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George M. Lamsa: Christian Scholar or Cultic …
AUTHOR: Juedes, John P.
PUBLISHED ON: April 29, 2003
DOC SOURCE: CCN

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Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute.
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“George M. Lamsa: Christian Scholar or Cultic Torchbearer?” (an
article from the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1989, Volume 12
Number 2, page 9) by John P. Juedes.
  The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is
Elliot Miller.

————-

    George M. Lamsa’s books and translations of the Bible have
become a fixture in Christian bookstores across the nation. Lamsa
published 21 books by the time of his death in 1975. Four of
these, plus his version of the Bible, were published by A. J.
Holman, a well-known Bible and book publisher. Currently, Spring
Arbor distributes them to Christian bookstores nationwide.

    For nearly 50 years Lamsa was a popular speaker at
conferences and churches, published the periodical _Light for
All,_ and spoke on the radio program “Lessons for Living.” He
also founded the Aramaic Bible Society and Calvary Missionary
Church. Many groups and writers quote Lamsa as a Bible scholar.

    There are several reasons for Lamsa’s popularity. First, his
books are engaging and very readable. Second, his comments on the
life and customs of Bible times are engrossing to twentieth
century Westerners. Third, people are intrigued and awed by
Lamsa’s claim that he was reared in the same part of the world
Jesus lived, thus participating in biblical customs and language,
and is hence uniquely able to reveal the Bible’s idioms,
translate the Bible accurately, and disclose its true meaning.

    Lamsa’s Christian readers commonly make the following
charitable assumptions about his life and work: They believe
Lamsa was an evangelical Christian teacher and that he accepted
all the major biblical teachings held by the church. They think
Lamsa absorbed a culture like that of Bible times which enabled
him to accurately interpret Scripture. They further believe he
held the Bible in high esteem and that he accurately translated
it.

    In this article we will closely examine each of these
assumptions with a view to gaining a clearer picture of Lamsa’s
work. This will enable us to better respond to the man and his
claims.
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*A Glossary of Terms*

    *Estrangelo (-a).* One of many writing scripts which were
applied to the Aramaic (Syriac) language. It was developed by
Christian missionaries and was in almost exclusive use until the
fifth century.

    *Nestorianism.* The teaching that there are two persons in
Jesus Christ, one of which is the divine Christ and the other the
man Jesus. (This is in contrast to the orthodox belief in a
_union_ of Jesus’ human and divine natures in _one person._) This
unorthodox theory was taught by Nestorius and condemned by the
third Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431. His followers — the
Nestorians — formed a church, developed their own rituals and
doctrine, and still exist today in small numbers in Persia and
India.

    *Peshitta.* A fourth century Syriac (late eastern Aramaic)
version of the Old and New Testaments. “Peshitta” means literally
“the simple (version),” as opposed to the older Syriac texts
which had alternate readings noted in the margins. The Peshitta
distilled these older Syriac texts into one uniform version and
was adopted by the Jacobite and Nestorian branches of the Syrian
church. Since the Syrian church did not accept as canonical 2
Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation, the Peshitta did not
include these books.

    *Septuagint (LXX).* “Septuagint” means “the seventy,” and
so is commonly called the “LXX.” This Greek translation of the
Old Testament (including the Apocrypha) was composed in Egypt
from the third to the second centuries B.C. This provided the
many Greek-speaking Jews (and later, Christians) a Bible they
could understand, and gives modern Christians a better
understanding of the vocabulary used in the New Testament.

    *Talmud.* A large, authoritative compilation of Jewish laws,
bylaws, ritual, liturgy, ethics, counsel, and interpretation
of Scripture, covering almost one thousand years through the
sixth century A.D.

    *Targum.* An Aramaic translation or paraphrase of a portion
of the Old Testament composed during the time of the second
temple (late sixth century to late first century B.C.).
————-

LAMSA’S TEACHINGS: BIBLICAL OR CULTIC?

    Anyone who closely reads Lamsa’s books will notice that he
seldom explicitly enunciates his beliefs. In fact, Lamsa stated
that he purposely tried to avoid doctrinal, theological, and
controversial matters and passages.[1] When he does deal with a
controversial topic, he will typically mention some common views
without stating his own. For instance, when he addresses Luke’s
account of angels at Jesus’ ascension, he comments that many
faiths hold to a belief in personal angels and demons, but he
neglects to say that he himself does not.[2]

    Lamsa’s motives and message are also made difficult to
discern by his inconsistency: some of his writings seem
evangelical, while others are far removed from the biblical
faith. This may be due to an evolution of his thought away from
biblical teaching or to adjusting his wording to his audiences’
desires.

    We gain insight into Lamsa’s true message and his approach to
interpreting Scripture by reflecting on his upbringing. George
Lamsa was born near the Turkish/Iraqi border about 1892 and lived
there until about 1915. This area has been overrun by one warring
country after another for centuries. Lamsa remembers thousands
of his Armenian people being massacred, starved, or forced from
their homeland by Moslems; he narrowly escaped death himself.
Rival tribes were in constant conflict, highlighting their
political, cultural, and religious differences. The history of
Lamsa’s Eastern church is full of divisions, including such
competing groups as the Monophysites, Nestorians, and Jacobians.
(This even led to alternate alphabets for their common language.)

