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Why Was the New Testament Written in Greek?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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The New Testament of the Bible was written in Greek because Greek was the linga franca, or common language, of the Roman Empire. As a result, the authors of wrote in Greek even when it wasn't the language they spoke, ensuring that their manuscripts could be widely read and passed on to future generations. Greek probably became the Roman lingua franca as a result of the empire of Alexander the Great, a Greek military leader who conquered a large section of the Ancient World, introducing people to the language.

Written over a period of around 100 years, the New Testament documents the early stages of Christianity, including the birth of Christ and His teachings and ministry. For many Christians, it forms an important part of their personal faith, with people turning to it to hear the words of Christ as recorded by His followers, and to learn more about the evolution of Christianity. The Old Testament, the first section of the Bible, is much older, and it was written in Hebrew. Christ was undoubtedly familiar with the Old Testament, as were many of His contemporaries.

The form of Greek used to write the New Testament is known as Koine or Common Greek, and it represents an evolutionary step between Ancient Greek and its Modern Version, meaning that people must learn Koine Greek specifically if they want to read the document in its original language. In many parts of the Roman Empire, Koine Greek was actually the official language, rather than Latin, because its use was so widespread. Some scholars refer to Koine Greek as Biblical Greek, in a reference to its arguably most famous application.

Christ Himself, along with His contemporaries, would have spoken Aramaic. The choice to use Koine Greek was probably motivated by the desire to spread Christianity in a common and well understood language. There is also some argument about whether the entire New Testament was written in Greek, as some evidence suggests that portions may have been written in Aramaic or Hebrew and translated later.

Many translations have been produced, with scholars referring both to the original Koine Greek text and later translations and commentaries. The translation of the Bible has not been without controversy. Some people believe that translation changes the meaning of the text, and that true believers should read the Bible in its original language.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a LanguageHumanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon1006031 — On Jan 15, 2022

Jesus spoke Aramaic. Good if it was written in same language that Jesus spoke.

By anon1005853 — On Dec 05, 2021

A few of the lines of reason used to support that the New Testament, or at least some of the gospels, were originally written in Greek are passages such as Mark 5:41 and Mark 15:34, which would not make sense if the autographs were written in Aramaic.

The oldest manuscript examples of the New Testament are written in Greek, with one of the oldest dating back to about 125 AD.

Greek has a few interesting things about it that make it a great language for accuracy of transmission, one of which is the use of something called the "Greek article." It's basically a word that is preceding most nouns in Greek that we would probably see as the word "the", but the difference is that this Greek article confirms the part of speech that the following noun has. So, for example, the noun in a sentence that is the subject of the sentence not only has the suffix of it altered to represent its part of speech, but the article that is just ahead of it will be written to agree with the noun that follows it as to what part of speech it represents -- almost like a check sum which is used in digital information transmission.

The same is true with the rest of the nouns in the sentence. This makes for a simple way to see if there is an error in the text by checking both the noun and the proceeding article to see if they agree. Of course, there are no lower case letters in the original Koine Greek, which reduces the number of different types of letters, which again is a positive in regards to accuracy of transmission of a text. Besides that, most scholars agree that Koine Greek was the language of the autographs of the New Testament.

Just a side note that I haven't verified, but thought that I'd add it as food for thought. Apparently, the Greek word for homosexuality in the Greek New Testament uses a word composed of 2 Greek words "Bed" and "man", which makes sense. The Aramaic version of the same texts uses a word that implies that this word is to do with a child, which implies that this word means pedophile. This is a significant difference in translation and only one can be right.

By JackWhack — On Jan 25, 2013

@lighth0se33 – My pastor recommended the New KJV New Testament. It is closest to the Greek version, and it even has the Greek translation written down the middle of each page.

I can see what each word literally means. Underneath every Greek word is the literal translation of that word in English.

Greek grammar is strange. If you read the middle portion with the Greek included, all the words seem out of order in the sentences. However, the English translation organizes them so that we can understand them.

By Oceana — On Jan 25, 2013

@anon44829 – Thanks for the information. I didn't know that the disciples spoke Greek. Since they wrote the books of the gospel, it makes sense that it was written in Greek.

By lighth0se33 — On Jan 24, 2013

Well, I can't read Greek or Hebrew. So, I'm stuck reading the English translation of the Bible.

I do wonder how close it is to the actual meaning sometimes. Considering how many different versions, even in English, that exist of the Bible, some of them at least must take things out of context now and then or word them in such a way as to take away from the meaning.

What is the best English version of the Bible, and by that I mean which one sticks most closely to the original Greek? I want to study it.

By Kristee — On Jan 24, 2013

@anon47576 – I agree with you. Also, since Jesus existed from the beginning, He actually was the Word, and the Word of God is the Bible. So, not only was He God, He was the Word.

By anon134411 — On Dec 14, 2010

"Christ was undoubtedly familiar with the old testament"? How can I trust anything by this source after that?

By anon121544 — On Oct 25, 2010

Actually, the common written language of the Roman Empire was Vulgar Latin. The upper class elite commonly spoke in Greek, as most of their studied literature was in Greek.

By anon57565 — On Dec 24, 2009

The question that was given from many people and searchers of the Bible, why the New testament was written in Greek, i believe is this.

In the Greek language the grammar is very difficult to learn which is one reason that the Greek language is very difficult to be translated to something different from the original meaning of the Word of God.

If you study the greek language you'll see that is a symbolic concerning the Greek alphabet.

It is also a mathematical language, mathematics is very related to Geometry.

So i believe that permit the New testament to be written in the Greek knowing that the devil was going to mistranslated the Word of God to the People.

By anon47576 — On Oct 05, 2009

Jesus Christ was familiar with the Old Testament because He is God."In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1)."And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." (1 Timothy 3:16). The entire Old Testament was written in Hebrew (a little in Aramaic but no Greek) and the faithful and inspired manuscripts are the Masoretic Text. The entire New Testament was written in Greek and the faithful and inspired manuscripts are that of the Textus Receptus. One more note on the divine inspiration of God's Word through the Holy Spirit: "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (2 Peter 2:1) "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:" (2 Timothy 3:16).

By anon44829 — On Sep 10, 2009

Jesus was certainly most familiar with the Old Testament. He quotes it frequently in the Gospels. Also, while it is entirely possible some portions of the New Testament were written in Hebrew or Aramaic and translated, the majority was probably written in Greek. Luke, a Gentile and a physician, would most likely have spoken Greek as his first language, as would Paul, as a citizen of Tarsus, and a Roman citizen at that. Matthew, although a tax collector, was probably reasonably well educated and may well have written in Greek. John probably picked up Greek in his travels. We know Mark was sort of Peter's secretary, and as a young man in that era, he probably grew up speaking Greek. So it is a safe bet that 95 percent of the New Testament was written in Greek, since the majority of the writers, in all likelihood, spoke it fluently, or had learned it over the years.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being...

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