ARAMAIC AND HEBREW WORDS AND PHRASES
IN THIS STUDY WE LEARN:
- New Testament writers translated Hebrew and Aramaic words for their readers.
- The intended readers of the new Testament could not read even the most simple Hebrew and Aramaic words.
On October 12, in the year 1492, a Spanish Jew called Christopher Columbus sighted and landed on a small island somewhere near present day Cuba. Today no one knows for sure which island it was. It certainly was a momentous event in our history.
When Columbus got home, he wrote a letter to Gabriel Sanchez,1 treasurer for the King of Spain. He recounted for Sanchez, "everything done and discovered in this our voyage." The letter makes interesting reading. Since it was sent to a Spanish official, we should not wonder that it was written in Spanish. Later, it was translated into Latin and later still, English.
However, for our study, there is one very memorable sentence in Columbus' letter. He first tells Sanchez that he has named the island on which he landed in honor of the Savior. (He named it San Salvador, which translates as, Holy Savior.) Then he says, "But the Indians called it Guanahany."
By this sentence, Columbus makes a clear distinction between Spanish and the language of the Indians. Without being told anything else about them, Sanchez knew the Indians spoke a language other than Spanish. He knew this because he understood the distinction Columbus made. He knew Guanahany was not a Spanish word. We can read the letter and know the same thing. Those Indians did not speak Spanish.
Just as Columbus put an Indian word in his Spanish letter, we find Aramaic and Hebrew words in the Greek New Testament. This all the more confirms to us that the book was written in Greek. For if it had been written in Aramaic or Hebrew then translated into Greek, the Aramaic and Hebrew words simply would have been translated along with the rest of the book. The New Testament writers put these words and expressions in the New Testament. Then they translated these words for their readers.
Why were these translations made? They would not have been made by someone writing in Aramaic to someone who understood Aramaic. There can be only one reason. The writer is writing in Greek. He simply transliterates a number of the names of people, places, and expressions from Aramaic into Greek. Then he translates these words for his readers, knowing they spoke no Aramaic. This tells us the writers knew that their readers did not know Aramaic. Now, we begin to see the magnitude of proof from the book itself that the New Testament was indeed written in Greek.
Let's focus on "Abba" for a moment. Paul put this Aramaic word in his letter to the Romans.
But ye have received the Spirit of adoption,
whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
The Romans knew "Abba" was not a Greek word. They knew Paul was using a language other than the one in which he was writing to them. Paul also knew Abba was an unfamiliar word for the Romans. That is why he followed it with the Greek translation, "Father." Since Abba is an Aramaic word for Father, we know the letter to the Romans was not written in Aramaic.
EMMANUEL IN MATTHEW
In the first chapter of the first book of the New Testament the Holy Spirit puts us on notice this book is not originally in Aramaic or Hebrew. Matthew quotes Isaiah.
Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring
forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel
This is what Isaiah had written hundreds of years earlier. Matthew simply tells his readers what Isaiah said. In doing so, he brings into his text the Hebrew word "Emmanuel."
One point Matthew makes here is that the birth of Jesus is the fulfillment of prophesy. A second point he establishes is found within the meaning of the word Emmanuel. It is a point Matthew cannot make unless his readers know what the word means.
Matthew is compelled to translate Emmanuel for his readers. When he does this, we can see that he knew they would not understand Hebrew. It further shows us that he was not writing in Hebrew.
Which being interpreted is, God with us.
Here at the very outset of the book, for every unbiased person, any notion of an original Hebrew New Testament vanishes. The Bible is telling us the New Testament was not written in Hebrew. At this point, all that needs to be done is believe the Bible.
Matthew would not have been thinking very clearly to translate this word if his readers were conversant with Hebrew. Because he translates, we know he is dealing with two languages. We also know the word Emmanuel is being translated from Hebrew into the language in which the book is being written. Therefore, it is impossible for the book to have been written in Hebrew. Greek was the language in which Matthew was writing.
IMMANUEL IN ISAIAH
What did Isaiah do when he wrote the same word in his book? Nothing. Remember, Isaiah wrote in Hebrew and he wrote for Hebrew readers. Because of this, it was not necessary for him to translate the word Immanuel.
Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and
shall call his name Immanuel.
Now, Isaiah was writing in Hebrew. He knew his readers understood what "Immanuel" means. The language of Isaiah's readers and the language of which Immanuel is a part were the same. He found no need to translate the word for them.
On the other hand, Matthew knew his readers would not understand what this word means. The language of his readers and the language of which Immanuel is a part are different. Therefore he translated for them.
I know this is basic. It is simple. It is also absolute proof that the New Testament was not written in Hebrew. The only other way one can deal with this use of Emmanuel is deny that Matthew wrote it. Such a thing we will not do. Matthew wrote his book in Greek.
Mark gives his readers one of the sayings of Jesus just as it sounded in Aramaic. Then he translates it for them.
And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her,
Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, (I say unto thee,) arise.
Here Mark uses two Aramaic words. He transliterate these words into the text of his narrative, then translated them for his readers. He proved to us by this translation, that his readers did not understand even simple Aramaic words.
No one can fail to take these facts into account. "Little girl, get up" are words a child would know. Simply because of Mark's translation, we realize his readers knew no Aramaic. They did know Greek.
Another example of an Aramaic phrase which Mark saw a need to translate for his readers is the cry of Jesus from the cross.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice,
saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? Which is, being interpreted, My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?
Jesus is speaking Aramaic. Mark wanted his readers to hear the very words Jesus spoke. He also wanted them to know the meaning of these words. But, knowing they would not understand the Aramaic language, he translated the words into Greek. It is obvious these people knew no Aramaic. They could read Greek. It is also quite obvious Mark wrote his Gospel in Greek.
