Question From Caller: Did Jesus Know Greek?

Yesterday, I received a question from a caller on a comment that I had made regarding the language spoken in Jerusalem and surrounding areas.It has once been taught that the Jews in Judea spoke only Hebrew (and maybe a little Latin to communicate with their Roman occupiers) while the Jews of the Diaspora spoke Greek or Latin. From this oversimplification came the two-canon theory of the Old Testament canon. The two-canon theory claimed that Hebrew speaking Jews accepted as Scripture only books written in Hebrew, while the more liberal Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora (especially Alexandria) accepted books written in either Hebrew or Greek. As the theory goes, the Jews in Judea rejected the Deuterocanon because they were written in Greek, while the Jews of the Diaspora accepted it.

The theory had become so widely accepted that by the middle of the twentieth century, it seemed to be an incontestable fact until A.C. Sundberg in his Harvard dissertation dismantled the theory (Albert Sundberg Jr., The Old Testament of the Early Church. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964). By the time of Sundberg’s dissertation many of the assumptions of the two-canon theory have already been debunked. One of them was the distinction made between the Hebrew and Greek speaking Jews upon which the theory relied. Sundberg demonstrates, along with other recent works, that the first century Jerusalem was just as Hellenzed as any other major city in the ancient Middle East. From the discoveries of Greek inscriptions in ancient synagogues in Palestine and other evidence, scholars now believe that there was a very large portion of the population of Judea that knew Greek. Some have even suggested that a few of these synagogues may have used the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament that is often quoted in the New Testament) as their Bible for their Greek-speaking congregations. Therefore, contrary what one may find in the movie The Passion of the Christ, the Jews of Jesus’ day spoke Aramaic (Hebrew) and Greek. In regards to the canon, it now appears that the Jews of the Diaspora were not free-wheeling liberals when it came to the canon. A more likely scenario is that the Jews of the Diaspora followed the example set in Jerusalem for their canon, which contained books written in Hebrew and Greek.

The next time someone tells you that the Deuterocanon can’t be Scripture because the Jews in Jerusalem only knew Hebrew you can help them correct their antiquated understanding. You may also wish to peruse a couple of articles that I have in the Deuterocanon section of my website.

God Inspired Scripture Only In Hebrew

Were There Two Canons in Palestine and Alexandria?

About gmichuta

Gary is a noted Catholic speaker and author. He has given hundreds of parish talks and seminars on apologetics and evangelism. Gary is also the author of several books including, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger: The Untold Story of the Lost Books of the Protestant Bible, The Case for the Deuterocanon: Evidence and Arguments, How to Wolf-proof Your Kids, Making Sense of Mary, etc. For more information books, talks, and CD sets go to: or his official website Gary is a proud member of CGM Booking go to
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