Scriptural languages


I have always believed that the Gospels were older than the epistles. Am I right? All the NT is in Greek except our Gospels that are Aramaic. That would’ve been the language Jesus spoke with Hebrew at the time being a sacred “temple language”. Much like our Latin now. A dead language except for the church, law, and medicine pretty much. The average Jew quite probably didn’t know or speak Hebrew. This is what I’ve always been told is this so?



Saint Paul wrote first, around the year 50 was his first letter, the Gospels were written at a later date. Matthew, Mark and Luke are around the year 70, and the gospel of John is written around 90. All the gospels were written in Greek, not Aramaic. All the NT was written in Greek.
About Hebrew, you are right, at the time of Jesus, Hebrew was a sacred language, like Latin, today. Btw, Hebrew, Greek and Latin are all considered sacred languages. The OT is mostly written in Hebrew, but parts of it are written in Greek and Aramaic, like the book of Daniel, which is written in part in Hebrew, in part in Aramaic, and in part in Greek.


Does it make any real difference whether it was said or written in Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek?

We still end up with at least four accounts for the same event, two which say Christ pours out His Blood for “many” and two for “you.” One account even leaves off the “pour.”

The Church needed to make a decision and decided that the words of institution are “pro vobis et pro multis” and that’s that.


The words of the Transubstantiation are taken from Saint Paul recalling of the event (1Cor 11 23-26).
But what does this have to do with the topic.

And actually, it does make a difference in which language it was written, because if it were to be written in Aramaic or Hebrew, none would have understood them. All the writings in the NT were addressed to specific communities, and they all spoke Greek. :wink:


Just an addition to the fine comments already posted on this subject.

Though no extant manuscripts exist of it, it appears that the Gospel account which we know as “Matthew” was originally just an oracle or “sayings” gospel–a collection of Jesus’ teachings and sayings without narrative–originally penned in Hebrew/Aramaic.

According to critical analysis, this source could likely be the original composition of St. Matthew, of whom Papias of Hierapolis wrote: “Matthew put the oracles [or “sayings” of Jesus] in an ordered arrangement in the Hebrew language.”

While it is clear that the narrative was written in koine Greek (and the order that Jesus’ teachings and sayings appear in Matthew show that the sayings were arranged into a very specific but non-sequential order) this is believed to be of a later date than the collection of sayings/oracles. The finalization of Matthew came about either by the hand of the original author or via the particular church group which St. Matthew presided over, using his teachings and recollections to provide the final arrangement.

There is now a manuscript transmission theory that presents this original “sayings” gospel by Matthew as the long-lost “Q” source. If “Q” really existed, it is believed that it would be such a collection of sayings by apostolic authorship (which fits the bill for Matthew’s “sayings” source). If this is true, then a long lasting debate might be ended between those who argue for Mark as the first gospel penned and those who agree with the traditional view that Matthew was penned first.

If “Q” is St. Matthew’s original sayings gospel, then it is agreed this was written before Mark. The “sayings” source is clearly older. Mark’s gospel was edited into its final form afterwards, with the redaction of Matthew into its final form (with the Greek written narrative and the oracles translated in Greek as well) completed afterwards. This would also explain why Luke uses “Q” as important source material, as it is a recollection of the sayings of Jesus by someone who was there to listen to them firsthand and in the language Jesus spoke (again presuming the theory holds).

This is theoretical of course, but it might answer some questions. Either way it is agreed that the “sayings” or “oracles” as they stand in Matthew had a Hebrew/Aramaic source, even though we don’t have that original source available.

The same is understood about Luke’s “Nativity Narrative” which seem to be sourced from Mary herself and show some signs of struggling as Luke attempts to put the terse Semitic expressions into the Greek tongue.


It is a fallacy to think that Hebrew was a dead language or purely ceremonial. A truly pious Jew - a Pharisee or Sadducee - would never speak the language of the non-Jew. They would have spoken Hebrew exclusively and not the language of the Gentile dogs.

