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Crash Course on the Septuagint

Did you know that the New Testament writers almost always quoted the Septuagint (LXX), and early Greek translation of the Old Testament, rather than the Hebrew Bible itself? You would if you read Michael S. Heiser’s nice, brief introductory article about the Septuagint:

Both explanations for manuscript differences raise important considerations for how we look at our English Bibles today. The NT makes it clear that Jesus, the apostles, and the NT writers frequently used the LXX. Studies have determined that the NT, LXX and MT agree only about 20% of the time. Of the 80% where some disagreement is evident, the NT and MT agree less than 5% of the time. That means that the NT writers use the LXX most of the time when they quote the OT (Jobes and Silva 2000: 189–93).

The point to be drawn from this is not that the LXX is to be preferred over the MT as though it were more sacred or “original.” If that were the case, one would have to wonder why the NT writers ever followed the MT. The reverse is true as well. The MT deserves no a priori sacred status either. The MT is the direct result of a Jewish effort to create a standardized Hebrew text from existing Hebrew textual traditions, a task that occurred ca. 100 AD, in part in response to Christian apologetic use of the LXX. The real lesson that we learn from the transmission and use of the LXX is that the apostles—and Jesus himself—had no qualms about considering that translation the true Word of God. There is no evidence that Jesus or Paul or any other NT writer preferred a personal text over the texts available in synagogues, or that the hand-copied texts in synagogues had no variation. The fact that there were several non-identical Hebrew OT texts and Greek translations of those texts in circulation at the time generated no interest from Jesus and the apostles. What Providence had supplied and preserved was deemed completely sufficient. The early Church had the same attitude. Most Christians in the first four centuries of the Church could read only Greek. The LXX was their complete Bible. Respected Church Fathers such as Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.21.2–3) and Tertullian (Apology 18) had a very high view of the LXX as being the Word of God. Rather than worry about following the LXX or MT as the only reliable source of the Scriptures, we ought to follow their example.

(H/T: Claude Mariottini)


1 Comment

  1. Michael Bell says:

    “Studies have determined that the NT, LXX and MT agree only about 20% of the time.”

    This is a very vague and misleading sentence… per word?… per phrase?… per sentence?… per verse?… per chapter?


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