When God Spoke Greek | Notes & Review

Posted on October 24, 2013


Timothy Michael Law. When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible. Oxford University Press. (216 pages)

when god spoke greek

1 Why This Book?

Here was real, hold-in-your-hands proof that some biblical books once existed in a different form. (3)

There are at least four reasons why you may find what follows interesting. First, the Septuagint shed slight on the development of Jewish thought between the third century BCE and the first century CE. (4)

Second, the Old Testament translation of almost every modern English version of the Bible is based on the Hebrew Bible, but the form of scripture used by the New Testament authors and the early Church was most often the Septuagint. (4)

Augustine and others throughout history argued that if the New Testament authors used the Septuagint, the Church ought to affirm its authority as well. Moreover, the creation of the concept of an “Old Testament” by the New Testament authors and early Christians depended almost entirely on the availability of these scriptures in Greek for a Mediterranean world that was predominantly Greek. In the first century, a religion’s claim to antiquity could guarantee respect. The new Greek writings about the life and ministry of Jesus and of the early years of the Church — those soon collected and called the New Testament — needed to be seen as the continuation of a more ancient story. Christianity was not new on the scene, they wanted to say, but had roots int he days of the patriarchs. The Septuagint, the Greek Jewish scriptures, allowed early Christians to claim a historical heritage. To be sure, they could have told this message even if the Jewish scriptures had remained in Hebrew and Aramaic through their own ad hoc translations or commentaries on the text, but the potential for the Church’s expansion increased exponentially when they had this ancient story of Israel available in the language of the Mediterranean world. (54)

The third reason for the Septuagint’s importance is that not only did most of the earliest Christians use the Septuagint but also their theology was explicitly shaped by it and not by the Hebrew Bible. (5)

…in the most formative period of Christian theology, when the early Church framed many of those beliefs now taken for granted by Christians worldwide, their thoughts were molded not by the Hebrew Bible that underlies our modern English Bibles but by the Greek Septaugint. (5)

…as we shall see…the Septuagint in many places contains a spectacularly different message. (6)

The Septuagint often preserves a witness to an alternative, sometimes older, form of the Hebrew text. When the Reformers and their predecessors talked about returning to the original Hebrew (ad fontes!), and when modern Christians talk about studying the Hebrew because it is the “original text,” they are perpetuating in those statements several mistaken assumptions. The Hebrew Bible in the editions we now use is often not the oldest form of the Hebrew text, and in fact it is not a singular text at all but an amalgamation of similar though not identical sources. In many cases the Septuagint provides the only access we have to the oldest form. (6)

2. When the World Became Greek

Those who were vanquished by Alexander are happier than those who escaped his hand; for these had no one to put an end to the wretchedness of their existence, while the victor compelled those others to lead a happy life…Alexander’s new subjects would not have been civilized, had they not been vanquished; Egypt would not have its Alexandria, nor Mesopotamia its Seleuceia, nor Sogdiana its Prophthasia, nor India its Bucephalia, nor the Caucasus a Greek city hard by; for by the founding of cities in these places savagery was extinguished and the rose element, gaining familiarity with the better, changed under its influence. – PLUTARCH, On the Fortunes of Alexander, 1.5

539 BCE, Cyrus II (“the Great”), but an end to the Babylonian Empire.

According to the biblical view of the return, only a number actually took Cyrus up on the offer of repatriation; many preferred to stay in the land of their exile. The exiles that returned saw themselves as more divinely favored than the many who had remained in the land, perhaps because of their social status before the exile, but they discovered that the unexiled were less than eager to move out of the way for the homecoming.

515 BCE, the rebuilding of the Temple was finally completed.

The end of the fifth or beginning of the fourth century BCE is the earliest date at which anything closely resembling the Torah may have appeared. (12)

The political conditions under Persian rule support this assessment. The Persians were not interested in pummeling their subjects but patronized them instead and allowed them to regulate their own affairs. (12)

…the Persians allowed the local Judean community to organize themselves according to their own law that they themselves were formulating. (13)

The apparently peaceful period in Judea first under Persian and then under Hellenistic rule, in which we have no record of Jews engaging in military conflict, lasted until about 170 BCE before it all came undone. To understand the reasons for the end to the peace, we must understand what resulted from the transfer of power from Persian to Greek hands. (13)


The result of Alexander the Great’s victory over Darius in 3309BCE not only shifted the balance of power in the ancient world to the Macedonian general but also instigated a political and cultural transformation that has shaped the course of Western history down to the present day. (13)

For many centuries, the fortunes of the church would be tied intimately to those of Greek culture, and the direction of Western history would be closely related to that of the church. (14)

The Hellenistic Age begins with Alexander the Great’s victory in 330 and lasts exactly three hundred years until the triumph of Octavian at the Battle of Actium and the consequent establishment of the Roman Empire in 30 BCE. (14)

Ptolemy I Soter (reigned 305-282) in Egypt.

Seleucus, after his victory at Babylon in 311, in the eastern part of the empire.

The Greek term from which the adjective “Hellenistic” was invented is hellenismos, used in the Septuagint book of 2 Maccabees (4:13) to refer to the adoption of Greek customs and language. …evidences of enculturation range from rather innocuous examples such as the use of Greek vases in a Mesopotamian house to the more conspicuous participation in Greek theatre or speaking fluent Greek. (14)

There has never been such a widespread adoption of culture in history. (14)

…the diffusion of the Greek language after Alexander was the primary catalyst for the transformation of the Mediterranean world. …Koine became the bridge from ancient to Modern Greek. (15)

Alexander was not the first to spread Greek culture. But he did douse the world with a fuel that caused a Greek fire quickly to engulf the entire Mediterranean and beyond. (15)

The Hellenistic period in the Mediterranean world lasted culturally until the fall of Constantinople in 1453, even if politically the Romans brought an end to Greek dominance in the first century BCE when the Seleucid and Ptolemaic kingdoms fell. (15)

…the place for which we have the most information about life in the Diaspora is Egypt. At least two factors may be responsible: the Egyptian sand and climate have proven useful conservators of documentary evidence, and the city of Alexandria was the cultural capital of the Hellenistic world under the Ptolemies. (16)

Hellenists did not seek to erase entirely the native culture. Rather, Hellenism was about fusion Alexandria was the city in which these fusions of culture were most apparent. (16)

In Alexandria between the third and first centuries BCE the Jews experienced all the attractions, and the trappings, of Hellenistic culture, and before long they were faced with the perennial question: how does an immigrant religious community that has been transplanted from another cultural universe retain its convictions and its distinctiveness? No evidence demonstrates the Hellenization of the Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, and how they responded to the dilemma of assimilation, more spectacularly than the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. The Torah was translated first, in Alexandria in the third century BCE. (17)

A Greek Legacy

The translation of the Hebrew Torah, the creation of the Septuagint, was unarguably one of the greatest cultural achievements of any people in the ancient world. (18)

