I now proceed through these first ten cases from Letters from Heaven, where Simmons claims to have been translating from the Aramaic. The heading of each one is linked to the post that deals with the verse, or part of a verse, in more detail. Here I give only the Greek text and Peshitta text (BFBS/UBS with Western vowel signs from dukhrana.com), one or two translations of each, and Simmons’ rendering. For the translation from the Peshitta I am using that of J. Edward Walters (Galatians 1 is here and Galatians 2-6 is here), plus Etheridge or Murdock or Lamsa on occasion where appropriate for comparison. I mark with an asterisk where Simmons has placed the reference to the endnote where he claims that the translation is from the Aramaic.
Where it is apparent that Simmons has made use of Victor Alexander’s ‘Aramaic Bible’, I give Alexander’s rendering of the verse, or his footnotes, as relevant, and as published on his web-site.
In general it can be seen that the translations from the Peshitta are virtually the same as from the Greek text. This in itself tends to show that the differences between Simmons’ version and normal translations from the Greek are not in fact due to him having translated from the Peshitta.
τοῦ δόντος ἑαυτὸν ὑπὲρ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν (NA 28)
‘who gave himself for our sins’ (ESV)
‘who gave himself for our sins’ (Walters)
‘who offered his soul as the sacrifice (*) for our sins (Simmons)
‘He who sacrificed himself (*) on behalf of our sins’ (Alexander)
‘Aramaic expression: “Gave his soul.”‘
In the absence of an alternative explanation, it seems highly probable that Simmons has derived both the idea of sacrifice, and the substitution of ‘his soul’ for ‘himself’, from Alexander.
μόνον τῶν πτωχῶν ἵνα μνημονεύωμεν, ὃ καὶ ἐσπούδασα αὐτὸ τοῦτο ποιῆσαι. (NA 28)
‘Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.’ (ESV)
‘Their only concern was that we remember the poor, which was something I was already eager to do.’ (Walters)
‘They simply requested one thing of me: that I would be devoted to the poor and needy, (*) which was the burden I was already carrying in my heart.’ (Simmons)
‘That we may devote ourselves to the needy alone, and I was at a loss as to why they did this.’ (Alexander)
Simmons’ ‘be devoted to’ has no basis in the Aramaic, but is found in Alexander’s work, which is likely therefore to be the origin of it.
Ὦ ἀνόητοι Γαλάται, τίς ὑμᾶς ἐβάσκανεν, οἷς κατ’ ὀφθαλμοὺς Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς προεγράφη ἐσταυρωμένος; (NA 28)
‘O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.’ (ESV)
‘O thoughtless Galatians! Who has brought about contention among you? For Jesus the Messiah was put on display before your eyes when he was crucified.’ (Walters)
‘What has happened to you Galatians to be acting so stupidly? You must have been under some evil spell to have missed the revelation of truth! Didn’t God open your eyes to see the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion? Wasn’t he revealed to you as the Manifestation of Wisdom?‘(*) (Simmons)
I have not been able to find the source of the sentence:
‘Wasn’t he revealed to you as the Manifestation of Wisdom?’
even after an exchange with Brian Simmons on the subject on Facebook.
I have to conclude therefore that he has added it of his own volition.
οὕτως ἀνόητοί ἐστε, ἐναρξάμενοι πνεύματι νῦν σαρκὶ ἐπιτελεῖσθε; (NA 28)
‘Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?’ (RSV)
‘Are you so foolish that, having begun with the Spirit you are now finishing with the flesh?’ (Walters)
‘Your new life in the Anointed One began with the Holy Spirit giving you a new birth. Why then would you so foolishly turn from living in the Spirit to becoming slaves again to your flesh? (*) Do you really think you can bring yourself to maturity in the Anointed One without the Holy Spirit?’ (Simmons)
‘Did you become so foolish that while before, the Spirit abided in you, you have now become the slaves of the flesh?’ (Alexander)
Having found no justification for Simmons’ ‘becoming slaves again to’ in the Aramaic text, I conclude that it derives from Alexander’s ‘become the slaves of’.
