The Septuagint, also known as the Greek Old Testament, is the earliest translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek dated to three centuries before Christ walked the earth. The Church has the promise that the Holy Spirit will guide her in truth, I will seek to show this truth is preserved in the text of the Septuagint and not of the Masoretic Text, of which most Protestant bibles get their Old Testament from, as the Septuagint has been used by Orthodox and Roman Catholics. This timeline may surprise some:
- 3rd Century B.C. – The Septuagint (Greek Translation)
- 1st-2nd Century A.D. – The Peshitta (Syriac Translation)
- 4th Century A.D. – Latin Vulgate
- 6th Century A.D. – Masoretic Text Started
- 11th Century A.D. – Masoretic Text Finalized
This makes the Septuagint roughly 1200 years older than the Masoretic text. So why do many Protestant Bibles use the Masoretic Text? Let’s see how this timeline is reached.
The Masoretic Text
The Masoretic Text is the traditional Hebrew text of the Jewish bible, “This monumental work was begun around the 6th century ad and completed in the 10th by scholars at Talmudic academies in Babylonia and Palestine.” (1). Right on the outset, the question arises why do Christians value the translation of scholars at the Talmudic academy? The Talmud that blasphemes our Lord Jesus Christ saying He is burning in hell (Gittin 57a) and that our Holy Lady Theotokos is a whore.
Non-Christian Jews began making changes to the Old Testament texts to undermine the Christian use of prophecies concerning Jesus Christ, it makes no logical sense as to why their translation should be held above that which the apostles themselves used. “The Hebrew Text that has served as the basis for most translations of the Old Testament into English is based almost entirely on the Leningrad Codex, which dates from 1008 A.D. In comparison to the textual evidence that we have for the New Testament Greek text, this is a very late manuscript. It is an example of the Masoretic recension, which is usually dated to have been shaped between the 6th and 10th centuries A.D.” (2).
I’m not implying Hebrew is not important or not extremely helpful, I’m making a case against this particular version. Nor am I saying older automatically equals more valid, although it does help the case, for example the Hebrew Bible itself is older than the Septuagint, dating to the 6th-10th Century B.C. (depending on your source). However, this is not the same translation used in so many bibles across America for the OT. Fr. John Whiteford points out an example of translation inconsistency, “Another example is the text quoted in Hebrews 1:6 (And let all the angels of God worship him) which is nowhere to be found in the Masoretic text, but is found in both the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls Hebrew text in Deuteronomy 32:43.” (2).
Another issue with the Masoretic text is that the Masoretes are saying they received corrupted texts to begin with, which would invalidate the authenticity of their own beliefs. Some may say, “but wouldn’t this apply to the Septuagint too? Since they are making a new version from the Hebrew Bible as well?” No, because the difference is the Septuagint only translates from Hebrew to Greek with precision, while the Masoretic text isn’t even technically a translation as they are both using Hebrew, meaning it’s a change. What change? I will add a chart of examples made by Fr. Joseph Gleason of Preachers Institute. (3).
“These are not random, inconsequential differences between the texts. Rather, these appear to be places where the Masoretes (or their forebears) had a varied selection of texts to consider, and their decisions were influenced by anti-Christian bias. Simply by choosing one Hebrew text over another, they were able to subvert the Incarnation, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, His healing of the blind, His crucifixion, and His salvation of the Gentiles.” (3). As we can see, the Masoretic text is not the preserved original Hebrew text of scripture, they changed significant things regarding prophecy and doctrine, they admit texts were corrupted to begin with, they excluded texts widely accepted by Christians for centuries, they used an alphabet different from the original Hebrew, etc. The Septuagint (LXX) translation is both more accurate and more ancient than the Masoretic Text.
It is called the Septuagint or “Translation of the Seventy” because 70 Hebrew scholars of the time translated the Hebrew into Greek with each one verifying the exact same translation for accuracy. In the Letter of Aristeas, the Hebrew was translated into Greek at the request of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285–247 B.C.). It is the authoritative text of the Old Testament for the Orthodox Church, and the text that the Holy Spirit has preserved for us. “…it is clear why the Church prefers the Septuagint and Peshitta translations for the authoritative text of the Old Testament, and principally the first, for the Septuagint text was produced under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by the concerted effort of the Old Testament Church.” (4).
