Can we know what Jesus actually said?

Christian debater Luis Dizon posted a pic of some Greek and Hebrew grammar books. Cheekily I sent him a tweet saying “accept Jesus spoke Aramaic! Yet you will doubtless not be studying the language of Jesus himself.” He replied:


So with the exception of a few stray Aramaic phrases in the gospels, we cannot know for sure what Jesus actually said. Greek (the language of the gospels) is a very different language to Aramaic (the spoken language of Jesus). As different as modern English is to Arabic. All translation is interpretation and we always lose something of the original in translation. Fortunately we do not have this problem with the Qur’an and hadith which are studied in their original languages.


Categories: Bible, Words

9 replies

  1. It is really hard to believe how so many Christians don’t understand or refuse to accept this very, very, VERY BASIC point!! I have often talked to Christians who have never, ever, even once contemplated for just a moment on the implications of interpretive translation in regard to their own scripture!

    I think this issue is not discussed in Church, and is avoided at all costs by preachers since most intelligent and reflective people would soon easily lose faith in the accuracy of their own Biblical translations. Furthermore, the question may lead them to discover that we don’t even have the original textual autographs to translate from anyway, since the translations are based on the “most earliest extant texts” and not the lost original unpolluted text. At that point, most people relinquish what remaining faith they had in the authenticity of the Biblical scriptures.

    “Fortunately we do not have this problem with the Qur’an and hadith which are studied in their original languages.” – Alhamdulillah!

    Liked by 3 people

    • are you an arabic speaker?
      if you are, can you tell me how an aramaic speaker would mess up on the words “qum” and “iftah” ?

      What there is I’ve pointed out has problems and errors. Consider “Boanerges”: the diphthong “oa” simply can’t represent the schwa in b’nai (sons). “Talitha Koum” gets translated “little girl, I say to you, arise” though there is no equivalent to “I say to you” in the source. A writer with knowledge of Aramaic would know that. And why is it “ephphatha” (“be opened”) and not ethphatha, which would represent the imperative (“ethpaal”) form of the verb? I’d say the tendentious desire to reify the content of the text spurs commentators to find Aramaisms, given the fact that the narrative has a Judean context and a strong Jewish religious influence. Is the Aramaic content in Mark much more than abracadabara for magicians?


  2. Good point Paul.

    To some extent, different languages can even suggest subtle differences in worldviews.

    For instance some languages do not have the word “is” although of course the present tense is assumed in the grammar.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m sorry Paul, I only speak American English so I can’t fully understand your point- it was lost in translation.

    Can you try again?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dr Ben Witherington has said the English translations of the Bible cannot be called the Bible due to the fact the Bible was originally in Greek and meaning is lost when translated to any other language.This is of interest here as he, if consistent would believe the Bible cannot claim to contain the words of Jesus (barring the Aramaic sayings). It would take a brave and honest pastor or Christian scholar to admit that belief to a Christian audience!

    Some Christian apologists, (well James White, but seen as a number of Trinitarian Christian apologists mindlessly copy James I’ll say “some”) are trying to play down the “Aramaic hypothesis” in favour of the claim Jesus knew Greek!

    If any of you have the time – watch this short video with special emphasis on the clip of Bart Ehrman. He talks about how parts of the Bible don’t work in Greek but work better in Aramaic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • has papa james disproved the trial narratives ? unless jesus didn’t have a translator and didn’t speak greek, then one must question the trial narratives
      same for the “dog” who begs for waist.


  5. The beauty, the outpouring of love, the offer of forgiveness and new life through Christ’s life, death and resurrection as God’s son, cannot be lost for lack of accurate translations. Human language cannot properly express all the wonders revealed through the collection of books and letters contained within the canon. Yet, the versions and translations currently available are more than adequate to assure all who seek Him, that He may be found, eager to forgive and to forge an everlasting relationship.


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