    These experiences affected Lamsa’s message and interpretation
of Scripture in several ways. Above all, Lamsa sought a “new
world order” in which “the light of the gospel would be shared,
racial and class barriers would be eliminated, and national
boundaries would be eliminated.”[3] Accordingly, Lamsa interprets
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (in his book appropriately titled _The
Kingdom on Earth_) as a commandment for world peace,
international understanding, and the overthrow of enslaving
governments by meekness and love. Lamsa founded the Christian
Mohammedan Society in 1921 to pursue unity by emphasizing common
ground.

    Lamsa’s desire to unite nations into a universal state led
him to avoid matters of dogma and make many concessions to the
beliefs of other faiths, seeking the lowest common denominator
among religions.

Lamsa on the Trinity

    Lamsa proudly admits to being raised in the Nestorian
church, which can be traced back to A.D. 431 when the Council
of Ephesus declared that the patriarch Nestorius was teaching
a false view of Christ. His followers fled to Persia and
developed their own rituals, customs, and theology, which are
reflected in Lamsa’s writings.

    For instance, Lamsa said “the Eastern Christians believe in
one God with three attributes, instead of three persons.”[4]
Other Nestorians also preferred the Aramaic word “attributes”
(_kenomey_) to the Greek concept “persons” (_prosopon_), even
though these held to the doctrine of the Trinity.[5]

    Lamsa’s teachings on Christ and the Holy Spirit, however, do
not match Nestorian Trinitarianism. (In fact, he often implies
that he opposes the belief.) He considers “spirit” to be
synonymous with “influence,” “expansion,” “effectiveness,” and
“hidden power,” and suggests that the Comforter of John 14:16 and
16:8 is but the influence Jesus left behind after His dissolution
on the cross.[6]

    Lamsa also promoted the Nestorian view that Jesus Christ was
actually two persons — Jesus and Christ — who, in a manner of
speaking, were glued together like two boards. Jesus, Lamsa
says, began His existence at birth in Bethlehem, while “Christ
existed from the very beginning. He was neither born nor did
he die, but he lives forever. This belief is still held by
Christians in the East….”[7] In Lamsa’s view, Jesus did not
claim to be equal to God, nor did He want to be worshipped.[8]

On Christ’s Resurrection, Ascension, and Second Coming

    Lamsa strays still further from biblical Christianity by
denying that Jesus Christ ever physically rose from the dead.
While he claims that Christ rose with a “spiritual body,” Lamsa
compares Jesus’ life to a mere glass of water and His death to
its evaporation into the air and ocean,[9] depreciating His
ongoing personal existence and significance.

    Lamsa spiritualizes the Ascension as well as the
Resurrection: “The ascension of Jesus was a spiritual
transformation. Jesus rose up from death and was taken up into
the heavenly realm in a spiritual body, freed from all physical
limitation [i.e., nonphysical]. He was seen alive and ascending
to heaven only by those whose spiritual vision had been
strengthened by faith in him.”[10]

    Lamsa likewise stresses that the Second Coming is not a
physical event, but a “spiritual” coming that will transpire in
the world’s consciousness: “The second coming of Jesus will be a
spiritual coming, that is, he will come in a spiritual body, free
from all physical limitations. Moreover, the people’s
consciousness will be raised to a spiritual level, so that every
eye will see nothing but good. In other words, it will be a
spiritual life and spiritual kingdom.”[11] Lamsa typically
focuses on the disciples’ _experience_ rather than on Christ’s
personal actions after Calvary.

    Scripture, in contrast, repeatedly emphasizes that these
were/will be actual, physical events. It is of first importance
that Jesus Christ (God in human flesh, not just “the man Jesus”)
died, was raised, and appeared to over 500 people (1 Cor. 15:38).
Jesus taught that it was necessary for _Christ_ to suffer (Luke
24:26) and invites His disciples to touch His body, “for a
spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have”
(Luke 24:39). Jesus warned that even ungodly nations (who do
not have the “spiritual vision” Lamsa required) will mourn
when they see Jesus return in the clouds in the same way He
left the earth (Matt. 24:30).

On Salvation and Non-Christian Religions

    Lamsa attempts to unite world religions in part by
eliminating the uniqueness of Jesus and His atoning sacrifice
on the cross. He follows the lead of the metaphysical (or
“mind science”) cults by redefining sin as mere error or (at
worst) evil, not as moral disobedience to the Creator which
deserves punishment from Him. Salvation in Lamsa’s view is
simply knowing Truth and “understanding the good”[12] — a view
which reduces Jesus from the essential suffering Savior to the
dispensable model man. Christ died, Lamsa says in his notes on
John 3:16, to show us meekness and the existence of life
hereafter, not to atone for our sins.[13] He thus contradicts
the central theme of the whole Bible.