3. Was There a Bible before the Bible?

To be candid: before the Bible, there was no Bible. …before the production of a “Bible,” Jews and Christians used numerous scriptural texts that never made it into the “canon”; and the forms that later became biblical books were in an extraordinary state of fluctuation between the third century BCE and the second CE. (19)

We will soon encounter some remarkable differences between the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. This should be stated very clearly right away since the Septuagint translation is sometimes misjudged as merely a translation when it is more than that. (19)

Sometimes we see evidence that the Greek translation was produced from an alternative Hebrew text that has since been lost. … Today most English Bible versions are based on a medieval edition of the Hebrew Bible. (20)

The Multiple Forms of the Hebrew Scriptures

We will soon see that the differences between the Greek and Hebrew Bible are often not only to do with small details. …the Septuagint is not merely a guide to understand the Hebrew Bible better, but it is [sic] sometimes is our only source preserving alternative versions of the Hebrew scriptures. (21)

The Leningrad Codex — the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible and the basis for most modern editions and consequently almost all modern English translations — dates to the eleventh century CE. The Aleppo Codex dates to the tenth but is only partially preserved today. (21)

The medieval manuscripts indeed preserve very ancient texts and bear witness to the careful textual transmission through the rabbinic and early medieval eras. (21)

…while the medieval Masoretic scribes preserved an ancient tradition, they transmitted only one scriptural tradition out of a number of divergent possibilities that existed before the second century CE. (22)

Before 1947 scholars usually explained the history of the Bible by referring to three main witnesses to, or “types” of, the Old Testament text: the Masoretic Text, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Septuagint. (22)

One of the contributions the Masoretes made to the history of the Hebrew Bible was the introduction of vowels into the consonantal text to clarify the reading tradition. … When the Masoretes inserted vowels into the text, they were for the most part simply adding to the visible appearance of the text what was known in an ancient reading tradition. …we must recognize that the Hebrew Bible editions in our hands today, those based on the medieval Masoretic Text, do not represent the “original text” of the Bible. The greatest modern authority on the Hebrew textual tradition puts it bluntly (23):

One thing is clear, it should not be postulated that the Masoretic Text better or more frequently reflects the original text of the biblical books than any other text. – Immanuel Tov

The Samaritan Pentateuch is…not a translation but is instead a version of the Hebrew Torah, edited by Samaritans who were at odds with the centralized Jerusalem leadership. (23)

Acts 7:4, Stephan says that Abraham left Haran for Canaan after his father died, agreeing with the Samaritan Pentateuch; the Masoretic Text claims that Abraham’s father died sixty years after he had left (Genesis 11:32). (24)

Thus, in many places in the Hebrew bible, the text we now have is exactly the same as that found in these very ancient manuscripts. …but the manuscripts from the Judean Desert showed that, even if there are three main branches of the Hebrew text tradition, there is great variety within the groups. (24)

Twenty-five biblical manuscripts were found at Masada, Wadi Murabba’at, Wadi Sdeir, Nahal Hever, Nahal Arugot, and Nahal S’elim, and in these locations outside of Qumran the texts agree in almost every detail with the Masoretic tradition. … That different editions of the same biblical books could coexist in the same community seems not to have caused any concern for ancient readers of scripture. (25)

How Meaningful Are the Differences?

While it is true that the shape of the Torah was for the most part finished by the fourth century BCE, not all alternative editions were completely eradicated until much later. It may be surprising to some that even the Torah manuscripts reveal that the books had not reached their final form just yet. For example, the chronological information found in Genesis 5, 8, and 11 vary greatly between the Masoretic Text, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Septuagint. (26)

The Number of Jacob’s descendants

Septuagint (LXX) New Testament (NT) Hebrew Bible (עברית)
75 75 (Acts 7:14) 70
75 (recent manuscript)

Incense Altar

Qumran fragment Septuagint (LXX) Hebrew Bible (עברית)
Ends at Exodus 37:16 Ends at Exodus 37:16 Ends at Exodus 40:38
Making of the Incense Altar between 26:35 & 26:36 Making of the Incense Altar between 26:35 & 26:36 Making of the Incense Altar in 30:1-10

Numbers 27:22-23

Hebrew Bible (עברית) Qumran fragment Samaritan Pentateuch
Moses lays his hands on Joshua to commission him to lead the people. Moses lays his hands on Joshua to commission him to lead the people. Moses lays his hands on Joshua to commission him to lead the people.
Followed with a challenge to Joshua to be courageous, borrowed from Deuteronomy 3:21-22 Followed with a challenge to Joshua to be courageous, borrowed from Deuteronomy 3:21-22

Compared with other books one could stress that the larger structures of the books of the Torah were fixed in the Persian period, but internally there is not an inconsequential amount of restructuring and rewriting. Even the Torah was not yet etched in stone. (27)

Isaiah 53:11

Masoretic Text KJV Great Isaiah Scroll LXX NRSV NIV

No mention of “the light”

“He shall see of the travail of his soul” “He shall see the light” ἀπὸ τοῦ πόνου τῆς ψυχῆς αὐτοῦ, δεῖξαι αὐτῷ φῶς καὶ πλάσαι τῇ συνέσει, δικαιῶσαι δίκαιον εὖ δουλεύοντα πολλοῖς, καὶ τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν αὐτὸς ἀνοίσει. “Out of his anguish he shall see light” “After he has suffered, he will see the light of life”

In the years since the discovery of the scrolls, it has become clear that, when combined with the evidence from the Septuagint, instead of the same editions of biblical books containing many minor differences, there were different literary editions of no less than thirteen but possibly as many as fifteen of the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible: Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Daniel. The best examples of these different literary editions are found in Jeremiah and Samuel. The Septuagint version of Jeremiah is roughly one-sixth shorter than the Hebrew Bible, the order of the chapters in the latter half of the book are arranged differently, and there are also distinctive words or phrases used. Though other Qumran manuscripts of Jeremiah agree with the Hebrew Bible, it is now widely accepted that the Septuagint was translated from a Hebrew text like two of the Qumran manuscripts of Jeremiah (4QJer) and that this was an earlier edition on which the editors int he tradition of the Hebrew Bible expanded. (28-29)

Jeremiah 27:19-22

Septuagint (NETS) Hebrew Bible (NRSV)
(19) …Even some of the remaining vessels.(20) which the king of Babylon did not take when he exiled Jeconiah from Jerusalem, shall enter into Babylon, says the Lord (19) …and the rest of the vessels that are left in this city,20 which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon did not take away when he took into exile from Jerusalem to BabylonKing Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem—(21) thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning the vessels left in the house of the Lord, in the house of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem: (22) They shall be carried to Babylon, and there they shall stay, until the day when I give attention to them, says the Lord. Then I will bring them up and restore them to this place.

