Is your Bible Scripture?

Is your Old Testament (or if you’re Jewish, your Torah/Prophets/Writings) Sacred Scripture? It’s probably largely, if not entirely, based on the Masoretic Text (MT) of the “Hebrew Scriptures.” Are you dedicated to the oldest text, “closest to the origins”? The MT was edited down in the latter centuries of the first millenium After Christ. Changes were introduced to the “original text,” changes to undermine Christianity. The biggest example is, was the Messiah to be born of any young woman, or one who had not known a man? That’s the basis not only of today’s Jewish Bibles, but the Protestant and increasingly the Catholic Bibles as well! Is an emasculated text “Sacred Scripture,” or human meddling? You don’t have to believe the books of the Bible fell down out of the sky, to believe they have been composed under the influence of the All-Holy Spirit of God, One of the Trinity. But what about a deliberately skewed text…one with an “agenda,” arguably against its original meaning?

What else is there? A thousand years before the MT – centuries before Christ – there was the Septuagint [pronounced “sep-TOO-uh-jint”] Greek version, by tradition translated by seventy or 72 devout Jewish translators at once, under Divine influence, in Alexandria, Egypt, from Hebrew and Aramaic originals that, interestingly, keep popping up in the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient manuscripts “in these latter days.” At the time of Christ/the Second Temple, the Septuagint was “the Bible” for most of the world’s Jews, including many in Palestine as well as outside, and also their Gentile (i.e., Greco-Roman) proselytes. Usually it’s the version quoted in the New Testament. The Septuagint was also “the Scriptures” for the Apostolic Church, and for a number of centuries afterward, until the final New Testament canon was added to it.

Why did Protestants abandon the Septuagint after a millenium and a half of Christian use? Because they figured “the original” was in Hebrew/Aramaic, so any version not translated into another language was likely to be closer to “the original.” But as we have seen, it is not. Why did Catholics pretty much abandon the Septuagint in the last century or two? Because that was the direction of (Protestant-led) “Scripture scholarship,” and because they wanted to get on better with the Protestants?

What choice do we have? The Orthodox Church, traditionally, has consistently used the Septuagint Old Testament, in its original Ancient Greek or in translation into Old Church Slavonic. [Can someone tell me about Romanian and Albanian usage?] In the Western world we’ve sometimes had to settle for MT-based translations into the local vernacular, but a new translation into English, at least, is tentatively expected to be released next year. What does it matter? Well, if you’re thinking about o/Orthodox Christianity, or even about Judaism before its texts were changed to be anti-Christian, and your thinking is based on faulty texts, you’re bound to go astray. Now, o/Orthodox faith in YHWH, both before and after Christ’s life on earth, isn’t textual, but experiential. But the ancient patriarchs and prophets left us these texts to report about and guide us to the experience of uniting our energies and activities with God’s Uncreated Energies. That’s why they’re important, and “only” that.

In the interests of full disclosure, as with many ancient texts, there is not one single Septuagint text, but a number of versions, even in use in the Orthodox Churches. But these do not differ significantly, doctrinally, like the MT – and modern Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish Bibles – do from them. I should also point out that some Orthodox consider none of the existing English translations of the Septuagint to be satisfactory, so be advised.

And that’s my “higher criticism” of “Higher Criticism”!

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  1. EYTYXOC

    Some thoughts:

    Perhaps you have been swayed by the anti-Masoretic Text comments in the back of the Holy Apostles Convent Orthodox New Testament.

    From my inquiries, the Dead Sea Scrolls attest to the validity of much of the Masoretic Text, even if our oldest pre-DSS-discovery MT copies were from the 9th century A.D. I don’t recall that Isaiah 7:14 in the DSS Isaiah scroll differs from the MT, which says “almah,” and can mean “young woman” or “virgin.”

