VersionsThe versions are secondary witnesses to the original text of the New Testament. A version is any translation of the Greek New Testament into another language. We, of course, are only interested in ancient versions because they were translated from very early copies of the Greek manuscripts. Although the versions are not always very useful when it comes to precise grammar or spelling, since, of course, they have been translated into another language, they are very useful in regards to interpolations of words, phrases or verses. For example, if we know that the Pericope of the Woman Taken in Adultery is absent from syrs, a 4th century Syriac translation of the Gospels, then we know that it was absent from the Greek manuscript from which this Syrian version was translated, and this Greek manuscript would be very old, certainly predating the 4th century, and it might have even been 200 years old when the translation was made. Whether it was this ancient or not is of little concern, because we can at least establish that a Greek manuscript commonly being circulated prior to the 4th century did not contain the Pericope. So in this respect, the ancient versions are invaluable. However, it should always be remembered that versions are still only translations, and as such they have all the problems associated with them that we find associated with any translation. By the time we translate one of these versions into English, we only compound its errors, whether it be word choice and the misunderstanding of definitions and usage and idiosyncrasies of the languages, or whether it is the theological prejudice of the translator.
Old Latin. Contrary to what might be assumed, the Greek texts were used for the first two centuries of this era in Rome. In fact, nearly everyone in Rome was bilingual, speaking both Greek and Latin. For this reason, it is unclear where the first Latin translations of the Scriptures were made, some believing Rome, some Pompeii, some Antioch, and some Egypt. It is also unclear when the first Latin translations were made, but if not in the latter part of the 1st century, they were certainly made in the 2nd century. At any rate, the oldest of the Old Latin texts we have today (other than papyrus fragments) dates to the 4th century. There are roughly 65 Old Latin texts that are of concern to the student of the New Testament texts, and they are signified by the letters 'it' with a superscript indicating the particular text.
Vulgate. By 382 AD, there were already a great number of Old Latin manuscripts in existence, and among them were a great number of contradictory readings. Thus, Pope Damascus asked Jerome to create a uniform text, or a common, vulgar text. Many people do not understand that the Vulgate was not an entirely new translation, but was rather a revision of the texts that already existed. What this meant to Jerome was that he was not allowed to deviate too far from the texts that already existed, even if the Greek witnesses had clearly shown him that a particular reading was not original. It is known that he completed his revision of the Gospels in 384, but some doubt whether he finished the rest of the New Testament, for in his later writings he uses a Latin text unlike the oldest Vulgate that we know of, indicating that the rest of the New Testament was done later, perhaps by another person, and then merged with Jerome's Vulgate of the Gospels and the Old Testament. Jerome's Old Testament, after consultation and education from Jew rabbis, was based upon the Hebrew, although he originally had intended just to revise the Old Latin. The Vulgate was not (at first) widely accepted by the Catholics. In fact, Augustine praised Jerome's New Testament work but continued to use and preferred the Old Latin Old Testament which was based on the Septuagint. F.G. Kenyon comments:
With the Old Testament, for which, as described above, he eventually deserted the Greek of the Septuagint and made a fresh translation from the Hebrew, we have nothing here to do. When Jerome's work was completed about 404, it encountered hostile criticism, occasioned not so much by the revision of the Old Latin in the New Testament, as by the wholesale changes caused by the abandonment of the Old Latin (and the LXX from which it was translated) in the Old Testament. ... Consequently its adoption was gradual, and in the process it suffered much contamination.
Thus, the Old Latin represents a far better translation than does the Vulgate, both in substance and in style. The oldest of the Vulgate manuscripts are from the 4th and 5th centuries.
Old Syriac. There are six Syriac manuscripts which are of importance and the manuscripts themselves date from between the 4th century and the 7th century. When the original Syriac translations of the New Testament were made is unknown, but it was perhaps as early as 200 AD. This family is designated by 'syr'.