Samuel is special because all scholars will admit that the Hebrew Bible contains a highly corrupted text. (30)

In the Hebrew bible the story of David and Goliath takes up eighty-eight verses, but in the Septuagint the story spans only forty-nine. (30)

We can be absolutely certain that the story in the Septuagint is based on a Hebrew edition that reflects an earlier stage in the development of the tradition of this story, and the Hebrew Bible is a later expansion of that tradition. (31)

The famous story of the love shared between David and Jonathan (18-1-4) and Saul’s attempt to kill David when an evil spirit came upon him (18:10-11) were also later additions not found in the earlier version. (31)

Many of the divergences between the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible can no longer be explained by the creativity of the Greek translator, or by any other process within the Greek tradition, but are the result of alternative Hebrew traditions. One of them was used by the Septuagint translator, and another became the Hebrew Bible. (31)

It is unfortunate that these issues cause greater concern to modern readers for whom contradictions and inconsistencies pose problems, but in the world in which the Bible was shaping up these seem not to have been problematic at all. We could appreciate positively the growth of the biblical tradition witnessed through these texts rather than interpret negatively — or worse, ignore — the evidence that lies before us. (31)

4. The First Bible Translators

Translating is bridge building …even at its best, a translation can never capture the sense and sometimes not even the meaning of the original. (33)

The Letter of Aristeas to Philocrates

To refuse translation and to hold stubbornly to the language of the homeland might have brought about the rapid demise of all forms of Judaism outside Judea. Translation was a matter of survival. (35)

First, Aristeas requests that the Jewish High Priest Eleazar sends translators to Egypt to undertake the translation of the Hebrew Torah into Greek. Second, in exchange for their services Philadelphus was to release from Egypt thousands of Jewish slaves that had been held captive as prisoners of war. … The Exodus motif in the Letter of Aristeas is thus used to bolster the authority of the Septuagint. (36)

After this introduction the narrative reports that the king’s librarian, Demetrius of Phalerum set about collecting as many of the books of the world as he could. (36)

The Septuagint, the Letter of Aristeas implies, is a new revelation. (37)

…there remains precious little to tell us about the origins of the Septuagint translation. At least one of the author’s primary purposes could have been to provide the Alexandrian Jewish community with a “charter myth,” a story of beginnings intended to justify the use of the Septuagint as a sacred text in the present. (38)

…intentional modifications made in the earliest translation altered the meaning of the text for its new audience. What the translators had created was in effect a new Torah, and we did not need the Letter of Aristeas to tell us that. Some Jews and most Christians would soon come to believe it was indeed a new revelation from God himself. (39)

Who Were the Translators?

Cases of Egyptian language would seem to prove the Egyptian setting of the translation and its translators. (40)

In the Pentateuch, the translators vary the words used to translate the same Hebrew word, alliterate in the absence of alliteration in the Hebrew source, and echo sound patterns, all of which are marks of style. (40)

Why the Septuagint?

Alexandria was an exciting city of culture and learning, and translation and textual scholarship was in the air. In this environment these Jewish translators rendered their Hebrew scriptures into the language of the day. That may be all we can say about the origins of the Septuagint, even if the most attractive assumption is that a religious purpose motivated the project. (41-42)

Once we move outside of these five books of Moses, which were unquestionably of unrivaled authority for Jews, it is more difficult to determine the contexts of the translations of the other books. (42)

5. Gog and His Not-So-Merry Grasshoppers

Had the Greek translators worked only a few centuries later — after the Hebrew Bible reached the end of its long process of growth — we would have had a very different Septuagint. …the Septuagint is an extraordinary monument to the textual plurality in early Judaism. (43)

It should be clear by now that referring to the Septuagint as a Bible is anachronistic; the earliest evidence we have of a “Bible,” in the modern sense of the term, is from the fourth century. (44)

…the divergences are important enough and occur in enough places to demonstrate that before the second century CE the biblical text was characterized by variety and that the forms of scripture used by the New Testament authors and early Christians in the church’s formative stages (to be discussed later) undermine the impression of stability gained from reading modern Bibles. (45)

Moses in Greek Dress

The Hebrew Bible seems to be an expansion of an earlier, shorter Hebrew text that we can access now only through a careful reading of the Septuagint. This phenomenon of later expansion is seen again and again when reading the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible in tandem. (46-47)

Numbers 27:15-23, the two versions depart from one another in vocabulary and int he implementation of the command to appoint Joshua. (47)

Likewise, in the Song of the Ark (Numbers 10-33-36) the order differs. In the Hebrew edition translated by the Septuagint, vv.33-35-36-34. (47)

Deuteronomy 6:4

Septuagint Hebrew Bible
(4) And these are the statues and the judgments with the Lord commanded to the sons of Israel in the wilderness as they were coming out from the land of Egypt.Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord. (4) Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.

Song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32:43

Septuagint Hebrew Bible = NIV
Be glad, O skies, with him, and let all the divine sons do obeisance to him.Be glad, O nations, with his people, and let all the angels of God prevail for him.For he will avenge the blood of his sons and take revenge and repay the enemies with a sentence,And he will repay those who hate,And the Lord shall cleanse the land of his people. Rejoice, O nations, with his people,For he will avenge the blood of his servants;He will take vengeance on his enemies

And make atonement for his land and people.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12, is transformed in the Greek translation from its original meaning in the Hebrew. We have no witnesses from Qumran or elsewhere that should suggest the translator had a different Hebrew text in this passage; instead, we see his creativity at work. The translator seems not to have understood everything about the Hebrew text before him in this fourth Servant Song, just as it continues to test modern interpreters, and it is not insignificant that the apostle Paul and his later interpreters, and it is not insignificant that the apostle Paul and his later interpreters int he early church will employ these mistranslations in the formation of Christian theology. (42)

The Septuagint of Jeremiah was translated from an earlier, shorter Hebrew version such as the ones discovered at Qumran. Some 2,700 verses that are found in the later Hebrew edition, and now in our English Bible, were not part of this earlier edition. (52)

Jeremiah 31:27-34 (Septuagint 38:27-34). The later editors of the Hebrew Bible considered the suggestion that God was “unconcerned” for disobedient Israel out of sync with the faithfulness that writers of other scriptural texts claimed was characteristic of God. They changed this startling phrase in the text to reinforce God’s faithfulness, having him say “though I was their husband,” which means “though I remained faithful to them in spite of their disobedience.” …the author of Hebrews (8:9) quotes that phrase found in the Septuagint of Jeremiah, reinforcing the idea that God was “unconcerned” for disobedient Israel. (52)

Jeremiah 33:14-26. This very important passage promoting Davidic ideology is lacking int he earliest Septuagint translation but was added later into the Hebrew Bible as the significance of David’s role in God’s covenant with Israel was taking on new dimensions. (53)

Ezekiel 36-39 appear in the order 36-38-39-37 in the Hebrew Bible. 36:23c-38 are missing in the Hebrew Bible. (53)

There was probably only one translator for the entire book of the Twelve [minor prophets], and his source was very close to the Hebrew Bible. (53)

Hosea 13:4. …the italicized words indicate the ones found in the Septuagint and the Hebrew version but then omitted in the later editions: “I am the Lord your God who makes heaven firm and creates earth, whose hands created all the host of the sky. And I did not display them for you to follow after them. And I brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (54)