Τί οὖν ὁ νόμος; τῶν παραβάσεων χάριν προσετέθη, ἄχρις οὗ ἔλθῃ τὸ σπέρμα ᾧ ἐπήγγελται, διαταγεὶς δι’ ἀγγέλων ἐν χειρὶ μεσίτου. (NA 28)
‘What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.’ (NKJV)
‘Why then was the Law given? It was added because of transgression until the descendant to whom the promise was made would come. The Law was given through angels by means of a mediator.’ (Walters)
‘Why then was the Law given? It was an intermediary agreement added after the promise was given to show men how guilty they are! It remained in force until the Joyous Expectation (*) was born to fulfill the promises given to Abraham. And here’s another contrast: When God gave the Law, he didn’t give it to them directly, for he gave it first to the angels; they gave it to his mediator, who then gave it to the people.’ (Simmons)
‘Why then the Law? Since there would be too many liberties taken, until there came the seed that was prophesied. (*) And he would give the Law through the angels by the One who is Able.’ (Alexander)
‘“To whom were directed the joyous expectations.”’
Since there is no justification for Simmons’ ‘the Joyous Expectation’ in the Aramaic, and given that Simmons himself in an exchange on Facebook did not deny its derivation from Alexander, it must be certain that this comes from Alexander’s ‘joyous expectations’, even if it does not have the same place in the sentence as it does in Alexander’s footnote. There it comes in addition to ‘the seed’, and not in place of it.
ἀλλὰ συνέκλεισεν ἡ γραφὴ τὰ πάντα ὑπὸ ἁμαρτίαν, ἵνα ἡ ἐπαγγελία ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοθῇ τοῖς πιστεύουσιν. (NA 28)
‘But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.’ (ESV)
‘But rather, Scripture confined everything under sin so that the promise made through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah might be given to those who believe.’ (Walters)
‘But the Scriptures make it clear that since we were all under the power of sin, we needed Jesus! And he is the Savior who brings the kingdom realm (*) to those who believe.’ (Simmons)
‘Except, Scriptures comprised of everything that was under the power of sin,* so that the Kingdom that is the Faith in Eashoa Msheekha would be proffered to those who believed.’ (Alexander)
Since there is no justification for translating ܡܘܠܟܢܐ as ‘kingdom realm’, it seems certain that Simmons’ phrase comes from Alexander’s ‘Kingdom’.
οὕτως καὶ ἡμεῖς, ὅτε ἦμεν νήπιοι, ὑπὸ τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου ἤμεθα δεδουλωμένοι· (NA 28)
‘Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.’ (NKJV)
‘So also when we were children, we were subjugated under the natural elements of the world.’ (Walters)
‘So it is with us. When we were juveniles we were enslaved under the regulations and rituals of religion. (*)’ (Simmons)
‘Thus we also, while young we were under submission to the rituals of the world.’ (Alexander)
There is no justification for translating ܐܶܣܛܽܘܟ݁ܣܰܘܗ݈ܝ (ᵓesṭūkkəsaw) with ‘the regulations and rituals’ since the lexeme ܐܣܛܘܟܣܐ is simply a transliteration or loan word of the Greek στοιχεῖον, meaning ‘elements’, ‘fundamental principles’ or ‘elemental spirits’. I conclude therefore that Simmons has derived it from Alexander’s ‘the rituals’.
There is no justification for translating ܕ݁ܥܳܠܡܳܐ as ‘of religion’. I wonder if Simmons has simply invented it because he thinks it fits better with the idea of ‘regulations and rituals’, and perhaps also with his conception of the overall message of Galatians. This is a very serious distortion of holy scripture.
ὥστε οὐκέτι εἶ δοῦλος ἀλλ’ υἱός· εἰ δὲ υἱός, καὶ κληρονόμος διὰ θεοῦ. (NA 28)
‘So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.’ (ESV)
ωστε ουκετι ει δουλος αλλ υιος ει δε υιος και κληρονομος θεου δια χριστου (Byzantine/Majority Text)
‘Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.’ (NKJV)
‘You are no longer slaves, but children, and if children, then also heirs of God through Jesus the Messiah.’ (Walters)
‘Now we’re no longer living like slaves under the law, but we enjoy being God’s very own sons and daughters! And because we are his, we can access everything our Father has—for we are one with Jesus the Anointed One! (*)’ (Simmons)
Simmons has made three major changes to the text. First, he has changed the idea of inheritance to one of access. Second, both the Majority text and the Peshitta have the idea of agency, that the believer’s position as an heir of God is ‘through’ Christ, through Jesus the Messiah. If Simmons means by his footnote that his second sentence (at least) is translated from the Aramaic, which does have this idea, then he has removed it with his rendition. Third, he has added the idea of oneness with Jesus Christ (or Jesus the Anointed One as he prefers it).
