The Hebrew New Testament?

The Hebrew New Testament? (By Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg)

It is my opinion that the entire original text of the document we have come to know as the New Testament was written by Christ-following Jews (in the ancient sense of the word) in a language that can be best described not simply as Koine or Common Greek, but as “Koine Judeo-Greek”. Some authors who could afford a very good, professional scribe (like was the case with Paul and, possibly with Luke as well) had an excellent command of the language, while others like the authors of Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation naturally wrote on a much simpler level. Just like in English someone can write in an elegant style or express their thoughts in the same language, but in a much simpler fashion (much like myself).

But first of all what is Koine Greek?

Koine Greek (which is different from Classical Greek) was the common multi-regional form of Greek spoken and written during Hellenistic and Roman antiquity. New Testament collection was authored during this historic period.

Now… I do not think that the kind of Greek we see in the New Testament can be best described ONLY as Koine Greek. There is another component to this Koine Greek – a significant Jewish and Hebrew connection. For this reason I prefer to call it – Koine Judeo-Greek.

What in the world is Judeo-Greek?

Well… Judeo Greek, like the well-known Judeo-German (Yiddish), Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) and the less familiar Judeo-Farsi, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Italian, and Judean-Georgian languages, is simply a form of Greek used by Jews to communicate. This language retained many words, phrases, grammatical structures, and patterns of thought characteristic of the Hebrew language.

So is Judeo-Greek really Greek? Yes, it is, but it is Greek that inherited the patterns of Semitic thought and expression. In this way, it is different from the types of Greek used by other people groups.

So, I disagree that the New Testament was first written in Hebrew and then translated into Greek. Instead, I think it was written in Greek by people that thought Jewishly and what is, perhaps, more important multi-lingually. You see… the speakers of variety of languages manage to also think in variety of languages. When they do speak, however, they always import into one language something that comes from another. It is never a question of “if”, but only of “how much”.

The main point made by Christians who believe that parts of the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew is that the New Testament is full of Hebraisms. (Hebraism is a characteristic feature of Hebrew occurring in another language.)

Actually, this is a very important point. It shows that serious students of the New Testament must not limit themselves to the study of Greek. They must also study Hebrew. With knowledge of Biblical Hebrew they would be able to read the Koine Judeo-Greek text of the New Testament much more accurately.

So, I suggest, that one does not need to imagine a Hebrew textual base of the New Testament to explain the presence of the Hebraisms in the text. Though possible, this theory simply lacks additional and desperately-needed support.

Think with me on this a little further. Other than a multilingual competency of the New Testament authors their most trusted (and rightly so) source for the Hebrew Bible quotations was the Septuagint (LXX).

LXXNow… we must remember that the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek by leading Jewish scholars of the day. Legend has it that the 70 individual Jewish sages made separate translations of the Hebrew Bible and when they were done, all of it matched perfectly. As I said “it is a legend”. The number 70 is likely symbolic of the 70 nations of the world in ancient Judaism. This translation was not only meant for Greek-speaking Jews, but also for non-Jews so that they too could have access to the Hebrew Bible. You can imagine how many Hebraic words, phrases, and patterns of thoughts are present on every page of the Septuagint. (Click here to see the oldest version of the LXX).

So, other than the authors of the New Testament thinking Jewishly and Hebraicly, we also have the main source of their Old Testament quotations coming from another Jewish-authored document – the Septuagint. So is it surprising that New Testament is full of Hebraic forms expressed in Greek?!

As a side note, the use of the Septuagint by New Testament writers is actually a very exciting concept.

The Jewish text of the Hebrew Bible used today is the Masoretic Text (MT for short). When the Dead Sea Scrolls were finally examined, it turned out that there was not one, but three different families of Biblical traditions in the time of Jesus. One of them closely matched the Masoretic Text, one closely matched the Septuagint and one seems to have connections with the Samaritan Torah.

