Was the New Testament written in Greek or Hebrew? Does it even matter?
For most of my Christian life I was taught that the New Testament was written in Greek. The reason was so the gospel could be preached to the ends of the know world at that time, which was Rome and the main language was Greek. It made sense and besides who was I to question a pastor?
However one problem is most consider that the books of the "New Testament" are all "Greek documents." The fact that the "New Testament" texts we have are in Greek, makes them no more "Greek documents" than the Septuagint/Greek version of the Old Testament, which the rabbis translated from Hebrew into Greek 200 years before Yeshua. The rabbis did this for the benefit of the non-Jewish world so that they could also learn of the Creator of the universe and the coming of the Messiah.
It never occured to me that the "New Testament" documents could have been originally written in Hebrew/Aramaic, or that they were written from a Hebrew mindset, and must be studied that way, if we are to get the full meaning. Discussing "what the verse means to us" or what the pastor thinks it means, can lead to some errors in interpretation if we don't understand that the Hebrew mindset is different from our western mindset and culture.
With that said I started looking into the importance of understanding the Hebrew mindset, culture, etc. I also looked for evidence showing if the texts were originally written in Hebrew and that Hebrew was not a "dead language".
Here are some sources testifying to Hebrew being the language of 1st century Jews and a Hebrew origin of the "New Testament" documents include:
1. Recent Qumran findings (the Dead Sea Scrolls) shows secular documents written at that time concerning "current events" indicating Hebrew was a "living" language. There are several books on the Dead Sea Scrolls available.
2. Jewish coins found from that era are minted with Hebrew text on them - that would be like saying English is a dead language but its on our money for historical or asthetic purposes only.
3. A study of the writings of the Christian "Church Fathers" shows that much of the "New Testament" was written in Hebrew. This includes direct statements made by Papias, Ireneus, Origin, Eusubius, Epiphaneus, Jerome and Clement of Alexandria. If we can trust what was written by these people on other subjects but reject their statements about the New Testament being written in Hebrew &/or that Hebrew was not a dead language, then we cannot trust anything they said period.
4. Josephus, the prominent first century historian wrote in both his books, Antiquities and Wars, that Hebrew was the language of first century Jews.
5. Modern linguistics shows that the text themselves don't lend to an "original Greek thought" translation. A very good book you want to get with dozens of examples is, The Semitic Origin of the New Testament, by James Trimm.
6. Other books, such as The Jewish New Testament, by David Stern are also helpful in showing the Hebrew thought that gets lost in the Greek/English translation.
So how can not knowing the cultural and Hebrew mindset change how we look at scripture? Lets look at the following...
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Matthew 6:19-24
In these verses we have Yeshua speaks about money, and not making it more important than God. He begins talks about money, then says something about "an evil eye," then finishes His statement about money. If this were penned in Greek originally, you would have to ask, "Why this odd verse about an "evil eye" in the midst of a money topic?" It makes no sense. However, if you happen to know that having an "evil eye" is a Hebrew idiom of that time for "being stingy with your money," then, a) the passage makes more sense, and b) you realize it HAD to be written in Hebrew first, then whoever translated it into Greek, (and perhaps one unaware of the idiom), simply took it word-for-word from Hebrew into the Greek.
There are many "New Testament" verses that are hard to understand without knowing the cultural and Hebrew mindset of that day. It is also important to note who these letters were originally meant to be read by "leaders" in the Messianic community (most likely Jews), who were well versed in the Judaism of the first century and its understanding of Torah. (Note Peter's concerns about Paul's letters being hard to understand and often twisted about by "lawless" people -- "lawless" meaning not knowing or respecting Torah, the "Law.")
Nothing in the "New Testament" was ever meant to be read out of context, by people from another culture ignorant of the Hebrew meaning to the words and the concepts behind them, and replacing this with their own personal meanings. Nor were any of the "New Testament" documents ever meant to stand on their own, apart from being interpreted in the context of the Torah (God's direct revelation/instruction), which of course came first. Now you might ask the question... "Does one's salvation depend on whether the New Testament written in Greek or Hebrew?" No, matter of fact Paul states that its not about race... "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female; for you al all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's see, and heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:27-29
So its about being heirs and doing what pleases the Father, which is why in part God's law in to be written on our hearts and minds ref. Jeremiah 31:31-34. What is important is not rejecting God's instruction and becoming 'lawless'. However many believers reject God's law and claim its been done away with; that we are 'under grace' and that the law is a burden and a curse; that it was only for the Jews. However in other articles I have written show that is not the case. Do a word search for 'mixed multitude', 'foreigner', 'stranger' along with the words 'forever', 'everlasting', 'perpetual', etc and see what laws, commandments and statues apply to whom and for how long. The problem is many believers use the claim that the New Testament was never written in Hebrew/Aramaic so that somehow proves God's instructions have been done away with. Instead of taking the word of anyone else, search the scriptures for youself and be like a Berean. Shalom, Stephen