Did the Apostles

Favor the Septuagint?

Why did the New Testament writers quote from the Septuagint (LXX)? Did they favor the Septuagint over the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament? Is every Old Testament quotation in the New Testament taken from the Septuagint? Should our translations use the Septuagint instead of the Hebrew where the meanings diverge? These are not new questions. Theologians and Bible scholars have been discussing this for centuries. Richard Muller writes:

“Many of the late sixteenth and seventeenth century Protestant writers devoted considerable space to the refutation of claims made by Roman theologians and polemicists concerning the inspiration of the Septuagint, given both its widespread use in the ancient world and by the writers of the New Testament and its congruence with the text and canon of the Vulgate.” [1]

Even to this day the Eastern Orthodox churches continue to consider the Septuagint (LXX) authentic and inspired, rather than the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT). [2] A recent scholarly work by Møgens Müller describes the authority and authenticity of the text of the LXX as “fully on a par with the Hebrew Bible” and further argues that “the Septuagint is extensively used in the New Testament writings, whereby it—and not the Hebrew Bible (the Masoretic text)—is the most obvious candidate for the title of the first Bible of the Church.” [3] On another front, closer to home for Western Evangelicals, some recent English translations depart from the Masoretic Text in a number of places in favor of the LXX reading [4] (e.g. Gen. 47:21, 49:10; Deut. 32:43; Judges 14:15, 16:13-14; 1 Sam. 1:24, 14:41; 2 Sam. 7:16; etc.).

A common assumption underlying these views is that the OT text developed or changed over time, and that since the LXX was translated from an early edition of the Hebrew OT, it is more accurate than the later Masoretic Text. [5] Another primary reason given for the superiority of the LXX over the MT is that “some of the citations taken from the Old Testament and found in the New mainly use the Septuagint text.” [6]

However, these traditions run counter to the Reformed doctrine of Scripture, summarized by the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them…” (WCF 1:8).

Thus the Old Testament in Hebrew, together with the New Testament in Greek, and those only, are immediately inspired and authoritative.

Statement of the Question.

Historical-critical arguments and implications regarding the Septuagint may seem overwhelming with all of the scholarly work being done regarding it. However, laymen can be assured that the original Hebrew Old Testament, that is reflected in their English translation of the Masoretic Text, has indeed been kept pure and entire by the singular care and providence of God and is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

There are many complex aspects to an historical, critical, and theological understanding of the LXX and many potential implications and challenges it may pose to the authenticity of the Masoretic Text, but this essay will only focus on one of them. We will not discuss the Apocryphal books of the LXX vs. the Hebrew canon of the MT, nor specific textual variants within the OT. Our focus will be a general overview on how Christians should understand the use of the Septuagint in the New Testament. Why should the Hebrew Masoretic Text be the final appeal in all controversies when the inspired and infallible writers quoted from the LXX more than they did from the Hebrew text, sometimes despite the meaningful differences between them? Does this mean that the LXX is more authoritative than, or equally authoritative with, the MT? Or does it imply the authority of the church to identify or declare a normative text of Scripture?

Before addressing the use of the LXX by the NT writers, we must first consider the origins and reliability of the LXX, and whether what we call the LXX today is the same that existed in the time of the Apostles.

The Origins & Reliability of the LXX.

The Pentateuch was translated by 70 (or 72) scholars around the mid 3rd century BC, while the remaining books were translated, edited, and revised by various people over the next three centuries. History leaves few details about this latter part of the development of what we now know as “the Septuagint.” [7] This means that the LXX is not “a single, cohesive work,” and “failure to comprehend the plurality of the translations that make up the LXX can result in misleading conclusions.” [8] The quality and style varies significantly between portions of the LXX. Some parts appear to be more literal while others are more paraphrastic of the original Hebrew. The Encyclopaedia Judaica concludes that “what we term the Septuagint is in fact an almost accidental gathering together of texts from diverse sources.” [9]

