In what Languages were the Books of the Bible written?

The word Bible literally means ‘Books’.  We see it today as one Book and we often refer to it as ‘a Book’.  This is why the Qur’an calls it ‘al kitab’.  But it really is a collection of Books written by more than 40 prophets who lived through a time span of over 1600 years.  These prophets had very different backgrounds.  Daniel (whose tomb is in modern-day Iran) was a prime minister in Babylonian (Iraq) and Persian (Iran) Empires.  Nehemiah was an attendant to the Persian Emperor Artaxerxes.  Ezekiel was a Priest.  Dawood (David) was King of Ancient Israel as was his son Suleiman (Solomon), and so on.  Thus you can really think of the Bible (or al Kitab) as more like a library, in one volume, that has 66 books.

To help us better ‘see’ the prophets and their books through history I have placed some (not all because there is not enough room) on a historical timeline.  What stands out is the very long period of human history this timeline covers.  The ticks (or units) of time in this timeline measure centuries (years by the 100’s)!  The green horizontal bars show the  lifespan of that particular prophet.  You can see that Ibrahim (Abraham) and Musa (Moses) lived many years!

Timeline for Prophets of Bible

Bible Prophets in Timeline – When these Prophets lived in human History

Because these prophets lived in different time periods, different countries (or empires) and in different social levels (i.e. some were with rulers and others with peasants) the languages used varied.  The Taurat (books of Moses/Musa – PBUH) was originally written in Hebrew.  The books of David/Dawood (PBUH) and Solomon/Suleiman (PBUH) in the Zabur were also in Hebrew.  Other books in Zabur (parts of Daniel and Nehemiah – PBUH) were originally written in Aramaic.  The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) would have spoken in Aramaic and perhaps Hebrew.  The books of the Injil (they are not shown on this timeline) were originally written in Greek.

What is most interesting for us is that these original languages are preserved, accessible and even used to this very day.  It is just that these languages, not being European, are not used by Westerners so they do not get the attention that, say, English gets.  You can see the Taurat in Hebrew online by clicking here.  You will note that it reads right to left like Arabic.  You can see and hear a prayer of Isa in original Aramaic here.  You can also see the original Greek of the books of the Injil here.  Actually it is from these originals that scholars translate the books of the Bible into modern-day languages like English, French, Thai etc, similar to how scholars translate the Qur’an from Arabic into the many languages of today.

10 thoughts on “In what Languages were the Books of the Bible written?

  1. Is the Gospel Originally in Greek or Hebrew ?

    The Books collected into the New Testament do not constitute the utterances of Jesus nor of his disciples. Jesus was of Jewish ancestry and so were his disciples. If any of Jesus’ utterances were to be found preserved in their original form, they could only be in the Hebrew language.

    Same is the case with the utterances of his disciples. But no copy of the New Testament in ancient Hebrew exists in the world. The old copies are all in Greek.

    Christian writers try to cover this Grave Defect by saying that in the times of Jesus the language in general use was Greek as you do. This is impossible for more reasons than one.

    Nations do not easily give up their language. It is for them as valuable an inheritance as any property or other possession. In Eastern Europe, there are people who for three or four hundred years have lived under Russian rule, but their languages remain intact to this day.

    France and Spain have ruled over Morocco and Algeria for a long time. Yet the language of these former subjected people is still Arabic. Two thousand years have passed since the time of Jesus. Yet the Jews have not forgotten their language.

    Even today, in parts of Europe and America, Jews speak “Yiddish”, a corrupt form of ancient Hebrew. If this long lapse of time spent amongst other peoples has not destroyed the Jewish language, then Roman rule in Palestine which had begun only about 50 years before the advent of Jesus was not long enough for a people to forget their language. But there are other important considerations also to be kept in view:

    1. Nations which attain to any importance in history do not give up their language, and the Jews were a very important people indeed.

    2. The religion of the Jews was recorded in Hebrew and for this reason particularly it was impossible for them to give up their language.

    3. In the scale of civilization and refinement, the Jews did not regard themselves as inferior to the Romans, rather they felt Superior and this must have made them proud of their language and reluctant to give it up.

    4. The Jews entertained hopes for the return of their political power; nations which fear the future become pessimistic and therefore tend to lose pride in their language. But the Jews in the time of Jesus were awaiting the advent of their King who was to re-establish Jewish rule. Looking forward to such a future, they could not have been so negligent in protecting their language.

    5. Jewish authors of that time wrote in their own language or in some corrupt form of it. If their language had changed, we should have had books of the time written in a language other than Hebrew.

