Friday, November 30, 2012

Jesus Existed (Part 3) - Jesus Spoke Aramaic (31 Days with Jesus - Day 6)

The Sea of Galilee

I taught for 12 years in the Doctor of Ministry program at Palmer Theological Seminary. It was there that I met my friend Craig Keener for the first time. I remember standing in his office looking at his books. I asked him, "What are some of the best books on the historical Jesus?" Craig mentioned some, and included Michael McClymond's Familiar Stranger: A Life of Jesus of Nazareth. "It's a very good book," Craig told me.

One of the things scholars like McClymond stress is the need to understand as much of the historical context as we can in order to understand the meaning of the biblical texts (or any texts, for that matter). He writes: “Like all human beings, Jesus lived in a particular time, place, culture, and society, and the interpretation of his life requires an understanding of that context.” (44)

What language did Jesus primarily speak? McClymond says:

“Jesus’immediate environment was more culturally diverse and cosmopolitan than has generally been recognized. It is probable, and perhaps likely, that Jesus had enough competence in Greek to converse in that language during his itinerant ministry. Nonetheless Jesus’ primary language was Aramaic, as indicated by the presence of some twenty-six Aramaic words in the New Testament Gospels.” (51)

N.T. Wright agrees. Jesus spoke Aramaic, some Hebrew, and probably at least some Greek. (Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 147)

The Word (Jesus - John 1:1-12) became flesh and pitched his tent among our tents. Jesus spoke the language of the people. He still does.

Note: some scholars (a minority) believe that Jesus spoke Hebrew, not Aramaic.