Although there are extant older fragments of the OT in Greek, the Encyclopedia continues, “For the most part, our earliest texts for this Greek material derive from codices from the third and fourth centuries [A.D.]; in particular, Codex Vaticanus, Codex Alexandrinus, and Codex Sinaiticus.” These may or may not be good exemplars of the OT Greek translations of that time period. But even so, being contemporaneous with Jerome (347-420), his testimony about the unreliability of the LXX at that time suggests the improbability of reconstructing the LXX today (such that it precisely matches any of the Greek translations available in the first century when the New Testament was written). We will examine Jerome’s thought on this subject below. By then, the Greek versions may have been edited in some parts to match the Greek New Testament where the latter was intending to paraphrase the Hebrew and apply it in a renewed way. [10] Moreover, as Edward Leigh (1602-1671) observed, God has not guaranteed to preserve anything but the authentic original language text of Scripture:

“That ancient and true translation of the Septuagint is corrupted and violated, which (as Jerome saith [Letter 112]) was agreeable to the Hebrew, but so is not the Greek copy now extant, which is full of corruptions, and seemeth to be a mixt and confused translation of many.

“If the Seventy, as well as the Hebrew, had been authentical, the Lord would have been careful to have kept it pure and uncorrupt unto our days, as well as he hath done the Hebrew. There is indeed a Greek edition extant, which goeth under the name of the Seventy; but Whitaker saith that the true Seventy is lost, and that this which we now have is mixt and miserably corrupted.” [11]

Lutheran Scholastic theologian Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), likewise observed, “we cannot attribute authentic authority, however, to that Greek translation nor equate it with the Hebrew text…because first, it is a translation and, therefore, is not authentic nor does it have the same authority as the Hebrew text.” [12] Again, in his 7th argument against the authentic authority of the LXX:

“Origen, Lucian, Hesychius, and Jerome already began to correct the Septuagint translation. How, then, was it free of errors? And who would believe that, though it contracted corruption in its first three hundred years, it remained uncorrupted for the other thirteen hundred years? Justin Martyr: ‘Your teachers have removed many complete passages of those Scriptures in their entirety from the translation of the elders who were with Ptolemy. Those passages show clearly that He who was crucified is both God and man and that His crucifixion and death were foretold‘ (Dialogus cum Tryphone, ch. 71)—a fact that he proves in the same book with several examples.” [13]

Prominent Reformed Scholastic, Bernardinus De Moor (1709-1780), writing in the period of Late Orthodoxy, also noted that,

“the super-abounding errors of this version [LXX] are evident, in its less suitable expression of the sense, addition, subtraction, mutation, through an incorrect reading of the letters, through incorrect punctuation, signification of the words, inverted construction of the words, etc., just as Bellarmine himself acknowledges, [14] and demonstrates that this Version is now corrupted in a variety of ways, and that it is no longer extant in its integrity; so that it is not now safe to emend the Hebrew or Latin texts out of the Greek codices. But a consideration of those errors, which defile this Version, teaches that a great part of those is to be ascribed to the Interpreters themselves; to which, nevertheless, far more were able to be added thereafter by injury of time, blindness and sleepiness of scribes, etc.” [15]

From these observations it is clear that although the LXX which the Apostles used may have been an accurate translation, it was not preserved, but was subjected to substantial corruption over time. We therefore cannot say the LXX as it exists today is the same LXX the Apostles used. Much less can we claim the current LXX is authoritative based on the Apostles’ usage of it.  Having briefly considered the origins and reliability of the LXX, we now turn to the use of the LXX by the NT writers.

Apostolic Use of the Septuagint in the New Testament.

For a long time scholars have attempted to quantify the New Testament quotations of the Old, and to what degree they conform to the locution of either the LXX, the MT, or are paraphrased from either or both by the NT writer. Yet this is a notoriously difficult task. How many times the NT authors quote the OT depends on what constitutes a quotation. [16] It is not always obvious whether something is an intentional quotation, allusion, or reference. What constitutes an allusion? What constitutes a quotation? Exegetes may give different answers. Are semantic differences, which are not contrary to the sense, to be counted as true differences? “It is difficult to give an accurate figure since the variation in use ranges all the way from a distant allusion to a definite quotation introduced by an explicit formula stating the citation’s source.” [17] Typically what follows the phrase “it is written” is some form of quotation, but all references are not necessarily preceded by such an explicit formula. Moreover, when it comes to quotations of the OT in the NT, we are not simply considering copying practices, but rather citation practices—and that from one language to another. The divine author of Scripture, through the human penman, may alter the OT terminology in the act of quoting it in the NT without contradiction or inconsistency.

