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Frustrating Conversation about the Lamsa Bible:
Part Two

by Gary F. Zeolla

This email exchange is continued from Part One found in the last issue of this newsletter. It is addressed the Lamsa Bible and the related issue of the original language that the New Testament was written in.

The emailer's 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 April 2010. On occasions I have added updated info and explanatory info in brackets in purple.

Exchange #5


I know I said I wouldn't respond. But now at least you're giving me specifics about your claims, so I wanted to respond to your comments. And unless you object, I would like to post this discussion on my site and maybe use it in my newsletter. I'll post all of your comments without change, except to correct some misspellings.

You presented the reasons for your belief in your latest email. And it appears that your arguments are mainly taken from the introduction to Lamsa's Bible. So when I post this discussion I'll mention that if people want further details on your view, I would suggest they attain a copy of Lamsa's Bible.

I've read the introduction myself, and I must say there is much in it which I would disagree with. But I will restrict my comments to your remarks. But this will give people an idea of the arguments on both sides. And they can check Lamsa's Bible and the sources I'll mention for further details.

>Dear Gary,

>Papias was a well-known 2nd Century writer who clearly stated that the book of Matthew was originally written "in the Hebrew language." That was known to be Aramaic in the 1st and 2nd century. Irenaeus agreed and wrote as much. Would they be mistaken, lie, what?<

I almost brought up this quote from Papias myself as I knew you probably had this statement in mind. It was discussed at seminary and in books I have read on this subject. For instance, this quote and the claim based on it that the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Aramaic are discussed in depth in the Introduction to the commentary on Matthew in The Expositor's Bible Commentary . I cannot repeat the several pages here. But I will give a couple of highlights.

First is the translation of the sentence. It is very difficult. Expositor's gives various possibilities. But the most probable is something like, "Matthew composed the sayings in the Hebrew dialect, and each one interpreted them as he could."

The key word is "sayings." The Greek word is the plural form of "logos." It's most basic meaning is "word" or "saying." So it seems likely Matthew is referring to the words of Jesus. But the Gospel of Matthew includes much more than this. It also includes much narrative by Matthew and accounts of the actions of Jesus.

Now Luke does use a form of "logos" to refer to his Gospel (Acts 1:1). But it is in the singular, not plural. And Luke specifically says that what he wrote included the things "which Jesus began both to be doing and to be teaching." So it is generally rendered as "account." But Papias putting it in the plural seems to indicate he is not referring to a singular, complete "account" as Luke is but of specific "words." Hence "sayings" seems to be the best translation.

What this means is it's possible that Papias is referring to something other than the canonical Gospel. One theory is it is the so-called "Q" source of the sayings of Jesus that some have theorized the Gospel writers used. Or maybe it was an earlier draft by Matthew that he himself later used to composed his Gospel.

That said, Expositor's goes into detail on the various reasons that the canonical Gospel of Matthew was not originally written in Aramaic. One of the strongest is that Matthew quotes from the LXX at times, e.g. 15:9, quoting from Isaiah 29:13, and 21:16 quoting from Psalm 8:2. If you check the forthcoming second edition of my translation you will see that I indicate in it when an OT quote is from the LXX. These are times the LXX differs from the Hebrew text. It's possible the writer was also using the LXX at other places when the Hebrew and the Greek LXX are the same.

Just in case you don't know, LXX refers to the Septuagint, a second century BC Greek translation of the Hebrew OT. Tradition says it was translated by 70 Jewish scribes, hence the abbreviation.

That said, at other times Matthew clearly quotes from the Hebrew OT. If he was writing in Aramaic for a strictly Aramaic speaking audience, it would have been more logical for him to have used the Hebrew Scriptures throughout.

As for Irenaeus, I've read some of his writings but haven't seen his quote in this regard., so I cannot comment specifically. But if it is similar to Papias' then my comments on it would be similar as well.

[For the Third Edition of my my Analytical-Literal Translation I took the annotations a step further. Along with indicating when the NT writer was clearly quoting from the LXX and not the Hebrew text, I also indicated when the opposite was the case, that the quote is from the Hebrew text and not the LXX. Then in in Scripture Study #2 in Volume One of the Second Edition of my Scripture Workbook I present "The Use of the OT in the NT." It list all of the places where the NT quotes or alludes to the OT, indicating when the quote is clearly taken from either the LXX or the Hebrew text. It concludes with statistics on these quotes and allusions.]

