Did the New Testament Authors Really Quote the Greek Septuagint Rather than Hebrew Texts?

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 100 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Hands down, the Greek Septuagint version is the most important of the early versions of the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, it is the first translation from The Greek Septuagint LXX (meaning, “Seventy”). The translation from Hebrew into Greek began about 280 B.C.E.* According to tradition (more on this below), there were 72 Jewish scholars of Alexandria, Egypt who did the translation work. However, sometime later the number was rounded to 70 and somehow this was the number that came to be accepted, and consequently, the version came to be called the Septuagint (LXX). It was completed about 150 B.C.E. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures became the favored Old Testament among the Greek-speaking Jews and was used widely down to the time of Jesus and the New Testament authors. In the twenty-seven books of the Greek New Testament, most of the 320 direct quotations and the combined total of possibly 890 quotations and references to the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures are based on the Septuagint. After the Christians adopted the Greek Septuagint and used it in their defense that Jesus Christ was the long-awaited Messiah, the Jews in the second century C.E. went back to the Hebrew Old Testament.

* B.C.E. means “before the Common Era,” which is more accurate than B.C. (“before Christ”). C.E. denotes “Common Era,” often called A.D., for anno Domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord.

Did the New Testament Authors Really Quote the Greek Septuagint Rather than Hebrew Texts?

It had been thought by scholars prior to 1947 that the differences in the LXX were the result of errors on the part of the scribes, even possibly intentional alterations by the translators. When the Dead Sea Scrolls became known, it was revealed that these differences were due to the variations of the different Hebrew versions. Ellis R. Brotzman and Eric J.Tully write, “Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Qumran biblical manuscripts is their witness to variant readings that were previously found only in early translations, such as the Greek Septuagint. Before the discovery of the scrolls, scholars could not be certain that the readings reflected true variants since it was always possible that they had been introduced by the translator in the translation process. But the Qumran scrolls demonstrate that many of these differences in the versions point to variants in the Hebrew tradition.” – (Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction (p. 27). Baker Publishing Group) Brotzman and Tully go on to say, “… There was real textual variety in this period and that the text form that would later form the basis of the standardized MT was only one of many. Some of the scrolls at Qumran closely parallel this “proto”-MT. Other Qumran manuscripts are similar to the textual tradition of the Septuagint or the Samaritan Pentateuch.” (p. 27)

This could possibly explain why writers from the New Testament quote from the Hebrew Bible texts using wording different than the MT (Exodus 1:5; Acts 7:14) In other words, it isn’t that the NT authors are preferring the Greek Septuagint over the Hebrew Old Testament text of the day per se, but rather the quotation, paraphrase, or reference to a verse(s) from the OT is the same as the Greek Septuagint that was translated from a Hebrew text that reads differently than the Proto-Masoretic Text (later Masoretic Text), were variants found in other Hebrew Old Testament texts of the day that we do not have today.

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The Septuagint continues to be very much important today and is used by textual scholars to help uncover copyists’ errors that might have crept into the Hebrew manuscripts either intentionally or unintentionally. However, it cannot do it alone without the support of other sources. While the Septuagint is the second most important tool after the original language texts for ascertaining the original words of the original Hebrew text, it is also true that the LXX translators took liberties at times, embellishing the text, deliberate changes, harmonizations, and completing of details. So, how do we explain when we have a reading in the Hebrew Masoretic Text that all translations accept as being the original reading but the Greek Septuagint has a different reading in its place that translators reject as a variant (corrupt reading), yet the New Testament author quotes the Septuagint reading, which the same translators take as the preferred original reading that is in opposition to the accepted Hebrew Old Testament reading?

  • The Hebrew Masoretic Text has Moses writing ______________. All Bible translations accept this as the original reading.
  • The Greek Septuagint has Moses writing ______________. All Bible translations reject this as the original reading. It is considered corruption.
  • The New Testament author quotes this verse and has Moses writing _____________, which is the Septuagint reading that is considered corrupt for the Hebrew text.
  • All Bible translations reject this corruption of the Septuagint when it comes to the original Hebrew reading but accept it as the original reading for the New Testament author. In other words, did the New Testament author use a corrupt reading? Did the New Testament author make a mistake? Did the Holy Spirit make a mistake? No.

