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Isaiah 28:16 -- Another Septuagint Mistranslation

The origin of the false teaching that we can say a sinner's prayer, not repent of sin, but confess belief alone and be justified and saved, is Paul's use of Isaiah 28:16 in Romans 10.

Paul proved faith alone by using a Greek mistranslation of the Hebrew in Isaiah 28:16. The variance was material on this core issue. Thus Paul's conclusion that we are saved solely by confessing a belief in Christ and his resurrection (Romans 10:9-10) is based upon a false premise of what Isaiah 28:16 actually says.

Paul first lifted out of context from Joel the promise that one can "call on the name of the Lord" and "be saved," quoting from Joel 2:28-32. In context, however, it meant a repenting people who were fasting. See Joel 1:13-14 (a call to lamentation / repentance).

Peter unlike Paul had the context correct when he quotes the same verse from Joel 2:28-32 in an evangelical sermon where he calls for repentance from sin and turning to the Father, and His annointed One, Jesus, in Acts 2:14-41. Peter says this will bring salvation. Peter used Joel 2:28-32 correctly. Repentance from sin is a key step, not faith alone.

But Paul had a different purpose, and mixed in that reference of Joel 2:28-32 with a mistranslation of Isaiah 28:16 to change the meaning of Joel 2:28-32 ("call on the Lord and be saved") into a faith-alone prescription. For in Romans 10, Paul initially criticizes Jews who "sought to establish their own righteousness" -- which is not necessarily an error but rather is proper if we are following Deut. 6:25 -- our obedience is what God calls our justification / righteousness. Deuteronomy 6:25 reads in the ASV:

And it shall be righteousness unto us, if we observe to do all this commandment before [Yahweh] our God, as he hath commanded us.

Paul has confused us on what causes justification and ties it to atonement. That is incorrect. Atonement is appropriated differently than justification.

The truth is Christ's sacrifice applies to us atonement but that is not the same as justification. Atonement is a washing of sin, not justification. Moreover, in the Bible, atonement only applies to the repentant. (See my book, Jesus' Words on Salvation, ch. 1.)

Paul has switched things so the concept of justification applies supposedly from the sacrifice of Christ, thereby obliterating the requirement of repentance and obedience for justification.

Paul underscores his change of the Biblical doctrine of justification by then saying such justification is appropriated entirely by mere belief. For then Paul sums up his faith-alone conclusion:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10 NIV)

In the next two verses -- Romans 10:11-12, Paul tries to prove this conclusion is valid by using a quote loosely taken from the Septuagint Greek translation of Isaiah 28:16. It is rendered by Paul as whoever "believes in him will not be put to shame." Hence, Paul teaches that this verse said "belief in him" (i.e., the cornerstone) avoids you having "shame," i.e., you are right / justified with God. 

However, this is a poor and loose translation by Paul of the Septuagint Greek - a translation of the Original Testament in 247 BC in Egypt. For the Septuagint of 247 BC actually says: "Therefore thus sayeth Yahweh God 'Behold I am he that hath founded in Zion a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone of sure foundation; he that believeth [pisteuon] shall not be in haste." (Richard Rusden Ossley, The Book of Isaiah According to the Septuagtint (Codex Alexandrinus) (Cambridge University Warehouse, 1909) Vol. 1 at 166.)

The Septuagint varies from the Hebrew original by using "believes" (if we assume pisteuson in Greek only means believe) instead of "relies on" (or "trust") and makes the object "in him" (implied by 'en autos' in Greek), rather than making the cornerstone the object upon which one relies. Both Septuagint constructions are absent in the original Hebrew.  See H.H. Drake Williams, The Wisdom of the Wise: The Presence and Function of Scripture Within 1 Cor. 1:18-23 (Brill, 2001) at 81-82 ("en autos" in the Greek Septuagint differs from the Hebrew original, the Greek implying "in him").

The actual Hebrew says: "So this is what the Sovereign LORD [Yahweh] says: 'See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it / [or trusts] (Heb. aman) will never be stricken with panic.'" (Isaiah 28:16, NIV.)  Aman is the Hebrew word used in reference to the foundation stone; and thus its meaning here is "relies" upon, as the NIV translates it.

The true verse of Isaiah 28:16 is thus not a verse about shame and salvation, as Paul revised the Septuagint to say, but about fear and panic. The true verse is not about faith or believing as the Septuagint said, but about "relying" (trusting / obeying). But the Septuagint spoke of "believing," and Paul liked that.

