Jesus and the Stenographer: Do We Have Jesus’ Exact Words?

By Carey Bryant

What in the world does a stenographer have to do with Jesus?

If you are familiar with a courtroom setting, you will know what a stenographer does. Stenographers record a verbatim transcript of everything that is said in a courtroom. They do this by using shorthand on a special machine that types syllable by syllable instead of letter by letter. This method enables them to write much faster than typing on a normal keyboard.

The Stenographer Problem

Some Christians may be shocked when they realize that a stenographer wasn’t following Jesus around to record his every word. This naturally leads to a question: Do the four Gospels contain the actual words of Jesus?

Here are two basic facts about Jesus and the Gospels that make the question even harder to answer:

  1. Jesus primarily spoke in Aramaic.
  2. The Gospels were written in Greek.

There are instances in the Gospels where we have the exact words of Jesus in Aramaic. Here are three of these instances:

“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46).

“Taking her by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise’” (Mark 5:41).

“And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened’” (Mark 7:34).

But what about Jesus’ words that we only have in Greek?

Did Jesus Speak Greek?

The first question to ask is whether or not Jesus spoke Greek. If he did, then the Gospels may contain Jesus’ exact words. Recently I had the opportunity to meet New Testament scholar Michael Licona and ask him about this after one of his talks. He gave me three reasons why Jesus probably spoke Greek at least some of the time…

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Jesus and the Stenographer: Do We Have Jesus’ Exact Words? – A Clear Lens