    Lamsa focuses on man as his own savior rather than viewing
Jesus Christ in that role. Therefore, he extols _any_ prominent
person, whether Christian or not, as one who has tapped God’s
power. Lamsa praised “humble prophets” like Isaiah and Jeremiah
and “inspired men” like Marconi and Edison all in the same breath
because “they relied on the hidden power, the power of God, the
power of their indwelling self….one must be able to contact the
spiritual forces, which are the only true power. All power
belongs to God and comes from Him.”[14]

    Lamsa’s unbiblical views of sin, salvation, and God — and
his move to a metaphysical interpretation of Scripture — helped
him to reconcile differences between Judaism, Christianity, and
Islam (as well as other religions). He denounces as “ignorant”
those teachers who claim the three religions are incompatible and
adds: “The adherents of these three great religions believe in
one God, the holy prophets, the Scriptures, resurrection,
Judgment Day and the Life hereafter. On the other hand, a
greater part of the differences between them are due to the
doctrines and the teachings of men, and the traditions of the
elders.”[15]

On the Psychic Realm

    Lamsa’s views of healing, Satan, demons, and prophecy are
closer to the psychic perspective of metaphysical teaching and
occultism than a biblical orientation. Jesus, he infers, had no
power to heal, but only spoke “a word of comfort”[16] which most
sick people never received: “At times out of hundreds of sick
persons who were brought to him only a few were healed, those who
had faith in him. Others whose bodies were not cured left the
place cursing and shouting insults.”[17] Lamsa sometimes removes
the supernatural elements from Gospel accounts of healing. For
instance, he implies that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was not
supernaturally healed, but her rising to work allowed her no
time to think about her mild fever until it finally left her
(Luke 4:38-39). When he does allow that a healing may have
occurred, he attributes it to the faith, understanding, or
behavior of the person healed rather than to Jesus Christ’s
inherent power.

    Lamsa implicitly denies the objective existence of a personal
Devil and demons. “Demons,” he says, is a way of referring to
insanity, or wrong thoughts, desires, or practices.[18] “Satan,”
Lamsa suggests, refers to error or opposition in various forms,
and cannot be an objective evil power because God is the only
power in the universe.[19] Lamsa’s translation usually uses the
word “insane” instead of “demon” and “opposition” instead of
“Satan.”

    Lamsa spoke of psychic involvement in a speech at the
Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.), a group
which promotes medium Edgar Cayce and the pursuit of psychic
phenomena. He encouraged use of the “talents” of Creative
(psychic) Power manifesting through men and spotlighted his
native Near Eastern people’s claim to a “sixth sense”: the
ability to become aware of God through dreams, visions,
intuition, and clairvoyance. He also spoke of their “seventh
sense,” a state of awareness “higher” than others, with which one
can discern between good and evil.[20]

    Lamsa’s metaphysical theology is man-centered. It is
man, he says, who causes his own problems, creates his own
healing, creates his world by his own prayer, discloses the
unknown by his clairvoyance, and relies on the power of his
own indwelling self. In contrast, the Bible emphasizes that
relying on self rather than God is foundational to all our
problems, and that the way, truth, and life are found only in
Jesus Christ.

LAMSA’S INTERPRETATIONS: FAITHFUL OR UNRELIABLE?

    Lamsa claimed that he was the _only_ person on earth able to
accurately interpret the Bible: “The author, through God’s grace,
is the only one with the knowledge of Aramaic, the Bible customs
and idioms, and the knowledge of the English language who has
ever translated the Holy Bible from the original Aramaic texts
into English and written commentaries on it….”[21] But are
Lamsa’s interpretations of the Bible reliable?

    The bulk of Lamsa’s writings are commentaries on individual
Bible passages. They differ from most commentaries in that he
chooses a single verse from one chapter, two verses from the
next, and so forth, rather than attempting to develop the meaning
of a paragraph or section. He writes approximately a page on each
verse — commenting on the Aramaic text, idioms, culture, and its
meaning.

    Although Lamsa’s comments have some merit, the reader must
weigh them carefully for two reasons: First, Lamsa’s culture does
not exactly match biblical culture. Second, even if it did match,
this would not _assure_ that his interpretations are accurate
(more on these two points below).

    Lamsa also contrasts Peshitta Aramaic wording with that of
Greek texts. Every translator takes Syriac texts into account,
but Lamsa is unbalanced because he always assumes that the Syriac
is preeminent, resulting in numerous inaccurate interpretations.

    Idioms and general commentary occupy most of Lamsa’s
attention. While many idioms are commonly known, he often
promotes nonliteral meanings which differ from the intent of
the biblical authors.

