Here’s Something about the Bible of the First Christians I Bet Many of You Didn’t Know (you’re welcome)

Before there was a New Testament, the Bible of the first Christians (the writers of the New Testament and the early Church) was a Greek translation of the Old Testament. The general term used to designate that translation is “Septuagint.”

Think about that: the Old Testament of the New Testament writers and of the early Church was a translation–and an imperfect one at that.

You’d think, at key moment of God’s self-disclosure, the gospel of  Jesus Christ, God would have worked from the original so nothing got lost in translation. But he didn’t. Which should make you think about whether God is as uptight about the precise wording of the Bible as some make him out to be. But I digress.

Most Christians have never heard of the Church’s first Bible. Today’s post is an interview with Timothy Michael Law, who is going to talk about it.

Law is the author of When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible and founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Marginalia Review of BooksHe is currently an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow in the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen and affiliated with the Septuaginta Unternehmen. After receiving his PhD in the Oriental Institute in Oxford in 2009, Law was a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow until 2012.

First of all, basically, what is the Septuagint?

It’s the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The word means “seventy,” which refers to the legendary idea that 72 Jewish scribes miraculously translated the Pentateuch in 72 days in the 3rd century BC. This is why the common abbreviation for the Septuagint is the Roman numeral LXX, “seventy.”

In truth, the origins of the Greek translation are much more complex. Some books were translated in the 3rd century BCE in Alexandria, Egypt, but others were translated much later, perhaps as late as the 2nd century CE, in Palestine.

Some, like Samuel or Jeremiah, were translated from Hebrew texts that differ significantly from the Hebrew text that came to form the standard version of the Jewish Bible, which is the basis for our English Old Testament.

Also, most think of the Septuagint as simply the “translation of the Old Testament,” but in fact the Septuagint also contains a number of other books composed in Greek (no Hebrew or Aramaic original). These were later designated as “Apocrypha.” But all of these scriptures played a vital role in both Hellenistic Judaism and early Christianity. Protestants have lost an awful lot by not knowing these books.

Another reason “translation of the Old Testament” is imprecise is that early on “Septuagint” referred only to the Pentateuch. But by the time you get to 3rd and 4th centuries CE writers like Origen and Eusebius, the term had already been applied to the entire body of Jewish Scriptures they now called the “Old Testament.” So this is why most of us today refer to the whole thing as Septuagint, even though we keep in mind the imprecision of the term.

Here’s the money question: why should we care? Tell us a bit about what you were trying to accomplish with this book. 

The simplest answer is that in the first centuries of Christianity the Old Testament was the Septuagint. The Hebrew Bible that is now studied in most educational contexts, like seminaries and universities, emerged later. These early Christians also considered the Septuagint to be inspired by God, as did Greek-speaking Jews like Philo of Alexandria.

During my time as a seminarian, I was struck when I read a scholar’s claim that the Septuagint was the “First Bible of the Church.” I then noticed lots of New Testament citations of the Old Testament were derived from the Septuagint, not from the Hebrew Old Testament.

It was one of those moments when I thought, “Why haven’t I learned anything about this?” I soon found out that I wasn’t alone, and even many scholars had trouble articulating exactly what the Septuagint was beyond simply “it’s a translation of the Hebrew.”

But if this was the Bible of the early Church, surely it is important; and not only to people of faith but also to historians. Tessa Rajak succeeds marvelously in her gambit to recover the Greek Bible as a piece of Jewish history. I wanted to do something similar by exploring the Septuagint as a little known piece of Christian history.

So why has the Septuagint been underexplored or ignored?

Because, for centuries the Septuagint has been regarded as a mere translation of the Hebrew, one of the “versions,” and so mainly a tool to help us understand the “original” Hebrew. If you are a student of the Hebrew Bible, you hear of the Septuagint because you might need help every now and then when the Hebrew is unclear. Other than that, unless you are a specialist, you might never learn anything else about it.

What value is there to the Septuagint as a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament? What can we learn from it?

Any translation of the Bible is much more than a mirror copy (just think of how English translations differ from each other). In many places in the Septuagint, yes, one is reading word for word the same text found in the Hebrew. In many other places, however, the translation yields different theological emphases than those found in the Hebrew Bible; the translation has created new meanings.

We also know, as I mentioned above, that some books in the Septuagint were translated from Hebrew texts that are radically different from those in modern editions of the Hebrew Bible, and thus in English Bible translations. This has been brought to light through studying the Dead Sea Scrolls.

That means the Septuagint sometimes reveals an older version of the Old Testament than those that exist in the Hebrew Bibles we use in seminaries and universities. The Septuagint gives us glimpses into earlier stages in the Bible’s development, before the completion of the Hebrew Bible that is now the basis of modern translations. This is especially problematic for those who put their entire faith in the pursuit of the “original text.”

Can you give us an example or two of how the Septuagint gives us glimpses into the earlier stages of the Bible’s development?

One of the best-known stories from the Old Testament is that of David and Goliath. In the Septuagint, the story is about half the length as the account in the Hebrew Bible. It lacks the details about David delivering food to his brothers, his first hearing of Goliath’s challenge, and his contemplation on the risk/reward of getting involved (17:12-31). Also missing are the covenant Jonathan makes with David (18:1-5) and the story of Saul’s evil spirit (18:10-11).

Careful study reveals that the Septuagint version is definitely the earlier form of the story–the Septuagint didn’t just “leave things out” by mistake. It was translated from an earlier version of the Hebrew Bible where these details were absent. The version of the story we know is a later, expanded, version.

Another interesting case is found in Jeremiah 31:27-34 (38:27-34 in the Septuagint). The Hebrew Bible highlights the unshakable faithfulness of God in spite of the disobedience of Israel. The key is in verse 32, which in the Hebrew Bible reads

“…a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband.”

