At the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, in the wilderness that separates Egypt from Israel, there is an ancient monastery, St. Catherine's. Its library contains thousands of precious manuscripts, all waiting to be explored. One important manuscript is MT SINAI ARABIC CODEX 151. It has been microfilmed by a team of experts and is available at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
When Dr. Harvey Staal, a Reformed Church missionary in the Middle East, was taking advanced Arabic at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, one of his professors was Dr. Aziz Suriyal Atiya. Prof. Atiya was closely associated with the microfilming of the manuscripts, which was completed in the 1950s. Sensing that he had a potential scholar on his hands, Prof. Atiya encouraged Harvey Staal to work on the Mt. Sinai Arabic Codex 151.
Thus, began a lifetime project which culminated in the publication in 1985 of the manuscript in a two-volume work (English and Arabic). Printed in Louvain, Belgium, the new volumes are part of a renowned series of Christian Oriental texts. This impressive and masterly work covered 1,800 pages of typed manuscript, and the final proof reading was done in Beirut, during the Civil War.
The Mt. Sinai Arabic Codex 151 was indeed a most exciting discovery. It appears to be the oldest Arabic translation of the New Testament in existence. The original manuscript was completed in Damascus, Syria, around 1000 years before the Smith/Van Dyck translation of the Bible appeared in Beirut in 1865. Codex 151 consists of the Book of Acts, the Pauline and the General Epistles.
The translator was Bishr Ibn Al Sirri, an Eastern Christian living in Damascus, whose work was done about 200 years after the Arab conquest of the Middle East. Al Sirri chose to start the translation with Romans.
In his introduction to the English translation of Codex 151, Dr. Staal makes the following observation:
“This has been a most interesting, inspiring, and profitable study, especially from two aspects—word study and interpretation. There are several translations of individual words that add additional insight to our understanding of some of our basic Christian concepts. It is also most interesting to read the comments made by Middle Eastern Christians of a thousand years ago, reflecting the theology of people from a cultural background very similar to that of our Lord. We trust that some of this will carry over to you in the English translation.”
There is something mysterious and exciting about the desert monastery of St. Catherine. When Dr. Staal visited there, he discovered that Mt. Sinai Arabic Codex 151 was a fascinating bound book of a large size, with a remarkable cover of wood and leather. You could imagine, looking at it, that it was certainly one of a kind (perhaps the only Bible in Damascus in A.D. 867).
Those indeed were troubled times in the Middle East. The Mongolians who captured Baghdad in 1258, continued their march westward, causing great alarm in Syria.This manuscript probably was taken and deposited for safekeeping at the Monastery. As far as we know, it remained untouched until the microfilming in the 1950s.
Dr. Staal did not have to walk to St. Catherine's monastery. He flew to a small airstrip nearby. He was able to spend five memorable days there after completing his work on microfilming copies of the manuscript. What a thrill to see and touch and photograph the manuscript itself!
Dr. Staal recalls that he needed two hours to decipher just two lines when he first started on Philippians. It was like working with a code. The dots, which ordinarily distinguish various letters of the Arabic alphabet, were omitted. Evidently, they were not considered necessary for people educated enough to read the Bible!
For an example, consider that one particular mark ("stroke" in Arabic) like the bottom half of a circle could be taken for the letter "n", "b", "t", "th", or "y" according to where the dots were placed. The translation work became easier only after Harvey became completely familiar with Al Sirri's script. He spoke with great appreciation of the invaluable help of Dr. Jibrail S. Jabbur, of the American University of Beirut, who joined him in the labor of proofreading every word. Dr. Jabbur was able to help him greatly with some almost undecipherable words.
For personal Bible study, Dr. Staal's English translation of this ancient manuscript would provide many new insights. It simply is a literal translation of the Arabic text. Here you have an interpretation of various passages of Scripture by a Christian of the 9th century A.D. The translation into Arabic was made from the Aramaic (Syriac,) a language in common use in the Middle East for over 1000 years.
Al Sirri manuscript from A.D. 867 takes on immense importance. It helps everyone to understand the tremendous roots of Middle Eastern Christianity. Thoughts of Eastern Christians living under Islamic rule can be gleaned from the comments on the NT passages in the footnotes It should be a boost to the self-image of Eastern Christians as they face tremendous problems, especially in Syria, where the Civil War has been going on unabated, since March 2011!
I would like to pay special tributes to both the late Dr. Aziz Suriyal Atiya, and to my late colleague, Dr. Harvey Stall, whose contributions to the field of Biblical Studies are invaluable.