De Moor conceded that “the citations of the Old Testament in the New Testament quite frequently agree with the Septuagint, even in passages where the Greek Version appears to turn from the Hebrew verity.” Yet he assures us that this is not consistently the case, since the Apostles “sometimes recede somewhat both from the Hebrew text and from the Septuagint Version: often also, with the Septuagint abandoned, they adhere closely to the Hebrew text.” After giving examples of each, he continues:

“When the Writers of the New Testament follow the Septuagint, they do not do it so that they might procure authenticity for this Version; but so that in the same sense, and with the substance adduced more than the words, or words not fit for the scope, they might accommodate themselves unto the common usage and tongue: and so that they might turn from the minds of their hearers that suspicion that they either impose upon the cited oracles, and twist them unto their own opinion; or that the Version is not anywhere correct and is to be altogether rejected, of which Version they had been making use to that time, and from which alone they had drawn the mysteries of religion.” [18]

Frederic Spanheim (1600-1649) likewise observed,

“It is to be noted that the Evangelists followed the Septuagint Version in a great many things, which was both of the greatest authority among the Hellenists, and at the disposal of many, when it was able to be done with the substance of the Prophetic words unharmed, both so that they might show their liberty, and so that they might not in a matter trivial and indifferent furnish any occasion of scandal to the weak, and of cavils to the wicked.” [19]

The Apostles and Evangelists were very cognizant of the status and challenges the young fledgling Church would face. They deliberately avoided undermining a trusted and useful translation where it did not substantially affect exegesis and application of biblical truth. Further, while the Jews were committed with the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2) regarding the formal preservation of the Hebrew text, they remained in unbelief, “their minds were blinded,” and a veil remained upon their hearts in the interpretation and understanding of the Old Testament (2 Cor. 3:14-16). Therefore, it is likely that the Apostles were also careful of putting Gentile converts in a position of over-reliance on unbelieving Jewish scholars (who were also their persecutors), as Dr. Edward F. Hills wrote:

“Such an emphasis on the Hebrew would have been harmful to the Gentile churches which had just been formed. It would have brought these Gentile Christians into a position of dependence upon the unbelieving Jewish rabbis, on whose learning they would have been obliged to rely for an understanding of the Hebrew Old Testament.” [20]

The Apostles referenced the LXX because it was widely used at the time, not because they believed it was infallible. Even where it is a highly dynamic paraphrase, the NT writers quoted it when the meaning aligned with the Hebrew text. However, there are also many places where they quoted from the Hebrew text, giving their own translation instead (compare Mat. 2:15 with Hos. 11:1; John 19:37 with Zech. 12:10; Mat. 2:18 with Jer. 31:15; 1 Cor. 15:54 with Isa. 25:8; Mark 15:34 with Psalm 22:1). [21] In many places the LXX is not a formal translation of the original Hebrew text, but rather an interpretation or paraphrase (sometimes of obscure Hebrew idioms). [22] Through the Holy Spirit, the Apostles infallibly discerned when these non-literal renderings were none-the-less accurately purveying the original intent. Also, in many places, the NT penmen used the OT Greek translation to draw out a meaning from the text that was initially latent in the original Hebrew. [23] “The New Testament contains the Holy Spirit’s commentary on the message and teaching of the Old Testament.” [24]

Jerome’s Preference for the Hebrew.

Augustine (354-430) and Jerome (347-420) exchanged letters wherein they debated the authority and reliability of the LXX. While Augustine affirmed that the extant Hebrew was the pure Word of God, he also held that the LXX was likewise inspired, even in its differences with the Hebrew, and that in so doing, the Spirit provided a more Messianic interpretation in preparation for Christ’s coming (City of God 18.43-45). Due to this, as well as the apostolic use and wide circulation of the LXX, he believed it was to be preferred above the Hebrew text for translation into Latin (Letter 71).

