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    Languages of the Christian Era books

    Jesus and the Samaritan woman
    Christ and Samaritan woman, by Henryk Siemiradzki, 1890

    This translation uses the working assumption that most of the Christian Era books (the ‘New Testament’) were originally written in Aramaic, with only Mark, Luke, and Acts being originally in Greek. This page explains why, and what impact this assumption has on our Bible text.

    We are not dogmatic about these assumptions. We may be wrong. However, we are performing a public service by publishing a New Testament based on the possibility that the original was Aramaic. How so?

    Despite what some claim, nobody can prove that Greek was the only language used to write the New Testament (see below). Most translators in the West assume that it was all originally Greek. Meanwhile, in the Eastern churches, they always assumed that it was originally in Aramaic!

    Our translation is based on the Greek texts, but where the Aramaic and Greek differ, we give priority to the Aramaic (except in Mark, Luke and Acts). We then describe the discrepancy in a translator note (as of June 2021, these notes are still being added).

    You, the reader, can then decide for yourself which is correct, instead of others deciding for you. Further, if Aramaic really was the original language, then our translation will be more accurate than other translations.

    Surely that’s worth exploring, even if it later turns out to be wrong? The question is not, what if we’re wrong? The question should be, what if we’re right? For if we are wrong, then we have a single Bible translation with errors from the Aramaic. Big deal. Yet if we are right, then there are dozens of English Bible translations with errors from the Greek, composed of billions of printed copies, misleading billions of people.

    Exploring the possibility that the Christian Era books were originally in Aramaic (except Mark, Luke, and Acts), is therefore an important public service.

    Arguments for Aramaic

    First, we have ancient testimony for at least the Gospel of Matthew. One ancient writer, Irenaeus, reports that it was written in the dialect of the Hebrews, which at that time, was Aramaic. This is later repeated by Jerome. Indeed, most scholars now do believe that at least Matthew was originally penned in Aramaic.

    Second, historians tell us that the common language in 1st century Palestine, especially Judea, was Aramaic (sometimes called Syrian or Chaldee). We’re told this by both modern historians, and from the ancient historian Josephus. He tells us that it was not only rare for a Judean to have knowledge of Greek ways, but people were hostile to it. Eusebius of Caesarea imagines the Apostles talking to Jesus and saying, ‘We are men bred up to use the Syrian tongue only [that is, Aramaic].’ Therefore, some feel that Jesus’ disciples would have naturally written in their mother tongue, Aramaic.

    Third, even the Greek texts have to frequently quote Aramaic words, such as the expressions of Jesus, and then tell you what they mean. This indicates that at least people’s speech had to be translated from Aramaic into Greek. Yet it never happens the other way around. There are no portions of the Aramaic NT which have to stop and explain Greek terms.

    Fourth, the tradition of the eastern Churches is that the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic. Traditions can be wrong, of course (even we feel that Mark, Luke, and Acts were probably penned in Greek), but the fact that tens of millions of Christians believed such a thing, over many centuries, at least tells us that we should consider the matter seriously. They also have no historical records of their Bible ever being translated from another language. A few books, such as Revelation, is known to be translated from the Greek in the 7th century – but even those are believed to have been originally penned in Aramaic, but these original copies were later lost (however the Crawford Codex may contain some of the original Aramaic text).

    Fifth, experts in the ancient languages tell us that the Greek NT texts show clear signs of Aramaic influence. Semitic phrasing dots the entire NT. This could be from the writer being a native Aramaic speaker, and letting his native tongue ‘leak’ into his Greek. Or, it could easily be the signs of a translation from an Aramaic original into Greek.

    Sixth, several textual variants and weird errors and contradictions in the Greek can be explained by looking at the Aramaic. For example, consider split words. What are they?

    A split word occurs when some Greek manuscripts use one word in a verse, but other Greek manuscripts use a completely different word in the same verse. The difference seems like a mysterious error with no explanation – until you realize that the Aramaic word can mean both things! This shows that the two Greek versions were two different translations from a single Aramaic original. One of the translators just got it wrong, while the other did not.

    For example, 1 Peter 3:13 in some Greek manuscripts say ‘imitators’ (μιμηταί – mimetai), while others say ‘zealots’ (ζηλωταὶ – zelotai). These are two completely different words. However, the Aramaic word, ܛܢܢܐ (tananeh) can mean both. It seems that the verse was written in Aramaic and later translated into Greek a couple of times, but the translators interpreted it differently, producing two different versions.

    Another example is in Revelation 22:13. About half of Greek manuscripts say, ‘the first and the last, and the beginning and the end’. However, the other manuscripts put the expression the other way around! This may be explained if the original was in Aramaic, since the word for first and beginning is the same, and the word for last and end is the same word, only differing by the reader adding their own vowels. It could easily be that one Greek translator did it one way, and another translator did it the other way.