For those of us, Arabic-speaking Eastern Christians, we are grateful to the Lord God who called these men to labor in their specialized fields of research and crowned their efforts with the discovery of Codex 151. Our ancestors Arabized but did not Islamize. They remained faithful to their Christian faith. As Dhimmis, they endured persecution and marginalization; but in due time, they played a major role in the Arab Renaissance of the 19th century. For the sake of brevity, we refer to the Arabic translation of the Bible as the “Smith-Van Dyck” translation; we should add the names of their Lebanese colleagues, Bustani and Yazigi!
During the spring of 1986, my wife Shirley and I were in Cyprus. Harvey and Hilda Staal had moved there from Beirut, where the Civil War was raging. One evening, while visiting the Staal’s, I received with joy the Arabic version and its English translation of MT. SINAI ARABIC CODEX 151.
In this review, I propose to deal with the following subjects:
The Arabic language in the 9th century, in comparison with contemporaneous Arabic, similarities and differences .
The theology of Eastern Christianity, as revealed in Codex 151
The Value of the Syriac text of Codex 151, used by Al Sirri
The Arabic language in the 9th century, in comparison with today’s Arabic, similarities and differences.
Unlike English and French, the two European languages I’m conversant with, the written Arabic language (known as Classical Arabic) retains a quality that “immunizes” it against obsolescence.
For example, as I began reading Romans 1 in Codex 151, I did not encounter an archaic Arabic text, even though it differed from the Smith-Van Dyck translation that I have known since my earliest days. This may be explained by the fact that Classical Arabic is anchored to the language of the Qur’an, the first Arabic book in history. This is not to imply that the Arabic language hasn’t changed over the years. The style has changed greatly in comparison with that of the 19th century. Arabic has acquired a tremendous amount of new vocabulary throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries. Still, it retains the quality of absorbing new terms, without making earlier words obsolete.
Thus, Arabic differs from the English language where the works of Chaucer are not readily understood and require “interpretation” by experts like the late C.S. Lewis. Another example would be The Song of Roland, that was written in Anglo-Norman, about Charlemagne’s nephew Roland, who was killed at Roncevaux; after returning from a battle against the Saracens in Spain. When I was studying French literature in the 1940s, the text of the epic required a translation into French, so that we could understand it.
An equally important fact revealed by the language of Codex 151, is the approximate date for the Arabicization of the Christians in Syria and Mesopotamia. Within 200 years after the Arab-Islamic Futuhat (Conquests), Christians began to use Arabic as their daily language, giving the impetus for translating the Scriptures into Arabic.
As Sidney H. Griffith put it in his book, “ The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the 'People of the Book' in the Language of Islam” [i].
“By the ninth century in the Melkite community, it would seem that Arabic had already effectively replaced Greek for a century and more as the preferred ecclesiastical language from Alexandria in Egypt, to Jerusalem in Palestine, and even reaching to Antioch in Syria. Indeed, Jerusalem became the effective ecclesiastical center for the Arabic-speaking, Melkite church throughout the Oriental churches” [ii]
“It is notable that a Christian copyist working in Damascus in the middle of the ninth Christian century is already dating his text, a text obviously intended for Christian readers, according to the Islamic calendar, with no corresponding Christian dating. This usage bespeaks an already high degree of enculturation into the prevailing, public conventions of the World of Islam on the part of Arabic-speaking Christians in this milieu.” [iii]
The theology of Eastern Christianity, as revealed in Codex 151; and Comparisons of Codex 151 with the Smith-Van Dyck translation.
By reading the comments on the Biblical texts, we learn about the Evangelical beliefs of the Christians in Syria.
Beginning with the Letter to the Romans, the translator underlined the man’s inability to please God by his own efforts. He comments, “It is necessary for every person to believe in Christ in order to be saved from that punishment.” Romans 2
Commenting on Romans 3:19, “Since we have demonstrated from the Torah itself that is not possible for man to justify himself by works, therefore he is forced to the righteousness which is from faith.”
Therefore, the greatness of the benefit of the righteousness of faith has been demonstrated and Christ was the reason for that. Then let us remain in nearness and fellowship to God; and his sure word indicated this. Romans 5:1
Romans 5:8 is translated, “Christ died in our place (or as our substitute)” is better than “on our behalf.” of the SVD (Smith/Van Dyck) translation.
