What language were the Gospels originally written in?

There has been a debate for many years as to the original language of the Gospels; what were they written in, what was Jesus native language. Many people have become comfortable with the idea that Jesus spoke Aramaic and even the Gospels claim (in their English translation) that some of the words of Jesus as he was dying, were spoken in Aramaic? But is this so? Certainly for the Gospel of Matthew there existed, according to Jerome, an original copy of the text in Hebrew in the library in Caesarea in his time (mid 300’s to early 400’s)

The following link is to article that argues for a Hebrew origin for the Gospels as well as for Jesus native language.

http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/ntesources/ntarticles/GTJ-NT/Fields-Gospels-Jesus-GTJ-84.pdf

Why is it important? The article above argues that to truly understand some of the harder sayings of Jesus, one needs to have an understanding of the Hebrew origins of the text. The Greek translations of the Gospels are exceptionally literalistic – the text goes from the Hebrew to Greek, much like a transliteration of Greek into English. Therefore reversing the transliteration and reading from a Hebrew way of thinking makes for easier understanding of the text. Also, according to the book (Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, by David Bivin and Roy Blizzard. Arcadia, CA: Makor Publishing, 1983), that the article linked to above is a review of, there is “Theological error due to mistranslation”. These “theological errors” according to the books authors (Bivin and Blizzard) are “pacifism,” “giving without discernment,” and the “theology of martyrdom.”


9 thoughts on “What language were the Gospels originally written in?

  1. Actually, the originals of the Gospels were written in the Greek; that was the learned language of Jesus’ time. Jews had to know Hebrew to understand the writings of the Pentateuch.

  2. Hi Helen, the earliest copies of the gospels are all in Greek, that is true, however the evidence is there that this was not the original language the gospels were written in. Of course until someone discovers an original or earlier manuscript in something other than Greek, we’re all still simply best guessing. I’m open to either Aramaic or Hebrew being the original language of the gospels, but I’m leaning toward Hebrew.

    Many of the Dead Sea scrolls were written in Hebrew and have been dated to shortly after the gospels were written. It would seem then that, even if Hebrew was not the common spoken language, it certainly was a common literary language for that time in Israel.

  3. As an aside from the article I’m not convinced about Luke being the first gospel. That would mean Mark left large chunks of Luke out and why would he do that

    It’s very possible that the early gospels at least were written in Hebrew/Aramaic. Consider also:

    Papias of Hierapolis, c. 125–50 CE. wrote:

    “Matthew collected the oracles (logia – sayings of or about Jesus) in the Hebrew language (Hebraïdi dialektōi — perhaps alternatively “Hebrew style”) and each one interpreted (hērmēneusen — or “translated”) them as best he could.”

    By “Hebrew” Papias would (could) have meant Aramaic, the common language of the Middle East beside koine Greek.

    Also Matthew 4:8, the Hebrew ‘eretz’ makes more sense as it could refer to country or land as opposed to Earth.

    “8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the land of Israel (eretz) and their splendor.”

    Also Matthew 24:51/ Luke 12:46, ‘palleg’ can mean ‘cut in to pieces’ as well as ‘appoint to someone his portion’.

    The translation would be “and shall allot his portion and shall place him with the unfaithful” instead of the Greek “shall cut him in pieces and shall place him with the unfaithful.”

    So we have a clear instance where the Greek translator didn’t understand the Hebrew idiom and took it literally.

  4. Hi Francis Philip

    This comes from Catholic Answers and argues in favour of Hebrew/Aramaic primacy

    Q..Is there any truth to the claim that Matthew’s Gospel was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, not Greek? A Fundamentalist I know, who insists Matthew wrote originally in Greek, argues that there’s no evidence in favor of the idea that his Gospel was written first in Aramaic, because there’s no extant Aramaic original.

    A. This peculiar argument against the long-standing belief that Aramaic (or Hebrew) was the language in which Matthew originally composed his Gospel was first raised in the 16th century by the Dutch theologian and patristics scholar Desiderius Erasmus. He reasoned that, since there is no evidence of an Aramaic or Hebrew original of Matthew’s Gospel, it is futile to argue that the work originally appeared in Aramaic and was subsequently translated into Greek (as most patristics scholars hold).

    This is not really much of an argument. It is an argument from silence and can be used just as effectively against the idea that the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Greek, since there are likewise no extant originals of the Gospel in Greek. After all, the earliest manuscripts we have of any of the books of the New Testament are in Greek, yet not a single manuscript is an original. They’re all copies. From the mere fact of Greek manuscripts we can’t conclude that the originals must have been written in Greek yes, there may be a presumption of that, but not actually a proof.

    Your Fundamentalist friend is wrong to assert there is no evidence to support the idea of an Aramaic original. In fact, the evidence is quite to the contrary. Since we have no autographs of this or any other New Testament book, it’s wise to look at what the early Church had to say on the subject. Catholic apologists, theologians, and Scripture scholars of the second through fifth centuries provide us with a wealth of information on this subject.

    Around 180 Irenaeus of Lyons wrote that

    Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. (Against Heresies 3:1:1)

    Fifty years earlier Papias, bishop of Hieropolis in Asia Minor, wrote, “Matthew compiled the sayings [of the Lord] in the Aramaic language, and everyone translated them as well as he could” (Explanation of the Sayings of the Lord [cited by Eusebius in History of the Church 3:39]).

    Sometime after 244 the Scripture scholar Origen wrote, “Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism and published in the Hebrew language” (Commentaries on Matthew [cited by Eusebius in History of the Church 6:25]).

    Eusebius himself declared that “Matthew had begun by preaching to the Hebrews, and when he made up his mind to go to others too, he committed his own Gospel to writing in his native tongue [Aramaic], so that for those with whom he was no longer present the gap left by his departure was filled by what he wrote” (History of the Church 3:24 [inter 300-325]).

    http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/was-matthews-gospel-first-written-in-aramaic-or-hebrew

  5. This comes from Catholic Answers and argues in favour of Hebrew/Aramaic primacy

    Actually it says it’s certainly possible.

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