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What Language Did Jesus Speak?

What Language Did Jesus Speak?


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While scholars generally agree that Jesus was a real historical figure, debate has long raged around the events and circumstances of his life as depicted in the Bible.

In particular, there’s been some confusion in the past about what language Jesus spoke, as a man living during the first century A.D. in the kingdom of Judea, located in what is now the southern part of Palestine.

WATCH: Jesus: His Life in HISTORY Vault

The issue of Jesus’ preferred language memorably came up in 2014, during a public meeting in Jerusalem between Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and Pope Francis, during the pontiff’s tour of the Holy Land. Speaking to the pope through an interpreter, Netanyahu declared: “Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew.”

Francis broke in, correcting him. “Aramaic,” he said, referring to the ancient Semitic language, now mostly extinct, that originated among a people known as the Aramaeans around the late 11th century B.C. As reported in the Washington Post, a version of it is still spoken today by communities of Chaldean Christians in Iraq and Syria.

“He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew,” Netanyahu replied quickly.

News of the linguistic disagreement made headlines, but it turns out both the prime minister and the Pope were likely right.

READ MORE: What Did Jesus Look Like?

Jesus Was Likely Multilingual

Most religious scholars and historians agree with Pope Francis that the historical Jesus principally spoke a Galilean dialect of Aramaic. Through trade, invasions and conquest, the Aramaic language had spread far afield by the 7th century B.C., and would become the lingua franca in much of the Middle East.

In the first century A.D., it would have been the most commonly used language among ordinary Jewish people, as opposed to the religious elite, and the most likely to have been used among Jesus and his disciples in their daily lives.

But Netanyahu was technically correct as well. Hebrew, which is from the same linguistic family as Aramaic, was also in common use in Jesus’ day. Similar to Latin today, Hebrew was the chosen language for religious scholars and the holy scriptures, including the Bible (although some of the Old Testament was written in Aramaic).

Jesus likely understood Hebrew, though his everyday life would have been conducted in Aramaic. Of the first four books of the New Testament, the Gospels of Matthew and Mark records Jesus using Aramaic terms and phrases, while in Luke 4:16, he was shown reading Hebrew from the Bible at a synagogue.

Alexander the Great Brought Greek to Mesopotamia

In addition to Aramaic and Hebrew, Greek and Latin were also common in Jesus’ time. After Alexander the Great’s conquest of Mesopotamia and the rest of the Persian Empire in the fourth century B.C., Greek supplanted other tongues as the official language in much of the region. In the first century A.D., Judea was part of the eastern Roman Empire, which embraced Greek as its lingua franca and reserved Latin for legal and military matters.

As Jonathan Katz, a Classics lecturer at Oxford University, told BBC News, Jesus probably didn’t know more than a few words in Latin. He probably knew more Greek, but it was a common language among the people he spoke to regularly, and he was likely not too proficient. He definitely did not speak Arabic, another Semitic language that did not arrive in Palestine until after the first century A.D.

So while Jesus’ most common spoken language was Aramaic, he was familiar with—if not fluent, or even proficient in—three or four different tongues. As with many multilingual people, which one he spoke probably depended on the context of his words, as well as the audience he was speaking to at the time.

READ MORE: The Bible Says Jesus Was Real. What Other Proof Exists?


Aramaic language

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Aramaic language, Semitic language of the Northern Central, or Northwestern, group that was originally spoken by the ancient Middle Eastern people known as Aramaeans. It was most closely related to Hebrew, Syriac, and Phoenician and was written in a script derived from the Phoenician alphabet.

Aramaic is thought to have first appeared among the Aramaeans about the late 11th century bce . By the 8th century bce it had become accepted by the Assyrians as a second language. The mass deportations of people by the Assyrians and the use of Aramaic as a lingua franca by Babylonian merchants served to spread the language, so that in the 7th and 6th centuries bce it gradually supplanted Akkadian as the lingua franca of the Middle East. It subsequently became the official language of the Achaemenian Persian dynasty (559–330 bce ), though after the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek displaced it as the official language throughout the former Persian empire.

Aramaic dialects survived into Roman times, however, particularly in Palestine and Syria. Aramaic had replaced Hebrew as the language of the Jews as early as the 6th century bce . Certain portions of the Bible —i.e., the books of Daniel and Ezra—are written in Aramaic, as are the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. Among the Jews, Aramaic was used by the common people, while Hebrew remained the language of religion and government and of the upper class. Jesus and the Apostles are believed to have spoken Aramaic, and Aramaic-language translations (Targums) of the Old Testament circulated. Aramaic continued in wide use until about 650 ce , when it was supplanted by Arabic.

In the early centuries ce , Aramaic divided into East and West varieties. West Aramaic dialects include Nabataean (formerly spoken in parts of Arabia), Palmyrene (spoken in Palmyra, which was northeast of Damascus), Palestinian-Christian, and Judeo-Aramaic. West Aramaic is still spoken in a small number of villages in Syria.

East Aramaic includes Syriac, Mandaean, Eastern Neo-Assyrian, and the Aramaic of the Babylonian Talmud. One of the most important of these is Syriac, which was the language of an extensive literature between the 3rd and the 7th century. Mandaean was the dialect of a gnostic sect centred in lower Mesopotamia. East Aramaic is still spoken by a few small groups of Jacobite and Nestorian Christians in the Middle East. See also Syriac language.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Noah Tesch, Associate Editor.


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What Language Did Jesus Speak? - HISTORY

Question:
I have been searching for an explanation of why the New Testament was written in Greek instead of Hebrew. Can you guide me to an answer or even tell me the answer? Thanks, Glenn

Answer:
Glenn, sorry it has taken me so long to respond to you. I set out doing research about this topic but was having trouble finding the time or appropriate resources to do so. Logically (for a number of reasons), to me it only makes sense that the New Testament was written in Greek. Think of who Paul was: the "Apostle to the Gentiles". Obviously he was writing to Greek speaking people, so he would write to them in Greek. There are more reasons, but this is an obvious one. I just ran across this article by William F. Dankenbring. It was written regarding 'the names of God', but chapters 2 and 3 addressed the matter of the New Testament being written in Greek ('Did Jesus and the Apostles Speak Greek?' and ' Was the New Testament Originally Written in Hebrew?') I included those two chapters at the end of this email. If you want to see a more nicely formatted version, or read the whole article, it can be found at: http://hope-of-israel.org/newlksnm.htm.

For a related topic, you may also want to read a paper I wrote on "The Evidence from History and the Gospels that Jesus Spoke Greek."

(Please note that this article was originally written to disprove the thought that the only true name of God is the correctly pronounced Hebrew form of that name. Therefore, some of his language gets pretty polemic at times. I post it here mainly for the documentation regarding Greek being the original the language of the New Testament.)

Below is chapter two and three from article entitled, "" by William F. Dankenbring. The entire article can be found at : http://hope-of-israel.org/newlksnm.htm. The article is quite long choose a link below to go to that particular paragraph:

Did Jesus and the Apostles Speak Greek?

Several sects and churches claim that Jesus Christ and
the apostles only spoke Hebrew or Aramaic, and that
the original monographs of the New Testament were all
written in Hebrew, and later translated into Greek. They
consider Greek to be a pagan language. What is the real
truth of the matter? Did Jesus speak Greek?

The September-October 1992 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review contains several fascinating articles which bear heavily on the questions posed for this article. For centuries, scholars have believed -- assumed -- that very few Jews of the first century spoke Greek. They have believed, and taught, that ancient Judea was a "backwater" area of the Roman Empire, and the people were ignorant as a whole of the Greek language, although it is admitted that Greek was the "lingua franca" and "language of commerce" throughout the Roman Empire.

Today, however, new archaeological discoveries have undermined the speculations of scholars and brought into clear light the fact that Greek was well known among the Jews, especially the priesthood, leadership class, and the merchant class. In particular, Greek was well understood in "Galilee of the Gentiles," the region where Jesus Christ of Nazareth was raised, and grew up as a young lad. There is no doubt, therefore, that Jesus and the original apostles all spoke Greek -- commonly, as a "second language."

Evidence from Caiaphas' Tomb

First, let us explore the recent findings in Jerusalem of the actual tomb of Caiaphas, the high priest who condemned Christ. Astonishing as it seems, the burial cave of the Caiaphas family was found, in Jerusalem, by "accident" -- the family of one of the priests who presided at the trial of Jesus. Workers building a water park in 1990 accidentally uncovered an ancient burial cave, underneath what is now a stretch of road in Jerusalem's Peace Forest. The surrounding area was used as an ancient necropolis during the late Second Temple period (first century B.C.- first century A.D.).

In the burial cave, archaeologists found twelve ossuaries, including one decorated with two six-petaled rosettes within concentric circles. The bone box displays a fluted column on a stepped base and topped by an Ionic capital. Inscriptions on two of the ossuaries found here indicate that this was the burial chamber of the Caiaphas family, and one of the ossuaries may well have contained the bones of the high priest who handed Jesus Christ over to the Romans and Pontius Pilate, after interrogating Him (see Matt.26:57-68).

Writes Zvi Grenhut, archaeologist involved in the discovery and identification of the site, "Reburial in ossuaries appears mainly at the end of the first century B.C.E. and in the first century C.E. Reburial in an ossuary was rare in Jewish tombs after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E." The archaeologist continues:

"But the most exceptional and significant finds were the two ossuaries that, for the first time in an archaeological context, contained a form of the name Qafa', or Caiaphas, a name known to us from both the New Testament and from the first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus . . . Suffice it to say that the form(s) of the name Caiaphas inscribed on these ossuaries is probably the same as that of the well-known family of high priests, one of whom presided at Jesus' trial" ("Burial Cave of the Caiaphas Family," BAR, Sept.-Oct. 1992, p.32-35).

One of the ossuaries is simply inscribed "Qafa" (ka-FA). On one the name is more complete -- "Yehosef bar Qayafa" and "Yehosef bar Qafa" (Joseph son of Caiaphas). The ossuary with the more complete forms of the name is the most beautiful one, decorated with a rare and intricate pattern. Says Greenhut:

"There is no doubt that this ossuary is special. Its elaborate decoration must have something to do with the name(s) inscribed on it. Could this be the ossuary of the high priest who presided at Jesus' trial?

"Inside this ossuary, we found bones from six different people: two infants, a child between two and five, a young boy between 13 and 18, an adult woman -- and a male of about 60 years!" (ibid., p.35).

Very few of the people mentioned in the pages of the Bible have been proved to have existed by means of archaeological evidence. Therefore, the discovery of the name of Caiaphas, the high priest who lived in Jesus' time, is of astonishing and paramount importance. It verifies a vital element of the story of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ -- the very existence of the high priest who was the head of the Sanhedrin at that very time. Though the New Testament refers to the high priest by the single name "Caiaphas," the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus refers to him as "Joseph who was called Caiaphas of the high priesthood." "

A person named Joseph with the nickname Caiaphas was the high priest in Jerusalem between 18 and 36 C.E.," writes Ronny Reich, in a companion article in the same issue of BAR (see "Caiaphas Name Inscribed on Bone Boxes," p.41). In the New Testament he is simply called "Caiaphas" (Matt.26:3, 57 Luke 3:2 John 11:49, 18:13-14,24,28 Acts 4:6).

Most Jewish Funerary Inscriptions in GREEK!

In the next article in the same issue of Biblical Archaeological Review, the author, Pieter W. Van Der Horst, points out that no less than 1,600 Jewish epitaphs -- funerary inscriptions -- are extant from ancient Palestine dating from 300 B.C. to 500 A.D. The geographical spread of these inscriptions reveal that Jews were living all over the world at that time, especially the Roman period. In other words, when Jesus' brother James said in Acts 15, "Moses has been preached in every city for generations past and is read in the synagogues on every sabbath" (v.21), he was simply stating the truth. Peter, in his first sermon, enumerates a list of the countries from which Jews came to worship on that first Pentecost of the newly formed Christian Church (Acts 2:9-11).

"One of the most surprising facts about these funerary inscriptions is that most of them are IN GREEK -- approximately 70 percent about 12 percent are in Latin and only 18 percent are in Hebrew or Aramaic.

"These figures are even more instructive if we break them down between Palestine and the Diaspora. Naturally in Palestine we would expect more Hebrew and Aramaic and less Greek. This is true, but not to any great extent. Even in Palestine approximately TWO-THIRDS of these inscriptions are in GREEK.

"APPARENTLY FOR A GREAT PART OF THE JEWISH POPULATION THE DAILY LANGUAGE WAS GREEK, EVEN IN PALESTINE. This is impressive testimony to the impact of Hellenistic culture on Jews in their mother country, to say nothing of the Diaspora.

