In Acts 6:1 what were the distinguishing differences between the Hellenistic Jews and Hebraic Jews?

The related questions to this passage are:

1) How unfamiliar were the Hellenistic Jews to understanding Aramaic/Hebrew?

2) How able were the Hebraic Jews to understand Greek?

The details of these two related questions are what wasn't specifically addressed when the question was previously asked.

  • Note Acts 6 implies that the twelve apostles were Hebraic Jews, while the names of the seven deacons implies that they are Hellenistic Jews.
    – Perry Webb
    Jan 18, 2018 at 21:19
  • However, I believe Philip is a Greek name, but his brother, Nathanael, definitely has a Hebrew name. Jesus' comment to Nathanael sounds like Nathanael was a Hebraic Jew.
    – Perry Webb
    Jan 18, 2018 at 21:35

2 Answers 2


While it's questionable whether we can come up with a definitive answer to these questions, here is some evidence that at least some of Jesus' (Hebraic Jews) disciples did not know Greek well.

In his Ecclesiastical History III.39, Eusebius preserves writings of Papias, bishop of Hierapolis (AD c. 60–130), in which Papias reports sayings of “the Elder.” There is an ongoing dialogue between scholars about whether “the Elder” is a reference to the apostle John.

The Elder used to say this also: “Mark, having been the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he (Peter) mentioned, whether sayings or doings of Christ, not, however, in order. For he was neither a hearer nor a companion of the Lord; but afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who adapted his teachings as necessity required, not as though he were making a compilation of the sayings of the Lord. So then Mark made no mistake writing down in this way some things as he [Peter] mentioned them; for he paid attention to this one thing, not to omit anything that he had heard, not to include any false statement among them.” (Eusebius, EH, III.39). Papias also comments about the gospel of Matthew: “Matthew recorded the oracles in the Hebrew (i.e., Aramaic) tongue.” (Eusebius, EH, III.39)

McDowell, J., & McDowell, S. (2017). Evidence that demands a verdict: life-changing truth for a skeptical world. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

If Peter used an amanuensis not only to write down his letters but also to translate them, that would explain the difference in the Greek between his two letters if he used different translators. Note the Greek between Peter’s two letters differs enough to cause some to question the authorship of 2 Peter.

While Papias doesn’t specifically say that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew/Aramaic, it does seem to indicate that Matthew’s first notes he used for his gospel were Hebrew/Aramaic.

The Greek in John’s gospel and letters is very simple although he had lived away from Judea for some time. John was probably about 18 when he was with Jesus. If John knew Greek at that time, you would think he would have become more fluent in later life.

Josephus's writing gives some insight about the first-century language in Israel:

I have also taken a great deal of pains to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language, although I have so long accustomed myself to speak our own tongue, that I cannot pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness: (264) for our nation does not encourage those that learn the languages of many nations, and so adorn their discourses with the smoothness of their periods; because they look upon this sort of accomplishment as common, not only to all sorts of freemen, but to as many of the servants as please to learn them.

Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1987). The works of Josephus: complete and unabridged (p. 541). Peabody: Hendrickson.

I have proposed to myself, for the sake of such as live under the government of the Romans, to translate those books into the Greek tongue, which I formerly composed in the language of our country, and sent to the Upper Barbarians; I Joseph, the son of Matthias, by birth a Hebrew, a priest also, and one who at first fought against the Romans myself, and was forced to be present at what was done afterwards, [am the author of this work.]

Ibid., p. 543

This is not a definite answer and doesn’t address the Hellenistic Jews. I would like to see more information related to answering these questions.

Here is Edersheim's answer to the language that Jesus used. Ancient Jewish literature supports his answer.

If Greek was the language of the court and camp, and indeed must have been understood and spoken by most in the land, the language of the people, spoken also by Christ and His Apostles, was a dialect of the ancient Hebrew, the Western or Palestinian Aramaic. It seems strange, that this could ever have been doubted. A Jewish Messiah Who would urge His claim upon Israel in Greek, seems almost a contradiction in terms. We know, that the language of the Temple and the Synagogue was Hebrew, and that the addresses of the Rabbis had to be ‘targumed’ into the vernacular Aramæan—and can we believe that, in a Hebrew service, the Messiah could have risen to address the people in Greek, or that He would have argued with the Pharisees and Scribes in that tongue, especially remembering that its study was actually forbidden by the Rabbis?

Edersheim, A. (1896). The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Vol. 1, pp. 129–130). New York: Longmans, Green, and Co.


This is just an undocumented anecdote in my own days. Years ago the conventional wisdom was that Hebrew had died out by the time John the baptizer had arrived. In recent years that has been pronounced not true and that it didn't die out for another hundred years or so. I only mention that to indicate how difficult of a question this is to answer!

Aramaic is considered a different language but it should be noted that it is more of a dialect of Hebrew. In fact, I believe Aramaic is spoken in Israel but they just call it Hebrew.

Greek was the lingua franca of the empire, soon to be replaced with Latin.

When Paul addressed the Jews in Jerusalem in Hebrew, the crowd grew silent:

[Act 22:2 KJV] 2 (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,)

I surmise that Biblical Hebrew was only used in the study of Torah. Since Paul was highly educated he knew his Hebrew. So they were impressed.

Conventional wisdom says that even a bigoted fisherman would have occasion to interact with Greek speakers and would have had at least a working man's knowledge of Greek. I don't have a clue if Greeks had any reason to learn Hebrew or Aramaic but I strongly doubt it.

We also have occasions of Aramaic being translated into Greek with in the scriptures:

[Rev 9:11 KJV] 11 And they had a king over them, [which is] the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue [is] Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath [his] name Apollyon.

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