6. Bird Droppings, Stoned Elephants, and Exploding Dragons

It would be a mistake to assume that the Apocrypha is a coherent, clearly defined body of writings: the books do not have the same generic or thematic relationship to one another such as might be found int he books of the Torah or the Prophets or the New Testament Gospels but were merely grouped together by later compilers of scriptural texts to set them apart from the canonical books. But if it were a mistake to fail to appreciate the diversity of the collection, it would also be mistaken to imagine that they have never been read as divine scripture. (60)

Council of Trent, 1546, approval of the “deuterocanonical” books. (60)

Esdras A’ and B’

The writer narrates that three youths display their wisdom when the king gives them a riddle and asks them to decide whether wine, the king, or women are the most powerful. We are told that the winning contestant is Zerubbabel, who answers that, while women rule both wine and the king, truth conquers all. (62)

The Additions to Esther

The Hebrew Bible version of Esther fails to mention God at all, a feature that has long troubled interpreters and led to the writing of this additional material, in which the authors add “Lord” or “God” more than fifty times. [יהוה or אלהים]



The discoveries of Hebrew and Aramaic fragments among the Dead Sea Scrolls now prove Tobit was originally composed in one of these two Semitic languages sometime int he late third or early second century BCE, followed by a Greek translation sometime thereafter. (65)

1-4 Maccabees

All three [Daniel and 1 and 2 Maccabees] were written sometime between the end of the second century and start of the first BCE, but the first book of Maccabees had a Hebrew original, while the second was composed in Greek. (66)

2 Maccabees 7:28 is the strongest statement int he Bible for the doctrine of creation from nothing, or creation ex nihilo: “I implore you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.” This text was doubtless an influence on the champion of the doctrine, the North African theologian St. Augustine. (66)

Psalm 151

The Prayer of Manasseh

The Wisdom of Solomon

Wisdom is also one of the first Jewish texts to speak about the immortality of the soul and was extraordinarily influential in the New Testament and other early Christian theology. (70)


The Greek name Sirach is related to its Hebrew name “the book of Ben Sira,” (70)

The style is almost identical to the biblical book of Proverbs but goes further than its predecessor to connect success in life to Torah observance. (70)

The rabbinic literature shows a mix of attitudes towards Sirach, some citing it after the Hebrew canon was fixed but others apparently prohibiting it. In the first few centuries of Christianity it was accepted as Scripture, and it is found in all the major early manuscripts of the Christian Bible. (71)


Letter of Jeremiah

The Additions to Daniel

Narrowing the Scriptures

This same period of increased literary activity in Palestine and the Diaspora, in Hebrew and in Greek, witnessed the beginning of a new period of singularity, both int he form of the Hebrew text and in the books that were to achieve authoritative status. By the second century CD the Jewish scriptures were defined in Palestine, with debate continuing only for a few books. … This was the end of the period of textual plurality. At the beginning of the period we can see multiple forms of the same biblical book, preserved now in the Septuagint (and in its Old Latin translation), the Dead Seas Scrolls, and the Samaritan Pentateuch. By the end of the period, one of the available Hebrew textual traditions will have been chosen, perhaps even unintentionally, so that almost all of the witnesses after the second century have the appearance of uniformity. (74)

7. E Pluribus Unum

Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts from the Judean Desert have won most of the popular interest, but Greek manuscripts have also proven indispensable to our understanding of the history of the Bible. Prior to these discoveries, the earliest witnesses to the Septuagint were those of the fourth and fifth century CE codices (Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Alexandrinus). The time between the Greek codices and the newly discovered Judean Desert finds was still more than half a millennium, but they were much earlier witnesses to the Septuagint than the Aleppo and Leningrad codices were to the Hebrew Bible. (75)

That this kind of revisional activity can be seen as early as the second century BCE clearly implies that indeed some recognized divergences between the different text traditions, and they sought to rectify what they perceived to be undesirable. One cannot fully appreciate the revisions of the biblical text without first understanding that this period was one of great textual fluidity; without the multiplicity of divergent text forms we have discussed thus far, there would have been no need to revise. (75-76)

…before the final books of the Septuagint had been produced, a thorough, organized effort of revision was being carried out on the other books that had been translated  earlier. … The characteristics that tie all of these books together are mostly translation equivalences: certain Hebrew words and phrases were translated in the same peculiar way, even to the extent that the new expressions violated the norms of Greek style for the sake of mirroring the Hebrew. The name given to this revision is kaige (pronounced KAI-geh)… (77)

The many textual streams that were flowing dynamically during the third and second centuries BCE, delivering a variety of biblical forms, were soon damned up in favor of a unified current that would propose to carry forward a single, authoritative text into the Common Era. That we have the work of these revisions is probably due not to contemporary but to later attitudes toward the biblical text. As almost all of the Jewish tradition coalesced around one text form after the second century CE, our view of the period is warped, and we are left with the impression that in the centuries leading up to the finalization of the Hebrew Bible the texts were being carried in this direction by an unrelenting tide. (79)

The Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible

It may come as a surprise to learn that many other scriptural texts were used in antiquity besides those found in today’s English versions and that the forms of the biblical texts were in a state of flux. However, the canonical process proves that numerous texts were held to various degrees of esteem by different Jewish communities throughout the ancient world: establishing a canon presupposes the existence of variability and testifies to the desire to end all variety. (79)

| From the perspective of an ancient Jewish or Christian reader there was no certainty about which of the traditions would eventually become the dominant scriptural tradition. It was simply not a question that would have entered their minds. We have seen repeatedly that the Septuagint and especially the Dead Sea Scrolls offer proof that the Hebrew Bible was not fixed before the second century CE and, perhaps more surprisingly, that many readers and users of scriptural texts before then were not bothered about it. The story of the New Testament’s use of the Jewish scriptures to be discussed in the next two chapters will further substantiate this picture. (79)

2 Maccabees 2:13-15, …the Hasmoneans saw themselves as collectors and restorers of ancient documents… (80)

Now was the first time that authority was tied to a specific form of the text, and one readily notes how in the twenty-first century many views on the Bible find their genesis in these ancient attitudes. Instead of a focus on the theological message, every stroke of the pen became authoritative, a newly developed belief reflected in the comment of Jesus of Nazareth that not a jot or title of the word of God would pass away (Matthew 5:18). (80)

The first use of the term [“canon”] applied to biblical books came in the fourth century CE in the writing of the bishop Athanasius. (81)

…for him [Quintillian] a canon is a mechanism to prioritize books rather than to divinize them. (81)

…canon is a concept applied much later than the writing of the books, …Talking about the biblical canon is, then, inescapably retrospective. … When we discuss the canon, we could be talking about the canon of Judaism, of Protestantism, of Roman Catholicism, or of Eastern Orthodoxy. … canon is a concept we should separate from the quite different concept of scripture. Not all of what was considered “scripture” has been included in the “canon.” (82)

canonization can be a mechanism used by authorities to define the boundaries of their groups… At the end of the first century and the beginning of the second, Judaism was taking a turn toward a text centeredness it had not known before, and for the rabbis to practice their interpretations for Jewish faith and practice a stable text became necessary. (83)

