The Septuagint and the Received Text

Introduction

Recently, I encountered the view that the Hebrew masoretic text of the Old Testament was not inspired. Some say that it was a wicked, corrupted, invention of Christ hating Jews. Others simply deny the authenticity or preservation of the Hebrew text in favor of the Septuagint. This is not some niche corner of the internet either. This is a popular opinion, even among the Reformed. First, it must be stated that the argument needs clarification at its beginning, as there is not one “Septuagint”, there are Septuagints. There is not one Greek Old Testament, there are many versions and editions. Further, the Dead Sea Scrolls do not contain an entire Old Testament, so it is not adequate to appeal to them as a complete authority.

While that may not cause those who adhere to this position to reconsider, it is an important observation nonetheless. In any case, it should be understood why the people of God should start with the Hebrew Old Testament texts over the Septuagint or any other version. It is important then to examine the foundation and logical end of these claims according to the standard of Scripture and to see the implications of such a belief. First, I will examine the Scriptural testimony to itself in regard to its sufficiency and purpose, source and method, and scope and promise. Second, I will present several affirmations for and against considering translations as immediately inspired . Third, I will comment on the nature of citations of external sources in the New Testament text. 

Sufficiency and Purpose

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 KJV

The first standard set forth in the Holy Scriptures is that all Scripture is given by way of inspiration by God and is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice, “That the man of God may be perfect”. From this text, there are several important claims regarding Scripture:

1. That all Scripture is inspired, not just some 

2. That all Scripture is sufficient, not just the important parts 

3. That Scripture alone is the means that God has given to the people of God for all matters of faith and practice 

The method of inspiration is debated as to how exactly God inspired the text, yet this much is clear: 

1. In the Old Testament, God used means of prophets, dreams, visions, Christophanies and Theophanies, and angelic messengers to deliver His Word to His people

2. In the New Testament, God used means of apostolic writers to deliver His Word to His people

The method of inspiration of the Scriptures is often called “verbal plenary”, and it is typically nuanced in such a way that God used the unique authors and their vocabulary and experiences to inspire the words of the New Testament Scriptures. There are various ways of describing the nature of this inspiration, some much too liberal for conservative belief, but I will save that for another article. In the meantime, please refer to this article: https://purelypresbyterian.com/2016/10/13/the-apostles-and-prophets-secretaries-of-the-holy-ghost/

Source and Method 

“For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 2 Peter 1:21 KJV

The second standard set forth in the Holy Scriptures is that Scripture was delivered through “holy men of God”. This was done specifically, as Hebrews 1:1 says, “by the prophets” in the Old Testament, and in these last days, “by his Son”. The language of the people of God in the Old Testament was Hebrew, and in certain places, Aramaic. These comprise the “Hebrew Scriptures”. The language that the New Testament was written in, as attested to by every generation of orthodox believers until the modern period, was Greek. Thus, it should be universally accepted that the documents that were immediately inspired were those written in these languages. This is affirmed by both the 17th century confessions as well as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Most conservative Christians accept at least one of these as a valid creedal statement on Scripture.

Scope and Promise 

“For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Matthew 5:18 KJV

The third standard set forth in the Holy Scriptures is that not “one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled”. In this text, Jesus is declaring that “the truth of the law, and every part of it, is secure, and that nothing so durable is to be found in the whole frame of the world” (Calvin, Commentary Mat. 5:18). This directly applies to the Old Testament as the covenantal document given to the people of God of old, and necessarily applies to the New Testament as it is the covenantal document given to the people of God in the last days. The Westminster Divines affirmed the usage of this passage as speaking authoritatively to the perfect preservation of God’s Word (1.8). 

“The authority of Scripture has always been recognized in the Christian church. Jesus and the apostles believed in the OT as the Word of God and attributed divine authority to it. The Christian church was born and raised under [the influence of] the authority of the Scripture. What the apostles wrote must be accepted as though Christ himself had written it, said Augustine. And in Calvin’s commentary on 2 Timothy 3:16, he states that we owe Scripture the same reverence we owe to God.Up until the 18th century, that authority of Scripture was firmly established in all the churches and among all Christians” (Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, 455). 