    Also consider the ‘mystery quote’ at 2 Timothy 2:19. The Apostle quotes two expressions, and nobody has been able to work out the origin of the second quote. However, if you look at the Aramaic words more closely, it’s obvious that he’s quoting from Joel. See the translator note. The problem may have been caused by a word which has two meanings in Aramaic. It seems that the Greek translator chose the wrong meaning, creating a puzzle that scholars couldn’t solve for centuries.

    There are many other reasons to suspect that most of the NT was in Aramaic. Many are outlined in the following books:

    Note that we don’t agree with all of their arguments. Some seem to be unlikely, or even incorrect. But that’s okay. In their enthusiasm, the Peshitta Primacists may have made a few ‘false positives’ (in our opinion), but that’s alright.

    Objections to Aramaic being used to write the New Testament

    “Greek was the international language at that time”

    Yes, it was. However, it does not follow that all of the NT was therefore created in Greek. We can see this from looking at English, the international language of today.

    While almost everyone in Wales, Ireland, and Denmark can speak English, people in those countries still produce books, poems, songs, and videos in their local languages. These works are only translated into English if they are successful. Could it not have been the same in ancient times with Aramaic and Greek?

    One could also say that Aramaic was the ‘international language’ of the east, being spoken from Judah in the south, up to Syria, and across to Babylon. So actually, Aramaic is also an international language. There were, in fact, three at the time: Latin for the wider Roman Empire, Greek for the areas previously under Greek domination, and Aramaic across the entire Near-East.

    Also, many of the Christian letters could easily have been translated into Greek immediately. When a congregation received one of Paul’s letters, for example, the local congregation secretary (possibly called the messenger) may have translated it for those who didn’t understand Aramaic (such as Gentile converts).

    “The language of the region was Greek”

    Only Greek? While Greek was certainly spoken, there is much evidence that the common folk likely continued to speak Aramaic. We have ancient writers telling us that Aramaic was spoken, and we have gravestones and other engravings in Aramaic.

    Also, consider that if everyone had dumped Aramaic and switched to speaking Greek, how it would have been rather remarkable, as no other invaders achieved it.

    While the Greeks ruled Palestine for 300 years, the Romans ruled it for 600 years and failed to establish Latin. Then in 650 CE the Arabs conquered the area, and introduced Arabic, but it didn’t displace Aramaic for centuries, and it seems to have occurred mostly by immigration. Later, the Turks arrived and ruled for 700 years, and failed to establish Turkish. Finally in 1918 the British took over, but English never became a native language.

    Further, the Church of the East survives to our day speaking Aramaic. If their ancestors had converted to Greek, then we must ask why the Church of the East doesn’t speak Greek today? It would make sense if the common people never switched to Greek, or were mostly bilingual and kept using Aramaic when talking among themselves.

    “Jesus and the Apostles quoted the Greek Septuagint”

    Actually, we don’t know that they did. Their quotes of the Jewish scriptures match the Greek Septuagint about 90% of the time. Therefore, it could be that when the translators turned the original Aramaic books into Greek, they just copied the verses word-for-word from the Greek Septuagint rather than translating them afresh. Yet in about 10% of places, they translated them from scratch and did so differently.

    Alternatively, they may have quoted from a now-lost Hebrew or Aramaic Bible that read much like the Greek Septuagint.

    Of course, in Mark, Luke, and Acts (which we say were originally in Greek) the writer may well have quoted the Septuagint.

    Reasons to believe that Mark, Luke, and Acts were originally in Greek

    It’s quite possible that all of the Christian books were originally penned in Aramaic. Some argue for this. However, this project works from the position that at least Mark, Luke, and Acts were either:

    1. Originally written in Greek.

    2. Or, written in Aramaic for a Greek-speaking audience and were therefore translated into Greek immediately.

    So whatever exactly happened, we think they were in Greek right from the start. We hold this position for these reasons:

    First, Acts and Luke are addressed to someone with a Greek name. This doesn’t prove that it was written in Greek, but it suggests the possibility.

    Second, the quality of the written Greek is much higher in these books than the other Christian books. This implies that they are original works, rather than mere translations. It could, of course, just imply a very good translation, but it also suggests the possibility of a Greek origin.

    Third, Acts 1:19 had to describe how the inhabitants of Jerusalem speak a different language. This is a fairly long description, rather than a quick insertion, suggesting that it may not be written to an Aramaic-speaker. It sounds like an explanation provided for the man it’s addressed to, TheoPhilus.

    Fourth, the clues indicating that the Christian books were originally in Aramaic become (in the opinion of our editor) unconvincing or not applicable. All of them seem to have other plausible explanations. This is in sharp contrast to the arguments for the Aramaic origin of the other Christian books, which are much more persuasive.