…the new interest to establish a single authoritative text eliminated all of the beautiful diversity in early Jewish and Christian scriptural production, and both Jewish and Christian exegetes would soon be forced to develop strategies to explain away any and all disharmonious elements in the texts. Many of these alternative text forms of biblical and apocryphal books were eradicated either by the accidents of history — manuscripts that have perished, or some that still lie beneath the sands or secluded in caves — or by the decisions of religious authorities at different key moments in the past two millennia. The great variety that characterized the biblical texts prior to the start of the second century, which was normal and unproblematic for the earliest Jewish and Christian users of scripture, came to and end. (83-84)

8. The Septuagint behind the New Testament

While it is true that the apostles used various methods of interpretation when reading the Jewish scriptures, in many cases the difference between their citation and our modern translation of the Old Testament is easier to explain: the Old Testament in modern Bibles is a translation from the Hebrew Bible, but the writers of the New Testament used almost exclusively the Greek Septuagint. We have also seen that the differences between the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible are not merely stylistic, unlike the differences one finds between modern English versions where often the divergences are matters of English expression. Rather, the theological outlook of the Hebrew and the Greek versions of many of the books are on different trajectories and thus lead to different conclusions. The importance of the New Testament authors’ use of the Greek instead of the Hebrew cannot be overstated, and this is especially true when they preserve vestiges of the textual plurality in ways that work to their advantage. (85-86)

The Jewish Background

We should not fail to remember that the first Christians were Jews, so it is not surprising that the New Testament writers did not rely solely on the scriptures we find in the Old Testament to access Jewish exegetical traditions. (87)

The Son of Man in the Gospels has been developed from both Daniel and the Book of Parables from 1 Enoch 37-71. (87)

Romans 1:18-32 is very similar to Wisdom of Solomon 13:1-19 and 14:22-31. (88)

For all human beings who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature, and from the good things that are sen they were unable to know the one who is, nor, though paying attention to his works, did they recognize the craftsman… – Wisdom 13:1

Jude 9 and 14 is an amalgamation of three texts: the pseudepigraphical work called the Assumption of Moses, …Enoch, and Zechariah 3:2.

Jude & 1 Enoch

Jude 14-15 1 Enoch 1:9
It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying,“See, the Lord is coming with tens of thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgement on all,and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way,and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones

To execute judgement upon all,And to destroy all the ungodly:And to convict all flesh

Of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed,And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoke against Him.

…probably no more than 10 percent of the Jewish population in first-century Palestine were able to do more than write their name. … The scribes’ ability to read and copy the scriptures in a largely illiterate context meant that they obtained a de facto status as experts of interpretation. (90)

Romans 15

Romans 15:7-14 Psalm 18:49 (17:50) Deuteronomy 32:43 Psalm 117:1 (116:1) Isaiah 11:10
(7) Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (8) For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, (9) and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”;(10) and again he says,“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;(11) and again, Therefore I will acknowledge you among the nations, O Lord, and make music to your name… …Be glad, O nations, with his people…
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; …Praise the Lord, all you nations! Commend him, all you peoples… And there shall be on that day
(12) and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” (13) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (14) I myself feel confident about you, my brothers, and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. The root of Jesse, even the one who stands up to rule nations; nations shall hope in him, and his rest shall be honor.

 Language and Theology

In the Roman Empire, a “gospel” (Latin evangelium) was an announcement of good news about the emperor, sometimes a declaration of military victory, and almost always used in the plural, evangelia. (95)

New Testament terms with far-reaching theological importance are also derived from the Septuagint. The concept of the “glory of God”“virgin”“Lord”… all come from the Septuagint. (96)

Whatever the Septuagint translator intended, there can be no doubt that Matthew wished to emphasize a miraculous birth of Jesus. … It would have been one thing for Matthew to say, “This Jesus was born of a virgin according to an oral tradition,” but for him to have had a text from the Jewish scriptures, provided by the Septuagint, meant that he could ground the tradition of the virgin birth in a real prophetic utterance.  (96-97)

Although the term kurios usually has to do with one’s authority over others, when the New Testament authors use this word from the Septuagint to refer to Jesus, they are making an extraordinary claim: Jesus of Nazareth is to be identified with Yahweh. (97)

In Amos 4:13 it is merely possible we have a messianic reading, but it is unquestionably the case that the New Testament writers exploit the Septuagint’s use of christos, in Amos and elsewhere, to messianic ends. (97)

Luke 1:42 follows the language of Judith 13:18.

9. The Septuagint in the New Testament

The Scriptures of Jesus and the Gospel Writers

When we think about the form of the Jewish scriptures used by the Gospel writers, we must remember they not only wrote narrative material about the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth but also reported their version and interpretation of his words. How they chose to represent Jesus’ use of the scriptures is fascinating, for in these accounts they present Jesus teaching mostly from the Greek Jewish scriptures, even though his native language was Aramaic. (99)

Mark 7:6-7 Isaiah 29:13 (Septuagint) Isaiah 29:13 (Hebrew)
He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’” The Lord said: “These people draw near me; they honor me with their lips, while their heart is far from me, and in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts and teachings.” The Lord said: “Because these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote…”
Luke 4:17-18 Isaiah 61:1 (Septuagint) Isaiah 61:1 (Hebrew)
…And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor he has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” The spirit of the Lord is upon me,because he has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the poor,to heal the broken-hearted,to proclaim release to the captives,and recovery of sight to the blind… The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,Because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted,to proclaim liberty to the captives,and release to the prisoners…

Although in English “let the oppressed go free” looks very similar to “release to the prisoners,” these are very different Hebrew phrases, so Luke is certainly not reading the Hebrew. Rather, Luke lifts the phrase from the Septuagint of Isaiah 58:6. (102)

John 1:23 Isaiah 40:3 Isaiah 40:3
He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord, ’as the prophet Isaiah said.” (Septuagint) A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord:make straight the paths of our God.” (Hebrew) A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

…John uses not only the Septuagint but also other Greek versions to which he might have had access. In citing Zechariah 12:10 in John 19:37, the writer’s wording in Greek is exactly that of the Greek revision attributed to the later figure of Theodotion, but that is in fact an older revision produced before the New Testament. (103)

Acts 15:16-18 Amos 9:11-12 (Septuagint) Amos 9:11-12 (Hebrew)
This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written,
“After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; On that day I will raise up the test of David that is fallen, On that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen,
From its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, and rebuild its ruins,and raise up its destruction, and rebuild it as in the days of old; and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old;
(17) so that all other peoples may see the Lord – even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. (12) in order that those remaining of humans and all the nations upon whom my name has been called might seek out me, (11) (12) in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name,
Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things (18) known from long ago.” says the Lord who does these things. Says the Lord who does this.