"In Jerusalem itself about 40 PERCENT of the Jewish inscriptions from the first century period (before 70 C.E.) ARE IN GREEK. We may assume that most Jewish Jerusalemites who saw the inscriptions in situ were able to read them" ("Jewish Funerary Inscriptions -- Most Are in Greek," Pieter W. Van Der Horst, BAR, Sept.-Oct.1992, p.48).

These are shocking statements to all who have believed, and taught, that the Jews as a whole were ignorant of Greek during the time of Christ! Obviously, Judea was not a "backwater" and "boorish" part of the Roman Empire, but a most sophisticated and cultivated part. In fact, the Jewish Temple was acknowledged to be the finest building structure throughout the whole Empire! The Jewish people, because of their widespread dispersion in the Empire, for business and commercial purposes, mainly, spoke Greek rather fluently -- and this knowledge and usage of Greek was also common throughout Judea, as this new "funerary inscription" evidence attests!

This really should not be surprising at all. The Greek influence in Judea had grown very significantly since the days of Alexander the Great, circa 330 B.C. By the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, circa 168-165 B.C., Hellenism had become very strong, and many of the high priests had become "Hellenists," leading to the Maccabean revolt. In successive generations, the Greek influence never abated, particularly among the business, commercial and priestly crowd. Many of the priests, being Sadducees, were greatly influenced by Greek culture and contact.

Writes Van Der Horst further:

"The great rabbi Judah ha-Nasi, the compiler of the Mishnah (a collection of Jewish oral law) in about 200 C.E., was buried in Beth She-arim the majority of pious Jews who wanted to be buried with him at Beth She-arim had their funerary inscriptions written in Greek.

"This is not to say Hebrew and Aramaic ever died out completely as languages for the Jews. Especially in the eastern Diaspora, Jews continued to speak a Semitic language. But IN THE FIRST FIVE CENTURIES OF THE COMMON ERA, exactly the period when rabbinic literature was being written in Hebrew and Aramaic, A MAJORITY OF THE JEWS IN PALESTINE and the western Diaspora SPOKE GREEK" (ibid., p.48-54).

All of this is very interesting, of course. But what about Jesus Christ, and the disciples? Did Jesus also use Greek, commonly, in speaking to the people of Judea? For centuries, theologians and scholars have assumed that He only spoke Hebrew or Aramaic. However, this assumption now seems to be far off the mark!

Jesus and the Disciples Spoke Greek!

Another article in the very same issue of BAR discusses this very issue. The author, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, points out that there is no doubt Jesus spoke Aramaic. He shows that although a form of Aramaic was "the dominant language, it was not the only language spoken in Palestine at that time." He continues:

"The Dead Sea scrolls reveal that a TRILINGUALISM EXISTED IN PALESTINE in the first and second century of the Christian era. In addition to Aramaic, some Jews also spoke Hebrew or Greek -- or both. Different levels of Jewish society, different kinds of religious training and other factors may have determined who spoke what" ("Did Jesus Speak Greek?", same issue of BAR, p.58).

During the Babylonian captivity, many Jews came to use Aramaic as their first language, a sister language closely akin to Hebrew. Although Hebrew continued in use in the Temple, and the emerging synagogues, Aramaic was the common language of the people during the time of Christ. The majority of the people apparently did not fully understand Hebrew, for the custom arose to have an Aramaic translation read of the Hebrew Scriptures, following the reading in Hebrew, in all the synagogues. These readings and interpretations were done by a person called the meturgeman. In time, they were written down and were called targumin.

But what about Greek? Says Fitzmyer:

"Greek, of course, was in widespread use in the Roman empire at this time. Even the Romans spoke Greek, as inscriptions in Rome and elsewhere attest. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that THAT GREEK WAS ALSO IN COMMON USE AMONG THE JEWS OF PALESTINE. The Hellenization of Palestine began even before the fourth-century B.C. conquest by Alexander the Great. Hellenistic culture among the Jews of Palestine spread more quickly after Alexander's conquest, especially when the country was ruled by the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV Epiphanes (second century B.C.), and later under certain Jewish Hasmonean and Herodian kings" (p.59).

A reference to Greek-speaking Jews is found clearly in the book of Acts. In Acts 6:1 certain early Christians in Jerusalem are spoken of as being "Hellenists." The King James Version says, "And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians (Hellenistai) against the Hebrews (Hebraioi), because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration" (Acts 6:1). Who were these Hellenists or "Greeks"? The term applies to Greek-speaking Jews, in whose synagogues Greek was spoken, and where undoubtedly the Septuagint Scriptures were commonly used. This is verified in Acts 9:29 where we read: "And he (Saul, whose name was later changed to Paul) spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians . . ." The "Grecians" or "Hellenists" were the Greek-speaking Jews, who had their own synagogues, even in Jerusalem.

"Such Hellenistai may have spoken very little, if any, Hebrew or Aramaic. This is suggested by a reference in Philippians 3:5 where Paul stoutly refers to himself as 'a Hebrew of the Hebrews.' Paul also spoke Greek. Thus Hellinistai as C. F. D. Moule has suggested probably is the designation of those Jerusalem Jews or Jewish Christians who habitually spoke only Greek (and for that reason were more affected by Hellenistic culture), whereas Hebraioi designated those Greek-speaking Jews and Jewish Christians who also spoke a Semitic language, probably Aramaic, which they normally used" (ibid., p.60).

What about Jesus Christ, and the apostles? Did they, too, commonly speak Greek as a "second language"?

"The answer is almost certainly yes. The more difficult question, however, is whether he taught in Greek. Are any of the sayings of Jesus that are preserved for us only in Greek nevertheless in the original language in which he uttered them?

"That Aramaic was the language Jesus normally used for both conversation and teaching seems clear. Most New Testament scholars would agree with this. But did he also speak Greek? The evidence already recounted for the use of Greek in first-century Palestine provides the background for an answer to this question. But there are more specific indi- cations in the Gospels themselves.

"All four Gospels depict Jesus conversing with Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judea, at the time of his trial (Mark 152-5 Matthew 27:11-14 Luke 23:3 John 18:33- 38). Even if we allow for obvious literary embellishment of these accounts, there can be little doubt that Jesus and Pilate did engage in some kind of conversation . . . In what language did Jesus and Pilate converse? There is no mention of an interpreter. Since there is little likelihood that Pilate, a Roman, would have been able to speak either Aramaic or Hebrew, the obvious answer is that JESUS SPOKE GREEK at his trial before Pilate" (p.61).

Similarly, when Jesus conversed with the Roman centurion, a commander of a troop of Roman soldiers, the centurion most likely did not speak Aramaic or Hebrew. It is most likely that Jesus conversed with him in Greek, the common language of the time throughout the Roman empire (see Matt.8:5-13 Luke 7:2-10 John 4:46-53). A royal official of Rome, in the service of Herod Antipas, a Gentile, would most likely spoken with Jesus in Greek.

In addition, we find that Jesus journeyed to the pagan area of Tyre and Sidon, where He spoke with a Syro-Phoenician woman. The Gospel of Mark identifies this woman as Hellenes, meaning a "Greek" (Mark 7:26). The probability is, therefore, that Jesus spoke to her in Greek.

Even more remarkable, however, is the account in John 12, where we are told: "And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus" (John 12:20-21). These men were Greeks, and most likely spoke Greek, which Philip evidently understood, having grown up in the region of Galilee, not the back-water region many have assumed, but "Galilee of the Gentiles" (Matt.4:15) -- a place of commerce and international trade, where Greek would have been the normal language of business.

Having grown up in Galilee, it is evident that Jesus and His disciples must have spoken Greek, whenever it suited their purpose to do so. Declares Fitzmyer:

"Moreover, these specific instances in which Jesus apparently spoke Greek are consistent with his Galilean background. In Matthew 415, this area is referred to as 'Galilee of the Gentiles.' Growing up and living in this area, Jesus would have had to speak some Greek. Nazareth was a mere hour's walk to Sepphoris and in the vicinity of other cities of the Decapolis. Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, was built by Herod Antipas the population there, too, was far more bilingual than in Jerusalem.

"Coming from such an area, JESUS would NO DOUBT HAVE SHARED THIS DOUBLE LINGUISTIC HERITAGE. Reared in an area where many inhabitants were GREEK- SPEAKING GENTILES, Jesus, the 'carpenter' (tekon, Mark 6:3), like Joseph, his foster- father (Matthew 13:55), would have had to deal with them in GREEK. Jesus was not an illiterate peasant and did not come from the lowest stratum of Palestinian society he was a skilled craftsman. He is said to have had a house in Capernaum (Mark 2:15). He would naturally have conducted business in Greek with gentiles in Nazareth and neighboring Sepphoris" (ibid.).

Did Jesus also, therefore, teach in Greek? Were many of His parables and saying actually uttered in the Greek language?

If the answer is yes, as A. W. Argyle says, "We may have direct access to the original utterances of our Lord and not only to a translation of them."

The Language of Jesus

In the time of Christ, three languages figured prominently in the lives of the people of Judaea -- the common language of Aramaic, the language of Hebrew, used in the synagogues, and the Greek language -- which was commonly spoken and understood throughout the Roman Empire.

Some Aramaic words and expressions are preserved in the Gospels, such as Talitha cum, which means, "Little girl, get up!" (Mark 5:41). Also, Abba ("Father" Mark 14:36 Gal.4:6 Rom.8:15) Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" Mark 15:34) Cephas ("Peter" John 1:42) Mammon ("Wealth" Matt.6:24, RSV) Raca ("Fool" Matt.5:22, RSV). In fact, we can be specific and say that Jesus spoke a Galilean version of "western Aramaic," which differed from that which was spoken in Jerusalem (Matt.26:73 compare Acts 2:7).

Jesus could also read and speak Hebrew. The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls has proved that Hebrew was used quite extensively in certain circles, especially for religious purposes. Jesus stood up and read the Hebrew Scriptures in the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-20), showing He could also read and speak Hebrew. Some Hebrew words are also preserved in the gospels, such as, Ephphatha ("Be opened" Mark 7:34) Amen ("Amen": Matt.5:26 Mark 14:30, RSV).

Writes Robert H. Stein, in Jesus The Messiah: A Survey of the Life of Christ:

"The third major language spoken in Palestine was Greek. The impact of Alexander the Great's conquests in the fourth century B.C. resulted in the Mediterranean's being a 'Greek sea' in Jesus' day. In the third century Jews in Egypt could no longer read the Scriptures in Hebrew, so they began to translated them into Greek. This famous translation became known as the Septuagint (LXX). Jesus, who was reared in 'Galilee, of the Gentiles,' lived only three or four miles from the thriving Greek city of Sepphoris. There may even have been times when he and his father worked in this rapidly grow- ing metropolitan city, which served as the capital city of Herod Antipas until A.D. 26, when he moved the capital to Tiberias" (Jesus the Messiah: A Survey of the Life of Christ, Robert H. Stein, InterVarsity Press,, 1996, p.87).

Stein further tells us that the existence of "Hellenists" in the early Church (Acts 6:1-6) implies that from the beginning of the Church, there were Greek speaking Jewish Christians in the Church. The term "Hellenists" suggests their language was Greek, rather than their cultural or philosophical outlook. Remember, these were Jewish Christians whose primary language was Greek -- they were not Greek philosophers or their followers, but followers of Christ Jesus.

Stein goes on to explain, further:

"Two of Jesus' disciples were even known by their Greek names: Andrew and Philip. In addition, there are several incidents in Jesus' ministry when he spoke to people who knew neither Aramaic nor Hebrew. Thus unless a translator was present (though none is ever mentioned), their conversations probably took place in the Greek language. Probably Jesus spoke Greek during the following occasions: the visit to Tyre, Sidon and the Decapolis (Mark 7:31ff), the conversation with the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30 compare especially 7?26) and the trial before Pontius Pilate (Mark 15:2-15 compare also Jesus' conversation with the 'Greeks' in John 12:20-36)" (p.87, emphasis all mine).

The fact that Jesus Christ and the disciples all knew and spoke Greek, as a "third language," in addition to Aramaic and Hebrew, is also indicated and supported by the fact that all the gospels and epistles of the New Testament are written and preserved in the Greek language.