Among other things, this of course shows that the Septuagint quoted by the New Testament has great value since it was based upon a Hebrew text that was at least as old as the base Hebrew text of what will one day become – the Masoretic Text.

As I already stated, I believe that the entire New Testament was written in Koine Judeo-Greek. Please allow me to address one very important point.  In several places in the writings of the early church fathers, there is mention of a gospel in Hebrew.

The most important and earliest reference is that of the early Christian writer, Papias of Hierapolis (125 CE-150 CE). He wrote: “Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew dialect and interpreted each one of them as best he could.” So… we do have a very early Christian testimony about Matthew’s document in Hebrew.

Was this a reference to the Gospel of Matthew in its Hebrew original? Perhaps. Was it a reference to a document that Matthew composed, but that is different from the Gospel of Mathew? Possibly.

This whole discussion is complicated by the fact that all the Gospels are anonymous and do not contain unequivocal references to a particular author (though some are attested very early). The Gospel of Mathew is no exception. We do not know if Mathew (the disciple of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels) was in fact the author of the gospel that we call the “The Gospel according to Matthew.”

Moreover, the phraseology, “he interpreted each one of them as best he could,” used by Papias of Hierapolis is far less than inspiring. One does not leave with a feeling that the majestic Gospel of Matthew that features such key texts as the Sermon on the Mount and the Great Commission is in fact in view. It is possible that Papias was referring to something less grandiose. Namely, that he had heard that Mathew had collected Jesus’ sayings in Hebrew, piecing them together as best he could. There is no reason to deny that such a document once existed, but neither is there particularly strong reason to identify it with the Gospel of Matthew.

Later Church Fathers also mention that Matthew wrote the Gospel in Hebrew dialect, but their information is 1) most-likely based on Papias’ statement and 2) guided by Christian theology to show that Jews were witnessed to sufficiently.

Archeological discoveries have shown that Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and even Latin were all used by the people of the Holy Land during the first century of the Common Era. But the New Testament itself, as best we can tell, was in fact written by Christ-following Jews in Koine Judeo-Greek. This is the simplest and most factually accurate possibility. This view readily explains the amount of underlying Hebraic patterns of thought, reasoning, grammar, and vocabulary that make the New Testament a thoroughly Jewish collection.

Reconstructing history is a little bit like putting a puzzle with many missing pieces together. The more pieces of the puzzle you have, the better you can see the contours of the image! The more you know about the historical background of the New Testament and the more familiar you are with the languages intricately connected with it (especially Hebrew and Greek); the better you are able to interpret it accurately for yourself and others.

About the author

Dr. Eli Lizorkin-EyzenbergTo secure your spot in our new course “The Jewish Background of New Testament” - CLICK HERE NOW

You might also be interested in:

Israel, Isaac, And The Lamb

By Julia Blum

Join the conversation (188 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Rafael

    Although the presence of Hebraisms is indeed one of the main reasons cited (as you stated) by those who reason that the original text was not Greek, it is not the only reason. But I think you glossed over some other significant reasons (aside mention of early references to a Hebrew gospel).

    I was on a website a couple of years ago which made some compelling arguments that the original documents of the NT were actually Aramaic, the Peshitta to be precise. Some of the reasons which compelled me the most were demonstrations of how some of the copying errors are easy to make in Aramaic, but difficult to make in Greek. These reasons compel me more than the Hebraisms (which are much easier to explain, as you just did).

    I’ve heard similar compelling arguments for Hebrew being the language of the originals.

    Parts of the OT being in Aramaic, particularly Daniel, prove that the true author of the scriptures is not locked into just one language. He seems to favor the common language of His people.

    I know not what was the original language of the text. I favor the notion that it was Hebrew, only because that is what I’m hoping. But I remain unconvinced of any of them being THE original. Yet I believe that it must have been one of three, Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek,,, or possibly even some mixture (like Daniel and the Psalms).

