In October 2009, someone sent an email among us professors of ESEPA Bible College and Seminary in Costa Rica to ask, had anyone heard of a Hebrew-Spanish New Testament known as the “Código Real” (the “Royal Code of Laws”; not to be confused with the Hebrew Roots Bible or the Hebraic New Testament)? He said that its message was being taught in some rural churches in our country, and that pastors were asking questions. When I first looked up the two websites that promote the material (one by Maor Hayyim Publishing in Florida, the other www.codigoreal.com), I became seriously alarmed. Nonetheless, a theologian should not rush to judgment, even when he senses that a great danger might be at hand. But now my copy of the Código Real (CR) has come in the mail; I can speak in an informed manner. It is only available in Spanish, so I will translate.
Is the “Código Real”, that is, the New Testament in the “Hebrew Text Version”, a legitimate translation? No; it is no more legitimate than the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is a real Bible.
In fact, it is much more deceptive than the NWT: it purports to be a “textual reconstruction” of the New Testament. That is, the editor D. A. Hayyim has re-written it according to how he thinks it should be, without any historical basis. [Note: there are interesting revelations about the man known as “Doctor” D. A. Hayyim, for example, that he is not Jewish, that he once followed the Messianic Jewish movement but then left because of his new doctrines; also, that he has changed his name several times. Nevertheless, our focus here is not on the Cuban man Daniel Hernández – alias Dan Ben Avraham, alias Daniel A. Hayyim – but on the book that he edited. We invite the interested reader to search for other information by the internet.]
In short, I am appalled by what I’ve read. It is a delusion, based on false “facts” and yet another conspiracy theory – remember the Da Vinci Code! – which pretends to rewrite the history of the early church. Normally, I wouldn’t spend the hours and hours it takes to work through such an odd publication. Nevertheless, I had been told that my fellow believers in Latin America had been ensnared by its claims. What would be of only minor interest to me as a professor has now become a serious concern to me as a pastor.
What is the guiding principle behind the CR? Why the need for a fresh “translation”? It starts out innocently enough. We are told in the Introduction by editor and “translator” Prof. D. A. Hayyim:
- That Jesus originally taught his disciples in Hebrew;
- that they in turn went on to teach the gospel in Hebrew;
- that the New Testament books were all written in Hebrew by Jewish Christians and to a great extent for Jewish Christians;
Although these points are all dubious, they aren’t dangerous. However, it then turns sinister with the next two points:
- that when gentile Christians got control of the church, they translated the NT into Greek and then destroyed all the Hebrew originals;
- that they did so in order to rewrite the Bible and introduce new pagan doctrines into the church, for example, the deity of Christ and the person and deity of the Holy Spirit.
Further, Hayyim remarks that Spanish-speaking Christians have not had the real New Testament, and for that reason are missing out on God’s blessings. He also claims that the end of the age depends on this restoration of the New Testament (CR p. 64).
We will begin with the misguided “translation” and then move on to uncover what doctrines it is trying to promote.
First, let’s briefly note some of the many, many factual errors that are found in the book. I am not speaking of differences of interpretation, but of data that may be found in any history book. These mistakes reveal that there is a basic carelessness with facts. Some examples: according to the CR on p. 10, Jesus was born after the revolt against Herod Archelaus in AD 6 (no, he was born some years before that revolt, between 6-4 B. C.); p. 11, all the scribes mentioned in the NT are always Sadducees (no, as we see in Mark 2:16, for example); p. 18, the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem fled to a town called Pella in AD 130 (wrong! the flight to Pella happened in AD 66 or 67, during the first Jewish revolt, as notes Eusebius, Church History 3.5); p. 19, the council of Nicea took place in AD 323 (wrong; it was in AD 325). We could also mention things that simply have no historical evidence: p. 10, Jesus was born during the feast of Succoth or Tabernacles; p. 11, Jesus was officially “on call” as a theological advisor to the Sanhedrin; p. 17, gentile Christians abandoned the synagogue (no, gentile Christians had never been welcome within the synagogue, and the Jewish Christians were evicted from the synagogue by its leaders). These are seven errors in five pages; there are many more, but I do not have the time to invest in editing another author’s work.
Second, let us examine the idea that there was originally a “Hebrew New Testament”, looking at the points mentioned above:
- There is no evidence that the Lord ever taught in Hebrew.