Peshitta. The Peshitta, or Vulgate Syriac, is a revision of the Old Syriac manuscripts done in much the same way as Jerome's revision of the Old Latin, hence the name. It is believed to have been done by Rabbula, Bishop of Edessa, between 411-35, and some of the nearly 320 manuscripts that still exist do indeed date back to the 5th century, although it is unclear whether they are originals.
Philoxenian and Harklean. These two versions are also both in Syriac. Polycarp produced the Philoxenian Version for Bishop Philoxenus in 508. In 616, Thomas, Bishop of Harkel, either revised or re-edited the Philoxenian manuscript in light of additional Greek witnesses, and also made marginal notes.
Palestinian Syriac. The existing texts so-called by this name are no older than the 11th or 12th century, and are nothing but lectionary fragments. It is believed, however, that the manuscript was made in the 5th or 6th century, and that it shows some of the most ancient Syriac readings, since it is based on more ancient Syriac translations.
Coptic. Coptic was the language of Egypt, and was originally written in hieroglyphs, but by the 1st century it was written with upper case Greek letters (and six additional letters for the Coptic language's peculiar sounds). There are two main Coptic versions, the Sahidic and the Bohairic. The manuscripts of the Sahidic, designated by the symbol copsa, date to the 4th century AD. Those of the Bohairic (copbo) date to the 9th century AD. These are the most important of the Egyptian texts, although some fragments of the New Testament translated into the Achmimic and Fayyumic dialects do exist. In fact, nearly the entire Gospel of John exists in the Achmimic dialect, dating to the 4th century, and there exists also a nearly complete copy of John in the Fayyumic dialect from the early 4th century.
Armenian. Armenia was Christianized by the Syrians in the 3rd century AD, but it is a subject of debate whether the Armenian version is translated from Syriac, Greek, or both. The manuscripts that exist today are not as ancient as some of the other versions, but they too point to an early text type, suggesting that they were translated from an early Greek source or from an early Syriac source. For example, the oldest of the Armenian manuscripts omit the ending of Mark and the Pericope of the Woman Taken in Adultery.
Georgian. The best of the extant Georgian manuscripts date from the 10th century, but most of the New Testament had originally been translated as early as the middle of the 5th century (the Revelation was not translated until 978). Like the Armenian, it is unclear if the parent text was Syriac or Greek. Also, like the Armenian, the ending of Mark is omitted in the best manuscripts, but other curious Syriac interpolations are contained in it.
Ethiopic. The earliest Ethiopic text is from the 6th century and carries little weight in the study of the New Testament. The manuscripts themselves are no older than the 10th century.
Arabic. The Arabic texts are of little value. It is unclear when the first translations were made into Arabic, and it also unclear what the source language was; that is, whether it was translated from the Syriac, Greek, etc. All of the texts seem to have undergone a revision in the 13th century that further complicated the matter.
Gothic. The Gothic version was made in the 4th century for the Goths in Moesia by Bishop Ulfilas. Originally, the Gothic Version contained the Old Testament from the Septuagint and New Testament from the Greek, but most of the text has been lost. The oldest substantial amount is from the 5th century. This is the earliest representative of any literature in the Teutonic language.
Nubian. In the beginning of this century, a great number of papyrus fragments were found containing a few dozen verses in the Nubian dialect. Some of these fragments might be as old as the 4th century AD.
Sogdian. The manuscripts of the Sogdian are very similar in form and in discovery as the Nubian.
Others. Besides these, there are fragments and portions of the New Testament in many other languages, dating anywhere from the 4th century to the 12th and 13th centuries. The most notable are the Old Persian, Slavonic, and the Anglo-Saxon, but like the Nubian and Sogdian they are of little textual importance. They are important, however, in determining how interpolations and textual families have spread throughout the world.
Other WitnessesThe other witnesses that we have not yet discussed are neither versions nor copies, but are commentaries or documents wherein Scripture was used. The problem with this type of witness is that it is dependent on the honesty of the person who was quoting it. Often, men would slightly twist or modify their quotations to better support their theological positions. Many times, however, the men just quoted from memory or sometimes paraphrased. Still, however, where enough of a quotation exists to be tested against the known text, these witnesses are useful.