And when they heard that he addressed them in the Hebrew language, they were the more quiet. (Acts 22:2)

Paul was speaking to the crowds in Jerusalem and they understood him clearly. Children were taught to read and write from the Book of Leviticus which was written in Hebrew.

As to Aramaic, much of Acts of the Apostles references believers in Syrian Antioch. These would have understood Aramaic well. It was a commonly spoken language. It is incorrect to say that no one would have understood it.



Please post more.

I would like to hear more about the Nativity narrative and that it might have been sourced from Mary. :slight_smile:



Well I’ve always heard they were written in Aramaic. Aramaic was a widely known language among some. Maybe not so much as Greek but it was a merchant’s language. What about the Qumran manuscripts. Or fragments maybe I should say.


I guess after reading there is a “school of thought” that says the gospels may have been written in Aramaic first then Greek. But so far all we have for sure is the Greek Gospels. Does that sound correct?



Yes, but what if one account was written “for you” in Hebrew, another “for you” in Greek, another “for many” in Aramaic, and another “for many” in Greek? (1 Cor by the way is “for you…in the same way also the cup”) Which one would have more weight, that is, if we had all the originals available which we don’t?

What are the odds that Christ chose 12 men who spoke exactly the same kind of Greek and absolutely had no knowledge of Aramaic or Hebrew? Aramaic was the widespread vernacular of that region so we know that can’t be true. And Hebrew was the worship language of not only Christ but also many, if not all of the Apostles. How do we know the Last Supper was not in Hebrew if it were to be remembered as a religious service? There are a lot of other questions to be asked before we agree on this but in the end what was the decision?


Hi Bill,

Matthew is the only Gospel for which there may have been an Aramaic version or source.

About the Hebrew/Aramaic thing. The Jews lost the Hebrew language during the exile to Babylon. When they came back, several decades later, they spoke Aramaic, which was the lingua franca (common, but not sole language) of the Middle East. In Nehemiah, 8,8, we read :

Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read.

When the word “Hebrew” is used in the New Testament, it means “Aramaic”.



Or maybe they were dictated in Aramaic and many years later written in Greek from recollection? I’ve heard people were mostly illiterate those days.


Hi Provobis,

By the times the Gospels were written, the evangelization of the Jews, such as it was, had become marginal. Greek was the language of evangelization, and that’s why the Gospels were in Greek.



Now what about these Qumran texts? Has the church said anything about them? The is many books there not in the NT. Book of Enoch. And several other books. Does the church just not take a stance on them? There are books of Adam and Eve, Moses, Noah, and others. But they I don’t know; if they are Qumran or not.


Hi Bill,

We did not need Qumran to establish the Canon of Revealed Scipture. This was done some 1700 years by the Catholic Church. Qumran was of great interest to biblical scholars, who wanted to check our current biblicat texts against these ancient fragments… It turns out that that our current text is highly reliable.



That’s entirely possible. But wasn’t Greek also the language of art, science, math, drama, and let’s not forget mythology? Scriptural Greek might have been a more useful tool for evangelization I would think. I’m no Greek expert but I have heard today’s Greeks might not be able to make much of that 1st century Greek. Always made sense to me; otherwise we’d all be reading Greek Bibles and worshipping in Greek.


I see. Well good. I am interested in the Qumran particulary for jewish and Roman Catholic and general knowledge.


Actually no. By the time of Jesus ‘the Hebrew language’ could have well meant ‘Aramaic’, which was the language most Hebrews spoke at that time. (Look at the gospels: place names like ‘Golgotha’ (Gagulta), said to be in “Hebrew,” are actually Aramaic. If it was real Hebrew the ‘Skull’ would have been called Gulgoleth.) It’s true that at that time, there were still remote communities down south in Judaea who spoke Hebrew (a colloquial, late variety of it), but for the most part, much of the Jews in Palestine had adopted Aramaic as their daily language. Piety had nothing to do with the everyday language one spoke.


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