Another example of the translator’s theological position, is his comment on Romans 7:12 “The Law then is pure, and the commandment is pure, just, righteous:”
He desires to show the weakness of the Torah in order that the power of the Gospel may be known. That is, it has made me see good from evil, but it did not make me free, but I am like a slave to sin. It did not make me free from sin, as Christ will make me in the hereafter.
Having mentioned Al-Sirri’s Evangelical belief, his comment on Romans 8:1, manifests a serious flaw in the Anthropology of the Eastern Churches, namely the dichotomy between “soul” and “body”, implying that while the body was impacted by the Fall, the soul remained untouched and can obey the Law.
“There is therefore no condemnation to those who do not walk in the body, in Jesus Christ.” 8:1
He says, then if it is demonstrated that the soul chooses to follow the law of God, and the body is prevented from that through sin, then by necessity there is a need for the coming of Christ who saves us from all of that by our faith in him.
The comments on Romans 9 -11, clearly indicate that the Eastern Churches differed from the Augustinian heritage, by positing that Election was based on God’s foreknowledge, and of those deemed worthy of this favor.
“This is not all, but regarding Rebecca also, after intercourse with our father Isaac, before she gave birth to her two sons, and before the two of them did either good or bad, the choice of God was known beforehand in order to establish that it is not by works but by the One who appointed, because it was said that the older would be a slave to the younger, just as it is written, ‘Verily I love Jacob and I Hated Esau.’ ” 9:10-13
It demonstrated that in order to teach you that God does not follow the arrangement of the essence [the order of nature], but he chooses forhis character him who is worthy of his choice in accordance with what he knows about him beforehand.
“Then what shall we say now? Perhaps there is injustice with God? Far be it from that! Behold he also said to Moses, ‘I will mercy on whom I have mercy, upon whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion upon whom I have compassion.’ Nor is the matter therefore in the two hands of him who wishes, nor in the two hands of him who strives, but in the two hands of the merciful God, because in the book he said to Pharaoh, ‘Verily I have raised you up for this, in order to show my power to you and in order that my name may be proclaimed in all of the earth.’ Then he therefore has mercy upon whom he wills and makes it difficult for w3hom he wills.” 9:14-18
He says, Verily I said this to demonstrate that God does not follow the arrangement of nature, but by his grace he chooses
those who are worthy
. No one thinking [reasonable person] can say regarding me that I say the choice of God is foolish, or that is tyrannical.
[i] “The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the 'People of the Book' in the Language of Islam” Copyright © 2013 by Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540. Quotations from this work, are taken from the Kindle edition.
[ii] When in the second half of the eighth century CE, as we shall see, Arabic began to take its place among the languages of the Church of Jerusalem, it gradually grew in importance to the point that its use in theological discourse became one of the distinguishing features of a distinct Christian confessional community that emerged in the territories of the Caliphate, the Melkites. By the ninth century in the Melkite community, it would seem that Arabic had already effectively replaced Greek for a century and more as the preferred ecclesiastical language from Alexandria in Egypt, to Jerusalem in Palestine, and even reaching to Antioch in Syria. 48 Indeed, Jerusalem became the effective ecclesiastical center for the Arabic-speaking, Melkite church throughout the Oriental in any detail, however, we must first consider the general state of the manuscript evidence.
[iii] “It is notable that a Christian copyist working in Damascus in the middle of the ninth Christian century is already dating his text, a text obviously intended for Christian readers, according to the Islamic calendar, with no corresponding Christian dating. This usage bespeaks an already high degree of enculturation into the prevailing, public conventions of the World of Islam on the part of Arabic-speaking Christians in this milieu. Secondly, the translation was made from Syriac, indicating that the Melkite translator and scribe, Bishr ibn as-Sirri, was himself a Syriac-speaker, who belonged to an ecclesial community with an originally Syriac patristic and liturgical heritage, albeit that he was a congregant in an Arabic-speaking church, which professed the orthodoxy of the Greek-speaking Byzantine church of the Roman Empire.”
“Let every soul be subject to the higher authorities, because there is no authority that is not from God.” Romans.” 13:1
Many who became Christians and renounced the world, were thinking that it was not necessary to honor leaders, but it was necessary to hate them just as it was necessary to hate evil ones. The blessed Paul wanted to turn them aside, back from this idea, and teach them the place of authority in the world.
Codex 151 is more precise in its translation of certain Arabic words, such as in I Corinthians 2:16, “However, we verily have the mind of Christ.”
the term ’Aql, (Mind) in this translation, is more accurate than فِكْر, Fikr (Thought) used in SVD.
