The Literary Value Of The Book Of Matthew -- By: Mal Couch

Journal: Conservative Theological Journal
Volume: CTJ 03:10 (Dec 1999)
Article: The Literary Value Of The Book Of Matthew
Author: Mal Couch

The Literary Value Of The Book Of Matthew

Mal Couch

President and Professor of Theology & Languages
Tyndale Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, TX

The Aramaic Debate

Scholars are split as to whether Matthew first wrote his Gospel in the language of Palestine at the time, called Aramaic. Some argue that the apostle wrote his history of Christ simultaneously in both Aramaic and in the common commercial language of the day, Koine Greek. To understand what the argument is about, it is important to learn more about Aramaic.

From ancient times Aramaic was part of a group of the Semitic languages, very similar to Hebrew. Originally, biblical Aramaic was labeled the Chaldee language. Two such Aramaic words are found in Genesis 31:47, Jeremiah 10:11, and longer portions or sentences are found in Ezra 4 and 7. The longest section of Aramaic in the Old Testament is found in Daniel 2:4b–7:28. There are also a few Aramaic words scattered throughout the New Testament.

Aramaic comes from the word Arameans, referring to the people of Aram. Much about their beginnings is unknown. Though they never developed a major empire their language became the medium of communication throughout the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian dynasties. When Greece and Hellenism began to dominate the Middle East, the Arameans faded from view, leaving a legacy of their language but no lasting literature.

Throughout that ancient period Aramaic was the language of the merchants and traders who traveled the highways and roads of the Middle East. Attached to Assyrian and Babylonian records of goods, was Aramaic dockets and lists of trade items. The reason was that most people from many countries could understand this universal language, especially in regard to government and commercial business.

Aramaic words have been found as far away as Pakistan, and from the Ural Mountains to Arabia, Greece. Jewish literature in Aramaic includes the Targums, the Palestine Talmud and Midrash, and the Gemara of the Babylonian Talmud.

It is commonly accepted that Christ spoke Aramaic. And when it is said that Paul spoke “in the Hebrew dialect” (Acts 21:40; 22:2; 26:14), that this is referring to the Aramaic vernacular of Palestine in his day. As to how common Aramaic was in Palestine in New Testament times is

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