What Were the Original Languages of the New Testament Scriptures? 

By Rick Aharon Chaimberlin, Litt.D.




HILE most of western Christianity holds firmly to the belief that the New Testament was written originally in Greek, millions of Christians in the Eastern Orthodox traditions believe just as fervently that the New Testament (NT) was written originally in Aramaic.

     There can some room for disagreement regarding the original languages of most of the books of the NT. However, it is documented beyond all doubts that the original Gospel by Matthew was written in Hebrew – not Aramaic, and certainly not Greek.

     David Bivin and Roy Blizzard wrote an excellent book called Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus which was published by Makor Foundation, Arcadia CA 91006 © 1983. Bivin & Blizzard presented a considerable amount of extra-biblical evidence for a Hebrew original of the Gospel of Matthew, particularly with quotes from many of the Ante-Nicean “church fathers,” that is, the leaders of the Christian church prior to the Council of Nicea in 325 CE.[1] Bivin and Blizzard provide us with the following quotes from the “church fathers” on pages 45 to 48:

     Eusebius, quoting Papias, Bishop of Hieropolis (mid-second century CE), writes:

“Matthew put down the words of the Lord in the Hebrew language, and others have translated them, each as best he could.” [2]


Irenaeus (120-202 CE) stated:

“Matthew, indeed, produced his Gospel written to the Hebrews in their own dialect.” [3]


Origen (first quarter 4th Century) stated:

“The first (Gospel), composed in the Hebrew language, was written by Matthew … for those who came to faith from Judaism.”[4]


Eusebius, writing in 325 CE, said:

“Matthew had first preached to the Hebrews, and when he was about to go to others also, he transmitted his Gospel in writing in his native language.” [5]


Jerome was very knowledgeable in Hebrew, having translated the Bible (both the Tanakh and the NT) into the Latin translation called the Vulgate. Jerome wrote:

“Matthew was the first in Judea to compose the gospel of Christ in Hebrew letters and words … Who it was that later translated it into Greek is no longer known with certainty. Furthermore, the Hebrew text itself is still preserved in the library at Caesarea which the martyr Pamphilus assembled with great care.” [6]


     The undisputable fact is that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, certainly not in Greek. Bivin and Blizzard in their book go on to make sense of many of Yeshua’s more difficult sayings in light of the fact that Yeshua spoke these sayings in Hebrew, not Greek. Since Yeshua taught in Hebrew to a Hebrew audience, many theological controversies are rendered meaningless when understood against a Hebrew background.

     Many Hebrew idioms are nearly impossible for non-Hebrew speaking persons to understand, much as many English idioms are hard for non-English speaking persons to understand – sayings such as “Hit the ceiling,” “Kill time,” or “Eat your heart out.”

     Bivin and Blizzard are both devout Christians. But as they state regarding the NT: “The writers are Hebrew, the culture is Hebrew, the traditions are Hebrew, the concepts are Hebrew.”

     Back in the 1800’s, some highly educated “intellectuals” got together and decided that the language of Jews in first century “Palestine [7] was Aramaic. Some 5,000 rabbinic parables from that period of time have come down to us, all in Hebrew. Extensive archeological excavations since 1968 have taken place in Israel. No Aramaic inscriptions from the Roman period have been found. As Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Bernard S. Baskas[8] wrote in his article, “The Original Words of Jesus”: “In studying the Greek text of the Christian scriptures, it is clear from the substance, the syntax, and even the mistranslations that it was all written first in Hebrew, and then translated into Greek.”

     Bivin and Blizzard contend that many mistranslations of language, concepts, and idioms can have far-reaching theological ramifications. One example can be found in one of the Beatitudes, rendered as, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” This statement, attributed to Jesus, greatly contributed to the idea that one could gain religious merit by suffering persecution and martyrdom. Bivin and Blizzard believe the original Hebrew word that Yeshua used was radaf, which can mean 1.) ‘pursue’ or ‘chase,’ and 2.) ‘persecute.’ It would make no sense, for instance, to translated Isaiah 51:1 as, “Listen to me you who persecute (radaf) righteousness.” Context forces us to translate it to “…you who pursue righteousness.” Likewise, Yeshua’s words should read, “Blessed are those who pursue righteousness,” which is an exact quote of Torah as found in Deuteronomy 16:20.