It would seem that if any of these writers had used the Hebrew scriptures it would have been Matthew. That he too uses the Greek Jewish scriptures is telling. (105)

The Apostle Paul

…the consensus is now that when he quotes from the Jewish scriptures he most often, perhaps always, preferred the Greek. The reasons are sometimes related to his exegesis, but most often his choice of the Greek has to do with nothing more than the way he frequently encountered the scriptures in his liturgical and study contexts, which had mostly been in Greek. (105)

It is critical to recognize how Paul used the scriptures Christians call the Old Testament, for they are the bedrock of his and therefore most of later Christianity’s theological expression. The book of Isaiah lies at the heart of Paul’s theology in his epistle to the Romans. (105)

Romans 2:24 Isaiah 52:5 (Septuagint) Isaiah 52:5 (Hebrew)
For, as it is written, And now, why are you here? This is what the Lord says, Because my people were taken fro nothing, you marvel and howl. This is what the Lord says, Because of you, Now therefore, what am I doing here, says the Lord, seeing that my people are taken away without cause?Their rulers howl, says the Lord, and continually,
“The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” my name is continually blasphemed among the nations. all day long, my name is despised.
Romans 9:33 Isaiah 28:16 (Septuagint) Isaiah 28:16 (Hebrew)
…As it is written, …Therefore thus says the Lord,
“See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall, See, I will lay for the foundations of Zion a precious, choice stone,A highly valued cornerstone for its foundations, And the one See, I am laying in Zion A foundation stone,a tested stone,a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame. who believes in him will not be put to shame. “One who trusts will not panic.”
Romans 10:20-21 Isaiah 65:1-2 (Septuagint) Isaiah 65:1-2 (Hebrew)
Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,“I have been found by those who did not seek me;I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”(21) But of Israel he says,“All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” I became visible to those who were not seeking me; I was found by those who were not inquiring about me.I said, “Here I am,” to the nation that did not call my name.I stretched out my hands all day long to a disobedient and contrary people,who did not walk in a true waybut after their own sins. I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that did not call on my name.(2) I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people,who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices;
Romans 14:11 Isaiah 45:23 (Septuagint) Isaiah 45:23 (Hebrew)
“As I live,” says the Lord, “every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” By myself I swear…Because to me every knee shall bow and every tongue shall acknowledge God… By myself I have sworn.… “To me every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall swear.”
1 Corinthians 15:54 Isaiah 25:8 (Theodotion) Isaiah 25:8 (Septuagint) Isaiah 25:8 (Hebrew
When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” …Death has been swallowed up in victory Death, having prevailed, swallowed them up… …He will swallow up death forever.

Other New Testament Voices

For the Epistle to the Hebrews, there can be no question: this author demonstrates an undeniable dependence on the Septuagint and its Greek revisions. (111)

Genesis 47:31,…the Septuagint translator misread the Hebrew “bed” as “staff,” since both nouns have the same consonantal spelling (Hebrew mth) [מתה]. In Hebrews 11:21 the writer quotes from the Septuagint… (112)

Hebrews 4:3-5, the author borrows the concept of rest from Psalm 95 and Genesis 2:2. … The Hebrew terms for rest in Psalm 95:11 and in Genesis 2:2 are different from one another, so the reader would not have made the connection if he were reading the Hebrew alone. In Greek, however, the same word is used for “rest,”… (112)

Hebrews 10:5-7 Psalm 39:7-9 (Septuagint) Psalm 40:6-8 (Hebrew and English)
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,but a body you have prepared for me; (6) in burnt-offerings and sin-offerings you have taken no pleasure. (7) Then I said, “See, God, I have come to do your will, O God” (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” Sacrifice and offering you did not want,But ears you fashioned for me.Who burnt offering and one for sin you did not request. Then I said, “Look, I have come;In a scroll of a book it is written of me.To do your will, O my God, I desired – And your law, within my belly.” Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,but you have given me an open ear. Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required. (7) Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.(8) I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

1 Peter contains more citations and allusions to the Old Testament than any other New Testament book, and none of them can be explained by reference to a Hebrew version. (114)

Finally, readers of the New Testament reach the Revelation of John, which is a special case for several reasons. While the book is strange to modern readers, popular portrayals often do not appreciate the contours of the apocalyptic genre in which Revelation was written, and often the permeation of Old testament themes throughout this book is missed. (114)

Throughout Revelation, and not only i these allusions and unmarked citations to the psalms but also to other books fro the Jewish scriptures, there is no reason to expect that the writer used anything other than the Greek form of the Jewish scriptures. (115)

The Significance of the Citations

We have learned in this chapter that most if not all of the citations in the New Testament are not in any way strictly dependent on the Hebrew, and in those cases where they appear to be close to the Hebrew a Greek revision can just as easily provide an explanation. (115)

We have also noted cases in which citations were taken from the Septuagint to make a theological point that would not have been possible had the writer cited the Hebrew version of the same text. (116)

It would be worth the modern reader’s time to ponder the significance of the New Testament authors’ use of the Septuagint, to consider what theological emphases would not have been possible if the authors were using the Hebrew Bible alone. Paul’s theology in Romans might be considerably different, since we have seen that his reading of the Septuagint of Isaiah provided him the theological contours he drove home. Likewise, the theme of rest in the book of Hebrews, so central to its message, would have been absent had this writer been reading the Hebrew Bible. And perhaps most shocking of all, the prophecy of the virgin birth would not have been found in the Hebrew version. The Greek Septuagint and not the Hebrew Bible gives Matthew the textual “proof” to connect Jesus to the prophecy. (116)

The other conclusion of this chapter reinforces those reached already: the state of the Old Testament text in the first century was still very much in flux, but this textual reality did not disturb the New Testament writers. Having examined the use of the Jewish scriptures in the New Testament, we are now ready to move forward to see how the earliest Christians read the Old Testament in the second century and beyond. (116)

10. The New Old Testament

Because numerous Greek Jewish writings fell all along the scale from secular to sacred, it was uncertain in the first few centuries what contents would be included. …the “Bible” in the earliest centuries of Christianity is characterized by a loose collection of texts, circulating independently or, at best, grouped together in small sets of books. (117)

The formation of Christianity — through preaching, teaching, apologetics, theological formation, and liturgical practices — depended almost entirely on the Septuagint as the Old Testament. (119)

Creating the Old Testament

…while the New Testament was more or less fixed by the fourth century, the Old Testament remained very fluid for a surprisingly long time. Rather than citing scriptural texts only directly from scrolls, early Christian writers encountered the “text” through any number of media, such as testimonia, or sources with topically arranged excerpted proof texts. (119)

There was also a practical reason to adopt an established text. The technological invention of the codex, or book, in the second century facilitate the emergence of the Christian Bible. (120)

Only from the fourth century do we have evidence of both the Old and New Testament in the same codex. The emergence of the codex is almost entirely the responsibility of early Christians. In the second century, only about 4 percent of the total number of surviving manuscripts are in the codex form; however, that number increases to about 80 percent by the fourth century, and the bookrolls, or scrolls, are completely overtaken by the eight. Owing to imperial support gained in the fourth century (see Chapter 12), Christian books make up more than 50 percent of the surviving books of the fifth century, where in the second they comprised only 10 percent. (120)

The evidence rather suggests that Christians adopted the codex for socioreligious reasons: they wanted to distinguish their own books from Jewish and pagan literature. In the codex Christians could make a claim to have a different literature than that on offer elsewhere. (120)

What Books Made Up the Old Testament?