“The Old Testament Scriptures were translated into Greek two centuries before Christ, and were read and expounded in the public worship of God, which was open to all.” (6). Schaff is citing that the Greek Septuagint was widely used during the time of Jesus Christ and Apostolic Christianity. The text of the Greek Old Testament is quoted more often than the original Hebrew Bible text in the Greek New Testament, especially by the apostle Paul. (7). This validates the Septuagint even more, as we have the apostles of Christ directly quoting from it, and the fact that the New Testament itself was written in Greek. Of the approximately 300 Old Testament quotes in the New Testament, over 2/3 of them came from the Septuagint. How do we know? Here are a couple examples, one of which St. Ireneaus points out himself.
Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; John 1:23 / Isaiah 40:3
Greek – make “His paths straight.”
Hebrew – make “level in the desert a highway.”
Matt. 9:13; 12:7 / Hosea 6:6
Greek – I desire “mercy” and not sacrifice.
Hebrew – I desire “goodness” and not sacrifice.
Matt. 1:23 / Isaiah 7:14 (As already mentioned above).
Greek – behold, a “virgin” shall conceive.
Hebrew – behold, a “young woman” shall conceive.
This last example is noted by St. Ireneaus in Against Heresies Book III, that the Septuagint clearly identifies a virgin (Greek παρθένος; bethulah in Hebrew) who would conceive. The word almah in the Hebrew text was, according to Irenaeus, interpreted by Jewish converts as a “young woman” who would conceive to which the heretical Ebionites would run with this to claim that Joseph was the biological father of Jesus and that Jesus could not be the Son of God. To St. Ireneaus, Ebionism and other heresies were aided by anti-Christian alterations of the Hebrew scripture, as evident by the comparison to the pre-Christian Septaugint. In the early Christian Church, this mindset is common that the Septaugint lends itself to the correct Christological interpretation while the Jewish interpretation attempted to reconstruct the true meaning of the text. St. Augustine is another saint who asserts the same as St. Ireneaus does.
The direct quote from St. Ireneaus, “Moreover this version of those Scriptures (Septuagint) having been made before our Lord came down, and finished before any Christians were to be seen; (for our Lord was born about the forty-first year of Augustus’ reign, but Ptolemy, under whom the Scriptures were translated, was much more ancient:) truly shameless and bold are they proved, who would fain now translate otherwise, upon our refuting them out of the very Scriptures and shutting them up unto the faith of the coming of the Son of God. But firm, and unfeigned, and alone true, is the Faith which we have, clearly evidenced by those Scriptures (Septuagint) the translation which was conducted in the aforesaid manner: and the Church’s message is without interpolation. Yea, all the Apostles too, who are more ancient than all these, agree with the aforesaid translation, and the translation harmonizes with the Apostolical tradition.” (8).
St. Ireneaus makes a decisive point that the Septuagint was completed before any Christians were around, leaving no possibility of a pro-Christian bias for these scriptures. However, those “who would fain now translate otherwise” do not have the same luxury of protection, such as the Masoretic text. It being written centuries after Christ leaves itself open to suspicions of anti-Christian bias. These suspicions are only confirmed when passages are substantially different in the Masoretic Text vs. The Septuagint such as the one noted by St. Ireneaus and the others mentioned earlier in this article.
The Jewish rabbis wanted to distinguish their tradition from the emerging tradition of Christianity, which frequently used the Septuagint. There is no escaping the fact that the Jewish scholars of the Masoretic Text have a scriptural bias of anything that would lend credence to the Christian faith, and it is quite literally their own interpretation. The Septuagint was used for centuries by Christians before the introduction of the Masoretic text, before other events like the Reformation and is older than both of them. It is a more faithful representation of the original Scriptures, and perhaps this is one reason why the apostles quoted from it and accorded it fully as the inspired Word of God.
Sources: 1. Encyclopaedia Britannica – Masoretic Text and the Jewish Bible. 2. Father John Whiteford – OrthoChristian.com. 3. Father Joseph Gleason and Father John A. Peck – Preachers Institute. 4. The Law of God: For Study at Home and School (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1994) p. 440. 5. Letter of Aristeas at the request of Ptolemy II Philadelphus. 6. Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church Volume 1, 1858 Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 7. Toy, Crawford; Gottheil, Richard (1906). “Bible Translations – The Septuagint”. Jewish Encyclopedia. The Kopleman Foundation. Retrieved 10 February 2012. 8. St. Ireneaus, Against Heresies, Book 3 page 289, dated 174-189 A.D.