Jan 1/30/1995

A good question from CS... ------------------------------------------

Date: Thu, 26 Jan 1995 13:58:42 -0600 (CST) To: g miller

Subject: Septuagint

Now, what I really want to write you about is the Septuagint. I've recently been reading the Bible. I've been reading a number of different versions (have tended toward the NRSV, RSV & REB); I've also read a book on the various Bible versions called simply, "The Bible in English" or something like that. I believe the author's name is King, but wouldn't swear by it.

In light off all the maddening rush by translators to uncover the very earliest Hebrew fragments, what is the spiritual authority for such a quest.

Actually, it is probably more a motive than an authority...

The basic rationale comes from the fact of the surprisingly high respect the NT writers had for the very WORDS / linguistic features of the OT...

Three quick examples (many more could be cited):

  1. In Gal 3.16 - Paul argues from the singular vs. the plural form of the word 'sees'
  2. In John 10.34,35 Jesus turns an argument on ONE WORD of Psalm 82.6
  3. In Matt 22.43-45, His argument depends on the linguistic features of Psalm 110
But this is NOT to say, that the NT writers didn't feel free to paraphrase an OT passage, when the argument was on the overall meaning of a passage (as it NORMALLY was)...I personally have a very high regard for the linguistic form of the text (actually, that is the ONLY 'carrier of meaning' we have, so it's a good thing I do!), but I also cite from the Living Bible and the Message (both paraphrases) when I find their expressions a bit more vivid in our culture...(but I do NOT cite them in passages in which I do not feel comfortable with their understanding of the passage)...

I understand the purists desire, but I am feeling more and more that Christianity, since the Roman Church authorized Jerome to translate the Vulgate from Hebrew, has actually been going in the wrong direction.

If I'm not mistaken, ALL references to scripture in the New Testament are to the Septuagint, and not the Hebrew Bible. If the Septuagint was good enough for Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, etc, why isn't it the best source for us.

The short response to this is that a significant number of important passages DO NOT use the LXX but rather use the MT (Masoretic Text).

The longer version goes like this:

  1. Jesus clearly cites the OT 64 times in the Synoptics--matt, mk, luke--(there are many more allusions, of course.). Of these:
  2. Mark seems to generally follow the LXX form, but Matthew shows independence from it.
  3. Of Paul's abundance of quotes, about half demonstrate LXX forms (with minor variations from it) and the other half show a completely independent treatment of the Hebrew Text.
  4. In general, the NT writers NEITHER studiously AVOIDed citing the LXX, NOR slavishly quoted from it (as having some special authority).
  5. The three most significant textual witnesses to the Hebrew OT are the MT, the LXX, and the Samaritan Pentateuch. The Samaritans, of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, only used the first 5 books of Moses--the Pentateuch. And, since they broke off from the Southern Kingdom right after the death of King Solomon, their version of the Pentateuch MUST HAVE BEEN essentially in its final form by that time. [The rivalry between the North and South would have all but precluded sharing something so religiously important--especially since the North set up a rival religion to avoid all forms of cultural contact with the South (I Kings 12.25-33)].
  6. The Dead Sea Scrolls have mss that reflect Samaritan, LXX, and MT traditions! There is also some evidence that the Samaritan and LXX have origins in a Hebrew text tradition that is DIFFERENT from that of MT...(and in some cases, better).
  7. The LXX is of a very uneven character. The fact that there were multiple translators would lead one to suspect that there would be differences in abilities between them...in terms of knowledge of Hebrew, of Greek, of translation techniques...This is exactly what we find.
  8. We still have the "Which LXX?" question WITHIN the LXX. Our existing mss of the LXX number around 300, with very few early witnesses, mostly from the 2nd and 4th centuries AD. (We do have an important mss dated in the 2nd century B.C.--the John Rylands Library Papyrus Greek 458--containing portions of Dt 23-26, 28). So the problem of 'original text' would simply be converted to the lxx arena...