Many modern-day scholars do not accept that the Bible authors were inspired (2 Tim. 3:16-17), that they were moved along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21) They do not believe that the originals were fully inerrant, infallible. Thus, they will argue things such as the New Testament author used different sources, or he only had access to the Septuagint or they quoted from memory instead of consulting the OT, or he used a corrupt manuscript or translation problems when going from Hebrew or Aramaic to the Greek or whether the NT author had access to the different recensions of the Greek OT. Of late, the argument from the scholars is that the differences arise because when the NT author is quoting, he is allegedly incorporating into the quote his own application or interpretation of the text. Then, there is the why is the NT authors are quoting the OT authors for four different reasons. (1) The NT author quotes the OT in the same sense as it was used in the OT. (Matt. 4:4, 6, 7, 10; Luke 4:4, 8, 10, 12 quoting Deut. 8:3; Ps. 91:11; Deut. 6:16; 6:13) (2) The NT author is quoting an OT text that was vague enough for its original application that the NT author could use it in some new event of his day. (Matthew 4:15–1 from Isa. 8:22-9:1) (3) The NT author has the license to deliberately abandon the OT context for a new situation or purpose. (Romans 2:23–2 quotes Isaiah 52:5) (4) The NT author uses an eschatological (last days) text to reaffirm the event was still in the future. (Romans 9:26–27 quotes Isaiah 59:20–21 and 27:9) (Walter C. Kaiser Jr., 2001, p. 8) This discussion is a very complex one that is not really addressed well or from a Christian apologetic mindset, in that the New Testament author had what God had intended him to have. What the NT author penned was perfect and in complete harmony with the Old Testament original as well. It can be as simple as what the NT author penned was corrupted very early in the copying process so the weightiest manuscript witnesses that give us the view that the error was the original reading is misleading and that is the very reason later copyists or versions changed it to what they too believed was the likely original reading. Or, there could be any number of reasonable reasons depending on which quotation that we are referring to in our investigation. Again, repeating above, the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit that many of these differences were actually due to variations in the Hebrew text. This is possibly why we have NT authors and early Christians quoting the Hebrew Scripture texts using wording that differ from the Masoretic text.

DEFENDING OLD TESTAMENT AUTHORSHIP Agabus Cover BIBLICAL CRITICISM

Not having the evidence one needs to make a beyond a reasonable doubt decision does not mean that there is no evidence that may come to light one day or that has been lost to the sands of time. It may very well have existed. The primary materials used to receive writing in ancient times were papyrus and parchment. These were used by Bible authors and copyists. While parchment is far more durable than papyrus, it will also perish in due course if mishandled or exposed to the elements (temperature, humidity, and light) over time. Parchment is made from animal skin, so it too is also a victim of insects. Hence, when it comes to ancient records, Everyday Writing in the Graeco-RomanEast states, “survival is the exception rather than the rule.” (R. S. Bagnall 2009, 140) Think about it for a moment, the Bible and its special revelation could have died from decay in the elements. (See How Did Our Bible Manuscripts Survive the Elements?)

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Simply put, having no perfect solution does not mean that there is no perfect solution, it merely eludes us at this time. We have resolved thousands of textual variants establishing the Greek New Testament text to a mirror-like image of the original. Right now we can put the rendering in the main text that has the best evidence even if it might not be what the author originally penned and then place the variant reading in a footnote explaining the circumstances. Out of 138,000+ Greek New Testament words, we have maybe a handful of these issues. Nevertheless, nothing is lost because the original reading that only God knows, in this case, will be either in the main text or a footnote, so nothing is lost.

Whenever we find a difficulty like this, simply acknowledge it because there is no real difficulty when you have the original reading in the main text or in a footnote. Do not try to hide it or cover over it with some contorted explanation. Do not for a moment assume that there is no solution just because you have found none at this time. Do not let these difficulties cause you any doubt,  no matter how unanswerable they may seem or how insurmountable it looks at first sight. The Bible had a 1,400-year period where copyists’ errors slipped into the text and it still withstood the test of time, impacting hundreds of millions of lives just as God had intended. Moreover, following the corruption era, we had 500 years where hundreds of textual scholars gave their lives to give us a restored text.

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

Yes, it would be the greatest discovery of all time if we found the actual original five books that were penned by Moses himself, Genesis through Deuteronomy. However, first, there would be no way of establishing that they were the originals. Second, truth be told, we do not need the originals. We do not need those original documents. What is so important about the documents? Nothing, it is the content on the original documents that we are after. And truly miraculously, we have more copies than needed to do just that. We do not need miraculous preservation because we have miraculous restoration. We now know beyond a reasonable doubt that the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament critical texts are a 99% reflection of the content that was in those ancient original manuscripts.

