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Was the NT Written in Greek? - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

Apologetics - A Reasoned Defense of the Christian Faith

Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.

A rebuttal to those blasphemers who try to overthrow the doctrine of Christ and of God with the idea that the NT was written in Hebrew….

In the realm of scholarly invention, there exists a minority report that the New Testament documents were written first in Hebrew then later translated into Greek. You might ask why this is an important question to ask at the outset. It is quite important due to certain accusations that “unstable people” twist in order to discredit the New Testament documents and certain theological ideologies surrounding key Christian doctrines concerning Christ and God. Their intent is to parade their own agenda in attempting to reinterpret the New Testament in light of Hebrew idioms and syntax, rather than the Greek language. This holds huge complications for the Greek language because, simply stated, Greek is not Hebrew, and Greeks did not think like Hebrews. Within this debate, then, the very character of God is placed on the line. Not only this, but the wisdom of God is called into question. God used Greek to transmit the message of the Gospel, and those who oppose this are calling into question the wisdom and providence of God as to the use of His means for the end of the salvation of souls.

The arguments surrounding this theological reformulation raise questions as to whether the Apostles really thought Jesus was God, or that the Trinity is an Old Testament reality as well as a New Testament one. If the New Testament Scriptures were written in Hebrew, and then at a later time scribes copied the New Testament into Greek, then, according to these people, words and phrases used in Greek do not match the Hebrew ideas and were “glossed” in order to make sense. A gloss is an addition, correction, or replacement made by a scribe when translating or copying the New Testament documents. This would allow for a reinterpretation of the text, and the inerrant and infallible nature of the text would be called into serious question. For instance, they say that no Jew would understand God as coming in the flesh because the idea of the “Trinity” is not a Jewish concept at all, and the Old Testament Jew would never have thought of God in this manner. So New Testament scribes reinterpreted the New Testament documents in a manner that is really not true to the Biblical data. This leaves room for doubt as to whether the Messiah would really be God. It leaves doubt as to whether the Trinity is really a Jewish idea or a “gloss.” These are serious implications indeed.

Through the history of the church the question as to whether Greek was the original language of the New Testament autographs was not called into question. At times, Roman Catholic theologians attempted to “inspire” the Vulgate written by Jerome for their own purposes (which was written in Latin), and raised it above the Hebrew and Greek of the Old and New Testaments, yet, scholars and theologians through the history of the church had no reason to doubt the authenticity of the original Hebrew Scriptures to be written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament to be written in Greek. The burden of proof completely lies within the boundaries of those who deny the claim. As it stands to date, no one has adequately presented a case, or proof for the case, that the entire New Testament was first written in Hebrew and then later translated into Greek. This theory is unrecognized in the modern world.[1] Only those who dare to overthrow core orthodox doctrines adhere to this view. This would include the cults, and factions of those cults in modern day Christianity.

Do we have any reason to say the New Testament documents were written in Hebrew? A simple answer to this statement is “no.” All of the current archeological evidence, MSS (manuscript) data, and social background of the New Testament era prove otherwise. As a matter of fact, prior to the New Testament era of Christ and the Apostles, there was already a massive undertaking to Hellenize the Jewish culture due to Roman influence. This would already have existed at the time of Christ and the Apostles; a time that Paul calls, “fullness of the time” (Galatians 4:4). This “fullness” demonstrates historically that God’s plan to bring forth the Christ (a Greek term meaning the “anointed” of God) was positioned in the midst of a Hellenized Jewish Palestinian setting which sat within the boundaries of a Roman culture which was predominately Greek speaking.

In looking at the history of Biblical MSS and textual criticism, there is no reason for us to believe that the entire New Testament was written in Hebrew then retranslated into Greek. Evidence to this is completely lacking. Evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. Also, there is no reason for us to believe that the documents themselves have been corrupted from their original intent and meaning although we do not have the original autographs. Turretin states that, “there is no truth in the assertion that the Hebrew edition of the Old Testa­ment and the Greek edition of the New Testament are said to be mutilated…”[2] The reason orthodoxy maintains this position is from the overwhelming amount of evidence that the transmission of the text(in both the Old Testament and New Testament) has been done so in a manner in which the copies have been preserved by a meticulous method. We can be sure that what we have today in the Biblical record is accurate to the text, meaning and message of the original documents. The Westminster Confession states this succinctly, “The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical.”[3]