     Where I part company with Bivin and Blizzard is that these men then go on to try to reconstruct a Hebrew gospel backwards from the Greek Matthew, which they recognize as a translation which was originally translated from Hebrew. This would be like someone taking this article, translating it into Finnish, and then someone else translating it back into English. This process that Bivin and Blizzard went to is kind of unnecessary, because there already are ancient Hebrew Matthew gospels out there. They end up constructing a “Hebrew Matthew” considerably longer than what we currently have in the Greek. Very strange.

     The great scholar, Hugh J Schonfield, published his B’sorot Matti: An Old Hebrew Text of St. Matthew’s Gospel way back in 1927.[9] He dedicated his book “to my wife and to my fellow-members of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance.” Regretfully, Schonfield became an apostate to the faith in his later years. However, the research and scholarship of his early years were superb. It is all the more impressive because he did it all without the benefits of a computer or the Internet. He also had very little in the way of modern Messianic Jewish scholarship, or even other Jewish believers who observed a pro-Torah lifestyle. 

     Schonfield did his English translation from an ancient Hebrew translation called the “DuTillett” version. The Hebrew manuscript was obtained (stolen?) by Jean DuTillet, Bishop of Brieu. In 1553, Pople Julius III signed a decree banning the Talmud in Rome. Anything that looked like a Talmud was confiscated, that is, anything besides Torah that was written in Hebrew characters. DuTillet, who was visiting Rome at that time, “acquired” this Hebrew manuscript of Matthew, which had been stolen from the Jews. He returned to France with his discovery, where it remains in the Biblioteque Nationale, Paris.

This is also the text that was used by James Scott Trimm in his B’sorot Matti: The Good News According to Matthew.[10] Trimm points out that the genealogy of Yeshua “should contain three sets of 14 names (Mt. 1:17); however, the Greek only contains 13 names in the last set… This discrepancy takes us by surprise, since the text indicates there SHOULD be 14 names. Our Hebrew text, however, DOES contain 14 names in the last list. In verse 13, we see the missing name ‘Avner’ between ‘Avichud’ and ‘Elyakim.’ Since Avner looks in Hebrew similar to Avichud, it is apparent that a careless scribe looked back up to the list and picked up after ‘Avner,’ mistaking it for ‘Avichud.’ This scribal error shows clearly that the Hebrew text came BEFORE the Greek text, which is affected by the later scribal error.”

     Another scholar, George Howard, published The Gospel of Matthew According to a Primitive Hebrew Text.[11] His translation was from the “Shem Tov” Hebrew Matthew, also called the “Even Bohan.” This was a Hebrew Matthew that was preserved in an anti-Christian polemic written by Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben Shaprut in around 1380. Shem-Tob quoted from a Hebrew Matthew which had been preserved from ancient times.

     George Howard, on page x, tells of various other ancient Hebrew Matthews, which are in various libraries, including the British Library in London, Bodleian Library in Oxford, and the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.


There is a saying: “Someone convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Despite the overwhelming evidence, there will be some out there who will reject any idea that any of the books of the NT were originally written in any other language besides Greek. It is perhaps a religious conviction, blindly held to by some, and is somehow a ‘threat’ to their faith to hear of any books of the NT being written originally in any other languages besides Greek.

