A photo showcasing a well-worn Bible open to three pages, each displaying Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts, representing the languages in which the Bible was written.

What 3 Languages Was The Bible Written In?

The Bible is one of the most influential books in human history, with billions of copies sold over thousands of years. Its words have shaped cultures and faiths across the globe. But what languages was this holy text originally written in?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: the Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the linguistic history of the Bible’s Old and New Testaments. You’ll learn about the original languages used by the authors, how those languages spread, and why translations were needed.

The Old Testament Was Written in Hebrew

Hebrew Was the Language of Ancient Israelites

The Old Testament was originally written mainly in Biblical Hebrew, the language used by the ancient Israelites. Hebrew belonged to the Canaanite group of the Northwest Semitic languages and was spoken by the Israelites from around 2000 BCE in ancient Canaan (modern day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria).

As the Israelites developed their own civilization, Hebrew remained an everyday language for writing, commerce and worship.

The earliest written Hebrew dates back to around 10th century BCE. Most of the Old Testament books ranging from Genesis to Malachi were composed between 1200 BCE and 100 BCE. Popular Hebrew Scriptures like the Torah books and major prophets were written during 600 BCE – 400 BCE when ancient Hebrew had evolved into its classical biblical form.

Classical Hebrew Dominated the Old Testament

Most Old Testament books were authored in Biblical or Classical Hebrew which flourished between 10th century BCE to 4th century BCE. Spoken Hebrew evolved over the centuries into different dialects but Classical Hebrew remained static due to religious preservation.

Even though it was no longer spoken regularly, it was considered a sacred language.

Classical Hebrew was characterized by its rich vocabulary and verbal system. The Old Testament has about 5300 Hebrew root words but over 80,000 inflected forms allowing for remarkable wordplay and expression. This form of articulated Hebrew suited the word of God represented by the holy texts.

Most Old Testament Hebrew texts give insights into the early life, history and belief system of the Israelites.

Later Parts Had Influence from Aramaic

During and after the later Babylonian exile, Aramaic influence increased in spoken Hebrew. So the Hebrew used in later OT books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel etc. was slightly different with some Aramaic loan words and syntax. But Classical Hebrew still dominated the writings.

After Alexander’s conquests, Aramaic became the common trade language of the Middle East. As Jewish scribes were more exposed to Aramaic, they increasingly replaced Hebrew with Aramaic until Hebrew was revived as a spoken language only in the 19th century.

The New Testament Was Written in Greek

Greek Was the Dominant Language in the 1st Century AD

In the 1st century AD when the New Testament was written, Greek had become the dominant language in the eastern Mediterranean regions and the Roman Empire. The conquests of Alexander the Great centuries earlier spread the Greek language far and wide.

By the time of Jesus and the apostles, an estimated 7 to 15 million people spoke Greek.

The variety of Greek used in the New Testament is called Koine or “common” Greek. This was the commonly used language of trade, commerce and communication in the Roman Empire at that time. Even in the city of Rome itself, many people spoke Greek as well as Latin.

Gospel Authors Wrote in Koine Greek

The books of the New Testament, including the four gospels of the life of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), were written in Koine Greek. This would have been the native language of some of the authors, while others would have known Greek well from living under Roman rule.

For example, the physician Luke, traveller Paul, and author of Hebrews were highly proficient in Greek. The gospel authors tailored their writings to reach a wide Greek-speaking audience across the empire who were interested in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

Some Influence from Aramaic Remained

However, the influence of Jesus’s native Aramaic can be seen in the New Testament such as in place names, personal names, and the quotes from Christ himself. Some key terms were also kept in their original Aramaic form, like “abba” for father, “amen” meaning “let it be so”, and “talitha koum” meaning “little girl, get up!”

So while the New Testament was written to spread the Christian message across the Greek-dominated world, the influence of Jesus’s own language and homeland remained firmly interwoven throughout its pages.

Small Parts of Both Testaments Used Aramaic

Aramaic Was a Common Regional Language

Although the Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek, small parts of both testaments were written in Aramaic. Aramaic was the common language of the Middle East between the 6th century BC and the 6th century AD.

It was widely spoken in Israel during Jesus’ time and was used in parts of the Book of Ezra in the Old Testament and four verses in the New Testament.

Here are some key facts about the use of Aramaic in the Bible:

  • Aramaic replaced Hebrew as the everyday language of Israel after the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC.
  • Half of the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament was written in Aramaic instead of Hebrew.
  • Seven verses in Ezra and one verse in Jeremiah were written in Aramaic.
  • The books of 1 Enoch and 2 Baruch were written completely in Aramaic.
  • In the New Testament, Mark 5:41, Mark 7:34, Mark 15:34, and John 20:16 quote Jesus speaking Aramaic phrases.

So while the vast majority of both testaments were in Hebrew and Greek, Aramaic was used in parts of the Bible where it was appropriate to record the actual spoken words and interactions between people at that place and time in history.

