As the Greek version of the Old Testament (designated the Septuagint or LXX) is frequently quoted in the New Testament instead of the Hebrew it is important for the Bible scholar to know something of this version of Scripture. In this article we will set out some general notes on the LXX and follow this by some interesting examples, where it is clearly quoted by the Lord and the apostles.

The Septuagint is the best known Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures and importantly is the oldest translation of them. It is much older than the Hebrew MS from which our “modern” versions of the Bible have been translated, which until the recent discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, dated back only to the 9th century. The Hebrew MSS used to translate our Bible had all been edited by the Massoretes, whereas the lxx gives evidence to older Hebrew texts.

The name for the complete Greek version of the Old Testament, “Septuagint” or “Seventy” (in Latin lxx) is derived from the fact that it was translated by seventy translators who were employed in the origi­nal undertaking to translate the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament written by Moses) during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285–246 BC), king of Egypt. It appears that Demetrius Phalereus, the librarian to Ptolemy Philadelphus, wished to add to the huge library of 200 000 volumes at Alexandria, a copy of the Hebrew books of the Law translated into Greek, as they were “unintelligible” in the original. With the king’s consent, a request was made to the high priest in Jerusalem, Eliezer, and seventy two aged and skilful interpreters, six from each tribe, were sent to Egypt. They arrived in Egypt, were hospitably received, and were assigned a quiet house on the Island of Pharos in the harbour of Alexandria, where they set about their work and transcribed the law in seventy two days.

Other books of the Old Testament followed gradually and the entire translation was completed by 150BC. As the later books were done at differing times by a number of translators, there are inevita­bly differences in style and method and the quality is unequal in different parts. In some instances there has been corruption of the text by significant omis­sions and in other cases by inclusions.

The following quotation from the Westminster Bible Dictionary regarding it is interesting—“The translation of the Pentateuch, except the poetic por­tions (Gen 49, Deut 32,33) is the best part of the work, and on the whole is well executed, although not literal. The translators of Proverbs and Job were masters of a good Greek style, but were imperfectly acquainted with Hebrew, and handled the original arbitrarily. The translation of the Proverbs is based upon a Hebrew text that varied considerably from the Massoretic text. The general sense of Psalms is fairly well reproduced. Ecclesiastes is rendered with slavish literalness. The translation of the Prophets is unequal in quality. That of Amos and Ezekiel is tolerably well done, but that of Isaiah is inferior. The version of Jeremiah was possibly made from a Hebrew text different from the Massoretic. The Book of Daniel, the early Christians, since the time of Irenaeus and Hippolytus, substituted for the Old Greek version of Theodotion.”

The purpose of our study is not to pursue the intricacies of translation, and the difficulties of rep­resenting the idiom of one language in another, but to explore the use made in the New Testament of the Old Testament and present the LXX in particular.

The Septuagint and the Gospel

The existence of the LXX version played a signifi­cant role in the spread of the gospel, according to the will of God, to all nations. The will of the Greeks to stamp their culture, language and religion upon the nations conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th Century BC made Greek virtually the universal language. It is notable that Greek was one of the three languages used to write the accusation against Jesus on the cross (John 19:20). It appears then that the coming into existence of a Greek version of the Old Testament prior to the birth of Christ, and which would later facilitate the spread of the Gospel to all nations, was a work of God.

There is some uncertainty as to what language was commonly spoken among Jews in Palestine in Christ’s day. There is a strong case that it was in fact Greek. Consider the following:

  1. Jesus used the Septuagint version when he read Isaiah 61 in the synagogue in Nazareth (see later).
  2. The New Testament was largely, if not all, written in Greek, and was clearly the universal language in the first century.
  3. The lxx is frequently cited in the New Testament as though it was the received version.
  4. When Paul addressed the Jews in the Hebrew tongue, “they kept the more silence” (Acts 22:2). Clearly this was exceptional, and Hebrew was not the common language of the day.

