Which “Bible” did Jesus use?

Tyndale House, Cambridge

I discovered Dr. David Instone-Brewer last year and now I try to keep up with any new sermons he puts out while still going through his old ones. He’s a British scholar and Senior Research Fellow in Rabbinics and the New Testament at Tyndale House in Cambridge. And he is fun! He’s got a good sense of humor and puts the ideas down where anyone can reach them. I recently read his sermon on the various Bible versions available to Jesus and which ones Jesus used. Various Bible versions? you may say. I knew of only 2, the Greek Old Testament and the Hebrew, but turns out there was a third version that was often used, the Aramaic. Dr. Instone-Brewer says the Hebrew was the main version used in Palestine, the Septuagent (the Greek) was the choice outside of Palestine, and the Aramaic was used as a translation for the Hebrew. I knew Aramaic was Jesus’ native tongue but I didn’t know that there was an actual Bible translation in it being used at that time. So here’s Instone-Brewer’s run-down on these 3 main Bibles (we’re talking Old Testament only, of course)–

Hebrew Bible–was similar to what the King James Bible is to us today in that the language was archaic to the Jews of Jesus’ day and very hard to understand (don’t think of an updated version of the King James Bible, think original 1611 KJV). A reading from this Bible was always followed by an interpretation in Greek or Aramaic depending on the audience. Unlike the King James, however, it was not a translation at all but was the original language and, therefore, was always completely accurate–just no longer comprehensible by the common person. Only Hebrew scholars could really understand it when it was read aloud.

Greek Bible, the Septuagent, was roughly equivalent to the Good News Bible. It used modern language, was easy to understand, and had been translated phrase for phrase rather than word for word.

Aramaic Bible, known as the Targum, was another phrase by phrase translation, but was more like the original Living Bible in that it also added explanatory sentences when needed and “even substitutes modern concepts or personalities to make it relevant.”

So which version did Jesus quote from? To answer, Instone-Brewer gives examples of Jesus quoting from the OT and then he gives the passage as it reads in each Bible version. You get to pick out which version Jesus was quoting from, and it turns out Jesus used them all. Whichever version best suited the emphasis he wanted to make at that moment was the one he quoted. Most interesting of all to me is that Jesus didn’t mind quoting paraphrased versions of scripture. So when the mood strikes (or the Spirit leads) feel free to put your New American Standard aside and bring on The Message!

One of the best features of this sermon was seeing that Jesus was quoting OT passages in several places where it wasn’t obvious, places that are not usually marked as quotes in our New Testaments. You’ll see if you go read the whole sermon–it’s really great! (Not very long either.) Also, here’s the link to a complete list of Instone-Brewer’s sermons. Enjoy!

  1. Annie King says:

    I hope to get around to reading the sermon…it sounds really interesting. I would love to get together for lunch soon! I have several things I would like to pick your brain over. I miss our conversations so much. I never knew the information you shared in your blog. I love learning something new and having something new to think about. Thanks for sharing!

    • Laurie J. White says:

      Hey! The blog is recent–I thought it might be fun to take some of what I’m reading anyway and post about it. And I’d love to have lunch–let’s set something up. I’ll email you.

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