    Lamsa’s comments are inordinately slanted by his
metaphysical, political, and personal presuppositions. For
example, he transforms “angels” to “understanding” (John
1:51)[22] or “pious men” (Heb. 13:2).[23] He interprets
“hellfire” as mere mental suffering (Matt. 5:22),[24]
and “the only begotten son” (Jesus, John 1:18) as but “the
first one who recognized the fatherhood of God,”[25] in effect
eliminating Jesus’ uniqueness. He puts aside the miracle when
the Spirit “caught Philip away” in favor of Philip leaving
quickly.[26]

    Overall, Lamsa’s faulty presuppositions insure that
his interpretations are not uniformly reliable, helpful, or
faithful to the Bible and its authors at many key points.

LAMSA’S CULTURE: BIBLICAL OR NESTORIAN?

    Lamsa’s claim to be the preeminent authority on the meaning
and translation of the Bible rests on his claim that he “was born
and reared in a region in the near East which had escaped
modernization, a region where the customs, manners and idioms of
the ancient Aramaic language are still miraculously preserved to
the present day.”[27]

    Even if it was true that the customs and place of Lamsa’s
birth matched those of biblical days, it would not automatically
follow that he could accurately translate and interpret the
Bible. Thousands of people shared Jesus’ culture and yet
misunderstood Him. Jesus’ closest disciples repeatedly asked Him
to explain His sayings and parables (Matt. 15:10-18),
contradicted Him (Mark 8:31-33), and did the opposite of what He
wanted (Luke 20:35-38, 49-51). Many others left Jesus because
they found Him hard to understand (John 6:60-68). Lamsa and his
followers display great naivete and/or egotism when they claim
that Lamsa’s Assyrian upbringing enabled him to interpret
correctly.

    Nonetheless, the question remains: Did George Lamsa’s early
life match the culture of the Bible? This claim is debunked by
two key points which Lamsa never understood: First, Semites
(including Jews and Lamsa’s own ancestors) have varied greatly in
culture. Second, his own Assyrian culture changed over the
centuries.

    The Bible and other ancient records describe Jews of
different cultures. For instance, the _Herodians_ were Roman in
culture, educated in Greek, tolerant of all religions, and
unfaithful to the Mosaic law. The _Sadducees_ were politically
Roman, but religiously temple Jews. The _Hellenistic Jews_ (Acts
6:1) were raised outside Israel, spoke Greek, and were adjusted
to life among the heathen. _Aramaic-speaking Pharisees_ were lay
leaders of Mosaic practice. The _Essenes_ maintained a detached,
communal, disciplined lifestyle while the _Zealots_ sought to
kill and overthrow the Romans. The customs and language of these
groups differed even though they shared a common heritage, land,
and time period.

    Lamsa’s Assyrian people, in contrast, are descendants of
_none_ of these groups and have a different land, racial
heritage, religion, customs, time period, language, politics,
education, and neighbors.

    Assyrians are portrayed in the Bible as a race quite foreign
to Jewish religion and customs (e.g., Isa. 28:11). The area of
Lamsa’s birth is called Armenia, Media, or Persia (Reza Shah
changed the name to “Iran” in the 1930s). Armenia is 700 miles
from Jerusalem (even though Lamsa calls Jesus his “neighbor”),
far removed from Hebrew influence, but affected by Greek culture
after Alexander the Great’s conquest and 250 years of Greek rule.

    While Jesus Christ walked the earth, Lamsa’s forefathers were
Zoroastrian, a religion which enjoyed royal approval in Persia
and honored many ancient Iranian gods, including the popular
idol Mithra. They repudiated the Mosaic law and its
accompanying moral code and culture. Among the few things
Armenia had in common with Israel in Jesus’ time were their
mutual hatred of Romans and a similar language. They also had
a very small number of residents whose ancestors were forced
to leave Israel seven centuries earlier in punishment for
rejecting God and His prophets. It would therefore be foolish
to say that Lamsa’s idolatrous Iranian ancestors were a carbon
copy of devout Jewish/Israelite culture.

The Evolution of Nestorian Culture

    What about Lamsa’s _Christian_ heritage? He claims to be
_both_ Assyrian _and_ Nestorian. First of all, Nestorian culture
did not even bud until the second century when many converts were
made in Armenia, and it was not until the fifth century that it
flowered as the Nestorian church formed.

    Strangely, Lamsa contends that his “biblical” culture
survived unchanged from 4000 B.C. to the present.[28] Actually,
his and _every_ culture changes with time, locale, and especially
contact with other cultures. Lamsa admits that in the last 2,300
years alone his people were overcome by the Greeks, Romans,
pagans, Mohammedans, Mongols, Kurds, Russians, Turks, and
British. Lamsa says that advancements in philosophy, theology,
and other fields were “due to the combined labors of the
Nestorians and the Arabs,”[29] that millions of Nestorians were
forced to become Muslims,[30] and that European culture was
“tearing the natural traditions of the [Eastern] people up by the
roots”[31] already two generations before his birth. While some
Assyrian customs may be ancient or similar to biblical customs
(as several Mideastern cultures are), Assyrian culture is in many
important respects different and has changed over the centuries.

