Did Jesus Ever Teach In Greek? -- By: Stanley E. Porter

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 44:2 (NA 1993)
Article: Did Jesus Ever Teach In Greek?
Author: Stanley E. Porter


Did Jesus Ever Teach In Greek?

Stanley E. Porter

Summary

This paper argues—against the general scholarly consensus--that Jesus not only had sufficient linguistic competence to converse with others in Greek but also even to teach in Greek during his ministry. After an introduction to the possible languages of Jesus (Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek), the evidence for the widespread use of Greek, especially in Galilee, is examined: the role of Greek as the lingua franca of the Graeco-Roman world; the geographic and epigraphic-literary evidence for Greek in Lower Galilee and Palestine; and Jesus’ use of Greek according to the New Testament. Several significant New Testament passages are examined, including Jesus’ trial before Pilate and Jesus’ discussion with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi, along with several others.

Introduction

Regarding the question of the languages Jesus may have known and used in his itinerant ministry, current scholarly opinion follows the conclusion of Dalman, who stated that, though Jesus may have known Hebrew, and probably spoke Greek (N.B.), he certainly taught in Aramaic.1 With this

conclusion long maintained, it might seem unnecessary to undertake again an investigation of this topic, except for the fact that it is still not commonly recognized just how strong the probability—even likelihood—is that Jesus not only had sufficient linguistic competence to converse with others in Greek but also even to teach in Greek during his ministry.2 Once the barrier to Jesus’ speaking Greek is crossed and the category of Jesus’ teaching in Greek is entertained, this has direct implications for exegesis that I will attempt to exploit in this paper.

I. The Possible Languages Of Jesus: Aramaic, Hebrew And Greek

Although the evidence is not as strong as some would contend, it has long been agreed by many scholars that Aramaic was the predominant language of the indigenous Jewish population of Palestine and the primary language of Jesus.3 This Aramaic hypothesis rests securely upon the fact that, though Greek was the lingua franca of the Graeco-Roman world, in Palestine it never fully replaced Aramaic, an important Semitic language used by the Jewish population in Palestine after the Exile. The widespread use of Aramaic is substantiated, according to this hypothesis, not only by the Aramaic portions of the biblical writings of Daniel and Ezra and by noncanonical 1 Enoch, but by a large amount of inscriptional, ossuary, epistolary, papyrological and literary ev...

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