Reviewed by John P. Juedes
The Way International has published several books in recent years to help those who want to study Aramaic texts of the Bible. Besides helping those who are interested in the Syriac Peshitta version of the New Testament, these books give researchers of new religious movements a glimpse of some changes in The Way and additional support for orthodox biblical teachings.
The three-volume Aramaic-English Interlinear New Testament is supported by The Concordance to the Peshitta Version of the Aramaic New Testament and the English Dictionary Supplement to the Concordance to the Peshitta Version of the Aramaic New Testament. The books number all Aramaic words used in much the same way that Strong's Concordance and its companion works number Greek and Hebrew words. This makes it easy for people with little knowledge of Syriac to identify noun and verb forms and their meanings. The interlinear is laid out in a three-column format. The King James Version appears beside "A Word-by-Word Translation" produced by The Way's research team. The interlinear column offers Syriac in Estrangelo script. With each word is its concordance number and an English translation with notes to indicate the order in which they should be read in English.
The books' prefaces correct some of the extreme views of The Way's founder Victor Paul Wierwille and mentor George M. Lamsa, who asserted that the Peshitta contained the original text of the entire New Testament and was produced in the first century before any other Syriac or Greek version or literature. (New Testament Origin, pp. 84, 85) Wierwille also implied that the Peshitta was the oldest manuscript of the New Testament. (Power for Abundant Living, pp. 127-128)
In contrast, these publications, released after Wierwille's death, clearly state that the Peshitta is
not the same as the original text of the New Testament and that one must study the Peshitta,
Greek, Old Latin, Syriac, Coptic and other versions to reconstruct the original. Nonetheless, they
are hampered by the necessity of upholding some of Wierwille's approaches to the text, including
his assertion that the whole New Testament was written in Aramaic, his almost exclusive use of
the King James Version and his view of the primacy of the Peshitta version, even though Old
Syriac versions are more important and though the Peshitta did not contain the books of 2 Peter,
2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation, thereby contradicting his use of the King James Version.
Wierwille and The Way international hold that Jesus Christ was only a man, and so take great pains to revise or retranslate passages that support Christ's deity and God's triune nature. However, The Way's Aramaic Interlinear supports the accurate readings of these verses, thereby contradicting Wierwille's assertions.
Several passages on the deity of Jesus highlight this difference. For instance, Wierwille claimed that John 1:18 must read "the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (Jesus Christ Is Not God, first edition, pg. 115) and that the words "which is in heaven" should be deleted from John 3:13. (ibid., pg. 140) However, The Way's "Word-by-Word Translation" reads, "The only begotten God that one who is in the bosom of his father has declared (him)" (pg. 594) and "And no man has ascended
into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the son of man, who Is In heaven." (pg. 608) Moreover, although Wierwille placed the words "my godly Lord" into Thomas' mouth, the interlinear maintains, "And Thomas answered and said to him, 'My lord and my God.' " (pg. 770)
The Way's interlinear also contradicts Wierwille on deletion of the words "of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" from Matthew 28:19. (Jesus Christ is Not God, pg. 19). The interlinear records the accuracy of the Word, "Go therefore, teach all nations and baptize them in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit." (pg. 218) The interlinear also identifies the spirit of truth as "he" in John 16:13. (pg. 734)
The interlinear also opposes The Way's deletion of "death" from John 21:19 (see Walter Cummins, The Way Magazine, May~June 1975, pg. 7) where it reads, "And he said this that he might show by what death he would glorify God." (pg. 776) While these examples of the interlinear's support of orthodox teachings are drawn from the Gospels, more could be raised from other books.
The Way's Aramaic also contradicts Wierwille's wording of Galatians 4:6. While he states it must read that God "sent forth His spirit" (JCNG p. 145), "A Word-by-Word Translation" corrects him, noting that "God sent the spirit of his son." The interlinear also reads, "which he purchased with his blood" in Acts 20:28, which is a troublesome reading for Wierwille's followers.
Wierwille wanted to delete the word "death" from Philippians 3:10 ("The Knowledge of God," The Way Magazine, 1983, p. 6). Yet the Aramaic interlinear clearly reads, "be conformed to his death."
It is clear that the Aramaic interlinear lists accurate readings of many verses which contradict The Way's preferred teachings. Yet, on other verses the interlinear goes out of its way to include wording guaranteed to please Way leaders. Why these differences? Perhaps some of the team members who worked on the book were anxious to please Way leaders, while others intended to reflect the true readings of the Aramaic even when they contradicted The Way's party line.
In summary, The Way's Aramaic publications are hindered by the team's desire to maintain some of its founder's errors. Nonetheless, the books were done with sufficient accuracy to maintain much of the truth of God's Word and provide Christians with new tools to support traditional teachings. In some respects, The Way's Aramaic work is a needless effort because popular critical Greek texts (such as United Bible Societies and Nestle/Aland) long in use already cite and weigh the most valuable and unique readings of the Peshitta, Syriac and all other ancient versions and texts.
John P. Juedes, Personal Freedom Outreach Journal, 1990, Revised 1997
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