Church Fathers. What are called the "Church Fathers" or "Patristic witnesses" are usually commentaries or early sermons on the New Testament (and in many cases the Septuagint) by early writers. These witnesses exist chiefly in Greek and Latin, but also in other languages such as Syriac, and from them nearly the entire New Testament can be reconstructed.
Their value is debatable. On the one hand, the same textual issues arise with the texts of the Church Fathers as with any other manuscript. How do we know that we have the original text of the Church Father? How do we know that his text was not later corrupted? If he wrote in Latin or Syriac, how do we know how faithful his translation of the Greek New Testament was? Did the Church Father lie about a passage or misquote a passage of the New Testament to support his particular heresy? Also, did the writer intend to quote a verse verbatim or only paraphrase the passage? Still, however, if the student of the witnesses understands the circumspect nature of these texts, a great deal of information can be ascertained from them.
For example, many Church Fathers give alternate readings of a passage that they were aware of at the time of their writing. Also, depending upon who quoted a particular interpolation and when he quoted it, we can pinpoint whether an interpolation was of a Western or Byzantine nature, and when it had crept into the texts. For example, at the time of the Arian controversy, there were many ancient Church Fathers who wrote regarding the controversy and took sides on the issue. However, none of these early Church Fathers, on either side of the issue, say anything about I John 5:7, the famous trinity verse. If this interpolation had then existed in any manuscripts, it is almost certain that one side or the other of the controversy would have made use of the verse. But neither does. This allows us to state as a certainty that no version of the early Scriptures contained this verse at the time of Arius.
Lectionaries. Lectionaries were prepared texts of passages from the Bible that were meant to be read each Sunday. They are put in a specific order and collated to form a year's readings (or some other specific period of time). They are in effect another type of manuscript of the New Testament except that the passages are in a different order and are usually annotated, showing the beginning and ending of each passage.
Diatessaron. The Diatessaron does not really fall into any of the classifications already discussed. It was made somewhere around 150 AD by Tatian the Assyrian, and it was originally made in Syriac. He took the four Gospels and wove them together into a continuous stream so that the Diatessaron contained all the various tidbits that are in each separate Gospel, omitting the readings that were held in common. So it might be called the first "Parallel Gospel," for after reading the Diatessaron, one had read all the information in all four Gospels. Today, the Diatessaron exists in Greek and Syriac fragments.
Was the NT Written in Aramaic?The Peshitta has been used by some men as a tool to claim that the New Testament was written in Aramaic. For example, some have claimed that the Peshitta dates to 200 AD, but this is known today to be entirely false. However, because men have passed it off as the oldest translation of the New Testament, even older than the oldest Greek texts, it has become quite popular recently to use the Peshitta as if it were better or even equal to the Greek New Testament. One English translation is that of James Murdock, D.D., from 1851. He writes in Appendix II of that work:
"Among the Aramaean Christians the tradition is universal, and uniform everywhere, that this version was made at the time when Christianity was first preached ... and, of course, that it was made by some one or more of the primitive Apostles and Evangelists, or by persons who were their companions and associates. Some name Mark the Evangelist; others, Thaddeus the reputed Apostle of Mesopotamia ... the English, and also the Germans before the year 1800, very generally believed, and argued, that it must have been made either near the close of the first century, or early in the second century."
Murdock then goes on to try to make the case that it was translated by one of the Apostles and even hints that Jesus and the Apostles spoke Syriac, or a close dialect, and that it might be from their original writings. Syriac is an Eastern Aramaic dialect, and of course, Aramaic is related to Hebrew, so in truth this is nothing more than a way of arguing that the New Testament was written in Aramaic. This type of totally unfounded nonsense is still being repeated today, and for this reason many people believe that the Peshitta is somehow better than the Greek New Testament. But the Aramaic spoken in the 1st century was not Syriac, and the contention that the New Testament was written in any language but Greek is easily repudiated. Murdock is lying when he implies that the bulk of scholars, even at that time, believed in an early date for the Peshitta.
