The Bible is the written Word of God and is composed of 66 books spread out over two main sections: the Old Testament which covers the history of Jewish people from Creation to the time of Jesus and the New Testament which records the life of Jesus and the early Christian Church. The books of the Bible were written by an array of authors, both Jewish and Christian, in multiple languages ranging from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. The authors intended the books of the Bible to serve many functions, including teaching and providing instruction for living a moral life, a record of God’s redemptive work through history and as an encouragement and motivation for faithfulness. The incredible book that we read today was written over thousands of years and is a remarkable testament to the providence of God.
The majority of the Old Testament books were composed in Hebrew and formally called “The Tanakh” (תַּנַ״ךְ) which translates as “The Torah” which is the Law, “The Neki’im” which are the Prophets and “The Ketuvim” which literally mean “writings”. This collection was written and compiled between 1250 BCE and 90 BCE. In total it consists of 39 books and was written over the course of more than 1000 years. The main medium of this part of the bible involves ancient Hebrew, which was the spoken language of the Jews in biblical times.
The Jewish people during Jesus’ time on earth and in the time of the Babylonian exile spoke both Hebrew and Aramaic. This language is Syriac in origin but from the 6th century BC it was adopted by Jews as the spoken and written vernacular language in the Middle East, North Africa and Persia. Therefore, the original texts of a few sections of Daniel and Ezra were written in Aramaic. Additionally, one verse in Jeremiah 10:11 is also written in Aramaic due to the fact that the text refers to an Aramaic custom. The fact that Jewish people were experiencing all cultural contexts of Aramaic during these times is the foundation to why Aramaic was present in certain parts of the Bible.
The language of Greek was also used in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament. Greek was the official language of the Roman Empire which is why it becomes a valuable asset to the text of the Bible when looking at the time in which it was written. A large portion of the New Testament, known as the Septuagint, was translated from the Hebrew by alexan scholars in the third century BC and is a key source for studying the theological development for many Christian denominations. What really sets the Septuagint apart from other works of the period is its influence through its use of a translation technique that is considered smooth and literal.
The Bible was also written in other languagesbut not as extensively as Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. For example, 2 Johnand 3 John are written in Greek while the book of Ecclesiasticus is partially written in Greek and Latin. Ethiopic versions of the Bible, which only applies to the Old Testament, were found in the late 19th century with Aramaic texts of the Old Testament and numerous ancient versions of the Bible in a range of languages including Gothic, Old Slavonic and Syriac.
The incredible language diversity of the Bible serves to prove just how influential and interconnected the ancients were. There are biblical scholars around the world that devote their lives to deciphering the linguistic features of the Bible, and trying to gain a deeper understanding of how and why the Bible was written in such a wide array of languages. To understand the complexity and comprehensive nature of this work each scholar must develop an immense amount of knowledge regarding the cultures,environments and writing techniques of the ancient world.
The Bible is the most widely read and influential book of all time, yet it remains a mystery to many. It is breathtaking to think of how long it took to construct the immense book that stands in front of us today. A deeper understanding of this phenomenal text requires knowledge beyond our own language and understanding, but serves to illustrate the power of diverse language and our ability to communicate with people beyond our own cultures.
To appreciate the language of the Bible requires an appreciation for linguistic diversity, and part of that is understanding why and how so many different languages were used. During the period in which the Bible was written, the ancient Near East was a linguistically diverse region, with the expansion and ascendency of multiple empires and the ability of different cultures to travel and communicate. For this reason, it is not truly a surprise that the Bible is filled with an expansive selection of languages, with evidence of as many as eleven distinct languages in its original texts.
What is incredible is the fact that the Bible has been translated into more than 2,000 languages and dialects, making it the single most translated book in the world. The remarkable thing is that the Bible appeals to people of all languages and cultures, and is understood and appreciated by people of all ages and backgrounds. Reading the Bible helps you to gain a fuller understanding of the world and the people in it, by uniting people of all different backgrounds and sharing in a common experience.
The Bible was written in multiple languages to serve multiple functions, including teaching and providing instruction for living a moral life. What is even greater is that the Bible was written and compiled over thousands of years by a variety of authors, languages and cultures. We can see God’s powerful work, and his provision for millions of people all around the world, through his holy Word. His Word provides both comfort and truth, and is applicable to all of our lives no matter what language we speak.