There’s been quite a bit of discussion and debate about how many languages Jesus spoke during his first advent.
What languages did Jesus Christ speak? And how many languages did Jesus speak?
It’s likely Jesus Christ spoke all three of these languages; Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
There is scriptural evidence for all three. Certainly these were the languages to choose from, but not everybody is convinced he spoke all three.
When Jesus Christ spoke to Pontius Pilate, he almost certainly had to speak Greek to him.
The Septuagint (also known as the LXX) was a Greek translation of the Old Testament. It had been in circulation among Jews of the Diaspora.
It was a very popular version of the Old Testament among the Greek-speaking Jewish population, so Jesus would have been exposed to the Greek language often.
Greek was the world language of the day, so many Jews knew it.
Its unlikely Pilate would have known Hebrew or Aramaic, so Jesus would have to speak to him in Greek. Jesus certainly had plenty of exposure to the Greek language.
And Jesus encountered others who likely spoke only Greek. We will discuss them below.
Jesus would certainly have spoken Aramaic as the casual everyday language of the entire region -including many other nations besides Israel.
There are direct New Testament references to Jesus speaking Aramaic. There are also very good reasons to think Jesus could read, write and speak Hebrew.
It’s also worth noting that the Bible doesn’t make a big deal out of which language Jesus used as well as which language he spoke when.
It’s not too important from a theological perspective.
Does this mean that the languages he spoke weren’t that important? Let’s see.
The Israel of that day was already very multilingual. So when people ask questions like:
What language did Jesus teach in?
What language did Jesus speak in this certain situation?
What language did Jesus speak the most?
What language did Jesus speak on the cross?
The Bible doesn’t seem to answer it directly much of the time. It wasn’t a big priority of the writers of the New Testament to tell us exactly which language Jesus spoke in every situation.
What Language Did Jesus Speak Most?
It is commonly thought that Jesus, as a Jew living in Roman-occupied Judea, spoke Aramaic as his first language. However, there is ample evidence that Jesus also spoke Greek.
The New Testament was written in Greek, and there are Greek words that appear in the Gospel of John that don’t have an Aramaic equivalent. This has led many scholars to believe that Jesus spoke Greek as well as Aramaic.
So what was the language that Jesus spoke most? We may never know for sure, but there is abundant evidence it was Aramaic.
Studies of early Christian texts and artifacts indicate that Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic most of the time.
Aramaic was the common language of the region in those days, so it makes sense that Jesus would have used it to communicate with his followers.
Some of the evidence for this includes the fact that most of the early extra-Biblical Christian writings were in Aramaic.
Also, many of the words and phrases used by Jesus in the New Testament were Aramaic terms. Additionally, the Aramaic language has played a significant role in Christian liturgy and worship over the centuries.
Other evidence includes early Church Fathers like Jerome and Origen, who both confirm that Aramaic was the primary language spoken by Jesus.
There are also many early Christian texts that have been found written in Aramaic. This further confirms that this was the language of Jesus and his followers.
When Jesus spoke, he used a form of Aramaic that was common in his time and place. This Aramaic was a Semitic language, related to Hebrew, with its alphabet and grammar.
Aramaic was the dominant language of the eastern Mediterranean region during the time of Jesus, and so it was widely understood across many nations in a large area.
The implications of this are numerous.
For one, it means that Jesus’ teachings were accessible to a wide range of people, regardless of their background or education. It also means that we can better understand Jesus’ teachings when we study the Aramaic language and culture.
Since Jesus ministered mainly to his fellow Jews, it is understandable that he would speak Aramaic the most.
This comes to mind when we remember the instruction Jesus gave to His disciples when He sent them in twos to preach the gospel.
He said, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” Matthew 10:5-6
Again He said in Matthew 15:24, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
From all these statements of Jesus, we have the understanding that while He is the Savior of the World, His primary assignment during his earthly ministry was to restore Israel to God and save humanity thereafter through His death and resurrection.
If Jesus spoke mainly to the Jews, He had to do so in the language they understood and they speak most, which was Aramaic.
Did Jesus Speak Hebrew?
There is a great deal of evidence that Jesus spoke Hebrew.