The Septuagint, however, has

“…because they did not abide in my covenant, and I was unconcerned for them.”

Here, too, the Septuagint reading is the original, and the later change is theologically driven. The later editors of the Hebrew Bible thought the idea that God was “unconcerned” for Israel was out of step with his character of faithfulness claimed by other texts.

This prompted the change to this startling phrase in order to reinforce God’s faithfulness, having him say, “though I was their husband,” which means, “though I remained faithful to them in spite of their disobedience.”

As an example of how important and authoritative the Greek Old Testament was for New Testament writers, the author of Hebrews (8:9) quotes the LXX of Jeremiah to reinforce the idea that God was “unconcerned” for disobedient Israel.

This brings us to an important question especially for those interested in Protestant Christian history. The Reformers, in focusing on the Hebrew Old Testament, were not really going back to the sources, as they claimed, were they?

Well, no, not exactly. They thought they were, but they weren’t. We can’t be too hard on them for not knowing about all these textual complexities, though, since the Dead Sea Scrolls weren’t discovered until 1947. We, however, need to be more nuanced in our thinking.

My book ends in the fifth century with Jerome, who gave the Church the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Old and New Testament that would come to dominate the western Church for centuries. Jerome’s work is the beginning of the end for the Septuagint in western Christendom. After studying with rabbis and engaging in polemical interactions with Jews, Jerome felt the Church needed a translation based on the “original” Hebrew Bible of his Jewish counterparts. This inclination actually started before Jerome, but Jerome was the first to make such a strong case that the Church had gone off the path by following the Septuagint.

Reformers, then, have to be seen as the ones who completed the job. The new offshoot of Christendom that came to be known as Protestantism would likewise prioritize the Hebrew Bible above the Septuagint and even the Vulgate. What is almost tragically comical, though, is that they didn’t actually lead the Church back to the “sources,” at least if one understands the sources as the earliest Hebrew text.

This is where the Dead Sea Scrolls messed everything up, because no one could call the Septuagint translators crazy anymore. We know now that there were many other variant forms of the Hebrew scriptures circulating before the time of Jesus. The Hebrew Bible that Jerome and the Reformers took to be more authentic and “original” was nothing of the sort. It was a later, heavily edited version of a diverse back history of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Septuagint provides an earlier glimpse into that history. The Reformers played a significant role in mislabeling as “original” the later version of the Old Testament.

Give an example or two of New Testament authors quoting the Septuagint where it differs significantly from the Hebrew Old Testament we have today.

In Romans 9:33, Paul cites Isaiah 28:16, which speaks of God laying in Zion (Jerusalem) a precious cornerstone. Paul adjusts this quote to say that the stone, i.e., Christ, will provide salvation to those who trust in him, and that the stone will also be a stumbling block that many will trip over (he uses the same ideas in Rom 11:9-12 and 1 Cor 1:23).

Ross Wagner has shown that Paul relies on the Septuagint reading to give Isaiah a Christological meaning: the Septuagint asserts the one who trusts “in him”—that is, in the stone—will not be “put to shame.” The Hebrew version of Isaiah leaves undefined the object of one’s trust and says “will not panic” rather than “will not be put to shame.”

In Rom 15:11 Paul cites Deut 32:43. The Septuagint text of Deut 32:43 is not found in the Hebrew: “Be glad, O nations, with his people, and let all the angels of God prevail for him.” The mention of “nations,” or “Gentiles,” allows Paul to extend the invitation to Gentiles to come worship with Israel.

A third example, if I may, is more radical, since it shows how a New Testament writer adopts a Septuagint reading that is obviously a mistranslation or misreading of the Hebrew.  In Rev 2:26-27; 12:5; and 19:15 we read of one who will come and rule with an iron rod, which is certainly an allusion to Psalm 2. “Rule” is the Septuagint reading, but the Hebrew psalmist says that the one to whom God gives authority will “break” the enemies with a rod of iron.

The Septuagint translator has either misunderstood or misread the Hebrew verb, which looks very similar to the verb for “rule.” The writer of Revelation has simply followed “his Bible,” the Septuagint, which allows him to make his theological point that the Lord will come to rule the nations.

What are some theological implications of all this for Christian readers of the Bible?

I end the book asking this very question. The Septuagint is a central component of the New Testament and the early Church, so it is mind-boggling that it has been ignored. Those with an interest in Christian theology will have plenty to consider, but until the Septuagint is taken seriously and studied extensively, we have to wait and see. I am also editing the Oxford Handbook on the Septuagint, and we have asked a contributor to explore this question. But it really could be a doctoral dissertation topic for some interested student.

One thing we do not need to wait any longer to say is this: the existence of multiple forms of scripture (Greek and Hebrew) in antiquity, both before, during, and after the time of Christ, did not bother early Christians. The search for an “original text” on which to ground one’s faith is a distinctively modern worry. Even when Christians began recognizing divergences between the Jewish Scriptures and their own, many saw it as an opportunity to discover more than one way to understand divine communication.

My book is certainly not meant to attack cherished beliefs for the sake of being a controversialist. Though potentially unsettling, I wrote constructively, to tell the story of an ignored part of the history of the Christian Bible. We have to be honest that the nice, neat pictures we have constructed may not be true to reality. I like this quote of Augustine:

Accordingly, when anyone claims, “Moses meant what I say,”and another retorts, “No, rather what I find there,” I think that I will be answering in a more religious spirit if I say, “Why not both, if both are true?” And if there is a third possibility, and a fourth, and if someone else sees an entirely different meaning in these words, why should we not think that he was aware of all of them?

