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The NKJV says: “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.” ‭‭John‬ ‭19:20‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

But the NIV says: “Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.” ‭‭John‬ ‭19:20‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The difference between the two is the word Hebrew vs Aramaic.

My question is: “Which is the proper translation, and why?

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The Greek text is 19:20 has Ἑβραϊστί, which is Hebrew. Here is what we are dealing with. When we look at the Hebrew used it the New Testament it looks more Aramaic than the Hebrew of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament ben is son, but the Aramaic word bar for son is often used in the New Testament. Abba means the father in Aramaic. The father in Hebrew is ha'ab. In reality the language was an Aramaic influence Hebrew, enough that they had difficulty understanding the Old Testament without learning the old language. If you ask most Jews, they will say this Aramaic influenced Hebrew is still Hebrew. From the word used in the New Testament, written in Greek, the Jews then considered what they spoke Hebrew, but it is common in modern translations for some reason to call it Aramaic.

This practice also sheds some light on the languages:

TARGUM (תרגום, trgwm; pl. targumim). Aramaic word meaning “translation.” Technically, this designation can refer to translation into any language. However, in rabbinic literature, the word is used to speak of the practice of translating the biblical Hebrew text into the vernacular Aramaic within Jewish synagogues. As such, the Targums were initially an oracular (but not extemporaneous) phenomenon, performed by the targumist along with the reading of the biblical text. Later traditions forbade the use of a written targum within the synagogue’s liturgical practices (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan Megillah 4:1, 74d). -- Ehorn, S. M. (2016). Targum. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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Berean Literal Bible John 19:

20 Therefore many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.

Thayer's Greek Lexicon

STRONGS NT 1447: Ἑβραϊστί

Ἑβραϊστί (WH Αβραϊστί, see their Introductory § 408), adverb, (ἑβραίζω), in Hebrew, i. e. in Chaldee

The Greek word literally means the old language of Hebrew. NKJV translated the Greek word faithfully and literally. NIV translators took a different approach. Instead of literal translation, they used dynamic translation. At the time of Jesus, people spoke a dialect of the ancient Hebrew called Aramaic. Pilate wrote in that dialect to be understood by the common people. E.g., English Standard Version

Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek.

Which is the proper translation, and why?

Both were proper depending on the translation philosophy. If you go for a word-for-word translation, NKJV is proper. If you go for a word-for-concept translation, NIV is proper. I would read both when doing Bible study.

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  • I heard somewhere that Aramaic is a sister language of Hebrew. Makes sense!
    – Cork88
    Commented Oct 10, 2021 at 22:47

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