The Receptor Tongue of the New Testament and the Saviour's Name
NCW 75, April-June 2002
Q. Do you believe that the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew or Greek and if it was Hebrew, then how can it be proved since there are no more copies in Hebrew? There is a big debate going on in my family and some say it was written in Greek and that our Savior's name was Iesous, not Jesus, and that is what the Apostle Paul called Him.
A. My belief was that it was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic but was shortly thereafter translated into Greek for dissemination outside Israel to Hellenised Jews. And whilst there are no original MSS in either Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek, there are most certainly copies in both Hebrew and Aramaic in large numbers in the Eastern Asiatic and African Churches. If you wish to study this further, I recommend you secure a copy of the Hebraic-roots Version (HRV) of the New Testament from SANJ, Box 471, Hurst, TX 76053. It costs about $50 but is well worth it. You should be able to find some information on it on-line too.
The Apostles would have known the Saviour as Yah'shua (Hebrew) or Yeshua (Aramaic) or the diminutive Y'shua, the name not being rendered into Greek until many years after the Ascension when evangelism required translations of the Gospels. For a thorough treatment of the history and linguistics of the divine name, I recommend The Mistaken J: True Names of the Father and Son (Yahweh's New Covenant Assembly, P.O.Box 50, Kingdom City, MO 65262). They have a website where you can read this article on-line and a number of other related ones too.
The Hebrew-Aramaic origin of the New Testament would be evident from the Greek New Testament MSS alone, even without Hebrew and Aramaic copies of the originals. Hugh J. Schonfield, a biblical scholar writes:
"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" (An Old Hebrew Text of St. Matthew's Gospel, 1927, p.vii).
Another scholar, C.C.Torrey, writes:
"The material of our Four Gospels is all Palestinian and the language in which it was originally written is Aramaic, then the principal language of the land..." (Our Translated Gospels, 1936, p.ix).
Another piece of strong evidence that the New Testament was originally in a Semitic tongue is the fact that there are so many errors and obvious blunders in the Greek MSS. Errors such as in Matthew 23:35 where Zechariah the son of Jehoidai (2 Chr.24:20-21) mistakenly appears as Zechariah the son of Berechiah (Zec.1:1) which does not appear in the ancient Hebrew copy which Jerome owned. Another, in Matthew 27:9, which quotes Zec.11:12-13 but falsely credits it to Jeremiah, is not found in the in the Shem Tob Hebrew version of Matthew.
A complication we face is that some Hebrew and Aramaic versions clearly borrowed from both other Hebrew/Aramaic copies and Greek translations and incorporate the latter's errors. Such is found in the Peshitta. And whilst using the oldest Hebrew and Aramaic MSS is very helpful and resolves many important controversies, we cannot say for sure that we have a 100% error-free rendition into our own language. It would be nice to say, "Here is the Hebrew New Testament - use this as the final authority" but we don't. And useful as the Hebrew-roots Version of the New Testament (HRV) is, it is not infallible, even if it is manifestly superior to the Greek MSS we have traditionally worked with. We are obliged, therefore, to work with a combination of MSS - and for the most part the Received Majority Byzantine Greek Text coupled with the HRV compilation is probably the best we can expect to get. Thereafter only direct inspiration will resolve difficult MS issues.
The need for Apostolic authority and revelation in our day therefore becomes vital for the harmonious functioning of the Church/Assembly. This is why, in part, we have the Olive Branch as a source of contemporary inspiration to amplify and clarify those parts of the Bible where there has been dispute over the centuries.
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Last updated on 16 June 2004
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