Languages Spoken by Jesus

Aaron Tresham | May 24, 2010

For decades scholarly consensus has held that Jesus usually spoke the Aramaic language. To evaluate the accuracy of this assumption, one must investigate to learn which language(s) was(were) spoken in Israel during the first century A.D., and whether the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels record the spoken Greek of Jesus or are translations of what He said in Hebrew or Aramaic. Evidence for the use of Aramaic in the areas where Jesus lived and taught is strong, but not necessarily strong enough to exclude His use of other languages. Hebrew was not a dead language after the Babylonian Exile as some have assumed. Documents, inscriptions, and coins have shown the continued use of Hebrew during the time that Jesus was in Israel, particularly in the area of Judea. The fact that the Gospels as well as the rest of the NT were originally written in Greek bolsters the case for a widespread use of Greek in Jesus’ time. Specific instances of internal evidence in the NT itself, along with widespread use of the Septuagint in the NT, indicate the trilingual nature of first-century Israel. Indications that are external to the NT also show the use of Greek in Jesus’ first-century surroundings. Yet impressive voices question the case for Greek as the language Jesus used. A weighing of the evidence on both sides seems to indicate that Jesus spoke and taught in both Greek and Aramaic, with the degree to which He used each one yet to be clarified by further research on this important subject.

Vol. 20, no. 1 (Spring 2009)

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Tresham, Aaron. "Languages Spoken by Jesus." The Master's Seminary Journal 20, no. 1 (Spring 2009): 71-94.