The remarks made up to this point have only dealt with one side of the New Testament language, what may be termed the “literary” side. The point we have wished to emphasise is that the vocabulary of this collection of books cannot, with accuracy, be denominated “vulgar,” seeing it possesses so many elements in common with the rest of Greek literature, four-fifths of it being pre-Aristotelian, and a considerable part of the remaining fifth belonging to the literary dialect of the time. These characteristics give it a distinct tone, which marks it as the property of educated men. They elevate it above the usual average of the Septuagint.
On the other hand, there remains a most important element of the New Testament vocabulary to be taken into account, that, in short, which, in addition to its Hebraistic colouring, marks it off as distinct both from the classical language of the great masters and the “Common” dialect of its literary contemporaries. We mean its “Colloquialism.” This also is an element which might be looked for in the language of the New Testament. Its writers, almost without exception, were Jews. Most scholars agree that the vernacular of Palestine, strictly so called, was Aramaic. Greek was current in the country, in some parts more extensively than in others. It would naturally be the language of trade. The very fact that Greek would, in the first place, be acquired by the New Testament writers, entirely severed from Greek education and the influences of Greek culture, must inevitably give to it, on their lips, a particular stamp, and this could only be the colloquial tone which was familiar to them.
After they had known the language for some time, and had settled in some particular district, for example, their vocabulary would or might assume a well-marked colouring, but the original colloquial basis would always remain. An additional reason for this was that they intended their writings to be, in the strictest sense, popular. That was their one aim. They did not appeal to a cultivated circle or to a literary audience. Their public consisted of freedmen, half-educated Asiatics, slaves, poor women, and the like. Thus the essential thing for them was to be intelligible. No writing could be too simple for the readers whom they addressed.
But further, the great bulk of the persons for whom they wrote were either Jews of the Diaspora, or the mixed populations dwelling in the great centres of the new kingdoms which arose at the death of .Alexander. This of itself determined their dialect. But the same public with whom they had to reckon, or, at least, one exactly similar, had, long before, come into possession of a body of literature written by Jews like themselves, and written in the Greek language. The translation of the Old Testament into Greek was an existing fact which proved the possibility of writing for the common people in a speech which they could easily understand. The language used then had been thoroughly vernacular. But Jews had now a more complete mastery of the Greek tongue. A kind of general culture had diffused itself everywhere, and even men of a foreign nation could not be insensible to it.
Besides, the New Testament was not mere hack-work, so to speak. It was the free production of active minds thoroughly absorbed in their subject. This gave them a sort of natural eloquence, which had its effect on their language as well as on their style and tone. Still, their diction was thoroughly popular in character, essentially a spoken language, and not that of books, but yet the language spoken by men of education. This last fact makes it impossible to draw a hard and fast line round the New Testament vocabulary. Nowhere does an immovable barrier stand between it and the “Common” dialect.