Scholars on the Original Language of the New Testament
James Scott Trimm
The New Testament was first written in Hebrew and Aramaic. A number of noted scholars have argued, that at least portions of the New Testament were originally penned in a Semitic tongue. This argument has been asserted for every part of the NT from the Gospels, to Acts, to Paul to Revelation:
The following is just some of what these scholars have written on the topic:
“God’s Word itself does not explicitly identify the language in which the New Testament was written, but it does provide information that indicates what the original language was. This information can be further augmented by historical facts known about Israel and its culture during the Testament era, as well as by the earliest non-Biblical writings about the early Church. Both the Biblical evidence, which is primary, and the church historical evidence strongly indicate that the original language of the New Testament was Aramaic. …
Knowing that the New Testament writers wrote in Aramaic, not Greek, opens up new vistas of understanding and research. Primarily, this knowledge further enables the Biblical researcher to see that the Bible is not a compendium of random written and oral sources. Rather, it is the Word of God, revealed to men who recorded that revelation in the native Aramaic and later oversaw its translation into Greek, Latin, and Syriac; and it is with the descendants of these first translation endeavors that today’s Biblical researcher must work.”
-Daniel McConaughy; former Coordinator of the Biblical Research Department at the Way College of Emporia. McConaughy discovered a previously lost page of the Old Syriac Curetonian ms. of the Gospels (“A Recently Discovered Folio of the Old Syriac (Sy(c)) Text of Luke 16,13-17,1”; Biblica Vol. 68- Fasc. 1- 1987; pp. 85-90). He has been published in at least two academic journals (The cite above and “An Old Syriac Reading of Acts 1:4 and More Light on Jesus’ Last Meal before His Ascension”; Oriens Christianus; Band 72 1988; pp. 63-67). (Quoted from: The Aramaic Origin of the New Testament; The Way Magazine; May-June 1985 pages 17-20)
When we turn to the New Testament, we find that there are reasons for suspecting a Hebrew or Aramaic
original for the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, John, and, for the apocalypse.
– Hugh J. Schonfield; An Old Hebrew Text of St. Matthew’s Gospel; 1927; p. vii
The material of our Four Gospels is all Palestinian; the language in which it was originally written is Aramaic, then the principle language of the land…
–C. C. Torrey; Our Translated Gospels; 1936 p. ix
The pioneer in this study of Aramaic and Greek relationships was Charles Cutler Torrey. (1863-1956) His work however, fell short of completeness. As a pioneering effort, in the nature of the case, some of his work has to be revised and supplemented. His main contention of translation, however, is undeniably correct….
The translation into Greek from Aramaic must have been made from a written record, including the Fourth Gospel. The language was Eastern Aramaic, as the material itself revealed most strikingly, through a comparison of parallel passages….
One group [of scholars], which originated in the nineteenth century and persists to the present day , contends that the Gospels were written in Greek…. Another group of scholars; among them C. C. Torrey, comes out flatly with the proposition that the Four Gospels… including Acts up to 15:35 are translated directly from Aramaic and from a written Aramaic text….
My own researches have led me to consider Torrey’s position valid and convincing, that the Gospels as a whole were translated from Aramaic into Greek.
– Frank Zimmerman; the Aramaic Origin of the Four Gospels; KTAV; 1979
Thus it was, that the writer turned seriously to tackle the question of the original language of the Fourth Gospel,
and quickly convincing himself that the theory of an original Aramaic document was no chimera, but a fact …
which was capable of the fullest verification….
– Charles Fox Burney; the Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel; 1922; p. 3
…this [Old Syriac] Gospel of St. Matthew, appears at least, to be built upon the original Aramaic text, which was the work of the Apostle himself.
– William Cureton; Remains of a Very Ancient Recension of the Four Gospels in Syriac; 1858; p. vi)
…the Book of Revelation was written in a Semitic language, and that the Greek translation, is a remarkably close
rendering … of the original.
– C. C. Torrey; Documents of the Primitive Church 1941; p. 160
We come to the conclusion therefore, that the Apocalypse as a whole, is a translation from Hebrew or Aramaic….
– R. B. Y. Scott; The Original Language of the Apocalypse 1928; p. 6
The question of the Luke/Acts tradition, holds particular interest to us. This is because, the common wisdom has been to portray Luke as a Greek speaking, Greek writing Gentile, who wrote his account to the Gentiles. The reality of the matter is (whether Luke himself knew Greek or not) that Luke was most certainly written in a Semitic language. As Charles Cutler Torrey states:
In regard to Luke, it remains to be said, that of all the Four Gospels, it is the one which gives by far the plainest,
And most constant evidence, of being a translation.
– C.C. Torrey; Our Translated Gospels p. lix
And regarding the writings of Paul:
The argument that Paul is a Hellenistic Jew because many of the quotes that appear in the Greek version of the Old Testament are from the Septuagint is inadequate. If his writings were originally written in Aramaic, his native language, the translator would not translate the Old Testament himself, but would use the version that was most familiar to his readers (the same approach is used today in translations). The evidence from God’s Word causes us to take issue with the tradition which contends that Paul wrote in Greek. Knowing that Aramaic was his native tongue should prompt us to consider the language of an Aramaic original which lies behind the Greek and other versions to which we have access today.
– Karen Tourne Masterson. Dr. Masterson has a Ph.D. from UCLA in Near Eastern Languages (Quoted from An Aramaic Approach to the Church Epistles; The Way Magazine; March-April 1984 pages 17-20)
Aramaic speaker and Peshitta scholar George M. Lamsa wrote:
The Pauline Epistles were letters written by Paul to small Christian congregations in Asia Minor, Greece and Rome. These early Christians were mostly Jews of the Dispersion, men and women of Hebrew origin. Paul on his journeys always spoke in the Jewish synagogues. His first converts were Hebrews. Then came Arameans… Paul emphasizes Hebrew law and history. He refers to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as our fathers. In his letters and teaching he appeals to the Jewish people to accept Jesus as the promised Messiah. Paul’s mission was first to his own people… Paul was educated in Jewish law in Jerusalem. He was a member of the Jewish Council. His native language was western Aramaic but he acquired his education through Hebrew and Chaldean or Palestinian Aramaic… He defended himself when on trial in the Hebrew tongue. Acts 22:2… Very early the Epistles were translated into Greek for the use of converts who spoke Greek. Later they were translated into all tongues.
(George M. Lamsa; The New Testament according to the Eastern Text; 1940; pp. xi-xii)
These quotations do not, by themselves, prove that the books of the “New Testament” were written in Hebrew or Aramaic, but they do show that many respected scholars have held that very educated opinion. There is in fact, a great deal of evidence that the books of the New Testament were originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic. That is why this project to restore the original Hebrew and Aramaic text of these books is so important, so that we can begin to understand the actual words of these books in the languages in which they were first written.
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