The story of scripture is one that has been passed down again and again over more than 2 thousand years, and at the heart of this story is the New Testament. Outlining the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and documenting the earliest days of the church, the New Testament serves as a source of guidance, wisdom, and encouragement for believers.
When we read the Bible today, almost all of us turn to a translation of the original texts. But in order to get a more authentic and precise presentation of scripture, we ought to consider the language in which the New Testament was first written. Let’s dive in and explore the original language of this major section of scripture!
Before we consider the history surrounding the New Testament’s composition, let’s take a moment to consider the texts that make up this portion of scripture (for more information, check out “Books of the New Testament: The Complete List”).
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian Bible and covers a period of time after the Old Testament from the birth of Jesus through the early days of the Church. Believed to have been written around 50-100 AD, the New Testament is made up of 27 different books. These books are organized into five major sections: the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), Acts, the Pauline Epistles, the General (or catholic) Epistles, and the Book of Revelation.
When we speak of reading in the Biblical languages, we are referring to the languages of Hebrew and Greek, primarily. Some parts of the Old Testament were also written in Aramaic, which most scholars believe to be the language spoken by Jesus. But generally speaking, the Old Testament texts were written in Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in koine Greek.
During the 2nd and 3rd centuries BCE, the Greek language was becoming more and more prevalent throughout the ancient world, also garnering the reputation of being the language of scholarship. As a result, the Hebrew scriptures were translated by Jewish scholars from the original Hebrew language into a Greek version as the language became more widespread. This translation is known as the Septuagint (abbreviated by scholars today as LXX) and it enabled the texts of the Tanakh (or, Hebrew Bible)—many of which would go on to form what we know as the Old Testament—to reach a wider audience.
The Greek translation gained widespread popularity, going so far as to be the text used and referenced in some synagogues. This increased familiarity with scriptural teachings in Greek is a significant part of the reason the New Testament authors wrote their accounts and letters in Greek as well. When the apostles and Gospel writers quoted or referenced the Old Testament in their writings, it was the LXX they were referring to.
Greek Dialect and Style
While Greek was considered the language of the learned, the New Testament writers did not write in elevated or classical Greek, but in the common parlance of the day. Today’s scholars refer to the language of the Gospels and Epistles as koine Greek, set apart from both the Ancient Greek used by the likes of Plato and Aristotle and the Modern Greek spoken in Greece today. The term "koine" comes from the Greek word, κοινὴ, which means "common". Most of the early Christian theological writings by the Church Fathers were also written in koine Greek, and it continues to be used as the liturgical language in the Greek Orthodox Church to this day.
The New Testament offers a message of hope and restoration to all people. From the ancient versions in their original languages, scholars and translators have dedicated themselves to ensuring that the wonder and wisdom of the Bible are available to as many people as possible.
To date, the Bible has been translated into over 2300 different languages, and Bible translations even extend further. There are various interpretive English translations of the Bible, each seeking to represent the Biblical texts as they were originally written so that modern readers can best understand. (To learn more about Biblical translations, check out our article, "Best Bible Translation".)
For more ways to deepen your faith and continue your education, take a look at Alabaster’s beautifully designed collection of Bibles and other supplemental material to help you along your journey.