Septuagint Errors and Question of its Inspiration
In 1886, Alfred Edersheim wrote The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. This was a highly scholarly work by a devout Christian gentleman.
He explained the background on the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek in what we know as the Septuagint Bible. He claims that all we will reliably know about it origin is that it was commissioned under the reign of a particular Pharoah in Egypt around at least 247 BC. The contention that it was done by 6 translators for each of the 12 tribes, totaling 72, is contained in a spurious letter, Edersheim thus implying that is not reliable truth. (The Life and Times of Jesus, supra, at 25.)
Next, Edersheim explains that the Septuagint was not divided as the original Hebrew Bible. The Original Testament is divided into the law, prophets and writings. Instead, the Septuagint was divided into 3 different compartments called the historical, prophetical, and poetical.
Next, the Septuagint also had a loose view of inspiration because it even admitted the Apocrypha into this Greek Bible. Edersheim then begins to identify quality issues, pointing out that that "it differs in almost innumerable instances from our own," i.e. , the Hebrew Bible. (The Life and Times of Jesus, supra, at page 27.)
In terms of the quality of the translation, Edersheim explains that it is clear that the Septuagint "is inferior" and sides in favor of a "slavish and false literalism," while "there is great Liberty, if not license, in handling the original text." And Edersheim adds that "gross mistakes occur along with happy renderings of very difficult passages....." (The Life and Times of Jesus, supra, at page 27.) These are often "unsatisfactory."
At times there are adaptations to Greek philosophical ideas. For example "even Siegfried is obliged to admit that the rendering in Genesis 1:2 bears undeniable marks of Grecian philosophical views." (Life and Times of Jesus, supra, at page 28 note 1.)
Then Edersheim continues, saying that "difficulties - or what seems such - are removed by the most bold method, and by free handling of the text," and does so "often very unsatisfactorily." (Life and Times of Jesus, supra, at 28.)
Edersheim adds that the Septuagint translation became regarded as inspired by the Jews living in the Greek speaking world. Then Edersheim comments:
"Only that we must not regard their views of inspiration - except as applying to Moses, and even there only partially - is identical with ours. To their minds inspiration differed quantitatively, not qualitatively, from what the rapt soul might at any time experience, so the heathen Philosopher may ultimately be regarding as at times inspired." (Life and Times of Jesus, supra, at page 29.)
Finally, on the issue of accuracy, Edersheim says that despite this high early regard, "later voices in the synagogue declared this version to have been as great a calamity to Israel as the making of the golden calf." (Life and Times of Messiah, supra, page 30.)
Origen In About 217 AD Says Jews Dissatisfied with Septuagint Too
In an article at Coptic Church.com, we read: "In Hom 12:5: 5:8; 7:5, and 12:4, Origen points out that the Jews have rejected part of the Septuagint." (See link.)
Jerome Identifies Errors
In the late 300s AD, Jerome affirms that the Hebrew text in the fourth century read differently than the Septuagtint of two passages. For example, Isaiah 11:1 said “He shall be called a Nazarene” which Jerome says Matthew 2:23 was quoting. Proverbs 18:4 no longer reads “Rivers of living water shall flow out of his belly.” Jerome was saying these Messianic texts quoted by the apostles were all missing in the Septuagint but were present in the Hebrew text in Jerome’s hands in the Fourth Century.
What is more startling is that apparently due to the influence of Augustine, Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation of 405 A.D. was evidently tampered with. This is demonstrable because these verses (Isaiah 11:1, Proverbs 18:4) which are cited by Jerome as proof of Septuagint corruption are shockingly left to read in the Latin Vulgate in the form that Jerome says was a Septuagint corruption.
Thus, Roman Catholicism which later adopted and published the Latin Vulgate published a version of Jerome’s Latin Vulgate that had verses which Jerome in his letters had vigorously disputed as corrupted. We do not know why. Or do we?
