The Languages of the Bible
Thank God for Bible translators! Until just a few hundred years ago, the Bible was not available in English, let alone other languages. The vast majority of Bibles were in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew (for the Old Testament). Even today, many people groups still lack a translation in their mother tongue.
The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew, the language of the Jewish people. During the exile to Babylon, the Jews learned a related language, Aramaic, which was spoken in Babylon. Some later Old Testament authors wrote in Aramaic.
After the conquests of Alexander the Great (he died in 332 BC), Jews who had migrated to Egypt began to speak a simplified form of Greek. They translated the Old Testament into a Greek version called the Septuagint. During Jesus’ time, many Jews used those Greek Scriptures. The Greek text has influenced our New Testament in some places.
All our earliest New Testament fragments are in Greek, though it is possible that some writers first used Hebrew or Aramaic. Jesus may have spoken all three languages.
A Note on Bible Pronunciation
Transliteration means writing the words of one language using the letters of another so those words can still be pronounced as they sound in the original language. This website transliterates Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic names for God using English letters. The words generally sound as they are written. There are some exceptions:
In Greek the vowels e and o can be “short” (e, as in met and o, as in not), or “long” (ē, as in obey and ō, as in bone).
In Hebrew and Aramaic a few letters seem awkward at first:
q is pronounced like our k (Modern Hebrew transliterations write it as k).
ts as in cats.
kh as in Bach (Modern Hebrew transliterations write it as ch).
Some words end with th; other systems of transliteration have just t.
Scholars debate the correct Bible pronunciation of the letter waw; the name David was probably first pronounced “Dawid” (the Greek has Dauid) but later changed to “David.” This site uses w.
A similar debate revolves around the divine name Yahweh (were the letters YHWH pronounced “Yahweh,” “Yahveh” or “Jehovah”?).
A few words contain silent vowels that make the word sound as though there is an emphatic break between the syllables. This is indicated by a’ as in Ya’aqov (pronounced Ya – akov, meaning “Jacob”). Other words are joined. Ha’adon (pronounced ha – adon) means “the Lord”. In some photographs of the names of God in Hebrew, modifying letters are present but not included in the transliteration because they make little difference to the actual name. For instance, a prefix letter can indicate that something is given “to God.”
Hebrew and Aramaic read from right to left but transliterations are written left to right. Remember that when you look at the photographs of the Aramaic and Hebrew names of God. Also, most Hebrew vowels are represented by dots and lines, above or below the consonants.
This site transliterates Hebrew and Aramaic words according to the Society of Biblical Literature General Usage Table. Comments and corrections are welcome if you find deviations from that standard. Strong’s Concordance numbers are provided with the transliteration. The numbers are a roughly alphabetical reference to every word in the Bible in the three original languages–helpful for further Bible study.