However, Murdock's contentions were taken one step further by George M. Lamsa, translator of The New Testament, According to the Eastern Text. According to the title page of what is now commonly called "The Lamsa Bible," it was translated from "original Aramaic sources." The lengthy introduction explains Lamsa's contentions, which are that the New Testament was written in Aramaic, and that the Peshitta is the faithful descendant of the original Aramaic text. He makes no distinction between the Old Syriac and the Peshitta manuscripts. Through Lamsa's Bible, a great number of deceived people today believe that the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic and that later, as Lamsa says, it was translated into Greek.
There are many fallacies with Lamsa's statements, and any honest scholar is aware that these contentions are blatant lies. First of all, the language of the Peshitta is Syriac, not Aramaic. It is true, as stated before, that Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, but so is Arabic. They are not the same. The Syriac of the Peshitta did not become popular until about the 3rd century AD, and it must be distinguished from the Aramaic being spoken in the 1st century. Scholars call the Aramaic of the 1st century "Early Aramaic," and the Aramaic from which Syriac is derived is called "Late Aramaic." By the differences in the languages alone, and the evolution of the Syriac dialect, it can be shown that the Peshitta was not written before the 3rd century. Furthermore, by comparing the Peshitta texts with the Old Syriac manuscripts, it can be established that the Peshitta was not produced until the 5th century. Even if Rabbula did not produce the final form of the Peshitta, it is certain that he began the intermediate editing of the Old Syriac texts that led to the Peshitta.
Lamsa several times comments on how well-preserved the Peshitta manuscripts are, and that of the more than 300 texts, there is very little deviation. This is true. However, there is great deviation between the Peshitta and the Old Syriac which predates it. This is why Rabbula sought to make a vulgar or common edition of those texts in the first place, just as Jerome did with the Old Latin. So while the Peshitta shows little variation, that does not mean that it is a faithful reproduction of anything older than the 5th century, but Lamsa tries to argue that it is a faithful reproduction of the very oldest texts. This is an easily disproved lie.
One of Lamsa's biggest points is that Jesus and His Disciples spoke Aramaic, and therefore wrote in Aramaic. There are two major fallacies involved in this statement: one is that the Syriac of the Peshitta is not the Aramaic of the 1st century, and two, it is an undeniable fact of history that the predominant language of the time in the geographical areas of the New Testament was Greek. Jesus and a great number of the Disciples were from Galilee, and Lamsa contends that the Galileans spoke Aramaic. Again, history disproves this. The historian Josephus was from Galilee; in fact, he was the governor of Galilee and was a Judean priest who spent much time in Jerusalem. Josephus spoke and wrote in Greek, and the predominant language of the entire area was Greek. We have mentioned before that Paul, a Greek-speaking Roman citizen, wrote the bulk of his letters to Greek cities and to Greek-speaking people. Furthermore, Jesus and His Apostles quoted the Greek Septuagint - of this there can be no question. In order to quote the Greek Septuagint, one must speak Greek.
The evidence is so overwhelming that the New Testament was written in Greek that I can say once again that not one shred of evidence exists that points to the New Testament being written in Aramaic, Syriac, Latin, or any other language besides Greek. The oldest Syriac manuscripts in existence date to the 3rd century; the oldest Greek manuscripts in existence date to 125 AD (although some have contended that this text dates to 90 AD). Additionally, it can be proven that the Greek texts are the source of all the Syriac manuscripts, whether Diatesseron, Old Syriac, or Peshitta.
As an example of this, let us look at the Greek New Testament where Jesus is quoted speaking Aramaic, and compare these passages to Lamsa's translation of the Peshitta. Mark 5:41 reads in the AST:
"And taking hold of the child's hand, He said to her, 'Talithe koum,' which is, being translated,
'Little girl, I say to you, rise up!'"