Augustine, Confessions 12.31.42

 

  • NateW

    Thanks for this, Peter. I was a theology major in college, but never learned Greek and never realized the nuances involved in the NT author’s use of the Septuagint. For me, this affirms what I think is a needed shift of thought regarding scripture, namely the idea that the Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture is not that he was able to divinely overrule human fallibility, but that He works within it and through it to, paradoxically, disclose greater depths and nuances of Truth. The Bible can still be infallible though it is not all technically correct because the primary truth is not clerical but spiritual.

    • Sadman

      That is the biggest bunch of gobblygook I’ve heard in a long time. What does “paradoxically, disclose greater depths and nuances of Truth” mean. It sounds like the NT is an invention of man, and you are trying to put some kind of spiritual spin on it. If the text is fallible, then how can you know what is true? I wish you could jettison all your seminary speak and just write plainly. Otherwise. It’s just obfuscation.

      • Kripanand Komanapalli

        I can recommend a good book for you sir, its written by a bloke called Peter Enns and is titled “Inspiration and Incarnation.” Although its primarily a book on the Old Testament, there is enough there to address the questions you have raised related to “gobblygook”

      • NateW

        Haha, my own brain feels gobblygooky most of the time, so I’m not surprised to hear that it shows in a blog comment. : )

        Just an FYI, I didn’t go to seminary, just am the proud owner of a B.A. in “Christian Thought” from a fairly conservative christian college that is nearly devoid of any practical use. Is a good thing I’m a self-employed photographer!

        Anyway, please don’t mishear me as saying that the text is fallible. It is not. But the Truth that is spoken perfectly is of a different sort than that which we value most highly in our modern times. We tend to look into the bible to find hard-bound encyclopedic truth that we can hang our hat on, but, I think, the bible is more interested in teaching us how to see than what to know. Perhaps you could say that it’s more poem than dictionary, more novel than history book. That isn’t meant to deny that much (or even all) of the bible is is factually True, only that this factual truth is secondary to the spiritual truth it bears directly to our hearts. If there comes a point where science or rationality makes us nervous, then it is there that we have to start wondering if our own ideas about God have taken his place in our hearts.

        One more time, just to be exceptionally clear: I am not saying that any Biblical events did or did not happen. I cannot know that. But I do know beyond any doubt that Christ (meaning all that His name stands for) is the keystone from which all truth extends and against which all words and actions will be judged. I will not be judged on the accuracy of my words about God (THANK YOU GOD) but on the extent to which my speech manifests Christ-like love to those I speak to. I will be judged by the “spirit” of my words, not by the “letter” just as will every other person, including the biblical authors. It is my view that the NT authors wrote with utter purity of heart and love for their readers (AKA “filled” with the Holy Spirit) such that the effect upon those who read with open eyes is an experience of Christ. This experience of Christ is the Truth that Scripture infallibly conveys and so we must read graciously, allowing the authors to make mistakes, knowing that these “errors” would not have hidden their spirit filled heart, gushing with grace and love, from their original audience.

        I do apologize that this still might not seem very straightforward, and may evenen gobblygooky. Just know that I’m doing the best that I can with this ADHD brain of mine and keep in mind that it is meant with love. : )

      • Derek

        It’s spelled “gobbledygook” /grammar Nazi.

  • Brett

    Stylistically, when a different type style, such as boldface text, is used too much to emphasize points important to the writer, it loses its ability to draw attention. That has happened in this piece.

    • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

      Is this a veiled critique of the uncial manuscripts?

      • Brett

        Heh. No, it’s advice to the article writer to tone down the boldface.

  • Jeff Martin

    What wasn’t mentioned is that many of the choices of translation have to do with the ambiguity of the Hebrew. For instance the LXX calls the one who bought Joseph a “chief butcher” and not “captain of the guard”. The key word in Hebrew simply means “slayer”.

    • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

      This is true in many cases, but not in all. Especially not in some of the more profound passages with Christological implications (such as Paul in Hebrews).

  • PuritanD71

    What I find interesting is that the author does not seem to mention that regarding the LXX that there are four major copies that have differences as well. And that there is a need to consolidate them. It should make one wonder which copy of the LXX the author was using….

    • peteenns

      You are referring to the1st and 2nd c. recensions, I take it, or something else? Rest assured, regardless, that LXX is the author well aware the complexities of the topic, but given the venue, I asked him to keep things as simple as possible while still making the point.

    • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

      I wouldn’t venture too far down this path, unless you’re willing to also undercut the entire manuscript tradition of the Scriptures, refuting any semblance of inerrancy one might claim to hold. :-)

  • Wyatt Roberts

    Pete: do you think the story in Luke 10, with Jesus sending out the 70/72 disciples, is an allusion to the story of the LXX?

    • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

      70/72 seems to be an important symbolic number in the Scriptures, in any case, whether there’s a direct correlation or not.

  • Mark McEntire

    Thanks for the great interview and calling out attention to this new book. The David-Goliath discussion is most interesting to me. Notice that the Greek version is also missing the odd conversation between Saul and Abner in Sam 17:55-58. This difference can be used to argue for the position that the MT is earlier at this point. This text creates such enormous conflict with I Sam 16:18-21, that it is difficult to imagine anybody adding it later. It is easy to see why someone would remove it. Conflict with 16:18-21 could also provide motivation for removing 17:12-30.

  • Bobby Valentine

    While I believe the LXX is incredibly important I found a couple of things to quibble with. 1) don’t most scholars think in terms of Septuagints rather than THE LXX? 2) Most students of the Apocrypha would probably disagree they were “composed” in Greek (Wisdom of Solomon may have been) 3) The Dead Sea Scrolls do show there was some variation in the Hebrew texts but they do not simply undercut the MT. 4) and to say that Jerome finally killed the LXX seems like overstatement to me. The emerging Western Church lost connection with the LXX considerably earlier working with Old Latin texts that were perhaps translations of translations. But I look forward to reading this book and see how it compares with other recent works like Silva’s & Jobes and Martin Hengel’s. Thanks for always bring out good stuff.

    • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

      You make a few great points.

      1) This is true. The Torah was likely the original translation done by “the seventy” (or 72), as referenced by the Aristeas letter as well as St Justin Martyr and others. However, the rest was done in successive history, prior to the composition of the DSS, obviously (we see Greek manuscripts here, and “LXX” versions of various books).

      2) Thank you! This is a great point, and it is such an outdated argument, I’m surprised it is still peddled. The Deuterocanonical books or whatever you want to call them (“Scripture” for me) were not all written in Greek. Per the DSS and other evidence, it seems clear that MOST of them were composed in Aramaic or “modern” Hebrew (i.e. late-BC, early-AD Hebrew).

      3) This is also true. What we learn from the DSS is not that the MT is the “original text,” nor that the LXX is the “original text,” but that there were a variety of canons and textual traditions in circulation by the end of the BC era. And this was perfectly fine with the early Christians. Inerrancy or “original autographs” (and therefore, Sola Scriptura) was both unthinkable and impossible.

      4) Agreed. Jerome actually caved in a lot of ways to the pressures of Damasus I and St. Augustine.

  • Fr. Stephen De Young

    This is the kind of thing that both frustrates and gladdens Orthodox Christians. Gladdens, because other than a few oversimplifications (which Pete has already addressed here in the comments) Western folk are finally discovering the truth about the LXX, or what the East has always just called ‘the Old Testament’. Frustrates because there’s a certain amount of reinvention of the wheel going on, where we could have helped you with this stuff. Admittedly, there’s been as little communication from our side as their has been listening from the other historically, so its as much our fault as anybody’s.
    And of course, the reality of our Bible has informed our view of the Holy Scriptures as part of Holy Tradition. A part of what has been passed down to us from the Apostles is this particular set of books. And in the case of our Old Testament, its a set of books that have been translated, edited and re-edited. For us, Holy Tradition et al. is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church, and so the Spirit was behind not just someone setting pen to paper…or reed to tablet…but all of those steps in the process from then to now, when it is read and from it Christ is proclaimed in the Liturgy.
    To anybody who’s really interested in this and isn’t Greek fluent, I’d recommend picking up a copy of the Orthodox Study Bible that was co-published a few years ago by Thomas Nelson and Conciliar Press. The Old Testament is directly translated from the Septuagint, and the notes are a treasure trove of early Christian interpretation.

    • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

      Great thoughts, Fr Stephen.

  • James C. Elliott

    Is there a translation of the LXX that the author would recommend for us lay folk who do not know much about such things but desperately wish to learn? I know the Orthodox Study Bible supposedly was based on the LXX for the OT, but the Orthodox scholars who have since reviewed it find it closer to the NKJV with apocrypha than to the LXX.

    • Brian J Henry

      I like the NETS. It’s the only recent translation of the LXX I know of other than the OSB. http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/

      • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

        Great for scholarly research, bad for “devotional” reading.

    • John Stamps

      For the record, the so-called apocryphal books in the OSB were translated from scratch, mostly because they weren’t previously translated in the NKJV. Donald Sheehan of blessed memory did a magnificent job with the Psalms and the notes – they might be worth the entire worth of the OSB. Yours truly translated Habakkuk from scratch (you can see my name on page viii). Since I’ve been a rebel since birth (Isaiah 48:8 MT), there’s no way I was going to mix-and-match the NKJV and the LXX. Then again, Habakkuk was only 3 chapters. I honestly don’t know about the rest of the OSB OT — I was 3 and out. My best friend translated Numbers and I’m pretty sure he did what the editorial board wanted us to do — only make substantial changes to the NKJV where the LXX demanded it e.g. where the Masoretic Text missed the christological reference in Numbers 24. I agree the first edition of the OSB is a mixed bag and arguably a missed opportunity — why use the NKJV as a template? That’s what happens when you get into bed with Thomas Nelson. We made mistakes. By hook or crook, I wish we’d have pulled in Fr Ephraim Lash, among others. But that’s also why God invented second editions. After all, how many iterations has the NIV gone through? Looking back in retrospect, it’s amazing that such a small group of individuals pulled off such a major undertaking with so few resources.

      • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

        Good thoughts here.

    • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

      Check out the Lexham English Septuagint from Logos Bible Software, as well as Brenton’s in English, and NETS.

  • Justin

    This article is a good history lesson on the LXX, but with erroneous conclusions. Instead of quoting Augustine from the 5th century (who did not know Hebrew and barely knew Greek) to support his arguments on how the first century Apostles felt about the Hebrew; it might have been better to hear from a Jew who lived as a contemporary with the Apostles: “For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have], but only twenty-two books,  which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. This interval of time was little short of three thousand years; but as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life. “It is true, our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there hath not been an exact succession of prophets since that time; and how firmly we have given credit to those books of our own nation, is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add anything to them, to take anything from them, or to make any change in them; but it becomes natural to all Jews, immediately and from their very birth, to esteem those books to contain divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be, willingly to die for them.” Josephus Against Apion 1.37-46 (90 AD)

    • Joseph Kelly

      Justin, I recommend that you read this article: Lange, A. “‘Nobody Dared to Add to Them, to Take from Them, or to Make Changes’ (Josephus, AG. AP. 1.42): The Textual Standardization of Jewish Scriptures in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls.” In Flores Florentino: Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Early Jewish Studies in Honour of Florentino García Martínez, edited by A. Hilhorst, É Puech, and E. J. C. Tigchelaar, 105–26. Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 122. Leiden: Brill, 2007.

