Mysteries of the Kingdom

            in awe of scripture, viewing it through the lens of the kingship of Jesus



5th century Septuagint manuscript with green (for no particular reason) tinting

Early Christians Said Our Septuagint is a Miracle

    Many Christians warn against praying for patience or humility. As the logic goes: beware of what you ask for because you just might get it! While the road is rough on which we find humility, nothing is more valuable. As wise King Solomon described it, humility is better than silver, fine gold, buried treasure, or precious jewels.1 I have been humbled to learn that our Protestant Bibles might not be the best reproduction of the Old Testament. Humility will listen to its elders, and the elders of Protestantism are fourfold: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and the Assyrian Church of the East. I recently learned that all four of our elders base their Old Testament Canon as well as their Old Testament text not on the Masoretic manuscripts which Protestants use, but on the Jewish Septuagint. Before the Apostles penned the New Testament, the Septuagint was the Bible of Christians.
    The reliance of our elders on the Septuagint dates back to the beginning of the faith, long before Roman Catholics affirmed their Septuagint canon. At the council of Trent, the Romans did not innovate. They simply affirmed the same canon they had always used. Likewise the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Assyrian Christians had recognized the Septuagint canon as scripture ever since the early centuries of Christianity.
    While I have previously discussed the Septuagint in this article, I look forward to sharing some intriguing details regarding the differences between the Masoretic and the Septuagint texts. The following is a recap of key points previously stated regarding the Jewish Septuagint:
  • The Septuagint translation predates the Masoretic text by approximately 1,000 years.

  • The Masoretic was compiled by Jews many centuries after Jesus' resurrection, therefore by Jews who had rejected Jesus. In contrast, the Septuagint was compiled by Jews prior to the arrival of Jesus, therefore bearing no bias against the prophecies concerning Him.

  • Christians used the Septuagint canon from the very beginning of the faith.

  • Jesus and the apostles quoted the Septuagint text in the New Testament.

  • Centuries before Protestantism even existed, all four of the elder branches of Christianity affirmed the divine inspiration of the Jewish Septuagint including seven books which we Protestants reject.2

  • Of the five primary branches of Christianity, only Protestantism bases its Old Testament text on the Masoretic canon and manuscripts.

    Before sharing the intriguing differences between specific verses in the Jewish Septuagint and the Jewish Masoretic, it is important to document how early Christianity viewed the Septuagint. They considered the Greek translation by 72 Jewish rabbis to be a divine miracle, providing a fresh revelation from the Holy Spirit which was superior to the original Hebrew scriptures. They believed the Greek translation by Jewish Rabbis revealed meanings which had been hidden in the Hebrew all along. They believed that these hidden meanings were brought out of the Hebrew in the Greek Septuagint just prior to the arrival of the Messiah as a "Preparation for the Gospel." Here then are eight3 testimonies to the early view of the Septuagint in historical order:

  1. The oldest record we now have of the Septuagint is a letter from a court official of King Ptolemy named Aristeas who described the translation of the Hebrew "law" into Greek by 72 Jewish Rabbis in 72 days "just as if such a result was achieved by some deliberate design."

  2. Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria said the translating rabbis, "as if possessed, prophesied, in the course of translating, not each one something different, but all of them the same nouns and verbs, as if a prompter were invisibly giving them instructions." Philo continued at length to describe the divine inspiration of the Septuagint, going so far as to call the translators "not translators, but hierophants and prophets."4

  3. In the middle of the second century, barely 50 years after John penned the last Christian scripture, Justin Martyr recounted the translation miracle of the Septuagint. Justin said even King Ptolemy of Egypt, when he saw the miraculous agreement of the seventy rabbis, "believed that the translation had been written by divine power."5

  4. Later in the same century as Justin, Irenaeus was both the Bishop of Lyon (then Lugdunum) and the disciple of Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John. Irenaeus stated, "Thus it is the same Spirit of God who spoke through the prophets of the coming of the Lord, who properly translated through the elders what was really prophesied and who preached the fulfilment of the promise through the apostles."6

