Lost in Translation: Did Jesus Only Speak Aramaic?


  1. Just because Jesus knew some Greek doesn't mean that he used it often while teaching. Since he spoke mostly to Jews, who spoke Aramaic as their main language, Jesus probably taught in Aramaic most of the time.

  2. Perhaps. But Jesus was an itinerant preacher, and as such he had occasion to speak multiple languages. I would venture to say that his days in Jerusalem were probably filled with Hebrew.

    One of the big issues I find is that people like Ehrman have argued that certain conversations in the Gospels could never have happened. For example, he has said that the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3 is predicated on a Greek turn of phrase, i.e. anothen which means both "again" and "from above". Since Jesus spoke Aramaic and not Greek, this conversation probably never happened.

    That argument assumes that Jesus did not speak in Greek. As I mentioned in the video, since he was from Nazareth and grew up in the middle of a Greek trade route, it's quite plausible that he did. Therefore, Ehrman's argument is invalid.

    In sum, I don't that he taught in Aramaic, maybe even most of the time. But he very well could have taught in Hebrew and Greek, and it's not unimaginable that he taught in Latin.

  3. BTW, thanks for commenting on the new blog, GAP. I've always appreciated your willingness to speak your mind and take a contrary position, and so I'm glad to see you around :-)

    1. I don't know if the comments on this blog are moderated so I don't even know if this will be posted, seeing as you're dead and all and can't approve, but after I heard you died I came back to this blog to read all the conversations we had and I was hoping I would find this comment because I specifically remembered it and I was afraid I wouldn't find it because I didn't quite remember if you'd posted it here or elsewhere.

      This comment meant so much to me, I'd always admired you and I was surprised that you actually noticed and remembered me. And you took the time to write to me even though you were so busy, if I remember correctly you were working on a degree at this time? But regardless you were busy with ministry stuff. I was 16 and still in high school and didn't appreciate how much work post-secondary education is, yet you wrote all these long-ass responses to my questions and objections.

      I didn't really communicate this on either David's blog or your blog, but you two inspired me so much. As an angsty teen I thought the Dearborn thing was mega cool. College and work and life happened so I didn't really follow David or your activities anymore, but later I heard about your diagnosis when you first got it and watched a few of the vlogs, wasn't paying too much attention, and I didn't actually expect you were going to die, not because I had faith in God or whatever but because, idk I just didn't expect it at all. And I wish I had talked to you again. About anything. I used to think about you a lot when I was younger, hoping I'd meet you or someone like you someday.

      But now you're gone.

  4. Almost everyone in Palestine knew Greek. Natives certainly knew Aramaic. Boys typically learned to read and speak Hebrew from a young age - though Hebrew was not the common language. Jesus certainly interacted with Pilate in Greek (there's no mention of an interpreter). With Nicodemus being a member of the Sanhedrin, Greek would have been a natural language to converse with him in (as well as Hebrew or Aramaic). Even if they did use Aramaic, Ehrman's logic is questionable since John would have selected the Greek wording that he saw most appropriate when he translated it in his Gospel. I don't follow how Ehrman could believe that the conversation never happened based on the dual meaning of anothen alone.

  5. Well, I think his argument would be sound if Jesus were not able to speak Greek. What Ehrman is saying is that Jesus is playing off of a pun. When Jesus says you need to be born "anothen", Nicodemus interprets it incorrectly by taking it to mean "again". Jesus corrects him and tells him that we he means "anothen" in a different sense, that we must be born "from above". This play on words does not happen in the Aramaic, and therefore no correction would have taken place (as is recorded in John 3). Thus, Ehrman argues that the conversation never happened. His presupposition is that Jesus could or would not have had this argument in Greek, and that presupposition is false.

  6. What about the Septuagint? The most prominent version of the OT in Israel in Jesus' day wasn't Hebrew or Aramaic but Greek.

  7. Great stuff, Nabeel! I am enjoying Creed 2:6 a lot. Thank you for continuing the ministry