  2. Lida Hill

    Shalom Dr Eli!
    I grew up in the Philippines where many languages and dialects are spoken under one roof. Growing up with 2 grandmothers who spoke different dialects, my brain was trained to switch from one dialect to another when talking to them. When I leave the house to go to school, my brain gets ready to think in a different language, which is English. Can you imagine me writing a letter to one of my siblings? That letter will contain at least 3 languages but it’s flavor is very Filipino since that is my nationality, culture & value. I’d call that letter Tagalog- Spanish-English (TagSpaLish) version. Nowadays, young people in the Philippines speak straight Taglish, (Tagalog-English). Very few of them can actually speak & write in pure Tagalog and for that I am very sad. On the other hand, I can still write and speak very fluently in my mother tongue of which I am proud. For this reason, I think I agree with you that the B’rit HaChadasha was written in Koine Judaeo Greek.
    Todah Rabah. יברכך יי וישמרך


  3. James DeFrancisco

    Dr. Eli,

    Once again you have presented an excellent article and stimulated profound discussion on NT language. Most of what I would say has already been commented on but I would like to present just a brief comment and a few questions:

    Papias’ quote on Mattai may have referred to Hebrew in the context of Hebrew letters, i.e. Ktav Ashuri which are really Assyrian/Aramaic. Looking at the letters, Aramaic and Hebrew may look alike but when reading the words there is a vast difference as you know. The original Mattai may have been a much smaller composition than the latter Greek Matthew. As was pointed out by other replies, much of the substratum of the Koine Greek are Aramaisms as well as Hebraisms and sometimes they may match closely.

    A few questions:

    1. Are there any other examples of the Koine Judeo-Greek that have been uncovered in Israel, e.g. DSS manuscripts, etc.?

    2. Is any of your doctoral work on the interaction of Syriac Church fathers with the sages of Talmud that lived nearby and related Peshitta issues available for our study?

    I continue to really appreciate your approach as well as that of each of the readers who have replied from a wide range of interesting perspectives.

    Thank you.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Dr. DeFrancisco, shalom. It has been a while since we touched base. Thank you so much for your kind comments. Koine Greek has been widely used. My emphasizing that this Koine Greek has characteristics of Hebrew is simply the matter of definition. There are many Greek Jewish documents around. About dissertations my work was on just that Syriac Church father Aphrahat in interaction with the Talmudic sages. But there are also others we can look into into dissertation databases. Eli

  4. Dominic St Pierre

    Hello Dr. Eli!
    What a great little article! very refreshing indeed!

    Tell me, do you know of any evidence of some type of Greek letters being used to write Hebrew words?
    I’ve heard of other alphabets like Arabic or Aramaic being used at times to express Hebrew thoughts and words. I’m curious if you are aware of any such example of Greek.

    Also, do you have any recommendations of resources where we can read the scriptures translated from both a Greek ‘old testament’ and ‘new testament’?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I think Judith Green our Greek specialist is in better position to answer these questions. Judith, can you help?

    2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I recommend this site for those interested to take a closer look at the LXX –

    3. judith green

      Dear Dominic – yes, there is a website where you can see translations from the Greek and from the Masoretic text side by side:
      This is a very helpful and clear site, rather than having to compare one translation to the other on your own.
      There is another kind of Judaeo-Greek which falls into the category you mention. It was the language of the Romaniote Jews in the former Ottoman empire, especially in northern Greece. Cff.
      Readings in the Sociology of Jewish Languages , edited by Joshua Fishman.
      but I think Eli is trying to use the term in a particular way of relating to the language in the NT texts, not making a historical-linguistic argument about the Greek language.
      Hope this answers your inquiry,
      Judith Green

    4. Eric de Jesús Rodríguez Mendoza


      I can suggest you to get the Excellent work of Redpath-Hatch: A concordance to the septuagint and the other Greek versions of the Old Testament, including the apocryphal books. In volume II, there is an appendix containing how hebrew words were writen in Greek:
      For example:
      Ααβ = אחאב
      Ααζ = אחז
      Άλακ = חלק