In proving the documentation of the New Testament MSS as having been written in Greek, one simply has to look at the tremendous amount of textual evidence for this. We do not have in our possession one original MSS from either the Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament or Greek New Testament. The original MSS from both are lost or destroyed by age, or other means. We do, though, have the largest collection of MSS copied for both the Old Testament and New Testament in the world, over and against other copies of any other literature ever written. In thinking this through, we must ask the basic question, “what copies do we have of the Old Testament and the New Testament?” This is not hard to answer. With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls alone, one of the most important finds for textual critics concerning Hebrew MSS of the Old Testament, we have almost the entire Hebrew Scriptures preserved in that one archeological find (95% of the text is present). With other MSS previously attained we have the entire Hebrew Old Testament exemplified throughout the combinations in relation to the Masoretic Text, the Nash Papyrus, the Cairo Codex, the Codex of the prophets of Leningrad, the Babylonicus Petropalintanus, the Erfurt Codecies, the Aleppo Codex, the British Mudem Codex, the Reuchlin Codex of the Prophets, the Samaritan Texts, and the Targums (which are paraphrases of the Old Testament). Geisler and Nix comment, “The first collection of Hebrew manuscripts, made by Benjamin Kennicott (a.d. 1776-1780) and published by Oxford, listed 615 manuscripts of the Old Testament. Later Giovanni de Rossi (1784-1788) published a list of 731 man­uscripts. The main manuscript discoveries in modern times are those of the Cairo Geniza (c. 1890ff.) and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1947ff). In the Cairo synagogue attic storeroom alone were discovered some 200,000 manuscripts and fragments, some 10,000 of which are biblical. According to J. T. Milik, fragments of about 600 manuscripts are known from the Dead Sea Scrolls, not all biblical. Moshe Goshen-Gottstein estimates that the total number of Old Testament Hebrew manuscript fragments throughout the world runs into the tens of thousands.”[4] In this manner (the same manner in which we arrive at faithful copies of the New Testament in Greek) the Hebrew text shows itself in the copies we have of it as faithful and accurate. Geisler and Nix summarize the Hebrew MMS and findings nicely when they say, “The thousands of Hebrew manuscripts, with their confirmation by the LXX and the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the numerous other crosschecks from outside and inside the text provide overwhelming support for the reliability of the Old Testament text. Hence, it is appropriate to conclude with Sir Frederic Kenyon’s statement, “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.” But what do we now say about the New Testament MSS in Greek? Are they as reliable?

We should first turn our attention to the historical setting of the time of writing and compiling New Testament documents. To do this we need to traverse back before that time and set the stage for the New Testament era. Stambaugh and Balch state, “When “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king” (Matt. 2:1), he was born into a Jewish kingdom ruled by an Idumaean king with a Greek name, installed and spon­sored by the Romans. Jesus grew up in Galilee, near Greek cities where the Greek language was used as commonly as his native Aramaic. And when, after his death in Jerusalem, his disciples told his story to others, they spoke and wrote mainly in Greek to take their message to the whole cosmopolitan world ruled by the Ro­mans.” This is the consequence of a Greek world already established. This information is not difficult to attain. Any reasonable research done on the culture and setting of New Testament times proves this out completely. Stambaugh and Balch show this to be true in the following which I am quoting at length:

At the time of Jesus’ birth, Greeks had been in uninterrupted contact with the peoples of the Near East for nearly eight centuries, founding full-scale cities on the coast of Asia Minor, establishing trading outposts on the coast of Syria, trading with the Phoenicians and adapting their writing system, and traveling to Egypt for trade, tourism, and service as mercenary soldiers. But it was King Alex­ander of Macedon who led an army of Greeks and Macedonians on a series of campaigns between 332 and 323 [b.c.] that led to the conquest of the Persian empire, from Asia Minor and Egypt east­ward to the borders of India. In terms of the scale and complexity of the lands he brought under his rule, the conquests of Alexander had no precedent in Greek history, and they earned for him the epithet “the Great.” He died too soon to work out a satisfactory administrative scheme for his immense kingdom, but two of his policies had a profound effect on the history of the region. The first was the foundation of Greek cities at strategic points, to serve as administrative centers but also to provide a focus and beacon of Greek culture in the alien lands of the Orient. The second policy was openness and tolerance toward the native cultures. The result was that Greek culture exercised a much wider influence on—and also was itself influenced by—the cultures of the East, which until this time it had mostly dismissed with the adjective, as pejorative in classical Greek as in modern English, “barbarian.”