    There are also many dialects of Aramaic. Dwellers in
Jerusalem noticed Peter’s Galilean dialect (Matt. 26:73), even
though he lived only 60 miles away. These dialects — both
representatives of western Aramaic — differ even more noticeably
from the dialects of eastern Aramaic used at Edessa (home of the
Peshitta) and Lamsa’s homeland.

    Lamsa undoubtedly _was_ an ambassador of Nestorian (not
biblical) culture, with its unique alphabet, language, writings,
customs, and church tradition. One prominent aspect of this
culture is a strong anti-Greek bias which Lamsa manifests often.
This bias stems from bitterness towards the largely
Greek-speaking council which censured Nestorius.

    Lamsa damages his credibility by wrongly asserting that “the
Greeks occupied the Holy Land for only seven years, and there
were not a half-dozen natives of Palestine who learned enough
Greek in that time to carry on a conversation.”[32] He also
claims that converts outside Palestine only spoke Aramaic, and
that most references to “Greek” people were mistranslated and
should read “Arameans” or “Syrians.”[33] Lamsa asserts that Jesus
and His disciples never heard Greek spoken[34] and that no
portion of the New Testament was originally written in Greek, but
was first translated after Constantine’s conversion in A.D.
318.[35] He assumes the Greek translators were deceitful and
ignorant, intentionally adding and deleting passages and wrongly
translating many parts.[36]

    The only documentation Lamsa ever offers is a quotation of
Josephus (_Antiquities of the Jews_ xx.12.1). While Lamsa takes
him to mean that few Jews learned Greek, Josephus actually said
that he himself lacked the precision and pronunciation in Greek
which he desired.

Wide Use of Greek in Israel

    Languages gain wide use through conquest and contact, which
accounts for the prevalence of Spanish and English in the world
today. Greek was used throughout the Mediterranean area and
Persia from 335 B.C. to A.D. 200 because of Alexander the Great’s
conquests. The Seleucid dynasty imposed Greek rule and ways over
the Mideast from 280-63 B.C. and, with Herod, founded over 30
Greek cities in Israel. Some Greek rulers, especially Antiochus
Epiphanes, aggressively attempted to Hellenize the Jews (i.e.,
force acceptance of Greek speech and ways on them), killing
thousands who tried to maintain their Hebrew culture and
religion. Greeks occupied Palestine for 270 years, not seven
years as Lamsa ignorantly maintained. Thus Greek was used
almost universally in the New Testament world, dominating
government, commerce, and instruction.[37] Even slaves and
farmers of less-Hellenized areas knew Greek as a second
language.

    Archaeology attests to the widespread use of Greek.
Virtually every coin issued by the Greek rulers (363-35 B.C.),
Jewish Herodian Kings (37 B.C.-A.D. 70), and Romans was struck
in Greek.[38] One study of inscriptions in Palestine listed 168,
of which 114 are in Greek only. Greek appeared in Jewish
ossuaries (stone chests which held the bones of the dead) and
on the Ophel synagogue, indicating that ordinary Jews used
Greek.[39] Moreover, key trade routes passed through Israel,
requiring knowledge of Greek to service them. Letters that
Jewish rebel leader Bar Cochba wrote to his lieutenants (A.D.
132-135) show that these insurgents used Greek as easily as
Aramaic and Hebrew.[40]

    The oldest biblical manuscript known today is not the
Peshitta (as Lamsa holds), but a Hebrew copy of Isaiah written
about 100 B.C. We now have scores of Greek portions of the New
Testament written before Lamsa’s Peshitta. (More will be said
about this later.) The Estrangeli alphabet Lamsa used was not
even created until at least the second century A.D.

    Jews outside of Israel could not read Hebrew, so they
translated it into a Greek version called the Septuagint
(referred to as the “LXX” today) which became the “Authorized
Version” of the Bible for Greek-speaking Jews and Christians.
More than half of the Old Testament passages found in the New
Testament are quoted from the Greek LXX, not from an Aramaic
Targum or Hebrew text. Even Matthew, written by a Jew for
Jews, quotes primarily from the LXX and uses 76 words found
nowhere but the LXX.[41] The vocabulary and style of the LXX
dominates the NT, even though it was archaic at the time.
Common “Jewish” words, including “Synagogue,” “Sanhedrin,” and
“hypocrite” (meaning “actor,” for which Hebrew has no
equivalent due to a Talmudic prohibition against theater) are
actually Greek words. The Babylonian Talmud mentions the
rabbis’ use of Greek proverbs and their families who learned
Greek (Sota 49b). The 1,500 Greek loan words in Talmudic
literature indicate that rabbis knew Greek.[42]

    Gospel history also suggests common use of Greek. Jesus and
11 of His disciples came from “Galilee of the Gentiles” and Jesus
used the Greek city Capernaum as His headquarters. The tax
collector, Matthew, and fishermen like Peter and John needed
Greek to do business. On Pentecost, Persians, Mesopotamians,
and Medes were surprised to hear the disciples speak in their
own tongues (by the Spirit’s power), indicating that their
languages were very different from Galilean Aramaic. Yet,
Peter was able to address them about this phenomenon in a
_common_ language: most certainly Greek. A special name, the
“Hellenists” (NIV: “Grecian Jews,” Acts 6:1) was used for Jews
who spoke Greek, and each of the seven deacons who served them
had Greek names.