  5. Drs. Charles van den Berg

    No Eli, you are not ruining MINE party.
    Because I agree complete with you.
    I did not proclaim that there ‘s a Jewish vs Greek way of thinking idea in the Scriptures.
    I was in mention of a WRONG way of thinking, based on interpretation and misunderstanding of the real Greek thinking of the Septuagint and the Briet Chadasja.
    I was in mention o an in that way supposed kind of Greek thinking, often used by translations of the Bible in the West, like in The Netherlands.
    It is called Greek thinking, but it is only what they think Greek thinking is. This kind af of (interpret ) Greek thinking is vs. Jewish thinking and in conflict with the real Greek thinking of The Septuagint and the Briet Cahdasja.
    This kind of supposed Greek thinking is the score of the party you speak about( for example, from Thorleif Boman – read his book: Das Hebraische denken im vergleich mit dem Grieschischen – from R.K. sources, ( I disagree with it).
    You emphasize that there are different ideas about the Greek thinking of the Scriptures by your own, by recalling Koine Greek by Judeo Greek. I was in mention of the same problem on another level.
    So, I enjoy your party in a great way as the mine. Love you. Charles

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Same here :-). Blessings and much peace, Eli

  6. Kat Hobaugh

    Your articles are incredible. The benefits of learning Biblical Hebrew are clearly obvious . My question to you is what is the plan to get Biblical Hebrew from one social circle to a different social circle?

  7. Eric Rodríguez


    Shalom to you all my friends!

    The first thing must be remembered, is the co-existence of hebrew and aramaic in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus. It’s known, that coins from the first and second century (Bar Kochba times, I mean) have inscriptions in ancient hebrew alphabet (Maybe the “Big letters” mentioned by Sha’ul/Paul).
    Secondly, jewish scholars, come from Babylon, since the times of ‘Ezra’-Nehemiyah, spoke aramaic, or almost employed it as a theological language.
    Thirdly, in the New Testament persists the distinction between Έβραϊστι Chevraisti (aramaic, John 19:17), and έβραϊδι διαλεκτο Chevraidi dialekto (hebrew, Acts 26:14).
    The followings, are the Aramaic words reminded in the New Testament.
    Κηφας Këfas כיפא Keypá’ – Peter John 1:42 (‘éven, Séla, Tzor, in hebrew)
    Πάσχα Pásja פסחא Pisjá’ – Passover John 2:13 (Pésaj in hebew)
    Βηθεσδα Bëthesda בית חסדא Béyt Jisdá’ – Bethesda John 5:2 (Béyt Jésed in hebew)
    Θωμάς Thomás תומא Tomá’ – Thomas John 11:16 (Te’om, in hebrew)
    Γολγοθά golgothá גלגלתא Gulgaltá’ – Gólgota, John 19:17 (Gulgólet in hebrew)
    Ραβουνί Rabûní רבוני Riboní – My Máster John 20:16 (‘Adoní, in Hebrew)

    Ταλιθά κουμι Talithá Kûmi טליתא קומי Talyetá’ Qumi Girl, arise! Mk 5:41 Qumi yaldah (in hebrew)
    Δαλμανουθά Dalmanûthá אלמנותא ‘Almenutá’ Mk 8:10 (shel ‘Almanut)
    Ελωι Ελωι λεμα σαβαχθανι Eloi Eloi lema sabajthani אלי אלי למה שבקתני ‘Elí, ‘Elí Lemáh Shvaqtáni Mk 15:34. (‘Eli, ‘Eli, lamah ‘azavtani, in hebrew).

    So, I still though the N.T (the innovation of the Convenance), was writen in hebrew with parts in aramaic, for there are some theological connections in some expressions.

