Did Jesus speak Aramaic and why does it matter?

First, I find it necessary to state that I believe that I’m 100% Catholic. But, the portrayal of Jesus as having spoken Aramaic, and only Aramaic, has troubled me for quite some time. Years in fact. I have attempted to avoid the issue. I know its comforting to state that Jesus spoke Aramaic, so He would have said “Cephas” in Matthew 16.

Someone help me see it, I don’t. I think its a rather weak argument. I don’t see that the Church teaches that and I know some Apologists do. I see Apologetics as defending our ‘faith’ in the Truth, and not some sort of spiritual pride, and ‘got ya’ mentality over those erring Protestants. I have found that I recognize when I do that in conversation, and it’s usually counter productive. When I found the book “The seven deadly sins of Apologetics” by Mark Brumley, I saw that someone else felt the same way.

We hate ambiguity, and want to be ‘victorious’, but teaching the ‘Aramaic hence Cephas’ theory is a bridge too far. I believe that it is exactly one of the things Mark wrote about. Again, I have not seen any Church teaching on it, and I would love to. I don’t believe that I am ignorant on the subject, but I easily could have missed something. I am open to see it.

Mark talked about too much reasoning and I agree to a point. Its when reasoning is presented as truth; that truth is sometimes followed by an indignant attitude. I know, I’ve been on both sides of that discussion. But, we lose people.

I would love to discuss the 'if this, then that" leaps that arrive at our need to say Jesus spoke Aramaic, and Matthew was written in Hebrew etc.

Best, Patrick:)

This is a small portion about the Aramaic language from the ‘Catholic Bible Dictionary’ edited by Scott Hahn:

‘As Aramaic was spoken commonly in Palestine during the New Testament times, Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic (Matt 26:73). Fragments of Aramaic appear, for example, in Matt 16:17; Mark 5:41, 7:34, 14:36, 15:34; John 1:42; and Acts 1:19. The Gospel stories were probably first transmitted orally in Aramaic, although only the Gospel of Matthew is reported to have been written originally in Hebrew or Aramaic. The influence of Aramaic is seen also in late biblical and rabbinic Hebrew, rabbinic literature, and the writings of Syriac Christianity.’

I don’t argue with any of that. Notice the word “probably” transmitted in Aramaic, and is “reported” to have been written. That’s not Catholic doctrine. It’s also not presented as “Truth”

Aramaic was the major language some 4 to 6 centuries before Christ; Greek was really the language of the region at the time of Christ. Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek were all spoken regularly in the Galilean region during Christ’s youth.

The Septuagint was in Greek. Josephus wrote in Greek. Jesus and the disciples quoted the Septuagint. All of the New Testament except ‘perhaps’ Matthew was written in Greek.

I studied the rabbinical literature of the period for quite some time. Why they wrote and spoke Hebrew is an entirely different topic and I would be happy to discuss it.

The dictionary quote you used isn’t definitive in any way. The dictionary quote uses about a half dozen quotes of fragments of Aramaic in the entire New Testament and says nothing of the Greek in the New Testament. Why? In social science, we call that bias and not truth. It is slanted towards agreement with a narrative, but that doesn’t make “Oral” Tradition.

Best, Patrick

He spoke Aramaic/Hebrew on the Cross.

John 19:19 -20 Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

Jesus had a conversation with Pilot “Latin” so its safe to say He spoke all three languages. I think being a Jew we can conclude what his native language was?

I agree with you completely. He spoke all three, and undoubtedly Latin also.

I moved to South Florida from rural Minnesota. I am about an hour and a half North of Miami. The newspaper is published in Spanish as well as English. Hispanics make up about 1/2 the population of the Lauderdale?Miami metro area. There’s also a large contingent of Haitians.

Was it Irenaeus who wrote something like (paraphrase) "Matthew was ministering to the Hebrews, so his gospel was written in their language.

Well, on the Miami Herald website, it says almost word for word what Irenaeus wrote. It says that the paper is published in Spanish for those of Hispanic descent.

My wife is a nurse, she’ll hear several different languages each shift. Many people intermix idioms, and or words and clichés as they communicate.

Best, patrick

Hint: the Miami Herald is simultaneously written and published in English! :thumbsup:

Best, Patrick

I’d like to understand your conclusion. The Septuagint, a century or 2 before, while a source of division, was a result of many of them losing their language.