At the beginning of his Gospel, John translated three everyday words for his readers. We need to check them. First there is the word Rabbi.
They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being
interpreted, Master,) where dwelleth thou?
Rabbi is another Hebrew word. (John also translated the Aramaic, Rabboni in chapter 20.) It means master, as in schoolmaster, a teacher. It is such a common Hebrew title, such an often used word, anyone even vaguely familiar with Hebrew would have known it.
However, John's readers did not know it. Therefore, we know they did not speak Hebrew. They were Greek speakers. John knew that. He took it into account as he translated this simple Hebrew word into Greek for them.
John used the word Messias twice in his Gospel. It is found nowhere else in the New Testament. He translated it for his readers each time.
He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith
unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias
commeth which is called Christ.
The word "Messias" was a staple in the language of the Jews. It is inconceivable that even one of them would not have known it. But John had to translate it for his readers. This tells us conclusively, he was not writing to Jewish people. The word he translated Messias to, "Christos," is an altogether Greek word. This further shows he was writing in Greek. Even in English the word remains largely Greek.
John translated the Hebrew not just once, but both times he used it. It should be mentioned here that Daniel also used Messiah twice in his book.2 Daniel, who is definitely writing for Jewish readers, did not find a need to translate the word for them.
The reason is simple enough. Daniels's readers spoke Hebrew. John's, did not.
The surname which Jesus gave to Simon produces a third translation in John's first chapter.
And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art
Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas,
which is by interpretation, A stone.
Cephas is an Aramaic word. It's the kind of word children learn soon after they begin to walk barefoot in the yard and step an small stones.
He translated it into Greek as Petros. Our English translators brought it further into our language as a stone. Why did John translate it?
John was writing in a language other than the one of which the word Cephas is a part. John's readers did not even know the Aramaic word for stone.
Therefore, we are able to tell they were not Aramaic speakers. It would have been impossible for them to have read a complete book in Aramaic. Neither would John have written his Gospel for them in that language. He knew they understood no Aramaic. Because the Bible tells us these things, we know John was writing in Greek.
Another way of knowing John did not write in Hebrew is to study his use of the phrase, "the Hebrew."
When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought
Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a
place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew,
And he bearing his cross went forth into a place
called the place of a skull, which is called in the
John is speaking here of the Hebrew language. He first gives his readers the words in Greek. Then he tells them what the Jews, who lived there, called these places. It would have been impossible for him to have done this unless he was involved with two languages. One was Hebrew. One was something other than Hebrew.
Had he been writing in Hebrew, it would have been altogether unnecessary for him to have said, "but in the Hebrew." Not only would it have been unnecessary, it would have been foolish for him to have said it. Here again we are told by the Bible that John was not writing in Hebrew.
I could write to you about a favorite vacation spot is my home state. I might say my wife and I went to a place called The Smoky Mountains. Since I am writing this for readers of English, would I then need to say to you, "which being interpreted is The smoky Mountains"? You would think me quite foolish. Would you not? John was not foolish.
John has translated both Hebrew and Aramaic words for his readers within the space of one paragraph. He tells his readers what two places were called in the Hebrew language. Had he been writing in Hebrew, he would have done neither.
Here is something we should take special note of. In all the Old Testament, which indeed was written in Hebrew, there is not a single case of either, not even one. It is just more proof the New Testament was written in Greek.
In his books, Luke also translated words for Theophilus. We have already considered examples of this in our study of his books. There is another word in Luke's writings for us to examine.
And it was known unto all the dwellers at
Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called, in their
proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field
It is the word Aceldama on which we will focus. It is an Aramaic word. This tells us Aramaic was "the proper tongue" of "the dwellers at Jerusalem." This verse presents a special set of problems for any person who wants to believe the New Testament was written in Aramaic.
Think about it. Who said the words, "that is to say, the field of blood"? If advocates of an Aramaic New Testament suppose Peter said them, they are forced to conclude that Peter was not even speaking Aramaic in the upper room.
On the other hand, if they concede that Luke put them in as he wrote (which is exactly what happened), then they must concede that Luke did not write in Aramaic.
Such a dilemma is not made necessary by so simple a problem. The obvious solution is that the book was originally written in Greek.
IF ANY MAN SHALL TAKE AWAY
So far, we have seen that each writer of the five narrative history books of the New Testament translates Hebrew or Aramaic words for his readers. The cumulative evidence is overwhelming. They all did it. They were all writing in Greek.
Of course we could just deny these translations were part of the original New Testament. This is what advocates of an Aramaic original do. Here is what C. C. Torrey says regarding Matthew's translation of Emmanuel.3
The Greek adds, 'which means God is with us.'
You see, he claims Matthew did not write "which being interpreted is, God with us." He thinks some uninspired person added these words years later. He says the same for Mark's translation of "Talitha cumi," for John's translation of "Rabbi", and for all the others. He is compelled to say this because if the writers used the word "translated," his Aramaic New Testament theory is finished.
I cannot say such a thing. I am bound by the conviction that God's Word does not belong to me. It belongs to God. If I take something from God's Word, then I am.......... well.......... taking something from God's Word. This is not mine to do.
It seems to me that I should change what I believe to fit God's Word, rather than change God's Word to fit what I believe. Is a person allowed to throw out part of the Word just because it does not agree with his pet theory? If so, then another person can throw out something else. Before you know it, the Bible has been shredded.
I am also bound by the only conclusion a reasonable person can make: the New Testament was written in Greek by its original