Greek, Latin Bible translations...why?


#1

For eg: When studying apologetics, it always refers to how the original scripture word was in Greek or Latin. :shrug: Why does this matter when Jesus spoke Aramaic? Was the Bible originally written in a different language? Please, help me understand or point me towards a very simple book that’s easy to understand. Thank you.


#2

Jesus spoke Aramaic, but he didn’t write a single word of scripture. That task was left to His disciples. The bible indicates he also spoke Greek, because we have accounts of him speaking directly with Greeks without a translator.

There is some evidence that an early draft of Matthew was written in Hebrew, and one of the other gospels may have had an early Hebrew draft as well.

But the common language throughout the Mediterranean at that time was Greek. Thank Alexander the Great for that. Anyone and everyone who learned how to read and write, and who had to communicate with people outside his region, learned to read and write in Greek.

The initial final drafts of the New Testament were likewise written in Greek, so that anyone in the known world would be able to read them. A couple of hundred years later, they were translated to Latin because Latin had replaced Greek as the common language of international trade.

We have much the same situation today with international aviation. Pilots who fly only within their own countries speak their local language when communicating with Air Traffic Control, but pilots who are flying across international boundaries who don’t know the local language are required to communicate in English.


#3

The Bible had quite a few authors, but none of the originals exist today outside of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written in Hebrew, the language in which Christ Himself worshiped. None of the New Testament originals exist today and there are only educated guesses as to the sources. Though we know the vernacular of that area was Aramaic, we don’t have the exact words He spoke, so the best we have are paraphrases and copied Greek translations. There were also Latin translations even before the Latin Vulgate but these were very poor quality. But the general feel was that by keeping them in Latin, they would be best preserved by monks and others. Many of the writings in Latin, not only the Bible, were done by Greek scholars. Jerome was well versed in Hebrew as well, adding to the credibility of the Latin Vulgate.


#4

Also to know both the metric and English standards of measurements, which frequently becomes a problem with fuel loads, kilometers and miles, etc. Even so, in street language there are major differences in U.S. English and U.K. English, for example, so the study of English as a second or third language is sufficient. Or maybe there’s aviation English as well, I don’t know. :slight_smile:


#5

As most New Testament scholars will tell you, the books of the Christian canon were first written in Greek by writers who were very literate in the language.
Many in Jesus’ area could not read or write.
At the end of the 2nd century, many of the books were translated into Latin, Coptic, and Syriac.

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#6

Of course there has been debate on whether Sanctus Paulus, the author of many if not most of the epistles, wrote his letters to the Romans in Latin or in Greek and then had them immediately translated to Latin. According to a PBS documentary, he found a “significant” number of Christians in Rome once he had arrived there.


#7

There is standard terminology used in aviation, which is used by all who are trained to be pilots and who fly through international airspace. Yes, units of measure can be a problem, but any pilot who is foolish enough to make a mistake with those doesn’t stay a pilot very long.

My point was that the Scriptures were not written in Aramaic because there was another language used for international trade. If you needed to read and write, you were taught that language. During the time of Christ that language was Greek. Three centuries later that language was Latin.

Also, during those days, there was no such thing as paper and a printing press. Anything you wrote that was of importance had to be in a language that could be read by both your audience and their descendants. Greek and Latin again.

We are not accustomed to thinking along those lines, because books can be had for a dollar and nearly everyone can read and write in his or her own language, and interpreters are readily available for those who need them.


#8

I read a good book that explained the formation of the Greek OT (Septuagint) and its use by the authors of the NT. It is: ‘When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible’ by Timothy Michael Law.


#9

Interpretations are often wrong and translations lose their meaning/nuance quickly. A dollar is probably more than they’re worth. It’s good to have BOTH the Greek and Latin texts for reference and study, not to mention enough scholars and linguists to help everyone else out.


#10

A little clarification here. During the time of Christ Latin was the language of the military and acts of administration. This might have been the reason Pilate had the inscription on the cross written in Latin. The language and its strict grammar rules were codified by Cicero et al. It is doubtful whether this Latin was ever used in street talk. The average person in the street wouldn’t have known a 3rd person pluperfect, for example. Later the Church Christianized the language and it made perfect sense to use it for Church documents, the liturgy, the preservation of scripture, and the study of moral codes of Cicero et al. It was also used later on to retranslate some of the Greek.