    Fifth, the Aramaic texts of Mark, Luke, and Acts, use maryah (the full spelling of ‘Lord’) as a noun to refer to Jesus. Normally this full spelling is only used as a noun when replacing the tetragram, YHWH. This suggests later trinitarian beliefs, where people wished to conflate Jesus with his Father. Therefore it suggests that these books are a later Aramaic translation of an earlier Greek work. For a full exploration of this, please see our translator note on maryah.

    Sixth, we have at least one example of a mistranslation from Greek into Aramaic in Luke 14:5. The Greek word for donkey must have been misheard as son when it was translated into Aramaic. Such a misunderstanding is not possible the other way around. Please see the translator note for more information.

    So while we don’t have iron-clad evidence that these books were originally in Greek, we think that it’s reasonably likely. We’re not going to be dogmatic about it either way.

    Languages of the books

    The following shows our working assumptions about the languages of the original books. It’s important that we’re up-front about this with you, as these assumptions influence how our translation is made and corrected.

    Note, however, that we’re not dogmatic about this issue. The reasons we give for our assumptions are not water-tight. We may change our minds, and that’s okay. The most important thing is to be transparent and open to new evidence and theories.

    Book Language Reason(s) & NOTES

    Matthew

    Aramaic

    Ancient writers testified that Matthew was originally written in the language of the Hebrews, which at that time was Aramaic.

    The same sources say that the Greek version we have today is the second translation made into Greek from the 2nd century, as the first one was lost. This late date for the translation allowed many corruptions to enter the text.

    Many quotes from Jesus are in plainly-shown in Aramaic, and are then specially translated into Greek. This at least shows that the words of Jesus’ and others were translated from Aramaic at some point – even if the Gospel itself was originally in Greek, as some believe.

    Mark

    Koine Greek

    Ancient writers testify that Mark was the second Gospel written because Matthew was not yet available in Greek (some modern scholars and Bible skeptics say it was the other way around).

    Some speculate that it may have been originally written in Latin, not Greek. Note that the Gospel is missing its ending, probably because it was never finished.

    Many quotes from Jesus are plainly-shown in Aramaic, and are then specially translated into Greek. This at least shows that the words of Jesus’ and others were translated from Aramaic, even if the rest of the Gospel was originally penned in Greek.

    Luke

    Koine Greek

    There are several reasons to think Luke was written in Greek.

    The quality of the Greek used is the highest of any NT book, whereas the Greek is quite poor in the books we suspect were originally in Aramaic, although the Greek in Hebrews is good.

    It says it was written to a man with a Greek name.

    The Aramaic version deviates from the Greek by changing certain words, including using maryah for Jesus when it would be inappropriate (possibly reflecting the Trinitarian beliefs of later decades).

    John

    Aramaic

    Much internal evidence, split words, and the generally poor quality of the Greek wording.

    Acts

    Koine Greek

    See the note for Luke.

    Romans

    Aramaic

    See the note for John.

    1 Corinthians

    Aramaic

    See the note for John.

    2 Corinthians

    Aramaic

    See the note for John.

    Galatians

    Aramaic

    See the note for John.

    Ephesians

    Aramaic

    See the note for John.

    Philippians

    Aramaic

    See the note for John.

    Colossians

    Aramaic

    See the note for John.

    1 Thessalonians

    Aramaic

    See the note for John.

    2 Thessalonians

    Aramaic

    See the note for John.

    1 Timothy

    Aramaic

    See the note for John.

    2 Timothy

    Aramaic

    See the note for John.

    Titus

    Aramaic

    See the note for John.

    Philemon

    Aramaic

    See the note for John.

    Hebrews

    Aramaic

    See the note for John, although the quality of the Greek is admittedly better.

    James

    Aramaic

    See the note for John.

    1 Peter

    Aramaic

    See the note for John.

    2 Peter

    Aramaic (only Greek survives)

    The original Aramaic may be lost, and the Aramaic copy we have today may be a 7th century translation back into it from Greek. However, the Crawford Codex might be a surviving copy of the Philoxinian recension, which could be a copy of the original Aramaic writings, or at least contain some of the original Aramaic text. We can’t say for sure.

    1 John

    Aramaic

    See the note for John.

    2 John

    Aramaic (only Greek survives)

    See the note for 2 Peter.

    3 John

    Aramaic (only Greek survives)

    See the note for 2 Peter.

    Jude

    Aramaic (only Greek survives)

    See the note for 2 Peter.

    Revelation

    Aramaic (only Greek survives)

    See the note for 2 Peter. Also, all of Revelation in the Crawford Codex (except most of Chapter 1) stands a good chance of being the original Aramaic text, but we can’t be sure.

    Differences in our translation thanks to the Aramaic

    We are preparing a page to list the differences in our translation thanks to Aramaic.