     This might be a shocker to some, but Jesus and the Apostles did not speak in King James English. The translators who were responsible for the King James Bible are to be commended for the superb job they did. However, it is a translation based on the Greek, which was not the original language in which most of the NT was originally written. For greatest accuracy in understanding the words and intent of the authors of the books of the NT, it can be helpful to obtain translations of the NT based upon the Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts of the NT. I am not about to trash my KJV or my New American Standard translations of the NT. These translations are commendable translations, and they are close to what most English-speaking people are familiar with. However, in my studies, I have occasionally received additional insight from the Hebrew and Aramaic that would not be found in the KJV or NAS.

     It should be noted at this point that for most of the books of the NT, the oldest existing manuscripts are in Aramaic. This does not necessarily mean that the original books of the NT were written in Aramaic; it may simply mean that the Greek manuscripts didn’t fare as well in the damp climates of Europe as did the Aramaic manuscripts of the much dryer Middle East. However, the fact that the oldest NT manuscripts are in Aramaic does lend credibility to the notion that the Aramaic NT predated the Greek NT. Also, Aramaic would be closer to any possible Hebrew originals, and therefore more likely to follow the original intent of the authors of various NT authors. The autograph (or original) manuscripts actually penned by the authors of the NT have long since passed away into oblivion, so all of the ancient manuscripts are hand-written copies of other ancient manuscripts.

You might have noticed that I have written this article in English. The reason for this is because this is the language in which I am most proficient, and it is also the language in which most of the readers are most proficient. While I would like to write this article in Hebrew, my proficiency in Hebrew is not nearly as good as my proficiency in English, and most of our readers wouldn’t be able to read it. Therefore, I wrote it in English.

     It should be noted that the Four Gospels were all penned by Galilean Jews, who lived in northern Israel. Although Hebrew was most certainly the spoken language of Jerusalem and in the rest of Judea, many scholars are of the opinion that Aramaic was the language of the Galilee region. It is highly unlikely that these Galileans spoke Greek, or if they did, they spoke it as a second language. The languages in which they had the highest proficiency would have been Hebrew or Aramaic. In addition to the Gospels, it can be safely assumed that the Book of Revelation, as well as Hebrews, James, and Jude were originally written in either Hebrew or Aramaic, because they were directed to Hebrew or Aramaic speaking audiences. It should be noted that Matthew is the only book of the NT in which extant ancient Hebrew versions are available, although most of the NT books can be found in ancient Aramaic manuscripts.

     The majority of the believers in Yeshua during the First Century CE were Jews and/or converts to Judaism. It is only logical that the writers of the Four Gospels wrote in a language in which they were most proficient, and also by happy coincidence the language that was understood by most of the readers of these Gospel accounts, which would have been Hebrew for the Gospel of Matthew and possibly Aramaic or Hebrew for the other Gospels.

     I am willing to concede that some of the books of the NT might have been written originally in Greek, particularly when they were written to Gentile audiences, such the epistles to the Corinthians or to the Galatians. Greek was still very much an international language, as a result of the Greek conquest of much of southern Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia in the Fourth Century BCE.[12] However, by the time of Yeshua, this same area was now under Roman rule, and Latin was in its ascendancy. Rav Shaul (“Paul”) was a Roman citizen.[13] He was probably proficient in both Greek, and therefore wrote his epistles in Greek to some of the Gentile congregations. However, as a Roman citizen, he was also proficient in Latin, and had spent considerable time in Rome where Latin was the primary language, as well as in Tarsus, where Latin was a second language. It is highly unlikely that Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans in Greek, because almost nobody in Rome would have even understood him. In this case, and this case only, the language would in all likelihood have been written in Latin. Why would Paul write to First Century Italians in Greek if he knew Latin? It’s totally illogical. Perhaps the Latin Vulgate should be preferred for those wanting a better understanding of Rav Shaul’s letter to the Romans.

Aramaic New Testaments

     George Lamsa’s English translation of the Aramaic Bible (both OT & NT) was published by Harper & Row, © 1933. Lamsa follows fairly closely with the KJV, so I don’t know how much this is an actual translation of the Aramaic. Lamsa also follows the book order that we are familiar with in Christian bibles for both the OT and NT, making it familiar to its readers. Lamsa’s translation is based on the Peshitta, which is sort of the “Textus Receptus” [14] of the Syriac church of the east.