So Paul in Romans 10 accepted one mistranslation by the Septuagint of this. It erased trust and made it to be about believing. Paul also replaced other inaccurate portions in the Septuagint Greek translation with a different meaning than the true original Hebrew version to suit Paul's faith-alone polemic.

And to make the pieces all fit, Paul changed the verse one more time to be about avoiding "shame" and hence made it to be about salvation rather than its true words being about fear or dread. Listen now how Paul juxtaposes his distortion of the Septuagint mistranslation of Isaiah 28:16 with his out-of-context use of Joel 2:28-32 to build an edifice that faith alone saves you when Joel 2:28-32 said repentance from sin in fasting and ashes is the predicate act / premise for salvation. (There is no promise in the Bible without a premise, as Rick Warren correctly has noted.) Paul says:

11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”[e]12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[f] (Romans 10:11-13, NIV).

Despite these multiple flaws behind Paul's supposed Biblical proofs, these two verses remain the primary tool used by Paulinists to teach that you need only 'call' on Jesus' name and you are saved.

But Paul thereby contradicts Jesus in Matthew 7:21, so we know Paul is wrong. The meaning of 7:21 is clear when one reads on to the application that Jesus makes -- that He means the one who "does the will" of the Father includes putting Jesus' words in practice -- "relying upon" the true Cornerstone -- is the one who is saved. Paul was clearly wrong to suggest otherwise. Jesus says:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

The Wise and Foolish Builders

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matt 7:21-24, NIV.

Hence, we never can escape Jesus' warnings that if you do not put in practice His words, you will suffer destruction in a "great crash." This is even true if you call on the name of Jesus as Lord. Paul thus invites us down a wrong path, relying upon out-of-context verses and misquotes of Greek mistranslations of the original Hebrew texts. 

The Lesson We Learn From This About Paul's Reliability For Accuracy of Quotation

The lesson this gives us about Paul is to heed what scholar J.Ross Wagner says is Paul's true source for his Isaiah references in the Romans 9-11 section. Paul was relying mostly upon the Greek Septuagint text, recognizable because of its distinctive differences (errors) in translating the Hebrew text. And he explains that Paul was also changing even the Septuagint to his taste or relied upon another text that has not survived that suited Paul's polemic better. In the conclusion of his exhaustive and painstaking study of Paul’s use of Isaiah in Romans (especially chapters 9-11), J. Ross Wagner makes these points in extremely diplomatic language yet still cognizable for its import: 

My own close examination of the wording of Paul’s quotations and allusions to Isaiah in Romans supports the consensus view that Paul cites a Greek text (or texts) of this prophetic book. In most cases, Paul’s Vorlage seems to have been nearly identical with the Septuagint version of Isaiah; at times, Paul’s interpretation of a verse clearly depends on the form of the text distinctive to LXX [i.e., another name for the Septuagint] Isaiah. In some cases, however, it appears that Paul has drawn his citation from a Greek text that reflects efforts to revise LXX Isaiah toward a Hebrew exemplar. Although I have given full consideration to textual evidence provided by MT, the Qumran finds (biblical MSS, pesharim, and quotations in other documents), the Targum, and the Peshitta, at no point has it been necessary to suppose that Paul has relied on a Hebrew or Aramaic text of Isaiah. This does not prove that Paul could not read these languages, nor does it show that he knew the book of Isaiah only in Greek. It does suggest, however, that Paul was intimately acquainted with a Greek version of Isaiah much like the LXX and that he apparently did not hunt down and exploit the textual variants in other languages [i.e., Wagner apparently means to include Hebrew] as he interpreted the book. (J. Ross Wagner, Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul “In Concert” in the Letter to the Romans (NovTSup 101; Leiden: Brill, 2002), 344-45.)

For further discussion on topic, see PDF article by Lee Irons, Influence of LXX on New Testament.

Study Notes

For proof Paul teaches faith-alone without repentance from sin in Romans 10:9-12 from a Paulinist perspective, see William Wenstrom's PDF, Romans 10:11-12 (2009).

For discussion of Isaiah 28:16 -- the cornerstone imagery -- in the Dead Sea Scrolls, see Drake Williams, Wisdom of the Wise, supra, at 81 et seq.