    6. The oldest manuscripts of the New Testament are in Greek. But in the time of Jesus, the Roman Empire had not become divided into two halves. The center of the Empire was still Rome. The Roman and Greek languages are very difficult. If Roman influence had at all penetrated Jewish life, it should have resulted in the assimilation of Latin (and not Greek) words into the Hebrew language. Yet the oldest manuscripts of the Gospels are all in Greek. This proves that the Gospels were written down at a time when the Roman Empire had become divided and its eastern possession had become part of the Greek Empire, so that the Greek language had begun to exert its influence on Christianity and its literature.

    7. Phrases such as the following which are preserved in the Gospels in their original form are all Hebrew phrases:

    (a) “Hossana” – Matthew 21:9 (b) “Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani” – Matthew 27:46 (c) “Rabbi” – John 3:2 (d) “Talitha cumi” – Mark 5:41

    From the Acts, it appears that even after the crucifixion Jews spoke Hebrew:

    “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold are not all these which speak Galilaeans ? And how hear we, every man in our own tongue, where in we were born ? Parthians and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia,and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and in strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this ? Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.” (Acts 2:3-13)

    It is evident that at this time the language spoken in Palestine was Hebrew. Speaking any other language was extraordinary. Among the names mentioned is Rome, which means that the Roman language was not spoken in Palestine and whoever spoke it seemed a stranger.

    We are not concerned here with the merits of the narrative but we only wish to point out that this passage from the Acts proves conclusively that even after the crucifixion the language of the Jews was Hebrew. Those who knew other languages were exceptions. When some of the disciples spoke these other languages – among them Latin. Some people thought they were drunk and talking nonsense. If the country as a whole used Roman or Greek. no such reaction would be possible.

    It is clear, therefore, that the language which Jesus and his disciples spoke was Hebrew, not Latin or Greek. So copies of the New Testament written down in Latin or Greek must have been written down long after the time of Jesus, at a time when Christianity had begun to penetrate into Roman territory and Roman imperialist power had become divided into the Italian and Greek Parts. Books of this kind, composed 100 or 200 years after Jesus by unknown authors and attributed by them to Jesus and his disciples, can be of little use to any believer today. It was necessary, therefore, that we should have had another book sent to us from heaven, free from these defects and one which readers could regard with certainty as the very Word of God. The Holy Qur’an.

    Copyright (c) 1998 Mohamed Ghounem & Abdur Rahman
    The Authors give Full Permission to Use any of the Above Material As Your Own to distribute for Free.
    “Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.” Qur’an 16:125

    • Hi Amir

      It is good first to get some basic understanding before debating and arguing. It seems that this (to simply argue) is what is driving you. First of all, the language spoken by the Galilean Jews (which Jesus was) was Aramaic. This is close to Hebrew but not the same. We see words of Aramaic in the Gospels (such as when ‘Peter’ is named ‘Cephas’). This is why the Mel Gibson movie ‘The Passion of Christ’ had Jesus and the Jews speak in Aramaic. (The Roman soldiers spoke Latin). Take your item ‘5’ Parts of some of the books in the Old Testament are written in Aramaic. The later ones inc. Daniel, Nehemiah which have Persian correspondence is written in Aramaic. Your point ‘6’ is incorrect. The Roman Empire was divided into 2 around 325 AD by Constantine. Yet there are dozens of Greek manuscripts that are dated up to 200 years before this. In other words, the division of the Roman empire into 2 had nothing to do with the original Greek writings. The Bible was translated finally into Latin around 400 AD by Jerome. That Aramaic was spoken widely by the Jews then is easily determined by doing a word search on ‘aramaic’ through the New Testament which yields the following:

      John 5:2
      Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.

      John 19:13
      When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha).

      John 19:17
      Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).

      John 19:20
      Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.

      John 20:16
      Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

      Acts 21:40
      After receiving the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic:

      Acts 22:2
      When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. Then Paul said:

      Acts 26:14
      We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

      So you are quite mistaken on the specific item you seem to be arguing for (Hebrew). But your main point (I think) is that since the original writings of New Testament (which are in Greek) are different than the spoken language of Jesus (Aramaic and not Hebrew) that this shows (according to your thinking) that these books were written 200-300 years later. If you study my article on scientific textual criticism you will see that this is quite false. Even Bart Ehrman (the New Testament scholar who is an avid unbeliever) argues that the books of New Testament were written in first century. He puts them 35-65 years after Jesus. The reason? We have manuscript copies starting at 125 AD. There are quotes from writers outside of the New Testament (like Clement who wrote in 95 AD) who quote from the New Testament books. There is no way that these books were written say 200 AD if there are copies of them from 125 AD and people are quoting from them at 95 AD.

      Showing that the books were written before 100 AD (in Greek) does not necessarily mean that they are reliable. Bart Ehrman still does not think so even though he puts them in 1st century. You are free to continue not to accept them. But you will need to update your reasons for choosing so.

