Samaritans”, “But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Mat. 10:5-6). The "lost sheep" of Israel were not living in Palestine in the time of Christ. They had gone into captivity over seven hundred years earlier, and were later "scattered". Only the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi had returned from their own captivity to Palestine.

These "scattered" tribes learned other languages as Acts 2 shows. On Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the miracle was not that everyone understood Aramaic, but that "every man heard them speak in his own language." (Verse 6). "And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?" (Acts 2:7-8). Fifteen different languages are indicated in verses 9-11. Among these, "Jews" are listed, indicating that the Galilaeans were speaking in their native, contemporary Aramaic and that some Jews were hearing it in Aramaic. “Books" were written from a variety of lands and addressed to an equally diverse number of locations over a period of about 60 years.

1. (Note: Acts was written by Luke who accompanied Paul. The last reference is to Paul's time in Rome, before his martyrdom.)2. (Note: the title "To the Hebrews" is not in the original text, but was added)
3. (Note: The OT quotes are from the Greek Septuagint, not the Hebrew Bible)
4. John to "Gaius", a Greek, in Ephesus (Acts 19:29), Thessalonica (Acts 20:4- ), or Corinth (1 Cor. 1:14, Rom. 16:23), or all of the above.

Some argue that the book of Hebrews would not have been written in Greek, but in Hebrew. The first problem with this reasoning is that the title "To the Hebrews" is not in the original, and having been added later, may refer to "Christians" as opposed to Greek pagans. The OT citations are taken from the Septuagint, not from the Hebrew OT. The "most widely held view" is that it was written to Jewish Christians (who spoke many languages other than Hebrew, Acts 2:6-11) to warn them against apostasy to Judaism. "Hebrews is the most artistic literary writing in the NT, being composed from beginning to the end on the pattern of poem, thesis, diegesis, apodeixis, epilogue, laid down by Greek rhetoricians, and is written in rhythmic, periodic prose."(Source: Epistle, The Illust. Bible Dict., Vol. 1, pp. 465-466).

If it had been translated from Hebrew, why would anyone go to the trouble of using a classic Greek form of construction? This complex construction is evidence that Greek is the original form. Some will refer to the "du Tillet Matthew" and to the "Shem-Tob Matthew" as evidence of the NT being originally written in Hebrew. We should keep in mind that the language of Jerusalem and Palestine in the 1st century AD was Aramaic, not Hebrew. The "du Tillet" version of Matthew dates to 1555 AD and the "Shem-Tob" Matthew dates to 1385. This Hebrew translation of Matthew is "contained in the twelfth (in some manuscripts, the thirteenth) book of the Even Bohan (The Touchstone), a Jewish polemical treatise directed against Christians." (Source:

The fact that this version is contained within a Jewish work, which attacks "Christians", isn't mentioned in the pro-names references we have seen to date. This version is distinguished by the addition and deletion of words and verses, along with some changes that amount to editorializing. George Howard translated the "Shem-Tob" Matthew into English (1987) and presented his arguments that it had a very early, "primitive" origin. Pro-names supporters take this as evidence of Hebrew originals from the 1st cent. AD. William L. Petersen, of The Pennsylvania State University's Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies, published a review of Howard's original work and the revised edition (1995) in TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1989,1998. Petersen gives detailed evidence that the Shem-Tob was a medieval translation.

"104. There is no mystery about the genesis of Shem-Tob's Hebrew Matthew. It is obvious that it incorporates material from a variety of sources (e.g., from the Toledoth Jeshu, the Vetus Latina, etc.). But because of the high number of agreements with the Liège Harmony, many of them unique, the tradition behind the Liège Harmony--which we know to be a Latin gospel harmony--must also be the principal element responsible for the textual complexion of Shem-Tob's Hebrew Matthew: it explains the Vetus Syra readings, it explains the Vetus Latina readings, it explains the Thomas readings, it explains the harmonization, it explains the Johannine fragments, it explains the many parallels with the rest of the Western medieval harmonized gospel tradition (with, e.g., the Venetian Harmony, Codex Cassellanus, etc.)."

"110. Earlier than 900 is unlikely, because of the uniqueness of many of the readings (which are restricted to Shem-Tob's Hebrew Matthew and the Liège Harmony), and their high-medieval character (the glosses). (Put differently: if this Latin Vorlage were much earlier, then these distinctive readings would be much more widespread within the Western harmony tradition.) Later than 1300 is unlikely, for we know that this Latin tradition must have been in existence by the date of the copying of the Liège Harmony (ca. 1280)."

”As we will see below, there is evidence--both internal and external (in the form of another Semitic-language translation made in Spain during this period)--to suggest that the original translator/compiler of the Hebrew Matthew contained in the Even Bohan was a Christian who knew Hebrew (perhaps a Jew who had converted to Christianity?)."

Petersen comments on the accuracy of Howard's Hebrew to English translation, “While this is not grammatically incorrect, the result is that the translation does not accurately reflect the word order of the Hebrew. The result of these subtle moves away from a literal translation is that a knowledge of Hebrew remains requisite for accurate use of this document, for the English translation neither gives all of the words found in the Hebrew, nor presents them in the order in which they occur in Hebrew--even when the Hebrew word order could have been carried over, without awkwardness, into English."

Petersen describes the work as "a useful and readable--although not entirely accurate--English translation." George Howard responded to Petersen's second review. He maintains that he never meant to infer that the Shem-Tob Matthew dated to the 1st century, just that it was "earlier" than the 13th cent. AD. (Source:

Regarding the existence of other "early" Hebrew versions, Petersen explains, "Hebrew versions of the Gospel of Matthew have been known to and used by New Testament scholars for centuries. Often referred to in scholarship as the "Old Hebrew Matthew," Sebastian Münster produced the first edition of such a manuscript in 1537 (Münster 1537); in 1555 Jean du Tillet edited a different but similar Hebrew Matthew manuscript (du Tillet 1555). Other Hebrew Matthews (mostly fragmentary) are known: (1) the Book of Nestor, (2) the Milhamot HaShem, (3) the Sepher Joseph Hamekane, (4) the Nizzahon Vetus..."

Even if an original Hebrew or Aramaic version were to be discovered, it would not prove that any other book of the NT was ever originally in Hebrew or Aramaic. [Note: "Shem-Tob", an Iberian (Spain) Jew of the 14th century should not be confused with Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the famous Ukrainian Jew (1698 - 1760) and founder of the Chassidic (Hasidic) sect of Judaism.]

The opinion that the NT was originally written in Hebrew raises several questions. "... One of the major tenets of the Sacred Names doctrine that states that the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew, not Greek. If this were true, where are the original Hebrew documents kept? And can they be viewed and authenticated like the Greek documents? If this claim were true, where is this canonization of the New Testament in the Hebrew language? God says that he would preserve his word, so if it was preserved, where is it? There is no physical proof of this supposition.

If indeed there is an original text, it has been hidden extremely well from those whose life work is to discover and publish such findings. Most importantly, why do the Sacred Names groups use and quote from the Greek New Testament to try to prove many of their doctrinal positions, if they do not believe it is a valid text?

Many of the Sacred Names groups attack the King James translation by saying its translators were only mortal men. Yet, they recommend and quote from the Sacred Name translation, the Moffat, Rotherham, Smith, Goodspeed, Jerusalem Bible and many other translations, which were all translations by mortal men."

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