A common discussion among academics point to the commonality of the Aramaic language some 4- to 6 centuries prior to the time of Christ.

In context, 4 to 6 centuries from today, people thought the Earth was flat.

I know, not ‘concluding’ is difficult. And, the Galilean region probably did maintain large usage of Aramaic. As did, the Pharasees, but that’s another story.

Best, Patrick

I think that this argument about their speaking Aramaic is for the prupose of countering the Bible-based Protestant argument about Peter’s being “the Rock.” Their argument is based on the idea that Christ and the Apostles were speaking Greek.

Our argument is that they probable were not speaking Greek; they were probably speaking Aramaic. It is normal for people who all have the same native language to use that language when they are together, and not normal for them to use another language. So the likelihood of a Greek-based argument’s being correct is *less likely *than an argument based on their having been speaking Aramaic.

It is not completely definitive, but it doesn’t need to be. It is more of a refutation than a positve argument for.

I am unclear what your point is here. Simply that Jesus may have known and used multiple languages? I am not aware of any apologist insisting that He only knew and spoke Arsmaic, merely that it was His native language and the one He most likely taught in (since, unlike the Apostles later on, He taught almost entirely His own people).

We know He did speak Aramac. We know He understood the Hebrew of the Scriptures. He communicated with Romans a few times, which could have been them speaking Aramaic or Him speaking Greek or Latin. (The Romans at the Cross seem to have understood most of His utterances but not the one specifically mentioned as being in Aramaic, so it’s quite possible He did speak Greek or Latin.)

It seems to be mostly people who want to push the authorship of the New Testament as late and remote from the eyewitnesses as possible who insist that the Apostles (and by extension, perhaps Jesus Himself) were uneducated and would not have known any Greek. Catholic apologists are generally unlikely to be in that group, though.

As for the language Jesus used at Caesarea Phillipi, we commonly presume Aramaic because He was speaking only to close followers who all would have been fellow Aramaic speakers. There’s indirect evidence in the letters of Paul, which (though written in Greek) commonly refer to Peter as Cephas, suggesting that was the name he actually used. Still, it’s not a huge problem if we presume the Greek of Matthew is a direct transcription of what Jesus actually said. The “kepha” argument is not the only one we’ve got.


I too have increasingly felt this especially on CA on the radio- to the point of it coming across as very uncharitable. This saddens me since CA on the radio was big in answering many problems I had in stepping into the Catholic Church. I think however I sense more of an 'intellectual pride ’ mentality than a ‘got ya’ and I think one only can ‘see’ that when one has really researched the topic one’s self so perhaps I am falling into the same trap.

On your other point however ;with regards to the church authoritatively teaching that Jesus spoke one language or the other . On one hand you seem to dismiss what one person offered as an example from Doctor Scott Hahn ( himself convert and a VERY learned Theologian and a professor not only at Franciscan U but now also at a seminary ) and yet you offer as an example a newspaper !
I think that you forget that Church authoritative teaching is passed on not only by the written word but also though sacred tradition and in fact it is sacred tradition that precedes the written teaching. So to demand that a teaching is written by the Church to be authorities is in fact not a Catholic teaching it is a protestant teaching. This is why we have the Protestant error that says something has to be in the Bible or it is not true ( which in my observations from working for 3 years at a Christian Book store , leads to what I call ‘Bible worship’) only to find that the Bible it’s self does not proclaim this truth , quite the contrary John tells us that not everything is written down or it would cover the entire world and Paul tells us the teachings are written and spoken.

St Francis,

The point is about the “rock” in Matthew 16. However, the Catholic, (and I’m Catholic) point of view is heralded in books and on Catholic Radio, also tracts from Catholic Answers, for instance. It is presented as truth. This presentation discourages discussion, and the search for Truth.

Best, Patrick


I’m not going to get into my qualifications. Scott Hahn helped lead me back to the Church from Leadership in a Protestant church. However, the example you quote has nothing definitive in it. It uses words like perhaps and reported. That’s not an “oral” tradition being handed down.

So, I’m not ignoring Church Authority at all. Scott Hahn would be the first to tell you he is not in the Church hierarchy, nor in Church Authority, but under it.

I used the example of a newspaper, because it is contemporary, something people may grasp, because they don’t seem to be able to grasp the complexities of the culture in which Jesus spoke into.