      This article demonstrates that the issues concerning Jewish attitudes toward Scripture in the first century are more complex than simply quoting Josephus.

      • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

        Plus, is it not incumbent upon Christians to consider whether the testimony of those who rejected the Messiah of Israel regarding the canon is trustworthy?

    • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

      Again, Josephus is just one Jew among many. The various Jewish sects all had various canons. He apparently didn’t learn from his supposed days with the Pharisees to accept a broader canon … ;-)

  • TMichaelLaw

    Hi all and thanks for your interest. I think I’ve managed to read all of the comments, and I can only ask you to read the book. As Pete mentioned below (thanks!), this wasn’t the forum for me to give all the caveats and counterpoints. As far as I can see from the below, I’ve dealt with all of your good questions. (And thanks Joseph!)

  • holoholomom

    The Orthodox Study Bible is an English translation of the Septuagint and includes notes from the early Church Fathers. Orthodox Christians still use this translation of the Old Testament as they have since the beginning of Christianity.

    • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

      Although there are far better, more faithful, translations of the Septuagint texts available — and I say this as an Orthodox Christian, with all due respect to the editors of the OSB.

      For example, the Lexham English Septuagint from Logos Bible Software (www.logos.com). This is, perhaps, the best English translation available, in my studies. Brenton’s is a good back-up, with NETS in a distant third (great for scholarship, bad for reading).

  • Justin

    Very true Joseph. I never said Josephus is the only view. However, his view is a much better representation of 1st century Judaism (out of which the Apostles come forth) then 5th century Africa where St. Augustine comes forth. Wouldn’t you agree? As a second note, Paul seems to corroborate Josephus’ testimony in how he describes Jewish Timothy’s upbringing: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim 3:14-15)

    • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

      Josephus was just one Jew among many, and Judaism was quite fractured at this point in history. Each sect had a radically different perspective on theology, ethics, worship … not to mention the canon. The varied manuscripts of the DSS (in Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew) bear this out in plain sight.

  • Norman

    I’ve got to admit as I discovered for myself that what we
    have as locked in stone scriptures was not so I became angry. I’m angry because we allow ourselves to
    delude one another about the Bible. I’m angry because it seems to me what
    formulated the early church in the first century was partially cast aside in
    order to accept the apostate Jewish version of scriptures that was more limited
    regarding the messianic promise that drove these first Christians. One cannot study the book of Enoch without
    realizing the profound effect it had upon the early church. Low and behold the
    Jews around 90-95AD didn’t want anything more to do with messianic scriptures
    so they cast it out and put a curse on it.
    The church resisted for a while until the appeasers came in that had a
    poor recognition of how scriptures birthed the church. We have been spoon fed an incomplete codex for
    nearly 1800 years or more and are told we are heretics when we point it
    out. I’m still angry but at least we
    have books and authors like this who are starting to get the story out.

    Thanks

    Norman

    • James Ellison

      The “scriptures birthed the church”. What an odd notion. I am not sure how anyone who has read the Gospels and Acts would actually think this.

      • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

        The Scriptures, rather, were birthed within the Church; that is, within the Spirit-filled community of the people of God.

        • James Ellison

          I know the gradual awakening to this perspective sent my friends and I on a journey that made the Fundamentalist hermeneutic insufficient. The Orthodox Church is not perfect in this age but it at least is the Church which loves the Scriptures for what they are.

          • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

            As with Christ, the Church as the Body of Christ is a theanthropic communion; perfect with regards to its divinity, and human with regards to its humanity. :-)

  • Justin

    FYI
    “The great remedy for ignorance of proper signs is knowledge of languages. And men who speak the Latin tongue, of whom are those I have undertaken to instruct, need two other languages for the knowledge of Scripture, Hebrew and Greek, that they may have recourse to the original texts if the endless diversity of the Latin translators throw them into doubt.” St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine 2.11

    I love St. Augustine, it is just too bad he didn’t take his own advice (go back to the Hebrew!). He wouldn’t have made so many mistakes in his commentary on the Psalms for example.

    “The same inaccuracy with regard to proper names is also to be observed in many passages of the law and the prophets, as we have been at pains to learn from the Hebrews, comparing our own copies with theirs which have the confirmation of the versions, never subjected to corruption, of Aquila and Theodotion and Symmachus. We add a few instances to encourage students to pay more attention to such points. Origen Comm. John 9.24

    Origen learned and emphasized the Hebraica Veritas (Truth in the Hebrew) long before Jerome.

    • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

      Origen is not exactly the starting point for orthodoxy. See the Fifth Ecumenical Council for starters. ;-)

      Regardless, Augustine was one of the saints (along with Pope Damasus of Rome) that urged Jerome in the right direction with his translation efforts, away from both the text and canon of the post-Christian Jews at that time. Augustine was an advocate for the LXX through-and-through.

  • Andy

    You mean Paul didn’t use the KJV?…..

    In all seriousness I found this article very interesting. I was aware of the Septuagint being used in early times and quoted in the NT but I didn’t know that it was perceived as being the most accurate/ earlier translation by protestant/ evangelical scholars.

    Is there scholarly consensus on this?

    I’m interested Pete (or Michael), do you personally embrace apocryphal/ deut. texts as inspired? Also what about the sections of these texts that just seem plain weird (to me anyway) and out of step with the movement of the rest of the Bible?

