Jesus spoke Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew

In the Gospel of John, chapter 3, Jesus has a famous conversation with Nicodemus in which he says, “You must be born again.” The Greek word translated “again” actually has two meanings: it can mean not only “a second time” but also “from above.” Whenever it is used elsewhere in John, it means “from above” (John 19:11, 23). That is what Jesus appears to mean in John 3 when he speaks with Nicodemus: a person must be born from above in order to have eternal life in heaven above. Nicodemus misunderstands, though, and thinks Jesus intends the other meaning of the word, that he has to be born a second time. “How can I crawl back into my mother’s womb?” he asks, out of some frustration. Jesus corrects him: he is not talking about a second physical birth, but a heavenly birth, from above.

This conversation with Nicodemus is predicated on the circumstance that a certain Greek word has two meanings (a double entendre). Absent the double entendre, the conversation makes little sense. The problem is this: Jesus and this Jewish leader in Jerusalem would not have been speaking Greek, but Aramaic. But the Aramaic word for “from above” does not also mean “second time.” This is a double entendre that works only in Greek. So it looks as though this conversation could not have happened—at least not as it is described in the Gospel of John. (Jesus Interrupted, p 155)

Bart Ehrman, premier critic of the Bible, is wedded to the notion that early Christianity was born in a world of widespread illiteracy and ignorance. It is due to this presupposition that he discounts the story of Nicodemus. After all, the story only makes sense if the conversation was in Greek, but Ehrman claims, Jesus does not speak Greek, especially not to a leader in the Pharisee movement. This, of course, is speculation. Greek was the language of commerce, government, and scholarly writing. In fact, the earliest Bibles we have are all written in Greek!

It is apparent Jesus spoke multiple languages, as did many in the multicultural society. On the cross he speaks in Aramaic. His listeners apparently do not understand this as his native language. It was definitely not the language Jesus had been speaking to Pilot in Jerusalem (Greek). This was not the language Jesus used to debate the Bible as a child (Hebrew). Jesus spoke all three.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Bible, Ehrman, Jesus, People. Bookmark the permalink.

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