Best, Patrick


Yes, I believe that Jesus was multi-lingual. As was Matthew, he was a publican and tax collector. They would have especially needed to be multi-lingual. Also, Matthew could not have ascended, or been awarded, tax collector, politically without it.

I firmly believe that Matthew 16 CLEARLy makes Peter the Pope, but for distinctly different reasons. Your right “kepha” is a presumption, and last I checked, that could be a sin. But, it’s presented as fact, and that closes the door to seeing why Petra and Petros were used in the Greek Matthew, (the only copy we’ve got.) So, that’s a stumbling block.

Best, Patrick


I gave you a quick answer when I perused the posts. That may have been inappropriate.

I am in a re-write of a book that I finished a little over a year ago. I spent several years studying the socio-political aspects of the Israelites during the Joshuan reign, Judges, and then Samuels role; how this transformed into the Sanhedrin council, and the sects that fought for the sole of nation and culture; the culture of Jesus’ time.

When I teach or try to explain, I give modern day analogies or examples. I find I learn better that way, and so do many others.

So, the newspaper analogy was deeper in Apologetics and had nothing to do with the dictionary quote posted. A couple of the church fathers made it a point, because Greek was so prevalent, to note that Matthew was written in Aramaic, or Hebrew, or his native tongue.

St. Matthew was educated. He needed to be multi-lingual in his former job. So, the church fathers may well have found it necessary to explain that he published it in (Hebrew) but not Greek. That was the point about the newspaper. They proclaim that its published in Spanish, but not English. That’s a given. 2000 years from now that might not be as readily recognizable.

Critically thinking, there is something you may have failed to see. If it says that Spanish was commonly spoken, or Hebrew was commonly spoken, that’s slanted bias toward an opinion or narrative. It can be equally true that English or Greek is commonly spoken.

Best, Patrick


Sorry this has become long winded, but there was so much in your post. The “Oral Torah” was the oral tradition of the Old Testament. It was eventually compiled into several different books. The Oral Tradition of the Catholic Church for the most part, could be looked at as a summation in the Catechism. Yes, we have the Doctors and the church fathers, also the saints etc.

Scott Hahn can write that Hebrew was a common language during Jesus time. The Church Authority wouldn’t have a problem with that. He could also write that Greek was a common language at the time. The Church also wouldn’t have a problem with that. Both are true. (Not only one)

Also, if you’ve noticed, the Church doesn’t definitively interpret each line of scripture. Catholic dictionaries and encyclopedias have long winded discussions on, let’s say whether Matthew was written in Greek or Hebrew originally. It will generally looks at all the viewpoints.

Doctors of the Church, which is different from (Dr) Hahn, had some differing views at times. Catholic professors of Theology may look at some things differently. I don’t think you’ll find a single one who says that Jesus only spoke Aramaic, or Aramaic was the only language of the disciples, or of the Jews, etc,etc.etc

A professor, even Scott Hahn, would not claim something like this to be “Oral” with a capital O, “Tradition” with a capital T.

That’s Mark’s point(The Seven Deadly Sins of Apologetics), and mine also. Many end up believing it to Orally Authoritative. And, that’s inappropriate and problematic.

Best, Patrick

Um, “presumption” is a sin when one “presumes” to be going to heaven (newadvent.org/cathen/12403a.htm). Making educated guesses or saying something that is likely to be true but not completely certain is not sinful.

So, are you saying that it is not 100% certain (only, let’s say, 99% certain) that in that case Aramaic was used, and that if that lack of complete certainty is not made completely clear, it will lead to conclusion that is certain to be wrong…? I don’t see how that conclusion would be supposed to follow, thus you probably meant something else - but I don’t really understand, what…

M Pat,

Presumption can go beyond salvation. But, that’s for another thread. Making an educated guess is not a sin. Presenting the guess as fact, in my opinion, is. I’ll be glad to discuss presumption on another thread if you start one. Here, it’s just a rabbit trail.

I am saying that no one is 100% sure, and no one is 99% sure. Noone is 90% or 80% etc etc. If you say you are that certain, that’s not even faith. And, does your faith require that certainty? Ambiguity is ambiguity. An educated guess is not fact, and it is not faith.

