Ancient And Biblical Languages

What Language did Jesus Speak

Carolyn Henry's image for:
"What Language did Jesus Speak"
Image by: 

Various languages were spoken in Roman-occupied Palestine during the first century AD, which was the world and time of Jesus. The most prominent of these languages were Aramaic, Hebrew and Koine Greek. The Latin spoken by the occupying Romans held only a minor place in comparison with these three languages.


Aramaic is a Semitic language, related to both Hebrew and Arabic. This was the language spoken originally in Mesopotamia, and as empires rose and fell in the millennium before the birth of Jesus, the Aramaic language was used as the vehicle of communication among people of different nations, eventually spreading as far west as Egypt and becoming the lingua franca of the entire area.

Many scholars believe that the Jewish people first acquired Aramaic during the years of the Babylonian captivity, and that centuries later, their descendants brought Aramaic with them into Israel. Parts of the Old Testament, in fact, are written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew.

In the third century BC, when Greek began overtaking Aramaic as the dominant language in much of the region, Aramaic was still extensively spoken in Palestine. By the first century, it had diverged into an array of dialects, which some historical linguists prefer to consider separate Aramaic-based languages.

Aramaic is thought to have been the native language of Jesus.


Like Aramaic, Hebrew is a Semitic language, and one with writings that date back to the tenth century BC. Hebrew is the traditional language of the Jewish people, and has always been the language of prayer and worship.

There is some debate among language historians over the precise status of Hebrew during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Some scholars claim that Aramaic was the day-to-day language of the Jewish people during this time, and that Hebrew was used mainly for religious study and liturgical purposes. Other scholars disagree, and point to newer evidence suggesting that Hebrew functioned as a living language alongside Aramaic until the end of the Roman period.

It is not known for certain whether or not Jesus spoke Hebrew. Many religious scholars claim that he did, and they support this claim by citing his knowledge of Hebrew scripture and theology.


Koine refers to the common dialect of Greek, which, beginning in the third century BC, became the lingua franca for the entire region conquered by Alexander the Great. Koine Greek remained the common trade language of the region during Jesus' time; it was widely spoken in Palestine, and even the Romans made use of it in their administration of the province. It is thought likely that Jesus would have had some familiarity with this language.

A few decades after the crucifixion, the books of the New Testament were composed in Koine Greek, which made them accessible to people of many nations.


Latin was the language of the occupying Roman army. However, in Palestine the status of Latin was different from its status in the Romanized provinces of Western Europe, where Latin came to displace the native languages altogether. In the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, Latin did not have great influence over the populace and never held the role of a dominant language. Most of the people who lived in the Roman province of Palestine during the life of Jesus did not speak Latin.

More about this author: Carolyn Henry

From Around the Web