Stop and think! It is very significant that no early Christian documents are extant in Aramaic! ALL the earliest New Testament documents and fragments are in Greek! Papias, a second-century bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor stated that Matthew had put together the "sayings" of Jesus in the Hebrew dialect, Aramaic. But no one has ever seen them. All we have are GREEK manuscripts, and as far back as we go, GREEK is the language of the New Testament! Strange, isn't it, that not one manuscript in Aramaic or Hebrew predates the Greek?

Earliest New Testament Fragments in GREEK!

Scholars have long denied the veracity of the New Testament Scriptures, claiming that the earliest gospels were not eye-witness accounts of Christ and His life, but were written some one hundred years afterward, or about the middle of the second century, and were based on hearsay, myth, fable, and oral stories which had been passed down. Thus many scholars have regarded the very words of Christ, as recorded in the gospels, as "suspect."

Astonishing as it may seem, however, bits of papyrus in an Oxford University library puts the lie to the cherished theories of unbelieving, skeptical scholars! Three scraps of text of the gospel of Matthew, inscribed in Greek, have traditionally been believed to have been written in the late second century. But German papyrus expert Carsten Thiede has published a paper arguing that these fragments kept at Oxford's Magdalen College very likely represent an actual EYE WITNESS ACCOUNT of the life of Jesus!

The London Times reported that the evidence on an early form of writing paper was a potentially "important breakthrough in biblical scholarship, on a level with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947" (Los Angeles Times, Dec.25, 1994, "Gospel Fragments in Britain May Be Contemporary Account of Life of Jesus Christ, p.A42).

Some scholars have questioned the accuracy of the New Testament as historical, believing that the earliest texts were written long after the actual events described. However, careful new analysis by Professor Thiede has dated the fragments to the middle of the first century, thereby indicating that they are evidence that the Matthew Gospel was written only a generation after the crucifixion, or even earlier! Says William Tuohy of the Los Angeles Times, "Parts of the New Testament may have been written by men who actually knew Christ, rather than authors recounting a 2nd-Century version of an oral tradition."

The Magdalen fragments have been at the Oxford college since 1901. Little work has been done on them since 1953 when they were last edited by biblical scholars. But earlier this year, Thiede visited Oxford and inspected the papyrus. He concluded,

"The Magdalen fragment now appears to belong to a style of handwriting that was current in the 1st Century A.D., and that slowly petered out around the mid-1st Century. Even a hesitant approach to questions of dating would therefore seem to justify a date in the 1st Century, about 100 years earlier than previously thought."

The lines on the fragments are from Matthew 26 and include the oldest written reference to Mary Magdalene and the betrayal of Christ by Judas. This fragment, written soon after the death of Christ, in the first century, is written in the Greek language, putting in the trash compacter once and for all the notion that the apostles did not speak or write Greek!

This new discovery by Professor Carsten Thiede, a papyrus expert, will provoke controversy among scholars, if not even dismay and consternation on the part of disbelievers and skeptics. His discovery is strong evidence that the gospel accounts regarding the life of Jesus Christ are accurate, and reliable historical documents.

The Magdalene fragment from the Gospel of Matthew has been identified as coming from a document dated to the middle of the first century A.D. -- during the very lives of the apostles! This fragment is written in GREEK, and could even be a fragment from an original monograph written by the apostle Matthew himself! This amazing new discovery is powerful evidence, obviously, that the writer, evidently the apostle Matthew, was very familiar with the Greek language and was capable of writing intelligently in it.

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that some of the disciples of Christ had Greek names -- Andrew, Philip, Simon (a Grecized form of the Hebrew Sim on), Levi/Matthew, a tax collector. It is possible that many Greek terms preserved in the New Testament may be there because they were originally uttered in Greek. One such word is "Sanhedron," which comes from the Greek synedrion. It is of Greek, not Hebrew, derivation, and was the common term used for the Jewish high court.

A word often used by Jesus, "hypocrite," in describing the Pharisees and Sadducees, comes from the Greek word hypokrites, a compound word with the Greek preposition hypo for "under" and krites, meaning "judgment." This form is wholly lacking in Semitic languages. The word hypokrites basically means, "one who answers" (i.e., one who always has an answer, or excuse), but came to mean over time not only "expounder" or "interpreter," but "orator," "actor," stage actor, or one who spoke from behind a dramatic mask on stage. From this it came to mean "pretender," "dissembler." But this Greek word, so familiar in the denunciations of Christ, has no counterpart in Hebrew or Aramaic.

What Difference Does It Make?

What difference does it make, anyway, what language Jesus and His disciples spoke? The answer becomes clear when we realize that there are churches, sects and cults today which make a great issue over the subject of "holy names." These churches will not use ANY name for God or Christ in ANY language except what they call the original "Hebrew" names for God and the Messiah.

According to these people, it is a SIN to mention on one's lips the word Adonai in Hebrew, translated "Lord" in the Old Testament! According to them, the word "Adonai" is a name for Baal the sun-god, and so "Lord" is a title for Baal, the sun-god! It does not seem to matter to them that the Scriptures themselves use this very word repeatedly in reference to the True God of Israel! Similarly, they condemn the use of the Hebrew name El, Elohim, Eloah, and all its derivatives as being PAGAN terms, used of the pagan gods of antiquity. They condemn the use of such words, including any and all translations from them, such as "God," "Most High God," etc. Any titles used for pagan gods they forbid to be used of the True God! Yet the Scriptures themselves repeatedly refer to the true God as El, Elohim, Eloah, etc., in the Old Testament, which translates into English as "God" (Gen.1:1, etc.).

Of course, the fact that God preserved the entirely of the New Testament in the Greek language seems to give these people "fits." They claim Greek is another pagan language, and that such terms as Iesous translated "Jesus," and Theos translated "God" are also pagan names and must not be used. They claim that a vast, overriding "conspiracy" in the first century destroyed all the "missing" Hebrew original documents, and that the New Testament we have today is essentially a forgery -- at least where the names of God are involved!

Proof or evidence of this conspiracy? There is none. Does God Almighty have the power to preserve His name in whatever language He chooses? Of course He does! And it is patently obvious that He choose to preserve the New Testament Scriptures in Greek -- not Hebrew! The fact that Jesus and the apostles all spoke Greek is another nail in the coffin of these "language-worshippers" and conspiracy addicts.

We need not worry about ancient conspiracies to destroy the word, or "name" of God. As Christ said, "Thy word is truth" (John 17:17) "the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35).

Peter wrote that the word of God "liveth and abideth for ever" (I Pet.1:23). The word of God, which He inspired to be preserved, is in all essential and crucial respects, inspired and correctly preserved, to all generations. As Paul wrote to Timothy, "ALL SCRIPTURE" -- and that includes the NAMES AND TITLES USED FOR GOD, in both the Old and New Testaments -- "IS GIVEN BY INSPIRATION OF GOD [Greek, "God-breathed"], and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for CORRECTION, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (II Tim.3:16).

Wouldn't it seem awfully strange that if God only intended all mankind to use only the Hebrew names of God and the Messiah, that He Himself divided all mankind into many language groups at the tower of Babel? Wouldn't it also seem strange that this same God, who created mankind, and later gave him different languages (Gen.11), required that in order to receive salvation one would have to know, and pronounce "correctly," the Hebrew name of God and Christ -- and that ONLY THE HEBREW PRONUNCIATION WOULD SAVE ANYBODY?

What kind of God would that be? Generations of man have come and gone, and even the Jews say today that they have forgotten exactly how to pronounce the YHVH or Tetragrammaton of the Old Testament name of God! "Jehovah" is obviously in error, yet many use that name today. "Yahweh" is the more recently "scholarly" pronunciation suggested by many yet historical evidence indicates that is just an "approximation" of the divine name, and "Yahveh" would be closer to the truth.

Others claim "Yahuveh" is more accurate. And on and on the argument goes -- where it will stop, nobody knows! Some claim "Christ" is a pagan (Greek) term, and that "Jesus" comes from the Greek god "Zeus." Both claims are patently false. "Christ" is merely the English form of the Greek word Christos, which merely means "Anointed" (just as the Hebrew word Moshiach literally means "Messiah"). The name "Jesus" comes from the Greek Iesous, and means "Saviour," just as does the Hebrew original Yeshua.

The important thing in God's sight is not whether we pronounce the syllables and consonants of His name in some precise manner directed by heaven. But rather, whether we love Him with all our heart, mind and soul, and love our neighbor as ourselves. As Jesus Christ said: "For this is the (whole) law and the prophets."

If you would like to study this subject further, then write for our article, A New Look at the Divine Name.

Was the New Testament Originally Written in Hebrew?

In what language was the New Testament originally written?
Greek? or Hebrew? or Aramaic? Does it make any difference?
Is our modern Greek New Testament a forgery and a fraud,
foisted upon an unsuspecting world by clever and devious religious
charlatans of the fourth and fifth centuries? Why is our modern
New Testament written in Greek, anyway?

Some today teach that that the Greek names for God, found in the New Testament, are PAGAN! And, furthermore, they claim that the names for God in the various languages around the world are all pagan and idolatrous! To them, only the original Hebrew name is right!

What is the truth? Is the name "Jesus" -- Iesou in the Greek language -- derived from the name of the pagan god "Zeus"? Is the Greek name for God -- Theos -- merely another name for "Baal" and pagan in origin? Is it wrong to use the Greek names for God?

These questions cut to the very heart of the controversy over the "divine names" sects and churches who insist that the names of God in all other languages are pagan in origin and blasphemous to use. Such sects claim that the New Testament itself was originally written in the Hebrew language, and that the Greek manuscripts are frauds -- deliberate attempts by apostates to corrupt the names of God and change the teachings of Christ.

Is there any evidence to back up such sensational claims? Is the New Testament, as we have it today, a trustworthy document -- or a compilation of lies and forgeries, foisted upon the world by Catholic theologians of the fourth and fifth centuries?

What is the truth? If the Greek New Testament is a fraud, then we need to know it! Our salvation could be at stake -- and certainly it is, if we have believed a "lie"!

The fact is, there is no Biblical evidence that God must be called only by His Hebrew names and titles. There is no Biblical or linguistic evidence that prohibits the use of English names and titles for God.

If Almighty God only wanted us to use the HEBREW names for God, then we would expect that the writers of the New Testament would have inserted the Hebrew names for God whenever they mentioned Him! But they do not do so. Instead, throughout the New Testament they use the Greek forms of God's names and titles. They call God "Theos" instead of "Elohim."

The Evidence of Preservation Itself

Furthermore, even if some parts of the New Testament were written in Hebrew (such as the gospel of Matthew), as some suggest, isn't it amazing that God did not preserve those manuscripts -- instead He chose to preserve His New Testament Scriptures in the GREEK LANGUAGE, with the Greek forms of His name and titles!

Not one book of the New Testament has been preserved in Hebrew -- only in Greek. This is prima facie evidence that one language is not necessarily any "holier" than another, and that it is NOT wrong to use the forms of God's name as they would translate from the Hebrew or Greek.

Those who insist on using only the Hebrew names of God are straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel! Nowhere does the Bible tell us that it is wrong to use the names of God in Aramaic, Greek, or any other language of the earth.

Since Almighty God has preserved the New Testament Scriptures in the Greek language, and many if not all of them were originally written in Greek, it is obvious that God Himself INSPIRED the usage of Greek to write and to maintain and preserve HIS HOLY WORD! Therefore, it is self-evident that the Greek forms of God's names and titles are perfectly all right for us to use, and translations of those forms and names into other languages, including English.

Luke the Beloved Physician

Luke the physician, who wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, was a highly trained physician who evidently was trained in his craft at Alexandria, Egypt. He addresses his gospel to the "most excellent Theophilus" (Luke 1:3), as he does also the book of Acts (Acts 1:1). Theophilus, from his name, was undoubtedly a Greek. The gospel of Luke and book of Acts were undoubtedly written by Luke in the Greek language.

Says the New Bible Dictionary: "It is generally admitted that Luke is the most literary author of the New Testament. His prologue proves that he was able to write in irreproachable, pure, literary Greek" (p.758). He was a Gentile. Says this same source, "From the literary style of Luke and Acts, and from the character of the contents of the books, it is clear that Luke was a well-educated Greek."

This evidence, of course, provides further proof that God does not take exception to the Greek forms of His name and titles. He inspired Luke to use the Greek language! And Luke was writing primarily for the Greek-speaking, Gentile world!

The apostle Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. He spoke Greek fluently, and used it continually as he went throughout the Roman world preaching the gospel. Only when he was in Judea, and Jerusalem, did he generally use Hebrew (Acts 22:2). In writing his epistles to the churches throughout the region -- Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, Philippi -- undoubtedly he also wrote in the Greek language. There is no evidence whatsoever that he originally used Hebrew names for God instead of the Greek forms, as they have been preserved through the centuries.

