2 TIMOTHY 3:16: Was Paul Referring to the Hebrew Text or the Greek Septuagint When He Said All Scripture Is Inspired by God?

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2 Timothy 3:16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God[23] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;

There are 320 Greek New Testament direct quotations of passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. According to a listing published by Westcott and Hort, the combined total of quotations and references is some 890. (The New Testament in the Original Greek, Graz, 1974, Vol. I, pp. 581-595)

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 180+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

God did not limit his communication with humans to Hebrew. After the Babylonian exile, Aramaic became the common language of SOME of the Israelites. Then, of course, the Septuagint (280-150 B.C.E.). The work of so many translators of the LXX gave us mixed translation philosophies, from literal to free and interpretive. Of Course, Hebrew was the primary text down to and through the first century C.E. Yes, many quotes came from the Septuagint, but this does not mean that the entire Septuagint translation is to be viewed as inspired. Still, those portions quoted by the NT authors did become the inspired Word of God. There are a few cases where the quotations by Paul and others are different from both the Hebrew and Greek texts that are available to us.

Nevertheless, the Septuagint was viewed as the inspired Word of God by Greek-speaking Jews and later by Christians as well. The Christians’ use of it to convert Jews to Christian caused the Jews to abandon the LXX for the Hebrew text. Apologies for the long road here, but in matters such as this, it is no easy black-and-white answer. What we can say is that Paul’s Words referred to the Old Testament. Paul, unlike some Christians, was blessed with a Ph.D. level education from Gamaliel, a world-renowned Jewish scholar of his day. So, Paul likely saw the Hebrew Old Testament as the Word of God, the Septuagint as a translation of the Word of God, but the Word of God like we would consider good literal translations today (ASV, RSV, ESV, LEB, CSB, UASV). We view the Updated American Standard Version as the Word of God in English.

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Paul would have seen the LXX as the Word of God in Greek but not the inspired Word of God in a technical sense. Paul would be qualifying it in his mind. And he would have been aware of the liberties that some copyists had taken with the Hebrew text as well. So, he would have seen the current Hebrew text as copies of the inspired Hebrew Word of God. But we, too, must remember that it is the Holy Spirit moving Paul along in his writings. So, Paul would have seen his writings and other NT authors as inspired. Peter saw Paul’s letter as Scripture in the same way they saw the OT. Paul would have been aware of all of these nuances. So, Paul would have seen the Septuagint as the translated Word of God but not the inspired Word of God. He would have seen the original published Hebrew texts by the authors as the inspired, inerrant Word of God. As I ponder things over time, I tweak things. And as new information comes to me, I tweak things too. This is what I feel now based on what I know at this moment.

The primary weight of external evidence generally goes to the original language manuscripts, and the Codex Leningrad B 19A and the Aleppo Codex are almost always preferred. 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 concluding that a reading in the Masoretic Text is corrupt. 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. There are a number of times when you might have the Syriac, Septuagint, Dead Sea Scrolls, Aramaic Targums, and the Vulgate that are at odds with the Masoretic Text the preferred choice should not be the MT.

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Initially, the Septuagint (LXX) was viewed by the Jews as inspired by God, equal to the Hebrew Scriptures. However, in the first century C.E., the Christians adopted the Septuagint in their churches. It was used by the Christians in their evangelism to make disciples and to debate the Jews on Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah. Soon, the Jews began to look at the Septuagint with suspicion. This resulted in the Jews of the second century C.E. abandoning the Septuagint and returning to the Hebrew Scriptures. This has proved to be beneficial for the textual scholar and translator. In the second century C.E., other Greek translations of the Septuagint were produced. We have, for example, LXXAq Aquila, LXXSym Symmachus, and LXXTh Theodotion. The consonantal text of the Hebrew Scriptures became the standard text between the first and second centuries C.E. However, textual variants still continued until the Masoretes and the Masoretic text. However, scribes taking liberties by altering the text was no longer the case, as was true of the previous period of the Sopherim. The scribes who copied the Hebrew Scriptures from the time of Ezra down to the time of Jesus were called Sopherim, i.e., scribes.

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From the 6th century C.E. to the 10th century C.E., we have the Masoretes, groups of extraordinary Jewish scribe-scholars. The Masoretes were very much concerned with the accurate transmission of each word, even each letter, of the text they were copying. Accuracy was of supreme importance; therefore, the Masoretes used the side margins of each page to inform others of deliberate or inadvertent changes in the text by past copyists. The Masoretes also use these marginal notes for other reasons as well, such as unusual word forms and combinations. They even marked how frequently they occurred within a book or even the whole Hebrew Old Testament. Of course, marginal spaces were very limited, so they used abbreviated code. They also formed a cross-checking tool where they would mark the middle word and letters of certain books. Their push for accuracy moved them to go so far as to count every letter of the Hebrew Old Testament.

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In the Masoretic text, we find notes in the side margins, which are known as the Small Masora. There are also notes in the top margin, which are referred to as the Large Masora. Any other notes placed elsewhere within the text are called the Final Masora. The Masoretes used the notes in the top and bottom margins to record more extensive notes and comments concerning the abbreviated notes in the side margins. This enabled them to be able to cross-check their work. We must remember that there were no numbered verses at this time, and they had no Bible concordances. Well, one might wonder how the Masoretes could refer to different parts of the Hebrew text to have an effective cross-checking system. They would list part of a parallel verse in the top and bottom margins to remind them of where the word(s) indicated were found. Because they were dealing with limited space, they often could only list one word to remind them where each parallel verse could be found. To have an effective cross-reference system through these marginal notes, the Masoretes would have to have memorized the entire Hebrew Bible.

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