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The Bible says 2

This is the second in a series attempting to nuance the statement, “The Bible says…” The first in this series introduced textual criticism.

The Septuagint (LXX)

Many people when they say, “The Bible says…” go on to quote an English translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Eastern Orthodox and others, however, do not do this. They are quoting from the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint. The Septuagint is the Koine Greek version of the Hebrew Bible.

In fact, by far, the majority of quotes in the New Testament are not from the Hebrew Old Testament, but from the Septuagint (See a more detailed analysis here). The New Testament also quotes from and alludes to books in the Septuagint that are not in the Hebrew Old Testament. Early Christians also continued to use the Septuagint. Philo and Josephus attributed divine inspiration to its authors.

It appears that the Septuagint was translated in stages between the 3rd and 2nd century BCE in Alexandria, into Koine Greek, the lingua franca of the eastern Mediterranean Basin from the time of Alexander the Great.

“The Bible says…” – but which text? The Hebrew one? Or the Greek Septuagint one? Remembering the preference for the Septuagint one by the New Testament writers, the early church, and the unbroken tradition of Orthodoxy… and the current majority use of the Hebrew one…

An online version of the Septuagint
The Septuagint online
Detailed notes on the Septuagint

This series is to be continued…

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8 thoughts on “The Bible says 2”

  1. (1) I am indeed thankful that I have a copy of the “Orthodox Study Bible’!

    (2) There are some very interesting questions here, in particular the extent to which the Hebrew text underlying the Septuagint (where it has a Hebrew underlay) is closer to the Septuagint than to the Massoretic version. From memory, I think this question is particularly sharp re Isaiah.

    (3) The relationship between ‘Scripture’ and ‘theology’ comes into play here, as many textual variations (whether, as here, NT writers following the Septuagint, or some variations in copying) seem explainable in terms of theological choices.

  2. Obviously the Septuagint is to be preferred (it is what the Apostles used after all) and equally obviously English translations of it have been thin on the ground until relatively recently.

    Unfortunately there is a long sad history of people of people manipulating the canon and the words of scripture itself to suit their agendas.

    In much the same manner as using the heathen secular BCE in place of the venerable BC to try and whitewash Christ from of our heritage.

  3. David |Dah•veed|

    The heathen secular BCE! Andrei, do you go out of your way to be disagreeable and offensive or do you come by it naturally?

    As for as the manipulation of the canon and the words of scripture itself, there is nothing that does not bear the fingerprints of human intervention. There is no evidence that the gospels were actually written by a person whose name they bear. In fact the only apostle who we are convinced contributed something to the New Testament is some writings of Paul, none of which has not been tampered with. None of which actually appears in the form in which Paul actually produced it. The textual evidence in the actual Pauline letters is that they have been cut apart and reassembled in a manner useful to the agenda of redactors who did it.

  4. I had such high hopes for the “Orthodox study Bible” but, while they did use a version of the Septuagint, they used the NKJV for the New Testament instead of a new translation of the Byzantine Texts, and slanted the LXX to conform to the NKJV NT instead of a straight translation (plus using very thin paper).

    I hear that there is a program underway to have a true English translation of the Orthodox Bible in the near future.

  5. Thanks for the latest instalment in what is a very important series, Bosco. The title reminds me of hearing the Rt. Rev. David Jenkins (sometime Bishop of Durham, he of “conjuring tricks with bones” misquotation fame) when he gave a guest sermon in my Cambridge parish. He indicated that he would like to form a vigilante gang of persons “in their ninth decade” (like himself) who would “drive up and down the whole of England in a van and shoot on sight anyone uttering the words, The Bible says…”.

    Dom Henry Wansbrough, editor of the 1985 New Jerusalem Bible, says in an interesting teaching booklet entitled “The Use and Abuse of the Bible”:

    Further problems arise through the development of Septuagintal studies. For many centuries, basically since St Jerome was bullied by the mockery of Jewish rabbis into preference for the Hebrew Bible, but certainly since the Protestant Reformation, it has often been held that the authentic text of the Old Testament was the Hebrew Bible, and that this was older and generally more reliable than the Greek translation known as the Septuagint. The Septuagint was valued for many instances of development in revelation and theology over and above the “original” Hebrew text. A position now more common among scholars is that variations from the Hebrew text in the Septuagint may represent a textual tradition parallel to and perhaps older than the Hebrew text as we have it now. The oldest extant full text of the Hebrew Bible is, after all, the Aleppo Codex dating from the tenth century AD.

    I note with interest that the planned successor to the New Jerusalem Bible (if I may rely on the impeccable authority of Wikipedia) abandons the idea of establishing a single text, at least for the Old Testament, and instead prints interlinear alternatives to show how the readings of the Masoretic Text, the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Syriac Peshitta differ from each other. The introduction to the French “demonstration volume” calls this “la polyphonie biblique”, and it’s nice to think of the different textual traditions of the Bible as voices singing the Word in harmony. In the sample proofs on the project website, each opening gives parallel translations on facing pages, one for the Hebrew tradition, the other for the Greek.

    The one sample of English translation appears in an online layout. I wonder if they’ll produce parallel print and online versions, as we see in, e.g., the Oxford English Dictionary. The annotations in the French samples are almost overwhelming in their quantity and depth. When it finally appears, this will be the study bible to end all study bibles!

  6. Thanks for all these helpful contributions. I wonder, Jesse, if the French study Bible of your samples will be made available in an English version – certainly such a study bible would take a very significant place. But may not be acceptable in a certain section of the Christian community 😉 If you hear any more about it, or other points you made in your comment, would you please consider emailing me.

  7. One thing is interesting: the Roman Church has used the Jeroms’s-on-Hebrew translation; save for the psalms, which were translated on the LXX.

    The English Church has done accordingly: the translation on Massoretic text, save for the psalms, which were the Coverdale’s. Now, if one takes heed, the Coverdale’s rendering, in spite of the Massoretic numerotation, is closer to the LXX than to the Massoretic text.

    Unfortunately, in French, the «ecumenical translation» of the psalms, which is used in liturgy by several denominations (whereof the RC and TEC) has nothing to do with the LXX. In consequence, chanting this or that psalm for this or that feast has no meaning at all.

    At least in recpect for the psalms, I think that the only ecumenical translation, whichever be the language, should be made on the LXX, and that kind of translation should be used in liturgy.

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