Now if these are the original words of Mark, then it is clear that he was writing in Greek because he found it necessary to translate the Aramaic into Greek so his reader could understand. Also, if the Peshitta were a translation made from the Greek, then it should show that these are the original words of Mark. Lamsa's translation of this passage reads:
"And he took the little girl by her hand, and said to her, Talitha, koomi, which means, Little girl, rise up."
Now if the Scriptures were written in Syriac or Aramaic originally, then a translation of the words talitha koomi would be unnecessary because the reader would naturally understand them. So if Lamsa's translation is correct, then it is impossible for the Syriac to be the original language of the New Testament. Even if the Syriac did not say that and Lamsa's translation is wrong, it still would not matter, because throughout the Syriac there is similar internal evidence that shows that it was a translation of the Greek, while the Greek shows no signs that it was a translation of the Syriac.
Knowing all of this, we need to look at why it has become a popular Jewish contention to claim that the New Testament was written in Aramaic. The first major reason is that claiming the New Testament was written in Aramaic helps the case for the Jewish Masoretic Text. Anyone can look at the Greek New Testament and see that the quotes from the Old Testament are from the Greek Septuagint. The Jews who support the Jewish Masoretic Text often resort to saying that the Greek New Testament is a corruption of the original Aramaic New Testament just as the Septuagint is a corruption of the Hebrew Old Testament. Of course, the reality is just the opposite, and the quotations as contained in the Syriac agree more with the Septuagint than the Jew-perverted Masoretic Text. For example, in Romans 3:11-18, the Apostle Paul quotes Psalms 14:1-3 from the Septuagint. Only Romans 3:11-12 are found in Psalms 14:1-3 as it reads in the Masoretic Text, but Romans 3:13-18 are found exactly, word for word, in the Septuagint and not in the Masoretic Text. This means that the Apostle Paul absolutely had to be quoting the Greek Septuagint, because these five verses only exist in the Greek Septuagint. Now the question is, are these five verses in the Peshitta? And the answer is yes. This means that the author of Romans spoke Greek because he quoted the Greek Septuagint, the only source for the quotation in existence, and then the Syriac was translated from a Greek copy of the book of Romans, because it also contains the quotation. Furthermore, this means that the Peshitta, or what Lamsa calls 'the Aramaic Bible' is a witness against the Hebrew Masoretic Text, and it is therefore ridiculous to assert that the New Testament was written in Aramaic.
The second reason that Jews like to contend that the New Testament was written in Aramaic is to support their sacred name doctrine, which states that the New Testament was written in Aramaic and that the Anointed One's real name was Yahshua, or some similarly spelled name. They get the name Yahshua from the Hebrew for Joshua, and they say that Joshua was a precursor of Jesus and that they were to have the same names. However, when we look to the oldest and most accurate copy of the Old Testament Scriptures in existence, the Greek Septuagint, we find that Joshua's name in reality was Jesus, not Joshua. When we look at the Greek New Testament, we find the name Jesus, not Joshua, for both the Anointed One and for the mentioning of the prophet in Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8. So because of this evidence, the sacred name Jews contend that the New Testament was written in Aramaic and that the writers of the New Testament quoted Hebrew Scriptures and that Jesus' name was Yahshua, and that the Greek New Testament was a corrupted translation of some Hebrew or Aramaic original. Of course, we have already proven the fallacies of these blasphemous statements, but in addition to this, these stupid arguments ignore the historical references both to the name Jesus and to the Anointed One, and that such references support the name of Jesus and the title of Anointed One. Furthermore, it ignores the fact that the Jews hate the name Jesus and have hated that name so much since the 1st century that they, in the form of the Masoretes, changed the Hebrew to remove the name Jesus from it, replacing it with Joshua. This must be the position taken by any honest scholar because the oldest manuscripts of the New Testament and the Old Testament (the Septuagint) show clearly that the name is Jesus.
Thus, we can say with certainty, in the light of over 5000 Greek witnesses to the New Testament, and based upon historical evidence, that it is an absolute impossibility that the New Testament was written in any language other than Greek. Only Talmudic Jews would want to argue that the New Testament was written in Aramaic.