     One of the primary advantages of the Aramaic NT is that we don’t have to learn a whole new alphabet. The modern Hebrew alef-bet is actually the Aramaic alphabet. Aramaic is a different language, but is very obviously related to the Hebrew, both being Semitic languages. Abraham came originally from Ur of the Chaldees, and no doubt spoke an ancient version of Aramaic. Hebrew was actually the language of the Canaanites! Quoting the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Judaica,[15] p.247, “Pre-biblical Hebrew was spoken in Canaan before the Israelite conquest.”

     In the Babylonian Captivity beginning about 600 BCE, generations of Jews became more fluent in the Aramaic of their adopted land than they were in the Hebrew of their ancestors. After returning to Israel, many Jews continued speaking Aramaic. However, even among those who returned to Israel and resumed speaking Hebrew, the ancient Hebrew alef-bet fell into disuse, as it has to this day.

     An excellent NT translation was completed by James Trimm, the Hebraic-Roots Version “New Testament.” [16] Some of this volume is word-for-word from other earlier translators. However, it is convenient in that Trimm has assembled the scholarship of many earlier writers in one convenient volume, although he doesn’t always give them credit. I strongly disagree with Trimm in his connections with Kabbalah, much of which is Jewish occult, but occult nonetheless. Nevertheless, I do find Trimm’s NT to be the most useful and readable of any English translation of the Aramaic NT.


     Here is a quote from the Encyclopedia Judaica:

The Language of the New Testament:

Although the language of the New Testament, in the form that it exists, today is Greek, two earlier influences are discernible.

1.) The Influence of the Aramaic-Hebrew Original. Because most of the authors were Jewish Nazarenes, they spoke, for the most part, Aramaic, and some also Mishnaic Hebrew. This influence, which was detectable particularly in the original versions of Mark and Matthew, survives to some degree in their extant Greek versions and in several of the Epistles as well, including James and Jude. The rest of the works were originally written in Greek.

2.) The Septuagint. Since this translation was used by many authors, the NT contains not only Aramaic words and phrases, which the disciples heard from Jesus and took care to remember out of reverence for their master (e.g., Talitha Kumi – Marke 5:41; Kum; Rabboni; and Eli, Eli lama sabachthani – Mat. 27:46), but also expressions and phrases which retain their Hebrew flavor although they were transmitted through the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.


     Trimm’s NT occasionally gives insights that we would never get from a Greek NT. For instance, Acts 11:27-30 (KJV) reads, “And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world, which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea, which also they did, and sent it to the elders by hands of Barnabas and Saul.”

As Trimm points out, this makes no sense. Why would those in Antioch send relief to those in Judea if the famine were to strike the world? They would soon be facing famine themselves.

The solution lies in the fact that the word for world in the Aramaic manuscripts is a’ra, related to the Hebrew word eretz, which can mean world, as in Prov. 19:4, earth, as in Daniel 9:35, or land, as in Daniel 9:15. Even today, the Israeli euphemism HaEretz (“the Land”) is used to mean not “the world,” but “the Land (of Israel).” Therefore, the good folks at Antioch were happy to send aid to Judea, because they themselves were not going to be afflicted by the famine.

Another difficult passage is Matthew 26:6. “And when Jesus was in Bethany, at the house of Simon the leper…” According to Leviticus 13:46, “lepers” were not permitted to live in the city. Since ancient Hebrew and Aramaic were written without vowels, there was no distinction in spelling between the Aramaic gar’ba (leper) and garaba (jar merchant). As Trimm points out, in the very next verse (Mat. 26:7), a woman pours oil from a “jar.” It is apparent that Simon was a jar merchant, and not a leper.

