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

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  1. Petri Huovila

    Thank You for this enlightening article. I just got one “big” thought one day: Could Paul avoid writing an own and “only for Jews-directed letter” to his own people? His heart was tearing apart for his own kinsmen, as we can read in Rom 9 and 10, in the beginning of both these chapters. And always in every city he first went to his kinsmen with the Gospel. As I can understand, I regard it quite sure that he really must have written also to his own people, to God’s own people, even if we don’t have that writing preserved (if not Hebrews). I’m sure he wanted to use all available means to win them for Jeshua. So, if he wrote to the Jews, it is for me 100 % clear that he wrote in Hebrew.

  2. Dr. Stefano Giliberti

    Wonderful analysis, Dr. Eli! Congratulations!!!

    Just one remark: you are too mild when you say that “the holocaust made the Church consider elements… in its theology that may have contributed to the European Jewish holocaust.”, as in reality the Catholic Church not only contribuited to holocaust through its theology, but also supported it and took no position to stop it… Only some Catholic and Protestant cristians took position against the shame and atrocity of holocaust, putting in danger their own lives…

    Best regards,

  3. Ed Lindgren

    Thank you Eli for your very accurate article “The Jewish New Testament”. May I suggest when translating it is good to have a Lexicon and the early Gospel writers in writing the Gospels translations in Greek mostly from Jewish oral tradition used the Septuagint as their main Lexicon.

  4. Jerry S.

    Just came across this site and will be visiting more often.
    I did not read all the comments, so this might be redundant.
    FYI and enjoyment, “Copernicus and the Jews” – Gruber

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  6. Joshua Egbagbe

    Thanks Dr. Eli & others on the Jewish Roots of Yeshua ha Mashiach, Jesus the Christ. I do sincerely believe it is a most useful exercise. Nevertheless, the key issue, to my mind is the “JEWISH SPIRITUAL MINDSET”, at the time the New Testament was written! Who is “GOD”? Is He a Mystery GOD? Who is “Ha Mashiach”? Is he the High Priest or GOD? Selah!

  7. I don’t know whether it’s just me or if everyone else experiencing problems with your site.

    It appears as though some of the written text on your posts are running off the screen. Can somebody else please provide feedback and let me know if this is happening
    to them too? This may be a problem with my web browser because I’ve had this
    happen previously. Kudos

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      We 20,000 people visit it last 2 days perhaps it was overloaded. Try it now, if the problem persists, try another browser.

  8. José Hélder Saraiva Bacurau

    Shalom! para mim o Novo Testamento, foi escrito em grego por homens que pensavam em Hebraico.
    Escrita grega,mente hebraica.

  9. Dr. Kathleen Oden

    Thank you Dr. Eli, this information was so informative and educational. I am so looking forward to your lectures on the Jewish Background of the New Testament.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Great! See you in class.

  10. RamonAntonio

    Just for clarification. I have re consulted a book I have in Spanish tittled: How did the Bible reach our hands?, a compilation by PEdro Puigvert, Editorial Clie 1999 Spain Biblical Union. This book contains a collection of excellent articles by specialists. Among them a very illuminating one by Pablo E Le Moré, a belgian historian residing in Spain.
    To summarize his excellent work, he explains that the first evidence of Spanish (or what he calls Romance language) biblical materila dates back to 1240 CE. It was a Salterium by HErman the Genrman a direct version of the 69 Psalms of David.. Circa 1250 a Salterium in Catalan by Fray Romeu.
    Then we go to a complete translation of the whole Bible which he deems Castellian Bible PRe Alphonsine (1250-60) which seems to have been a complete rendition based on the Vulgate and before the one by Alphonse X the Wise.
    After that the “Gran e General Estoria in 1280 a paraphrased version of the Vulgate by order of Alphonse X improperly called “Alphonsine Bible”.
    In 1290 the Castelian bible ordered by Alphonse II of Aragon to Jaume de Montjuich. IT contains the 4 Gospels called “Coedz del Palau” published in 1910.
    In the XIV and XV century numerous versions continue to appear. There exist at least 4 versions in the Escorial library. Almost all of them unpublished.
    THis exposition continues so I will make a small article and send it in some days to be completely honest to the reference. I fail to note the influence of Baal Shem Tov that some of you mention although I would need some additional light on this claim.
    However. Inquisition is a Spanish condiment of Catholic Church history concocted mainly in Spain circa 1500 CE originally against own “unauthorized versions” of the Bible itself(mainly Spanish or Romance versions) and then against almost whatever an Inquisitor determined that shouldn’t be whatever it was. SO to speak of influence of Baal in terms of Spanish “publications” of the Bible has to be a very cautious claim for almost anything not orthodox perished under fire.
    THis opens a whole area of investigation for Drs. Eli and Van der berg and the rest of us. The funny thing is if we really want to know the unknown…

    1. Eric Rodríguez



      The problem with translations in many cases is the voluntary or decided ignorance about the historic context and cosmovision of a culture; in the same way are the pre-conceptions and into all these things, the institutionality of religions or human interests; it’s something alike the Media in our days.

      The importance of hebrew and aramaic in this case over Greek, Jewish-Greek, Koiné, etc., consists in the theological and hermeneutical options which can be reached only in these languages since play of words, till technical termology.

      I have noticed how a hebrew word needs two/three words in Greek to be exposed/explained aproximately, but never with the same possibilities of connection with the rest of Bible, so that I believe The Language of the Gospel (which contains the innovation of the covenant Chidush Habrit) is Hebrew and aramaic (for theological purposes).


    2. Guillermo Del Solar

      Thank you Ramon