This is especially true in light of the pounding the RSV received on its introduction in the 50's with the rendering of Isaiah 7:14 (young woman instead of virgin). Why not just stay with Septuagint? It seems the more "inspired".

What is interesting here is the LXX shows SOME influence from the Aramaic Targums, which were oral translations/explanations that accompanied the synagogue reading of Hebrew (as that language became less and less understood by the common Jew)...some of the 'Christian passages' in the LXX, so frequently used by the early Christian apologists in their witness to the Jews, MAY HAVE reflected a fundamentally Jewish messianic understanding of those texts!

There is a much more current and detailed discussion on the LXX here.

Christianity came out of the evangelical/spiritual wing of Judaism represented by the authors of Maccabees, not the Sadducees. It seems to me that the Hebrew version of scriptures in the O.T. support a more traditional Jewish reading than the Christian one. Therefore, although going back to the Hebrew would be more important if we were Jews, we're not Jews.

Actually, one might have expected Jesus to correct them on this point, if they were that seriously off base on their version of the text...He certainly corrected them on everything else!

The Septuagint was written about 200 BC, right? This was probably no later than one hundred years from the Hebrew versions of some of the later works (and for that matter, no more than 200 years before the final scribal editors had finished the Pentateuch as we know it)

See the comments about the Samaritan Pentateuch above as to an early date for the Pentateuch's final form. Also, it should be noted that major sections of Ex, Dt, and Joshua reflect the treaty forms of the Hittite era, which passed out of existence quickly and was not rediscovered until this century! It would have been impossible for anyone to have invented those historically accurate forms AFTER the fact...see the more detailed data in the Sunday School Syllabus on this. (skip down the syllabus til you come to the section on "canon".)

. This means that the Septuagint is historically not much older than the Hebrew Bible. Although the Seventy's version is more of a paraphrase than a "translation" as WE accept the word today, it was more than acceptable for most peoples of that era.

Although it probably IS YOUNGER that much of the Hebrew Bible, your second remark is still dead on--it was more than acceptable for most uses in that era. It was only in technical discussions and theological disputes that more rigor was occasionally demanded, and hence, linguistic features became germane to the argument.

And besides, what's important is inspiration, not language.

See the above comments on the important to Jesus and Paul of the linguistic elements. But be careful here not to create an either/or. One doesn't have to pick between inspiration of the meaning and authority of the language. The NT writers apparently believed in both, and still didn't treat the text with a 'wooden literalness' in the process. They respected the linguistic form (even argued from it) but were certainly free to paraphrase...subject to ethics, of course.

It seems to me the Septuagint comes from the branch of Judaism that went on to develop Christianity, culturally speaking.

I do not mean to sound impious, nor imply that God's wisdom was not revealed in the person of Jesus. But the cultural wing of Judaism that brought forth Christianity could easily have been the design of the Almighty. John the Baptist and his followers are the best scriptural examples of what I mean.

Actually, the situation is more mixed than that. The initial 'creators' of the Christian movement were Jesus, the Eleven Apostles, several of the NT writers--Matthew, Mark, James, John, Peter, Jude (all Palestinian Jews). Then there is Paul (a 'mixed' (Palestinian training and Hellenistic training) Jew--but without commitment to the LXX as we saw), Luke -- a gentile probably from Antioch or Philippi, and the writer to the Hebrews (probably an Alexandrian Jew).

All that means is that God could have designed ALL the various elements to work together...the Jewish ministry of Peter and the Gentile mission of Paul...they were ALL crafted by our Lord for their work in life (as you and I are too, my friend)...

I'm a rank beginner in the Bible. I don't deny that there may be excellent reasons for Christians to return to the Hebrew, and not use the Septuagint as our basis for the O.T., but I'd like to hear from some more biblically experienced folk. This is my first post on this subject. If you're not interested, but know someone that might want to discuss this further with me, please forward this on.

Thanks for your time. Glory to God in the Highest.


We all are beginners in the Bible, especially in the areas of obedience!...Thanks for the good question...keep thinking, keep working through these issues, keep asking questions--all with an honest heart...

In His amazing Love....glenn

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