After Alexander’s death in 323 [b.c.], his generals were unable to form a united policy for his empire, and their squabbles and battles resulted in its dismemberment. When the dust of their wars cleared, around 301 [b.c.], Antigonus was in control of the old homeland of Macedonia and exercised a general hegemony over the Greek states on the mainland and the islands of the Aegean. Ptolemy was secure in Egypt, where he founded a dynasty that lasted until the famous Cleopatra VII died in 31 [b.c.] Seleucus emerged as king of Syria and the eastern part of the empire, although its most remote area in Bactria and Persia soon fell away. During the third century [b.c.]; another important kingdom emerged, that of the Attalids, with its capital at Pergamum in western Asia Minor.

In all these kingdoms, a Greek dynasty ruled over a mixed popula­tion of Greeks and natives, and all of them encouraged the solidarity of Greek culture by building cities on the old model, just as Alexander had done. The characteristic Greek type of city was the polis, a community of relatively small size with temples to the traditional Greek gods and an open-air agora for public business. It was admin­istered with some degree of autonomy by magistrates and a council, either recruited from a hereditary oligarchic elite or chosen through democratic election by the citizens who owned property. Sometime a polis replaced a native center of trade or cult, and sometimes it was a new foundation that coexisted with smaller native village). Native peoples lived around, outside, and sometimes inside the Greek cities and had some cultural impact on them, but those in them who spoke Greek were more aware of the common heritage they shared with each other and with the old cities of the Greek mainland. In time a common tongue, the koine (“common”), superseded the old Greek regional dialects. This was a slightly simplistic form of Attic, the dialect of Athens, which was the home of most of the classics of Greek literature and the most shining example Greek culture. This common dialect provided the vehicle for com­munication throughout the vast world inhabited by Greeks, which they called the ge oikoumene (“inhabited world”) or simply oikou­mene, which has come into English in the adjective “ecumenical.”[5]

F.F. Bruce asserts this same history when he says, “The presence of Hellenists in Palestine as early as the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-246 b.c.) is amply attested in the Zenon papyri (cf. V. Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilisation and the Jews [Philadelphia, 1959], p. 60, with n. 53 on pp. 42.71 for bibliography). Long before the foundation of Hel­lenistic empires in Egypt and Asia Minor there were Jewish settlements in those territories (cf. Jer. 44:1; Obad. 20), but they became much more numerous after the foundation of Greek cities there after Alexander’s conquests. According to Josephus, Jews were settled in Cyrenaica by Ptolemy I and in Phrygia by Antiochus III to ensure the loyalty of those areas (Ap. ii, 44; Ant. m, 1478). There were Jews in Rome in the second century b.c.; their number increased greatly after Pompey’s conquest of Judaea in 63 b.c. (cf. H. J. Leon, The Jews of Ancient Rome (Philadelphia, 1960]). The evidence of ossuaries in and around Jerusalem for the period preceding a.d. 70 indicates that Jews from the Diaspora liked to come home to Jerusalem if only to die and be buried there; they tended to be even more devoted to the Temple than the Pharisees and rabbinate.”[6]

The historical fact of the Hellenism of the Jews cannot be doubted. F.F. Bruce states, “Greek would be also used in the Hellenistic synagogues of Palestine, such as the Jerusalem synagogue of the Freedmen of Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia where Stephen debated with his opponents (Acts 6:9); indeed the fact the Greek was the language of these synagogues may have been a principal reason for their members being designated Hellenists.”[7] Here we know that the Greek language played a primary part of the common manner in which Jews communicated in the Dispersion. Bruce continues, “This division between Hebrews and Hellenists was primarily linguistic and cultural, but probably it had theological implications too. The Hebrews were evidently Jews who habitually spoke Aramaic, whose homeland was Palestine (or any other area where Aramaic-speaking Jews lived). The Hellenists, on the other hand, were Jews who spoke Greek and whose way of life, in the eyes of stricter Palestinians, smacked too much of Greek customs. Many of them would belong to the Greek-speaking Diaspora, even if they resided in Palestine for longer or shorter periods; but Palestine had its native Greek-speaking Jews.”[8] There is even a distinction made in the Mishnah (Gittin 9:6, 8) which shows the difference between the Aramaic speaking Jews and the Hellenistic Jews who spoke Greek. Stephen himself belonged to a Hellenistic synagogue in Jerusalem called the synagogue of the Freeman. Its membership embraced Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and Asia (cf. Acts 6:9).