Codex 151 translates I Cor. 6:12. “Verily, everything is permissible for me, but not everything benefits me,” is clearer and better than “agreeable to me” in SVD.
It’s noteworthy that In the comments of Codex 151, the formulation of the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and of the Person of Jesus Christ, are in conformity with the Nicene Creed as interpreted at the Chalcedonian Council. While there is no direct reference to the Ecumenical Creeds, Arianism is mentioned as a heresy.
“Still for us God the Father is one, from whom is everything. We are in him. The Lord Jesus Christ is one, by whose hand are all things. We also are by his hand.” I Cor 8:6
That is that divinity, creation, lordship, and control are common to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, to show the unity of God, because whoever is truly a lord is truly a god. And whoever is truly a god is truly a lord. In the name “Jesus Christ” there is an indication of the divinity and the humanity, because it indicates the person whom he took, and the Spirit who anointed him, and the Eternal Son who dwelt in him and was united with him, who is the Son of the Father.
“Look at Israel which is according to the body.” I Cor 10:18
That is the physical Israel, that is the Jews, because the Israel of God is spiritual, that is, the Christians.
“I have received from our Lord the thing I have instructed you.” I Cor 11:23
That is in the four sections of the Gospel.
The reference to the four-fold Gospel indicates that the translation of the NT books had been accomplished, even though Codex 151 includes only the Acts and the Epistles.
“However, my brethren, regarding the spiritual things,” I Cor 12:1
In the beginning of the matter of Chrsitianity, many of the believers were given spiritual gifts. Some of them prophesied concerning the matters that were coming. Some of them spoke in languages which they did not know previously. Some of them were given other gifts.
“May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen” II Cor 13:14
This petition is according to the custom at the end of his letters. He did not want to make a distinction in separating these terms, but he meant, may there be to you the grace, love, and fellowship in Christ the Son, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. That is a definite reply to the followers of Arius, who argue that the Father is the Creator, and the Son is created, because the Father precedes in the arrangement. Behold, Paul has arranged the name of the Son before the name of the Father, to indicate that the essence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one. Putting the name first or last does not indicate a difference in the essence. Then Paul says, “Since you have been made worthy of the grace of God, you have been given Paradise in love, and you have received acceptance and fellowship with him.”
In the Introduction to the Epistle to the Galatians, we notice the use of the Arabic term nazala i.e. descended, indicating that this Islamic concept of revelation was current among the Eastern Christians in Syria. Nowadays, Arabic-speaking Christians use the termwahi (inspired) as in II Timothy 3:16كُلُّ الْكِتَابِ هُوَ مُوحًى بِهِ مِنَ اللهِ
Or, as in II Peter 21: 16b, the term is masuqeen (moved)بَلْ تَكَلَّمَ أُنَاسُ اللهِ الْقِدِّيسُونَ مَسُوقِينَ مِنَ الرُّوحِ الْقُدُسِ.
In the translation of Gal. 3:24 regarding the role of the Law, “Therefore, the Torah was for us a guide to Christ, in order that we may be made righteous from faith,” the term ‘daleel ‘(guide) is clearer than ‘ muaddeb’ (pedagogue) used in SVD translation.
“Think this concerning yourselves, that which Jesus also thought, that one who, although he was in the likeness of God, did not count it stealing that he was equal with God; but he made himself destitute, took the likeness (form) of the servant, became in the likeness of mankind, and in form he was found as a man. He humbled himself and obeyed until death; however, the death was that of the cross. For this reason, God also exalted his standing, and gave him a name superior to every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, in earth, and under the earth; and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, in praise God his Father.” 2:5-11
Christ did not consider himself great because he was God, the Creator of everything, and he was not proud of his majesty, but accepted base matters below his greatness for the benefit of others. Because he was equal to God, he would have been able to use force against death and Satan to save his creation from the opponent; but since he wanted to pay the debt of Adam who desired to become a god, he became a submissive dying slave. Since he was a god by nature and did not take that by stealth or snatching from someone else, for that reason he made himself destitute of glory, because he knew he made himself destitute, no one could steal his greatness from him, because was essential, original, not brought in, borrowed; because submission by will does no harm to natural honor.
Codex 151 begins with this brief Introduction explaining that the Judaizers had confused the new believers by teaching that keeping the Law was still a requirement. So, Paul wrote the Letter to remind them to remain faithful to the message of the Gospel that was delivered to them by Epaphras, the trusted emissary.
