Q. In Acts 23 or 24, Paul talks to his accusers in either Aramaic or Hebrew—it depends on which translation one reads. What is the difference, and why don’t the translations agree?

A. Aramaic is a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew. It uses the same script and is grammatically similar. You are probably referring to Acts 21:37–40. If so, Paul spoke in Aramaic, since the original Hebrew language was on the wane and he wanted to address the majority of the crowd he was speaking to. Jews would be more likely to listen to him if they heard him in their common language. Since Aramaic was similar to Hebrew, Paul’s use of that language would show he was a devout Jew and honored Jewish laws and customs. But he spoke Greek when he was dealing with the Roman officials (vv. 37, 38); this use indicated to them that he was educated and refined, not just a common rebel of the streets who was inciting riots.

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