The Language of the New Testament

Did God Himself inspire the New Testament to be written and preserved in the Greek language, instead of Hebrew? What was the original language of the books of the New Testament?

The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, by Eusebius, provides us with greater insight into the writing of the New Testament. Eusebius records that after Peter first went to Rome, and preached the gospel there, that the people were so enthusiastic that they wanted a written record of the gospel he preached. Writes Eusebius:

"So brightly shone the light of true religion on the minds of Peter's hearers that, not satisfied with a single hearing or with the oral teaching of the divine message, they resorted to appeals of every kind to induce Mark (whose gospel we have), as he was a follower of Peter, to leave them in WRITING a summary of the instruction they had received by word of mouth, nor did they let him go until they had persuaded him, and thus became responsible for the writing of what is known as the Gospel according to Mark" (p.88).

This occurred in Rome. The request was made by Romans. The language Mark wrote in was Greek, which was commonly understood by all learned Romans, as Greek was the universal language of that time.

Eusebius tells us more about the original writing of the gospels. "Matthew," he records, "had begun by preaching to Hebrews and when he made up his mind to go to others too, he committed his own gospel tow riting IN HIS NATIVE TONGUE, so that for those with whom he was no longer present the gap left by his departure was filled by what he wrote. And when Mark and Luke had published their gospels, John, we are told, who hitherto had relied entirely on the spoken word, finally took to writing for the following reason.The three gospels already written were in general circulation and copies had come into John's hands. He welcomed them, we are told, and confirmed their accuracy, but remarked that the narrative only lacked the story of what Christ had done first of all at the beginning of His mission" (p.132).

It is obvious that Mark, Luke and John, therefore, were written in Greek. John's headquarters, at this time, was undoubtedly Ephesus, where he finally died. Ephesus was in the middle of a Greek-speaking region, and John was writing for the entire Church, not just the Jews at Jerusalem.

Eusebius quotes Irenaeus also concerning the writing of the gospels, as follows:

"Matthew published a written gospel for the Hebrews in their Rome and founding the church there. After their passing, Mark also, the disciple and INTERPRETER of Peter, transmitted to us in writing the things preached by Peter. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel preached by him. Lastly, John, the disciple of the Lord, who had leant back on His breast, once more set forth the gospel, while residing at Ephesus in Asia" (p.211).

Obviously these three gospels were written in Greek, as their audience was Greek-speaking, and only the gospel of Matthew is singled out as having been written in Hebrew!

Irenaeus is also quoted concerning the writing of the book of Revelation, and the mysterious number "666," the number of the Antichrist. Irenaeus writes:

"Such then is the case: this number is found in all good and early copies and confirmed by the very people who was John face to face, and reason teaches us that the number of the Beast's name is shown according to GREEK numerical usage by the letters in it. . . ." (p.211).

Again, here is further evidence that even the book of Revelation was originally written in Greek.

The Books and the Parchments

The distinguished scholar F. F. Bruce, in The Books and the Parchments, tells us that Greek was undoubtedly the language of the New Testament. He asserts, "Although Aramaci appears to have been the common language of our Lord and of the earliest Christians, it is not the language of the New Testament. . . .

"The language most appropriate for the propagation of this message would naturally be one that was most widely known throughout all the nations, and this language lay ready to hand. It was the Greek language, which, at the time when the gospel began to be proclaimed among all the nations, was a THOROUGHLY INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE, spoken not only around the Aegean shores but all over the Eastern Mediterranean and in other areas too. Greek was no strange tongue to the apostolic church even in the days when it was confined to Jerusalem, for the membership of the primitive Jerusalem church included Greek-speaking Jews as well as Aramaic-speaking Jews. These Greek-speaking Jewish Christians (or Hellenists) are mentioned in Acts 6:1, where we read that they complained of the unequal attention paid to the widows of their group by contrast with those of the Hebrews or Aramaic-speaking Jews. To remedy this situation seven men were appointed to take charge of it, and it is noteworthy that (to judge by their names) all seven were Greek-speaking" (p.49).

Bruce discusses the differences in style of writing in the Greek language that are found in the New Testament books. He declares:

"Paul, we may say, comes roughly half-way between the vernacular and more literary styles. The Epistle to the Hebrews and the First Epistle of Peter are true literary works, and much of their vocabulary is to be understood by the aid of a classical lexicon rather than one which draws upon non-literary sources. The Gospels contain more really vernacular Greek, as we might expect, since they report so much conversation by ordinary people. This is true even of Luke's Gospel. Luke himself was master of a fine literary literary style, as appears from the first four verses of his Gospel, but in both Gospel and Acts he adapts his style to the characters and scenes that he portrays" (p.55-56).

All scholars of repute, today, admit that the original language of the New Testament was Greek, although the writers sometimes drew upon Hebraisms to be translated into the Greek.

Says the New Bible Dictionary: "The language in which the New Testament documents have been preserved is the 'common Greek' (koine),which was the lingua franca of the Near Eastern andMediterranean lands in Roman times" (p.713).

This same authoritative source adds the following information:

"Having thus summarized the general characteristics of New Testament Greek, we may give a brief characterization of each individual author. Mark is written in the Greek of the common man. . . . Matthew and Luke each utilize the Markan text, but each corrects his solecisims, and prunes his style . . . Matthew's own style is less distinguished than that of Luke -- he writes a grammatical Greek, sober but cultivated, yet with some marked Septuagintalisms Luke is capable of achieving momentarily great heights of style in the Attic tradition, but lacks the power to sustain these he lapses at length back to the style of his sources or to a very humble koine. . . .

"Paul writes a forceful Greek,with noticeable developments in style between his earliest andhis latest Epistles . . . . James and I Peter both show close acquaintance with classical style, although in the former some very 'Jewish' Greek may also be seen.The Johannine Epistles are closely similar to the Gospels in language. . . Jude and II Peter both display a highly tortuous an involved Greek. . . The Apo- calypse, as we have indicated, is sui generis in language and style: its vigour, power, and success, though a tour de force, cannot be denied" (p.715-716).

There is no evidence at all to suppose that the New Testament was originally written in anything but ancient Greek! Concludes the New Bible Dictionary, "In summary, we may state that the Greek of the New Testament is known to us today as a language 'understanded of the people,' and that it was used with varying degrees of stylistic attainment, but with one impetus and vigour, to express in these documents a message which at any rate for its preachers was continuous with that of the Old Testament Scriptures -- a message of a living God, concerned for man's right relation with Himself, providing of Himself the means of reconciliation."

The evidence all shows that Almighty God INSPIRED Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and the rest of the writers of the New Testament -- even including Peter and James -- of having written their gospels and epistles IN GREEK! Only Matthew's gospel was apparently written first in Hebrew or Aramaic. The other New Testament writers, in using the Greek language, also used the GREEK FORMS of God's name, and the name of Jesus Christ, repeatedly and consistently! Clearly, therefore, God Himself does not disapprove of His name being translated into different human languages!

It is a spurious, specious argument to claim that the New Testament had to have been written in Hebrew, and had to contain only the Hebrew names for God. All the evidence of the manuscripts points otherwise.

Those who deny that the Old Testament faithfully preserves the knowledge of God's name, and who claim the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew, utilizing the Hebrew names for God, have no evidence or proof whatsoever to back up their claims. Should we believe them when they have no evidence, but only a "theory"? Should we take their speculations as "fact"? Of course not!

The apostle Paul cautions true Christians, "PROVE ALL THINGS hold fast that which is good" (I Thess.521). We must not allow men to wrap us around their little fingers, and make mincemeat of us, just because they sound convincing and positive in their writings and arguments. The truth is, they don't know what they are talking about. They don't have a leg to stand on. They have placed their personal theological beliefs before the record of history. They have denied the facts in order to keep their own cherished beliefs.

Those who claim that the original manuscripts were not properly preserved in the language in which they were written, seem to think that God Almighty is UNABLE or UNWILLING to faithfully preserve and protect HIS WORD from the corruption and perversion of men!

God is not prejudiced against the Greek language, or Russian, Italian, German, Chinese, Spanish, French, or English. But, as Peter declared: "Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:34-35). Amen to that!


Who, What, Why: What language would Jesus have spoken?

Israel's prime minister has verbally sparred with the Pope over which language Christ might have spoken. Several languages were used in the places where Jesus lived - so which would he have known, asks Tom de Castella.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Pope Francis appeared to have a momentary disagreement. "Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew," Netanyahu told the Pope at a public meeting in Jerusalem. "Aramaic," interjected the Pope. "He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew," Netanyahu shot back.

It's broadly accepted that Jesus existed, although the historicity of the events of his life is still hotly debated. But language historians can shed light on what language a carpenter's son from Galilee who became a spiritual leader would have spoken.

Both the Pope and the Israeli prime minister are right, says Dr Sebastian Brock, emeritus reader in Aramaic at Oxford University, but it was important for Netanyahu to clarify. Hebrew was the language of scholars and the scriptures. But Jesus's "everyday" spoken language would have been Aramaic. And it is Aramaic that most biblical scholars say he spoke in the Bible. This is the language that Mel Gibson used for The Passion of the Christ, although not all the words could be found from 1st Century Aramaic, and some of the script used words from later centuries.

Arabic did not arrive until later in Palestine. But Latin and Greek were common at the time of Jesus. It's unlikely Jesus would have known Latin beyond a few words, says Jonathan Katz, stipendiary lecturer in Classics at Oxford University. It was the language of law and the Roman military and Jesus was unlikely to be familiar with the vocabulary of these worlds. Greek is a little more likely. It was the lingua franca of the Roman Empire - used by the civilian administrators. And there were the cities of the Decapolis, mostly in Jordan, where Greek language and culture dominated. So Jesus would probably have known some Greek, although the balance of probability is that he was not proficient in it, Katz says.

There's no clear evidence that Jesus could write in any language, says Brock. In John's gospel he writes in the dust, but that is only one account. And we don't know what language it was in. Jesus might even have been drawing rather than writing, Brock says.


What Language Did Jesus Speak?

It is the general consensus of religious scholars and historians that Jesus and his disciples primarily spoke Aramaic, the traditional language of Judea in the first century AD. Their Aramaic was most likely a Galilean accent distinct from that of Jerusalem. Jesus spent most of his time in the communities of Nazareth and Capernaum in Galilee, which were Aramaic-speaking villages. The Gospels support this view showing Jesus using various Aramaic terms: talitha koum (Mark 5:41) ephphatha (Mark 7:34) eloi eloi lama sabachthani (Matthew 27:46 Mark 15:34) abba (Mark 14:36). Historians, scientists, and social anthropologists largely agree that Aramaic was the prevalent language in Israel during Jesus’ time. Aramaic was very similar to Hebrew, but with many terms and expressions that were acquired from other languages and cultures, notably Babylonian.

Hebrew and Greek

Hebrew was used mostly by the scribes, teachers of the law, Pharisees, and Sadducees, the “religious elite.” Hebrew was likely spoken and read in the synagogues, so most people were likely capable to speak and understand some Hebrew. Because Greek was the language of the Romans, who ruled over Israel during Jesus’ time, Greek was the language of the political class and anyone who wanted to do commerce with the Romans. Being able to speak Greek was a very useful skill as it was the universal language at that time. However, some protested to use Greek because of hostility toward their Roman oppressors.

According to Dead Sea Scrolls archaeologist Yigael Yadin, Aramaic was the language of Hebrews until Simon Bar Kokhba's revolt. Yadin recognized the change from Aramaic to Hebrew in the texts he studied, which had been recorded during the period of the Bar Kokhba revolt. In his book, Yigael Yadin notes, "It is interesting that the earlier documents are written in Aramaic while the later ones are in Hebrew. Possibly the change was made by a special decree of Bar Kokhba who wanted to restore Hebrew as the official language of the state."

It is probable that Jesus knew the three common languages of the cultures around him during his life on Earth: Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek. From this knowledge, it is likely that Jesus spoke in whichever of the three languages was most suitable to the people He was communicating with.


What Bible Version Did Jesus Read?

1999

Q: In what language was the Bible Jesus read?

A: If, as most scholars today believe, Jesus spoke primarily in Aramaic, though he sometimes might have also used Greek and perhaps even Hebrew, what Bible was he likely to have read and heard read in the synagogue? The answer is that he likely heard Scripture read in Hebrew and occasionally in Greek, and then paraphrased and interpreted in Aramaic. How much of this paraphrase was actually written down in Jesus' day is difficult to tell. It is probably safer to assume that most of this Aramaic tradition circulated orally and only generations later was committed to writing.