    Translating Hebrew into Greek requires making word choices when, e.g., the Greek has two words that are represented by a single Hebrew word, or when Greek grammar differs from Hebrew grammar. E.g., Psalm 23 (Psalm 22 in the LXX – which should probably be accented on the first syllable, and since Latin didn’t have a “j” sound for the letter “g,” should more likely be pronounced “SEP-twa-ghint” – see Jobes and Silva, INVITATION TO THE SEPTUAGINT) starts out “The LORD is my shepherd.” The Hebrew, however, could also be translated as “The LORD shepherds me,” because the Hebrew form can be translated as either a verb or a substantive. Most English Bibles translate it as a noun, but the LXX translators translated it as a verb. I.e., English and Greek translators can’t reflect the nature of the Hebrew verbal form and must choose between rendering it as a substantive or as a verb – and it’s all because of differences between Hebrew and English/Greek morphology. There are other similar things that show that the LXX was a translation from a Hebrew text which in most instances resembles today’s Masoretic Text.

    To disparage the use of an MT-based Old Testament in favor of a LXX-based OT is to simplify the real problems of the relationship between the MT and the LXX vis-a-vis the original Hebrew texts. Again, the book by Jobes and Silva discusses some of these things.

  2. Leo Peter O'Filon

    Eric,

    Thanks for your comments!

    I don’t believe I’m familiar with the Holy Apostles Convent Orthodox New Testament. I’ve discovered this information in various other places, which I can’t relocate now. In any case, my more important point is not ways in which the MT agrees or disagrees with the LXX, but that the LXX is more important to Christianity – and possibly to an authentic Judaism – than the MT. As just one example, at Isaiah 7:14 both Hebrew texts may say almah, which you correctly say (along with modern Western Biblical scholars) may mean “young woman” OR “virgin,” but the LXX Greek renders it parthenos, which IIUC only means “virgin.” (E.g., Orthodoxy calls her aiparthenos, “ever-virgin,” not “ever-young.” She did in fact age, and die.) Modern translations or footnotes which seek to bring “young woman” back into the discussion, even to say things like “the prophet probably thought he was referring to the current king’s daughter,” etc., deny the traditional o/Orthodox experience and knowledge that the prophet was given vision down the long years to the Incarnation of the Messiah, so they undermine o/Orthodox Christian – and possibly authentic Jewish – Faith. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned a lot from “Biblical criticism;” but a lot of it is problematic too.

    Ah yes, Latin Septuaginta (sep-twa-GIN-tah). Technically you may be right, but I believe I’ve reported the commonest English pronunciation.

    Again, the amount of agreement of the LXX with the Dead Sea Scrolls or an “underlying Hebrew text” is less important than the fact that the LXX as it was finally translated was most Jews’ Bible for a thousand years, that it was Jesus and His Apostles’ Bible, that it was the Early Church’s Bible, and that it continues to be most of Orthodoxy’s Old Testament down to the present, and that OTs that depart from it, to that degree depart from this Holy Tradition. Certainly most of the LXX and MT will agree, but there are significant departures from the former by the latter, making it less ‘Christological.’

  3. EYTYXOC

    The Holy Apostles Convent

    http://www.holyapostlesconvent.org/

    is a sectarian Orthodox group that nevertheless produces books and a 2-volume New Testament that are widely read and enjoyed by Orthodox Christians. The NT has endnotes for each book with quotes from the Fathers for various verses.

    In their NT, however, they make the following misleading claim:

    “The Hebrew version in circulation today, the so-called Massoretic(sic) Text, is chiefly a re-translation of the Septuagint into Medieval Hebrew that was produced in stages between the 2nd and 9th centuries and upon which the Old Testament King James Version is based…. The Massoretic (sic) Text is partly a restoration of these six translations [i.e., Aquila (A.D. 130), Theodotion (A.D. 180), Symmachus (A.D. 210), and the so-called Quinta, Sexta, and Septima (all 3rd century)] as well.”

    Based on my own reading and the replies I received to my question about this at B-Hebrew, both claims – i.e., that the Masoretic Text is a retranslation from the Greek LXX to Hebrew, and that the Masoretic Text is a late work written in “Medieval Hebrew” – are false. While the Masoretic vowel pointings may be 2nd-9th century, the text certainly is not.

    Do you have your “journey to Orthodoxy” story online anywhere? Your profile shows that you’ve traveled an interesting and varied Christian path.