The Septuagint and Inspiration

The lxx usage in the New Testament has sometimes raised questions of inspiration and in this connec­tion the following quotation from an article written by Bro. L.G. Sargent entitled “Christ’s Use of the Scriptures” (The Christadelphian 1967 Vol 104 Page 52) provides help.

“We can at any rate be satisfied that there would be nothing unlikely in Jesus having a direct knowl­edge of the Greek Version. The uses of a popular version where it was not substantially inaccurate can be understood by comparison with our use of the Authorised Version. Further, while the lxx is admitted to have defects, and to vary in quality as a translation, occasionally it agrees with the Dead Sea Scrolls against the received Massoretic text; at points it may preserve a genuine older reading. We may therefore accept at least the view of Professor Currie Martin:

‘It is almost certain that our Lord would have another advantage in gaining a familiar knowledge for the benefit of his countrymen, the advantage, namely, of being familiar with another language that was then common speech of the civilized world, namely, Greek. The lxx was… the Bible most generally used by the Jewish community, and it is quite possible Jesus himself read it’“ (Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels).

Instructive Examples of New Testament Usage of the lxx

One of the instances of the usage of the lxx in the New Testament flows from our previous considera­tion of Moses’ Song of Witness (Deut 32). It was not dealt with in those three articles as it was considered to be a good stepping stone to a consideration of the lxx and the New Testament.

Deuteronomy 32:43 – “Let All the Angels of God Worship Him”

In the av this verse reads: “Rejoice, O ye nations with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his serv­ants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land and to his people”.

In the lxx rendition, note the differences: “Re­joice, ye heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him (kai proskunesatosan auto pantes aggeloi Theou); rejoice ye Gentiles, with his people, and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him; for he will avenge the blood of his sons, and he will render vengeance, and recompense justice to his enemies, and will reward them that hate him; and the Lord shall purge the land of his people”.

Interestingly there has been ‘added’ in the LXX words not found in the Hebrew text, but clearly they are consistent with the rejoicing called for when Yahweh vindicates His people and purges His land.

The words, “and let all the angels of God wor­ship him” are cited in Hebrews 1:6: “And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him” (kai proskunesatosan auto pantes aggeloi Theou).

The margin of the av directs attention to Psalm 97:7 as the source of this quotation, which reads, “Worship him, all ye gods (elohim)”. The lxx reads, “worship him, all ye his angels (“proskunesati auto pantes aggeloi auto”). Two things are notable:

1 The word elohim in the Hebrew is transliterated, aggeloi (angels) in the lxx, showing elohim to be plural and often referring to angels.

2 The words cited in Hebrews 1:6 are word for word from the lxx of Deuteronomy 32:43 (angels of God) and not Psalm 97:7 (angels), though the ideas are the same.

The writer to the Hebrews prefaces his remarks, “And again, when he bringeth the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let…”. The preface is apparently translated incorrectly in the av, for the word “again” refers to the second advent of the Lord, and so Rotherham reads, “But whensoever he again introduceth the first begotten into the habit­able earth he saith…”.

This accords with the sentiments of the last por­tion of the Song of Witness (Deut 32) and Psalm 97, both of which speak of the universal power of God in the day when Christ is manifest in power and great glory. What is said of God applies to Christ in that great day of his manifestation, when “in flaming fire he takes vengeance on them that know not God”. Jesus himself said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (2 Thess 1:8; Matt 28:18).

Psalm 8, the LXX and Quotations in the New Testament

There are some interesting changes in the quotation from Psalm 8 in the New Testament which should challenge our thinking.

1 “Thou hast perfected praise” Matthew 21:16

When the children of Jerusalem saw the astounding miracles that Jesus did, the blind receiving sight, and the lame caused to walk, they could not but cry out, “Hosanna to the son of David”. But what occasioned unrestrained joy to them made the chief priests and scribes irate, so much so that they took issue with Jesus for not rebuking the children! What amazing “blindness” in the face of incontestable evidence that God was working through Jesus and attesting unmistakably that he was indeed the Son of David, the Messiah of Israel (Matt 11:5; Isa 35:5–6). Jesus’ answer to them is notable, “Yea, have ye never read, Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou has perfected praise”.

