Why was the New Testament written in Greek?

Many have asked the question as to why the New Testament was written in Greek. A couple of obvious answers could be because those who wrote the New Testament were only capable of writing in Greek, or they wanted to reach people who could read or speak Greek. It is well known that Hellenization of the Mediterranean had occurred from the days of Alexander the Great, this influenced the Israelite culture as well as other cultures. As the gospel message spread, it would have only been natural for writers to use the language that was spoken by those with whom they were communicating.

After the persecution that arose over Stephen, there were many who were scattered as far as Cyprus, Phoenicia and Antioch, preaching the gospel to the Jews. Some of them were men from Cyrene and Cyprus, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists preaching the Lord Jesus Christ in Greek. "And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord" (Acts 11:19-21).

 

We can not presume that other languages were not used by the writers, however, what we know for sure is what history reveals in the archaeological record, and there is evidence that much of the New Testament was written in Greek. The fact that there was a dispute between the Hebrews and the Hellenists suggests that this distinction, if not cultural, could have been due to language differences.

In those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying daily, a complaint arose from the Hellenists against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily service (Acts 6:1). The Septuagint is the Old Testament in the Hebrew language translated into Greek. There are claims that the New Testament cites only the Greek Septuagint in places. Of the places where the New Testament quotes the Old, the great majority is from the Septuagint version. Protestant authors Archer and Chirichigno list 340 places where the New Testament cites the Septuagint but only 33 places where it cites from the Masoretic Text rather than the Septuagint (G. Archer and G. C. Chirichigno, Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament: A Complete Survey, 25-32).

This is the result of the fact that by the late 1st century B.C., and especially the 1st century A.D. – the Septuagint had totally “replaced” the Hebrew Bible as the Scriptures people used most. Since the majority spoke and read Greek as their primary language, and the Greek authorities strongly encouraged the use of Greek, the Septuagint became much more common than the Hebrew Old Testament. One writer, using the book Canon of Scripture by F.F. Bruce as a resource, writes:

As faithful as the Septuagint translators strived to be in accurately rendering the Hebrew text into Greek, some translational differences arose. In comparing the New Testament quotations of the Hebrew Bible, it is clear that the Septuagint was often used. This is the result of the fact that by the late 1st century B.C., and especially the 1st century A.D. – the Septuagint had “replaced” the Hebrew Bible as the Scriptures most people used. Since most people spoke and read Greek as their primary language, and the Greek authorities strongly encouraged the use of Greek, the Septuagint became much more common than the Hebrew Old Testament.

 

However, the possibility that New Testament writers also wrote manuscripts in Aramaic is not out of the question. In an essay entitled The Scriptures of Jesus and His Earliest Followers, Craig Evans writes:

There are significant examples in which Jesus' language agrees with the Aramaic tradition.

(Lee Martin McDonald, James A. Sanders, editors. The Canon Debate. p 191-194, 2002)

 

Greek was the most common language of the day, and because Greek was the 'lingua franca' of the Mediterranean area, the odds of finding New Testament manuscripts written in that language are much higher than Hebrew or Aramaic languages. Yet this may not preclude any New Testament writings having been written first in Hebrew or Aramaic.

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