Jerome responded that the original form of the LXX had been revised and edited such that by his time, “you will scarcely find more than one manuscript here and there which has not these interpolations” (Letter 112). In his Prologue of Job, he clarified that his motive of translating from Hebrew “was not to censure the ancient translation, but that those passages in it which are obscure, or those which have been omitted, or at all events, through the fault of copyists have been corrupted, might have light thrown upon them by our translation.” (NPNF2, 6:491). In his Apology Against Rufinus, Jerome defended the primacy of the Hebrew by enumerating several examples where the Hebrew text of the Old Testament was quoted by the Apostles in the New Testament, rather than the LXX. He continued:

“I do not say this in order to aim a blow at the seventy translators; but I assert that the Apostles of Christ have an authority superior to theirs. Wherever the Seventy agree with the Hebrew, the Apostles took their quotations from that translation; but, where they disagree, they set down in Greek what they had found in the Hebrew.” [25]

In a letter to “a lady of Gaul named Algasia” in answer to “eleven questions which she had submitted to him,” Jerome laid down the general rule:

Whenever the prophets and Apostles quote testimonies from the Old Testament, one must note quite carefully that they did not follow the words but the sense. Wherever the Septuagint translators differ from the Hebrew, one must note that they have expressed the Hebrew sense in their own words.” [26]

The Reformation.

Drawing from Jerome, Francis Turretin (1623-1687) summarized the Reformed Orthodox view of the apostolic use of the Septuagint:

“The Apostles used this version [the LXX] not because they believed it to be authentic and divine, but because it was then the most used and most universally received and because (where a regard for the sense and truth was preserved) they were unwilling either rashly to dispute or to create a doubt in the minds of the more weak, but by a holy prudence left unchanged what when changed would give offense, especially when it would answer their purpose. However, they did this in such a manner that sometimes when it seemed necessary, when the version of the Septuagint seemed to be not only unsuitable but untrue, they preferred the source (as Jerome says). This can easily be gathered from a comparison of Mat. 2:15 with Hos. 11:1; John 19:37 with Zech. 12:10; Jer. 31:15 with Mat. 2:18; Isa. 25:8 with 1 Cor. 15:54.

“The quotations in the New Testament from the Septuagint are not authentic per se (or because they were translated by the seventy from Hebrew into Greek), but per accidens inasmuch as they were drawn into the sacred context by the evangelists under the influence of the Holy Spirit.” [27]

The use of the LXX by the NT does not mean that the version as a whole is more authoritative than the MT. Just as Paul’s citation of pagan philosophers (e.g. Acts 17) does not mean that those authors were inspired, so Paul’s use of a translation does not de facto make it authentic and inspired.

Throughout his commentary, John Owen gives detailed attention to the use of the LXX in the book of Hebrews, which he summarizes in three points:

“1) That the penmen of the New Testament do not oblige themselves unto that translation [the LXX], but in many places do precisely render the words of the original text, where the translation differs from it.

“2) That they do oftentimes express the sense of the testimony which they quote in words of their own, neither agreeing with that translation nor exactly answering the original Hebrew.

“3) That sundry passages have been unquestioningly taken out of the New Testament, and inserted into that translation; which I have elsewhere proved by undeniable instances.” [28]

Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603) assures us:

“We are able to justify every place cited out of the 70 by the Apostles and Evangelists to be agreeable with the Hebrew, and (in some diversity of words) to have the same sense; at the least to have no sense repugnant to that in the Hebrew: which is manifest by this, that where the 70 differed in sense, there they leaving the 70, whom they so desirously followed (for support of the Gentiles acquainted therewith) follow the Hebrew text. And as this is manifest by experience, so it is observed expressly of Jerome.” [29]

Johann Gerhard, likewise drawing on Jerome, stated:

“The evangelists and Apostles in the New Testament follow the Septuagint translation in quoting statements from the Old Testament ‘because at that time that translation had been published among the nations,’ as Jerome points out in his commentary on Genesis 47. Jerome, however, sets down this rule: ‘Whenever the prophets and Apostles quote testimonies from the Old Testament, one must note quite carefully that they did not follow the words but the sense. Wherever the Septuagint translators differ from the Hebrew, one must note that they have expressed the Hebrew sense in their own words‘ (Epistle 121 ad Algasiam).” [30]

