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What 3 languages were on Jesus cross?

Jesus’ crucifixion, as described in the Bible, took place in Jerusalem under Roman rule. According to the Gospels, a sign was placed above Jesus’ head on the cross, inscribed with the charge against him. The Gospels give slightly different accounts of the exact wording of this sign, but all state that it was written in three languages:

What were the 3 languages on the sign above Jesus’ cross?

The 3 languages were:

  • Hebrew
  • Latin
  • Greek

This is stated in John 19:20 (NRSV):

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

The sign above Jesus on the cross was meant to communicate the charge against him to the widest possible audience. Using the 3 dominant languages of the region allowed both Jews and Romans to understand the accusation.

Why were these 3 languages used?

There are clear reasons why each of these languages was used:


Hebrew was the language of the Jewish people. Jesus and his earliest followers were Jews, as were the religious leaders who condemned him and demanded his execution. Using Hebrew proclaimed the charge against Jesus to his own people.


Latin was the official language of the Roman empire. The Romans occupied Jerusalem and the whole region at this time. The Roman prefect Pontius Pilate oversaw Jesus’ trial and sentencing. Including Latin communicated the accusation to the Roman authorities.


While Latin was used for official purposes, Greek was the common language of the Eastern Mediterranean region in this era. Jesus and his disciples likely spoke Aramaic, but they would have also used Greek to communicate with the wider population. Greek made the sign comprehensible to the ordinary people of the region, both Jews and Gentiles.

What did the sign specifically say?

The exact wording of the sign is given differently in each of the four Gospels:

Gospel Text on the Sign
Matthew 27:37 “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews”
Mark 15:26 “The King of the Jews”
Luke 23:38 “This is the King of the Jews”
John 19:19 “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”

So while the accounts vary slightly, they all convey the essential message – that Jesus was condemned for claiming kingship over the Jews. This charge of rebellion against Roman authority was intended to justify his crucifixion.

The significance of multiple languages

The use of 3 languages represents several important themes in the Gospel narratives:

Jesus as King

The inscription proclaimed Jesus as King of the Jews, which was the offense for which he was executed. For Christians, this declared his true identity as the promised Messiah.

Universality of the Gospel

Jesus’ message was for all people – both Jews and Gentiles. The multi-language sign foreshadowed the spread of the Gospel across cultures and ethnic groups in the early church.

Humiliation of Jesus

Ironically, the sign that declared Jesus’ kingship was placed above him as he was subjected to an agonizing, shameful death. The contrast highlighted Jesus’ utter humiliation for the sake of others.

Jesus rejected by Jews

The Jews’ rejection of Jesus’ messianic claim is emphasized by the presence of Hebrew. The sign indicted the Jewish leaders who handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Sovereignty of God

Despite the intentions of Jesus’ enemies, the sign they placed above him actually proclaimed God’s truth. Their attempt to demean Jesus as a false king instead fulfilled biblical prophecy.

Old Testament Prophecies

The inclusion of Hebrew is also significant because the Gospel writers saw Jesus’ crucifixion as the fulfillment of prophecies from the Old Testament scriptures. Some specific prophecies that were fulfilled included:

Isaiah 53:12

“Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Jesus was crucified between two criminals, “numbered with the transgressors”.

Psalm 22:16-18

“For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

The Roman soldiers divided Jesus’ garments by gambling for them. This specific event was prophesied centuries earlier.

Zechariah 12:10

“And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”

The piercing of Jesus’ hands, feet and side fulfilled this prophecy of mourning over the pierced one.

Eyewitness Testimony

The Gospel writers also emphasize their role as eyewitnesses who saw the sign on the cross firsthand:

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24)

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. (Luke 1:1-2)

The convergence of these independent accounts lends credibility to the reports of the precise languages included on the sign above Jesus’ cross.

Use of All Available Languages

The fact that only 3 languages were used points to the historical authenticity of the Gospel accounts. If they were fabricated, many more languages could have been added to appeal to even wider groups. The limitation to just Hebrew, Latin and Greek matches what we know about linguistic usage in early 1st century Jerusalem.

Latin was excluded from some later apocryphal gospels, suggesting these non-canonical works were shaped by different contexts than when the original eyewitness accounts were written.

The presence of Hebrew, Latin and Greek specifically fits the setting described in the earliest Christian sources and the credible historical record.

Alternative Theories

Some skeptics have proposed alternative theories about the languages on the sign above Jesus:

Sign Didn’t Exist

Some claim the sign was a fictional detail added for dramatic effect. However, this ignores the multiple attestation in all four Gospels. It also provides no compelling reason for the invention of such a specific detail.

Only Latin and Greek

A few academics argue Hebrew wasn’t actually used and the sign just had Latin and Greek. But Hebrew’s inclusion makes sense in the Jewish setting, and no evidence suggests the Jewish leaders would abandon their own language.

Additional Languages

One hypothesis states Aramaic or Egyptian may have been included along with Hebrew, Latin and Greek. But no ancient textual evidence supports this. The sources consistently point to just the 3 languages.


In the end, the scholarly consensus holds that Hebrew, Latin and Greek were the 3 languages included on Pilate’s sign above Jesus on the cross. This view is strongly supported by the historical evidence, fitting details from prophecy and lining up with eyewitness testimony.

The multilingual inscription represents Jesus’ identity as King and Savior for all peoples, the charges against him by both Jewish and Roman authorities, and the fulfillment of Scripture at pivotal moment in history – all underscoring key theological themes in the Gospels.