Maranatha – Aramaic in the New Testament (Post #4)

A while back I started a series of posts on Aramaic in the New Testament–an odd topic that is tough to find much about on the Internet. I’m taking the Aramaic words and phrases in the New Testament on a case by case basis, breaking down the details and explaining what’s going on.

In this post, I want to examine a word you have probably heard before: Maranatha. This word/phrase only occurs once in the New Testament: in 1 Cor 16:22. In the Greek, it looks like this: μαράνα θά, but this actually has no meaning in Greek itself. It is a transliteration of the Aramaic, marana tha (מָרָנָא תָּה) or marana atha (מָרָנָא אֲתָה). The Greek manuscripts disagree about how to spell this transliteration. Some have maran atha, others maranatha (you can see how these two match the second version of the Aramaic above) and the one I’ve chosen which is the text in the Nestle-Aland 27th critical edition.

This phrase even in Aramaic is a little grammatically confusing. It basically means “Our Lord, come!” so we have to point out three different elements:

1. The noun for “Lord” is mar. (As in Mar Ephrem, the great saint of Syriac/Aramaic Christianity.)

2. The suffix -na means “our.” Hence, “marana” is “our Lord.”

3. The verb tha (Come!) is the Peal Imperative 2nd masculine singular of the the verb atha. Atha means “he comes” and shows up in the alternate forms of maranatha. It is simply the 3rd masculine singular perfect form, the dictionary form for this word.

So maranatha can be translated either as “Our Lord, come!” or as “Our Lord comes/will come.” It could be a plea or a statement of fact. Many translators prefer the “plea form” since it is supported by the brief prayer in Revelation 22:20, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

This word only appears once in the New Testament, but it reappears in a very early Christian document, the Didache. Gareth Hughes wrote a little study on comparing the two uses of the word here.

There’s a little taste of Aramaic to begin your new year!

EDIT: I wanted to add a chart of the possibilities here for clarity’s sake.

Words Translation Parsing for Verb in bold
marana tha Our Lord, come! Peal Imperative 2nd masc singular (Older Imperial Aramaic)
maran atha Our Lord comes/will come Peal Perfect 3rd masc singular
maran atha Our Lord, come! Peal Imperative 2nd masc singular (Later 1st century Aramaic)

Here’s a very old article on Maranatha by Nathaniel Schmidt (1894).


5 thoughts on “Maranatha – Aramaic in the New Testament (Post #4)

  1. Steve Caruso

    The נא– /-na/ suffix is far too old for Jesus’ day (it’s Imperial/Biblical Aramaic). In Galilean Aramaic (a Western dialect and the dialect that Jesus and his early followers spoke) the 1st person plural pronominal suffix for singular nouns was ן– /-an/ and the masculine singular imperative of the verb אתי /athey/ is אתה /atha/ (as attested in Bereshit Rabba and Targum Neofiti; the first syllable would have been reduced, perhaps even to a simple shwa due to Galilean pronunciation).

    This would disambiguate it to מרן אתה /maran atha/ = “Come, Our Lord!” in the imperative and fit what is given in the Greek. :-)


  2. James DeFrancisco

    I am very pleased to see your emphasis on Aramaic and drilling down the meanings from transliterations in the Greek New Testament text. You may also find it very helpful to consult the Peshitta Aramaic (Syriac) text. In the Syriac, 1 Cor. 16:22 is Maran Atay – perfect tense – Our Lord has come. The verse in Rev. 22:20 is At MarYah Eshuaq – imperfect tense – Come, Lord Yah, Yeshua.

    Thank you for your interest in disseminating knowledge of the language of Our Lord.

    James J. DeFrancisco, PhD

  3. catholicbiblestudent Post author

    Hi Steve,
    Thank you for your detailed comment. I think it shows the nature of the text critical issue with this word in 1 Cor 16:22. The Nestle-Aland/UBS4 has “marana tha”, which matches the older imperial Aramaic, but the occurrence of the word in the Didache, “maran atha”, matches the later Aramaic, which you mention. The text critics reveal their Aramaic troubles over this word in their notes on 1 Cor 16:22–and of course, the original text would have no spaces to indicate a preference for either form. The crucial point you make though is that even in the form “maran atha” we could still have “Come, Our Lord.” I think I might add a chart for clarity.

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