Hebrew was used in the synagogue liturgy, but like Latin until the 1960s, it was usually reserved for Bible study and liturgy and for some gravestone engravings. If someone had taught in Hebrew, only the theologians would have made any sense of it. The gospels on the other hand, do clearly indicate that Jesus spoke Aramaic, another Semitic language that the Jews had picked up while in Exile (Neh 13:24 says many Jews could not speak Hebrew; they spoke Aramaic). This, by the way, is why certain sections of Ezra and of Daniel were written in Aramaic, not Hebrew. At some point the Jews composed a paraphrase of the Hebrew Bible in Aramaic known as the Targums; they were used in the synagogue so that the attendees could understand the Word in their own tongue. There are inscriptions in Judea and in Samaria that show that Aramaic was widely attested. Despite what CR implies, both versions of the Talmud were largely composed of Aramaic.
Most importantly, we have certain proof that Jesus used Aramaic, because the gospels preserve some of his direct sayings: Talitha cumi (Mark 5:41); Ephphatha (Mark 7:34); Abba is Aramaic; Rabbouni is as well (John 20:16).
Jesus is never said to have spoken Hebrew, nor is there clear proof that anyone in the NT story spoke it. When the word “Hebrew” occurs in the New Testament to speak of a language, it seems to mean “the language spoken by the Hebrews, that is Aramaic” but not the Hebrew language as such (see John 19:18, 20; Acts 21:40, 22:2). On the Damascus road, Jesus spoke to Saul in the Hebrew’s language (again, probably Aramaic) according to Acts 26:14.
- There is no evidence that Jesus’ disciples ever preached the gospel in Hebrew.
When Peter spoke on the Day of Pentecost, what language did he use? It was clearly Greek, not Hebrew. After all, people had gathered from around the nations to Jerusalem for the feast. The only language that they would have had in common in the 1st century AD was Greek – not Aramaic, not Hebrew. Later on, many of the new believers in Jerusalem itself were “Greeks”, that is, Jewish people who spoke Greek but not Aramaic and certainly not Hebrew (Acts 6:1). The Seven whom they chose to handle practical matters in the church all bore Greek names (Acts 6:5). For that matter, two of the twelve apostles are consistently called by Greek names, that is, Andrew and Phillip (see Acts 1:13).
When Jewish Christians went to evangelize Antioch, the believers received a Greek name, “Christians” (Acts 11:26). Hebrew was not spoken at Antioch!
It would have been impossible to preach the gospel in Hebrew to non-Jewish people, and extremely difficult to do among all but a very few Jews. In fact, the Jews themselves produced one Greek translation after another so that non-Hebrew speaking Jews could read the Bible in the language they did know, that is, the dialect of Greek known as koinē. This began in the 3rd century B. C. with the famous Septuagint version (sometimes nicknamed the LXX); but then when Christians adopted the Septuagint, the Jews spurned it and produced three other versions in the 2nd century AD (by Aquila, Theodotion and Symmachus). Why four versions of the Bible in Greek if the Jews themselves did not need the Bible in the Greek language in order to understand it?
- There exists a small amount of evidence that Matthew might have first written his gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic; there is a tiny amount of evidence that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews in Hebrew; there is no evidence whatever that any of the other 25 books were written in anything other than koinē Greek.
There are 6000 ancient manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. Besides that there are thousands of ancient copies of the Latin translation, and copies of many other versions. One of these versions is in the ancient dialect of Syriac. Contrary to what some claim, the Syriac New Testament is not the “original Aramaic”. In fact, it isn’t Aramaic at all, but a cousin to that dialect. The Syriac version was translated from the Greek. There are only two manuscripts: “Two witnesses to the Old Syriac text survive, both belonging to the 5th century AD, known as the Curetonianus and the Sinaiticus. In neither manuscript is the text of the gospels complete.” (“Ancient Versions” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary 6:796). All known versions of the New Testament are clearly translations from the Greek.
What about Matthew? The church father Papias (early 2nd century AD) claimed that Matthew wrote his gospel “in the Hebrew language”. Several other church fathers said the same thing (see the reference to Iraeneus in CR p. 189), but because they were dependent on Papias’ word, his is the opinion that matters. He makes the enigmatic statement, “So then Matthew wrote the oracles [teachings of Jesus] in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted (or “translated”) them as he was able” (Papias’ work is lost, but this quotation is found in Eusebius, Church History 3.39.16 and 5.8.2, and should be regarded as genuine). First, it is possible that Papias was simply mistaken; linguists have shown that Matthew is almost certainly not a translation from Hebrew or Aramaic, that it shows strong signs of having been composed in Greek. But leaving that aside, if Papias was correct, it is still not clear what he meant to say; the possibilities are: (1) Matthew wrote in the Hebrew people’s tongue, that is, Hebrew; (2) Matthew wrote in the Hebrew people’s tongue, that is, Aramaic; (3) Matthew wrote in a Jewish literary style but in Greek. This last option seems the more probable, but all three are viable. Another more probable interpretation is that Papias is referring only to a collection of teachings of Jesus, that is, that he isn’t referring to Matthew’s gospel at all but merely an early collection of Jesus’ words (“oracles”) in Aramaic. Whatever the historical truth, the gospel of Matthew that we have is represented by piles of ancient manuscripts in Greek.
