What is the Deal with the Old Testament?

The first bible I bought in the Orthodox Tradition confused me. The problem wasn’t with the New Testament or the Apocryphal texts. The New Testament is in the same order as it is for other Christian traditions. I was familiar with the Apocrypha from both seminary and my brushes with Anglicanism. The translation wasn’t a problem since I had used the New King James frequently and it’s a solid translation of the text. What confused me was both the order of the Old Testament canon and the source of that canon.

I took a summer Hebrew course which fulfilled a requirement for ordination into the Presbyterian church. Greek is the other language which I had taken in my undergraduate work in religion. Late in 2011 I picked up my first Orthodox bible and noticed that the contents of it were all out of order. Here is the order of the books compared with the Roman Catholic order:

OrthodoxWestern (Catholic)
1 Kingdoms (1 Samuel)1 Samuel
2 Kingdoms (2 Samuel)2 Samuel
3 Kingdoms (1 Kings)1 Kings
4 Kingdoms (2 Kings)2 Kings
1 Chronicles (1 Paraleipomenon)1 Chronicles
2 Chronicles (2 Paraleipomenon)2 Chronicles
1 Ezra (2 Esdras)Ezra
2 Ezra (Ezra / 2 Esdras)Nehemiah
JudithEsther (includes additions to Esther)
Esther1 Maccabees
1 Maccabees2 Maccabees
2 MaccabeesJob
3 MaccabeesPsalms
Proverbs of SolomonSong of Songs (Song of Solomon)
EcclesiastesWisdom of Solomon
Song of SongsSirach (Ecclesiasticus)
Wisdom of SolomonIsaiah
Wisdom of SirachJeremiah
AmosBaruch (includes Letter of Jeremiah)
JoelDaniel (includes Susanna & Bel and the Dragon)
Lamentations of Jeremiah


Most Protestant versions further omit Apocryphal texts. So what was I looking at? The Orthodox Old Testament canon is not based on the Masoretic Hebrew text but on the Septuagint (LXX). I had learned a little about the LXX, but it was never placed in very high esteem. Now here I am in a tradition that uses only the LXX for its understanding of the Old Testament. Strange.

However, another fact I didn’t know (which again is puzzling given my courses in Old Testament and exegesis):

The LXX versions of OT passages are quoted almost exclusively in the NT (with 4 or 5 exceptions), over and against the medieval (and heavily revised) Masoretic/Hebrew text. Because of this (and the witness of apostolic and early Church fathers), it seems abundantly clear that the early Church — and even Christ Himself — were dependent upon the reliability and truth of the Greek translation of the scriptures.

What did I miss along the way? Was I asleep during a class somewhere or is my memory totally shot? I would have thought this bit of information, which upon review is a fact in the literature, would be pretty important not to forget.

I would be interested to get the thoughts of some of the Bible wonks who might read this!

  • http://www.onbehalfofall.org Vincent

    I would strongly recommend picking up a copy of the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) from Amazon.com for your OT studies. It isn’t the best for “devotional” reading, necessarily, but it gives you the full breadth of the Greek old covenant scriptures, and in a scholarly/critical edition.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/emergingorthodox/ Drew Tatusko

      Thanks for the tip. I had not seen that before but will check it out.

  • MarlovianDiscosophia

    I think the problem might be a sort of pseudo-Marcionism in Bible classes. In my New Testament course at seminary we never talked about how the New Testament overwhelmingly quotes the Septuagint rather than the Masoretic text. Why? Because it was the NEW Testament! So we focused on the Q-hypothesis and numerous other fragments of the New Testament that have been found.

    Really, all I learned (from a reputable Methodist seminary) about the Septuagint was mostly just that it existed and there might be an occasional interesting variance between the Septuagint and some of the other texts. I think seminaries fail to take into account the UNITY of the Old and New Testaments from a Christian theological position. And that leads to my earlier accusation of pseudo-Marcionism.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/emergingorthodox/ Drew Tatusko

      I wonder if this has to do with the overwhelming importance of historical-critical and narrative exegesis in the curricula. So much of what the early church used was allegory to see God as a unity through the Scriptures. One aspect I like about the Orthodox order of the Old Testament is that it is divided according to phases of past, present, and future. It makes the flow into the Gospel of Matthew far more smooth and there is a clearer unity. This is something Marcion was not in favor of and Tertullian clearly was.

  • Matthew

    At first glance the issues you mention seem to be valid but in fact they are misleading. The reason the early Church and Christ himself quoted the LXX and not the Hebrew text is because their spoken language was Greek and Aramaic. Believe it or not many Jews did not know Hebrew by this time and required a translation they could read. I am not sure who told you the Masoretic text was “highly revised” but even though the LXX is an early translation, the Medieval Masoretic text is actually a form of an even earlier text. Just because a text is written/copied/translated later, it can still be an earlier form of the text. We know this from its close correlation to the Dead Sea Scrolls (which predate the LXX). Also, the LXX is a translation which often attempts to maintain the nuance and structure of the Hebrew which often makes it sound archaic and therefore not “good” Greek. This also shows that the Greek translators valued the Hebrew text so highly they dare not change the sentence structure. Lastly, the NKJV is just a revision of the KJV which was based on only a few Byzantine manuscripts, which means it is not “solid”