  2. The Torah [Tawrat] was written in the so called Aramaic – which is actually ancient Arabic, the zabur of David was written in the Jewish Language [since David was a Jew and a King of the Jewish people] and as for Jesus, I believe that the Gospel was written in Greek [since he lived in the era of Pontiac – the Roman Governor General and Greek was the Lingua Franca (to a certain extent) of Middle East and besides the Jews were already influenesd by the Greek language.

    • Salam again Saleh
      Thanks for all your comments. I cannot keep up:) But here some of your information is wrong. The Tawrat (Torah) was originally written in Hebrew. I will put up a link shortly to a university presentation I did last month, but it is a fact (google it if you like) that the oldest copies of the Torah (called the Dead Sea Scrolls) are dated to about 200-100BC. That makes them very very old. And they are in Hebrew. But you are correct about the injil/Gospel. It was written in Greek because Greek was the universal language of that day. It was in the era of the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate (not Pontiac) that Isa (pbuh) lived. Interestingly, the Taurat was translated into Greek about 200 BC. So the taurat was available in two languages in the day of Isa (pbuh) Hebrew and Greek. The Greek translation is called the Septuagint. Please see my post on it here on my other website.

      • Salam Ragner,

        I concur with you that The Torah was written in Hebrew. In fact the word ‘Hebrew” was indeed in existence, but it predated the Israelites and did not refer to anything remotely Jewish. The words ‘Ibri (Habiru) and ‘Ibrani (Hebrew) were in usage even before 2000 B.C.E. and referred to a group of Arab tribes from the northern reaches of the Arabian Peninsula, in the Syrian desert. The appellation spread to other Arab tribes in the area until it became a synonym for ‘son of desert.’ Cuneiform and Pharaonic texts from before the Israelites also use such words as Ibri, Habiri, Habiru, Khabiru and Abiru. In this sense the term Ibrani, as described to Abraham in the Bible, means a member of the ‘Abiru (or nomadic Arab tribes), of which he was a member. The phrase “Ibrit, denoting Jews, was coined later on by the rabbis in Palestine. (See Israel Wilfinson, Tarikh al-Lugat as- Samiyya (History of Semitic Languages), Dar al-Qalam, Beruit, Lebanon, PO BOX 3874, ND, pp. 73-79).

        Regards

        • Salaam Saleh
          I have been away and you have added lots of comments. Thanks. On this one I think we do not disagree about historical facts. The Armana letters from about 1400 BC talk about the ‘Habiru’. Now the Old Testament itself shows this same naming system. All the oldest books (eg torah, Joshua, Judges etc.) do not use the word ‘Jew’. The earliest book that contains the word ‘Jew’ is Jeremiah and he lived 600 BC, 400 years after Dawud (pbuh) and 900 years after Musa (pbuh). Before Jeremiah the term ‘Hebrew’ or ‘Israelite’ was used. It is easy to verify by doing word searches in an on-line bible.
          Now our facts may not disagree but perhaps our interpretations do. The fact that ‘Jew’ is not mentioned in the earliest books (in Bible or outside it as we agree) does not mean that Torah and Zabur have nothing to do with Jews. The Jews are the descendants of Abraham (the Hebrew) through Isaac (the Hebrew) and then through Jacob (also known as Israel). It is just that Israel had 12 sons which became the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel. They had a political split in 900BC and became 2 nations: Judah/Benjamin in the South and the other 10 tribes in the North. The Northern Kingdom was conquered in 722 BC and most of the people of these tribes were killed or assimilated. So the tribe of Judah became the flagship tribe of the descendants of Jacob. That is how the word ‘Jew’ came about, it is derived from ‘Judah’ and it comes after the destruction of the 10 tribes in 722 BC. This is why the first mention of ‘Jew’ is at about 600 BC. So the ‘Jews’ descend from Abraham the Hebrew, and as such they spoke Hebrew.
          Perhaps a modern analogy will help. 50 years ago we would say ‘Soviet’ regarding a person who lived in Soviet Union. But the Soviet Union dissolved in 1990 and the peoples in that union separated. Today the main (by far) country that came out of the Soviet Union is Russia, and we would call a person coming from there a Russian. But 50 years ago most Soviets were Russian and we can (and sometimes do) use the words interchangeably. The fact that ‘Soviet’ and ‘Russian’ are different words do not mean that they are not related. It is the same with ‘Jew’ and ‘Hebrew’

  3. Thanks. I asked two questions, and one of them is answered here.”The books of the Injil (they are not shown on this timeline) were originally written in Greek.”. I also asked in which language did Jesus PBUH speak?

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