What was the language in which the Bible was originally written?
This is an important question for beginners of the Bible. Whether you’re a Christian or not, I trust that the exploration of the linguistic origins of Scripture will edify you.
As a pastor and Christian for many years, I know the answer to this question, “what language was the Bible written in.” In fact, many pastors would have studied the original languages in seminary.
Therefore, let’s dive right into it!
What was the language of the Old Testament?
When we consider the Old Testament, it’s essential to recognize that it is a foundation for Christianity. One can argue that the New Testament cannot exist without the Old Testament.
The Old Testament was written in Biblical Hebrew. This may be different from Modern Hebrew.
The Jews would use the Hebrew Bible or the Jewish Bible, which is essentially the Old Testament in the Protestant Bibles.
The Old Testament is written in a variety of literary genres. This includes the narrative, law, history, poetry, and prophecy.
Biblical Hebrew is a Semitic language.
However, I think learning ancient Hebrew is not that challenging. There are only 22 characters. You can easily learn and memorize the Hebrew alphabet song.
While I am not an expert in Hebrew, I think learning the simple vocabulary and grammar is simple. The only challenging part is memorization.
What parts of the Old Testament were written in Aramaic?
Did you know that some parts of the Old Testament were written in Aramaic? Many Christians don’t know it because it is often discussed at a higher academic level.
Certainly, Hebrew is the dominant language in the Old Testament.
However, certain sections in the book of Ezra and Daniel (and other places) were written in Aramaic.
You can find references in Ezra 4:8-6:18, Ezra 7:12-26, and Daniel 2:4-7:28.
Why were they written in Aramaic?
The likely answer is that the Jews lived in historical and cultural circumstances. God exiled them from Israel to Babylon. The Babylonians spoke in Aramaic, thus influencing the Jews to speak in that language.
By the time the Jews returned to Israel, the Babylon-born generation may have been more fluent in Aramaic than Hebrew.
What is rather unique about this situation is that God used a Gentile language to convey His divine revelation to the Gentiles (the non-Jews). This should indicate that God wants to reveal His glory to the world.
What was the language of the New Testament?
The New Testament was written in the Greek language.
However, we need to distinguish because language changes over time, just like English.
There was Ancient Greek (or Classical Greek), Koine Greek, and Modern Greek.
The New Testament was specifically written in Koine Greek. It was the common language of the Roman Empire during the Hellenistic period (or Greco-Roman world).
The New Testament authors wrote their books in such a way that reached a broad audience.
That is how the message of the gospel was spread in the Roman Empire or Gentile world in the early church.
In my personal experience, learning Greek was fun, but the grammar was difficult. What is fun about it is that a lot of the English words are derived from the Greek language.
Was There A Translation Of The Old Testament During The Time Of Jesus?
Another academic aspect of the Bible is the Old Testament during Jesus’ time.
Jesus and the Apostles had access to the Greek Translation of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. Scholarly called it the Septuagint or the LXX.
The New Testament authors quoted from the Septuagint instead of the Hebrew Bible.
One possible reason is that most people spoke Greek in the Roman Empire. So, the Septuagint became more common during that time.
Nonetheless, the advantage is that the teachings of the Greek Old Testament built a bridge with the Gentiles, Greek-speaking believers, and the Hellenistic Jews (Greek-speaking Jews).
Early Translations of the Christian Bible
The translation of the Bible into various languages marks a pivotal chapter in the history of Christianity.
After the Septuagint, translations into Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and other ancient languages in the ancient world played an essential role in disseminating Christian theology and teachings.
They do play a role in the realm of biblical criticism. In other words, Bible translators and scholars attempt to find the original wording of the Bible because we no longer have the autographs.
Nonetheless, I personally appreciate faithful translators who labour in translating the Bible into other native languages.
Translation of the Bible is a mission work. Not everyone can speak English, Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic.
Bible Translation is part of the Great Commission of making disciples of all the nations.
How Can Christians Understand The Language Of The Bible?
Thankfully, we have seminaries and Bible colleges that can teach Christians how to study and learn the original languages of the Bible.
While not every Christian needs to be an expert, they should consider dipping their toes into the original language.
That is because the English translation cannot always communicate the subtle nuances and idioms that are found in the Greek or Hebrew language.
For example, you would not know how beautiful and poetic the book of Psalms is in Hebrew.
Even if you do not have the money to take courses, there are numerous free resources and tools for you to understand the Bible in the original language.
Plus, there are many best Bible translations for you to compare and contrast the different renderings of the biblical texts.
You should now be aware of what language the Bible was originally written.
I believe learning the original languages of the Bible invites and encourages us to examine the Word of God more accurately.
Learning Greek and Hebrew should not be reserved for pastors and scholars. It should be learned by Christians for His glory.
If you cannot afford to learn the languages, utilize free tools or get yourself multiple Bible translations.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Language Did Jesus Speak?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that Jesus spoke either Hebrew or Greek.
However, during the time of Jesus, Aramaic was the spoken language in Israel.
Therefore, Jesus spoke in Aramaic, which the gospel writers then translated His speech into Greek.
Who Originally Wrote The Bible?
About 40 different authors wrote the Bible over a span of 2000 years.
Ultimately, God is the main author of Scripture.
Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is breathed out or inspired by God.
What language Did Adam and Eve Speak?
I would like to think that they spoke Hebrew.
If so, then Hebrew may have been a “heavenly language.”