What is Aramaic Primacy?
Question: "What is Aramaic Primacy? Was the New Testament originally written in Aramaic?"
Answer: The term Aramaic Primacy is used, informally, to refer to the claim that the New Testament was originally written not in Koine Greek but in a dialect of Aramaic. This theory is more commonly referred to as “Peshitta Primacy,” referring to the ancient Aramaic manuscripts of the Bible, a collection known as the Peshitta. The Aramaic Primacy Theory is drastically different from the consensus of historians and New Testament scholars, who hold that the original works of the New Testament were in fact written in Greek. A large number of researchers suggest that the Gospels of Mark and Matthew may have drawn from earlier Aramaic sources, but the claims of Aramaic Primacy go far beyond this.
Certain denominations hold to Aramaic Primacy as an article of faith, such as the Assyrian Church of the East. George Lamsa, a proponent of the Nestorian heresy, was instrumental in advancing the view that the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic. As with other views running contrary to general scholarship, Aramaic/Peshitta Primacy is primarily supported by the work of a single author, in this case, Lamsa. Both contemporaries of Lamsa and later scholars have concluded he frequently confused then-modern Syriac with ancient Aramaic, two languages that are extremely similar. More problematic is Lamsa’s translation of the Bible from the Aramaic, published in full in 1957. His translation work is inaccurate and filled with subtle changes to the text that undermine the doctrines of the Trinity and the deity of Christ, among others.
Textual scholars have examined the Peshitta and found clear evidence of influence from later translations. The dialect used in the Peshitta is from a later time period than that of Jesus and His disciples. The Peshitta utilizes phrases that obscure wordplay and metaphor; this is expected of a translation but not an original autograph. The massive number of biblical manuscripts available makes it possible to recognize variations, translation choices, and so forth, over time and geography. In other words, all available evidence points to the Peshitta’s being a later translation, not an original manuscript. Peshitta Primacy, or Aramaic Primacy, is not supported by evidence or scholarship. Despite the traditional view of Syriac churches and of certain segments of Messianic Judaism and the Hebrew Roots Movement, the New Testament was not originally written in Aramaic.
Recommended Resource: How Biblical Languages Work: A Student’s Guide to Learning Hebrew & Greek by Peter Silzer & Thomas Finley
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Questions about the Bible
What is Aramaic Primacy? Was the New Testament originally written in Aramaic?