The Nature of Translations

Are translations of the original languages as authoritative in so far as they represent the immediately inspired text? We affirm. Are translations themselves immediately inspired? We affirm against. There is a severe error among the people of God today which says that not only can a translation be immediately inspired, but certain translations are indeed immediately inspired – even when they disagree with the immediately inspired text. Yet, the Scriptures are clear that “God spake” through the prophets and the apostolic witnesses, not scribes, translators, or text-critics. The argument that a translation is immediately inspired is in fact the argument that Ruckmanites employ to affirm the inerrancy of the Authorized Version. They claim that God supernaturally worked in the translators of the King James Version and inspired anew the text of Holy Scripture into an English translation. The main application of this heinous error is found equally among the Ruckmanites and those that affirm that the various Greek translations of the Old Testament, commonly called “the Septuagint” (LXX), is the immediately inspired text of the Old Testament. 

First, let us examine the claim that the Septuagint is the immediately inspired Word of God in the Old Testament. The first premise that must be agreed upon, is that the text of the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew (and in certain places Aramaic). This must be affirmed due to the fact that at the time of the inspiration of the Old Testament, the Greek language either did not exist, or in later times existed in a form entirely foreign to that of the Septuagint. Thus, by affirming the reality that the Old Testament could not have been originally penned in Greek, we affirm that the Greek text of the Old Testament cannot be the immediately inspired text. Additionally, the language of the people of God of old was not Greek, but Hebrew. So by both accounts, the immediately  inspired text of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew (and in places Aramaic). 

Second, let us examine the implications to the doctrine of inspiration, should the Septuagint be accepted as the immediately inspired Word of God in the Old Testament. The first assertion that I will examine is that a translation can be accepted as the immediately  inspired Word of God. If this is the case, then one must deny the method of inspiration employed by God as attested to in the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:21; Hebrews 1:1). The authority of inspiration then is shifted to those who have translated the original text into vulgar tongues of the nations. Granting this premise, there is no reason to affirm against any vulgar translation being accepted as the immediately inspired Word of God, and one has no grounds to affirm against the Ruckmanites, or the Papists for that matter. 

Third, let us examine the implications to the shape of Scripture, should the Septuagint (or any other translation) be accepted as the immediately inspired Word of God in the Old Testament. If a translation can be accepted as immediately inspired, one must first attempt to find a Scriptural standard which informs the people of God which translation should be accepted. The common proof that is given for the Greek Old Testament are the various quotations of the Septuagint by the Apostolic authors. Should it be the case, that any text cited by the Apostolic authors causes the source text to be accepted as Scripture, a serious error arises. By adopting this understanding, one must also accept the writings of the pagan authors Menander and Epimenides as quoted by the Apostle Paul in Acts 17:28, 1 Cor. 15:33, and Titus 1:12. Further, one must also accept the book of Enoch as Scripture (Jude 14). That is not to say that a translation of the original texts is equivalent with pagan authors or apocryphal texts, but that the form of the argument as it pertains to inspiration requires such an admission. If a text is qualified as inspired based on its quotation by the Apostolic authors and not by the source of the revelation which is God, than all cited texts should be considered inspired. In inspiring the text of Holy Scripture, God does not inspire the source texts cited, only the text itself as it exists within the Holy Scriptures. 

Do quotations by the Apostolic writers retroactively inspire a cited text? We affirm against this error. In order to suppose that any text quoted by the Apostles actually inspires the whole of the cited text, or even the portion of text cited, one must accept that the method of inspiration is interrupted. We affirm that the words delivered by the Apostles are inspired, but not the source cited. In this sense, the Septuagint quotations and quotations of other authors are equally uninspired as they exist outside of the New Testament text. Not that the Septuagint in itself is uninspired as it represents the original Hebrew, just that the words themselves were not immediately inspired. In simple terms, a translation is only considered authentic insofar as it represents the inspired text it is translated from. Should this be the case that the standard for inspiration of a text is its use by the Apostolic writers in the New Testament, the canon should be edited to include the aforementioned cited works, as they are inspired. To this we affirm against. 

