Lord’s Prayer “Translation” From Aramaic

BriBlog, BriRants

aramaic, cosmic birther, lord's prayer

I recently received a post purporting to be a new and better translation of the Lord’s Prayer. Here’s what this “translation” says about itself…

The Lord’s Prayer…translated from Aramaic directly into English. Rather than from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English (which most of us are used to from the King James version

Original Source Unknown

Uncharacteristically, I will refrain from offering any personal commentary about this “prayer.” Nor will I quote from it and thereby give it any further traction in the Interwebs than it already undeservedly has. But I was utterly appalled by its claimed provenance as a “translation” from the original Aramaic. It is quite frightening how ignorant the vast majority of people are about the true provenance of God’s Word from the ancient Hebrew, Greek, and (yes) Aramaic manuscripts, so that this abject lie woven completely out of this “translator’s” imagination regarding the source of the text would be believed by anyone.

It is often said that an effective lie always contains a modicum of truth. That’s certainly the case here. Yes, Jesus and His disciples very likely conversed privately in Aramaic. In fact, Jesus’ final cry from the cross was in Aramaic.

46And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:46 (ESV)

Ironically, Matthew transliterated Jesus’ cry in Aramaic into the Greek alphabet, then gave his Greek-speaking readers a Greek translation of the meaning of the Aramaic words. Then when Matthew’s Greek text was translated into English, the Greek transliteration of Jesus’ cry was transliterated again using the English alphabet, and the remainder of the Greek text was translated into English.

There are several other places in the New Testament where this convoluted Greek-transliteration –> Greek translation –> English transliteration –> English translation process for Aramaic and Hebrew words and phrases was used to finally bring us our English language versions of the text.

33And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull) ,

Matthew 27:33 (ESV)

In Matthew 27:33, Golgotha is an Aramaic proper name.

23“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Matthew 1:23 (ESV)

In this case, Matthew translated the Hebrew text of Isaiah’s prophecy into Greek:

14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)

But in his Greek translation of the Old Testament Hebrew, Matthew had to resort once again to a Greek alphabet transliteration of the Hebrew name עִמָּנוּאֵל ʿimmānû’ēl and then give his Greek-speaking readers the meaning of the Hebrew name in Greek. In turn, the English language translators used the same combination of translation and transliteration to render Matthew 1:23 from Greek into English.

At the risk of sounding uncharitable, I must say that I doubt the author (notice I no longer call this person a translator) of the Lord’s prayer post I received has either the desire, the training, the skill, or the intellectual horsepower to faithfully render any Aramaic version of the Lord’s Prayer into English as they claim to have done.

Furthermore, this author’s claim to have translated the Aramaic version of the Lord’s Prayer into English doesn’t pass the sniff test. To my knowledge, there is no surviving contemporary manuscript of the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic. I have no doubt whatsoever that if such a text were ever discovered, it would make front-page news around the globe.

Many Jews had certainly been using Aramaic as their private daily spoken language since the time of the Babylonian captivity (about 605-535 BC). Although Jesus and His disciples probably conversed most frequently in Aramaic among themselves, the lingua franca for scholarly and literary purposes in Israel in the late 1st century AD when the gospel accounts were written was Greek – as it had been since Alexander the Great conquered the area in 333 BC. Although the religious scholarly and literary language among the Jews was Hebrew, the original manuscripts of the New Testament were written in Greek (with some sporadic transliterations of Aramaic or Hebrew words and phrases into the Greek alphabet with an accompanying Greek explanation of their meaning as noted above).

Ironically, although the Roman Empire dominated Canaan during the time of Jesus’ ministry and later when the gospel accounts were written, none of the contemporary Bible texts were written in Latin. After the Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian and made Christianity the official religion of the Empire in the first part of the 4th century AD, the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts of God’s Word began to be more frequently translated into Latin. The Latin Vulgate translation that was used later as a partial basis for translations of the Bible into other languages didn’t appear until the late 4th century AD. Thus, the claim of the post’s author that the King James Version Lord’s Prayer came to us via a circuitous route from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English is utter hogwash reflecting the author’s abject ignorance (or even worse, purposeful disengenuity) about the true provenance of the texts.

For the record, here is how the Lord’s Prayer we find in our English Bibles most likely came down to us.

  1. Jesus taught the prayer verbally in His sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Although Jesus most likely conversed with His disciples day-by-day in Aramaic, this teaching may have been given in Hebrew so that He could reach the greatest possible number of people – particularly the Jewish religious leaders. It is unlikely Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount in Greek, since His earthly ministry was focused toward the people of Israel.
  2. Matthew recorded the prayer in Greek some decades later in the latter part of the 1st century AD.
  3. Paul’s companion Luke wrote the story in Greek of how Jesus taught His disciples the prayer (also in the latter part of the 1st century AD). Luke’s account was based on Paul’s teachings (which Paul in turn had heard from the church in Jerusalem and other early churches around the region) and personal interviews with the surviving disciples. In the introduction to his gospel, Luke writes of others (presumably Matthew, Mark, and John who had written accounts of Jesus’ ministry, so Luke may have also referred to Matthew’s written account of the Lord’s prayer. This seems unlikely though because Luke says that this prayer was taught by Jesus in response to His disciples’ asking Him how they should pray rather than being part of the Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew.
  4. The surviving Greek manuscripts were used as the basis for Latin translations used by the Roman Catholic church in Western Europe throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. These translations added (in Latin of course) “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” to the end of the prayer.
  5. Early English language translators mostly used the Latin translations as their source.
  6. The King James Version translators used both the published Latin translations and the surviving ancient Greek manuscripts as the basis for their English language translation. Thus, the closing phrase added by the Latin translators was retained in the KJV.
  7. Subsequent English language translators mostly relied on Greek manuscripts as their basis for the more modern translations. Thus, many of these translations omit the final phrase added to the Latin version.

Although the original teaching may have been in Aramaic or Hebrew, and any personal interviews conducted by Luke and Paul may have been conducted in Aramaic, all of the original written records of the teaching were made in Greek. The Lord’s Prayer is found in Matthew 6:9-13, and Luke 11:2-4. Note that Luke’s version omits the closing phrase added by the Latin translators even in the KJV.

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