“[I thank] God the Father who made us worthy to share in the in the inheritance of the saints in light and saved us from the power of darkness. And he brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, through whom we have salvation and forgiveness of sins; that one who is the likeness of the unseen God, and the firstborn of all of the creation; by whom everything in heaven and in earth was created, all that is seen and all that is not seen, … everything was created by his hand and in him exists; and he is the head of the body of the congregation (church).” 1:12-18
Some of Paul’s words point to the humanity of Christ which is united in the sonship, and some of it points to his divinity. Then his saying, ‘the beloved’ as the Greek text witnesses, points to the fact that we become partners in the humanity of Christ in ruling, as ruling is ours by nature.
“Our evangelizing with you was not only in words, but also with our hands, and with the Holy Spirit, and with true conviction.” 1:5a
In evangelizing you, we did not limit ourselves to speaking alone, but we joined signs and wonders with our words.
“I would like you to know, oh my brothers, that concerning those who sleep, do not be mourning like the rest of the people who have no hope; because we who believe that Jesus has died and has been raised, then likewise also God will bring those who are asleep in Jesus with him.” 4:13,14
He mentions now the hereafter and the good of the resurrection, and that for this reason excessive mourning was not befitting them. He says, ‘If we truly believe in the resurrection of Christ, then we must believe also that we shall also rise, just as he arose, that we may be with him in his reign.
“Then we are requesting of you, oh my brothers, either upon the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, or about being gathered to him, that you do not become quickly disturbed in your thoughts and do not be bewildered neither from a word, nor from a spirit, nor from a letter as if it were from us, alleging that behold the day of our Lord has arrived. Perhaps a person will deceive you with one of these things, because if the rebellion does not come first, and the person of sin appear, the son of destruction, that one who is the stubborn one; and the one who displays an arrogant behavior over everyone who is called a god, and a place of sacrifice, so that he even sits in the temple God as a god, and thinks of himself as if he is God.” 2:1-4
He came now to address them in the matter of the end of the world. He says, “However, do not accept a saying regarding that from one who wishes to deceive you and delude you that the time had come extremely near. Do not accept it from one who alleges that that was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle Paul had left Timothy behind in the city of Ephesus, to tour in all the country of Asia and administer the churches that are in it. Then he wrote him this letter soon after he had left him, to warn the believers lest they be led to those calling for the keeping of the laws of Judaism in Christianity. And after that he counselled him regarding what it was necessary for him to do when he was the director (administrator) of the churches (congregations), and for that reason he added his words regarding all levels [of the congregation] and showed how everyone who considered himself a believer should be. He added what was necessary for the ministers (priests), and what was necessary for the deacons, and for the widows, and for the rest of the people. During that he made mention of faith, because it was appropriate to his teaching, and he did not fail to mention anything in this letter which was for the good of all the public.
“And we know that the Torah is good, if the person conducts himself according to the Torah; since we know that the Law was not given for the righteous, but for the wicked.” 1:8, 9a
He says ‘I said this saying not because I blame or reject the Torah, but to attach the blame to those who do not use it correctly.
“The word is true, that if one desires being a bishop, then he desires a good work, except that it is necessary he be a bishop in whom there is no fault, and was the husband of one wife, whose mind is alert, and he is a chaste, serious, a lover of strangers, a scholar.” 3:1,2
“He called being a bishop, a work and not an authority, to reprove the one who uses leadership like the authority of the people of the world. That is, he should not join together two wives or concubines with his wife, like the Jews, nor he should be like the pagans. However, if he married one wife and she died, in the presence of this, he has become in purity, so that the arrangement of the priest shall be higher than the general arrangement.”
The Arabic text and its translation are not clear. Most likely it meant that a bishop (priest) may not remarry after the passing of his wife. It is a tradition that has been followed in the Eastern Churches, both Orthodox and non-Chalcedonian.
“Then, if I am delayed, then you will know how to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the congregation (church) of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.” I Timothy 3:15
He means by the congregation (church) which is the pillar and foundation of the truth, the group of the believers, because when we are firm in the faith, then the truth is with us, but if we turn into infidelity, then the truth turns away from us, because the knowledge of truth in the world is seen through the believers.