But what of this claim that Matthew was written in Hebrew and that someone discovered it in Europe? This sounds like amazing proof, but in fact the theory is very weak. Yes, a copy of a Hebrew version of Matthew exists and is today in Paris in the Bibliotèque Nationale. Nevertheless, it is not ancient, and in fact might be a translation of Matthew from Latin into Hebrew by a Jewish writer named Shem-Tob in the 13th century AD. I have before me a copy of a standard work on the topic by Hugh J. Schonfield, An Old Hebrew Text of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, published in 1927. While Schonfield believed that Hebrew Matthew version is much older than the 13th century, he offered no proof other than to say that it looks to him more authentic than the Greek text. Schonfield also suspected that Matthew, Mark, Luke and the Revelation were originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, but produced no evidence for any book but Matthew. So, what do we have? One single manuscript, discovered in the 16th century, perhaps from a translation made in the 13th century or perhaps earlier, but no-one can tell with any certainty. But the CR depends on this one manuscript to redo Matthew and by extension the entire NT. On its say-so, for example, the CR cuts Matt 28:19 (“baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”) from the Bible because a single manuscript of a Hebrew version of unknown origin doesn’t have it! Compare this, then, with the 6000 manuscripts in Greek alone – and every manuscript that contains Matthew 28 has verse 19!
In order to appreciate what we have by way of Greek manuscripts, let us turn from Matthew to John, one ancient manuscript dates from around AD 125, a scrap of John that contains a few verses from ch. 18. AD 125! That means it was a copy made very few years after John composed his gospel. That is, the Greek New Testament, which teaches that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are God, was not something invented later on to teach new doctrines. The huge bulk of evidence points to all the books of the NT being written originally in Greek and only then translated into other languages.
What a distortion, this implication that the CR wants to give out: “This Hebraic version is a restoration of the original writings, following the most ancient Hebrew and Semitic sources available and the Hebraic thought that is found behind the Greek translations.” In another place we are told that the CR is a “translation made from the earliest Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts, in the light of the Hebraic thought of the first century.” Now, does this not sound as if we had thousands of Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts, based on which the Código Real was translation? But in reality they are a phantom, an illusion…THEY DO NOT EXIST!
The CR also misquotes and misapplies a few comments made by early church fathers from the 2nd-5th centuries AD and uses them to “prove” that the NT was written in Hebrew. For example, it claims that according to the church father and Bible translator Jerome, Paul wrote all of his epistles in Hebrew: “He being a Hebrew wrote Hebrew, that is his own tongue and most fluently while the things which were eloquently written in Hebrew were more eloquently turned into Greek” (CR p. 43). This too sounds impressive…at first glance. The CR does not give the reference of where Jerome says this, and I had to trace down the quote and with some difficulty. It can be found HERE. I have to wonder whether the editor of the CR wishes to prevent their readers from looking it up themselves. In fact, most people who quote this passage from Jerome on the internet seem to be quoting each other’s quotations of Jerome, rather than look it up directly.
But please, let’s do justice to Jerome and look at his statement in context. He starts by naming the various epistles that Paul wrote. He then comes to the Epistle to the Hebrews, and observes that some do not think that Paul wrote it, because of its different style and language. Jerome mentions that some think Barnabas, or Luke, or Clement of Rome wrote it. Jerome then wonders whether perhaps Paul wrote it, but omitted his name because “Paul was writing to Hebrews and was in disrepute among them; he may have omitted his name from the salvation on this account and this is the reason why it seems to differ from other epistles of Paul.” That is to say, Paul, according to Jerome, may have written the Epistle to the Hebrews, in the language of the Hebrews (Hebrew? Aramaic?) and that some parts of that epistle were later translated into Greek. Jerome, therefore, says absolutely about Paul’s regular language for teaching and writing; he only theorizes that he wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews in Hebrew or Aramaic. This is the same view taken by Clement of Alexandria, as records Eusebius in his Church History 6.14.2 – “[Clement] says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts.”
