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A New NAR Bible (Part 3): Where’s the Manuscript Evidence?

A fragment of a Greek manuscript of the Gospel of John that dates to the second century. This fragment is housed at the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England.

A fragment of a Greek manuscript
of the Gospel of John that dates to
the second century. This fragment is
housed at the John Rylands Library
in Manchester, England.

In my last two posts (Part 1 and Part 2), I wrote about a new NAR translation of the Bible, called The Passion Translation, which features drastically changed verses of Scripture. See three of those changed verses here.

In this post, I show how the translator of this NAR Bible, apostle Brian Simmons, attempts to justify his changes to Scripture.

In short, Simmons claims that the vast differences in meaning are the result of his decision to translate many verses from Aramaic manuscripts–not Greek manuscripts.  (Yet, I must mention that even those verses he claims to translate from the Greek are still drastically different.)

Simmons said the reason he decided to translate from the Aramaic is because new discoveries have revealed that the New Testament was originally written in the Aramaic language, not Greek.

Here is what Simmons says, in his own words.

“For centuries, it has been believed that the New Testament was first written in Greek. … Some scholars now lean increasingly towards the thought that Aramaic and Hebrew texts of the New Testament are the original manuscripts, and that many of the Greek texts are copies, and a second generation from the originals! This is radically changing translation concepts, and will result in many new translations of the New Testament based on Aramaic.” [Excerpted from “Translator’s Introduction” to Letters from Heaven by the Apostle Paul, the fourth installment of The Passion Translation]

Astounding Claims

These are astounding claims. If what Simmons says is true, then that would mean that all the standard English Bible translations–including the King James Version, the New International Version, the New American Standard Bible, and the English Standard Version–are not based on the earliest and most trustworthy manuscripts and should be replaced by new, more reliable translations, such as Simmons’ Passion Translation.

But don’t throw out your Bible yet. There is simply no evidence to support Simmons’ claims.

Contrary to what he says, the vast majority of scholars continue to believe the original manuscripts of the New Testament were written in Greek. Why do they believe this? It’s simple: the manuscript evidence.

The Manuscript Evidence–Or Lack Thereof

For starters, there are fragments of New Testament manuscripts written in Greek that date back to the second century. And a recent discovery of a Greek fragment of Mark’s Gospel may well date back to the first century!

In contrast to these very early manuscripts written in Greek, the earliest surviving Aramaic manuscript of the New Testament–called the “Peshitta”–is from the fifth century.

In light of the lack of Aramaic manuscripts prior to the fifth century–and the abundance of much earlier Greek manuscripts– it’s a huge stretch for Simmons to claim that the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic.

Beyond the lack of manuscript evidence itself, there are a lot of other significant problems with Simmons’ claims that Aramaic is the original language of the New Testament. Read about those problems here.

Rehashed Theory

But his claims are not new. They have also been promoted by the Nestorian Church and some Seventh-Day Adventists. Yet, Simmons has taken a baseless theory and rehashed it–hoping to sell it (and his new translation)–to a new audience of NAR followers.

The thing that disturbs me most about Simmons’ claims is his willingness to discredit all the widely accepted Bible translations merely so he can tout his personal translation. By implying that all the standard English Bible translations are unreliable–translations that are, in fact, based on ancient and reliable manuscripts–he is undermining NAR followers’ confidence in those translations. In effect, he is undermining their confidence in God’s Word. See my next post about this so-called translation.

— By Holly Pivec

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12 Responses to “A New NAR Bible (Part 3): Where’s the Manuscript Evidence?”

  1. Lindsay Says:

    Simmons’ feeble attempt to sell his books is nothing but an unsubstantiated attack in order to blame the original documents!  His principle seems to be: When you are trying to sell something new you try and discredit the old.  His unscholarly and irresponsible statements completely match up with much of the wording of his dishonest paraphrase.  I think his motives are clear and it’s not strange that this is all happening in the general context of the great falling away.  We can only continue to pray, work and continue to warn Christians as we attempt to ‘redeem the times, for the days are evil’.

  2. Craig Says:

    <i>…Some scholars now lean increasingly towards the thought that Aramaic and Hebrew texts of the New Testament are the original manuscripts, and that many of the Greek texts are copies, and a second generation from the originals! This is radically changing translation concepts, and will result in many new translations of the New Testament based on Aramaic.”</i>

    Holly, does Simmons have a footnote or some other information to ‘substantiate’ this claim?  I’d be very curious to find ONE bona fide scholar who supports this view.

  3. admin Says:

    Craig,

    No, he does not include a footnote to substantiate his claim. I suspect he would have difficulty identifying a credible scholar who supports his claim.

    Holly

  4. Craig Says:

    Holly,

    If you’re not aware, Simmons has commented on your Amazon review, providing his email address.  I had a brief discussion with him at Amazon..  He claims that his ‘translation’ is not solely from the Aramaic so much as it’s an “amalgamation of Greek and Aramaic”. 