Yet, is it merely coincidence that Augustine was the leading formulator after 325 A.D. of Roman Catholic doctrine and was its most influential bishop at the time the Roman church adopted the Latin Vulgate of Jerome as the official Bible? Is it important that Augustine vigorously dissented from Jerome’s efforts, and tried previously to instruct him to use only the Septuagint but received strong rebuke from Jerome?
On Augustine’s vigorous opposition to using the Hebrew for Jerome’s translation sent in a letter to Jerome, see Augustine, Letter LXXI, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (First Series) Vol. 1.
It appears Augustine had the last laugh in the debate with Jerome, having the power to change the Vulgate to match the Septuagint. For Jerome died in 419 A.D. and Augustine in 430 A.D.
Why Push the Septuagint At Odds With Hebrew Scripture?
What was Augustine’s or anyone else’s motive to make the Latin Vulgate match only the Septuagint? Why make the Septuagint version control over the Hebrew? In these two cases, John 7:38 and Matthew 2:25, if you use the Septuagint, you subtract two Messianic prophecies (Isaiah 11:1, Proverbs 18:4) that in Jerome’s day were only in the Hebrew Canon. By doing so, you also make two of the twelve apostles look like liars for quoting these passages. What was the priority?
By the 300s, it became a priority to protect only Paul even at the expense of Matthew and John’s credibility. For the choice confronting Augustine (and he knew the issue directly from Jerome) was that if the Septuagint was in error, Paul is uninspired (and so too the apostles when made to appear personally quoting such Septuagint Scripture), but if you rely upon the Septuagint above the Hebrew canon, you can maintain Paul’s inspired nature but at the expense of making Matthew and John when truly quoting the Hebrew Scriptures (tampered with by the Septuagint) out to be liars. This because John 7:38 and Matthew 2:25 would be quoting completely non-existant verses in the Septuagint. That’s a far cry from merely quoting a text that is defectively translated in the Septuagint. Paul survives, but Matthew and John take devastating hits if one has a critical eye. Do you see the priority?
The Septuagint Differences & How They Prove Paul’s Fallibility
However, clearly the main reason Augustine or others altered the Vulgate to match the Septuagint was to maintain the notion that even when not quoting Jesus, the apostles were infallible. The King James Bible’s introduction says of the Septuagint, “the apostles habitually quoted from it...” What they really mean is Paul and sometimes the Greek translator of Matthew or apostles in their letters quote the Septuagint, even when materially different from the Hebrew Scripture. As I have said before, Jesus never tells us the twelve apostles are inspired prophets when not quoting Jesus. Hence, they might erroneously rely upon the Septuagint even when it differs substantially from the Hebrew canon. The Hebrew canon controls.
For Paulinists, however, Paul’s reliability hangs in the balance. He rarely if ever quotes Jesus. If all his arguments (which we will see below depends on citing the defective Septuagint twenty-nine times) are just himself talking, what would happen to Paul as part of canon? The gospel writers enjoyed authority because they quoted Jesus. They could withstand scrutiny and still be validly inspired when quoting Jesus even if Christians knew their commentary was not necessarily inspired. Yet, what would happen to Paul? He would disappear for nothing he says is dependent on Jesus himself,and entirely relies upon defective Septuagint readings. Thus, for Paulinists like Augustine, the Latin Vulgate just had to match the Septuagint to save Paul. However, if we accept the Septuagint as inspired, then Roman Catholics can justly claim the Apocrypha is part of Scripture. The Apocrypha was accepted by the translators of the Septuagint as inspired text.
What a quandry we end up in when we try to defend Paul as inspired. To be consistent, if we want the Septuagint to be inspired to save Paul, we have to also accept what obviously was uninspired (the Apocrypha) be regarded as part of Scripture because the Apocrypha was part of the Septuagint. What an ugly choice! Which is why the solution proposed in my Jesus' Words Only book works best: Paul is uninspired unless quoting Jesus validly. Since Paul never does, Paul does not belong in canon.