It may be that the Hellenization of the Jews is something not very well known among modern day Christians. Certainly this fact, along with the irresponsible manner in which the Greek text is treated by the cults, affirms the reasons why some would say the New Testament was not written in Greek, but in Hebrew because John, James, Peter, and Paul were Jewish. This is beyond bad logic. I again quote Stambaugh and Balch at length:

Inevitably, the pagan culture of the Greco-Roman world had an impact on the Jews living within it. Language made the most marked impact. In the Greek world, Jews spoke Greek like everybody else. By the second century b.c. a significant number of them must have spoken only Greek and no Hebrew, because it was necessary for the Jewish community of Alexandria to commission a translation of the traditional Hebrew scriptures into Greek, which we know as the Septuagint. Papyri found in Egypt and Jewish inscriptions found throughout the empire also make it clear that the Diaspora Jews used Greek for nearly all communications, personal and official.

Greek ways of doing things tended to become normal for Dias­pora Jews in many areas of their life. Synagogue assemblies passed decrees that echoed the format and phrasing of official decrees of the Greek cities, just as the titles of their officers imitated those of Greek magistrates. Even in the regulation of their private life, Jewish families seem to have followed the prevailing custom of their neigh­bors; at least, this seems to be the implication of records found in papyri from Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt, in which Jewish women are regulated by Greek rather than Jewish laws of guardianship.15

Greek education also exerted its claim, for many Jews in the Diaspora attended the gymnasium and participated in its athletic and rhetorical training.

Such Jews learned Greek modes of thought, and we can detect a syncretism of Greek forms and Jewish content. The “Letter of Aristeas,” for instance, written in Alexandria in the second century b.c., describes Judaism in terms usually reserved for Greek philos­ophy. It even equates Zeus, head of the Greek pantheon, with the God of Israel. And there is some evidence, not accepted by all scholars, that proselytizing Jews in Rome in the second century b.c. adopted the name Juppiter Sabazios for their God.16 This tendency is most fully developed in the works of Philo, who wrote in the first century A.D., also in Alexandria. Many of his essays are in effect a translation of Jewish belief and practice into terms that will be understandable to a pagan educated in the principles of Greek philosophy.

In general, the Jews in the Diaspora made certain accommoda­tions to the pagan world in which they lived. They were not immune to its attractions and amenities, and some of them deserted Jewish ways altogether to enter pagan society without restraint. There are even a few rare cases in which people with unmistakably Jewish names made dedications to pagan gods or made dedications to some unnamed god that was erected in a pagan temple.17 But the institution of the synagogue and the peculiar customs of the Jewish Law, along with their continuing contact with Jerusalem, functioned to remind the Jews of their special position, in many ways at odds with the world around them.[9]