    The evidence against the Lamsa position is overwhelming.
Greek was commonly used by all types of people in Israel and the
Mediterranean world in Jesus’ day. The apostles knew Greek and
wanted all nations to believe. They had no reason to write in a
politically and racially-colored dialect (Aramaic) when the
universally known Greek existed. They wrote as bilingual men,
intimately acquainted with the Greek version of the Scriptures;
they thought in Aramaic (and/or Hebrew) and wrote in the Greek
style of the LXX.

LAMSA’S TRANSLATION: ACCURATE OR FAULTY?

    Lamsa’s distrust of anything Greek and his personal
presuppositions also produced bias and error in his translation.

    On the surface Lamsa appeared to regard all of the Bible
highly. However, he distinguishes between the authoritative
teachings of Jesus and what he considered to be the inferior
doctrine of His disciples. The apostles, he claims, were unduly
influenced by Jewish religion, traditions, laws, and practices,
and so reveal human weaknesses in what they wrote.

    Lamsa says some Scriptures were lost and others were
destroyed (e.g., burned) or rejected because they were “contrary
to the new doctrines and dogmas” adopted at the Council of Nicea
in A.D. 325.[43] He says certain passages were “deliberately
forged” and added to the books of the Bible.[44] The Greek texts
as well as subsequent Bible versions, he adds, are corrupted by
mistranslations and contradictions due to ignorant translators
and the texts’ transition from Aramaic to Greek, Greek to
Latin, and Latin to English.[45] Lamsa also asserts that the two
oldest biblical manuscripts known today are Peshitta Aramaic
texts from the fifth and seventh centuries, making Greek texts
appear to be later and corrupt.[46] Thus, despite Lamsa’s
superficial respect for the Bible, he distrusts, condemns, and
changes portions of it.

    Scholars universally agree that the New Testament was written
in Greek and that we now possess scores of manuscripts which were
written before the Peshitta. Most pastors have copies of the
Greek New Testament (the UBS or Nestle-Aland text) which compiles
readings of several hundred old manuscripts in Greek, Aramaic,
and other languages. The reader can refer to this to find the
names, content, dates of production, and current location of
these texts. Their dates are determined by many factors, so a
claim made by Lamsa[47] that deceitful translators cut the dates
out of texts to make them appear older is false. Most
contemporary versions (NIV, NAS, etc.) translate the UBS text
_directly_ into English (or another language), so Lamsa’s
assertion that the Bible was corrupted by being translated from
Greek to Latin to English is inaccurate.

    This Nestle-Aland Greek text does cite Syriac manuscripts
where the readings are valuable for reference. Lamsa, on the
other hand, follows _only_ the Peshitta, ignoring the many
earlier Greek and Old Syriac texts. However, since the Peshitta
does not include the books of 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and
Revelation, Lamsa had to use later Syriac texts, risking
corruption due to age. Even if the Peshitta had all the books, it
would still be flawed because it is not an original or even a new
translation of the Greek into Aramaic, but is a late fourth
century revision of superior Old Syriac versions.[48] Therefore,
one of several weaknesses in Lamsa’s translation is the blemished
Peshitta on which it is based.

Mistranslations

    At the time Lamsa began to translate, popular contemporary
versions such as the New International Version and Today’s
English Version (Good News Bible) had not yet been published.
Hence, part of the popularity of Lamsa’s version was due to its
clear style and clarification of some of the obscurities in the
King James Version.

    Lamsa’s version does offer some insight into Aramaic words
and idioms in the Bible. However, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin idioms
are also common in the Bible, so the reader benefits most by
acquaintance with _all four_ of these cultures and languages.
Lamsa’s understanding of Scripture is warped by his insistence on
using Aramaic alone and his assumption that his twentieth century
Iranian Syriac exactly matches fifth century Peshitta Aramaic.

    The most disturbing feature of the Lamsa Bible is that he
often allows his theology and opinions to dictate his renderings.
For example, he does not believe that people personally live
after death, so he inserts the word “death” in places the writer
used “sleep” (1 Cor. 15:6,18,20). Most passages which refer to
the Trinity and Christ’s deity are left intact, but Lamsa changes
the wording of John 1:18, Acts 20:28, Micah 5:2, and Hebrews 7:3
because they contradict his Nestorian presuppositions. His
anti-Greek bias shows as he repeatedly replaces references to
“Greeks” with “Arameans.”

LAMSA: EVANGELICAL SCHOLAR OR CULTIC FIGURE?

