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.

Hebrew 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.

All of chapters 2 through 7 in the book of Daniel.

Jeremiah 10:11.

The 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 “Ephphatha.”

In Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, the expression “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.”

In 1 Corinthians 16:22, the expression “Maranatha.”

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.

There are in existence five periods of Greek language: Homeric, Attic, Koine, Byzantine and Modern or Classical Greek with quite naturally differences between and among all of these.

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?” (Matt.27:46).

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 first time.

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.

Return to Learning Activity List