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Frustrating Conversation about the Lamsa Bible:
Part One

Going through some old files, I came across an extended conversation I had with someone a few years back about the Lamsa Bible and the relate issue of the original language that the New Testament was written in. The emailer was commenting on an email exchange I had previously posted on the Darkness to Light Web site on this subject (see Lamsa Bible Questions).

Part Two of this conservation will present important details on these issues. But this first part mainly demonstrates the type of frustrating exchanges I have engaged in over the now almost 19 years of this ministry, so it will give the reader an idea what engaging in this ministry can be like.

The emailer's comments are in black and enclosed in greater than and lesser than signs. My responses are in red. Note that this discussion occurred in December of 2004. It is now March 2010, so on occasions in brackets I have added updated info, along with some explanatory material.

Exchange #1

>Subject: Lamsa translation

Name: Tommy ______

Methinks you protest too loudly. You title your page darkness to light yet prefer 16th century prose for 21st century students. Unlike yourself, I've read Lamsa' Bible several times (in tandem with RSV and KJV) and see no spiritual problems.

12/12/2004<

I have no idea what you mean by my advocating 16th century prose. I do not take a KJV-only stance. My own translation clearly uses modern day English.

As for Lamsa, there are several issues. It claims to be based on the Syriac Peshita, but in reality is at least in part based on the Textus Receptus [The Greek text the King James Version (KJV) was based on]. I do have a copy of Lamsa's Bible. But you are correct that I have not read it through. But from what I have read, I would say it is not that good of a translation.

Exchange #2

>First you say you have "no idea what I'm talking about" re. 16th Cent. Prose and follow that with a direct reference to the KJV. Hyperbole is a tool best used by politicians.

You then give yourself away entirely by admitting you have not read the Lamsa. I can understand you forming an opinion based on less than complete data but am amazed that you would presume to offer advice to spiritual infants as a Biblical source without at least revealing that you had not read the book in question completely. One could do the same cherry picking job on ANY translation of the Bible and offer proof of error.

The ultimate revelation comes at the point you refer to "my" Bible. Either you have penned your own translation, as Lamsa has done--or you have your preferred translation of choice. If it is the former, please let me know how I can acquire a copy. I would look forward to affording you the courtesy which you have so blithely refused George Lamsa: to wit, a full reading with an open Christian mind. Yes, Christians can have a mind as well as a spirit. If it is the latter, I pity your state of mind--for I fear you are one of those preachers who was saved at a revival meeting on a Sunday night and so unless your salvation experience happens during a revival service and on a Sunday night, well, you just can't be saved. Which is it, Gary?

Tommy
12/15/2004<

Tone down the anger already. It is totally unnecessary. And save your "pity." It is also unnecessary. And stop jumping to conclusion about me. You obviously haven't read much of my site, so you have no basis for making such judgments. Every one of your snide comments is as wrong as can be.

That said, I mention the KJV by way of saying that I am not a KJV only advocate, so I still do not understand what your point about 16th century prose is. That statement would only make sense if I was a KJV onlyist, but I am not. So again, I have no idea what you mean.

Secondly, I wrote a book comparing Bible versions and yes, I translated my own translation of the NT. If you had taken the time to read any of my site before firing off an angry email you would have known that.

Third, it is not necessary to read an entire translation cover to cover to understand what kind of translation it is. Either it follows a literal, a formal equivalence (FE), a dynamic equivalence (DE), or a paraphrase method of translating. I personally believe a literal or FE type of translation is most reliable.

In the case of the Lamsa Bible, it seems to more of a DE type of version. And it doesn't take checking that many verses to determine this. I have a few "test verses" that I checked that usually show this clearly. So that is my first problem with his translation.

Second, Lamsa claims to be using the Syriac Peshitta, which is Aramaic. And that is the second problem I have with his translation. The NT [New Testament] was written in Greek, not Aramaic. So an Aramaic text would be a translation of the Greek NT. Lamsa's translation would thus be a translation of a translation.

Furthermore, the Peshitta itself dates from the 2nd century, but the earliest manuscripts are from the 4th-7th centuries, and only a handful of copies exist. So there is no way of knowing how accurately the text has been transmitted.

Furthermore, Lamsa did not consistently follow the Peshitta; some of it is actually translated from the Textus Receptus with Syriac readings mixed in. So that is a grave inconsistently in his textual base.

