On the probability of an early Greek-language tradition behind the Gospels

Professor Allan Bell

It is generally agreed that Jesus presented his teaching in Aramaic, the presumed first language of first-century Palestine. The Gospels are, however, not written in the language of their presentation but in koine Greek. The usual account of their transmission is that the underlying traditions were communicated largely in Aramaic and then translated at a rather late stage into Greek. However, such a narrative does not appear to take into account the sociolinguistic macro-conditions and micro-situations in which the traditions were established and then shared in first-century Palestine. There were fluent Greek speakers among the apostles and wider group of disciples, and the early Church was overwhelmingly Greek-language-dominant from an early stage. The Greek-language tradition therefore probably goes back to retellings in Greek during Jesus’ own lifetime or shortly after. Greek-Aramaic bilinguals will have retold, in Greek, traditions which they had originally heard in Aramaic. Greek-speaking early Christians then passed on those traditions to other Greek speakers. No process of translation was necessary: this was the routine operation of the bilingual mind, verbalizing in one language what had been received in another. Such a sociolinguistic interpretation puts the Greek text of the New Testament in much more direct contact with the teaching of Jesus than is usually assumed. 

About the Speaker:

Prof Allan Bell is Senior Research Fellow, Laidlaw College and Professor Emeritus of Language & Communication, Auckland University of Technology

Where Henderson Campus
When 12:30pm - 1:25pm
Cost FREE & open to the public
RSVP For a link please email [email protected]

About Laidlaw’s Research Seminars

As a part of Laidlaw’s commitment to relevant, gospel-centred, innovative research, the School of Theology faculty hold a Research Seminar on the second Wednesday of each month. The seminars are built around a simple format – one academic presentation followed by critical interaction. During lockdown restrictions, the seminar is presented over Zoom. Anyone is welcome to join us – this could include postgrad students, researchers from other institutions, or any others looking to hear and interact with cutting edge theological and biblical research.  

For the Starleaf link, please email Kerry Gordon E. [email protected]