#11

To be (perhaps uncharitably) cynical, one might point to the fact that Latin and Greek (to a lesser extent) have long been core elements of a ‘proper’ European education: when a person trained in Latin and/or Greek has the chance to show off :blush:, s/he might leap at referring to those as if they were proof of Divine Intent. There is also the fact that subsequent commentaries on the Scriptures were written in Latin and in Greek, and so someone who reads those can read how native users of those tongues read the Scriptures.

However, since the OT was composed mostly in Hebrew, and the NT in a heavily hebraicized version of Greek (i.e. Κοινη), having a background in Hebrew is far more useful, I think: there are many points at which the Greek of the Scriptures is not good Greek, but instead a version which makes more sense to those who understand Hebrew.


#12

This is an interesting point. And perhaps explains why the Church had the (supposedly) Hebrew scholar Jerome correct some of the older Latin translations with what was available at the time.


#13

I think the only danger in the area of versions in the original languages is not in the versions themselves which are wonderful for expanding our knowledge of Scripture, but the danger is how man tends to substitute Church authority with scholarship. And I have seen so many times when people will twist the meaning of words and context while referencing it to what the Greek or Hebrew says, knowing all along that most people are unable to refute them because they dont know the language. I see Catholics today finding themselves placing modern scholarship, which changes shape and becomes outdated like a fad, placing it higher than Tradition. Many protestants are making the Bible scholars their Magesterium, while some Catholics are doing similar things.


#14

Yeah. And I believe the majority of scholars and biblical experts agree half of the letters were not written by him at all-- just judging by the content, style, and other details–as well as the language issue.

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#15

Actually, the Dead Sea Scrolls were written in Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Septuagint Greek. I saw them recently in Salt Lake City. Remember that the Synagogue of Alexandria used Septuagint Greek. Some Protestants insist that Jesus Christ spoke New Testament Greek, mainly because they say we claim Biblical Aramaic to justify our reading of Mt 16:13-19. If anyone could list a few very reliable non-specifically Catholic historical references that clearly state that Biblical Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Levant at that time, I would appreciate it.

Also, we aren’t sure in what language Q or the earliest versions of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark were written. Mark’s Greek shows Aramaic influence, but I don’t know the details. Again, any references would be appreciated. I understand that there were some fragments of the Gospel of Matthew found that date to about 65 AD. Does anyone know more here?


#16

“Septuagint Greek” and “New Testament Greek” are both “Biblical Greek”, and, if Jesus did not speak Biblical Greek, then the Gospel writers clearly took some significant liberties with his actual words. That said, only a poor reading of the Greek text of Mt 16:18 can make Peter unimportant.

If anyone could list a few very reliable non-specifically Catholic historical references that clearly state that Biblical Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Levant at that time, I would appreciate it.

Jewish Encyclopedia: “at the time of the Second Temple, both languages were in common use in Palestine: the Hebrew in the academies and in the circles of the learned, the Aramaic among the lower classes in the intercourse of daily life. But the Aramaic continued to spread, and became the customary popular idiom; not, however, to the complete exclusion of the Hebrew. …] For more than a thousand years Aramaic remained the vernacular of Israel, until the conquests of the Arabs”

Aramaic was more properly the vernacular, the everyday language of the common people, than the lingua franca, the language of communication between the different groups, which position was held by Κοινη Greek, of which Biblical is a particular subset.


#17

Spetuagint Greek is not the same as New Testament Greek. I did not make that mistake. I’m sure Jesus Christ spoke New Testament Greek, or anything else he chose to speak, but Im also sure that Simon Peter, and uneducated fisherman, and at least most of the other disciples preferred to speak what we now call Biblical Aramaic.

Although Biblical Aramaic and Biblical Hebrew are closely related, to my knowledge the relationship is not as close as, say, Danish and Norwegian or Anatolian Turkish and Azerbaijani Turkish.

Unfortunately I don’t remember the source, but I remember reading that Koiné Greek did not totally replace it (because it is not Semitic?), and that Aramaic did not go into decline until Classical Arabic replaced it with the rise of Islam. I realize that does contradict the Jewish Encyclopedia. Thank you for the reference.