    Lamsa considered himself to be the man God set aside and
inspired for our times, and his followers still view him as such.
One even senses in Lamsa’s writings an implicit claim that he
stands in the line of apostles with Moses, Jesus, Paul, and
Mohammed. Lamsa explains his unique calling through editor Tom
Alyea: “God had revealed to Lamsa his purpose and how it was to
be done. It was a one-man job. In the Bible testimony is given
that God spoke to man; however, it is not recorded where he spoke
to a committee…Yes, only one man could translate the Bible from
Aramaic. God knew it, and Lamsa knew it, and so it was.”[49]

    Lamsa also attempts to establish scholarly credentials as a
means of gaining acceptance. He claims to have been born about
1892, and to have acquired an A.B. degree equivalent in 1907 and
a Ph.D. equivalent in theology in 1908 from Archbishop of
Canterbury’s College, Turkey.[50] He also claims to have
graduated from Episcopal Theology Seminary in Virginia[51] and to
have studied at the University of Pennsylvania and Dropsie
College.

    Lamsa, however, appears to have exaggerated his academic
credentials. First, he claims to have attained a Ph.D. at age 16,
_only one year after his A.B._[52] Second, there are no records
of his graduation from a seminary, and his own writings suggest
that he was never at _any_ school long enough to attain any
_valid_ degree.

    Lamsa’s writing style reflects his exalted view of his own
mission and character. He usually writes embellished narratives
or discourses, not documenting either blanket assertions or
detailed comments. For example, he dismisses his lack of
supporting evidence for his theory that the New Testament was
originally authored in Aramaic by saying, “What is a fact needs
no defense.”[53] He assumes that his peculiar habits, culture,
superstitions, idioms, and musings all match and illuminate
Scripture, resulting in often incorrect or simplistic
interpretations. By contrast, scholars in the fields of New
Testament studies and Aramaic offer detailed evidence, accept
criticisms, and yield much more cautious and informed
conclusions.

Lamsa’s Supporters

    Lamsa’s strongest supporters and colleagues have (apparently)
always been cultists and aberrant Christian religions, not
evangelicals. He never forgot that one of his first friends in
the Americas was a Christian Science lady, Mrs. Mitchell.[54] The
A.R.E. (Association for Research and Enlightenment) engaged him
as a speaker, quoted him, and offered his books for sale. The
Unity School of Christianity, a non-Christian mind science group,
published three of Lamsa’s books in 1966 and 1968 and offered
other books for sale. Lamsa was such a popular speaker for Unity
groups and worked so closely with them that he kept his office on
the Unity campus in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, late in his life. One
of Lamsa’s closest coworkers and students was Rocco Errico, who
heads the metaphysical Noohra Foundation and has written books
for Science of Mind publications — books which illuminate the
_true_ (heretical) nature of his teacher’s theology. Moreover,
The Way International, a pseudo-Christian group, received Lamsa
as a teacher, promotes his books, and published Aramaic texts and
a concordance modeled after Lamsa’s work. (In recent years,
however, The Way has rejected several of Lamsa’s assertions about
Aramaic after comparing them to valid research.)

    The widespread support Lamsa enjoyed from non-Christian
groups is a strong indication that he promoted metaphysical,
heretical, and unscholarly teachings — not evangelical and
scholarly.

    Lamsa developed his own cultlike following over the years. He
founded the Aramaic Bible Society in 1943 to propagate his work.
Four years later he founded the Calvary Missionary Church and
gained a larger following through print and radio. Today the
Aramaic Bible Distribution Society desires to carry on the “Lamsa
work” and place a Lamsa Bible “on every pulpit and in every
home.” It considers Lamsa’s life miraculous and singularly
qualified to bring “Truth” to the world. Society brochures state,
“We believe that long ago, God formulated a Plan — and when the
time was right, He brought Lamsa into the world to begin the
fulfillment of that Plan.”

    While Christian scholarship has disregarded or criticized
Lamsa’s work, cults and new religions often quote him in print
and debate when it serves their purposes. In addition to the five
groups mentioned above, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Holy Order
of MANS, Christadelphianism, Iglesia ni Cristo, and Astara have
all tapped Lamsa’s material. These groups have consistently
quoted Lamsa in _opposition_ to evangelical Christian beliefs,
further suggesting Lamsa’s distance from the biblical faith.

The Evangelical Christian Response to Lamsa

  On the surface, Lamsa appears to be a revealer of biblical
truth and culture and a friend of evangelical Christianity.
Closer study, however, has revealed that Lamsa promotes
_metaphysical,_ not _evangelical_ teachings which have led him to
inaccurate interpretations and translations of portions of the
Bible. As an ambassador of _Nestorian,_ not _biblical_ culture,
Lamsa became a cultic figure in his own right.

    Although Lamsa appears to offer truth to his readers, he
preaches many and severe errors instead. The biblical author Jude
warned against false teachers like Lamsa who are like “clouds
without water” and “autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead”
which deliver the _opposite_ of what they promise. Therefore,
Christians should not receive, promote, or refer to Lamsa’s work,
nor stock his books in their libraries (unless it is for the
purpose of discernment ministry) or bookstores. When questions
about the biblical text, culture, or Jesus’ teachings arise, one
should instead refer to scholarly and evangelical books on these
subjects. When cults and new religions cite Lamsa in opposition
to evangelical teaching, one must “contend earnestly for the
faith” (Jude 3), exposing the lifelessness of Lamsa’s teaching
and leading them to the fruit of the faith once for all delivered
to the saints.