First of all, Hebrew was the language of the Jews. They had spoken it since around 1200 BC. (see my post on the amazing back story behind BC and AD)
Secondly, many of the names in the New Testament are Hebrew names.
Third, there are numerous Hebrew words and phrases that appear in the New Testament. Keep in mind that the New Testament was originally written in Greek, so the appearance of Hebrew words in it is very telling.
Finally, the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are a collection of ancient manuscripts that includes some of the earliest known copies of the Old Testament, are written primarily in Hebrew.
Jesus Christ read from the book of Isaiah 61:1-3 in the synagogue.
It is highly likely that ceremonial readings like this would have been done in Hebrew.
The Old Testament had been translated into Greek in the 3rd century BC so the Greek-speaking Jews could also read it.
But it’s very likely Jesus read the Isaiah scroll in Hebrew since it was a Sabbath.
The Sabbath meeting at the Synagogue was a very solemn yet joyful occasion for Jews to read the Old Testament scriptures in Hebrew.
There are other reasons Jesus could have read and written Hebrew. His uncle Zechariah –father of John the Baptist- was a Priest at the Temple in Jerusalem. (see my post on the Amazing Story of John the Baptist you never learned in Sunday School)
It’s entirely possible that Jesus could have learned Hebrew in part from Zechariah, although they were separated by some distance.
Having an uncle like Zechariah could have been very exciting for Jesus -yet we cannot be sure because we do not have an explicit reference for this.
But certainly the story of Jesus’ cousin John being born to a childless couple who were both at an advanced age would have been a big story for many years after the fact. It could have been very motivating for a young Jesus during his growing up years to learn from his uncle.
But the Bible is silent about these years -except for the story about a 12-year-old Jesus confounding the Temple rabbis at Passover and getting left behind when his family went back to Nazareth without him. (see Luke 2:41-52)
Did Jesus Speak Greek?
One of the most common questions about Jesus is whether or not he spoke Greek.
After all, the New Testament was written in Greek, so it’s reasonable to expect that Jesus would have at least some familiarity with the language.
Let’s consider the evidence we have:
For one, many of the early Christians were Greek-speaking Jews. Additionally, many of the words and phrases found in the New Testament are of Greek origin.
There are reasons for us also to believe that Jesus must at one time or the other preached to people in Greek.
Take the Sermon on the Mount for example. The audience for this teaching included individuals from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judaea, and beyond the Jordan (Matthew 4:25).
The Decapolis alone was a collection of around ten cities on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire.
The language common to all these regions was Greek. It would be unlikely for Jesus to speak the whole sermon recorded in three chapters of the Bible in a language the people could not easily understand.
We never read in the Bible that Jesus used an interpreter, or that He had difficulty communicating with people in the language they understand.
So it’s very likely Jesus understood their language and He used it to minister to them.
The ministry of Jesus was described in one of the messages of the prophet Isaiah:
The message of Jesus is meant for the whole world, even though He spoke to specific people at a particular time.
When Jesus spoke to the Centurion, the most likely common language between the two would have been Greek. (You can read about Jesus and the Centurion at Matthew 8:5-13)
While we might associate Roman Centurions with the Latin language, Latin was only used by the ruling class of Rome. For all others, Greek was the language of the day.
Same goes for the Syrophoenician woman.
And let’s not forget Jesus’ conversation with Pontius Pilate. Never in any of the texts do we read that Jesus used an interpreter or had any difficulty speaking with these people.
Pilate, for example, would almost certainly not be a speaker of Aramaic or Hebrew. His language of preference would certainly be Greek and it might have been his sole language.
So it’s highly likely Jesus spoke Greek, and it’s likely he spoke it very well.
No matter what language you speak, God does not want you to be left out. His plan for salvation and eternal life is for everyone on earth.
Jesus wants everyone He encounters to know that He is their savior. The easiest way to do that is to communicate it directly with them in their native or common language.
The Holy Ghost did the same on the day of Pentecost.
The people who came to witness the disciples of Jesus speaking in tongues said, “And how is it that we hear, each of us in his native language?” Acts 2:8
Did Jesus Speak Aramaic?
Jesus Christ certainly spoke Aramaic.
The Aramaic language is one of the most ancient languages in the world. It is believed to have originated in the region of modern-day Syria around 3,000 BCE.