    • Karen K

      The apocryphal texts were determined by the Jewish community fairly early on as not authoritative Scripture (probably late 1st century to 2nd century when the Hebrew canon was finalized). The primary reason was because these books were written in Greek. Hebrew texts were favored as more authoritative, probably in part because they were older and older was considered more authoritative. Philo considered the LXX authoritative but that may have had to do with him being in Hellenistic Alexandria and not Palestine. And even then he probably saw some parts of the LXX as more authoritative than others–namely the ones that were translated from Hebrew; not all of the LXX is a translation because the apocryphal texts were originally written in Greek (at least most of them; I am trying to remember if any apocryphal texts were originally Hebrew).

      Interestingly, that might be a similar reason why the early Church accepted the LXX–Like Philo, Paul was a diaspora, Greek speaking Jew even though he apparently spent time in Palestine. Plus, with the congregation of faith opening up to Gentiles who knew Greek but not Hebrew it made sense to use a language they understood. Interestingly, even though the NT writers heavily use the LXX, they rarely quote from the apocrypha (I can only think of I Enoch in Jude as perhaps the only incident, but there could be other allusions I am not aware of).

      Of particular importance: Unlike today where Scripture tends to be viewed all on one plane, the Jews saw gradations of authority of Scripture, first Torah, then the prophets and then the writings. I believe it was ben Sira that refers rather loosely to “all the writings”–in other words an undefined diversity of texts used for edification. Similarly the early Church included different books in the biblical canon than we have today and would read in Church from texts like Shepherd of Hermas. I think this is a much more productive way of thinking about “inspiration”–that Scripture can, in some respects, be inclusive of “the writings” that are edifying to the people of faith. Since that is the whole point of Scripture anyway.

      • http://www.onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

        “The apocryphal texts were determined by the Jewish community fairly early on as not authoritative Scripture (probably late 1st century to 2nd century when the Hebrew canon was finalized).”

        This is hardly the case, given the fact that there were multiple canons among the various Jewish sects in the first century, just as there are among post-Christian Jews today. No two Jewish sects agree on the canon.

  • Susan_G1

    The most surprising thing in this article? “That means the Septuagint sometimes reveals an older version of the Old Testament than those that exist in the Hebrew Bibles we use in seminaries and universities.”

    The Septuagint isn’t used in seminary??? I’m shocked. I thought with the Dead Sea Scrolls, seminaries would have started studying the Septuagint. I don’t understand.

  • http://jamesdowden.wordpress.com/ James Dowden

    There are of course certain books — the ones Jerome pointed to in favour of the MT — where the so-called LXX as we have it is not representative of the text type in use by the authors of the New Testament. Off the top of my head, these are Job, Micah, Zechariah, and Malachi. Job in particular is the exception that proves the rule: the translator presumably didn’t like the style of the book, so he epitomized about a sixth of it out; the shorter version here appears to be secondary. But generally Law’s picture is a helpful one. And any step away from the MT toward rational eclecticism is a step in the right direction.

  • Keith Johnston

    I like Dr Enns, but many of his columns are thought-provoking and I feel that if God had meant for us to think, God would have given us brains.

  • Derek

    Great information in this piece. This is one of the reasons I appreciate Peter so much – I most likely wouldn’t be aware of these things if he hadn’t brought it to my attention, and I think stuff like this is important.

  • Eric Kunkel

    Mishnah Sotah 9:14: says “A man should not teach Greek to his son.”

    Well, I only have a daughter.

    EK

  • Derek

    I just thought I would add this note on Jer. 31:32 from Carson and Moo’s “Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament”:

    …at 31:32 the MT reads, “although I was a husband [Qal perfect of b'l] to them,” whereas the LXX has “and I did not care (ameleo) for them” (variants of the LXX text include “and I am the one who ruled among them” and “I was restraining them”). It seems that the translators of the LXX read b’l as g’l (Swete 1900:338). In Tg.Jer. 31:32 it reads, “although I took pleasure in them,” thus removing the anthropomorphic reference to marriage in the MT.

    Moreover, I also would disagree that the change was necessarily “theologically driven” because the very next verse shows that God did care for Israel and he gave Israel and Judah a new, gracious covenant. Which is a good reason to prefer ba’alti over ga’alti. “They broke my covenant even though I was a husband to them (just like I said in 3:14), so I gave them a new covenant.” Makes more sense than “They broke my covenant, so I rejected and loathed them, did not take care of them or feel any concern for them, so I graciously gave them a new covenant.”

  • TMichaelLaw

    Derek, thanks. There’s lots of other commentary on this than Carson and Moo. My point with all of these cases and in the whole book is that regardless of the text critical arguments for how they occurred, they were the readings that were subsequently used as scriptural texts in (some of) early Judaism and in early Christianity. So even if MT is original, it doesn’t really matter to my main argument in the book. The point is early Christians didn’t use the MT.

  • Caleb G.

    Studying the Septuagint along with other previous versions is part of the reason I now refuse to use the word inerrancy to describe my view of Scripture. The Chicago Statement limits the concept of inerrancy to the original manuscripts. Michael says in this post, “The search for an “original text” on which to ground one’s faith is a distinctively modern worry.” I think the historical evidence supports this statement. Thanks for so clearly expressing it. For example the version of Jeremiah in the Septuagint only 2/3rd the length of Jeremiah in the MT. The DSS agree more with the LXX. The book of Hebrews cites the LXX version of Jeremiah, not the version behind the MT. Scholars cannot decide which is the “original version” of Jeremiah. In fact, in light of the these textual traditions, the concept of the “original version of Jeremiah” may be a meaningless concept. Something similar could be said for Proverbs. As Michael says, The early church saw an imperfect version of Scripture as being inspired. This does not jive with the concept of Scripture that I was raised with, but it seems to more accurately fit the evidence.