Examples of Aramaic Usage in Both Testaments

Here are some of the most notable examples of Aramaic usage in the Old and New Testaments:

  • “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (Mark 15:34) – This is one of the sayings of Jesus on the cross, meaning “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
  • “Talitha koum!” (Mark 5:41) – Jesus said this phrase meaning “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” as he resurrected a dead child.
  • The Book of Daniel from chapter 2 verse 4 to chapter 7 – This lengthy section contains stories and prophecies revealed to Daniel while in Babylon.
  • Ezra 4:8 – 12 – Official letters written from Persian officials to the king in Aramaic concerning the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls.

The use of Aramaic in these passages gives authenticity and cultural context to the stories and quotations. For instance, using the actual Aramaic phrase “Eloi, Eloi…” rather than translating it shows Jesus’ suffering in the language he truly spoke on the cross.

The Aramaic sections capture the historical setting and make the Bible come alive.

Latin Became Important for Western Translations

Latin Was the Language of Ancient Rome

Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire and was widely spoken throughout much of Europe during the first few centuries AD. As the Roman Empire expanded, Latin became the common language that united people across Western Europe.

Even after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, Latin continued to be used as the primary language of literature, law, education and religion in medieval Europe.

In ancient times, most early Christians spoke Greek, the common language of the eastern part of the Roman Empire. But as Christianity spread west into Europe, Latin became the language of the Western church.

Words like “bishop,” “deacon,” “angel,” “apostle,” and “psalm” entered the English language through Latin translations of the Greek New Testament.

The Vulgate Brought the Bible to Latin-Speaking Europe

In the late 4th century AD, Pope Damasus I commissioned Jerome, one of the most learned scholars of the time, to translate the Bible into Latin. Jerome translated both the Old and New Testaments from their original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into scholarly Latin, a version known as the Vulgate.

For over a thousand years, the Vulgate was the dominant Bible translation in Western Europe.

The Vulgate made the Bible accessible to people who spoke Latin across Europe. It became the Bible of medieval Western Christianity and helped standardize the Latin language. Many key theological terms like salvation, justification, sanctification, revelation and inspiration were transmitted from the Vulgate into our theological vocabulary today.

The Vulgate paved the way for later translations of the Bible into European vernacular languages.

The Bible Continues to be Translated into New Languages

Missionaries Spread Translations Across the World

Christian missionaries have played a pivotal role in translating the Bible into new languages over the past few centuries. As they traveled to foreign lands for evangelism, missionaries recognized the importance of making Scripture accessible to native peoples in their heart languages.

According to Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Bible has now been translated into over 3,000 of the world’s 7,000 languages.

In the 19th century, missionaries with various societies translated the Bible into scores of African, Asian, and Pacific Island languages. Famous missionary-translators like William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Hans Egede, and James Evans opened up God’s Word for the first time to millions of people across India, Burma, Greenland, and Canada.

Their sacrificial efforts to learn difficult indigenous languages and develop writing systems for unwritten tongues bore much fruit over generations.

Today, global missions agencies continue the important work of Bible translation. Indigenous Christian communities are also rising up to translate Scripture into their own local dialects. According to Wycliffe, over 2,000 translation projects are currently underway!

These translation efforts utilize modern linguistic tools but still require missionaries and mother-tongue translators to invest years of effort pouring over vocabulary, grammar, and cultural idioms. Their goal is to produce accurate, clear, natural-sounding translations that communicate the Word of God effectively to disparate language groups.

Modern Translations Make the Bible More Accessible

In tandem with the drive to translate Scripture into new tongues, Bible scholars periodically update translations into widely-spoken languages like English and Spanish to keep pace with linguistic and cultural changes.

According to a 2019 CBS News article, the Bible continues to be the world’s best-selling book with over 5 billion copies sold and distributed.

Modern English Bible versions like the New International Version (NIV), English Standard Version (ESV), New Living Translation (NLT) and Christian Standard Bible (CSB) are written in clear, contemporary language that makes God’s Word more accessible to today’s readers.

These translations are available in print, online, as downloadable apps, and even in audio formats to meet diverse needs. Simplified editions like the NIrV also help young readers and new believers better grasp the message of Scripture.

Dynamic-equivalence Spanish translations likewise update archaic language to make the biblical text less formal and easier to comprehend for modern Spanish speakers. According to American Bible Society data, the Reina Valera 1960 revision and Nueva Versión Internacional are among the most-read Spanish Bibles globally.

Undoubtedly, the diligent efforts of Bible translators and societies over generations have borne incredible fruit. Today, billions of people across thousands of language communities have access to God’s Word in their heart language thanks to the tireless, sacrificial work of those carrying on the task.

As missiologist Dr. David Barrett once said, “To study the growth of the Bible is to study the growth of Christianity. The two cannot be separated.”


In summary, the Old Testament was written primarily in Biblical Hebrew, with some later parts in Aramaic. The New Testament was penned largely in Koine Greek, also with traces of Aramaic. Latin became vital for Western translations like the Vulgate.

Today, the Bible continues to be translated into new tongues globally.

Understanding the original languages opens windows into the texts’ historical and cultural contexts. But the enduring power of Scripture stems from its timeless messages, which transcend language barriers and speak directly to the human heart.

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