syriac02I received the following comment:

I’ve been trying to learn more about the Syriac translation. Wikipedia has a good article on it:

It seems that the earliest translation was 175 AD, but the earliest manuscripts that we have are over a hundred years more recent than that. I’m trying to get a more firm date on that. Remember just because a translation was made at an early date, it doesn’t mean that what we have was what was in that translation.  It seems like the earliest manuscripts of the Greek we have appear about the same time as the Syriac manuscripts.

You are missing the point of what the Syriac does. It doesn’t matter what age the Syriac manuscripts are. What matters is when it was translated. The reason is that the errors that one would make in one language are totally unlikely for a different language. For example, there are two occurrences where it appears the word for “dispensation” was accidentally altered in the Greek.

oikonomia = dispensation
oikodomia = edifying
koinonia  = fellowship

You can see how someone could mess up and put the wrong word between oikonomia and oikodomia, for example. However, there is no way that you would make the same mistake in English. I can just imagine it. “Let’s see…d…that looks like an e to me…then i…wait, I think that’s a d…then s…no, no, I think that’s an i…ultimately, “dispensation” looks like “edifying” to me… Obviously, no one would make that mistake.

So the point is that once the Syriac was translated, copies would be made off of other Syriacs. They were not going to recheck it with the Greek manuscripts every time they copied it. So Aramaic-type mistakes will happen to the Syriac manuscripts, but Greek-type mistakes will not. That means, when the Syriac basically agrees with one family of Greek manuscripts but not another, it is all but certain that the Greek manuscripts from which it was translated said the same as the modern family of Greek manuscripts that agree with it. The Syriac might have copy errors, but they would be totally different from Greek copy errors. If the Syriac has something different from all the Greek manuscripts, it could be that there was an early Greek variant we don’t have, but if there is a likely Aramaic copyist mistake, that was probably at fault. But if it’s a “dispensation to edifying” type change, that means the mistake had to have been in the Greek. So the Syriac tells us, in that case, which reading was in the 2nd century manuscript it was translated from. In other words, it is a check against later (post 2nd century) Greek manuscripts, because it tells us what at least one 2nd century Greek manuscript said. No one can claim that a reading was “later” based on, for example, 4th century manuscripts, because we know that the reading already existed in the 2nd century.

That is why I say, when the Syriac agrees with one family of Greek manuscripts, it is strong evidence that that one is probably correct. It gives us a “snapshot” of manuscripts older than any we currently have.

The 2nd century Syriac was only the gospels. The rest of the Syriac was translated in the 5th century or so. Thus, the gospel portion is the only one that really gives us the extremely early snapshot of the Greek manuscripts. The rest of it is of less authority, being later, and so not really older than the Greek manuscripts we have.