>The Patriarchate of the Church of the East states flatly that the scriptures were received by the Church as written "in the Aramaic original"<

This is taken from the introduction to Lamsa's Bible. It's a nice dogmatic statement by someone prideful of his tradition. But it is just that, his tradition. The evidence points otherwise.

>The "great commission" of our Lord was to be "first to the Jew". Greek was spoken only by a minority of Hellenic Jews and they were concentrated in and around Alexandria. Does it make sense, then that the first gospels would be written in anything but the "language of the Hebrews"?<

The synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were all written between 50-70 AD. By that time, the Gospel had gone far beyond Judea, and the Church was composed of Aramaic-speaking Jews, Greek-speaking Jews, and gentiles. And the Greek-speaking contingent was far more than a small "minority" concentrated in one place. It could be found throughout the Church (see Acts 6:1; 9:29; 11:20). And most Jews outside of Judea spoke Greek, not Aramaic.

Only the Aramaic-speaking Jews would have known Aramaic while all three groups would have known Greek. So it would "make sense" for the Gospels to be written in a language all three groups would have understood. Greek was the universal language of the time.

Further, while Matthew might have been written most specifically to Jews, the Gospel of Mark most likely and the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts most definitely were written for gentiles. Luke's writings were directed towards "most excellent Theophilus." This is a Greek name and title for a person of rank in the Roman government (see Acts 23:26; 24:30). As such, Theophilus was most likely a gentile who spoke Greek, so it would have made no sense for Luke (a gentle himself) to have written his Gospel and Acts in Aramaic.

Meanwhile, John's Gospel, epistles, and the Revelation were all written c. 90 AD. By that time, the Church had far more gentile than Jewish members. So it would "make sense" for John to write in Greek.

Paul was the apostle to the gentiles. So again, it would make sense for his writings to be in Greek.

That leaves the general epistles. I've already mentioned about John's epistles. The rest were written between 50-70 AD, so my comments about the synoptic Gospels would apply here.

Now Peter was the apostle to the circumcision, but he would have been writing to Greek-speaking Jews outside of Judea. This can be seen from his reference to "the Dispersion" (1:1). As I indicate in my translation, this is the scattering of Jews outside of Judea. Peter also mentions about his being "in Babylon" (5:13). Opinions vary as to what Peter meant by this, but it most definitely was not in Judea.

The difference between the Greek of his two epistles would be further evidence. The first is written in very stylistic Greek since he used a scribe to actually write it down for him (5:12). But the second was written directly by Peter in very simple Greek; the kind of Greek you would expect from a fisherman for which Greek was a second language.

James is possibly the earliest book of the NT to be written and was written to Jews. But these were "scattered abroad" (1:1), so again, they would have been living outside of Judea.

Jude is closely related to 2Peter 2. Which came first is a matter of debate. But both books appear to have been somewhat later, in the 60's AD.

Even the Epistle to the Hebrews was most likely written for Greek-speaking Jews. As with Matthew, the writer quotes from the LXX (1:6; 2:13 [twice]; 11:21).

So overall, the only book of the NT that even a reasonable case for an Aramaic original could be made would be Matthew. And even then, there are good contrary arguments. And for all the rest of the books of the NT, the evidence strongly supports a Greek original.

And finally, I mentioned about the manuscript evidence in my earlier email. There are over 5000 extant Greek manuscripts of the NT. And some of these date to the early second century. Meanwhile, only a handful of Syriac texts exit, and (as I stated previously) these date from the fourth to the seventh centuries. With this limited amount of manuscript evidence, it is hard to determine the original Syriac text.

Believing in the providence of God as I do, this would be a rather intolerable situation. What God has preserved for us is a wealth of Greek manuscripts. Through textual criticism we can determine very accurately what the original Greek NT contained. Again, see my Bible versions book for much in this regard. And sources like the introductions to commentaries, like that of the Expositors, will provide further details on the backgrounds of the various NT books.