As for Mt 16:8 and PRotestant deconstruction: I have had to point out that apparently the only dictionary that defines “petros” as a pebble or little rock is Vine’s which has its own bias. Of course, "Kepha’ " in Aramaic is masculine. Protestants hang on Vine’s and try to claim that the Catholic Church only claims Jesus and the Israelites spoke Aramaic to justify the position of Peter. However, I have a modern (19th-century) Greek-English dictionary that only has “Petros” with a capital P and defined as a given name.


#18

All one has to do is to read the Pope’s tweets in different languages, including Latin, to hear what he has to say. They don’t all come out exactly the same but it’s perhaps more to do with the translator than it has to do with the language itself, though they’re languages, such as inflective ones, where the inherent message comes across better.


#19

This is true in so much as the Septuagint is often more Hebraic than the NT, but it is also true that Septuagint Greek is not the same as Septuagint Greek. The translations of the LXX texts occurred over a period of centuries, quite possibly spanning the time from three centuries before Christ to perhaps a century after (in Ecclesiastes). It is not a single work, but a compilation, and the language is not consistent throughout, with parts of it (e.g., the Torah translations) being quite Hebraic and parts (e.g., the Maccabees) more truly Greek. This is what makes Edwin Hatch’s label “Biblical Greek” so apt.

The details of the relationship between Aramaic and Hebrew I cannot comment upon, since I read neither.

Unfortunately I don’t remember the source, but I remember reading that Koiné Greek did not totally replace it (because it is not Semitic?), and that Aramaic did not go into decline until Classical Arabic replaced it with the rise of Islam.

Κοινη never replaced Aramaic because they served different functions: Aramaic was the local language, Κοινη the language of communication across distance. As time passed, Κοινη developed into Byzantine Greek.

As for Mt 16:8 and PRotestant deconstruction: I have had to point out that apparently the only dictionary that defines “petros” as a pebble or little rock is Vine’s which has its own bias. Of course, "Kepha’ " in Aramaic is masculine. Protestants hang on Vine’s and try to claim that the Catholic Church only claims Jesus and the Israelites spoke Aramaic to justify the position of Peter. However, I have a modern (19th-century) Greek-English dictionary that only has “Petros” with a capital P and defined as a given name.

Some Protestants do that, I know: I, too, have met them. They really ought to reread such passages as Mark 5:41 and 7:34, in which the Gospel writer says that Jesus was speaking in Aramaic.

That said, I have run into non-Greek-reading Catholic apologists who so earnestly want to assert that Mt 16:18 refers ‘just to Peter - only to Peter - to no one but Peter - no, I’m not listening - my fingers are in my ears’ that they miss what else the text is saying there. The passage is a neat play on words in Greek which does not translate well into English, but Lampe’s Patristic Greek Lexicon explains the various ways in which the Greek Fathers, reading in their native tongue, appreciated the depth what was written there.

BTW, Πετρος, a common noun which became a personal name after the original disciple, was occasionally feminine (q.v. Anthologia Palatina 7.274, 479).


#20

Thank you for the information. Two points:

  1. I’m glad we agree on the different ways Biblical Aramaic and Koiné Greek served the people. There are those who believe Aramaic was already morbund at the time of Christ, despite all evidence to the contrary. I did know that Koiné Greek evolved into Byzantine Greek. FTR, Tsaconian is still spoken as a dialect, there are four small areas in Greece where Υ is still pronounced as /u/, Pontic is still spoken but is perhaps now a separate language, and Carghjese Greek, supposedly extinct in 1982, also may have been a separate language (I have relatives in Carghjese).

  2. Have you a reference that uses πέτρος as a common noun? I have only seen πέτρα. The “Evangelical Protestants” insist that πέτρα means a mass of rock, but πέτρος means a pebble, yet do not seeem to be able to cite anything other than Vine’s Dictionary. The point I am making is that Jesus Christ appointed Peter the leader of the early church, and confirmed it after His resurrection in Jn 21:15-17. This does not change, regardless of whether one is Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, Copt, Anglican, or Lutheran; Only the degree of authority changes, but that debate is left for other passages, mostly in Acts.


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