Language had an immediate impact on the manner in which the New Testament was written and how the Gospel would be introduced to the nations. This is obvious. Would the New Testament writers, like Paul and Peter, who were sent to the Gentiles, (Acts 13:47, “”For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’ “), write in Hebrew for their audience? Or would they send the Gentiles letters written in Hebrew – a language they would have never understood in Hellenized Rome? We know there were four primary languages used in Palestine in the first century: Latin, Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew. Latin was the scholar’s language at that time and was spoken little. Hebrew was spoken in some synagogues, those who had not been influenced by Hellenization. Aramaic was spoken in certain provinces in the Roman empire, but Koine Greek was the predominate language. If you went to the grocery store, Greek was the language of choice. Stambaugh and Balch bring out an interesting note by the use of coins in those days, “The situation for Greek may be typified by the coins struck by rulers. The Hasmonaeans used exclusively Hebrew until Alexander Jannaeus, who began to use bilingual (Hebrew and Greek) coins in addition. His grandson was the first Jew to issue coins with only a Greek identification. The Herodian princes and Roman procurators also issued only Greek coins.”[10] This was the case in the first century. As Jesus said in Matthew 22:17-21, “”Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? “Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Greek is also confirmed as the language of common use by Jews in the letters and inscriptions of the day. A letter written by Bar Kokhba himself reads, “Now this has been written in Greek because a desire has not been found to write in Hebrew.”[11] From Jerusalem there is the famous first-century synagogue inscription of Theodotus, a priest and archisynagogos who built the synagogue and a guest house for visitors from abroad and supplied them with water. There are many ossuary inscriptions from Palestine, two thirds in Greek alone, one tenth in Greek and Hebrew (or Aramaic).” Since sepulchral inscriptions probably best indicate the language of the common people, it is significant that the vast majority of those published are in Greek. Books were written in Greek by persons from various social strata and religious parties in the two centuries [b.c.]: 1 Maccabees, Tobit, the additions to Esther, and the additions to Daniel. Many scholars today conclude that Greek was widely used in first-century Palestine by Christians as well as other Jews.[12] I find it especially interesting that most of the burial chambers and sepulchers of the first century Christian Jew were written in Greek and not Aramaic or Hebrew.

Stambaugh and Balch also point out that there is a current debate according to the measure of Aramaic and Greek spoken in Palestine in the first century.[13] However, for our purposes it is important to note that scholars conclude “the evidence for He­brew in the century in which Jesus lived is sparse.” This is exceedingly important when dealing with the questions of New Testament Greek MSS.

The Roman church is a good example of what has been said so far. Even by 54 A.D., 20 years after the death of Christ, if Paul had arrived in Rome, as he desired, he would have found a large Jewish population, with groups of Christians coexisting either within the synagogues or as separate house churches. As we know, he came to Rome as a prisoner, escorted by a centurion, but while in Rome he was permit­ted to rent his own lodgings and to circulate freely (Acts 28:30-31). At this point, the Christians seem to have been mostly of eastern origin. They spoke Greek, the language in which Paul had written to them, and they derived their instruction, inspiration, and leader­ship from easterners. For all its diversity, the church in Rome up until the first half of the second century A.D. continued to be a Hellenistic community, speaking Greek and maintaining close contact with the Christian churches in the east. The evidence indicates that some upper-class Romans began to be attracted to Christianity in the first half of the century, but it seems likely that their education and cultural taste made them feel at home in the Hellenistic environment of the church in Rome. It is only around the middle of the second century that we can document any significant conversions among lower-class Romans, who did not speak Greek and would need a transla­tion of the New Testament into Latin.[14]

There is enough evidence of Hellenistic influence through the New Testament writings that many liberal scholars are attempting to state that they could not have been written by Palestinian Jews. But this proves the point all the more. If such an influence exists in the writings of the New Testament, and we are sure of the authenticity of the writers, then it is no doubt that Peter, as a Jewish fisherman, would still have been influenced by the culture he was living in at that time. For instance, though the book of James seems to hold a great amount of Hellenistic ideas and phrases in its letter, the well polished Greek does not insinuate that the James had intimate acquaintance with the higher literary forms of ancient Greece. His letter reflects influences of that time, though not the polished level of the scholarly Scribal Grecian. This demonstrates that though James was not a Scribal scholar, perse, being a fisherman, he was still influenced by the culture he grew up within.

Though the information established thus far demonstrates the exegetical irresponsibility of those who would hold that Jews wrote the New Testament in Hebrew and not Greek (which is too clear to question), we are still going to question the validity of their assertion as to whether they were written in Hebrew by the examining the evidence for the New Testament MSS themselves (in brief). These documents are the next to be questioned. Do we have any evidence that first century Christians writers wrote in Hebrew? According to the culture and historical evidence, the answer to this is a resounding “No.” There are a handful of scholars, in holding to the liberalism of higher critical thought and source criticism that the Gospel of Matthew, and also the Quell source, could have been written in Hebrew. However, no evidence of this kind has been found, much less the mysterious “Q” source itself.[15]

