LEARNING ACTIVITY #53
The Languages of the Bible
Since God chose to transmit His truth to us through the medium of the written
word, we should be somewhat familiar with the languages He chose to use.
is the primary language in which the Old Testament was written. Very small sections
of the Old Testament were written in Aramaic (Syriac). The exceptions that are in
Aramaic are as follows.
The book of Ezra – most of chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7.
of chapters 2 through 7 in the book of Daniel.
New Testament has come to us through the Koine Greek language with some material
in Aramaic. The Aramaic material consists of the following.
In Mark 5:41,
the expression "Talitha cumi."
In Mark 7:34, the expression
In Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, the expression
"Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani."
In 1 Corinthians 16:22, the
In Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6,
the expression "Abba."
The New Testament also uses some of
Latin and Latinisms to a small degree.
Throughout church history, the Koine
Greek language used in the New Testament was thought to be some "special Godly
language" until late in the nineteenth century when a cache of first century
letters and documents were discovered in Egypt giving rise to the current scholarship
which teaches that the Koine Greek was the common language of the people at the time
the New Testament was written.
The truth of God in the Old Testament was initially
revealed to one nation, Israel, and God appropriately used the Hebrew language which
was their language. In the New Testament an expanding revelation of God takes place
and this message was to "be preached in his name to all nations" (Luke
24:47). The language most fitting for the communication of this message was the one
that was most widely spoken throughout the world, the Koine Greek, which was the
international language of the first century Mediterranean world.
in existence five periods of Greek language: Homeric, Attic, Koine, Byzantine and
Modern or Classical Greek with quite naturally differences between and among all
Aramaic is thought to be the spoken language used by Jesus of Nazareth
and His disciples. One very pointed use of the Aramaic took place during His agony
on the cross when He cried out in the Aramaic, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthami?"
which is translated, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
There is also a significant Greek Old Testament translation
that is referred to by many Bible scholars called the Septuagint. This translation
more than likely took place in the second century BC. The Septuagint, sometimes noted
as LXX in the literature, came to meet the needs of a large number of Jews who were
living in Hellenistic centers such as Alexandria, Egypt, who had given up their Hebrew
tongue for the Greek language. The Greek word for "Septuagint" is "seventy,"
hence the designation of LXX. Although the original translation work was probably
limited to the first five books of the Old Testament which are known as the Pentateuch,
later work included the entire Old Testament.
The importance of the Septuagint
is that it was the first translation of the Old Testament and provides scholars with
a written witness or source which they can compare Old Testament documents and fragments
to check for technical accuracy.
The original writers of the Bible did no
dividing of their text material into such units as chapters, paragraphs or verses.
All of these conventions were later innovations to the Scriptures. In fact, punctuation
such as sentences, periods and commas were non-existent! Although some chaptering
took place in the Old Testament at an earlier date, the chapter divisions we know
today appeared in 1330. In 1571 Montanus indicated each verse in the margin for the
Paragraphing in the New Testament took place just prior to the
Council at Nicea in 325. Stephen Langton, a professor at the University of Paris,
and later Archbishop of Canterbury, divided the New Testament into our modern day
chapter divisions in 1227. Sectioning the New Testament into verses actually took
place later than paragraphing, being introduced by Robert Stephanus, a Parisian printer
in 1551 from which they have continued to the present day.
All of the above
mechanical innovations to the Bible text have been helpful in communicating and studying
the text, however, there are occasions where an arbitrary period or comma has resulted
in the meaning of the text being changed. Occasionally on this web site such problems
will be pointed out by the web site author.
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