There are a few instances in the Gospels where the words originally spoken by Jesus are transliterated . For instance, we see at Mark 5:41 ;" He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). We also see at Mark 15:34: " At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

One would be curious to know as to why only a few original words of Jesus in Aramaic are transliterated in the Gospel . Did evangelist Mark intend to give certain emphasis by quoting the original words ? What is the Catholic Church's teaching on this topic ?

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    Eli Eli sabachthani is follwed by a misunderstanding in which some of the crowd think He is calling for Elijah. In order to explain how this mis-hearing could have occured it is necessary to show the similarity between the words Eli Eli and Elijah, Otherwise it makes no sense that "My God" could possible be mistaked for "Elijah" as they seem totally different sounds. This of course does not explain the other incidences though, so this is not an answer
    – davidlol
    Feb 5, 2016 at 17:21

3 Answers 3


In the case of "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani" (Mark 15,34) the Aramaic is needed to explain the misunderstanding in verse 35 when some of the crowd think He is calling for Elijah. The mistake is explicable only because of the similarity between the sound Eloi and the sound Elijah.

In the case of "Talitha kuom" (Mark 5, 41) the Aramaic phrase seems to have connotations which are lost in translation to the Greek. Hastings Bible dictionary describes links between talitha and lamb and suggests the phrase might be translated into English as "Lambkin arise", as we too have a word, Lambkin, which is both a term of endearment addressed to a child, and a small lamb. Matthew Henry says that Dr Lightfoot says kuom (arise) was also used as a way of wishing a speedy recovery when addressed to a sick person. Possibly then the Aramaic phrase in English could be something like "Lambkin, get betterl". The inability to fully convey the gentleness of Christ's words into Greek led Mark to leave it in Aramaic for readers who understood that language, or might learn the phrase, while also providing a better than nothing translation in Greek for other readers.

Boanerges (Mark 3, 17) was given as a nickname to James and John, it is translated as Sons of Thunder. Here, Boanerges is given as a name, so it is transliterated as a name, and then its meaning given to show its derivation. They were not addressed as Sons of Thunder, but as Boagernes.

In the case of "Abba" Father (Mark 14,36) the Aramaic word Abba is retained along with the Greek word for Father. In English we have many words ("Dad", "Papa", "Pop", "Daddy", "Pater", "Farv" etc) all of which mean father but all of which hold different connotations. Mark may have felt that Abba conveyed a peculiar mix of intimacy and respect which he didn't want to lose, but couldn't exactly translate.

In the case of "Corban" (Mark 7, 11), which is translated as dedicated to God, the explanation here is that Corban was used as a technical term, or piece of jargon, referring to a particular practice. This could loosely be simplified as dedicated to God. There is a little more to it than the plain meaning, that Mark does not really want to go into there.

Ephphatha (Mark 7 34) was the cry uttered by Jesus when healing the deaf and dumb man. This was used in some liturgies at Baptism and Mark may have been indicating its origins here. Also it was such a startling cry that it must have been remembered by all who heard it.

There may also be the use of one or two literary devices.

Agatha Christies Poirot, a Belgian detective living in London, speaks perfect English most of the time which is good as otherwise readers could not understand him. However he often says "mon ami" (my friend) or Mademoiselle ("Miss") and this serves to remind the audience that he was foreign. Mark may have wanted readers to remember that Jesus didn't really speak Greek and so to firmly root his gospel in Palestine for the benefit of his readers.

On the Royal Mile in Edinburgh is a house called Heave Awa House. The previous house on that site collapsed and a man called Joseph was trapped in the rubble. The searchers were about to give up when they heard him say "Heave awa lads, I'm no deid yet". This has become part of Edinburgh folklore. In I637 a new and, many felt, less Protestant, Prayer Book was introduced to Edinburgh St Giles Cathedral. During the service a fishwife called Jenny Geddes exclaimed "Daur ye say Mass in my lug?" (dare you say Mass in my ear) and threw her stool at the minister. This led to riots inside and outside the Cathedral, throughout Edinburgh and across Scotland, and arguably was one cause of the English Civil War. It is the simple colloquial phrases of Joseph and Jenny which are remembered, and seem to add so much to their stories. Similarly, the directness and vernacular simplicity of some of Christ's sayings add a directness to Mark's Gospel.


The obvious answer is that Jesus taught in Greek, that is, that the words recorded in the Gospels are his actual words. Since he also spoke Aramaic as many, but not all Jews in Judea and Galilean did, he mixed Aramaic words in his teaching. Some of those words, such as amen were very common and a play on the Greek word men, which has a similar meaning.

Though most academics today claim that Jesus taught in Aramaic, there is no evidence for this other than their opinions. I accepted their view when I first started translating Jesus's words from the Greek over fifteen years ago. But after writing over two thousand articles on the Greek meaning of Jesus's words at ChristsWords.com, I completely rejected this view based on my experience as a translator. See this article for a summary of the arguments against Jesus speaking Greek and my responses and some of the evidence proving that he did.

The main evidence is the Gospels and the fact that they contain so many Aramaic words. If ALL Jesus's words were originally Aramaic, why did the translators choose not to translated some of them? As someone who has won book awards for my word translated ancient languages, I can tell you that this is not how translators work. We translate the words of the language we are working on and leave any foreign words used in their original language. Why would a translator, translating everything from Aramaic write down an untranslated Aramaic phrase in his translations and then record the translation of that phrase separate from everything else that was supposedly translated. Why would he consistently leave some Aramaic words untranslated, consistently the same words? The only explanation is that these were the words as they were spoken.

Jesus spoke Greek publicly, but he knew Aramaic as his "native" language and used it when the situation demanded it. Children were raise speaking the local language, but taught the public language. We see this today in our own society in many ethnic communities. So Jesus, speaking to a young child in her home, uses Aramaic because she didn't yet know Greek. Under stress on the cross, he reverts to praying in his childhood tongue.


...transliteration involves representing the characters of one alphabet in another alphabet; it has nothing to do with translating the meaning of the word, only the sound of it. (source)

Transliteration would then occur in scripture when the sound of the words are as important (or more important) to the story/message than the meaning of the words.

As David points out, it's part of trying to convey what the hearers of these words (sounds) may have been thinking. Sometimes the text just doesn't make much sense with a straight translation of every single word.

In the case of "Talitha Koum," Jesus wanted the people to hear a sound along the lines of "Abracadabra," a magic spell, which goes toward him explaining that he is no mere magician. (hat tip to Brian Wilkins)

Great question.

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    Jesus wanted the people to hear a sound along the lines of "Abracadabra,": Jesus used these words because he was speaking Aramaic and that's how you tell a child to get up in Aramaic. It's Mark's decision to transliterate that needs to be accounted for. FWIW, the "magic spell" idea is summarily rejected by both France and Cranfield (although I see Marcus entertains it). France: "the words themselves are so ordinary that any idea that a 'magical’ formula is thus offered is quite without foundation."
    – Susan
    Feb 5, 2016 at 19:37
  • Last time I listen to Brian Wilkins. Thanks.
    – Stephen
    Feb 5, 2016 at 23:38

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