What on Earth did Jesus Say?!?!

Where are the words of Jesus?

By Ibn Anwar

In their preaching and sermons, Christian pastors, priests and missionaries quote words attributed to Jesus from their English Bibles as if Jesus truly uttered those words. Nothing could be further from the truth. The next time you encounter a Christian preacher that attempts to tell you what “Jesus said,” ask him to kindly tell you if Jesus spoke English. I cannot imagine even the most fundamentalist Christian of fundamentalist Christianity to actually say “yes” to that. English did not exist as a language 2000 years ago. Neither did Jesus spoke Hebrew. Instead, according to most scholars, the language that Jesus spoke was Aramaic. This is easily understood by tracing Jesus back to Galilee, the town in which he was born and raised. The language spoken by the locals of that area was Aramaic. Ben van Noort writes:

“It is a common view that Jesus spoke Aramaic when he taught the crowds… In 1954, H. Birkeland wrote, “As a matter of fact, no competent scholar any longer holds the view that Jesus spoke Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament. They all agree that this language was Aramaic.” He was right; many eminent theologians took this position. F. F. Bruce declared in 1962, “It [Aramaic] was thus the language commonly spoken in Palestine in New Testament times, the customary language of our Lord and His apostles and the early Palestinian church.” .[1]

Stephen Andrew Missick writes:

“Scholarly consensus is that Aramaic was the language Jesus spoke. This has been determined by careful study of the text of the New Testament, archeological discoveries and other ancient sources, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls.” [2]

The oldest manuscripts upon which English Bibles are based are in Greek. With the exception of a few Semitic expressions in the Aramaic, the words said to have been spoken by Jesus, as recorded in the gospels, are completely in Greek. What that means is that the words and speech of Jesus as found in the English New Testament are fourthhand sources at best.The words of Jesus in the English Bible were translated from the Greek which were, in turn, supposed to have been translated from Aramaic, the original language of Jesus. Therefore, the words of Jesus in the English Bible are, at the very least, a translation of a translation of the actual words of Jesus. The expression ‘lost in translation’ comes to mind when one considers the multilayered translations that went into the production of Jesus’ alleged recorded speech. The biblical scholar Bernard J. Lee notes this point:

“…the Jewish voice of Jesus that spoke in Aramaic has been transmitted as heard by Greek ears and in the Greek language… From the late eighteenth century into the early twentieth century, the desire to recover the historical voice of Jesus was carried on as the “quest of the historical Jesus.” …We look not so much for the authentic words of Jesus as the authentic voice of Jesus. Because our earliest texts are Greek, we are not certain about the original words in any single thing that Jesus said, with the possible exception of the occasional phrase actually transmitted in Aramaic, such as Abba…)” [3]

Because Christians have admittedly lost access to the original words of Jesus, there is simply no substantive way to confirm the veracity of the words attributed to Jesus in the New Testament. In short, Christians, in reality, do not know what Jesus really said at any time during his shortlived ministry. Christians do not have the words of Jesus.

Notes:

[1] Noort, B. V. (2018). Jesus’ Stenographers: The Story of the Red Letters. Indiana, Bloomington. WestBow Press.

[2] Missick, S. A. (2006). The Words of Jesus in the Original Aramaic. n. d. : Xulon Press Christian Publishing. p. 42

[3] Lee, B. J. (1998). The Galilean Jewishness of Jesus: Retrieving the Jewish Origins of Christianity. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. p. 53

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