If we do not have the original MSS, then how can we know that they did not write in Hebrew? This question is first answered by the culture they lived in, which has already been established. Secondly, however, we should have at least one MSS written in Hebrew as a copy of the original. If Hebrew was the original language, and the purpose of writing in that language was to communicate to Hebrew speaking people (which is also historically inaccurate at this point) why would the New Testament writers allow copies to be made in Greek and not in Hebrew? Why would Jewish Hebrew speaking synagogues copy MSS in Greek and not in English? Again, it is imperative to understand that the evidence for one Hebrew MSS copy is non-existent. As a matter of fact, years before Christ ever came upon the scene, the exact opposite was occurring. Aramaic speaking Jews, who held to the Torah in Hebrew, and had Hebrew MSS of the Old Testament, wisely translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek so that the common people, and those attending synagogue at that time (150-250 years before Christ), could read and understand it. This is why we have the LXX, or Septuagint. It was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament substantiated 150 years before Jesus Christ ever came on the scene so that Jews could understand the Old Testament due to the Hellenization that the Romans brought upon the land. It was not that there was a need to translate the Hebrew into Hebrew, but a need to translate the Hebrew into Greek. This, however, did not occur for the New Testament documents. The New Testament documents and MSS were written in Greek and translated into Greek. This was Koine Greek, the common tongue of the Roman world at that time.

How many MSS are there of the New Testament in Hebrew? None. How many MSS are there of the New Testament in Greek? Over 24,000 copies. In the history of ancient writings, the only other rival to the New Testament MSS is Homer’s Iliad. Homer’s Iliad has 643 copies that have survived today. This number should boggle the mind since the New Testament has over 24,000 MSS found to date. All other ancient literature pales in comparison to the overwhelming amount of textual evidence for the New Testament to have been written in Greek, and Greek alone. When a later translation of any important document is made, like Jerome’s Vulgate, that is the New Testament translated into Latin then we should have copies of this to substantiate the claim. We do. We have Latin copies made from the Greek.[16] The Old Testament Hebrew Bible has had copies of the Hebrew Bible made; over 200,000 copies and fragments. The New Testament record also has copies written in Greek; over 24,000 copies and fragments. The same arguments used in the Hebrews transmission are used in the Greek, and all evidence flies in the face of those who believe that Hebrew was the original language the New Testament was written in – both historically and contextually.

What is the real reason that some cults and fanatics attempt to overthrow the Koine Greek New Testament record by saying that of the New Testament writers penned in Hebrew? The answer is they attempt to overthrow the manner of salvation. These factions rest on the claim that Jesus Christ is not God, because the Jewish Messiah is not God. They claim the Jews would have never thought about the Messiah as God in the Old Testament. Then they go on to assert that every Hebrew word only has one meaning in the Old Testament (which is ludicrous) and each meaning must correspond to a singular meaning in the New Testament (which is even more ludicrous). By saying this they limit the possible “usage” of the New Testament record and complain that the Greek language is inadequate to give a proper representation of what the Jewish writer would have said. In doing this, they claim that the Greek is a corruption of the Hebrew and thus, are able to “substantiate” their position against Jesus Christ as the Jewish messiah, the God-man, and the Trinity as a doctrine which no good Jewish Christian would ever believe. They attack the clarity of the historical documents with utterly preposterous ideas and horrid statements about language difficulties that they know nothing about, and present a case that sits on their own vain imaginations. This is typical of the cults and those lead astray by the cults.

It is important to illustrate what I mean in the above paragraph so that you as the reader have a clear understanding of the kind of twisting that is done. Let us use the word “firstborn” as an example. It is important to note that Jehovah’s witnesses use this argument in order to strip Christ of His eternal nature and deity. However, the fanatics I have been speaking about do the very same thing, in the very same manner. In the New Testament we find Paul stating that Jesus is “the firstborn among many brethren.” (Romans 8:29b) The argument then goes like this:

