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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Languages of the Bible

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The Old Testament was first written in Hebrew, with the exceptions of much of Ezra 4-7 and Daniel 2:4-7:28 , which appear in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek, though Jesus and the early believers may have spoken Aramaic.

Characteristics of Hebrew Hebrew is a Semitic language related to Phoenician and the dialects of ancient Canaan. Semitic languages have the ability to convey abundant meaning through few words. Importance rests on the verb, which generally comes first in the sentence because action is the most significant element. Similarly, modifiers (such as adjectives) follow nouns, lending greater weight to the nouns. Typical word order for a sentence is: verb—subject—subject modifiers—object—object modifiers. Deviation from this order gives emphasis to the word which comes first.

Characteristics of Aramaic Aramaic is akin to Hebrew, and shares a considerable vocabulary with it. It began as the language of Syria and was gradually adopted as the language of international communication. After about 600 B.C., it replaced Hebrew as the spoken language of Palestine. Hebrew then continued as the religious language of the Jews, but the Aramaic alphabet was borrowed for writing it.

Characteristics of Greek Greek belongs to the Indo-European language group. It spread throughout the Mediterranean world after about 335 B.C. with Alexander's conquests. The New Testament is written in a dialect called koine (meaning “common) which was the dialect of the common person. New Testament Greek is heavily infused with Semitic thought modes, and many Aramaic words are found rendered with Greek letters (for example, talitha cumi , Mark 5:41 ; ephphatha , Mark 7:34 ; Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani , Mark 15:34 ; marana-tha , 1 Corinthians 16:22 ). So also are such Latin words as “kenturion” (centurion) and “denarion” (denarius). Greek's accurateness of expression and widespread usage made it the ideal tongue for the early communication of the gospel. Paul no doubt knew all three biblical languages, and Latin as well. See Alphabet; Aramaic ; Daniel, Book of ; Ezra, Book of ; Greek; Hebrew .

Larry McKinney

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Languages of the Bible'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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