Monday, May 19, 2014

Questions on the NT use of the LXX

A friend recently emailed with some questions about the NT use of the Septuagint (LXX).  I thought others might like to overhear the (edited) exchange:


I'm curious what you think we can learn from the NT use of the LXX, if anything? What does it tell us about using the LXX in particular, those specific passages of the LXX, and/or translations in general?


That's a great question and a big one, as you know.  Whole books could be written about it (and have!), so I don't think I'll be able to sum it all up in a short email, and I don't claim any expertise in this field.

At the least, the LXX's appearance and usage says that believers hold that one can read the Bible in translation, and it can be the Word of God. Unlike Islam which says one must know Arabic to read the Koran, Biblical believers have never said you must know Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek to read the Bible.

The apostles obviously often read the LXX and cited it in the NT (but not always, since they also made citations that give evidence of their rendering the Hebrew of the OT). 

The biggest problems with the LXX are twofold:
(1) It gives evidence that it was not based on the MT of the Hebrew Bible (see especially, e.g., Judges, 1-2 Samuel);
(2) It included the apocryphal books.
I agree with Owen's assessment that it is a "corrupt stream" whose readings must be taken cautiously.


Thanks, Jeff. One question in my mind is, if the NT cites a particular LXX passage, does it create an "alternate" authoritative version of that verse? Does it speak to the inspiration of translation of at least that passage?


Good question on how to interpret the ramifications of the authority of the LXX when cited in the NT.  My view would be that a citation does not set up the LXX as an "alternate" authority to the Hebrew OT. Rather, it only becomes authoritative (i.e., is part of the immediately inspired Scripture) as it is cited by the NT writer.

We have several examples of the NT writers referencing or citing non-canonical works.  Examples:

Luke 1:1-4:  Luke refers to unnamed sources (some of which might have been canonical, like Mathew or Mark, but others might not have been canonical, like perhaps a memoir of Mary or other eyewitnesses).

Acts 17:28:  Paul cites Epimenides and Aratus.

Titus 1:12:  Paul cites Epimenides.

Jude 1:9:  Jude cites the Testament of Moses (?) or some other lost source.

Jude 1:14-15:  Jude cites the book of 1 Enoch.

We would not say, for example, that Epimenides' works or 1 Enoch are inspired just because they are cited in the NT.  Only the parts cited are inspired as they are used by the NT authors.  The same could be applied to the NT citations of the LXX.

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