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The Blue Letter Bible
Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The World into Which Jesus Came

Don Stewart :: What Language or Languages Did Jesus Speak?

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What Language or Languages Did Jesus Speak?

The World into Which Jesus Came – Question 3

The language that the children of Israel spoke in the days of the Old Testament was a form of Hebrew. However, in 586 B.C., the nation went into the Babylonian captivity. In captivity, Aramaic was main spoken language. Aramaic, a sister language to Hebrew, began to spoken by the Jews from the Babylonian captivity onward.

When Jesus came into the world the Greek language was spoken in all parts of the Roman Empire. There were however, both local and regional dialects. While there is still some question about this, it seems that Jewish people in Israel Jesus’ day continued to speak Aramaic. There are a number of observations that should be made about this issue.

1. Greek Was the International Language

Greek became the international language through the conquests of Alexander the Great (330 B.C.). We know that Jesus was able to speak Greek because several of His conversations could have only taken place in the Greek language.

This includes the account of His speaking to the woman with the demon-possessed child (Matthew 14) as well as His conversations with Pontius Pilate. There is no indication in either of these instances that there was an interpreter present. Thus, Jesus was able to converse with these individuals in their native language; Greek.

2. Aramaic Was Also Spoken

Jesus also spoke Aramaic in His public ministry. We have several recorded sayings of Jesus in the Gospels that are transliterated from Aramaic to Greek. These include the words He uttered at the raising of Jairus’ daughter. Mark records what occurred:

He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” (Mark 5:41 NRSV)

Here Mark translates the Aramaic phrase for his readers. Other Aramaic words found in the New Testament are abba, translated as “Father,” and ephphatha, which means “be opened.”

Consequently, we know that on certain occasions Jesus spoke Aramaic.

3. Hebrew May Have Been Spoken

There is the possibility that Jesus spoke in Hebrew at times. Indeed, some people argue that Hebrew was actually the main language that Jesus spoke. While this is a minority view among Bible scholars there are a number of reasons given why this may have been the case.

4. Latin Was Not Spoken by the Masses

Although Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire it was not spoken by the masses. Only the aristocracy would converse in Latin.

The Sign over the Cross Was in Three Languages

The sign over the cross of Jesus illustrates the fact of the many languages spoken at that time. It reads as follows:

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. (John 19:19, 20 TNIV)

This allowed everyone who had the ability to read to read the charge or accusation against Jesus in their own language. It is clear that the sign was in both Greek and Latin. It is uncertain, however, whether the other language was Hebrew or Aramaic.

For example, many Bible translations translators understand Aramaic to be the third language such as the TNIV which we just cited. Other Bible translations agree with this.

However, a number of translations think the third language was Hebrew.

For example, the Holman Christian Standard Bible reads:

Pilate also had a sign lettered and put on the cross. The inscription was: JESUS THE NAZARENE THE KING OF THE JEWS Many of the Jews read this sign, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. (John 19:19, 20 HCSB)

Thus, there is no consensus as to whether the sign was in Hebrew or Aramaic.

Conclusion: Jesus Spoke at More than One Language

Therefore, we can conclude that Jesus spoke more than one language. We know He spoke Greek and Aramaic, and possibly Hebrew.

Summary – Question 3
What Language or Languages Did Jesus Speak?

The world in which Jesus came had an international language, Greek. This language was spoken everywhere in the Roman Empire. When Alexander the Great conquered the world Greek became the international language.

We know that Jesus spoke Greek. Indeed, there are certain occasions that the New Testament records for us where Jesus would have had to have spoken Greek. This includes His dialogue with a Gentile woman from Syro-Phoenecia, as well as His exchange with Pontius Pilate. There is nothing in either context which would give us the impression that Jesus used an interpreter when He spoke to these people.

On other occasions the Lord probably spoke Aramaic. This seems to be the common language of those Jews of Jesus’ time which lived in the Holy Land. Therefore, most of His teaching would have been in Aramaic.

However, it is possible that He spoke Hebrew on occasion. Some actually believe that Hebrew was the main language which Jesus spoke. However, this is debated.

We know that the sign over Jesus’ cross was in Greek and Latin as well as one other language. It is debated as to whether it was Hebrew or Aramaic. Modern Bible translations are not in agreement as to which of the two languages it was.

What we can conclude from the evidence is that the Lord Jesus spoke in at least two different languages, Greek and Aramaic, and possibly a third, Hebrew.

What Were the Different Political Divisions of the Holy Land When Jesus Came into the World? ← Prior Section
Who Were the Caesars Mentioned in the Four Gospels? Next Section →
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