In response to Cardinal Belarmine‘s argument that the Apostle Paul’s quotation of the LXX of Psalm 19:4 in Romans 10:18 indicates the Hebrew Masoretic is corrupt and impure, Gerhard writes:

“Not only here [Ps. 19:4] but also in many other places in the New Testament, Christ and the Apostles quote statements from the Old Testament not according to the wording of the Hebrew text but according to the Septuagint translation, as Jerome teaches (Quaest. super Genes., c. 46). From this, however, one cannot and should not infer that the Hebrew text is not authentic nor that we must go back from the streams to the sources. After all, first, who are we when compared with Christ, the master of Scripture, and with the Apostles, who were moved by the immediate inbreathing of the Holy Spirit?

“Second, though they do not always follow the actual words, nevertheless they do retain the purest sense and intention. cf. Jerome, Epistle 121 ad Algasiam…

“Furthermore, it is one thing to translate Scripture, but it is another to cite a passage from Scripture. Even the teachers of our Church in their disputations draw statements of Scripture from the Latin Vulgate version, yet they do not thereby claim that it is authentic; rather, as necessity demands, they appeal to the Hebrew sources.

“In addition, the nature of the Greek version today is different from what it formerly was, because that Greek version of the Old Testament that exists today either is not the version of the Septuagint translators or has been corrupted and vitiated in many ways.

“Finally, they did not quote statements of Scripture from the Greek version for the purpose of claiming that the Hebrew sources were contaminated and muddied, but because the Greek version was at that time the most used and the most widely accepted. Jerome, Quaest. super Genesin: ‘Observe this in general, that whenever the holy Apostles or apostolic men speak to the people, they often use those testimonies that then were widely published among the Gentiles, namely, through the Septuagint translation.’” [31]

May the LXX be used to correct the Hebrew?

The Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675) affirms in canon I, that due to God’s “singular grace and goodness” the Church “has, and will have to the end of the world (2 Pet 1:19), a ‘sure word of prophecy’ and ‘Holy Scriptures’ (2 Tim 3:15), from which, though heaven and earth pass away, ‘the smallest letter or the least stroke of a pen will not disappear by any means’ (Matt 5:18).” Then the Formula applies this specifically to the extant Hebrew apographa (i.e. the Masoretic Text) in canon II:

“But, in particular, The Hebrew original of the OT which we have received and to this day do retain as handed down by the Hebrew Church, ‘who had been given the oracles of God‘ (Rom 3:2), is, not only in its consonants, but in its vowels—either the vowel points themselves, or at least the power of the points—not only in its matter, but in its words, inspired by God. It thus forms, together with the Original of the NT the sole and complete rule of our faith and practice; and to its standard, as to a Lydian stone, all extant versions, eastern or western, ought to be applied, and wherever they differ, be conformed.”

Then, in canon III, the Formula rebukes those who, contrary to the aforementioned doctrine, would advocate for amending the extant Hebrew text “from the versions of the LXX and other Greek versions, the Samaritan Pentateuch, by the Chaldaic Targums, or even from other sources.” Canon III continues:

“They go even to the point of following the corrections that their own rational powers dictate from the various readings of the Hebrew Original itself—which, they maintain, has been corrupted in various ways; and finally, they affirm that besides the Hebrew edition of the present time, there are in the versions of the ancient interpreters which differ from our Hebrew text, other Hebrew Originals. Since these versions are also indicative of ancient Hebrew Originals differing from each other, they thus bring the foundation of our faith and its sacred authority into perilous danger.” [32]

Lutheran bibliology is entirely compatible with the Reformed on this point, as Gerhard wrote, this would be to judge “the source from the streams” and to determine “the norm and rule from the square that the norm and rule have drawn.” [33] This is backwards. We do not determine if a ruler is straight by comparing it with a hand-drawn line, but the other way around. The Hebrew OT is the rule whereby all translations, including the LXX, are to be judged. Whatever utility the LXX may have, we utterly deny that it may be used to correct the original Hebrew, which was dictated by the Holy Ghost, and kept pure in all ages by his singular care and providence.