The Dead Sea Scrolls&mdasha collection of biblical and other texts from around the first century&mdashhave shown that our Old Testament existed in several forms at the time of Jesus. There could have been as many as four Hebrew-language versions: one that lies behind the Hebrew text of the Bible that Christians and Jews use today (the Masoretic Text) a second that lies behind the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which is called the Septuagint, or LXX (and is the Old Testament of the Orthodox churches today) a third distinctive Hebrew version of the Pentateuch (the first five books of our Old Testament) used by the Samaritans and a fourth version scholars did not know existed until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls 50 years ago.

In addition, the discovery of Greek manuscripts and inscriptions have also led scholars to believe not only that Greek translations of the Old Testament, such as the LXX, were available, but that Greek was widely spoken in Palestine, even among Jews. The one time we are told that Jesus himself read Scripture in the synagogue, the text he read followed the LXX (see .

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Translations Into English

With the influence of the Roman Empire, the early church adopted Latin as its official language. In 382 A.D., Pope Damasus I commissioned Jerome to produce a Latin Bible. Working from a monastery in Bethlehem, he first translated the Old Testament directly from Hebrew, reducing the possibility of errors if he had used the Septuagint. Jerome’s entire Bible, called the Vulgate because he used the common speech of the time, came out about 402 A.D.

The Vulgate was the official text for nearly 1,000 years, but those Bibles were hand-copied and very expensive. Besides, most of the common people could not read Latin. The first complete English Bible was published by John Wycliffe in 1382, relying chiefly on the Vulgate as its source. That was followed by the Tyndale translation in about 1535 and the Coverdale in 1535. The Reformation led to a flurry of translations, both in English and other local languages.

English translations in common use today include the King James Version, 1611 American Standard Version, 1901 Revised Standard Version, 1952 Living Bible, 1972 New International Version, 1973 Today’s English Version (Good News Bible), 1976 New King James Version, 1982 and English Standard Version, 2001.


Contents

In historical sources, Aramaic language is designated by two distinctive groups of terms, first of them represented by endonymic (native) names, and the other one represented by various exonymic (foreign in origin) names.

Native (endonymic) terms for Aramaic language were derived from the same word root as the name of its original speakers, the ancient Arameans. Endonymic forms were also adopted in some other languages, like ancient Hebrew. In the Torah (Hebrew Bible), "Aram" is used as a proper name of several people including descendants of Shem, [35] Nahor, [36] and Jacob. [37] [38]

Unlike in Hebrew, designations for Aramaic language in some other ancient languages were mostly exonymic. In ancient Greek, Aramaic language was most commonly known as the “Syrian language”, [39] in relation to the native (non-Greek) inhabitants of the historical region of Syria. Since the name of Syria itself emerged as a variant of Assyria, [40] [41] the biblical Ashur, [42] and Akkadian Ashuru, [43] a complex set of semantic phenomena was created, becoming a subject of interest both among ancient writers and modern scholars.

Josephus and Strabo (the latter citing Posidonius) both stated that the “Syrians” called themselves “Arameans”. [44] [45] [46] [47] The Septuagint, the earliest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, [ citation needed ] used the terms Syria and Syrian where the Masoretic Text, the earliest extant Hebrew copy of the Bible, uses the terms Aramean and Aramaic [48] [49] [50] numerous later bibles followed the Septuagint's usage, including the King James Version. [51]

The connection between Chaldean, Syriac, and Samaritan as "Aramaic" was first identified in 1679 by German theologian Johann Wilhelm Hilliger. [52] [53] The connection between the names Syrian and Aramaic was made in 1835 by Étienne Marc Quatremère. [39] [54] Ancient Aram, bordering northern Israel and what is now called Syria, is considered the linguistic center of Aramaic, the language of the Arameans who settled the area during the Bronze Age circa 3500 BC. The language is often mistakenly considered to have originated within Assyria (Iraq). In fact, Arameans carried their language and writing into Mesopotamia by voluntary migration, by forced exile of conquering armies, and by nomadic Chaldean invasions of Babylonia during the period from 1200 to 1000 BC. [55]

The Christian New Testament uses the Koine Greek phrase Ἑβραϊστί Hebraïstí to denote "Aramaic", as Aramaic was at that time the language commonly spoken by the Jews. [38] The Hellenized Jewish community of Alexandria instead translated "Aramaic" to "the Syrian tongue".

During the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Empires, Arameans, the native speakers of Aramaic, began to settle in greater numbers, at first in Babylonia, and later in Assyria (Upper Mesopotamia, modern-day northern Iraq, northeast Syria, northwest Iran, and south eastern Turkey (what was Armenia at the time). The influx eventually resulted in the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–605 BC) adopting an Akkadian-influenced Imperial Aramaic as the lingua franca of its empire. [20] This policy was continued by the short-lived Neo-Babylonian Empire and Medes, and all three empires became operationally bilingual in written sources, with Aramaic used alongside Akkadian. [56] The Achaemenid Empire (539–323 BC) continued this tradition, and the extensive influence of these empires led to Aramaic gradually becoming the lingua franca of most of western Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, Anatolia, the Caucasus, and Egypt. [5] [7]

Beginning with the rise of the Rashidun Caliphate in the late 7th century, Arabic gradually replaced Aramaic as the lingua franca of the Near East. [57] However, Aramaic remains a spoken, literary, and liturgical language for local Christians and also some Jews. Aramaic also continues to be spoken by the Assyrians of Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and northwest Iran, with diaspora communities in Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and southern Russia. The Mandaeans also continue to use Mandaic Aramaic as a liturgical language, although most now speak Arabic as their first language. [27] There are still also a small number of first-language speakers of Western Aramaic varieties in isolated villages in western Syria.

Being in contact with other regional languages, some Aramaic dialects were often engaged in mutual exchange of influences, particularly with Arabic, [57] Iranian, [58] and Kurdish. [59]

The turbulence of the last two centuries (particularly the Assyrian genocide) has seen speakers of first-language and literary Aramaic dispersed throughout the world. However, there are a number of sizable Assyrian towns in northern Iraq such as Alqosh, Bakhdida, Bartella, Tesqopa, and Tel Keppe, and numerous small villages, where Aramaic is still the main spoken language, and many large cities in this region also have Assyrian Aramaic-speaking communities, particularly Mosul, Erbil, Kirkuk, Dohuk, and al-Hasakah. In Modern Israel, the only native Aramaic speaking population are the Jews of Kurdistan, although the language is dying out. [60] However, Aramaic is also experiencing a revival among Maronites in Israel in Jish. [61]

Aramaic languages and dialects Edit

Aramaic is often spoken of as a single language, but is in reality a group of related languages. [ citation needed ] Some Aramaic languages differ more from each other than the Romance languages do among themselves. Its long history, extensive literature, and use by different religious communities are all factors in the diversification of the language. Some Aramaic dialects are mutually intelligible, whereas others are not, not unlike the situation with modern varieties of Arabic. Some Aramaic languages are known under different names for example, Syriac is particularly used to describe the Eastern Aramaic variety used in Christian ethnic communities in Iraq, southeastern Turkey, northeastern Syria, and northwestern Iran, and Saint Thomas Christians in India. Most dialects can be described as either "Eastern" or "Western", the dividing line being roughly the Euphrates, or slightly west of it. It is also helpful to draw a distinction between those Aramaic languages that are modern living languages (often called "Neo-Aramaic"), those that are still in use as literary languages, and those that are extinct and are only of interest to scholars. Although there are some exceptions to this rule, this classification gives "Modern", "Middle", and "Old" periods, alongside "Eastern" and "Western" areas, to distinguish between the various languages and dialects that are Aramaic.

The earliest Aramaic alphabet was based on the Phoenician alphabet. In time, Aramaic developed its distinctive "square" style. The ancient Israelites and other peoples of Canaan adopted this alphabet for writing their own languages. Thus, it is better known as the Hebrew alphabet today. This is the writing system used in Biblical Aramaic and other Jewish writing in Aramaic. The other main writing system used for Aramaic was developed by Christian communities: a cursive form known as the Syriac alphabet. A highly modified form of the Aramaic alphabet, the Mandaic alphabet, is used by the Mandaeans. [27]

In addition to these writing systems, certain derivatives of the Aramaic alphabet were used in ancient times by particular groups: the Nabataean alphabet in Petra and the Palmyrene alphabet in Palmyra. In modern times, Turoyo (see below) has sometimes been written in a Latin script.

Periodization of historical development of Aramaic language has been the subject of particular interest for scholars, who proposed several types of periodization, based on linguistic, chronological and territorial criteria. Overlapping terminology, used in different periodizations, led to the creation of several polysemic terms, that are used differently among scholars. Terms like: Old Aramaic, Ancient Aramaic, Early Aramaic, Middle Aramaic, Late Aramaic (and some others, like Paleo-Aramaic), were used in various meanings, thus referring (in scope or substance) to different stages in historical development of Aramaic language. [62] [63] [64]

Most commonly used types of periodization are those of Klaus Beyer and Joseph Fitzmyer.

Periodization of Klaus Beyer (1929-2014): [4]

Periodization of Joseph Fitzmyer (1920–2016): [65]

Recent periodization of Aaron Butts: [66]

The term "Old Aramaic" is used to describe the varieties of the language from its first known use, until the point roughly marked by the rise of the Sasanian Empire (224 AD), dominating the influential, eastern dialect region. As such, the term covers over thirteen centuries of the development of Aramaic. This vast time span includes all Aramaic that is now effectively extinct. Regarding the earliest forms, Beyer suggests that written Aramaic probably dates from the 11th century BCE, [68] as it is established by the 10th century, to which he dates the oldest inscriptions of northern Syria. Heinrichs uses the less controversial date of the 9th century, [69] for which there is clear and widespread attestation.

The central phase in the development of Old Aramaic was its official use by the Achaemenid Empire (500–330 BC). The period before this, dubbed "Ancient Aramaic", saw the development of the language from being spoken in Aramaean city-states to become a major means of communication in diplomacy and trade throughout Mesopotamia, the Levant and Egypt. After the fall of the Achaemenid Empire, local vernaculars became increasingly prominent, fanning the divergence of an Aramaic dialect continuum and the development of differing written standards.

Ancient Aramaic Edit

"Ancient Aramaic" refers to the earliest known period of the language, from its origin until it becomes the lingua franca of the Fertile Crescent. It was the language of the Aramean city-states of Damascus, Hamath and Arpad. [70]

There are inscriptions that evidence the earliest use of the language, dating from the 10th century BC. These inscriptions are mostly diplomatic documents between Aramaean city-states. The alphabet of Aramaic at this early period seems to be based on the Phoenician alphabet, and there is a unity in the written language. It seems that, in time, a more refined alphabet, suited to the needs of the language, began to develop from this in the eastern regions of Aram. Due to increasing Aramean migration eastward, the Western periphery of Assyria became bilingual in Akkadian and Aramean at least as early as the mid-9th century BC. As the Neo-Assyrian Empire conquered Aramean lands west of the Euphrates, Tiglath-Pileser III made Aramaic the Empire's second official language, and it eventually supplanted Akkadian completely.

From 700 BC, the language began to spread in all directions, but lost much of its unity. Different dialects emerged in Assyria, Babylonia, the Levant and Egypt. Around 600 BC, Adon, a Canaanite king, used Aramaic to write to an Egyptian Pharaoh. [71]

Imperial Aramaic Edit

Around 500 BC, following the Achaemenid (Persian) conquest of Mesopotamia under Darius I, Aramaic (as had been used in that region) was adopted by the conquerors as the "vehicle for written communication between the different regions of the vast empire with its different peoples and languages. The use of a single official language, which modern scholarship has dubbed Official Aramaic or Imperial Aramaic, [72] [19] [73] can be assumed to have greatly contributed to the astonishing success of the Achaemenids in holding their far-flung empire together for as long as they did". [74] In 1955, Richard Frye questioned the classification of Imperial Aramaic as an "official language", noting that no surviving edict expressly and unambiguously accorded that status to any particular language. [75] Frye reclassifies Imperial Aramaic as the lingua franca of the Achaemenid territories, suggesting then that the Achaemenid-era use of Aramaic was more pervasive than generally thought.