The P52 PROJECT THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS 4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS

When trying to determine what the Old Testament author originally wrote, the primary weight of external evidence generally goes to the original language manuscripts. The Codex Leningrad B 19A and the Aleppo Codex are almost always preferred. In the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS; critical edition of the Hebrew Bible), 90 percent is without a significant variation. Of the 10 percent that does exist, a very small percentage of that has any impact on its meaning, and in almost all of these very limited textual variants, we can ascertain the original wording of the original text with certainty. Yes, it is rare to find a substantive variant among manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. The Codex Leningrad B 19A dating to about (1008 C.E.) and the Aleppo Codex from about (930 C.E.) were produced by the Masoretes, who are the most by far extremely disciplined copyists of all time, whose scribal practices date back to about the year 500 C.E. In fact, by the second century C.E., a particular text entire Hebrew Bible became the generally accepted standard text, which is often referred to as the Proto-Masoretic text, as it preceded the work of the Masoretes and, it already had the basic form of the Masoretic text that was to come. These subtle differences in the Masoretic manuscripts are almost exclusively spelling differences, which also included vocalization, as well as the presence or absence of the conjunction wāw, in addition to other features that in no way impact the meaning of the text. In Old Testament Textual Criticism, the Masoretic text is our starting point and should only be abandoned as a last resort. While it is true that the Masoretic Text is not perfect, there needs to be a heavy burden of proof in we are to go with an alternative reading. All of the evidence needs to be examined before we conclude that a reading in the Masoretic Text is a corruption.

Terry’s comments are helpful:

Variations are not contradictions, and many essential variations arise from different methods of arranging a series of particular facts. The peculiarities of oriental thought and speech often involve seeming extravagance of statement and verbal inaccuracies, which are of a nature to provoke the criticism of the less impassioned writers of the West. And it is but just to add that not a few of the alleged contradictions of Scripture exist only in the imagination of skeptical writers, and are to be attributed to the perverse misunderstanding of captious critics. (Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testament., 514.)

9781949586121 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS

Determination

This author is at the beginning of this investigation. However, Andrews is one of the most determined investigators that the readers of this blog will ever encounter. He never researches anything with the intent of appeasing the scholarly world who speaks as though we are dealing with a human book. His goal, his purpose is always the churchgoer, do they have a rational, reasonable answer that can allow them to sleep well at night, so they can answer the Bible critic. Scholarship of old began with the presupposition that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, whose authors were moved along by the Holy Spirit so as to give its readers God’s thoughts, not man’s thoughts. Largely that has been abandoned for a very long time. Today’s top 100+ Christian apologists are not focused on getting an article in some Society of Biblical Literature article, or a book published by Oxford University Press or Brill publishing, they are looking to do the work of an evangelist.


For example, a professor of religious studies in North Carolina, U.S.A., who is a world-renowned Agnostic New Testament textual scholar, describes the Bible in this way: “It is a radical shift from reading the Bible as an inerrant blueprint for our faith, life, and future to seeing it as a very human book, with very human points of view, many of which differ from one another and none of which provides the inerrant guide to how we should live. This is the shift in my own thinking that I ended up making, and to which I am now fully committed. Many Christians, of course, have never held this literalistic view of the Bible in the first place, and for them, such a view might seem completely one-sided an unnuanced (not to mention bizarre and unrelated to matters of faith). There are, however, plenty of people around, who still see the Bible this way. Occasionally, I see a bumper sticker that reads: ‘God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.’ My response is always, What if God didn’t say it? What if the book you take as giving you God’s words instead contains human words? What if the Bible doesn’t give a foolproof answer to the questions of the modern age—abortions, women’s rights, gay rights, religious supremacy, Western-style democracy, and the like? What if we have to figure out how to live and what to believe on our own, without setting up the Bible as the false idol—or an oracle that gives us a direct line of communication with the Almighty? There are clear reasons for thinking that, in fact, the Bible is not this kind of inerrant guide to our lives: among other things, as I.ve been pointing out, in many places as we (as scholars, or just regular readers) don’t even know what the original words of the Bible were. (bold mine)—Bart D. Ehrman, The Story Behind Who Changed The New Testament and Why (New York, NY: Continuum, 2008), p. 13-14.

If we were to start with the presupposition of reading the Bible as “a very human book,” then we would be lean toward discarding and direction or principles that do not satisfy our own personal taste. How is this Agnostic evangelist for “a very human” book described by today’s scholarly world?

Biography

Bart D. Ehrman is one of the most renowned and controversial Bible scholars in the world today. He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestsellers How Jesus Became God; Misquoting Jesus; God’s Problem; Jesus, Interrupted; and Forged. He has appeared on Dateline NBC, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CNN, History, and top NPR programs, as well as been featured in TIME, the New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and other publications. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.—HarperCollins Publishers.


We need to make up our mind that we will find the solution if we can by any amount of study and research that we have to carry out. We need not abandon the Faith like Bart D. Ehrman because some answers are not readily available. We need to ponder over it and work over it for our entire lives if necessary. Maybe the evidence comes to light for the next generation. Sometimes, the work benefits us much more than when we discover the solution. The solution is there to be found and it isn’t always what we may want it to be, we just have to be willing to buy out the time, to work hard enough and long enough.

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