In the case of a Hebrew-language Gospel of Matthew or Epistle to the Hebrews, keep in mind that these are not opinions independently expressed by a number of early church fathers. Rather, one father expressed the opinion, and later others picked up and repeated what the first person said.
While I doubt that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic; and while I seriously doubt that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews in Hebrew or Aramaic; there is nothing great that rises or falls with those theories. So what if the claims are true? No, what does become dangerous is to claim that (1) the whole New Testament was written in Hebrew and that (2) when gentile Christians translated it into Greek they perverted the message of the original and left us a faulty and perverted Bible. This takes a leap of logic into the realm of fantasy and speculation…into the world of conspiracy theories.
A person looking at all the manuscript evidence and testimonies of the church fathers might honestly ask, why are there only a couple of muted references to Paul or Matthew writing in the language of the Hebrews? It’s at this point that the editor of the CR leaves reason behind and cries out, it’s because of an anti-Semitic conspiracy! There’s a cover-up, and all the Christian scholars (who are gentiles) are in on it! Why don’t we have thousands and thousands of Hebrew copies of the original New Testament, as we do with Greek copies? Conspiracy! Because the gentiles conspired to burn them all and to rewrite the New Testament as a Greek book! That’s right…the lack of evidence for of the Código Real is in itself taken as evidence: because there are no Hebrew manuscripts…well, that proves that someone torched them! (see CR p. 19)
A conspiracy theory may be defined as: “A hypothesis alleging that the members of a coordinated group are, and/or were, secretly working together to commit illegal or wrongful actions including attempting to hide the existence of the group and its activities…” (from Wiktionary.org). The CR explanation of why we have a Greek New Testament and not a Hebrew one is a classic example of conspiracy thinking.
We must not neglect the actual teaching of the Código Real “translation”. It would be relatively harmless to read a New Testament that uses Hebrew names instead of Spanish or English. But the doctrine of the CR turns out to be heretical and sectarian. When any group claims to give the only access to the true Word of God, and disqualifies all other Bibles or ways of interpreting the Bible, we are dealing with a cult, be it the Mormons or others. Many people have written about the characteristics of a sectarian movement, and the following are clearly applicable to the CR movement:
- Claims of special discoveries. Some sects claim new visions; others, as in the CR, claim to have dug up neglected information, as we have seen above. To give a trivial example in the CR, instead of Luke (the only name we know of for the author of the third gospel, and a Greek one!) the CR calls him “Hillel”. There is absolutely no evidence that this gentile man ever used a Hebrew name or that he used Hillel. The same goes for Mark, whom the CR renames Meir rather than use his real, Latin, name of Marcus; it speaks of Shaul instead of Paul, who usually used his Latin name, Paulus. These are of course mere details; nevertheless, their function is to give the impression of an historical authenticity that the other Bible versions do not have.
- Tendentious translations of the Bible. Finally, the CR claims, Spanish speakers have the real New Testament! All others are defective and will short-circuit the believer’s relationship with God. But as we have seen, the CR removes verses at will and mistranslates others. It throws out Matthew 28:19. It mistranslates verse after verse; it would be impossible to give even a glimpse of the errors. What give them the right to do so? Well, the CR claims a God-given authority for rewriting the Bible! “The Eternal One has given us the honor of being responsible with what we have received from our forefathers and of doing all that within our reach to preserve it, transmit it and teach it in the form that is more pure and intellectually acceptable to every generation. This reconstruction of the [New Testament] text that we offer is based on these premises” (CR p. 35). Did you catch that? The editor of the CR has taken upon himself the authority to “reconstruct the text” of the New Testament in a way that he perceives to be more pure and more acceptable to this generation! And why does he feel free to do so? Because the Greek New Testament is a fake, it has been corrupt since the conversion of Constantine, when the church came into imperial power: “With so much power available, the Christian leaders of the Holy Empire made sure that the apostolic writings that they had in their hands would correspond to their own doctrinal interests rather than to the reality of the text from which they came. And so instead of asking what the original text really meant, they wondered, how can we make this affirm our own position? The result was the corruption of the New Testament…[We are talking about] premeditated abuses, eliminating or adding words in key texts, in order to bolster the doctrine of the church that now, united with imperial power, had total and absolute power in its hands to do and to decide whatever it wanted” (CR p. 19). This sort of conspiracy thinking would make Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, jealous of the intricacy of its intrigues and bogus theories! But to make the CR’s viewpoint null and void, all we have to do is remember the manuscripts that exist today that were made beforethe conversion of Constantine in the 4th century AD…and they do not agree with the Código Real!