…two defining features of the Christian use of the Old Testament right up to the time of the Reformation was its role in disputes with Jews and in appeals to passages specifically used as messianic prophecies. Apologetics and messianic interpretation drove the conversation more than any other factor. (121)

There was no unanimously recognized Old Testament in the early church, and indeed the diversity of canons and scriptural collections persists right down to the Reformation. (122)

The very use of canon lists by Christian writers in the first four centuries, however, demonstrates that Christians were still debating the status of a number of books; in other words, if the Old Testament were universally recognized, there would have been no need to continue issuing canon lists. (122)

…a formal ecumenical council was never called to address specifically the issue of the biblical canon. This might mean the demarcation of the canon was not a top priority. Instead, our understanding of the development of the Old Testament canon in the early church comes from more than a dozen canon lists issued in the first four centuries (122-123)

Melito of Sardis (d. c. 190 CE)


Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria. Athanasius argued that there were three sets of books: canonical books, ecclesiastical books that could still be read for edification, and apocryphal writings that were to be avoided. (124-125)

Augustine of Hippo.

All of the lists from the various church councils between 363 and 397 and the witness of our manuscripts reveal that the canon was made up o a “central core, a variable fringe, and the differences in arrangement.” What was the “variable fringe”? Even this was different in the earliest examples. (126)

In due course Jerome’s biblical scholarship would eventually lead to the devaluation of the Apocrypha in the West, but the Greek Bible still in use today in the Greek orthodox Church kept the books where they had been in the earlier Septuagint manuscripts. (126)

There is, then, a need for caution when assessing the so-called canon lists and the statements of the few fathers who commented on the canon. Terms like “scripture” and “canon” should be used carefully. The formation of the canon in the early church was a slow process. The rough edges of the canon force us to eschew a simplistic model of a virtually unchanging Old Testament from the earliest days of Christianity. But that does not mean the borders of the Old Testament were wide open. The same core books appear on every canon list and in all of the commentaries preserved from the early church and, even though the core of the canon was relatively stable from early on, a book’s omission from the canon was not a denial of scriptural authority. (127)

We should still maintain a distinction between “canon” and “scripture.” (127)

11. God’s Word for the Church

One of the most important claims of Christianity was that Jesus fulfilled the Jewish scriptures. (128)

If he [Philo] knew any Hebrew at all, which is unlikely, it was minimal, so he would have needed to assure his contemporaries, and himself, that the Greek biblical text found in the Septuagint translation was equal in divine inspiration to that of the Hebrew scriptures. (130)

By the time we come to the fourth-century writings of Eusebius and Epiphanius, the idea that the Septuagint was the inspired word of God was already so deeply rooted in the church that it allowed these writers to speak of it as the preparation for the gospel and as the superior, indeed the only, word of God for the church. (132)

The Septuagint in the Formation of Christian Theology and Piety

The use of the Septuagint in the New Testament, the persistence of the Greek language in the Mediterranean world, and the development of miraculous accounts of Septuagint origins fostered the Greek Old Testament’s role in the formation of early Christian thought. (132-133)

Thus, both Latin and Greek writers drew directly upon the Septuagint (or indirectly via its translation into Latin) in the development of early Christian doctrine. We mentioned earlier that one could assume that the fathers always regarded the Septuagint as a translation and that the only reason they treated it as authoritative scripture was because it was in their minds a faithful translation of the original Hebrew. But most of the church fathers show no concern to discover how accurately the Greek represented the Hebrew original, and indeed many would not have known how to tell anyway. Whatever their theoretical statements may indicate, their practice divulges their view of the Septuagint as not a translation but a new revelation for the church. (133)

When the early Christian theologians read the Septuagint, they often saw Jesus prefigured throughout the Old Testament, and this has run right through the history of Christian exegesis. (133)

An Indispensable Role

The Septuagint stands at the heart of the early church. Except for as mall number of Christians in the Syriac Church, every Christian who heard or read the Bible in the first few centuries of the Christian era would have heard the text of the Septuagint or of its translation in the Old Latin version in the languages of the East. … It was the Christian Old Testament. Nevertheless, it did not for long remain so for all of Christendom, and in what follows we shall begin to see why. (139)

12. The Man of Steel and the Man Who Worshipped the Sun

Origen’s works of philosophy, theology, homiletics, and exegesis have left the world in his debt. He was the first Christian to write a substantial collection of biblical commentaries, and while having roots back in the Hellenistic period the commentarial tradition in modern Christian exegesis owes almost everything to his labors. It was not an overstatement when one of Origen’s modern biographers suggested he may have been the most prolific author in antiquity. (142)

Origen’s main concern as an exegete, theologian, and preacher was with the interpretation of scripture. … In Alexandria Origen was immersed in a culture at the center of a universe of hermeneutical methodologies. (142)

Of utmost importance for Origen was the way the words of the scriptures opened up the Divine mysteries. … Others noted his antipathy to dogmatism, and he often suggested several lines of interpretation that were possible for any given passage while insisting that many of his solutions remained hypothetical. He was firm only on what was taught by the church and on everything else he refused to assert as single interpretation. Origen opened himself to correction by inviting his hearers to provide better answers than his and confessed his readiness to accept their opinions if they were convincing. (143)

…he was well aware of the discrepancies between the church’s Bible and the Hebrew Bible of the synagogue. (144)

“exegetical maximalism,” a method driven by the multiple senses of interpretation that resulted in an expansion of the size of the Bible in order to increase the exegetical possibilities. Origen used the other Greek versions of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion in addition to the Septuagint text so that he might work forward to a sense rather than backward toward some “original text.” (144)

This approach to scripture characterized much of early Christian interpretation in Alexandria and was another way the church’s Bible was superior to the Hebrew Bible; it was richer, more pregnant with interpretive possibilities, such that even scribal errors were Spirit-produced readings for the benefit of the church. (145)

Origen’s Hexapla was the beginning of the end of the Septuagint in the church, but only by accident: his attention to the Hebrew text led some later scholars to ponder whether or not the church had been missing out by ignoring it. … Unintentionally, Origen’s work contaminated the stream of biblical transmission: from the fourth century almost all Septuagint manuscripts had been influenced by the so-called Origenic, or Hexaplaric, version. (145)



In 312, Constantine’s victory over his Western rival Maxentius would prove to be one of the most important events in world and in Christian history. (148)

Edict of Milan, 313.