There is no justification for any of these changes in the Aramaic text.
Εἰ ζῶμεν πνεύματι, πνεύματι καὶ στοιχῶμεν. (NA 28)
‘If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.’ (ESV)
‘If we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit.’ (Lexham Bible)
‘Therefore let us live in the Spirit and be in accord with the Spirit,’ (Walters)
‘Let us therefore live in the Spirit; and let us press on after the Spirit.’ (Murdock)
‘We have now chosen to live in the surrendered freedom of yielding to the Holy Spirit! (*)’ (Simmons)
Simmons has, firstly, dropped the exhortation, and secondly, replaced the idea of following or being in accord with the Spirit, by that of surrendering and yielding to the Spirit. He has also added the idea of freedom. I found no justification for any of these changes in the Aramaic text.
It seems probable that Simmons was influenced by the versions of Lamsa and Alexander:
‘Let us therefore live in the Spirit, and surrender to the Spirit.’ (Lamsa)
‘To live thus is by the Spirit and in submission to the Spirit.’ (Alexander)
From Alexander, he may have derived the absence of exhortation. From Lamsa’s ‘surrender’ and Alexander’s ‘submission’ may come Simmons’ ‘surrendered’ and ‘yielding’. The idea of freedom seems to be his own.
μὴ γινώμεθα κενόδοξοι, ἀλλήλους προκαλούμενοι, ἀλλήλοις φθονοῦντες. (NA 28)
‘Let us not become vainglorious, provoking one another, envying one another.’ (ASV)
‘Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.’ (ESV)
‘and let us not become arrogant, which makes us contemptuous and jealous of one another.’ (Walters)
‘and let us not be vain-glorious, contemning one another, envying one another.’ (Etheridge)
‘Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.’ (Lamsa)
Here there is a difference between translations from the Greek and most translations from the Peshitta. It is doubtful whether ܩܠ can mean ‘to provoke’. The older lexicons do not have this meaning, and it is noteworthy that even in Walter’s recent translation, it was found necessary to substitute the idea of being contemptuous of others, for that of provoking others.
‘So may we never be found dishonoring one another, or comparing ourselves to each other, for each of us is an original. We have forsaken all jealousy that diminishes the value of others. (*)’
Simmons’ version differs in several ways from the meaning of both the Greek original and of the Peshitta:
- Instead of the exhortation against vain glory and conceit, he has one against dishonouring others, and one against comparing oneself with others;
- he adds an explanatory clause, making the apostle Paul say that the reason for these exhortations is that each of us is an original;
- in his second sentence, he substitutes a claim that jealousy has already been forsaken, for an exhortation against envy.
The idea of diminishing the value of others is similar to that of contempt or of disparagement (see J. Payne Smith, p. 505). To this extent there may well be an influence from the Peshitta, whether from the original or (more likely given my findings elsewhere) from translations. But the Peshitta does not have the idea that it was the jealousy which had caused the contempt for others. In the Peshitta, there is first the exhortation against contempt, that is of looking down on others. Then there is the exhortation against envy, which results from looking at others and seeing them as having more than ourselves in some respect. It seems to me to be, if anything, rather the converse of contempt, than the cause of it. So in conclusion I do not think Simmons can be said to have translated from the Aramaic here.
I have tried to summarise my results in the following table showing, for each verse, the main changes that Simmons has made to the meaning of holy scripture, and the possible source of these changes:
In no case can it be said that Simmons’ text has been ‘translated from the Aramaic’ as claimed. In six out of ten of these verses, there is a strong indication that Victor Alexander is the source of the change. In Galatians 5.25, it looks like the source may be either Lamsa or Alexander or both. In two cases, it looks like the change may have been made by Simmons himself without any justification for it. Finally, in Galatians 5.26, one of the changes probably derives from the Aramaic, whether directly or indirectly, but Simmons himself is perhaps the source of the other changes.
If, as seems certain, Brian Simmons is using Alexander as his source in many verses, rather than the original Syriac text, then this has very serious implications. First, it seems to mean that he is not being honest. Second, as I have outlined previously (later sections of post) Alexander’s renderings are completely unreliable, as they do not appear to be based on a physical manuscript in the normal way. He is a film-maker who promotes a style of ‘Felliniesque’ film-making where, by his own account, ‘dreams and reality are perceived as one experience’. There is every indication that parts of his so-called translation derive from his own imagination.