Imperial Aramaic was highly standardised its orthography was based more on historical roots than any spoken dialect, and the inevitable influence of Persian gave the language a new clarity and robust flexibility. For centuries after the fall of the Achaemenid Empire (in 330 BC), Imperial Aramaic – or a version thereof near enough for it to be recognisable – would remain an influence on the various native Iranian languages. Aramaic script and – as ideograms – Aramaic vocabulary would survive as the essential characteristics of the Pahlavi scripts. [76]

One of the largest collections of Imperial Aramaic texts is that of the Persepolis fortification tablets, which number about five hundred. [77] Many of the extant documents witnessing to this form of Aramaic come from Egypt, and Elephantine in particular (see Elephantine papyri). Of them, the best known is the Story of Ahikar, a book of instructive aphorisms quite similar in style to the biblical Book of Proverbs. In addition, current consensus regards the Aramaic portion of the Biblical book of Daniel (i.e., 2:4b-7:28) as an example of Imperial (Official) Aramaic. [78]

Achaemenid Aramaic is sufficiently uniform that it is often difficult to know where any particular example of the language was written. Only careful examination reveals the occasional loan word from a local language.

A group of thirty Aramaic documents from Bactria have been discovered, and an analysis was published in November 2006. The texts, which were rendered on leather, reflect the use of Aramaic in the 4th century BC Achaemenid administration of Bactria and Sogdia. [79]

Biblical Aramaic Edit

Biblical Aramaic is the Aramaic found in four discrete sections of the Hebrew Bible:

    [80] – documents from the Achaemenid period (5th century BC) concerning the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem. [81] – five subversive tales and an apocalyptic vision. [82] – a single sentence in the middle of a Hebrew text denouncing idolatry. [83] – translation of a Hebrew place-name.

Biblical Aramaic is a somewhat hybrid dialect. It is theorized that some Biblical Aramaic material originated in both Babylonia and Judaea before the fall of the Achaemenid dynasty.

Biblical Aramaic presented various challenges for writers who were engaged in early Biblical studies. Since the time of Jerome of Stridon (d. 420), Aramaic of the Hebrew Bible was misnamed as "Chaldean" (Chaldaic, Chaldee). [84] That label remained common in early Aramaic studies, and persisted up into the nineteenth century. The "Chaldean misnomer" was eventually abandoned, when modern scholarly analyses showed that Aramaic dialect used in Hebrew Bible was not related to ancient Chaldeans and their language. [85] [86] [87]

Post-Achaemenid Aramaic Edit

The fall of the Achaemenid Empire (c. 334-330 BC), and its replacement with the newly created political order, imposed by Alexander the Great (d. 323 BC) and his Hellenistic successors, marked an important turning point in the history of Aramaic language. During the early stages of the post-Achaemenid era, public use of Aramaic language was continued, but shared with the newly introduced Greek language. By the year 300 BC, all of the main Aramaic-speaking regions came under political rule of the newly created Seleucid Empire that promoted Hellenistic culture, and favored Greek language as the main language of public life and administration. During the 3rd century BCE, Greek overtook Aramaic in many spheres of public communication, particularly in highly Hellenized cities throughout the Seleucid domains. However, Aramaic continued to be used, in its post-Achaemenid form, among upper and literate classes of native Aramaic-speaking communities, and also by local authorities (along with the newly introduced Greek). Post-Achaemenid Aramaic, that bears a relatively close resemblance to that of the Achaemenid period, continued to be used up to the 2nd century BCE. [88]

By the end of the 2nd century BC, several variants of Post-Achaemenid Aramaic emerged, bearing regional characteristics. One of them was Hasmonaean Aramaic, the official administrative language of Hasmonaean Judaea (142–37 BC), alongside Hebrew which was the language preferred in religious and some other public uses (coinage). It influenced the Biblical Aramaic of the Qumran texts, and was the main language of non-biblical theological texts of that community. The major Targums, translations of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic, were originally composed in Hasmonaean Aramaic. It also appears in quotations in the Mishnah and Tosefta, although smoothed into its later context. It is written quite differently from Achaemenid Aramaic there is an emphasis on writing as words are pronounced rather than using etymological forms.

Babylonian Targumic is the later post-Achaemenid dialect found in the Targum Onqelos and Targum Jonathan, the "official" targums. The original, Hasmonaean targums had reached Babylon sometime in the 2nd or 3rd century AD. They were then reworked according to the contemporary dialect of Babylon to create the language of the standard targums. This combination formed the basis of Babylonian Jewish literature for centuries to follow.

Galilean Targumic is similar to Babylonian Targumic. It is the mixing of literary Hasmonaean with the dialect of Galilee. The Hasmonaean targums reached Galilee in the 2nd century AD, and were reworked into this Galilean dialect for local use. The Galilean Targum was not considered an authoritative work by other communities, and documentary evidence shows that its text was amended. From the 11th century AD onwards, once the Babylonian Targum had become normative, the Galilean version became heavily influenced by it.

Babylonian Documentary Aramaic is a dialect in use from the 3rd century AD onwards. It is the dialect of Babylonian private documents, and, from the 12th century, all Jewish private documents are in Aramaic. It is based on Hasmonaean with very few changes. This was perhaps because many of the documents in BDA are legal documents, the language in them had to be sensible throughout the Jewish community from the start, and Hasmonaean was the old standard.

Nabataean Aramaic was the written language of the Arab kingdom of Nabataea, whose capital was Petra. The kingdom (c. 200 BC – 106 AD) controlled the region to the east of the Jordan River, the Negev, the Sinai Peninsula and the northern Hijaz, and supported a wide-ranging trade network. The Nabataeans used imperial Aramaic for written communications, rather than their native Arabic. Nabataean Aramaic developed from Imperial Aramaic, with some influence from Arabic: "l" is often turned into "n", and there are some Arabic loanwords. Arabic influence on Nabataean Aramaic increased over time. Some Nabataean Aramaic inscriptions date from the early days of the kingdom, but most datable inscriptions are from the first four centuries AD. The language is written in a cursive script which was the precursor to the Arabic alphabet. After annexation by the Romans in 106 AD, most of Nabataea was subsumed into the province of Arabia Petraea, the Nabataeans turned to Greek for written communications, and the use of Aramaic declined.

Palmyrene Aramaic is the dialect that was in use in the Syriac city state of Palmyra in the Syrian Desert from 44 BC to 274 AD. It was written in a rounded script, which later gave way to cursive Estrangela. Like Nabataean, Palmyrene was influenced by Arabic, but to a much lesser degree.

The use of written Aramaic in the Achaemenid bureaucracy also precipitated the adoption of Aramaic(-derived) scripts to render a number of Middle Iranian languages. Moreover, many common words, including even pronouns, particles, numerals, and auxiliaries, continued to written as Aramaic "words" even when writing Middle Iranian languages. In time, in Iranian usage, these Aramaic "words" became disassociated from the Aramaic language and came to be understood as signs (i.e. logograms), much like the symbol '&' is read as "and" in English and the original Latin et is now no longer obvious. Under the early 3rd-century BC Parthians Arsacids, whose government used Greek but whose native language was Parthian, the Parthian language and its Aramaic-derived writing system both gained prestige. This in turn also led to the adoption of the name 'pahlavi' (< parthawi, "of the Parthians") for that writing system. The Persian Sassanids, who succeeded the Parthian Arsacids in the mid-3rd century AD, subsequently inherited/adopted the Parthian-mediated Aramaic-derived writing system for their own Middle Iranian ethnolect as well. [89] [90] That particular Middle Iranian dialect, Middle Persian, i.e. the language of Persia proper, subsequently also became a prestige language. Following the conquest of the Sassanids by the Arabs in the 7th-century, the Aramaic-derived writing system was replaced by Arabic script in all but Zoroastrian usage, which continued to use the name 'pahlavi' for the Aramaic-derived writing system and went on to create the bulk of all Middle Iranian literature in that writing system.

Other dialects of the Post-Achaemenid period Edit

The dialects mentioned in the previous section were all descended from Achaemenid Aramaic. However, some other regional dialects also continued to exist alongside these, often as simple, spoken variants of Aramaic. Early evidence for these vernacular dialects is known only through their influence on words and names in a more standard dialect. However, some of those regional dialects became written languages by the 2nd century BC. These dialects reflect a stream of Aramaic that is not directly dependent on Achaemenid Aramaic, and they also show a clear linguistic diversity between eastern and western regions.

Eastern dialects of the Post-Achaemenid period Edit

In the eastern regions (from Mesopotamia to Persia), dialects like Palmyrene Aramaic and Arsacid Aramaic gradually merged with the regional vernacular dialects, thus creating languages with a foot in Achaemenid and a foot in regional Aramaic.

In the Kingdom of Osroene, founded in 132 BCE and centred in Edessa (Urhay), the regional dialect became the official language: Edessan Aramaic (Urhaya), that later came to be known as Classical Syriac. On the upper reaches of the Tigris, East Mesopotamian Aramaic flourished, with evidence from the regions of Hatra (Hatran Aramaic) and Assur (Assurian Aramaic).

Tatian, the author of the gospel harmony the Diatessaron came from Assyria, and perhaps wrote his work (172 AD) in East Mesopotamian rather than Syriac or Greek. In Babylonia, the regional dialect was used by the Jewish community, Jewish Old Babylonian (from c. 70 AD). This everyday language increasingly came under the influence of Biblical Aramaic and Babylonian Targumic.

The written form of Mandaic, the language of the Mandaean religion, was descended from the Arsacid chancery script. [91]

Western dialects of the Post-Achaemenid period Edit

The western regional dialects of Aramaic followed a similar course to those of the east. They are quite distinct from the eastern dialects and Imperial Aramaic. Aramaic came to coexist with Canaanite dialects, eventually completely displacing Phoenician in the first century BC and Hebrew around the turn of the fourth century AD.

The form of Late Old Western Aramaic used by the Jewish community is best attested, and is usually referred to as Jewish Old Palestinian. Its oldest form is Old East Jordanian, which probably comes from the region of Caesarea Philippi. This is the dialect of the oldest manuscript of the Book of Enoch (c. 170 BC). The next distinct phase of the language is called Old Judaean lasting into the second century AD. Old Judean literature can be found in various inscriptions and personal letters, preserved quotations in the Talmud and receipts from Qumran. Josephus' first, non-extant edition of his The Jewish War was written in Old Judean.

The Old East Jordanian dialect continued to be used into the first century AD by pagan communities living to the east of the Jordan. Their dialect is often then called Pagan Old Palestinian, and it was written in a cursive script somewhat similar to that used for Old Syriac. A Christian Old Palestinian dialect may have arisen from the pagan one, and this dialect may be behind some of the Western Aramaic tendencies found in the otherwise eastern Old Syriac gospels (see Peshitta).

Languages during Jesus' lifetime Edit

It is generally believed by Christian scholars that in the first century, Jews in Judea primarily spoke Aramaic with a decreasing number using Hebrew as their first language, though many learned Hebrew as a liturgical language. Additionally, Koine Greek was the lingua franca of the Near East in trade, among the Hellenized classes (much like French in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries in Europe), and in the Roman administration. Latin, the language of the Roman army and higher levels of administration, had almost no impact on the linguistic landscape.

In addition to the formal, literary dialects of Aramaic based on Hasmonean and Babylonian, there were a number of colloquial Aramaic dialects. Seven Western Aramaic varieties were spoken in the vicinity of Judea in Jesus' time. They were probably distinctive yet mutually intelligible. Old Judean was the prominent dialect of Jerusalem and Judaea. The region of Ein Gedi spoke the Southeast Judaean dialect. Samaria had its distinctive Samaritan Aramaic, where the consonants "he", "heth" and "‘ayin" all became pronounced as "aleph". Galilean Aramaic, the dialect of Jesus' home region, is only known from a few place names, the influences on Galilean Targumic, some rabbinic literature and a few private letters. It seems to have a number of distinctive features: diphthongs are never simplified into monophthongs. East of the Jordan, the various dialects of East Jordanian were spoken. In the region of Damascus and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, Damascene Aramaic was spoken (deduced mostly from Modern Western Aramaic). Finally, as far north as Aleppo, the western dialect of Orontes Aramaic was spoken.

The three languages, especially Hebrew and Aramaic, influenced one another through loanwords and semantic loans. Hebrew words entered Jewish Aramaic. Most were mostly technical religious words, but a few were everyday words like עץ ʿēṣ "wood". Conversely, Aramaic words, such as māmmôn "wealth", were borrowed into Hebrew, and Hebrew words acquired additional senses from Aramaic. For instance, Hebrew ראוי rā’ûi "seen" borrowed the sense "worthy, seemly" from the Aramaic ḥzî meaning "seen" and "worthy".

