The 2001 Translation AboutLanguages of the New Testament

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

This translation uses the working assumption that most of the New Testament (NT) was 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 NT 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 say with 100% certainty what language was originally used (see below). Most translators in the West assume that it was all originally Greek (while the tradition in the East always said 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 most of the New Testament (except Mark, Luke, and Acts) was originally in Aramaic, is therefore an important public service.


Some reasons to suspect that most NT books were originally in 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 be the Aramaic originals).

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 in the near-east at that time”

Indeed it was, but that does not mean all of the NT was created in Greek. Today, English is the international language. Yet 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 for the entire Near-East.

“Jesus and the Apostles quoted the Greek Septuagint”

Actually, we don’t know that they did. The OT quotes in the NT match the Greek Septuagint 90% of the time. Therefore, it could be that when the translators turned the original Aramaic books into Greek, they usually copied the verses word-for-word from the Greek Septuagint rather than translating them afresh. Yet in 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. It’s also possible that they were quoting from Aramaic Targums (an orally-transmitted translation of the Bible from Hebrew into Aramaic) whose wording usually matched the Greek Septuagint.


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

It’s quite possible that all of the NT was originally penned in Aramaic. Some argue for this. However, this project works from the position that at least Mark, Luke, and Acts were probably originally written in Greek, or they were written in Aramaic purposely for a Greek-speaking audience, and were immediately translated into Greek, or produced at the same time in both languages.

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 it as a possibility.

Second, the quality of the written Greek is much higher in these books than the other NT 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 has to describe that the inhabitants of Jerusalem speak a different language. This fairly long description, rather than a quick insertion, which suggests that it may be not be written to an Aramaic-speaker. It sounds like an explanation provided for TheoPhilus.

Fourth, the clues that NT texts were originally in Aramaic become (in the opinion of our editor) unconvincing, tenuous, or not applicable. All have other plausible explanations when examined. This is in sharp contrast to the arguments for the Aramaic origin of the other NT books, which are very convincing indeed.

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.

So we don’t have iron-clad evidence that these books were originally in Greek. It just seems to probably be the case.


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 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, 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.

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.

James

Aramaic

See the note for John.

1 Peter

Aramaic

See the note for John.

2 Peter

Aramaic

The original Aramaic may be lost, and the Aramaic copy we have today may be a 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.

1 John

Aramaic

See the note for John.

2 John

Aramaic

The original Aramaic may be lost, and the Aramaic copy we have today may be a 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.

3 John

Aramaic

Jude

Aramaic

Revelation

Aramaic


Differences in our Translation that are thanks to input from the Aramaic

Here we’ll list the differences present in our NT because of input from the Aramaic sources.

This section is incomplete and being prepared. Last updated June 2021.


About our translation