- Defective doctrine of Christ (christology). Almost any heresy one could name has at its heart a lessening of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. The CR, in its preface and throughout its translation, obliquely but firmly rejects the deity of Christ. It lays emphasis on the idea that God knew the name of the Messiah from eternity; but it does not believe that Jesus Christ existed before his birth. In fact, the doctrine of Christ in the CR is that Jesus was a “Tzadik” (p. 58). This Hebrew word is a title given by Hasidic Jews to rabbis of special holiness and learning. In other words, Jesus was a wonderful teacher, but not God, not the Son of God from eternity, not even a being as powerful as an angel! How far this is from the teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews that is genuinely preserved in the New Testament: “his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Heb 1:2b NIV); that is, God created the universe through his Son, who was present at creation. But, what a travesty the supposed “translation” of CR…which is based on no Hebrew manuscript, but is simply paraphrasing what the Greek says in order to support its theology: “whom he made heir of all things, since having him [Jesus] in mind, it was He [God] who created the universe”. That is, God was looking forward and thinking about the son when he created the universe…but the son really did not participate! The CR does something similar with John 1:1 and mistranslates Titus 2:13. It also clouds most key texts having to do with the deity of Jesus, for example, John 8:58 (which the CR renumbers 8:46), which in the NIV says, “before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus is saying that he existed before Abraham, and he also uses the name of Jehovah found in Exod 6:2b – “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty.” As it does in many key verses, the CR balks from translating what is clearly written and simply inserts some Hebrew words: “Before Abvraham was born, aní jú” (CR p. 278). What, is the use of “v” instead of “b” in Abraham (or Abvraham if you wish) meant to impress us with the aura of some mystical knowledge? And why does the CR erase the clear sense of the text by refusing to translate it into plain Spanish, instead making up what Jesus supposedly should have said in Hebrew? Again, why doesn’t it properly translate Jesus’ title “Son of God”, instead of making it sound as if it’s a name, Ben-HaElokim (see Mark 3:11)? Why does it translate the Greek theosas “G-d” when it refers to the Father but in other ways – for example “judge” – when it refers to Jesus? Why does it translate Rom 10:9 as “confess in your heart that Yeshua is Adón” (Greek kurios, “Lord”), while later in 10:13 it translates it entirely differently: “everyone who invokes the name of YHWH (again in the Greek, kurios) will be saved”? They give a footnote that says that, well, the original readers would have understood it in the way that the CR has helpfully restored what it thinks Paul would have said in the original Hebrew.
- Defective teaching about the Holy Spirit.The CR makes the Spirit into the “power of God”, but not a person. This is also the position of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The CR rejects the Apostles’ Creed and also the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds (CR p. 22), which says that Christ is God and that the Spirit is a person and God. That’s right, we must turn away from the following as the heresy of the gentile conspirators!
“And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified…”
And we must also repudiate the Nicene Creed’s statement that Christ is God, that is:
“I believe… in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”
- Defective doctrine of salvation.The CR simply eliminates the gospel of salvation solely through faith in Christ. Typically it adds the concept of “obedience” to the simple word “faith”, for example: “a man is justified by obedient faith that has nothing to do with the legalistic observance of the law (Rom 3:28). There is a footnote: “those who obey the Torah [Law of Moses] are those who have the promise of receiving divine righteousness as a gift.” That is…a man is justified by obeying the Law of Moses. We could also mention the beloved passage Eph 2:8-9: in the CR, we are not saved by faith, but by “obedient faith…not based in legalistic works.” That is – we are saved by works! Also Gal 3:2, which in the NIV says: “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” that is, they received the Spirit as the sign of God’s acceptance. But see what the CR does: “Did you receive the spirit by subjecting yourselves to legalism or when you ordered your heart to hear and obey the word that we preached to you?” That is: salvation comes through obedience, not by faith; at the same time, it eliminates the person of the Holy Spirit!
- Making their movement critical to the return of Christ: with this Hebraic version, the Jewish missionaries will now be able to fulfill Matthew 24:14, and the end will come. Without it, Christ cannot return! (p. 64) This is a common trait of many sects; again, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are an excellent example.
We could keep going, giving example after example of this type of distortion, but it’s better that we conclude. The Código Real leads people away from the God of our Lord Jesus Christ and teaches them to look down on their “uninformed” brothers in Christ. The issues that surround the Código Real are not the typical arguments one hears about which is the better Bible translation. In this case, the choice is between God’s true Word and a word of lethal deception.