  5. In the first half of the third century, scholar Origen of Alexandria insisted he "kept to the Septuagint in all respects," because truths in the Greek Septuagint were veiled in the Hebrew: "The Holy Spirit wished the forms of the mysteries to be hidden in the divine scriptures, and not dealt with clearly and openly."7

  6. Christian historian Eusebius of Caesarea in chapter one of book eight of Preparation of the Gospel wrote concerning the Septuagint that God Himself "arranged that the predictions concerning Him who was to appear before long as the Saviour of mankind, and to establish Himself as the teacher of the religion of the One Supreme God to all the nations under the sun, should be revealed to them all, and be brought into the light by being accurately translated, and set up in the public libraries."8

  7. Epiphanius (Bishop of Salamis in the latter 300's AD) also considered the Septuagint miraculous. In his On Weights and Measures, he defended the differences between the Greek and Hebrew as divinely inspired, saying of the 72 rabbis, "For where they added words lacking in these [Hebrew writings], they gave clearness to the reading, so that we regard them as not disassociated from the Holy Spirit. For they omitted those that had no need of repetition; but where there was a word that was considered ambiguous when translated into the Greek language, there they made an addition. This may be surprising, but we should not be rash to bring censure, but rather praise that it is according to the will of God that what is sacred should be understood."9

  8. The great Augustine of Hippo around AD 400 in his City of God wrote, "We are right in believing that the translators of the Septuagint had received the spirit of prophecy; and so if, with its authority, they altered anything and used expressions in their translation different from those of the original, we should not doubt that these expressions also were divinely inspired."(15.23)

    My goal is not to prove that the Septuagint is an inspired translation, nor do I believe the quotes above prove it. I do however think it is worth noting how early Christians viewed the Septuagint. In an upcoming article, I look forward to sharing key differences between the Septuagint Old Testament and the Masoretic. As a Protestant, I find these differences humbling, as it appears that my particular branch of Christianity may be using an inferior form of scripture. The Septuagint would not be superior because early Christians considered it an inspired revelation. It would be superior if (as seems to be the case), the Septuagint was established centuries before the Masoretic, was established Jews who were not biased by rejecting of Jesus of Nazareth, and was used by the Apostles in exclusion of the Masoretic.
    The Septuagint has not changed my theology in any way, but I do prefer to use the best possible Scripture translation. For those who may be curious, I now use a Bible translation based on the Septuagint for its Old Testament: The Orthodox Study Bible, published by Thomas Nelson.

Article #3 of 4 on the Jewish Septuagint may be found by clicking here.

                                                    
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"Early Christians Said Our Septuagint is a Miracle" by Matthew Bryan was first published at www.matthewbryan.net on November 21st, 2014. All rights are reserved.
1. I apply Proverbs 2:4 and 3:14-15 to humility on the basis of Proverbs 22:4.
2. Some branches recognize 3rd and 4th Esdras as inspired. Some branches recognize 3rd and 4th Maccabees. All four apostolic branches recognize Judith, Tobit, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach, Baruch, and 1st and 2nd Maccabees as holy scripture.
3. Other quotes survive. I am stil researching those of Tertullian, for example.
4. Kamesar, A. "The Cambridge Companion to Philo" (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 66-67.
5. Justin Martyr "Horatory Address to the Greeks" chapter 13 in Philip Schaff's "Ante-Nicene Fathers: Fathers of the Early Church."
6. Irenaeus, "Against Heresies" book 3, chapter 21, paragraph 4.
7. Law, Timothy Michael,
"When God Spoke Greek" (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 144..
8. Translation by E.H.Gifford, 1903.
9. Epiphanius of Salamis "On Weights and Measures" as published in 1935 by the University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois. Edited by James Elmer Dean
. Notably, Epiphanius lists the entire Masoretic canon (without calling it Masoretic) plus Sirach, Baruch, and the Epistle of Jeremiah. He described each of the three as having a lesser status among Jews, but specifically attributed the lesser status to Jews, not to himself, much less did he attribute it to other Christians. Further, the place and manner in which he referred to Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah lends us to wondering if other books were understood to have been included in the original Septuagint translation. Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah are mentioned in a separate latter part of his work, not directly included in his original Septuagint canon. The Wisdom of Solomon would be the best candidate for such an assumed inclusion.