Friday, September 20, 2013

John Owen on the LXX: "Strange that so corrupt a stream should be judged a fit measure to correct the original by"

At one point in his booklet “The Divine Original of the Scriptures” (Collected Works, Vol. 16), the Puritan divine John Owen addresses the work of a contemporary “learned man” Ludovicus Capellus who attempted to correct the Hebrew text of the OT by using the Greek Septuagint.  I recalled this quote when thinking about the various LXX readings now being adopted in modern English translations of the Old Testament (see here).  Owen observed of this tendency to “uncertain conjectures” on “the credit of corrupt translations”:
Whether that plea of his be more unreasonable in itself and devoid of any real ground of truth, or injurious to the love and care of God over his Word and church, I know not; sure I am, it is both in high degree.  The translation insisted on by him is that of the LXX.  That this translation—either from the mistakes of its first authors, (if it be theirs whose name and number it bears), or the carelessness, or ignorance, or worse, of its transcribers—is corrupted and gone off from the original in a thousand places twice told, is acknowledged by all who know aught of these things.  Strange that so corrupt a stream should be judged a fit measure to correct the original by; and yet on account hereof, with some others not one whit better (or scarce so good,) we have one thousand eight hundred and twenty-six various lections exhibited unto us, with frequent insinuations of an infinite number more yet to be collected.  It were desirable that men would be content to show their learning, reading, and diligence, about things where there is less danger in adventures (pp. 301-302).

1 comment:

Hugh McCann said...

Owen writes (in his Hebrews commentary, pp. 67-68):

Concerning these, and some other places, many confidently affirm, that the apostle waved the original, and reported the words from the translation of the LXX. . . . [T]his boldness in correcting the text, and fancying without proof, testimony, or probability, of other ancient copies of the Scripture of the Old Testament, differing in many things from them which alone remain, and which indeed were ever in the world, may quickly prove pernicious to the church of God. . . . [I]t is highly probable, that the apostle, according to his wonted manner, which appears in almost all the citations used by him in this epistle, reporting the sense and import of the places, in words of his own, the Christian transcribers of the Greek Bible inserted his expressions into the text, either as judging them a more proper version of the original, (whereof they were ignorant) than that of the LXX., or out of a preposterous zeal to take away the appearance of a diversity between the text and the apostle's citation of it. And thus in those testimonies where there is a real variation from the Hebrew original, the apostle took not his words from the translation of the LXX. but his words were afterwards inserted into that translation.