The Value of the Septuagint.

Despite the ways in which the LXX can be misused, we must not fail to note where it remains valuable. De Moor writes how important it was for preparing Hellenistic Jews and God-fearing Gentiles for understanding the Old Testament and its fulfillment in Christ, as preached by the Apostles:

“Although it is disgracefully stained with errors and polluted with fables, to the present day it is not without its manifold uses…it paved the way for the preaching of the Apostles, and in this Version the Gentiles, in a tongue known to them, were able to read those things that were preached by the Apostles, that were formerly preached by the Prophets: while many that had already previously read the Books of Moses and of the Prophets, having in a certain measure been prepared in this manner, were more easily receiving what was announced by the Apostles.” [34]

Second, the LXX is very important as a source of lexical information for the meaning of Greek terms. The New Testament may use certain Greek words a limited number of times. But upon consultation with the use of those words in the LXX, their meaning is made more clear. At the same time, it is a tool which may help exegetes determine the possible meaning of difficult Hebrew words and idioms. Understanding how the LXX and other ancient versions translated the Hebrew can shed light on the meaning of the original Hebrew. [35]

[1] Richard Muller, Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, p. 432.

[2] By “original” we mean what the Reformed Orthodox meant (not the revisionist, Warfieldian meaning), that is, as Turretin stated: “we do not mean the autographs written by the hand of Moses, of the Prophets, and of the Apostles, which certainly do not now exist. We mean their apographs [copies] which are so called because they set forth to us the word of God in the very words of those who wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit. cf. our article on The Preservation of Scripture & Dr. Theodore Letis, The Protestant Dogmaticians and the Late Princeton School on the Status of the Sacred Apographa.

[3] Møgens Müller, The First Bible of the Church: A Plea for the Septuagint. Engaging with this work, Emanuel Tov notes that arguments for the extant LXX being “closer to the text used by the early Christians” are unpersuasive, in part because “the quotations from the Septuagint in the New Testament often differ from the known manuscripts of the Septuagint.” (The Status of the Masoretic Text in Modern Text Editions of the Hebrew Bible in The Canon Debate, ed. Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders, p. 240, fn. 31).

[4] The English Standard Version (ESV) Preface admits: “In exceptional, difficult cases, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac Peshitta, the Latin Vulgate, and other sources were consulted to shed possible light on the text, or, if necessary, to support a divergence from the Masoretic text.

[5] Evangelical scholar Dr. Edward Glenny, in the Gospel Coalition’s journal Themelios, writes:

“Textual scholars are convinced that although the LXX is primarily a translation and, in some of its forms, a revision of the original Greek text, in some of the instances where the LXX disagrees with the MT it preserves an earlier form of the Hebrew than the MT.”

Yet in the footnote, candidly admits:

“Determining such things involves retroversion of the LXX to attempt to reconstruct its Hebrew Vorlage in order to compare it with other Hebrew texts. The process is complex, and it is often difficult to determine if differences between the MT and LXX are the result of a different Vorlage or result from some other factor, such as the technique of the translator.” (The Septuagint and Biblical Theology, Themelios, v. 41, i. 2).

On the other hand, it is evident how a robust and confessional doctrine of Scripture would lead Christian scholars and churchmen to approach this issue very differently.

[6] Hilarion Alfeyev, Orthodox Christianity, Volume II: Doctrine and Teaching of the Orthodox Church, (New York: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 2012) p. 34. Cited from The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text by Fr. John Whiteford.

[7] Travis Bohlinger, The Origin of the LXX, Logos Academic Blog. “[The Septuagint] was translated from Hebrew over several centuries, and the translations began to be revised shortly after they were completed.” (Edward Glenny, The Septuagint and Biblical Theology, Themelios, v. 41, i. 2, fn. 15). See also “On the Invention and Problem of the term Septuagint” by Dr. Peter Williams at the Evangelical Theological Society gathering in 2016. Also “Why I Don’t Believe In The Septuagint” by Dr. Peter Williams.