There are things that we all believe. The Holy Spirit guides the Church. It guided the writer, chronicler, and/or transcriber of Matthew. Matthew is inspired. We know that Matthew was written, or transcribed, in Greek.

To presume that Matthew 16, in the copy we have, in Greek, is not inspired, would be in my estimation, a sin. However, that’s certainly debatable.

To presume that Matthew, or the transcriber (we don’t know which) mistakenly used words that didn’t reflect the original intent of the gospel, is a dangerous proposition and a slippery slope. And, sin in my estimation. Go ahead and dispute the sin part.

Did the Holy Spirit make a mistake there? If so, what other parts can we trust? And, how do we expect others to believe our ‘truth’.

It doesn’t matter if Jesus said Cephas or Petros/Petra, The ‘writer’ or scribe of Matthew deemed it necessary. He certainly could have used Cephas, if he chose to.

Best, Patrick

Well, it’s obviously “offtopic” here, but, because of that, maybe it would be better to avoid pointing out sins of the others (real or not)…? Please… :slight_smile:

I am not completely sure what you are saying, but, well, at the very least there is a sense in which anything defined infallibly can be said to be “100% certain”… And it does not mean that we are not dealing with faith.

Sure. I don’t think anyone disagrees…

Do you mean that the first version that survived was the Greek one…? Only that there was a version written in Greek…? That the original version was written in Greek…? Or something else?

Are you sure anyone here claims such things…? That “Matthew 16, in the copy we have, in Greek, is not inspired”…? That “the Holy Spirit make a mistake there”…?

I too believe Christ was multi-lingual.

However, your two messages here put together confuse me–i believe your note to Usagi illuminated what you wrote to me.

Overall, you seem to be saying:

  1. Protestants take the Greek version of this conversation and use it to undermine the idea of the Papacy.
  2. Catholics counter by suggesting that the conversation was probably conducted in Aramaic.
  3. Catholics are sometimes too forceful or triumphalistic in their exposition of Catholic apologetics.
  4. When Catholics are too adamant about the conversation’s being held in Aramaic, they are shutting off any speculation about discussing the possible ramifications of the nuances of the conversation if it had been held in Greek.
  5. This could be sinful (!).

What is your overall point with all this?


My point is this. I lean toward Matthew having composed his Gospel in both Greek and Hebrew/Aramaic. It just makes sense. But, the rest of the New Testament seems to have been originally composed in Greek.

Catholic Apologists seemed to grope for an answer to the Petros/Petra dilemma. We just don’t know what Jesus said or how He said it. But, we do know He made Simon Peter the Pope.

We don’t know the words He used. But, we have a Greek gospel that uses the Petra problem. Well, the ‘family’ of God (perhaps Abraham), the ‘household’ of God, and the Kingdom of God all had chief stewards, or chief servants. All of them.

The Pope occupies this office. I’m sure we all agree. Petros is the occupier or the office holder and Petra is the office. Petros is masculine and Petra is feminine.

In Hebrew, Greek, Italian, and Spanish etc etc, the office holder is ALWAYs masculine in grammatical gender and the office itself is feminine in gender. (Remember affixing a peg in a secure place, you get it)

If I were to say thou art president(masculine) and on the presidency(feminine) I will build my church, that would be accurate grammatically. Or, thou art priest(masculine) and on the priesthood (feminine) I will build my Church.

It goes on and on. ALWAYS. The office holder has a grammatical gender that is masculine and the office itself is feminine. Like a chair, the office can receive new occupants but the chair remains.

do searches for whatever offices and office holders you can think of, and in any of those language. English doesn’t have grammatical gender.The office (Petra) is always feminine!
So, the word Petra establishes an Office that will never end.

You will be shocked at how it grammatically works. I’ve spent a lot of time on it. I challenge you. "Thou art the chief steward (it would be masculine) and on the office of the chief steward (it would be feminine) I will build my Church.

The writer or translator definitely understood the difference of the office and the office holder. Their languages were steeped in grammatical gender.

I’m not a linguist but its easy to see. Its not a mistake. It creates Christ’s office of the chief servant (steward)

Did Christ say Kephas? Maybe. But the gospel of Mathew knew what Christ was saying!

Best, Patrick

I can post several Geek and Hebrew examples of the office and office holder if you would like. But, Kephas is what we used to call a rabbit trail. I’d like to get the dog back in the hunt.

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