“I used my concordance, and you can do this too, and I found that firstborn always means “firstborn” as one who is really “firstborn.” So I checked through Strong’s concordance and found the word is prototokos {pro-tot-ok’-os} and that it means “firstborn.” I cannot tell you what it means in Greek because I cannot read Greek. But I trust Strong’s Concordance to do the work for me. So, it means that Christ is the firstborn of all creation. So I looked up Colossians 1:15 and it says that Jesus is the “firstborn over all creation.” The definition seemed to be right on! So when we use the word firstborn, it has to mean “created.” In Hebrews 1:6 it says Jesus is the “first begotten” which suggests that he is the first created being. Revelation 1:5 states the same thing. So in order to understand all this, I looked in the Old Testament to see what firstborn really means. I know I am safe with the Hebrew Old Testament because the Greek was translated from this, and each Hebrew word only has one meaning. So I looked up in my concordance all the times “firstborn” appears, and picked a few to read. I found that in every instance “firstborn” meant that someone was born first, or created first. Like in 1 Chronicles 3:15 it says, “the firstborn Johanan.” See here, he is was the first born in his family – first created. The same is in Judges 8:20, “Jether his firstborn.” See, Jether is the firstborn, the first created, and so on. So I know Jesus cannot be God, because he was firstborn and a created being because that seems to be the meaning of the word – at least from what I have found through study.”

Though this line of thinking is ridiculous, and exegetically unattainable, it happens frequently. The sad part about this is that it is not only fanatics who distort Christian doctrine and overthrow Gospel truths with this kind of reasoning and “study”, but Christians who do not know how to study, or are not familiar with Biblical languages at all do this very same thing. Simply stated, concordance work here is just not going to cut it.

Let’s look at the Hebrew word for “firstborn.” The word is rAkB. (bek-ore’) which is derivative of the Hebrew “bakaer”. The meaning of “bekore’” in terms of it frequency is “firstborn, firstling of men and women, of animals, and figuratively it is used as a noun of relation.” It can mean to “give the right of the firstborn, to be a firstborn, to bear early, to have new fruit, to constitute one as firstborn, or even being a woman who is bearing a firstborn (a noun use.)” I will not get into the various stem usages of the word dealing with rk;B’ (baw-kar’) as a primitive root, and used in forms like the Piel, Pual, Hiphil or Niphal. But the ludicrous statement that each word only has one meaning is so beyond the scope of language that it would be proper for an English gentleman to take off his white gloves and slap these people on the sides of their faces and walk away. The term is used in a variety of senses in the Hebrew Old Testament. In Genesis 4:4 it refers to the first fruits of Abel’s flocks; in Exodus 4:22 it refers to Israel as God’s firstborn nation (is this true? What about Abraham?); in Exodus 13:2 it refers to children who are firstborn; In Psalm 89:27 David is made God’s firstborn over all the kings of the earth (both in relation of being firstborn, and in relation to the kings of the earth, David was never literally the firstborn); In Jeremiah 31:9 Ephraim is seen as the firstborn, but we know he was born second, after Manasseh. In the New Testament this is much the same, for instance, Colossians 1:15 and 18 says that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. This is not literally true. Christ has raised Lazarus from the dead, the widow of Nain’s son from the dead, and the girl in Matthew 9:21 who was dead. Was Jesus really the firstborn from among the dead to rise? Even in the Old Testament some were raised from the dead – do you recall 2 Kings 13:21 where the dead man touched Elisha’s bones and was raised from the dead? Now, it is not the intent of this paper to exhaust what “rising from the dead” means, or what “firstborn” refers to. Suffice it to say that those who are running around with their concordances tucked under their arms are going about “exegetical” work on the Bible in the same manner that the cults do. In doing this they twist and rent Scripture from its proper context are overthrowing orthodox doctrines. They are wrong in every possible exegetical manner; even if they are going about this in their “good intentions.”

With all of this being said, it should be apparent that careful considerations should be made before we begin adding up all the instances of “firstborn” in our concordance, or asserting that the New Testament was written in Hebrew if we do not have any evidence to support the claims of our thesis. In this kind of poor exegetical work all that occurs is the deviation of orthodox doctrine, and the compilation of error. People are just becoming more confused as they walk down this path in the name of “seeking truth.” There is more to study and reflect upon before one decides they are going to change the orthodox consensus of church history for their own convenience. The doctrines surrounding Jesus Christ as the God-man and as the Jewish Messiah in which the Old Testament depicts as God, stands firm. The New Testament was written in Greek and copied thousands of times and we have faithful versions of it today. There are no exegetical or textual grounds for this to be otherwise.[17]