[8] Travis Bohlinger, The Influence of the LXX, Logos Academic Blog. Similarly, Dr. Melvin Peters observes that there is often “more than one form of the text in a single book.” (Translating the Old Greek Bible (The Septuagint): An Inconvenient Witness to Biblical History, 16:20)

[9] Sarna, Nahum; Snaith, Norman; Greenspoon, Leonard; Harkins, Franklin; Harkins, Angela; Grossfeld, Bernard; Huehnergard, John; Weidmann, Frederick; Stone, Michael; Sasson, Ilana; Markon, Isaak; Cassuto, Umberto; Loewe, Raphael; Simonsen, David; Fox, Everett; Zimels, Abraham; Grossman, Avraham; Altmann, Alexander; Avishur, Isaac; Hummel, Horace; Cogan, Mordechai; Sperling, S.; Berlinblau, Jacques; Wacholder, Ben; Rabinowitz, Louis; Enslin, Morton; Hirschberg, Ha. “Bible. Encyclopaedia Judaica. Greek: The Septuagint.

[10] This theory is frequently advanced by John Owen in his Commentary on Hebrews. cf. Owen on Heb. 1:6; 1:8-9; 2:13a; 3:7-11; 3:15; 4:7; & 10:5-7. While not limited to the book of Hebrews, more research in light of modern evidence (and confessional presuppositions) needs to be done on this topic.

[11] Edward Leigh, Body of Divinity, p. 75. cf. William Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture, Q. 2, ch. 3, Of the Greek Version by the Seventy Translators of the Hebrew Books.

[12] Johann Gerhard, Theological Commonplaces vol. 2, On the Nature of Theology and Scripture, Kindle position 1324.

[13] Gerhard, ibid., Kindle position 1327.

[14] Robert Belarmine (1542-1621), book II de Verbo Dei, chapter VI, Controversiis, tome I, columns 102-105. In his study of Franciscus Junius’ hermeneutics, Douglas Judisch correctly observes: “Junius distinguishes between the version supposedly executed by the legendary seventy translators of the Old Testament and the Septuagint as it existed in his own day (which sometimes, he felt, represented the work of the original translators and sometimes did not). A translation and edition of the Sacrorum Parallelorum Liber Primus of Franciscus Junius: a study in sixteenth century hermeneutics (1979), vol. 2, p. 341.

[15] Bernardinus De Moor, Didactico-Elenctic Theology, vol. 2, ch. 2, sect. 11, p. 211.

[16] Alexander Sperber notes:

“It may at once be said that every part of the N.T. affords evidence of a knowledge of the LXX., and that a great majority of the passages cited from the O.T. are in general agreement with the Greek version. It is calculated by one writer on the subject that, while the N.T. differs from the Masoretic text in 212 citations, it departs from the LXX. in 185; and by another that ‘not more than fifty‘ of the citations ‘materially differ from the LXX.‘ On either estimate the LXX. is the principal source from which the writers of the N.T. derived their O.T. quotations.” (New Testament and Septuagint. Journal of Biblical Literature. Vol. 59, No. 2 (June 1940), pp. 193-293).

Some sources documenting these differences will count examples in favor of the LXX when they really should not. For example, Gal. 3:13 quotation of Deut. 21:23. The LXX explicitly adds “on a tree” in v. 23 but the MT does not repeat that the hanging is being done on a tree after previously specifying “tree” twice in vv. 22-23. So the Apostle quoting the LXX here is not contrary to the sense or the grammar of the MT at all. Or Heb. 2:12 citing Ps. 22:22—alleging a difference between LXX and MT here is unwarranted; “will I sing praise to thee” (LXX) and “will I praise thee” (MT) are not divergent in meaning.

