Mark 7:26

Steven Craig Miller scmiller at
Wed Nov 17 14:49:18 EST 1999

To: Eamonnn White,

<< Hi everybody, "The Jesus Papyrus" by Thiede & D'Ancona, P.117 In an 
effort to prove that Jesus spoke Greek the Authors use the scene where 
Jesus spoke with the Syro-Phoenician woman: Mark 7:26 hH DE GUNH HN 
hELLHNIS  This they translate as "The woman was Greek-speaking" My 
dictionary gives hELLHNISTI as "in the Greek language". My question is : 
Are the Authors correct or is it a 'liberal' rather than a literal 
translation? >>

First of all, you appear to have confused the adverb hELLHNISTI with the 
feminine substantive hELLHNIS. The former does indeed mean "in the Greek 
language," but the latter is merely the feminine form complimenting the 
masculine form hELLHN.

Second, the primary reference to the Greek term hELLHNIS refers to a woman 
of Greek culture and language. At Mark 7:26 scholars have suggested that 
the point of hELLHNIS and the pericope is that this woman was non-Jewish 
and not merely that she spoke in the Greek language, thus the NRSV 
translates: "Now the woman was a Gentile ...", but literally the term means 
that she was "a Greek (woman)."

Third, it is unclear what hELLHNIS is supposed to suggest in this passage. 
As already noted, many scholars think it merely means that she was 
non-Jewish (i.e. Gentile). But Vincent Taylor (1952) claims that "most 
commentators" hold that it describes her "religion." And Robert H. Gundry 
(1993) notes that it might imply that she was "high society." Another 
possibility is that it was meant to imply that she was half-Greek. IMO, the 
term implies that the Greek language was her "mother tongue."

Fourth, even if one took hELLHNIS at Mark 7:26 to imply that Greek was this 
woman's mother tongue, that does not necessarily mean that she didn't know 
some Aramaic also.

Although off-topic for this list, I hope it okay for me to make the 
following brief comment. In 1946 R. O. P. Taylor, in his "The Groundwork of 
the Gospels" (Oxford), put forth the following argument:

<< ... due weight must be given to a primary fact in His education. He 
spent the first years of His life, the years in which He learnt to talk, in 
Egypt, that is to say in a Greek-speaking community >> (91).

If one accepts Matthew's infancy narrative as historical, then this would 
be a strong argument that Jesus knew Greek. Unfortunately, most scholars do 
not hold that Matthew's infancy narrative has much historicity, so Taylor's 
argument falls flat. On the other hand, the liberal Robert W. Funk, in his 
"Honest to Jesus" (1996), holds that Jesus taught in Greek.

-Steven Craig Miller
Alton, Illinois (USA)
scmiller at

"The use of argumentation implies that one has renounced resorting to force 
alone, that value is attached to gaining the adherence of one's 
interlocutor by means of reasoned persuasion, and that one is not regarding 
him [or her] as an object, but appealing to his [or hers] free judgment. 
Recourse to argumentation assumes the establishment of a community of 
minds, which, while it lasts, excludes the use of violence" (Ch. Perelman 
and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca, "The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation," 55).

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