Jesus spoke Greek fluently

John W. Burgeson (
04 May 96 11:07:25 EDT

Glenn -- here are some arguments, brief & unedited: Burgy

Did Jesus speak Greek? Some arguments.

1. At the turn of the millennium, Greek was a widespread language, as was Latin.
We know Jesus was an educated person; it is therefore expected that he would
speak these languages, in addition to Aramaic and Hebrew.

2. We know that Jesus travelled to Egypt as a child and was back in Palestine by
the time he was twelve. It is possible that he was partially educated in Egypt,
where the languages of Palestine were not common.

3. The oldest N.T. we have is written in Greek. And the Greek Septuagint
translation of the O.T. was well established by the time of Jesus.

4. Many of the sayings of Jesus refer to the Greek word "aletheia," meaning "the
true, the beautiful & the good." It may also mean "ultimate reality," in the
sense that Plato seems to have used it. To make "aletheia" a translation of some
earlier Aramaic or Hebrew term does not always make sense in context.

5. John 14:15 (and others) refer to a "paraclete," which is a Greek term for an
advocate, a legal counselor in court. This concept did not exist in a Hebrew
court, where "Judges ask, people respond." Many translations translate
"paraclete" as "holy spirit."

6. In many places in John's gospel Jesus makes use of the distinction between
the two Greek words for knowing something, "gnosis," or knowledge through logic
and reason, and "whid," or intuitive perception. For example, John 14:15-23
quotes Jesus as saying, in part, (Greek words in parenthesis) "Yet a little
(micron) and the created order no longer will perceive (whid) me, but you will
perceive (whid) me. Because I am alive you shall be alive. On that day you will
comprehend (gnosis) that I am in my father ... ."

7. The word "agape," meaning a "god-like love" is derived from Plato; it is
actually a pre-illiad term. Nothing like it exists in Aramaic or Hebrew. Or
English, for that matter.

8. In John 18:6, Jesus says to the Jews, "Ego Ami." He repeats that in vs 7. "I
AM WHO I AM." a powerful way of claiming God-ship.

9. A reference to Socrates' hemlock cup in John 18:11. One has to admit that
Jesus seems to have known the Socrates story well, and assumed his listeners
also knew and understood it! Mention Socrates' cup to a random group of today's
"educated" Americans; how many will give you a blank stare? But these people,
all of them, knew the story well enough that Jesus did not need to explain his
literary allusion. Hard to believe he spoke about it in anything else than

10. See John 19:12. The Jews cried out "If you set this one free..." The word
"one" is neuter, not masculine, as a way (in Greek) to show contempt.

(This argument suggests the Jews, at least the officials, also spoke Greek in
public discourse. This is probable.)

11. See John 20:24. The Mar-Thoma church had this story, but not the rest of the
N.T., when they were first encountered in the 18th century by English
missionaries. This argument goes along with the idea that Jesus was
well-travelled, going to India for 6 to 8 years in his 20s, as some writings
found in India seem to assert. If so, he'd have to know world languages, Greek
being the most widely used; Latin the most often used (most people).

12. See John 24:29. The word "blessed" used by Jesus here can be translated how
fortunate" and is quite similar to an Epicurean concept. That concept makes good
sense here.

13. Likely that the "fish story" in John 21 carries a buried pun and led to the
fish as a Xtian symbol.

14. The Peter-Jesus discourse in John 21:15-19.
Jesus: "Do you agape me?"
Peter: "You can perceive (whid) I philia (am bonded) to you."
Jesus: "Do you agape me?"
Peter: "You can perceive (whid) I philia (am bonded) to you."
Jesus: "Are you philia (bonded) to me?
Peter: "You can perceive (whid) everything, so you know (gnosis) that
I philia (am bonded) to you."

This discourse makes good sense in Greek; in translation, something gets lost.

15. The "whid-gnosis" interplay happens all through John's gospel, but
always seems to lose something in translation to English. Or other
languages. Including Aramaic.

