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).