In our judgment, Archer & Chirichigno give a balanced and fair analysis of this topic. They divide the OT quotations in the NT into 6 categories (A through F), noting that some NT verses may be assigned to more than one category due to the complexity of determining what constitutes a quotation and that some NT texts may appear to quote more than one OT text at once (p. xi). Summarizing their analysis:

  • 64.4% (268) of the OT quotes in the NT are “reasonably or completely accurate” between the MT and LXX and are thus unquestionably immaterial to the statement of the question.
  • 7% (33) “adhere more closely to the MT than the LXX does, indicating that the apostolic author may have consulted his Hebrew Bible directly in the preparation of his own account or letter.
  • 11.2% (50) of the OT quotes in the NT “quite closely adhere to the wording of the LXX, even where the LXX deviates somewhat (though not so seriously as to distort the real meaning of the Old Testament passage as given in the MT) from the received text in the Hebrew Bible.
  • 3% (13) do not precisely match either the MT or the LXX and “give the impression that unwarranted liberties were taken with the Old Testament text in the light of its context,” yet “far from wresting or perverting the original verse, the inspired servant of Jesus brings out in a profound and meaningful way its implications and connotations.
  • 8% (32) are not explicitly adduced by the New Testament writers as quotations, yet closely resemble an OT source.
  • 6% (22) adhere quite closely to the LXX rendering, even when it deviates somewhat from the MT.

Thus, regarding our statement of the question, only these last 22 citations, 6% of the whole, are seemingly problematic. For a good example of how orthodox exegetes have resolved issues in this class of citations cf. Owen on Heb. 11:21.

[17] Roger Nicole, Revelation and the Bible: Contemporary Evangelical Thought, ed. Carl F.H. Henry, p. 137.

[18] De Moor, ibid., pp. 215-216.

[19] Dubiis Euangelicis, Part III, Doubt XIX, § 3, on Matthew 3:3, pp. 48-49, cited from De Moor, ibid., p. 216.

[20] Edward F. Hills, Text and Time: A Reformed Approach to New Testament Textual Criticism, p. 94.

[21] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology II.xiv.vii, vol. 1, p. 129. Archer & Chirichigno explicitly cite 33 citations of this type (Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament: A Complete Survey, p. xxvi, Category C).

[22] e.g. “They pierced my hands and my feet” or “Like a lion my hands and my feet” in Psalm 22:16?

[23] “Owen’s argument resolved the textual question in a direction favorable to his theological concerns: the original language text of the epistle had been preserved, and the Old Testament citations in the epistle were either translations of the inspired Hebrew original or inspired apostolic paraphrases.” (Muller, ibid., p. 434).

[24] Gleason L. Archer & Gregory Chirichigno, “Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament: A Complete Survey” (2005), p. xxviii.

[25] Apology Against Rufinus, Book 2, Section 34, (NPNF2, 3:517).

[26] Jerome, Letter 121, To Algasia, (NPNF2, 6.224). Cited from Gerhard, ibid., Kindle position 857.

[27] Turretin, ibid., p. 129.

[28] John Owen,  Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, on Heb. 10:5. cf. Owen on Heb. 1:6; 1:8-9; 2:13a; 3:7-11; 3:15; 4:7; & 10:5-7.

[29] Thomas Cartwright, Confutation of the Rhemists’ Translation, Glosses, and Annotations on the New Testament, Preface, ans. 50.

[30] Gerhard, ibid., Kindle position 1328. “The Lord’s Penmen in the New Testament do so far yield to the Seventy Interpreters as their difference from the Hebrew is in words and not in sense.” (Cartwright, Confutation…, p. 642, on Heb. 11:21).

[31] Gerhard, ibid., Kindle position 857.

[32] James Ussher (1581-1656) likewise warned:

“But if in it [Capellus’ Critica Sacra] you had taught ‘Out of the Samaritan and the Greek LXX variant readings of the Hebrew text can be collected no less than from what you gather from our modern Hebrew Bible‘, I could not but say that by far the most dangerous path is opened up by that method of reasoning for the perversion of the true meaning of the Holy Spirit in a thousand passages of Scripture…and he who first tried to block this path would have been likely to receive great favour from a not ungrateful posterity.” (Whole Works, vol. 16, p. 222, letter 294. Cited from G.H. Milne, Has the Bible Been Kept Pure?, p. 259).

[33] Gerhard, ibid., Kindle position 846.

[34] De Moor, ibid., pp. 226-227.

[35] Owen and other exegetes frequently use it this way in their commentaries. It is likewise made use of in this way by Greek lexicons such as Thayer’s.


Republished from “Purely Presbyterian” with their kind permission.