16. In Phillipians, Jesus is called the "morpheus" of God, not the "eidos."

17. In Phillipians 4:2 Paul talks of his "lawyerly counsel to Euodia," a concept
foreign to the Hebrews, who did not have "lawyers," much less "para-legal

18. In Phillipians 4:9 the word "beheld" is a Greek word meaning "to see
physically and perceive intellectually."

19. In John 1:32, the text reads "And Johanes has given an attestation..."
(or deposition). This is a legal term, known well to Greek courts; unknown to
the Hebrews.

20. Jesus' words in John 3:16-19 depend greatly on the word "Kosmos" for
"created order." This is an ancient Greek term with rich meanings. But there is
no concept comparable to the Greek notion of Kosmos in early Hebrew, in late
Hebrew, or in Aramaic. Nor are any of the O.T. references to "earth" translated
as "Kosmos" in the Greek Septuagint.

21. The Greek term for "living water" is "running water."

22. The word "sin" is usually the Greek term "hamartia," which means "missing
the mark." A "hamartia" in archery is not just missing the bull's-eye, but
missing the target altogether. Jesus seems to use it often in the sense of
"pointlessness." Going in the wrong direction. Hence the word "repent, which
means "to turn around."

23. John 6:28 "They therefore said to him, "What sort of doings (reckoning)
(life-strategy) must we use...?"

24. The Greek word "daemon" and the Latin word "Genius" are synonyms.
Socrates spoke of "his personal daemon" meaning a spirit that gave him his
genius (he was not a modest man). Jesus said in one of his arguments with the
Jewish officials hat they were accusing him of having a "bad daemon." Hard to
have that conversation in anything else than Greek. See also John 10:19-21. The
Greek term there means "inferior deity" in the sense that Socrates used it.

25. John 8:11. Jesus uses a Greek law-court word here. He does NOT say
"condemned," for that's another Greek word. He uses the legal term for "pass
sentence on."

26. John 8:23. The phrase here is an idiom, going back to the Illiad.

27. "Aletheia," in addition to meaning "the good, the true and the beautiful,"
also means "true reality."

28. In John 8:49-50, Jesus says "I do not seek to frame my own philosophic
opinion (dok/sa)..."

29. Christianity is not a "head game."

30. "Blasphemy" means "to speak mindlessly, lazily."

31. There is a play on words in John 10:38. " the deeds themselves, in
order that you may reach first-order comprehension..." In other words,
"kindergarten level religious trust."

32. Paul was influenced by Stoic teachers and used the Greek language in stoic
patterns. But also the teachings of Jesus as reported by John are framed in
Stoic language.

33. General agreement that John's first letter was strongly influenced by Plato.

34. There is no word for the Greek term "blasphemy" in either Hebrew or Aramaic.
In order to bring a charge of blasphemy against Jesus, the Jews at the Jerusalem
power center would have HAD to speak Greek!

35. Stoic vocabulary spoken by Jesus (it had to be spoken in Greek) may be found
(among other places) in John 11:8-10.

36. One place in John which seems to echo Aramaic thought is in the story of
Lazurus, John 11:17-46.

39. The future is not what it used to be! (joke, son!)

40. Abigail Van Buren's motto:

Different is OK.
Tolerance is essential.
The closest you will ever get to godliness
is standing up for those who are not like you.

Jesus seems to have preached this -- "Two commandments, love God & love
neighbor." But these ideas are not O.T. "mainstream," but are found (at least in
seed form) in Greek thinking of the era.

41. Joseph's profession was "architect-builder," not "carpenter." As such, high
middle class, inplying high educational levels in both the Jewish and secular

All of the above is brief & unedited; musings on the subject one Friday
afternoon. Much of the above comes from the teachings of Dr. Ken Hamstra, an
Austin professor of philosophy, teaching at our church. Ken has good knowledge
of the Greek of the N.T. and Plato's time, as well as Hebrew and some Aramiac.
Also English, German, and probably a few other languages as well.