Although Constantine was anything but a model disciple of Jesus’ teachings, his mark on Christian history was astounding. Selfish ambition cannot alone explain Constantine’s privileging of the church, especially since in the early fourth century Christians were still a tiny minority. His conversion must have been somewhat genuine, even if he only meant to add the Christian God to a collection that included Apollo and Sol Invictus. (149)

Origen’s Septuagint text produced in the fifth column of his Hexapla didn’t seep into the stream of textual transmission. it exploded onto the map and changed the course of the Septuagints history thereafter. The devotion of Eusebius and Pamphilus to their theological hero, and the subsequent burst of scribal activity to meet the emperor’s order of Bibles expedited its course from an academic text to one read and used widely in the church, now transmitted without the critical signs that the original editor had placed into it. A new spirit was unleashed, and if scholars had not noticed before the divergent nature o the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible they would soon find it impossible to ignore. The final days of the Septuagint in the West had begun. (150)

13. The Man with the Burning Hand versus the Man with the Honeyed Sword

The late fourth and early fifth centuries were tumultuous in the Roman Empire but also in relations between Jews and Christians. These years saw persecution in which Jews were often imagined to have participated with the Romans. The first Christian emperor ushered in an era of Christian triumphalism, and they now found themselves positioned above Jews. A brief interlude in which Julian sought to turn back the tide on Christian privilege was followed by a return to Christian imperialism, but in an empire that appeared ready to break apart at the seams rather than one that had the unified strength of the Constantinian age. Jerome may not have felt he could fully explain why a Christian was leaning so heavily on Jews and the Bible of the Synagogue. (160)

Outside of a small population of Christians who had been using the Syriac Peshitta based on the Hebrew Bible, it was the first time in Christian history that a Bible other than or not based on the Septuagint was promoted for use in the church. For four hundred years most Christians had heard and read from the Septuagint and its daughter translations. (161)

Only the naïve or unaware would have been blind to an impending split in the church matching that of the imperial administration. In this nervous political climate, a contemporary of Jerome serving as a bishop in North Africa considered the new Latin translation a threat to the unity of an already fragile church. (161)

The Great Debate: Jerome versus Augustine

Augustine is unique in his appeal not only in Roman Catholic tradition but also to the more recent development of Protestant Christianity. His shadow lurks behind both the Renaissance and the Reformation. From his autobiographical Confessions to his development of the notion of “original sin,” which in turn encouraged the pessimistic Calvinist model of predestinarian theology, Augustine’s theological impact on the West is incalculable. (162)

God himself was the only Real; language merely pointed in God’s direction, so differences between the Hebrew and Greek bibles were no cause for concern. Augustine would also argue that through obfuscations in the language, God intentionally prevents his creatures from becoming too conceited in their understanding of scripture. (163)

In the following centuries in the Greek East, living in a Greek world allowed the Greek church to continue using its Greek Bible. The lack of cohesion in the West, however, along with the continued and intensifying tradition of Jewish-Christian debate, led Christians continually to assess their own Bible. Political and social upheaval also meant that the church would look to create stability within by shunning the variety of the biblical text known from the Old Latin versions and by turning to Jerome’s new biblical text. Thus, they chose eventually, though not immediately, to elevate the status of Jerome’s Vulgate, based on the Hebrew bible, not because they shared his views of the “Hebrew truth” but because they wanted stability they could not find outside the church. (166)

14. A Postscript

…It is not clear which of these represents the truth…yet both convey something important to those who read intelligently. – Augustine, On Christian Doctrine 2.17

Accordingly, when anyone claims, “Moses meant what I say,” and another retorts, “No, rather what I find there,” I think that I will be answering in a more religious spirit if I say, “Why not both, if both are true?” And if there is a third possibility, and a fourth, and if someone else sees an entirely different meaning in these words, why should we not think that he was aware of all of them? – Augustine, Confessions 12.31.42

Augustine wrote that the lack of uniformity in the manuscripts could be helpful and that, even if multiple versions of the same biblical book exists, they could all be helpfully appropriated as Christian scripture: “This fact actually proves more of a help to interpretation than a hindrance, provide that readers are not too casual. Obscure passages are often clarified by the inspection of several manuscripts…Each one confirms the other. One is explained by the other…” (167)

Who is capable of comprehending the extent of what is to be discovered in a single utterance of Yours? …Anyone who encounters Scripture should not suppose that the single one of its riches that he has found is the only one to exist; rather, he should realize that he himself is only capable of discovering that one out of the many riches which exist in it … A thirsty person rejoices because he has drunk: he is not grieved because he proved incapable of drinking the fountain dry! – Ephrem, 4th c.

Many modern Christians are fixated with the search for an “original text,” but from the beginning it was not so. Early Christians were able to appreciate the diversity of divine communication, and even when some began to recognize the divergences between the Bible of the Jews and the Greek Christian Bible most welcomed the opportunity to learn more, showing no anxiety at the thought of not having the “original.” This is a distinctively modern theological anxiety. (168)

I would suggest that it is impossible to read the Septuagint alongside the Hebrew Bible and conclude that their theological outlooks are identical; even when the Hebrew source of the Septuagint translation is identical to the Hebrew bible and the divergences can be attributed to the translator, his translation itself often contains theological developments in the areas of eschatology, messianism, the fulfillment of prophecy, enhancing the holiness of God (as the translator imagined was necessary), and many others. (170)

What would modern Christian theology look like if its theologians returned the Septuagint to the place it occupied at the foundation of the church, or at least began to read it alongside the Hebrew Bible, as a witness to the story of the Bible and in acknowledgment of its role in shaping Christianity? (171)

— VIA —

Significant for its scope, this book sets the record straight in the history and development of “scripture,” “canon,” and “bible,” a contribution that is sorely needed in contentious debates around holy writ.

Two areas of inquiry.

First, on page 95, Law states,  “He is using the language in an explict contrast with the old covenant, found in the Jewish scriptures,” referring to Jesus at the last supper. Law writes, “This very distinction between the Old and New Testaments is based on the Septuagint’s language.” This is a bit perplexing as in the paragraph above, he mentions Jeremiah 31. It is a bit unclear how the word “covenant” is being used by Law, (though he does provide additional insight as to how the Septuagint was using the word, and how Luke is also using it). His interpretation of Jesus’ use leaves one inquiring as to what he actually means? It may feel as if he posits a contrast which, interpretively, needs to be tempered with additional hermeneutical substantiation.

Second, on p.100, Law states that “there is no reason to assume from the outset that Mark and Luke would have known the Hebrew scriptures … There is no indication in the Gospels of Mark and Luke that their writers knew Hebrew.” It has been pointed out that the Greek of Mark is poor (grammatically, syntactically, etc.) It has been suggested that there is a Hebrew text underlying the Greek of Mark. So, this blanket statement may need qualification.

Regardless of my little quibbles, Law collects into one volume a tremendous gift to the church in educating us on the evolution of the Bible, a history that is lost, or rather spurned for the modern “biblicism” and “bibliolatry” that unfortunately occupies the current pride of place in our public discourse.

It is my prayer that Christians can come to the table better educated, seeking wisdom and understanding in these issues more than seeking ideological dominance.