Reconstructing the Words of Jesus

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If we keep in mind that Jesus and his disciples and hearers were not speaking Greek but rather Hebrew or Aramaic, or both, then we can see that we will only arrive at Jesus’ original words by translating the Greek texts of speeches in the synoptic Gospels back into their Semitic original.

The Bible texts were originally written down in three languages: the Jewish Bible in Hebrew and a bit of Aramaic, and the New Testament in Greek. However, none of the extant manuscripts is the original document written by one of the authors of the books of the Bible. Those first versions have long ago been lost. Fortunately for us, they were painstakingly copied over and over again, and handed down from one generation to the next.

Copying and Translating

When a person copies a document of any length, he is bound to make some mistakes. Even the most skilled scribe may misspell words or skip letters, words or even whole lines. (See David Bivin, “Scirbal Scribal Errors.”) As we read the copy, we may be able to see just where a mistake has been made and easily correct it. If we have another copy of the same document to compare with, the job is that much easier. In fact, the more copies we have to compare, the more we can be sure that we are reconstructing the original accurately.

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This article originally appeared in issue 36 of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine. Click on the image above to view a PDF of the original magazine article.

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  • Ray Pritz

    Ray Pritz

    Ray Pritz writes and teaches study material at the Caspari Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies. He is the former director of the Bible Society in Israel. He is currently assigned to the Translations Department of the United Bible Societies preparing resource material for Bible…
    [Read more about author]

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