    Michael, is there a single resource which would allow the average layperson to easily see the differences between the MT, LXX, and DSS, etc? Maybe something equivalent to a English version of Origen’s Hexapla? If not, would you ever have the interest and stamina to produce one?

    • TMichaelLaw

      Good question Caleb. I don’t know of one. If a publisher thought it worthwhile, I’ve got lots of stamina :)

      • Caleb G.

        That sounds like a good way to achieve your goal of a Septuagint in the hand of every woman, man, girl and boy. Perhaps you could take that on when you finish Samuelis Liber Secundus in 2017.

  • Veritas

    I sometimes chant at my local Orthodox church, and I can tell you there is definitely some big differences betweent the Septuagint and KJV. This is very evident in the Psalms. One day I was chanting Psalm 68, which is Psalm 67 in the Septuagint. Found it fascinating so I went to look it up at home in my KJV. Discovered there is a very dramatic difference in the way some of that Psalm was interpreted: In the Septuagint, Verses 16 and 17 in the Septuagint says: The mountain of God is a butter mountain, a curdled mountain, a butter mountain. Why suppose ye that there be other curdled mountains? This is the mountain wherein that God is pleased to dwell, yea, for the Lord will dwell therein to the end. However, in the KJV and other based on the Masoretic text, Verse 16 is skipped over completely, giving the Psalm an entirely different meaning. Basically, that whole part was censored out! Why? Because the “butter mountain” is a reference to the fortelling of Christ being conceived of the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary. Neither the Jews nor Protestants accept this. However, Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians do, and they use the Septuagint! Interesting, eh? You can hear more about this at Ancient Faith Radio in a podcast http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/amvon/butter_mountain

  • Patrick Lafferty

    Dr Enns, thank you for your work here. Even if my seminary days sought to expose me to the complexity of sifting through Septuagintal and other sources to find the earliest texts, I don’t remember it. Has anyone sought to assemble a synthesis of Septuagintal and earlier sources into a “best-guess” earliest OT canon? (I’d suspect the footnotes providing warrant for each textual decision would be 3x as long as the codex itself!)

  • Paul

    I appreciate Law’s efforts to simplify conclusions regarding the complexity of source criticism since my entire doctoral dissertation was a source-critical study of judgment sayings common to Revelation & the Gospels. However, he has skewed historical realities above in the effort to simplify. For example, there is a false dichotomy between 2 imagined texts when he concludes, ‘The writer of Revelation has simply followed “his Bible,” the Septuagint, which allows him to make his theological point that the Lord will come to rule the nations.’ The fact that Revelation uses the verbal idea of ‘ruling’ from the Septuagint’s versions of Psalm 2 rather than ‘breaking’ from the Hebrew MT critical text does not mean the author favored some Greek OT he had in the first century. It is just as likely that John knew a Hebrew version that used “to rule” rather than “to break” (since those are close variations in Hebrew). Being that Revelation is full of Hebraisms and likely first composed in Hebrew or at least written by a native Hebrew speaker, it is more plausible that a Hebrew reading of Psalm 2 that matches more closely our extant version of the LXX is what he knew.

    So let’s not make the Septuagint out to be some forgotten but oh so important document when it has taken its rightful place as one of the many lenses we have for peering into a world of varied Bibles back in the early centuries of Christian history. That being said, Law is correct to demonstrate that early Christians quoted from conflicting texts (contra Jospehus’s outlandish claim that all Hebrew texts of the 22 holy books were in one perfect edition). We do have to assimilate that historical reality. There was no original text of the OT that NT writers trusted as inerrant and quoted/alluded to consistently.

  • archie

    the question is: where is your evidence that the septuagint was the only OT bible in ancient times?

  • Steve Ranney

    Regarding the fact that early Christians were not bothered by multiple versions floating around, I have noticed at the ELCA church we go to, the pastor will say something like ‘In Matthew’s version of the story …’ He doesn’t try to merge it with other accounts.

    • peteenns

      After all, it IS called “The Gospel ACCORDING TO Matthew,” etc. We often forget that don’t we. Good point, Steve.

  • davend

    “(T)he Septuagint was the ‘First Bible of the Church.’” This claim is only partially true, and what’s more, a deception that plays into a lot of erroneous thinking about the development of the Bible and of Christianity in general. The Septuagint was the first Bible of the Greek-speaking church, but NOT of the church east of Palestine–or at a minimum, of substantially decreasing importance as one moves eastward.

    Western scholars, particularly Roman Catholic ones (and I know Peter Enns is not one) tend to confuse the history of Christianity with the history of Christianity within the bounds of the Roman Empire. This is a serious error.

  • Gary

    Why do Baptist always want to go to the Greek to understand the Bible? It is as if Baptists do not trust their English Bibles: “Sorry, hold on a minute, I need to check the original Greek before we can believe that God really loves the whole world as your English Bible seems to say in John 3:16…we can only know for sure if we understand and read ancient Greek.”

    When God promised to preserve his Word…did he really mean that he would only preserve it on 2,000 year old parchment and papyrus in ancient forms of Greek and Aramaic?? Did God really intend that the only people who could REALLY know what he had to say to mankind…would be ancient Greek-educated Baptist Churchmen?? Is the non-ancient-Greek- speaking layperson sitting in the pew supposed to just shut his English language Bible and sit at the feet of these Baptist Greek scholars to learn what God couldn’t explain himself in plain, simple ENGLISH??

    Do you REALLY believe that God intended for only Baptist, Greek-speaking Churchmen to understand the Gospel, the Word? Because that is really what you are saying, Pastor, because the Greek scholars of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church, and the Methodist Church think that Baptist Greek scholar are all WET on the issue of whether the Bible supports infant baptism and mandatory immersion-only baptism!