“And truly the mystery of this righteous (just) one is great, because he appeared in the body, and was justified in the Spirit, and showed himself to the angels, and was proclaimed among the peoples, and was believed on in the world, and ascended in glory.” I Timothy 3:16
He says, “The mystery of our faith is great, that God the Word who is invisible in his essence, dwelt in one of us, and appeared in him to people in order to make all of them alive.”
“I am indeed longing for the sight of you. Verily I indeed remember your tears, in order that I may be filled with happiness in the memory I have for your true faith, which dwelt first in Lois, your grandmother, and in your mother Eunice, and I know that is in you also. For this reason, I remind you to wake up the gift of God that is in you by the laying on of my hand, because God did not give us the spirit of fear, but the spirit of power of love and exhortation.” II Timothy 1:4-7
That is, it is not necessary for us to be dismayed by what is sent down on us of hardships, because in the grace of the Holy Spirit we have enough to strengthen us and make us firm in the love of God.
“Then when the goodness and mercy of God, who makes us live, appeared, not by works of righteousness which we did, but by his special mercy, he made us alive by the washing of the birth which was from before, and by the renewal of the Holy Spirit, that which he poured out upon us richly in Jesus Christ, the one who makes us live, that we may be made righteous by his grace Then we are heirs in the hope of eternal life.” 3:4-7
That is that we may become righteous by our faith that he pours out upon us of his grace, and we inherit the eternal well-being of the hereafter.
A lengthy introduction explaining the reason for Paul’s omission of his usual salutations
“It was the intention of the Apostle Paul to answer these arguments with abundant wisdom; and he began the opening statement of his letter in answer to the opponents, and showed that Jesus, and not he alone, resembles the prophets, but the honor of his divinity is higher and more honorable without ending though that he was in his humanity while he had fellowship with them in nature. And he began to talk about the two natures as speaking in one aspect. And for that reason, words are found in it which refer to his divinity sometimes, and words in which he refers to his humanity sometimes. And he shows that he is greater than he prophets, and greater than the angels.”
“In all sections and in all likenesses, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets previously, and in these last days he spoke to us in his Son whom he made an heir to everything, and in him he created the worlds.” 1:1,2
However, with the first people, while the revelation of God was by means of those sections and likenesses, however, in these last times then he has spoken to us in his Son when he became incarnate.
“And he made the cleansing of our sins and sat down at the right of Majesty in the heights. And all this is greater than the angels, just as the name of the one who inherits is greater than their name.” 1: 3b,4
When he had shown the majesty of his divinity, he went on to mention his humanity, that is the person taken. He says that Christ, after he had suffered, purified our sins.
“For this reason, it is necessary for us that we should be increasingly keeping (protecting) that thing which we heard so that we will not fall.” 2:1
It is necessary to be on our guard, because if the Torah, which was sent down upon the hands of angels, had reached the place in its power where the one who disobeyed it was not saved from punishment because the punishment was attached to every law in it, if it were not kept; then verily how shall we be able to be saved from punishment, if we approach the matters of Christ with slackness?
“Then let us be afraid therefore, lest while the promise to enter into his rest remains firm, there be found one of you who stays away from entering. Because we also have had the gospel preached to us just as those also had it preached to them, but the word which they heard was of no interest to them, because it was not mixed with faith to those who heard it.” 4: 1,2
Then if we have heard this saying which David said by the revelation of the Spirit, and have seen what there was of the matter of the first ones and what happened to them, then it is necessary for us to fear lest we, while we were promised entrance into the rest, are lax in our striving; and in the wickedness of our consciences and our lives, we waver between ourselves and entering [i.e. the Rest].
“ And these, all of them, gave witness by their faith, while the promise was not fulfilled to them; because God had previously looked into our benefit so that they would not be made perfect without us.” 11:39,40
He indicated by this saying that the time in which those righteous will be rewarded is one, and that they did all of these matters in faith, and they are still looking forward to the fulfillment of which they were promised, since they are not murmuring about receiving the reward with us, who have come after them by ages. And that, all of it, is an indication of their patience, and calls us to patience, and to imitating them in their striving, in order that we may share with them in paradise.
“These letters which are fourteen, have been translated from Syriac into Arabic, and the weak, poor sinner Bishr ibn al-Sirri, has explained their comments as was possible for him, briefly, for his spiritual brother Solomon. And he completed that in the month of Ramadan, of the year two hundred and fifty-three, in the city of Damascus. And praise to God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever, Amen.”
“May God have mercy upon the one who prays for the translator, the author, and the owner, with mercy and forgiveness.
“Oh Lord, forgive the one who made this book. Amen.”