    By example, hitherto, גולגלתא Gulgaltá’ (in the Chassidic Theology), remais as the name of the Divine attribute of self-nullification, the first of seven, found between the עתיק יומין ‘atiq yomin (The “Elder of days” this is, the Deep Science of the Highest, in the book of Daniel), and אריך אנפין ‘Arich ‘Anpin (The “great face”, or the revealed wisdom of God).
    Thus, being Gulgaltá’ the attribute of Self-nullification of God, this is, His capacity of renouncement to Himself as the King of the Universe (taking the words of Psalm 113:6) it’s exciting that this was the name of the place where Yehoshúa’ self-nullified and gave His Life for us, just, Gulgaltá’.

    So, I still defend the hebrew-aramaic as the original languages of the NT.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Eric, thank you so much for your feedback. We I think should agree to disagree on how we interpret the data available to us. Let us keep on thinking together. Dr. Eli

  8. Drs. Charles van den Berg

    In addition to the study of the grammar of the Biblical Hebrew and Greek, the study of the Hebrew thinking in compare with the Greek thinking is a matter of high importance. Greek thinking was basically shaping our modern western thinking and the theology of the westernized church. With the entry of the replacement theology, where Israel was replaced by the church, the theology became ultimately more formed by the Greek thinking, than the Hebrew thinking. And more powered from the Greek culture, then from the culture of the Bible, that ‘s culture of Israel.
    When thinking about the history of the emergence of the Bible, and by our efforts to understand his language and message, our point of view has to be from its original setting, in history, culture and thinking. It is WRONG to do that from a western setting of culture, history and thinking that’s often quite strange of Bible’s origins. The replacement theology goes further than Israel to be replaced by the church. For example, they had replaced its culture too , they had replaced its way of thinking too, etc . And that’s the core of all problems.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I never understood (nor did I accepted) the Jewish vs. Greek (alleged) way of thinking idea. I can assure you that the two worlds intermingled to the point that it was not longer possible to tell a huge difference between the two. Perhaps, one of emphasis only. I hope I am not ruining anyone’s party :-).

      1. Luis R. Santos

        ** You are such a party pooper! 🙂

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          🙂 sorry someone had to do it! 🙂

          1. Lois

            Dr Eli,

            In relation to the comment about Hebrew and Greek dichotomy of mindset being inaccurate, do you have a comment about the Pauline saying that to Jews, Jesus is a stumbling block and to Greeks, foolishness? Is he not referring to a difference in mindset?


  9. Marie-Ange Desrosiers

    The more I study the Jewish culture and the Jewish way of thinking of the Bible times, the more I understand the Bible. The Torah class and Arnold Fructenbaum books have also helped me. Thank you for you input, Dr. Eli.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you so much for your comment. Dr. Eli

  10. Claudell County

    Dr. Eli

    The Hebrew at the time was Aramaic, wasn’t it. If the Judeo-Koine Greek was the written language and thinking style of the day, wouldn’t Aramaic have been in the equation and what about the Peshitta which claims the original text was written in Aramaic. I have seen the work of Lamsa and Rocco Ericco and their use of Aramaic to understand the scripture is very intriguing – though scholars usually write if off.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Shalom, Claudell. Welcome to our study group. I did my phd in interaction of Syriac Church fathers with the sages of Talmud that lived nearby, so I am aware of the Peshitta issues involved and they are fascinating indeed.

      Hebrew at the time of Jesus was Hebrew and Aramaic was Aramaic. It has been to my mind conclusively shown that both were in circulation. About Peshitta NT claiming something… I don’t think so. I think that Peshitta (or some) interpreters making this claims, but not actually Peshitta itself. Peshitta is important and needs to be studied more, however.

      1. Samuel Chacko

        Dear Dr Eli

        Thank you for the article and the various answers to the questions posed.

        I have two questions:-

        1. What is the difference between Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac? Could I trouble you to explain how each is different from the other and when and where each were in use;
        2. Would you recommend students undertaking the present course to also take up the study of Hebrew contemporaneously or can that wait till after the completion of the present course.

        Thank you