    How is it possible that ONLY Baptist Greek scholars truly understand ancient Greek, and the rest of the worlds Greed scholars completely bungle the translation of the New Testament. How is that REALLY possible? It defies common sense. And if I hear another Baptist start talking about how the Greek genitive case proves the Baptist position is correct, I swear I’m going to puke! Seriously, every time I get into a discussion about Biblical translation with a Baptist he starts in with the genitive case nonsense. If you want to understand the genitive case in a Greek document…I suggest you confer…not with a Baptist…but with a GREEK!

    Instead of all this Greek nonsense, which Baptist seem to have a fixation upon, I suggest that every Christian layperson do this:

    1. Obtain a copy of four different English language Bibles. Read one of these “problem passages” as Baptists and evangelicals refer to them, in each of these English translations.
    2. God’s true meaning of the passage will be plainly understandable after comparing these four English translations.

    You do NOT need to read the ancient Greek text unless you want to delve into the study of ancient Greek sentence structure or some other nuance. God promised he would preserve his Word, and the English-speaking people of the world have had the Word of God IN ENGLISH since at least William Tyndale (1300″s??). Dear Baptists…PLEASE stop depending on the ancient texts to confuse Christian laypeople of God’s simple, plain message of the Gospel!

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals
    an orthodox Lutheran blog

  • Cu4t

    Hmmm – surprised about all the focus on the Septuagint. When Jesus read the in the synagogue he used the scrolls, right?!
    Since the word for “Torah” means “instruction/ guidance” it’s often also called “The way.”
    How do you think people reacted to Jesus, claiming to be THE way? Maybe some understood it really meant the fulfillment of the scriptures, the Word becoming flesh!?
    From my years of studying OT Hebrew I find the most important component to deeper understanding of the whole Bible is to understand the Hebrew mindset, hebraism and Jewish culture and history.
    We certainly missed many marks here…

    • http://onbehalfofall.org/ Gabe Martini

      Jesus read from the LXX in the synagogues. Almost no one understood ancient Hebrew among the common people of his day. It was reserved for the priests and liturgical language of the Temple alone.

  • a_seed

    When LXX has a different reading than MT, instead of saying the translation yielded new meaning, may be more accurately, it was different version of Hebrew text being translated. Dead Sea scrolls provided much proofs about this.

  • gary

    How many times have you discussed Scripture
    and Christian doctrine with Baptists and evangelicals and had them say this:

    “That passage of the Bible doesn’t really mean what the plain, simple
    interpretation seems to say. This passage was poorly translated in our
    English Bibles. We must go to the original Greek to really understand
    what God was saying.”

    Here’s the problem: the
    “Original Greek” does not exist!

    There are no known original texts of the New Testament anywhere on earth.
    All we have are copies of copies of copies of copies. In all of this
    “copying”, errors could have been introduced, just as when Anglican
    translators translated the Greek Bible into the English language.

    If the only true Word of God exists in the “original Greek”, God’s
    Word ceased to exist in the first few centuries AD when those pieces of papyrus
    or parchment were lost or destroyed.

    If you can’t trust your English Bible, how can you trust a Greek copy of a
    copy??

    God promised to preserve his Word. He didn’t promise to preserve the
    “original Greek”. His Holy Word exists in your English Bible
    without ANY error in the doctrines of the Faith, or the simple message of the
    Gospel.

    Dear Baptists and evangelical Christian brothers and sisters: Put your
    Greek lexicons away and start trusting your English Bibles! Start
    trusting the plain, simple interpretation of EVERY passage, not just those that
    agree with your doctrine.

    And besides, if the “original Greek” COPIES are the only true Word of
    God…why aren’t you members of the Greek Orthodox Church?? Do you really
    believe that American, non-Greek, Baptist and evangelical “Greek
    scholars” know more about Greek than the Greeks themselves??

    http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/2013/11/hot-off-presses-first-correctly.html

  • Joseph M

    For some fasinating work on the implications for early Christian theology of the differences between the LXX nd the Hebrew. I recomentd the work of the Rev. Dr. Margaret Barker, Methodist Preacher, Oxford scholar and former president of the Society for Old Testament Study.
    http://www.margaretbarker.com/

  • ANGRY DC FAN

    That quote from Augustine is so problematic to me. Are we really supposed to foster the idea that words which must all follow the rules of syntax, context, grammar and logic can simply mean multiple things to different people beyond the author’s original intent? That is tantamount to accusing God of authorizing doctrinal confusion. How can this possibly be helpful? Am I alone on this?

    • Glenda Smith

      i certainly agree with you. I believe,however, that God can speak to us through His Holy Spirit to give us the spiritual discernment we need to understand what HE has to say to us. The Scriptures, after all, are God’s letters to us, to ALL generations and to ALL nations and tongues…therefore, GOD can speak all languages in ALL ages and ALL dialects…nothing is too hard for HIM, With man, it is impossible, with God, ALL things are possible. God will convey HIS TRUTH to us right where we are because HE is EVERYWHERE PRESENT and ALWAYS PRESENT…as HIs Word saYS, “EVEN IN YOUR MOUTH…”…He wrote HIS WORD on our HEARTS…IF we are His people. Jesus said, “MY sheep hear MY Voide and will NOT follow another…”

  • Robert Austin

    I happen to like the notion of a doctoral dissertation on this topic. I hope maybe some day, I might be at that point, and if/when I am, I would have to include the power of the original Ancient Hebrew language, where every letter represented it’s own word/concept, and then have to examine some of the more contraversial passages. For example, the Aliph (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) means “strength, first, or leader” and Bayt (the 2nd letter) means “house”, therefore Abba (or father) means the leader of a house. FYI, the word alphabet, is actually from Aliph Bayt.

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