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#23 - Evaluating the Lamsa Bible

by Robert Nguyen Cramer (version

This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.


Question/insight #23: "Some of you are interested in various Bible translations. The Lamsa Bible - Aramaic translation, the earliest known aramaic version, is available..."

Response #23: While the Lamsa Bible is said to be a translation of the Aramaic, it is important to remember that all of the books of the New Testament originally were written in Greek. The Lamsa Bible was translated from the Peshitta, and the Peshitta itself was translated into Syriac* in the fifth century from the Hebrew Old Testament and from 22 of the 27 Greek New Testament writings. The earliest texts of the New Testament that have been found were written in Greek at the end of the first century or the beginning of the second century, which is more than three centuries earlier than the Syria Peshitta.

The earliest known edition of New Testament writings that included Syriac texts was the Diatessaron (around 170 A.D) by Tatian (120-173 A.D.), a Syrian convert to Christianity. Though no Syriac manuscripts of it have ever been found, some of the Syriac text of the Diatessaron survived in a commentary by Ephraem (310-373 A.D.). In order to create the Diatessaron, Tatian combined the four canonical Greek gospels to form one interwoven continuous narrative translated into Syriac. (It is uncertain whether Tatian originally compiled it in Greek and then translated it into Syriac, or whether he translated it directly, bit-by-bit, from the Greek gospels into Syriac.) With the popularity of Ephraem's commentary and the general absence of other Syriac New Testament texts, the Diatessaron in its many revised editions became the standard text for Syriac speaking countries until the creation of the Peshitta in the fifth century. It was also translated into Latin, Old German, Old Dutch, Persian, Arabic, Old Italian, Middle English, and other languages.

Around 300 A.D. the four gospels, Acts, and fourteen letters attributed to Paul were translated from Greek into Old Syriac, most notably the Syriac Sinaiticus and the Syriac Curetonianus, which may have been a revision of the Sinaiticus. Both of these Old Syriac editions reflect the translation influence of the Diatessaron as well as the textual basis of the Greek Western texts.

The original Peshitta did not include the Old Testament Apocrypha writings that were in the Greek Septuagint, nor did it include 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. All of these books were added to later revisions of the Peshita.

* Note: Syriac is a branch of Aramaic that anciently was spoken in and around the ancient city of Edessa, which at that time was the capital of the independent kingdom of Osroene. Edessa was on the site of what is now modern Urfa, Turkey, and was about 275 kilometers (or 170) miles northeast of ancient Antioch and 725 kilometers or (450 miles) north of Jerusalem. Within the first 200 years of Christianity, Osroene's King Abgar IX (179-214 A.D.) converted to Christianity along with the rest of his kingdom. Edessa later became a center for Nestorian Christianity.

The Peshitta's Syriac text of the New Testament is generally an accurate representation in Syriac of the original Greek text, but it could never be as reliable as the original Greek text. The Lamsa translation does reveal a few of the same textual errors in the Syriac text that are found in the King James Version; thus, the Syriac texts from which Lamsa did his translation unfortunately coincide with some of the mistakes in the Greek texts produced by Erasmus, whose New Testament Greek text was the basis for the KJV's New Testament. The Syriac Peshitta that Lamsa translated into English therefore shared some of the same corrupting textual-transmission traditions as Erasmus' Greek sources that resulted in errors in the KJV. The following are a few examples of verses that have the same textual errors in both the KJV and Lamsa's Bible:

If one were going to read the Lamsa Bible, it would be well to read it along with a reliable modern translation, such as the English Standard Version, the New American Bible, New Revised Standard Version, or the Revised English Bible. It would also be well to constantly consult the Greek New Testament, 4th Revised Edition (New York, United Bible Societies, 1983) and/or Bruce Metzger's A Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd Edition (New York, United Bible Societies, 1994).

Kubo and Specht's So Many Versions? Twentieth Century English Versions of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan) comments:

To read a Web-based article on "The King James Version and its dependence on the Textus Receptus," you can browse the following webpage:

For more information on early Syriac editions of the New Testament and their influence, see:

Additional authoritative testimony regarding the worthlessness of the Lamsa Bible

by Bruce Metzger

The words below were spoken by Bruce Metzger, who is the world's leading authority on New Testament manuscripts and on the Greek text of the New Testament. He made these comments during a question and answer period at the conclusion of a full-day lecture on "Highlights from the Sermon on the Mount," which he delivered in 1992 at The Foundation for Biblical Research, in Charlestown, New Hampshire, USA. The Foundation has been renamed the "Center for Scriptural Studies" and is now located at 2595 Depot Street Manchester Center, VT 05255-9541, 802-362-2432. The Center for Scriptural Studies webpage may be browsed at The following words were transcribed by Robert Nguyen Cramer, by permission of The Foundation. It is worthwhile noting that Dr. Metzger is a genuinely gentle and mild-mannered individual, but here he spoke with unequivocally strong words when he addressed the issue of the Lamsa Bible.


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Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer
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