by Michael Trofern
Most scholars believe that historical Jesus primarily spoke Aramaic, with some Hebrew and Greek, although there is some debate in academia as to what degree. Generally, scholars believe that the towns of Nazareth and Capernaum where Jesus lived were Aramaic-speaking communities, that he was knowledgeable enough in Hebrew to discuss the Hebrew Bible, and that he most likely knew Greek through commerce as a carpenter in nearby Sepphoris and because Greek was the common language of the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Accordingly, Jesus is believed to have addressed primarily Aramaic-speaking audiences.
One of the reasons for this view is his statement on the cross: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?)
What they fail to notice is, if Jesus is speaking mostly Aramaic, why are those the only Aramaic words in the New Testament? You say, because the New Testament was written mainly for speakers of Greek. My question still reamins. The use of this Aramaic, followed by the Greek translation, is there because it is different from what he commonly spoke. We use many Latin phrases today, but we do not speak or read in Latin as our common language. For example we even have Latin phrases on our money, such as E PLURIBUS UNUM. But that does not mean we use Latin every day. Jesus was doing the same, he was speaking an Aramaic phrase, the way we speak Latin phrases: Carpe diem, means “seize the day.” And Caveat Emptor means “buyer beware.”
When Pilot made a sign and put it above Jesus, JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS, it was written in three languages: Greek, Latin, and Hebrew (John 19:19-20). If the majority of the Jews of that time and place were speaking Aramaic, he would have written it in Aramaic. This is powerful evidence that the main language of the Jews of Israel during the first century was Hebrew!
But WAIT! There’s more!
In the book of Acts it says that Paul spoke HEBREW. What’s more, Paul said that when Jesus appeared to him, that Jesus spoke to him in HEBREW. Yes, it actually says that.
Act 21:40 And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, headdressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:
Act 22:1 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.” 2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said:
Act 26:14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
Jesus spoke Heberw, Paul spoke Hebrew, the crowd understood Hebrew so they must have spoken it as well, and even the Roman governors understood Hebrew. If Paul’s primary language was Hebrew, then it is likely that Jesus also spoke Hebrew as his primary language.
Therefore, the primary language of Jesus and the Apostles was not Aramaic, but Hebrew.