NOTES

1 George M. Lamsa, _Old Testament Light_ (Philadelphia: A. J.
  Holman, 1964), 12 (hereafter, _Old_); and _New Testament
  Commentary_ (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman, 1945), xii
  (hereafter, _New_).
2 _New_, 8-9.
3 George M. Lamsa, _The Kingdom on Earth_ (Lee’s Summit, MO:
  Unity School of Christianity, 1966), 106-107 (hereafter,
  _Kingdom_). Lamsa credits Islam with achieving this goal.
  (_The Secret of the Near East_ [New York: Orientalia, 1923],
  101 [hereafter, _Secret_]).
4 _Old,_ 39; also George M. Lamsa, ed., _The Short Koran_
  (New York: Ziff-Davis, 1949), 15 (hereafter, _Koran_).
5 For more on the influence of Nestorianism on Lamsa, see
  Douglas V. Morton, “The Lamsa Connection: The Origin of
  Wierwille’s False Christ,” _Quarterly Journal,_ Jan.-Mar.
  1989, 1,7,9.
6 George M. Lamsa, _Gospel Light_ (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman,
  1936, 1939), 367-68, 372-73 (hereafter, _Gospel_).
7 _New,_ 150; see also 177.
8 _Gospel,_ 353, 369.
9 George M. Lamsa, _My Neighbor Jesus: In the Light of His Own
  Language, People, and Time_ (New York: Harper and Brothers
  Publishers, 1932), 139 (hereafter, _Neighbor_).
10 _New,_ 7.
11 George M. Lamsa, _More Light on the Gospel_ (New York:
  Doubleday, 1968), 151 (hereafter, _More_).
12 _Kingdom,_ 173.
13 _More,_ 117-20.
14 _Kingdom,_ 181.
15 _Koran,_ 90.
16 _Neighbor,_ 24.
17 _Ibid.,_ 26-27.
18 _Ibid.,_ 224.
19 _Kingdom,_ 171-72.
20 Robert W. Krajenke, _Stand Like Stars_ (Virginia Beach, VA:
  A.R.E., 1970).
21 _More, xxix._
22 George M. Lamsa, _Idioms in the Bible Explained_
  (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman, 1971), 73.
23 _Ibid.,_ 82.
24 _Ibid.,_ 62.
25 _Ibid.,_ 72.
26 _Ibid.,_ 75.
27 _Ibid.,_ viii.
28 George M. Lamsa with Tom Alyea, _The Life of George M. Lamsa
  Translator_ (St. Petersburg, FL: Aramaic Bible Society, n.d.),
  3 (hereafter, _Life_).
29 William Emhardt and George Lamsa, _The Oldest Christian
  People_ (New York: Macmillan, 1926), 77.
30 _Ibid.,_ 78.
31 _Ibid.,_ 91.
32 _Life,_ 17; see also 19.
33 _New,_ 110,123.
34 _Holy Bible: From the Ancient Eastern Text,_ George M. Lamsa,
  trans. (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman, 1957), ix (hereafter
  _Bible_).
35 George M. Lamsa (from the Foreword), _New Testament Origin_
  (St. Petersburg, FL: Aramaic Bible Society, 1947), 22
  (hereafter, _Origin_).
36 _Ibid.,_ 57.
37 Bo Reicke and David Green, trans., _The New Testament Era_
  (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974), 40.
38 “Money,” _Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible,_ Vol. 3
  (Nashville: Abingdon, 1962), 427-35.
39 See Morton Smith, “Aramaic Studies and the Study of the New
  Testament,” _Journal of Bible and Religion_ 26 (1958), 308-12.
40 For a thorough study, see J. N. Sevenster, _Do You Know Greek?
  How Much Greek Could the First Jewish Christians Have Known?_
  (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968).
41 The same is true of Mark. See Robert M. Grant, _Historical
  Introduction to the New Testament_ (New York: Harper and Row,
  1963), 127.
42 John Weldon, “New Thought/The Aramaic Connection” (unpublished
  paper), 54.
43 _New,_ xiii-xv.
44 _Origin,_ 97.
45 _Ibid.,_ 97-98.
46 _Bible,_ v.
47 _Origin,_ 89.
48 See Bruce Metzger, _The Text of the New Testament_ (Oxford:
  Oxford University, 1968), 68-70.
49 _Life,_ 23.
50 “Lamsa, G. M.,” _Contemporary Authors,_ Vols. 23-24 (Detroit:
  Gale, 1970), 246.
51 _Life,_ 16.
52 _Gospel,_ ix.
53 _Ibid._
54 _Life,_ 15.

————–

End of document, CRJ0032A.TXT (original CRI file name),
“George M. Lamsa: Christian Scholar or Cultic Torchbearer?”
release A, February 7, 1994
R. Poll, CRI

(A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in
the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.)

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