It’s All Greek to Me

There’s a classic “red herring” often thrown down when you talk about the crucial significance of the Bible. It goes like this: “The Bible can’t be trusted nowadays because it has gone through so many translations that the versions we have today bear no resemblance to what was originally written.” The basic idea is like printing second and third generation Xerox copies of banknotes. That’s a bogus objection of course, but it still keeps cropping up. It’s bogus because our English Bibles aren’t fourth-hand editions from second-hand and third-hand sources, they are all careful first-hand translations from ancient documents written very close to the time of the events they describe.

If we can read those early documents, then we can be very confident that what we have in English represents what God intended for us to read. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew (with a scattering of Aramaic here and there), while the New Testament was given to us in Greek.
You might wonder why the New Testament came to be written in Greek not Hebrew. I’m glad you asked. The reason is found in Alexander the Great, the son of Philip, the king of Macedonia.

In the 400-year period between the ending of the Old Testament and the coming of Christ the world was dominated by a series of great powers. At first the Persians were in control (as became the case towards the end of the Prophet Daniel’s life and also during the times of Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah). Then, in a brief but brilliant career between 336BC and 323BC (just thirteen years!), Alexander subdued the entire known world from Europe through Asia Minor (Turkey) and on across to northern India and Afghanistan. Alexander and his conquering army spoke Greek. So in order to facilitate trade and government, Greek was established as the lingua franca or common tongue for the entire empire. If you wanted to do business anywhere, or rule a province somewhere, you had to work in Greek. Hebrew had always been a provincial language, but now it faded completely from sight. Local Palestinians used the more popular and widespread Aramaic for day-to-day speech (Jesus’ words on the cross – Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani – were spoken in Aramaic).

This situation remained in place even after Greek domination fell apart. Alexander’s death caused his empire to be divided between four of his generals whose descendants squabbled it away piecemeal over the next few generations. Even when the Romans came through to clean up the mess they kept Greek in place as the language of trade and government, although it eventually gave way to Latin.

So by the time of Christ, the Land of the Hebrews was under Roman occupation, but was still conducting its public affairs in Greek and speaking Aramaic at home. The logical choice for a writer with an important message who wanted the widest audience would be Greek. The most important message in the history of the world, the Gospel, was written in Greek thanks to the brilliant career of a young prince from Macedonia. But the success of this pagan Alexander came as no surprise to God. The Prophet Daniel had been given insight into it and had even written about it almost two hundred years before the event!

Copyright © 2014 by Dr Terry Boyle. All rights reserved worldwide.

Posted in Bible.

Dr Terry Boyle serves as Pastor for Insight for Living UK. His ministry involves teaching a weekend radio programme, hosting the weekday Insight for Living broadcast, helping with issues that come in from listeners, and providing a personal and local approach to Chuck Swindoll’s ministry.

Terry was born in Windsor, England. He moved to the United States in 1981. Although he began his professional life as a biochemist, Terry holds a Th.M. in Pastoral Ministry and a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas.

Terry served as senior pastor of Skillman Bible Church in Dallas until he and his family moved back to the UK in 2007, to take on the role of pastor for Insight for Living United Kingdom.

Terry and his wife Rose Ann have been married for twenty seven years, and they have three grown children: Hannah, Emily, and Terence.