Aramaic was the lingua franca of the ancient world and was spoken by Jews, Syrians and numerous other Eastern Mediterranean peoples.
Aramaic has a rich history and has been used in some of the most important historical documents.
Many scholars believe that Jesus spoke Aramaic during His earthly ministry.
Jesus would have used it to communicate with the people He interacted with daily.
The strongest evidence Jesus spoke Aramaic is from his words on the cross.
It’s especially poignant that his words “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” are even shown in our English translation in Aramaic and that the listeners were confused by it.
Why were they confused? Because “Eli, Eli” –meaning “My God, My God” in Aramaic, sounded to the listeners like he was calling out to Elijah.
Here are some other examples of Jesus’ Aramaic words used in the New Testament:
Aramaic words such as “Shema” (hear, listen) and “Yeshua” (Jesus) are prominent in the Hebrew Bible.
Some of Jesus’ words translated from Aramaic to Greek in the New Testament include “Talitha Koum” (Mark 5:41), “Abba”, and “Ephphatha.”
These were words Jesus spoke at the time when He performed miracles. These were the times when Jesus Christ in his humanity needed his closeness with his Father in Heaven (Abba, Father) the most.
At such a time He would need the right language he could use to effectively handle the situation.
For Jesus to have used Aramaic at such a time means He had been speaking it in the past. It also means the people He ministered to also spoke the language.
It also showed us that God can use any situation for good and His divine purpose. History revealed that the Jews learned Aramaic during their captivity in Babylon -a hostile, foreign nation.
The Bible recorded that the officers of King Nebuchadnezzar used it.
“Then the Chaldeans said to the king in Aramaic, O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation.”
When the Jews returned to their land, they continued to speak the language.
Hundreds of years later, they were still speaking it. So it was probably Jesus’ first language while growing up in Nazareth
Though the language originated from a heathen land, and through people who went into captivity, God allowed it to be mentioned in the Bible.
It showed us that God can use any area of our past to achieve His purpose.
Why Didn’t Jesus Speak Latin, Arabic, or English?
It’s a question common to theologians and laypeople alike: why didn’t Jesus Christ speak Latin, Arabic, or English? After all, those are the world’s most widely spoken languages today. Surely Jesus would have wanted to communicate his message to as many people as possible, right?
Different languages have become prominent at various times in history.
Latin was just beginning to be known as a language around the time of Christ. It was only spoken then by the Roman intelligentsia, aristocrats and others in the upper echelons of Rome.
By the 4th century –the time of Constantine- it was the major language of the Roman Empire, but in early 1st century times, it was just getting its start so it was barely known in Israel then.
Likewise Arabic wouldn’t become a known language (related to Hebrew and Aramaic) until about 100 years after the Resurrection of Christ.
For English, the wait would take even longer.
English first began sometime in the 5th century AD when three Germanic tribes –the Anglos, Saxons, and Jutes crossed the sea and moved into England. English is a Germanic language and we wouldn’t even recognize Old English as English today.
Some believe that Jesus’ choice of Aramaic was a strategic one.
Aramaic was the common language of the people at the time, so by speaking it, Jesus was able to connect with people on a more personal level. Additionally, Aramaic is a very expressive language, which allowed Jesus to communicate the full range of human emotion in ways that just aren’t the same in any other language.
Others believe that Jesus’s choice of Aramaic was more of a practical one. Aramaic is a very concise language, and Jesus may have wanted to save his words
Regardless of what language Jesus would speak today, the message he preached was one of love, compassion, and forgiveness. And that message is universal.
There is ample evidence that Jesus was quite a skilled linguist. In addition to his native Aramaic, he was also proficient in Greek and Hebrew.
This is evident from the fact that he was able to effectively communicate with people from all walks of life, including fishermen, tax collectors, and even Roman soldiers.
What’s more, his ability to communicate in multiple languages likely contributed to success in his ministry. After all, being able to speak to people in their native language is a big help to win them over.
Whether you’re a believer or not, there are plenty of reasons to believe that -during his earthly ministry- Jesus was quite a skilled communicator.
Is your Faith Founded on Fact? Have you committed to follow Jesus?