That is the background to his translation. It is appears to be a DE translation based in part on a translation of the Greek NT, which is mixed in with TR readings. With that background, I cannot recommend it. The only purpose it might have would be for one who wants to study the Syriac text. But, unfortunately, even for that purpose, with it following the TR at times and being less than a literal translation, Lamsa's Bible would not be the best source.

I discuss all of these issues in much greater detail in my Bible versions book. So if you are truly interested in such issues, I would suggest attaining a copy. As for my translation of the NT, it is called the Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament.

Exchange #3

>Thank you for the answer to my question.

I tell the truth in the logic of my argument--you feel the heat, but it is not coming from me. I'll not let you slide on the 16th century prose reference. We both know you knew exactly what I meant.

My comments to you refer to your own words and arguments. Your comments to me are laced with invective and accusation; you label me one who "jumps to conclusions" "angry", "snide" who is angry here? Not me, Gary.

You can play semantics with novices, Gary, but your "test versing" is still cherry-picking. A common ploy of bibliophiles.

You state flatly that the NT was written in Greek. A lawyerly phrase both true and false. Most western scholars believe that the NT was written originally in the Greek; however many now believe that portions were originally written in Syriac-Aramaic. I can find no scholar who believes that the NT was written originally entirely in Greek.

You would agree, I trust, that ANY Bible in English is a translation of a translation? Why you use that phrase against Lamsa is beyond me.

In summary, let me state for the record that Lamsa is not yet my Bible of choice. I am in the process of reading every known English translation. If I complete that work I may be able to select a "favorite". I was predisposed to like Lamsa's translation before I got to Genesis, though. On page xxii, in the introduction to his translation is a statement of faith which I also hold dear to my heart. Gary, if you also could pen such a statement of faith and mean it, as I'm sure Lamsa did, and I could, I would be delighted for you. If you couldn't, I would continue to feel pity for you--but love you in Christ and pray for your every success in life.

I believe the "best" Bible is the one you can put your hand to when the Spirit moves you to read it. That is the answer I would have given that girl who e-mailed you in 1995.

"Any fool can condemn and criticize-and most do!" Name lost to memory.

May God bless you, keep you and cause His face to shine upon you, Gary!

In Christian love,
Tommy
12/17/2004<

First, you still have not explained what you mean by my using 16th century prose. I don't know how I can explain any more clearly to you how this is not the case. But I do discuss my opposition to KJV onlyism and the Elizabethan English in the KJV on my site and in my Bible versions book, so maybe if you take the time to read my site and my book you'll understand my position.

Second, every one of my seminary professors stated emphatically that the NT was originally written in Greek. There was never even a hint that this was not the case. The same goes for every book I have read on the subject by qualified NT scholars.

I have read some arguments to the contrary, but they are very weak and without any sound basis. Now it is possible that some of the sources that say Luke used in compiling his Gospel were in Aramaic, but the Gospel of Luke itself was written in Greek. I discuss all of this on my site and in my Bible versions book, which you would have known, again, if you had taken the time to read my site and my book.

Third, by "a translation of a translation" I mean that the NT was written in Greek. The Syriac Peshitta is a translation of this Greek text into Aramaic. Lamsa's Bible is then a translation of this translation into English. Meanwhile, most every other English NT is translated from the Greek, so they are direct translations.

The point is, what Lamsa has done would be similar to someone taking say the KJV and translating it into Spanish. The resultant Spanish Bible would thus be a translation of a translation and would not be as accurate as a Spanish Bible translated directly from the Greek text.

Fourth, you are the one who made wild accusations about me, such as my being saved at some Sunday night revival and my expecting the same from others. I discuss my conversion experience in detail on my site and what I believe salvation entails [on the latter, see Forgivenesss and Salvation]. So if you had read any of my site, you would have known the truth in this regard.

Fifth, if you had read my site, you would know the care and exactitude I use in evaluating Bible versions. And if you would read my book on the subject, you would see this even more.

Sixth, there *is* a statement of faith on my site, along with an article explaining how I developed the statement [See Darkness to Light's Confession of Faith. That statement of faith was in fact the very first thing I wrote when I decided to start this ministry. It appeared in the first issue of my old hardcopy newsletter, which was published in July 1991.]

There are also many articles expressing my doctrinal views in detail on my site, and my Scripture Workbook does the same. So again, if you had read any of my site or my books you would have known this. [I am currently working on an update to this book. Volume One is already available.]