These words are intriguing. In the margin we are directed back to Psalm 8:2, but these words in the av read, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast ordained strength (Heb oz) because of thine en­emies, that thou mightest still the enemy”. First of all we note that Jesus is not quoting from the Hebrew text but the lxx (katertiso ainon). On the surface of it there does not appear to be any correspondence. The words of Psalm 8, written to celebrate David’s victory over the colossus Goliath, also presage the greater victory over the Gentile might and all of God’s enemies by David’s greater son, the Lord Jesus. David the stripling, the youth, vanquished the giant and in this God’s strength was made perfect (cp 1Sam 17:42–47).

There is, however, a relationship between the ideas “thou had ordained strength (Heb oz), and “thou hast perfected praise” (katertiso ainon). When strength is ascribed to God, as it was on this occasion as David thanked God for the remarkable victory given him, it is frequently associated with praise and glory. Take for example the oft-repeated Old Testament phrase, “The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation” (Exod 15:2; Psalm 118:4: Isaiah 12:2). Jesus uses the facet of meaning brought out in the lxx to make his point against the Pharisees: the lads in the Temple honoured the strength and power of God revealed in Jesus; the priests and the scribes in their pride blinded themselves to it and denied it.

2 Made a Little Lower Than the Angels” Hebrews 2:7

In his exposition of why the Son of Man had to suffer death, Paul cites Psalm 8:5 “Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels. The word “angels” is aggelous in the Greek. In the Hebrew texts of Psalm 8 the word is elohim, normally translated “God” but interpreted and translated in the lxx “angels” (aggelous). Again it is clear that the lxx was used.

The following section is drawn from the article previously referred to from the pen of Brother LG Sargent.

Further Use of Psalm 8

An example of a more subtle association of ideas with the same Psalm 8 is to be found in Luke 10:17–22, where the seventy disciples have returned with joy, saying: “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name”, and Jesus replies: “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power (authority, exousia) to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

Here indeed strength is ordained to still the adversary and through it dominion is given to men over the creatures of the earth, who become typical of “the power of the enemy” (cf Psa 8:2,6–8). But when Jesus continues, “Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven”, is there not another allusion to the Psalm? “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” Names are “written in heaven” of those who are remembered by God, those of whom God is “mindful”.

But Jesus continues with prayer to the Father: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him”.

“Revealed them unto babes” unmistakably car­ries on the allusion to the Psalm, which is completed with the mention of the Son: “… And the son of man, that thou visitest him?” “The Son”, though son of the Heavenly Father, is also “Son of man”, and in him is to be fulfilled the creative purpose celebrated in the Psalm so that in the end he will have dominion over all things, even of death itself. Here, though there is no direct quotation, the allu­sion is to the idea of strength, but in a context of joy in which Jesus praises the Father. Thus at different times Jesus lays weight now on one aspect, now on another, of the significance of the word oz. The latter example also shows the readiness with which Jesus could interweave in his words a series of al­lusions to an extended Biblical passage, showing that he rested his thought upon it as a foundation.”

Conclusion

The usage of the Septuagint by the Lord and the apostles raises a number of questions relating to inspiration. When we consider how we might use translations other than the av, and even sometimes more liberal transla­tions where the sense is clearer due to the difficulties of idiom and the lack of an exact equivalent word in English, we can understand why it has been used. Also the fact that Greek was the ‘universal’ tongue made its use preferable in many instances.

The fact, too, that it is sometimes based upon an older and more accurate Hebrew text makes it prefer­able in those instances. Jesus also made use of the lxx where its meaning was particularly appropriate, as in the case of the lads in the Temple. Overall, the general use of it by the Gospel writers where it is sufficiently near the original underlines its worth. These reasons all have some truth in them and apply to varying extents in the New Testament citations.

In our next article we plan, God willing, to ex­plore further the use of the lxx in the New Testament. Recognizing its use in the New Testament helps to rationalise and explain the “discrepancies” observ­able in the New Testament quotations from the av translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.