So, if you concur with me that if Paul accepted a defective translation of the Hebrew canon in the Septuagint, this proves his fallibility. Here is a partial list of twenty-nine quotations in Paul’s writings that come from the Septuagint at odds with the Hebrew:
- Rom. 2:24 / Isaiah 52:5 - the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles. Hebrew - blasphemed (there is no mention of the Gentiles).
- Rom. 3:4 / Psalm 51:4 - thou mayest “prevail” (or overcome) when thou art judged. Hebrew - thou might “be clear” when thou judges.
- Rom. 3:12 / Psalm 14:1,3 - they have gone wrong.” Hebrew - they are “corrupt” or “filthy.”
- Rom. 3:13 / Psalm 5:9 - they use their tongues to deceive. Hebrew - they flatter with their tongues. There is no “deceit” language.
- Rom. 3:13 / Psalm 140:3 - the venom of “asps” is under their lips. Hebrew - “Adder's” poison is under their lips.
- Rom. 3:14 / Psalm 10:7 - whose mouth is full of curses and “bitterness.” Hebrew - cursing and “deceit and oppression.”
- Rom. 9:25 / Hosea 2:23 - I will call my people; I will call my beloved. Hebrew - I will have mercy (love versus mercy).
- Rom. 9:27 / Isaiah 10:22 - only a remnant of them “will be saved.” Hebrew - only a remnant of them “will return.”
- Rom. 9:29 / Isaiah 1:9 - had not left us “children.” Hebrew - Yahweh had left us a “very small remnant.”
- Rom. 9:33; 10:11; 1 Peter 2:6 / Isaiah 28:16 - he who believes will not be “put to shame.” Hebrew - shall not be “in haste.”
- Rom. 10:18 / Psalm 19:4 - their “voice” has gone out. Hebrew - their “line” is gone out.
- Rom. 10:20 / Isaiah 65:1 - I have “shown myself” to those who did not ask for me. Hebrew - I am “inquired of” by them.
- Rom. 10:21 / Isaiah 65:2 - a “disobedient and contrary” people. Hebrew - a “rebellious” people.
- Rom. 11:9-10 / Psalm 69:22-23 - “pitfall” and “retribution” and “bend their backs.” Hebrew - “trap” and “make their loins shake.”
- Rom. 11:26 / Isaiah 59:20 - will banish "ungodliness." Hebrew - turn from "transgression."
- Rom. 11:27 / Isaiah 27:9 - when I take away their sins. Hebrew - this is all the fruit of taking away his sin.
- Rom. 11:34; 1 Cor. 2:16 / Isaiah 40:13 -the "mind" of the Lord; His "counselor." Hebrew - "spirit" of the Lord; "taught" Him.
- Rom. 12:20 / Prov. 25:21 - feed him and give him to drink. Hebrew - give him "bread" to eat and "water" to drink.
- Rom. 15:12 / Isaiah 11:10 - the root of Jesse..."to rule the Gentiles." Hebrew - stands for an ensign. There is nothing about the Gentiles.
- Rom. 15:21 / Isaiah 52:15 - been told "of him"; heard "of him." Hebrew - does not mention "him" (the object of the prophecy).
- 1 Cor. 1:19 / Isaiah 29:14 - "I will destroy" the wisdom of the wise. Hebrew - wisdom of their wise men "shall perish."
- 1 Cor. 15:55 / Hosea 13:14 - O death, where is thy "sting?" Hebrew - O death, where are your "plagues?"
- 2 Cor. 4:13 / Psalm 116:10 - I believed and so I spoke (past tense). Hebrew - I believe, for I will speak (future tense).
- 2 Cor. 6:2 / Isaiah 49:8 - I have "listened" to you. Hebrew - I have "answered" you.
- Gal. 3:10 / Deut. 27:26 - cursed be every one who does not "abide" by all things. Hebrew - does not "confirm" the words.
