Re: What language(s) did Jesus speak?

From: Michael H Burer (
Date: Sat Feb 08 1997 - 08:29:30 EST

On Sat, 8 Feb 1997 16:40:23 +1100 David McKay
<> writes:
>8th February, 1997
>We've been having a discussion on the theology list about John 21:
>One fellow is arguing the case for agapao meaning a strong love, and
>meaning a weaker version.
>I have attempted to show that John uses the 2 interchangeably to some
>extent. For example, he calls himself "hON HGAPA hO IHSOUS" in John
>but "hON EFILEI hO IHSOUS" in John 20:2.
>He uses AGAPAO for Jesus' love for Lazarus, Mary and Martha, but in
>verse uses FILEO for his love for Lazarus.
>If AGAPAO is meant to be used of God's love, why does John use FILEO
>John 5:20 "...the Father loves the Son"
>However, my arguments have not been accepted by my adversary in
>One of my arguments was that Jesus and Peter were probably speaking
>anyway, and so the words used may be John's and not their ipsissima
>I've lost my reference about this (other than a cursory note in Leon
>Morris' Commentary on John.)
>Can anyone help me? What language(s) did Jesus and his disciples
>I also argued that most translations do not make a distinction. From
>this I
>concluded that the translators had thought the problem through, and
>decided not to make the distinction. (NIV is a notable exception and
>gives"truly love" for AGAPAO and "love" for FILEO.) However, the other
>bloke countered with "...most [translators] have not done serious
>exposition of the Scriptural text in the way some pastors have."
>IMHO, these pastors he refers to must be like the ordinary people you
>who have the answers to all the world's problems. You know the folk,
>could run the world so much better, if given the chance? So why don't
>Simple! They're too busy cutting hair and driving taxis! (Apologies to
>taxi-driving, hair-cutting Greek students!)
>David McKay

Usually in the discussion about the languages Jesus spoke, scholars tend
to support one of three: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Usually the argument
is that he spoke one only. I think there is substantial support for the
argument that he spoke all three. This view is advanced in an article by
Philip Hughes in "New Dimensions in New Testament Exegesis," edited by
Longenecker & Tenney, published in 1974. Greek was the common language of
the day and would have served as a common "trade" language for most of
the people of the region. Jesus' mother tongue was probably Aramaic as
that was the language of the Jews. However, scholarly Jewish discourse
still took place in Hebrew, and as a Jew Jesus would have spent much of
his younger days studying Hebrew Bible and memorizing huge portions of
it. So it is very reasonable to assume he could speak Hebrew since much
of his time was spent talking to the Jewish "scholars" of his day. I
would therefore argue that Jesus spoke all three languages since all
three languages were current in the land in which he lived.

Michael Burer
Th.M. Student
Dallas Theological Seminary

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