The Greek of the New Testament preserves some semiticisms, including transliterations of Semitic words. Some are Aramaic, [92] like talitha (ταλιθα), which represents the noun טליתא ṭalīṯā, [93] and others may be either Hebrew or Aramaic like רבוני Rabbounei (Ραββουνει), which means "my master/great one/teacher" in both languages. [94] Other examples:

  • "Talitha kumi" (טליתא קומי) [93]
  • "Ephphatha" (אתפתח) [95]
  • "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" (אלי, אלי, למה שבקתני?) [96]

The 2004 film The Passion of the Christ used Aramaic for much of its dialogue, specially reconstructed by a scholar, William Fulco, S.J. Where the appropriate words (in first-century Aramaic) were no longer known, he used the Aramaic of Daniel and fourth-century Syriac and Hebrew as the basis for his work. [97]

The 3rd century AD is taken as the threshold between Old and Middle Aramaic. During that century, the nature of the various Aramaic languages and dialects began to change. The descendants of Imperial Aramaic ceased to be living languages, and the eastern and western regional languages began to develop vital new literatures. Unlike many of the dialects of Old Aramaic, much is known about the vocabulary and grammar of Middle Aramaic.

Eastern Middle Aramaic Edit

Only two of the Old Eastern Aramaic languages continued into this period. In the north of the region, Old Syriac transitioned into Middle Syriac. In the south, Jewish Old Babylonian became Jewish Middle Babylonian. The post-Achaemenid, Arsacid dialect became the background of the new Mandaic language.


What Language Did Jesus Christ, His Apostles, and Early Christians Speak?

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored ninety-two books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Why does it matter what languages Jesus spoke?

There has always been some interest in this but the release of Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ created a sudden wave of interest. All dialogue was in Aramaic or Latin.

Knowing which language or languages Jesus spoke helps us understand his teaching with greater accuracy. It adds to the accuracy of the historical settings, the gap between his life and ministry, as well as the early Christian and ours. Many misinterpretations of Jesus come from the projection of English meanings and American culture into (eisegesis) Jesus’ words and ways, as opposed to taking them out (exegesis). Simply put the more we know as to the languages he spoke, the more we can know.

It is highly unlikely that Jesus used the Septuagint (LXX) extensively in his teachings. But he did quote from it often in his direct address. At times, word for words other times, he would tweak the quote to add an additional sense or fuller sense than what had been penned in the Old Testament, to fit his circumstances. More on this at the end of this article. Largely, he referred to the Hebrew Old Testament (OT). However, what the New Testament (NT) authors penned is what Jesus said. First, let us touch on this in one paragraph, then give you some historical background of the Septuagint, after that, we will return to our question at the end. Jesus was likely fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin. He was a perfect human with a perfect mind after all. Aramaic was the common language where he grew up, with Greek being the lingua franca for the Roman empire as a whole. The synagogues used the Hebrew text.

Jesus could have taught in Greek at times if the need arose, which might very well be the case. However, he taught in his native language of Hebrew. A few of the quotations of Jesus from the Old Testament in the NT Gospels, even in the book of Matthew, are strongly Septuagintal. However, Jesus in all likelihood spoke in Hebrew as he quoted the OT in his teaching the Jewish people or responding to Jewish religious leaders, and the Gospel writers were moved along by Holy Spirit to use the Septuagint that was the preferred reading, which, again, is what Jesus had said but in the Hebrew or Aramaic language. One would be dishonest to argue one way or the other alone. Thus, I leave open the possibility that Jesus might have spoken Greek when quoting the Septuagint at times.

Greek was the lingua franca (the common language) of the world in the days of Jesus here on earth and the Greek Septuagint was often used by the Christians to such an extent that in the second century C.E. the Jews went back to the Hebrew text in order to separate themselves from the Christians, after a century of touting the Septuagint as inspired. However, just as true today, English being the lingua franca of the world, each country still has its own language and where English is very common, most of the population know and use it but their own language is their first language and English is their second language. Hebrew did not begin to wane in Palestine until after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E. but was still used in the synagogues in the first century.

SOME HISTORY AND IMPORTANT INSIGHTS

It is not true that the Jews began to change over to Aramaic speech during their exile in Babylon. It is common to use Nehemiah 8:8 as a way of saying the Hebrew was not entirely understood because they all spoke Aramaic. However, the text is not dealing with a lack of understanding of the Hebrew language, but rather it is talking about explaining the meaning of the text, the sense of what the author meant.

8 They continued reading aloud from the book, from the Law of the God, explaining it and putting meaning into it, so that they could understand the reading. See Matt. 13:14, 51-52 Lu 24:27 Ac 8:30-31.

There is not one verse in the Bible that says the Jews abandoned the Hebrew language. Yes, it is true that Nehemiah found that some Jews had Ashdodite, Ammonite, and Moabite wives “and none of them was able to speak the language of Judah” (Neh. 13:23-27) Nevertheless, the reading of God’s Word was still then mainly in Hebrew. From the days of Malachi to Matthew, there are no biblical books and secular records are limited, with a scant few giving any real evidence of a change from Hebrew to Aramaic. The Apocryphal books, such as Judith, Ecclesiasticus (not Ecclesiastes), Baruch, and First Maccabees, were written in Hebrew. In addition, the non-Biblical writings among the Dead Sea Scrolls were also in Hebrew, and Hebrew was used in assembling the Jewish Mishnah from the first to fourth-century C.E.

The strongest evidence that Hebrew was still the spoken language of the Jews in the first century is found in the New Testament itself. (John 5:2 19:13, 17, 20 20:16 Rev. 9:11 16:16) There is no denying that Aramaic was widely known throughout Palestine in the first century C.E. But just because the Aramaic Bar instead of the Hebrew Ben is used in some names (Bartholomew and Simon Bar-jonah) means nothing, as some Jews had Greek names as well (Andrew and Philip). There were four languages current in first-century C.E. Palestine, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, with Latin being the least common. The Greek transliteration of some words that are debated as to being originally Hebrew or Aramaic words, as recorded by Matthew and Mark, does not allow for a positive identification of the original language used. Then, we have the fact that Matthew was originally written by him in Hebrew.

The evidence actually points to Hebrew declining among the Jews after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. However, it was still used in the synagogues wherever the Jews dispersed. The Jews did view the Greek Septuagint as an inspired translation. However, this soon changed. The Jews actually found a new zeal for the Hebrew language because of the Christians using the Septuagint as an evangelism tool.

The Hebrew Language

Hebrew is the language in which the thirty-nine inspired books of the Old Testament were penned, apart from the Aramaic sections in Ezra 4:8–6:18 7:12–26 Dan. 2:4b–7:28 Jer. 10:11, as well as a few other words and phrases from Aramaic and other languages. The language is not called “Hebrew” in the Old Testament. At Isaiah 19:18 it is spoken of as “the language [Literally “lip”] of Canaan.” The language that became known as “Hebrew” is first shown in the introduction to Ecclesiasticus, an Apocrypha [1] book. Moses, being raised in the household of Pharaoh, would have been given the wisdom of Egypt, as well as the Hebrew language of his ancestors. This would have made him the perfect person to look through any ancient Hebrew documents that may have been handed down to him, giving him the foundation for the book of Genesis.

Later, in the days of the Jewish kings, Hebrew came to be known as “Judean” (UASV) which is to say, the language of Judah (Neh. 13:24 Isa. 36:11 2 Ki. 18:26, 28). As we enter the period of Jesus, the Jewish people spoke an expanded form of Hebrew, which would become Rabbinic Hebrew. Nevertheless, in the Greek New Testament, the language is referred to as the “Hebrew” language, not the Aramaic. (John 5:2 19:13, 17 Acts 22:2 Rev. 9:11) Therefore, for more than 2,000 years, Biblical Hebrew served God’s chosen people, as a means of communication.

However, once God chose to use a new spiritual Israel, made up of Jew and Gentile, there would be a difficulty within the line of communication as not all would be able to understand the Hebrew language. It became evident, 300 years before the rise of Christianity there was a need for the Hebrew Scriptures to be translated into the Greek language of the day, because of the Jewish diaspora who lived in Egypt. Down to our day, all or portions of the Bible have been translated into about 2,287 languages.

Even the Bible itself expresses the need for translating it into all languages. Paul, quoting Deuteronomy 32:43, says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles [“people of the nations”], with his people.” And again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.’” (Rom 15:10) Moreover, all Christians are given what is known as the Great Commission, to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt 28:19-20) In addition, Jesus stated, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations.” (Matt 24:14) All of the above could never take place without translating the original language into the languages of the nations. What is more, ancient translations of the Bible that are extant (still in existence) in manuscript form have likewise aided in confirming the high degree of textual faithfulness of the Hebrew manuscripts.

Earliest Translated Versions

Versions are translations of the Bible from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into other languages (or Hebrew into Greek). Translation work has made the Word of God accessible to billions of persons, who are incapable of understanding the original Biblical languages. The early versions of the Scriptures were handwritten and were, therefore, in the form of manuscripts. However, since the beginning of the printing press in 1455 C.E., many additional versions, or translations, have appeared, and these have been published in great quantities. Some versions have been prepared directly from Hebrew and Greek Bible texts, whereas others are based on earlier translations.

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The Septuagint

The Septuagint is the common term for the Old Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. The word means “seventy” and is frequently shortened by using the Roman numeral LXX, which is a reference to the tradition 72 Jewish translators (rounded off), who are alleged to have produced a version in the time of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.E.). The first five books of Moses being done around 280 B.C.E., with the rest being completed by 150 B.C.E. As a result, the name Septuagint came to denote the complete Hebrew Scriptures translated into Greek.

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure who had come to worship in Jerusalem, 28 and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

“He was led as a sheep to slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation was taken away.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.” [2]

34 And the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I beg you, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he declared to him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they went along the road they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized? [3] 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.

The Eunuch court official was an influential man, who was in charge of the treasury of the queen of Ethiopia and to whom Philip preached. He was a proselyte [convert] to the Jewish religion who had come to Jerusalem to worship God. He had been reading aloud from the scroll of Isaiah (53:7-8 as our English Bible has it sectioned), and was puzzled as to who it was referring to however, Philip explained the text, and the Eunuch was moved to the point of being baptized. The Eunuch was not reading from the Hebrew Old Testament rather he was reading from the Greek translation, known as the Greek Septuagint. This work was very instrumental to both Jews and Christians in the Greek-speaking world in which they lived.

What contributed to the Hebrew Old Testament being translated into Greek and when and how did it occur? What was the need that brought the Septuagint about? How has it affected the Bible throughout these last 2,200 years? What impact does the Septuagint still have for the translator today?

The Greek-Speaking Jews and the Septuagint

In 332 B.C.E., Alexander the Great had just finished destroying the Phoenician city of Tyre, and was now entering Egypt, but was received as a great deliverer, not as a conqueror. It was here that he would found the city of Alexandria, bringing mankind one of the great learning centers of all time in the ancient world. The result of Alexander’s conquering much of the then known world was the spread of Greek culture and the Greek language. Alexander himself spoke Attic Greek, which was the dialect that spread throughout the territories that he conquered. As the Attic dialect spread, it interacted with other Greek dialects, as well as the local languages, resulting in what we call Koine Greek or common Greek spreading throughout this vast realm.

By the time of the third century B.C.E., Alexandria had a large population of Jews. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and exiled its people to Babylon centuries before. Many Jews had fled to Egypt at the time of the destruction. The returning Jews in 537, were scattered throughout southern Palestine, migrating to Alexandria after it was founded. The need of a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures arose out of the necessity for the Jews in their worship services and education within the Jewish community of Alexandria.

Many of the Jews in Alexandria could no longer understand the Hebrew language, with others simply letting it grow out of practice. Most could only speak the common Greek of the Mediterranean world. However, they remained Jews in custom and culture and wanted to be able to understand the Scriptures that affected their everyday lives and worship. Therefore, the time was right for the production of the first translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Aristobulus of Paneas (c. 160 B.C.E.) wrote that the Hebrew law was translated into Greek, being completed during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.E.). We cannot be certain as to what Aristobulus meant by the term “Hebrew law.” Some have suggested that it encompassed only the Mosaic Law, the first five books of the Bible while others suggested that it was the entire Hebrew Scriptures.

Beginning of the Letter of Aristeas to Philocrates. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 11th century.

This Greek writing is allegedly a letter written by Aristeas, who was a high official in the court of Ptolemy II in Alexandria. It was sent to Jerusalem in order to secure a copy of the Jewish Law together with a group of seventy-two scholars who would translate the Law from Hebrew to Greek. The recipient is Philocrates, about whom nothing is said except that he was a brother of Aristeas. The alleged purpose of the book is to tell the story of the translation of the Septuagint.