- Gal. 3:13 / Deut. 21:23 - cursed is everyone who hangs on a "tree." Hebrew - a hanged man is accursed. The word "tree" does not follow.
- Gal. 4:27 / Isaiah 54:1 - "rejoice" and "break forth and shout." Hebrew - "sing" and "break forth into singing."
- 2 Tim. 2:19 / Num. 16:5 - The Lord "knows" those who are His. Hebrew - God will "show" who are His.
The bolded verses above are verses where using the Septuagint materially impacted Paul’s salvation doctrine.
Edersheim is further confirmation from a true Christian scholar that the Septuagint was an unreliable translation, and obviously not inspired in any respect. The evidence from Jerome is likewise. The main impetus to hold onto the Septuagint is that Paul quoted it frequently, basing key doctrines on texts that in the original Hebrew do not support the doctrinal point Paul cited the Septuagint version to establish.
At our website, we have several articles that each prove a significant Septuagint error that has materially influenced doctrines - sometimes among Jews and sometimes among Christians, and sometimes among both. See:
Paul in Romans used largely the Septuagint. You can tell by the way he renders Joel 2:32 in Romans 10:9-13, and by the way he renders Isaiah 45:23 in Romans 14:8-11.
On a very scholarly analysis of the mistranslation tendency by the Septuagint translator(s) into Greek, amidst some fine turns of phrases, see Isaac Leo Zeligman, The Septuagint Version of Isaiah (Brill, 1949) at 43-44.
Other Septuagint Errors
One of the 10 commandments prohibits "murder." But the Septuagint prohibits if you "kill" -- and it is unclear what. This opens up the question whether killing animals for food is ok. I have people write me, telling me I am going to hell because I have eaten meat, and because I don't think there is anything morally wrong eating meat that was killed. The Wikipedia does a good job on this in its "thou shall not kill" article:
Thou shalt not kill (LXX; phoneo ), You shall not murder (Hebrew ratzákh) or You shall not kill (KJV), is a moral imperative included as one of the Ten Commandments in the Torah, specifically Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17.
The Bible excuses killings of humans, and thus there is a clear difference between this commandment against murder and these exceptions:
The Hebrew Bible contains numerous prohibitions against unlawful killing, but also allows for justified killing in the context of warfare, capital punishment, and self-defense. Id.
The Hebrew word ratzach is never used to refer to killing in war. Id. Hence, it does not come within the prohibition of "thou shall not murder (ratzach)."
Here is the email exchange I received on this topic, claiming I was not truly born again because I have eaten meat, and my response.
Septuagint Dating. The early edition of the Septuagint was completed somewhere during the reign of Philadelphus. He reigned from 285-247 BC. See "Bible Translations," Jewish Encyclopedia (accessed 7/17/2016.). Hence, typically, the first edition can be said to have been completed by at least 247 B.C.
Zechariah 12:10 - Messianic Prophecy Missing Meaning in Septuagint
In the Hebrew, as rendered in the Revised Standard Version, we read a clear prophesy about Jesus:
10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born. (Zech 12:10 RSV)
However, in the Septuagint Greek translation of 247 BC, this meaning is entirely lost:
"They shall look upon me, because they have mocked me, and they shall make lamentation for him, as for a beloved [friend], and they shall grieve intensely, as for a firstborn [son]." (Zech. 12:10, Septuagint, Zondervan, 1976 printing.)
In other words in the Septuagint, (1) they will look upon God whom they have mocked [not "pierced" which is missing entirely in the verse] as their judgment arrives and (2) they will grieve over someone (called "him" in distinction from "me") as a first-born son. The two are not the same person here -- it would clearly be God and someone -- a "him" --- who is grieved for like a first-born son.
FYI: There are some manuscripts that say "look on me" in some Hebrew manuscripts but the proof of the early commentators proves which variant is older and hence correct. Ignatius,Irenaeus, and Tertullian (repeatedly) rendered Zech. 12:10 as "him whom they pierced"!