Should the Septuagint be Considered Inspired?

Posted By on August 27, 2013

That’s the question proposed for consideration in a post by a friend of mine, Gabe Martini (“Is the Septuagint a Divinely Inspired Translation?“). Nothing like a provocative headline! I thought you Septuagint fans out there would like it.

Gabe is Orthodox and so he’s ready to say “yes” in answer to his own question. The article is interesting and a good read — though I want a source for the claim in the first paragraph about only five readings being from MT. That just doesn’t ring true at all.1 But I don’t think this is a question that is supposed to be answered with math. Since Gabe works at Logos and we’re supposed to have lunch next week, I’ll ask him where that figure comes from. (Gabe, if you’re reading this, we have an agenda item!) For my money, I don’t think inspiration ought to be extended to translations any more than it should be extended to quotations of other material used by the NT authors. (And I’d say the same thing about OT author quotations of external material).

Enjoy the post!

  1. I’ve read in Silva and Jobes, for instance, that 20-25% of the NT quotations favor MT. See here and here for lots of statistics on LXX quotations. Both sites are by the same person, but you’ll find two different percentages for NT agreement with the LXX: 68% and 64%. However, I can’t claim to be completely sure I’m reading the statistics correctly.

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8 Responses to “Should the Septuagint be Considered Inspired?”

  1. Gabe Martini says:

    Dr. Heiser,

    Thanks for the share and mention! Obviously, the Orthodox Church has a certain set of commitments when it comes to being invested in the divine inspiration of the Septuagint, which I understand others might not agree with (or see as necessary).

    On the citation remark, I believe it should actually be six verses where the New Testament follows a reading that agrees with a text tradition similar to the Masoretic over-and-against the Septuagint text tradition. There are many verses where the New Testament authors cite the Old and it agrees with the MT besides this, but in the remaining instances, the reading is the same as in the LXX tradition. At least, according to the research I’ve read (e.g. http://mysite.verizon.net/rgjones3/Septuagint/spexecsum.htm)

    The verses that agree with a text family similar to the later MT are:
    Matt. 2:15 (Hosea 11:1)
    Matt. 11:10 (Malachi 3:1)
    John 19:37 (Zech. 12:10)
    Rom. 9:33 (Isaiah 8:14)
    Rom. 11:35 (Job 41:11)
    1 Cor. 3:19 (Job 5:13)

    There may be more that this person (and myself) have missed, and that’s certainly okay. The point in the article that I’m attempting to bring across (ala St. Augustine) is that God can inspire multiple traditions of the text, even where they differ. This, of course, hearkens back to the Orthodox tradition regarding iconography, which takes one down another rabbit trail. :-)

    Looking forward to lunch!
    Gabe

    • MSH says:

      The figure is too low. There are more than six places where the NT writers’ quotations align with MT, though they are a minority. The same site you note is the one that gave the other figures I noted.

      I think the problem / disconnect is likely the criteria for “agreement”. Is the “only six places” using “every word, word-for-word” as a criterion? That would be misguided if so. Alignment with a tradition doesn’t need to be word-for-word (in that case, if an LXX citation wasn’t word-for-word, we’d have to disregard it as an LXX citation even if most words were from LXX). That points to the problem (in both directions, Mt or LXX) of the writer “paraphrasing” a bit – i.e., not caring to copy out a quotation word-for-word AND the additional problem of the LXX translator’s “translation technique” (i.e., even when LXX departs from MT it doesn’t mean the LXX translator wasn’t looking at MT; he may have misunderstood the Hebrew or just had a colloquial way of rendering something). This is a well known and frequent issue within the LXX.

      In short, I don’t think this six (or five) figure is at all accurate and would want to know the criterion / criteria for such a figure.

  2. Jud Whidden says:

    Interesting read, but I’m with you. Translations are not inspired.

    However, with the LXX, we have to always hold out the possibility that a particular reading may represent a more accurate Vorlage. I believe that is the case with, for example, Psalm 22:16 which makes no sense in the MT but in the LXX we see what the correct reading is (“they pierced” not “as a lion”).

    That would be a good follow up article for Gabe to actually take some examples and compare the MT with the LXX.

  3. Dino Schulmeier says:

    If II Tim 3:16 refers to the OT in translation form (i.e. LXX), could this be an ad hoc argument for at least the implicit acceptance of a translation with “inspired” authority?

    • MSH says:

      While a NT writer would have believe that what he was quoting had derivative authority, authority and inspiration are not interchangeable terms. The NT writers would have known that when God inspired the OT writers/prophets (see Peter’s comment) they spoke/wrote in Hebrew. When the NT writers quoted the OT they weren’t trying to articulate or demonstrate a doctrine of inspiration. They were making theological points about X (usually in regard to Jesus and his work). There are some passages in the NT where the biblical writers seem to be using a Targum (some in John come to mind). We’d then have to extend inspiration to the Targumim by this LXX logic. And if we embrace that logic, I don’t know what prevents someone from arguing other quoted material is also inspired – Apocrypha (Sirach); Pseudepigrapha (1 Enoch), Baal Cycle (OT), Wisdom of Amenemope (Proverbs) – that sort of thing. (And LXX would be translating those OT citations of ANE material, too!).

  4. Patrick says:

    How does Psalm 22 MT match with the DSS version? Same type of differences?

    • MSH says:

      DSS agrees with LXX in the controversial v. 16 (MT: “like a lion are my hands and feet”; LXX/DSS: “They have pierced my hands and my feet”).

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