The book contains a delightful story. Demetrius of Phalerum, head of the great library in Alexandria, suggests to the king that a translation be made of the Hebrew Law. The king writes to the high priest Eleazar in Jerusalem requesting him to send seventy-two scribes to perform the work of translation. He sends rich gifts for the temple in Jerusalem. The story includes a description of the Holy City. Eleazar delivers an apologetic for the Law. When the translators come to Alexandria, they are feted in a series of royal banquets. The king plies the scribes with philosophical questions, and they answer with amazing wisdom. Then they are taken to the island of Pharos in the harbor of Alexandria where they set to work. Demetrius compares their work every day and writes down a consensus. They complete the work in seventy-two days. It is then read to the Jews, who laud it. When it is read to the king, he is greatly impressed and expresses wonder as to why it has not been mentioned in earlier Greek literature. Demetrius says that earlier authors were divinely restrained from mentioning it. Finally, the translators are sent home bearing rich gifts.

It is obvious that this beautiful story is fictional, although it has a core of reliable information. Aristeas and Philocrates are not known in other historical literature. Furthermore, the Letter of Aristeas itself reflects a knowledge and usage of the LXX. The work also bears obvious unhistorical traits. For example, an Egyptian king would not attribute his throne to the Jewish God (37). The author, however, seems to be thoroughly familiar with the technical and official language of the court and of Alexandrian life and customs.

The purpose of the book is fairly obvious. It is a piece of Hellenistic Jewish apologetic writing designed to commend the Jewish religion and law to the Gentile world. The book emphasizes the honors showered on the seventy by the Greek king. High praise is accorded to Jewish wisdom by heathen philosophers. It explains the failure of Greek historians and poets to mention the Jewish law. The apology of Eleazar on the inner meaning of the law tries to interpret in meaningful categories the Jewish distinction between clean and unclean things. The Jews are said to worship the same god as the Greeks but under a different name. Zeus is really the same as God (16).

The book is really not a true letter but belongs to the genre that may be called belles lettres. It falls in the Greek literary and artistic traditions rather than in the Semitic pattern. This governs its purpose, which is not to impart sound historical information but to produce a general ethical effect. The book is therefore far more important as a reflection of Jewish life and culture in the 2nd cent B.C. than as an account of the formation of the LXX. Thus very little attention is actually given to the work done on the LXX. We know that in the 2nd cent. B.C., before anti-Semitism had raised its head, a large colony of Jews lived in Alexandria, and the work reflects the fact that they were enthusiastically embracing Hellenistic culture, social usages, literary forms, and philosophical beliefs so far as they did not directly oppose their central religious tenets.

The date of the book is an almost insoluble problem. Scholars date it variously from 200 b.c. to 63 b.c. Perhaps an estimate of about 100 B.C. will suffice. While some scholars think that the LXX involved a protracted development, this letter may reflect the fact that at some time an official translation was made.[4]

Useful in the First Century

The Septuagint was put to use at great length by Greek-speaking Jews both prior to and throughout first-century Christianity. Just after Jesus ascension, at Pentecost 33 C.E., almost a million Jews customarily gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover and Festival of Weeks, coming from such places as the districts of Asia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, and Crete, places that spoke Greek. There is little doubt that these were using the Septuagint in their services. (Acts 2:9-11) As a result, the Septuagint played a major role in spreading the Gospel message in the Jewish and proselyte communities. This is similat to the King James Version in the English speaking world. William Tyndale (1494-1536) primarily but also other English translations were made in the 16th century, decades before the 1611 KJV. The 1611 KJV was really 90% William Tyndale’s translation. It was a great translation at that time, the best that could be made with what they had and it served its purpose for 300 years, until better manuscript evidence came along.

8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they were not able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.

In his defense, Stephen gave a long history of the Israelite people, and at one point he said,

12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers the first time. 13 On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and the family of Joseph became known to Pharaoh. 14 And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.

This account comes from Genesis chapter 46, verse 27, which reads, “All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.” The Hebrew Old Testament reads seventy, but it is the Septuagint that reads seventy-five. Therefore, Stephen was referencing the Septuagint in his defense before the synagogue of the Freedmen.

The Apostle Paul traveled about 10,282 miles on his missionary tours, [6] which brought him into contact with Gentiles, who feared the God of the Bible and the devout Greeks who worshiped God. (Acts 13:16, 26 17:4) These became worshipers or fearers of God because they had access to the Septuagint. The Apostle Paul used the Septuagint quite often in his ministry, and his letters.–Genesis 22:18 Galatians 3:8

The Greek New Testament contains about 320 direct quotations, as well as a combined 890 quotations and paraphrases from the Old Testament. Most of these are from the Septuagint. Therefore, those Septuagint quotes and paraphrases became a part of the inspired Greek New Testament. Jesus had said, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) He had also foretold, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world.” (Matt 24:14) For this to take place, it had to be translated into other languages, to reach the people earth wide. Again, God allowed Christians to use the 1611 King James Version that we now know had many errors in it to evangelize for centuries, and the same holds true with the translation into German.

Did Jesus Use the Greek Septuagint

The use of the Septuagint by Jesus is both interesting and complicated. When Jesus quotes from the OT, often that quote as found in the Gospels follows the Septuagint reading. However, one cannot be certain whether Jesus used the Septuagint when he was teaching. At times, he may have spoken in Greek but most often he spoke in Hebrew or Aramaic. Even in Matthew, which I believe Matthew first penned in Hebrew then later made his Gospel into a Greek copy, the OT quotations lean toward the Septuagint. Of the 80 times in Matthew, where the OT is quoted from or alluded to, about 30 are from the Septuagint. Most of these are at the times Jesus or John the Baptist is in direct speech. There are times that the Gospel writer has Jesus quoting the OT, which is a Septuagint reading that actually differs from the Hebrew OT. In those, the Septuagint is the preferred reading.

For example, when Jesus quotes the OT, Isaiah 61:1, at Luke 4:18, “recovering of sight to the blind,” is from the Septuagint. The Hebrew at 61:1 says, “opening of the prison to those who are bound.” The preferred reading is the Septuagint.

Now, here is where it gets sticky for us Christians that believed the Bible is the inspired, fully inerrant Word of God. Modern Bible scholarship today uses the subjective historical-critical method of interpretation (subjective – opinion) over the historical-grammatical method (objective – evidence, facts). They say things like, ‘Luke could only read Greek, so he was unaware that it actually was the preferred reading.’ Or, they might say, ‘Luke saw that the Greek fit Jesus ministry better, so he chose it over the Hebrew reading, inferring that Jesus used the Hebrew reading.’ They write as though the Bible is a book by men, not the inspired Word of God that was authored by men moved along by the Holy Spirit.

Fact, the original Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament were fully inerrant, as its authors were inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16) and moved along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21). Fact, the copyist was not inspired and the translators were not inspired, nor moved along by Holy Spirit. Therefore, errors entered into the Hebrew OT as it was being copied for centuries. In the making of the Septuagint (250 – 180 B.C.E), they had access to many Hebrew texts that were older than what we have but still not entirely error-free from 1,000 years of making copies. These initial translators of the Septuagint were not inspired. On the other hand, the 40+ Bible authors were inspired. Fact, Jesus was and is the divine Son of God and was in heaven before he came to earth. When he spoke he knew which reading was most authoritative, the Septuagint at times is the preferred reading, i.e., the original reading that the original author penned. Jesus would have known this. However, likely, some of the Hebrew manuscripts that the Septuagint translators had, actually had the reading, which is in the Septuagint. The later Hebrew text that we are looking at that differs, maybe it is corrupt in that spot. it should be noted that the Hebrew text is the most trusted and reflects the original. However, there are places where it does not. Then, keep in mind that Jesus has the authority to tweak his quote to fit his circumstances, combining different verses in a single quote, some portions from the Hebrew and some from the Greek, and even adding to it if he chose to do so. The same holds true of Bible authors for they were inspired, moved along by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, exactly what they wrote, is what God wanted to be written.

Therefore, when the New Testament authors quoted Jesus, it was what he actually said, likely in Hebrew or Aramaic, and yes, if a need arose to speak in Greek, Jesus spoke Greek. When Jesus quoted or referred to the OT, he would know if the Hebrew text or the Septuagint text was the original reading or not, as he was watching from heaven when it was penned. Whatever the NT author penned is what Jesus said. If it is the reading from the Septuagint then, Jesus used the reading from the Septuagint, which he could have said in Hebrew or Aramaic, or Greek. If it was from the Hebrew text then, Jesus used the Hebrew text. Jesus largely spoke Hebrew and Aramaic, and Greek, at times, if the occasion called for it. Nevertheless, what the NT author penned is what Jesus said.

MODERN EXAMPLE: I have been living in Chile for the past 2.5 years but has failed to learn enough Spanish to speak or understand what is being said. My wife and I went to the top of the highest building in South America, against my will I might add, seeing that I hate heights. Anyway, when we get on the elevator, the tour person asked the small group if anyone spoke English but could not understand Spanish. A couple of us said yes, so he told us the tour guide information in English and then said the exact same thing in Spanish. We can imagine there were occasions when there were a few Greek-speaking people in the audience that only knew Greek or not enough Hebrew to follow the points that Jesus was making so, he said it in Greek first and then the exact same thing in Hebrew.

Whether Jesus said it in Hebrew or Greek is unanswerable really, I am merely speculating to a degree. We can only go on the fact of what language Jesus most likely taught in as an indicator. The synagogues used the Hebrew text. Quoting the article above, “as we enter the period of Jesus, the Jewish people spoke an expanded form of Hebrew, which would become Rabbinic Hebrew. Nevertheless, in the Greek New Testament, the language is referred to as the “Hebrew” language, not the Aramaic. (John 5:2 19:13, 17 Acts 22:2 Rev. 9:11) Therefore, for more than 2,000 years, Biblical Hebrew served God’s chosen people, as a means of communication.”

One last example comes from Matthew 11:10. Here Jesus combines Malachi 3:1 and Exodus 23:20. The first half of Matthew’s quotation is identical to the Greek Septuagint of Exodus 23:20. The second half of Matthew’s quotation is not identical to the Greek Septuagint of Malachi 3:1.

Let us take a moment to consider how we are to understand a prophecy written by an Old Testament writer that is then used by a New Testament writer. Both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament had a meaning that the original audience would have understood. It served as a means of guidance for the initial people, as well as for succeeding generations, down to our day. This is not to say that the prophetic message itself always had an immediate application, but that its meaning is beneficial to all.

The New Testament writers used Old Testament writers in one of two ways. (1) The New Testament writer took the one grammatical-historical interpretation of the Old Testament passage. In this case, we are talking about a fulfillment of the Old Testament passage and we are perfectly fine to word it that way. In other words, the Old Testament passage was written as a prophecy for that future event, not some immediate fulfillment. (2) The New Testament writer goes beyond what the Old Testament writer penned, assigning it additional meaning that is applicable to the New Testament context. In other words, the Old Testament writer’s grammatical-historical interpretation would have been a fulfillment for him and his audience, not just a hope. The New Testament writer then made the information applicable to his situation, by adding to it, which fit his context. With number (1), we have the New Testament writer staying with the literal sense of the Old Testament writer. With number (2), we have the New Testament writer adding a whole other meaning.

Just as a reminder, seeing fulfillment is subjective, an opinion, just like our allegory and typology. If Matthew is assigning a different meaning to Moses and Malachi’s words, it is his meaning, and it is subjective. This is perfectly fine because Matthew and the other NT authors had the authority to offer subjective meaning he was an inspired Bible writer and was moved along by the Holy Spirit. Moreover, if the NT authors had a license, the authority to add an additional sense or fuller sense than what had been penned in the Old Testament then, certainly this would be true of Jesus even more so.

Exodus 23:20 tells us “Behold, I am sending (Heb. מַלְאָךְ malak Gr. ἄγγελόν ) an angel ahead of you to guard you on the way and to bring you into the place that I have prepared.” The meaning here by Moses is a literal angel. When Matthew says Jesus said, “Behold, I send my ( ἄγγελόν ) messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.” Matthew has assigned a different meaning to the Greek word ( ἄγγελόν ), a messenger, namely, John the Baptist. The most powerful angel in the Bible is Michael, the archangel. (Dan. 10:13, 21 12:1 Jude 9 Rev. 12:7) Because of his superiority and his being called “Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your [God’s] people” (Dan. 12:1), we can strongly infer that he was the angel who led the Israelites through the wilderness. (Ex 23:20-23)



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