    He noted that he substituted an Aramaic reading for “their god is their belly” in Philippians 3:19, in essence, because he thought most English readers can’t make sense of it.  His reading is “Their god has possessed them and made them mute.”   I checked Bruce Metzger’s “A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament” and note that there are no known variant Greek NT manuscripts; so, basically, Simmons chose this text for no other reason than he just personally preferred the Aramaic.  So much for scholarship.

    I had asked him, generally, if his Aramaic variants were chosen based on internal or external evidence, or both, and I believe he had no idea what I meant, as he did not address this at all.

    He also made the erroneous claim that the Dead Sea Scrolls are primarily written in Aramaic – they’re not, as they’re mostly in Hebrew with bits of Aramaic and Greek.

  5. Holly Says:

    Craig,

    Thank you for letting me know about Simmons’ response to me. I find it telling he ignored your question about his choice of Aramaic variants. It should not be a difficult question for a true translator of Scripture to answer since such a translator would have logical reasons to prefer one manuscript over another–other than just that he liked the Aramaic better. And I’m stunned that he would claim that the Dead Sea Scrolls are primarily written in Aramaic. It is obvious that he knows very little about textual criticism. But I don’t think any of these criticisms really matter to Simmons since he believes he was personally commissioned by God to translate the Bible. He recounts the story of his commissioning here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=H8pmNZnlzIA#at=2485

    Holly

  6. Sandra Lloyd Says:

    And yet, people already ensconced in the NAR movement will flock to buy this newest “translation” in their never-ending quest for “secret knowledge” heretofore not revealed, falling for the same whopper Eve did back in the garden of Eden.  Truly nothing new under the sun.  Very disturbing.  It is good of you to cover this topic.

  7. Kenneth Says:

    I am a Seventh-day Adventist myself. And I can say with confidence that there most definitely are not ANY “real Adventists” (I mean those who actually support the fundamental positions of the church) who believe, much less promote, Simmon’s claims. Of course, there are bad apples in every barrel. But just because someone calls himself a Seventh-day Adventist doesn’t make him one. You will find no serious SDA layperson or scholar/theologian who would support Simmons ideas, or his “translation.” I would venture to say that there are as many KJV only proponents in the SDA church as there are in any other denomination. Having said that, I appreciated the article, found it through the Berean Call

    Godspeed,

    Kenneth

  8. Craig Says:

    Holly,

    I think it quite telling that Simmons deleted all his comments on your Amazon review.

  9. Samuel butler Says:

    Hey, just one quick question. Can anyone verify Brian’s latest trip to heaven. He apparently went to the library in heaven. I’m cool with the idea of heaven having a library. What I struggle with is he allegedly saw Rev 23 but unfortunately Jesus wouldn’t let him read it yet. What a bummer. Maybe next time Peter or Paul could sneak him a quick read whilst the Lords not watching. After all, they are real apostles.

  10. Preferring the NarrowStreet! Says:

    Simmons seemingly has deleted the above quote from his introduction on a more recent edition.  This seems to be evidence of “defensive editing”.

  11. Andrew Chapman Says:

    As the last commenter pointed out, Simmons’ advocacy of Aramaic primacy is now longer in the introduction to Letters from Heaven. But in the Passion Translation (so-called) FAQs at https://www.thepassiontranslation.com/faqs/ (‘Why is there sometimes a preference…?’), he still claims that:

    ‘… for several decades there has been a debate surrounding the primacy of Greek versus Aramaic as original texts for the New Testament. There is a growing interest in an apparent Aramaic layer undergirding much of the New Testament, particularly the Gospels. ‘

    He then quotes Craig Keener as saying that Jesus originally spoke in Aramaic – which I think is the prevailing view anyway. Then he quotes Michael F. Bird as saying that large sections of the Gospels ‘are capable of being retroverted back into Aramaic’. (Accurate quote from ‘The Gospel of the Lord’, p. 44)

    I personally hate all attempts to work out what an Aramaic original might have been. It’s so uncertain, one might always be wrong, and the effect is to weaken the authority of the Greek text, it seems to me. Are the Greek manuscripts inspired or not?

    That said, if Jesus did indeed speak in Aramaic, then I can see that it might not be without interest to look at an early Aramaic translation of the Greek. I can also see that people might claim that the original words had been preserved via some unknown Aramaic transmission – I don’t think this is argued by scholars, but I can see it could be believed.

    So I can see why a translator – of a certain persuasion – might want to gain insights – as Simmons puts it -from the Aramaic when translating the Gospels. 

    But none of this provides any justification at all for translating parts of Paul’s letters from Aramaic. What, did Paul originally write in Aramaic to Greek-speaking churches? What logic can there be for this? But not word of justification for it in Simmons’ Introduction to Letters from Heaven!

    Andrew

  12. Susan Stone Says:

    Holly, thanks for all your info . I just wondered if you knew about the Kairos meeting which is being held now? It is Copeland and everyone else you can think of. Eccumentical of course , and I think it’s a big deal. I haven’t seen any comments on it but would love to know what transpires , as Copeland says we are going under the Catholic church! Great job on your debate with James Goll and Paula White! God bless you, Susan

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