What Language Was The Bible Written In Originally

Background information

The Bible is a foundational religious text to hundreds of millions of people across the world. Though it was written thousands of years ago, it is still highly relevant and has shaped countless lives. As such, it is of vital importance that we know and appreciate the language it is written in. Regardless of one’s faith, a familiarity with the language and its complexities can give great insight into the world of biblical scholarship and tradition.
Historians and linguists tell us that the majority of the Bible was written in ancient Hebrew, with a minor portion written in a dialect of the Palestinian Aramaic language. This is especially true for the Old Testament, written between 1500 and 500 BCE. Since the time of King David and his successors, Hebrew was primarily used in the kingdom of Judah, the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the increasing body of Jewish exiles in Alexandria and Babylon.
But we are left with a mystery – why were certain parts of the Bible written in Aramaic, when the rest of it was in Hebrew? We can find our answer in the changing language dynamics at the time.

Ancient Hebrew

Ancient Hebrew was once an oral language, largely transmitted through stories, songs, and rabbinical teachings. It wasn’t until around 1000 BCE that it was written down. This written form was used as an official language in the unified kingdom of Israel and Judah until around 600 BCE. Later, when the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people was nearing its end, Hebrew was one of the two languages they were permitted to use in public, the other being Aramaic.
Hebrew was only used in the Holy Land, however, and the dispersal of the Jews meant that, although they needed the language to communicate in their community, they still needed to be able to communicate with non-Jewish people in the language spoken by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians – which was Aramaic.


Aramaic is an ancient Semitic language, and as such, had much in common with Hebrew. In fact, I it shares so many features with Hebrew that experts are unsure which language derived from the other. We do know that Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Near East, which lead to the increasing usage of the language for both official and religious functions. The widespread use of Aramaic meant that it could easily be used for everyday communication – regardless of a person’s native language.
Although it is unclear when exactly the switch took place, around 500 BCE the Jews in the Babylonian exile began writing in Aramaic rather than Hebrew. This is for both practical and religious reasons, as Hebrew had become the language of an increasingly dispersed people, and Aramaic – being dominant throughout the near East – was the language of international communication and economics.

Changes In The Bible

Aramaic gradually began to replace Hebrew in certain portions of the Bible. While the majority of the Old Testament is in Hebrew, certain sections of the scripture were written in Aramaic, including large parts of the books of Ezra and Daniel, sections of the book of Genesis, and certain passages in Jeremiah and other Minor Prophets.
The addition of Aramaic portions to the Bible are evidence of the changing language dynamics at the time and of the living, breathing nature of the Biblical texts in antiquity. This indicates that the authors of the Bible were aware that the language of the Near East was changing, and that in order to reach their audience, they needed to adopt different aspects of different languages.
In the New Testament, written around the same time as the Greek Septuagint, the language used depends on its audience. Certain passages in the Gospels and Acts are in Hebrew, such as the prayers of Jesus and the frequent quotation of Jewish Scripture. Other, more cosmic passages – such as the annunciation to the shepherds in Luke 2 – are in Aramaic, indicating that the authors had a clear sense of their audience and their linguistic needs.

Impact On Translation

The use of Aramaic, together with Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, has had a major influence on the translation of the Bible over the centuries. Most noticeably, it has led to the use of English as the preferred language of translation. Over the centuries, English has become the leading language of international communication, and thus, the translation of the Bible has been done with English as the primary language.
This has had a major impact on the understanding of the Bible. Whereas ancient Hebrew and Aramaic centered dialogue, culture, and religion around a shared set of values and experiences, modern English allows for the Bible to be translated and understood in different contexts, with new meanings and implications.

Modern Relevance

The importance of the original languages of the Bible cannot be underestimated. They provide us insight into the time and place wherein the texts were written, as well as the dozens of languages in which it has been translated and distributed. As individuals and communities ponder the relevance of the Bible today, the language of the original texts must not be forgotten or disregarded.
In summation, the original language of the Bible was ancient Hebrew, with a smaller portion in Aramaic due to the changing language dynamics at the time. Aramaic, used as the ‘lingua franca’ of the near East, became increasingly more used in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament. The original languages of the Bible were essential to its preservation and understanding, and to its subsequent translation into English.

Biblical Scholarship

The debates surrounding the original language of the Bible is an essential part of biblical scholarship. With its many versifications, translations, and interpretations, it is crucial for scholars to remember the contextual phrasing and societal nuances of the original language. This should inform further translations and interpretations, from Aramaic to Greek and from Coptic to English.
The original language of the Bible is of great importance to those studying and researching its contents, as it helps us delve into its various layers of meaning. Its insight into the music and cadences of ancient speech can teach us much about the history of these sacred texts. As its translation into English has become increasingly accurate, it has opened the Bible to a broader, more international audience.

Cultural Relevance

The ancient languages of the Bible can help us gain a greater understanding of its importance in more than just a faith-based sense. By looking at its words in their original form, we can gain insight into the culture in which the text was written. Even the way in which it has been translated into different languages can teach us a lot about the culture in which it was read and interpreted.
It is important that we pay attention to the original language of the Bible, for it can offer a unique perspective on the religious and social context of a text. It also helps provide a deeper understanding of its place in the grand scheme of history, both in a spiritual and cultural sense. This can help us as individuals, and as a collective, appreciate it as a timeless source of knowledge, inspiration, and revelation.

Modern Languages

The original language of the Bible has had a great influence on its many translations and interpretations. English has become the primary language of the Bible, not only in terms of the degree of accuracy which its use can bring, but also due to its immense global reach. In the modern world, English has become the language of globalisation and communication, making it the perfect language to express the wisdom of ancient texts in a modern context.
Though the original language of the Bible has been a dominant factor in its translation and interpretation for centuries, there are still many instances where modern languages are used as a means of communication and understanding. For example, some Bibles, such as the Ghana Bible, are in both the Twi language and English. This makes it easier for native speakers to understand, and encourages an appreciation of the Bible in all its forms and languages.
In conclusion, the original language of the Bible – primarily ancient Hebrew and Aramaic – is immensely important to our understanding and appreciation of the texts. It can provide us with insight into the culture, language, and spirituality of the time, as well as to our current cultural understanding. As the Bible has been translated into multiple languages, English has become the primary language due to its immense reach. But it is important that we remain aware of the original language of the Bible and use it to inform our current interpretations.

Hilda Scott is an avid explorer of the Bible and inteprator of its gospel. She is passionate about researching and uncovering the mysteries that lie in this sacred book. She hopes to use her knowledge and expertise to bring faith and God closer to people all around the world.

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