>All ancient translations other than the Peshitta and Lamsa were scrubbed clean of politically incorrect (and potentially fatal) references. They were commissioned by monarchs with the power of life and death at their whim, from Constantine to the Pope to King James. This is why you find such omissions as in Daniel 4:32 "...and He appoints the lowest of men over it" and in Daniel 5:21 ...and he appoints over it the weakest among men". Not surprising such verse was left out of the final edit. Everyone likes to keep their head attached as long as possible. Even under the cover of "committee". One head seventy heads-life was very cheap in those days. <

I won't try to respond to the "conspiracy theory" type of attitude you express here, except to say there is no evidence whatsoever of such a large-scale re-writing of ancient translations. In fact, given the many different languages the NT was translated into by this time and the many copies thereof, such a wholesale alteration of all of the manuscripts would have been impossible.

Moreover, I have never said anything in regards to support of early translations of the NT. In fact, in my Bible versions book I discuss the potential problems of using such translations in textual criticism.

In my book I mainly argue that the NT text should be compiled by collating Greek manuscripts. That is one reason I used the Byzantine Majority Text as the textual base for my Analytical-Literal Translation as it was compiled solely by collating Greek manuscripts. I don't mean to sound like a broken record, but once again, if you had read my Bible versions book, you would know my thoughts in this regard.

>Finally, I ask you: does Greek employ the same word for "rope" and "camel"? Aramaic does, the word is "gamla". For the mis-translation in Matthew 19:24 to have taken place, one would have to be translating from Aramaic to another language (my guess is Greek).<

I'm not sure what you mean "mistranslation" here. The use of "camel" in this verse makes perfect sense. Jesus was using hyperbole by referring to the largest animal in Judea and how ridiculous it would be to try to thread it through a needle.

Moreover, as I stated previously, there is no doubt that the Gospel writers used "sources" in compiling their Gospels, and some of these sources were probably in Aramaic. Moreover, Jesus probably spoke Aramaic most of the time. So when Matthew recorded the words of Jesus for his Gospel he would have translated Jesus' words into Greek. So there is no surprise that there are "Hebraisms" in the Gospels.

>Gary, you don't encourage, you discourage. Your vibes are critical in a negative way. That saddens me and I'm sorry if that offends you, it is not meant to. <

As I stated previously, I get frustrated with people like you who write to me without first taking the time to read enough of my site and/ or books to know where I am coming from. If you had read more of my writings before contacting me, then much of our conversation would have been unnecessary.

Moreover, if you would read my site, you will see many posted emails from people who have been greatly encouraged by my writings. Yes, I do get the occasional "critical" email and have posted some of them as well. But the "encouraging" emails I receive far outnumber the "critical" ones.

>I don't hold a Denominational Doctrine, so I couldn't sway you if I wanted to--which I don't. Jesus hates hypocrisy it's true. But hypocrisy crosses all denominational lines. The 1st Century Jewish leaders hated Jesus because His Doctrine did not conform to theirs, and he was a threat to their status quo….

In Christian love,

Jesus and the Pharisees would have agree on many doctrinal issues, e.g. a belief in one God, in angels and demons, the resurrection of the body, and many other such doctrines. These are all central to the Jewish faith. But where they disagreed with Jesus was with the application of such beliefs. And most of all, Jesus was critical with the Pharisees for their legalism and the "man-made traditions" that the Pharisees added to the teachings of the Scriptures. And you will find if you actually read my site that I feel the same. I have articles on my site talking about the problems with legalism and adding to the Scriptures [see Ethics, Spirituality, Christian Life: General Ethics and Anti-Intellectualism, Legalism, and the Cults].

>I plan to continue to ignore all "best seller" lists, I am quite comfortable in the minority.<

I mentioned about the best-selling Bibles list only to indicate how very wrong your statement was that the KJV was the "only readily available Bible version." I did not in any way indicate that I believed being on this list proved these versions were reliable versions. If you had read my Bible versions book you would have known that in it I detail why I believe two of the versions I mentioned (the NIV and NLT) are not in any sense reliable. Yet one more example of why I am getting frustrated with you. If you had read my Bible versions book you would have understood my point.

[The promised article ended up being in two parts.
It begins at:
The Original Language of the New Testament: Part One]

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

The above email exchange was posted on this site April 26, 2010.
It first appeared in the free
Darkness to Light newsletter.

Bible Versions Controversy - Various Versions
Bible Versions Controversy

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