Trimm’s NT is the most useful of all the various translations of the Aramaic NT. For one thing, it is highly readable. Previously, I purchased one English translation of the Aramaic called The Aramaic New Covenant © 1996, published by Exegesis Bibles. It was so literal as to be completely unreadable, whereas Trimm’s translation is very readable. Trimm’s notes alone are almost worth the cost of purchasing his NT. They contain a wealth of information. But the notes (and footnotes) are in tiny fonts that are very difficult to read.

There are many Hebrew-Aramaic idioms used in the NT, such as when Miriam (“Mary”) was told by the angel that she would become pregnant with a baby who would be known as “the Son of the Most High.” She protested, saying, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” That sounds foolish in English, but makes perfect sense in Hebrew. In English, I can say that I know Martha, and it just means that I am acquainted with her. However, in Hebrew idiom, to say that you know someone means that you have known them intimately, that is, carnal knowledge. When Miriam said, “I know not a man (Luke 1:34),” it was her way of saying she was a virgin. In this case, the Greek NT literally translated the Hebrew original, which was in turn literally translated by the KJV translators.

These are only a few of many instances in which it is self-evident that the original languages of most books of the NT were Aramaic or Hebrew. Aramaic continued to be popular among Jews for several centuries, since it also was a sort of lingua franca (or international language) in the ancient world. In the Talmud, the Mishna (commentary on Torah) was written in Hebrew. However, the Gemara (commentary on the Mishna) was written in Aramaic. In fact, the word Gemara is an Aramaic term meaning “completion.” Many other Rabbinic works were also done in Aramaic, including some prayers such as the Kaddish. Also, the wedding Ketubahs are also written in Aramaic. Aramaic has become a Jewish language!

I’m not knocking the Greek. It is certainly more precise than the Hebrew, and can add to some additional understanding of the text. But ancient Greek is even more complex than biblical Hebrew, more like Latin. It’s amazing that people actually spoke such difficult languages. It’s Greek to me! I don’t understand it.

One of the greatest dangers of the Greek language is that the study of Greek often leads to Greek thought patterns, and to study of Greek philosophy and theology, which are often very contrary to a Hebrew mindset, and contrary to the God of the Scripture that we have come to know in the Tanakh and the NT. Even if some books of the NT might have been written originally in Greek, we need to understand them as they were written, from someone with a Hebrew mindset, not a Greek mindset. The Greek gods were fickle and unpredictable, whereas YHWH – the God of the Bible – never changes. As Malachi 3:6 states, “For I am YHWH, I change not…” The Greek mindset has brought in such “heresies” as Replacement Theology and Dispensational Theology. We need to get back to the original intent of the Scriptures, to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We need to know Yeshua, our Jewish Messiah, not the Greek god he has been turned into by much of Christendom.               

[1] “Common Era,” the Jewish equivalent to “A.D.”

[2] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History III 39, 16.

[3] Ibid., V 8, 2.

[4] Ibid., VI 25, 4

[5] Ibid., III 24, 6

[6] Ve Viris Inlustribus 3.

[7] We hasten to add, there was no nation called Palestine in the First Century. It was called “Israel.” However, after Israel’s defeat in the failed Bar Kochba Revolt in 135 CE, the Romans renamed Israel as “Palestina,” a reference to Israel’s ancient enemy – the Philistines.

[8] Rabbi Raskas is Rabbi-Emeritus of the Temple of Aaron, St. Paul MN.

[9] Published by T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, Scotland.

[10] © 1990, PO Box 471; Hurst TX 76053.

[11] © 1987, Mercer University Press, Macon GA 31207.

[12] “Before Common Era,” equivalent to “B.C.”

[13] Acts 21:39.

[14] I use this term somewhat tongue-in-cheek. The “Textus Receptus” is the text that was used by the King James translators, and favored by many Fundamentalist Christians today.

[15] Keter Publishing House, Jerusalem Ltd.

[16] © 2001, PO Box 471; Hurst TX 76053.