On a final note, whenever we come to a conclusion on a matter or doctrine, we should always be aware of who believed those doctrines through the history of the Christian church. A faithful consensus through the history of the church should be made to see if the orthodox theologians through history agree with us, or are against us. This should always cause us to check what we believe. In the discussion above, both in reference to the overthrowing of the Greek New Testament and the orthodox doctrines of Christ as God and the Trinity as Scriptural, the following historical figures and cults could be cited for support: Marcion, Arius, Nestorius, Eutychus, the Montanists, Gnostics, Docetics, and a few others to mention. These were enemies of the faith and false teachers of the church. Today many cults follow them unknowingly, though they believe what they believe knowingly – the Jehovah’s Witnesses are blatantly Arian heretics, the Charismatics are following the heresies of the Montanist, the Mormon heretics follow Nestorius and Eutychus to a great extent, the Christian Science Church follows the Gnostic heretics and Docetics to a great point, and so on.

Who do you follow and what do you believe? Hopefully it is a faithful adherence to the word of God in truth, and under a faithful pastor who is teaching you the orthodox doctrines of the Christian faith.[18]

[1] See footnote 17.

[2] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, NJ: 1992. Page 115.

[3] Westminster Confession of Faith, 1:8

[4] Geisler, Norman and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Moody Press, Chicago, IL: 1986. Page 358.

[5] Stambaugh, John E. and David L. Bach, The New Testament in Its Social Environment, Wayne A. Meeks Editor, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, PA: 1986. Pages 13-15

[6] Bruce, F.F., New Testament History, Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., New York, New York: 1971. Page 218n.

[7] Ibid, Page 147.

[8] Ibid, Pages 217-218

[9] Ibid, Page 87.

[10] Ibid, Page 88.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “Whether more Greek or Aramaic was spoken in Palestine is debated. It used to be thought that Aramaic was on the wane in the Seleucid pre-Maccabaean period, but more evidence for Aramaic has accumulated recently. The finds at Qumran reveal that litera­ture was still being composed in Aramaic in the first century before and after Christ. Examples are the Genesis Apocryphon, the Testa­ment of Levi, a Targum of Job, and a text which refers to “the Son of God” and to “the Son of the Most High.” There are also legal documents and letters in Aramaic found in the Cave of Letters of Wadi Habra and at Murabba’at. In examining this material, Joseph Fitzmyer concludes that there is little evidence for Greek influence on Aramaic, but that Aramaic clearly affected the Greek used by Jews.12 In fact, he argues that Aramaic was the most commonly used language in Palestine in the first century A.D. Although there is not as much evidence for Hebrew as for Aramaic, there are epigraphic and literary indications that Hebrew was written in Jesus’ time and still used in certain oral activities such as midrashic sermons, halakic teaching, and legal discussions. The Qumran texts written in Hebrew far outnumber those in Aramaic, but they are early, from the last two centuries b.c. The pesharim, or commentaries, were written in Herodian script and are probably first-century-A.D. compositions. (Ibid, Page 87-88)

[14] Ibid, Pages 161-164.

[15] “Quell” is German for the word “Source.” It refers to arguments surrounding the “Synoptic Problem” of the same information crossing over in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. This “crossing over” or “copying” idea from this “source” which we do not possess or have evidence for is a stretch to say the least. There is no evidence whatsoever to assume that the Gospels were not independently written and circulated based on the author’s intent for those Gospels.

[16] Even Wickliffe used the Latin Vulgate to make his first English Translation of the Bible.

[17] I have heard an argument for asserting that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Aramaic and then later translated in to Greek, however, the evidence for this both internally and externally are not sufficient to prove this in any convincing manner.

[18] There are a number of good books in helping to understand the manner in which the text of the New Testament has been providentially kept for us through the centuries. I would counsel anyone struggling with this issue of New Testament written in Greek to consider these sources:

A General introduction to the Bible, by Geisler and Nix.

The New Testament in its Social Environment, By Stambaugh and Balch

New Testament History, by F.F. Bruce

The Canon of Scripture, by F.F. Bruce

Are the New Testament Documents Reliable?, By F.F. Bruce

God, Revelation and Authority, by Carl Henry

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, by Francis Turretin

New Testament Introduction, by Donald Guthrie

An Introduction to the New Testament, by Carson, Moo and Morris

Early Manuscripts and Modern Translations of the New Testament, by Philip Wesley Comfort

Scripture and Truth, by Carson and Woodbridge

Thy Word is Truth, by E.J. Young

Nothing But the Truth, by Brian Edwards

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