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What language did Jesus speak?

11 May 2023

What language did Jesus speak? Was it Hebrew, the language of the Israelites since ancient times, in which the Tanakh (Christians: the Old Testament) was written? Or was it Greek, the language of the New Testament and the common language of the Greco-Roman world, to which Israel belonged in the time of Jesus? Or was it perhaps Aramaic, the Jewish language spoken in the Galilee, the region of northern Israel where Jesus grew up? Maybe it was even Latin? Opinions differ on the subject.

Emeritus Professor

Jesus' native language: Aramaic

The majority of researchers assume that Jesus preached in Aramaic. Aramaic was the language of the common people of Galilee. Jesus grew up in a family of artisans in the Galilean town of Nazareth. Therefore, chances are that Aramaic was his mother tongue. Moreover, in the four Gospels it is related that his message reached a wide audience: simple craftsmen and fishermen, women and children flocked to listen to him. Jesus almost certainly addressed these groups in Aramaic. He probably also had conversations with his students in Aramaic.

The Gospels describe Jesus' main actions and the message he proclaimed. Those Gospels were written in Greek, but according to some scholars they were based on older versions in Aramaic. It is not surprising that the Gospels were ultimately written in Greek: Greek was the imperial language of that time. Greek-speaking Jews and non-Jewish members of the early Christian congregations could read these Gospels. Yet there is evidence in those Greek Gospels that Jesus Read this passagespoke Aramaic. Sometimes they give the Aramaic words Jesus used, such as Abba (Aramaic for "father").

We can conclude it is certain that Jesus spoke Aramaic. Mel Gibson therefore made the right decision in having Jesus speak Aramaic in Gibsons film The Passion of the Christ (2004).

Learned Hebrew

According to Luke 4:14-30, Jesus read on a Sabbath from a scroll containing the Hebrew text of the Bible book of Isaiah. If Jesus had a religious education, reading Hebrew would have been part of that. Learning to read Hebrew was not very difficult for people who spoke Aramaic, because they are related languages (both Semitic).

Could Jesus also speak Hebrew, or could he only read it? Perhaps he spoke it when he conversed with the Jewish scribes in Jerusalem. In the past, it was often assumed that Hebrew was no longer spoken in the time of Jesus and that it had become only a written language. But since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we know that Hebrew was still a living language in certain circles in Judea - that is, in Jerusalem and the surrounding area - in Jesus’ time.

Did Jesus speak Greek?

Did Jesus also speak Greek? This seems to be the case judging from the conversation he had with a centurion seeking healing for his slave (Matthew 8:5-13). A centurion was a senior officer of the Roman army. Many senior military personnel spoke Greek. What language did Jesus speak during the trial by the Roman governor Pilate before he was sentenced to death by crucifixion (Mark 15:2)? It may also have been Greek.

It is certainly possible that Jesus knew enough Greek to conduct at least a basic conversation. But maybe his Greek was even fluent. Jesus was a carpenter (Mark 6:3) and as such he may have been involved in the major building projects in Greek-speaking towns near Nazareth. Although this is a bit speculative, this is how he could have learned to speak some Greek. This argues, however, against the fact that, later, he avoided precisely these cities. Tiberias and Sepphoris, the places in Galilee where Greek was spoken, do not appear in the Gospels at all. Therefore, some scholars suspect that Jesus' knowledge of Greek was very minimal. The remarkable silence of Jesus during his trial (Mark 15:4-5) is also sometimes blamed on this language barrier.

Did Jesus speak Latin?

In the movie The Passion of the Christ, Jesus speaks Latin in addition to Aramaic. It is, however, very unlikely that he actually mastered that language. Latin was used by the Roman government in Palestine, but only for administrative purposes. According to the evangelist John (John 19:20), the cross was inscribed with the words “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. This is consistent with the administrative use of Latin. Yet the chance that Jews such as Jesus spoke Latin is very small.


In short, we are not sure what languages Jesus spoke and to what extent he mastered them. That Aramaic was his mother tongue and that it was the language he used in his speeches in the Galilee is almost certain. In addition, he could certainly understand and perhaps speak Hebrew, and it is possible that he also spoke some Greek.