Seventh, as for who is angry, yes it does frustrate me when people fire off angry emails to me, make wild accusations and completely unfounded comments about me without reading much of my site or any of my books. There are over 800 pages on my site [now over 900], plus seven books and eBooks available [along four additional books on my Fitness site]. And I share much personal info on these pages [see especially My Life Story on my new Zeolla.org site]. So for those who actually want to find out about me and my methods and beliefs, there is plenty of info available. Now, I don't expect people to read all of this before sending me comments. But you have obviously not availed yourself of any of this info before making all of your judgments about me.

So I will close this conversation by saying that before you email me again please take the time to read more of my site and/ or one or more of my books. Then maybe you'll have more of a basis for your comments.

God bless,

Gary Z.

Exchange #4

>Well, at least you admit to being the angry one. You are right, I'm sure, if I only read enough of your work I would then accept your opinions as fact.

The "prose" reference was meant as a comparative to relative ease of understanding for novice readers i.e. Lamsa v. KJV (which might be the only other readily available translation). It had no reference to your choice of Bible whatever. Just like my "salvation" reference was meant to express an ultra-doctrinaire attitude only. It had no reference at all to your personal salvation experience. I think you're going off the chart a little characterizing that reference as a "wild accusation". I'm sure your seminary professors were brilliant. I'm also pretty sure they were heavily invested in a particular protestant doctrine (Lutheran, I'm guessing). The problem you have with me is that my only doctrine is that of Jesus. He did not hold with the religious doctrine of His day. I don't either if it conflicts with where I believe the Holy Spirit is leading me. Your seminary professors were known then as scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, priests, Levites, pick one.

Your insistence that the NT was written wholly and originally in Greek is an instance of doctrine over evidence. There are many sources for a contrary point of view, if you like I will provide you a list.

Best wishes, Merry Christmas, and may God richly bless you.

Tommy
12/20/2004<

First, given your completely wrong assumption about my going to a Lutheran Seminary, you still have obviously not read any of my site [I actually went to Denver Seminary, a Conservative Baptist seminary]. I keep asking you to do so not so that you'll "accept my opinions as fact" but so that you would stop making such false assumptions about me. Your allusion that I have an "ultra-doctrinaire" attitude is another such wrong assumption.

Second, every Christian claims their doctrine is that of Christ. So your claim here is not convincing. But I will say that in my *Scripture Workbook I present thousands of Scripture verses supporting my beliefs. But my purpose in publishing the book was to encourage readers to study the Bible for themselves, looking up the verses and deciding for themselves if my conclusions are correct or not.

Third, I am insistent that the NT was written in Greek not due to dogmatism but because this is what the evidence supports. The manuscript evidence and other lines of evidence support this fact.

Fourth, Jesus' problem with the religious leaders of His day wasn't so much with their doctrine but with their hypocrisy. As such, I find it disturbing that you're trying to lump my seminary professors in with them, especially since you don't even know what seminary I went to.

Fifth, I'm still don't know what your "prose" reference was about. There are many Bible versions with modern day English besides the Lamsa Bible, so for me to discourage the use of Lamsa is not say I am advocating only the KJV. Again, if you had read my Bible versions book you would know that.

Sixth, to say that the KJV is the only readily available Bible version is very wrong. And Lamsa's Bible is in no sense readily available if that is what you mean. The NIV far outsells the KJV and has been doing so for about two decades. The NKJV's sales are below that of the KJV, then comes the NLT, the NASB, and many others. Collectively, all of these non-KJV versions have sold in the millions. So there are plenty of readably available versions other than the KJV. Meanwhile, Lamsa's Bible is no where to be found on the list of best-selling Bibles.

Again, I discuss all of this on my site and in my books. But since you obviously are not going to take the time to read any of these, I'm not going to take the time to respond to you any further. I'm simply don't have the time to keep repeating in emails what I have already written about on my site and in my books. But Merry Christmas to you too.

God bless,
Gary Z.

Note: After the final exchange above it appeared this conservation had come to an end. But "Tommy" emailed me again, and this time he provide specific details on the reasons for his ideas, so I just "had to" respond. That final, more detailed exchange is posted at: Frustrating Conversation about the Lamsa Bible - Part Two.

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

The above email exchange was posted on this site March 5, 2010.
It first appeared in the free
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Bible Versions Controversy - Various Versions
Bible Versions Controversy

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