Did you know that when Jesus preached publicly he spoke in a language called Aramaic? To borrow an explanation from biblical scholar Neil Douglas-Klotz, “Most scholars now believe that by the time of Jesus, no one was really speaking the ancient Hebrew that would have been spoken, let’s say, by Moses or by King David. And everyone was speaking this lingua franca, or common spoken language, of the whole Middle East, which was Aramaic.”
Why is this important? It’s important because the modern English version of the Bible most of us have read or have had read to us is a translation from Greek. Greek and Aramaic are very different languages, and this is important if you care very much about the teachings of Jesus. It’s especially significant if you care about the literal interpretation of his teachings.
This distinction of translation winds up making a huge difference in some of the more widely repeated phrases of Jesus’. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told that believing IN Jesus was the whole spiritual task of Christianity. And yet, TURNS OUT: he never even said “believe in me”. According to these earliest Aramaic texts, he said “Believe like me”, or in other words “believe as I believe”. According to Klotz, when the Bible was translated into Greek, which is what the Western churches ended up utilizing, they chose to translate “believe like me” into “believe in me”.
To me, that seems like a grievous error.
Centuries of people have been motivated by the single task of convincing people to believe IN Jesus, rather than introducing people to the person of Jesus, and then letting them discover what this man believed in… for themselves.
[Much more on some other important Aramaic words later…]