Further if the Septuagint is accepted as an inspired text apart from the original Hebrew, one would have to accept the various apocrypha contained within that text, including the multiple versions of “Bell and the Dragon”. To accept one book of the Septuagint and not another is to accept the form of the Hebrew Scriptures but not the content. If the argument is made that the Septuagint is only inspired as far as it is cited in the New Testament, then the whole corpus of the Septuagint is to be rejected where it is not cited by the New Testament authors, in which case the argument that the Septuagint is inspired is refuted. In the case that the Septuagint is affirmed as inspired and not immediately inspired, it would need to be demonstrated that the Septuagint is a faithful representation of the immediately inspired text, in which case appealing to the Septuagint is no longer necessary. We affirm that both the shape and content of the Hebrew Scriptures are immediately inspired, and not any part of the form or content of the Septuagint as it exists apart from the text it was translated from.

Understanding the Quotations of Non-Inspired Texts by the Apostolic Authors 

Now that is abundantly clear the implications of holding to such a doctrine that translations and other non-canonical texts can be inspired apart from its representation of the original, let us examine the proper understanding of quotations of non-inspired texts by the Apostolic authors. Though the Apostolic authors employ non-inspired texts, this does not mean that those texts are uninspired as they exist within the Holy Scriptures. We affirm that the use of quotations in the New Testament authors are inspired insofar as they exist within the New Testament. This is due to the New Testament being inspired by God. We affirm against the practice of using New Testament quotations to correct the immediately inspired text, specifically the Hebrew Scriptures. 

We affirm against this for several reasons. The first is that the Greek Old Testament(s) is a translation, and not the immediately inspired text. The second is that the Greek Old Testament and the Hebrew Old Testament are not the same text. It may stand to reason that the New Testament quotations of the Septuagint may be used to correct other versions of the Greek Old Testament, but it does not follow to then say that the Hebrew Text should be corrected by the Greek. This is the same argument employed by the Ruckmanites when they affirm that the Greek and Hebrew should be corrected by the English Bible. The use of the Septuagint by the Ancient Fathers does not authorize the use of the Septuagint in the correction of the text in the authentic copies, just like the use of the ESV in contemporary writings does not authorize the correction of the original text . The Ancient Fathers did not have Apostolic authority. The third is that though translations are necessary and are the common means that the people of God access the Bible in their mother tongue, translations in themselves are subject to translational obscurities and the equivalency of one word to another may be misunderstood due the semantic evolution of a word or poor translation. This being the case, we affirm against using versional readings to correct any immediately inspired text of the Holy Scriptures. This is not to say that versional readings cannot be consulted to better understand the nature of the evolution of a variant, or to gain confidence in an original reading, but that versional reading should not be held over and above the authentic reading in the original tongues. 

Conclusion

It should now be understood by all the doctrinal foundations for accepting a text as immediately inspired, as well as the doctrinal foundations for rejecting a text as inspired. It is abundantly clear that the only texts that should be considered immediately inspired are the authentic Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures and the authentic Greek New Testament Scriptures. The translations made from these texts are warranted and necessary, though they do not stand above the original texts as a judge or a corrector. To affirm this is to affirm against the Biblical doctrine of inspiration and to reject the authority of God’s revelation to His people. In affirming that versional readings are inspired or of higher authority than the immediately inspired text in the original languages, one must accept that the method of inspiration as detailed in Scripture has failed or is incorrect, and the Word of God not authoritative or preserved. To affirm this is to affirm the same doctrine of inspiration as the Ruckmanites, and against the orthodox doctrine of Scripture as articulated from the beginning. 

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