Books ('Texts') and Language

What of the question of translation? Readers may not be able to read the text in the ‘original’ language. For my purposes I think any translation will do, though I do have preferences. For the non-technical and everyday reader of English I suggest you try either  the Contemporary English Version (CEV) or the New Living Translation (NLT).

I wonder if Jesus’ home language was Aramaic? First century Palestine was a complex society under armed Latin-speaking occupiers. The main languages encountered were Greek (ordinary, everyday kind), Latin, Aramaic and less so, Hebrew. (Then there were people from other language groups.) The most ancient known New Testament (NT) text is in Greek.

Greek must have been the most widely used common language in the eastern Mediterranean. So it was that the early documents about Jesus were in that language. They could go just about anywhere. Use of everyday Greek would be unsurprising.

There are NT passages which indicate Jesus spoke in Aramaic. We also find Paul briefly calming an agitated Jerusalem mob by addressing them in the local Aramaic. (Interestingly the Roman arresting officer did not expect Paul to make his request in Greek.) It also appears that Aramaic underlies part of our Greek NT. Thus - there are a few transliterated Aramaic words. 'Amen' is the English equivalent of the most famous example; 'Rabbi' is another.

At the time of Jesus and the writers of the NT they had their own ‘Bible’. The sacred Old Testament (OT) Scripture scrolls used in the Jewish worship houses of Palestine (the Synagogues) would have been written (almost all) in Hebrew, the ancient language of the Jewish people in their homeland (though the Aramaic or Greek versions might be to hand). Various Hebrew texts and fragments have been found but the central collection is called the ‘Masoretic’. Synagogues elsewhere would have had their own Scriptures in various languages, I suppose many in Greek.

The Bible of Jesus' day (OT) was then also in the common language of the day. There were Greek translations or versions of the Hebrew OT scrolls. That collection we know as the Septuagint, or LXX. (It did not always exactly match the Hebrew Masoretic text.) Did Jesus read the LXX? I wonder? (Other OT translations were also in use.)

It is clear that NT writers made some use of the LXX, though not exclusively of it. This is seen in the OT quotations or allusions in the text of the Greek NT, in instances where the LXX is matched, but not the Hebrew Bible. 

What of the argument that our (Greek) NT text is seriously corrupt and questionable and that reading in translation means it is not possible anyway to really know the truth? Certainly there are very many ancient documents, of different lengths and in different forms. Experts examine each word of the documentary sources (fragment or book) in minute detail. Nothing is hidden. There are some words on which agreement has not been reached. There are even two NT ‘pages’, or part-pages, which are seriously questioned. Majority opinions prevail, even though in time they may change. Publishers give the evidence-based alternatives in the margin – see my blog Introduction as an example.

But how do we (I) know? I read the NT record. You can find a lot of reading about the reliability of the NT as we have it – whichever translation or text collection you read.
No contemporary dating is included with the 'original documents'! Dating of the available written records today is a matter for scientific analysis of each of the vast amount of surviving materials. Even if there were complete accounts signed by someone and dated (and there are not), how could the authenticity be established? (There are works on the authenticity topic; I will return to it.) Here I take the uncomplicated view that it is best to just read the documents we have.

Please notice that the primary sources are a set of documents. They are a collection, or (small) library, related to the central theme. The collection we call the New Testament (NT). That volume as we have it is not a sequential account, nor does the collection have an obvious arrangement, apart from the ‘historical’ accounts of Jesus himself being first. Hence my suggested ‘reading list’ in a separate post.

The most direct answer is, read it!