  4. Leo Peter O'Filon

    Eric,

    Come to think of it, I may have seen that 2-volume NT listed in one or more catalogs for sale. But I certainly never heard either of the allegations you quote from them. The one about the MT being a re-translation of the LXX back into Hebrew wouldn’t make sense for a whole bunch of reasons!

    As for my ‘journey to Orthodoxy,’ I thought I had it up here somewhere, but apparently only the last bit, after I’d returned to the RCC and then turned to Orthodoxy, and without much detail either. Maybe I’ll go ahead and write one up! For now there’s this.

  5. KJV

    The Bible is under attack from all sides. Satan knows it tells the truth about him, the victory that Jesus had at the cross, and what will happen in the future. As such, Satan has and still is making every attempt to destroy the Word of God. What better way to do this, than to change the meaning of the Bible over time with different bible versions; each version as it comes along claiming it is the truth and the most accurate of all the versions up until that point.
    The line must be drawn where we say, “If the King James Bible was good enough for 400 years, then it is still good enough for me.” For by it men and women have been saved and the knowledge of God imparted unto them. When new bible versions come along, they always take something away that is never replaced, only to be lost forever. If you believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, then stand up for it. Take a stand and speak out against these new bible versions. An objection often raised against the “King James Only Crowd” is that people learn something from the other (modern) versions, too, and that some even get saved: but I dare say that this occurs in spite of these errant versions, not because of them!
    The Authorized Version of 1611, or, in other words, the King James Bible, stands alone in its uniqueness, integrity, and fidelity to the truthfulness of God’s Word. Among reasons why this writer holds this conviction is because of the great harm done not only to the Word of God, but the detriment wrought in the local church in its public worship, and, of course, because of the confusion created in countless group and individual Bible studies. After all, it could be said: How do you think your professor would think or feel if all of his students used different textbooks in his class?! In our case, God is our Great Professor! He alone is the one true God, who has walked among us upon this earth and left us the living and enduring legacy of His Word and His Spirit. Until He comes, Amen.

  6. Leo Peter O'Filon

    I don’t plan to get into a brouhaha over the King James, but some English-speaking Orthodox believe as you do, though many find it too archaic and incomprehensible. I’m no philhellene, but having studied Biblical Greek, when in doubt I go to the original Greek (both NT and OT, as above). Also, the KJV is missing important portions of OT Scripture, and as today’s “narrative theology” school would have us believe, if you tell different stories, you get a different faith. More importantly, though, in Orthodoxy we aren’t left alone with texts; we have the insights of the Orthodox Fathers and Mothers of the Church and the Orthodox Saints, illumined by God. We need not be afraid of much recent “scholarship,” but still need to ask, “What do the Fathers say?” The Bible didn’t fall out of the sky, it’s the Book of the Church – the Orthodox Church.

  7. EYTYXOC

    KJV said: The line must be drawn where we say, “If the King James Bible was good enough for 400 years, then it is still good enough for me.”

    If the Greek New Testament was good enough for the 1550 years before 1611, then it is still good enough for the following 395 years.

    Can’t read NT Greek? No problemo. It’s as easy as 1., 2., 3. I.e.:

    1. Take 2 semesters, either in a class or self-taught, using William Mounce’s or David Alan Black’s grammars (they have answer keys).

    (GREEK TO MY by J. Lyle Story & Cullen I. K. Story is quite good, but with all that now goes with it – CD, workbook, flashcards, etc. – it can be a bit expensive. My personal preference at the moment is N. Clayton Croy’s grammar, but it has no answer key – yet; but since 2/3 of the translation exercises are verses from the New Testament and the Septuagint, an English translation of these can do as an answer key.)

    2. After doing 1., get your vocabulary up to every word that occurs 20x or more. (Mounce will teach you every word that occurs 50x or more, i.e., about 315 words; Black will teach you 100-150 more words or so). Use Metzger’s vocabulary book – it’s cheap and has every word that occurs 10x or more.

    (After step 2., you should be comfortable with reading much of the easy books in the New Testament; books like Hebrews, Luke and Acts will take more time. The best thing to do after 1. and 2. is to read, read, read your Greek New Testament! You’ll quickly see why translations are NO SUBSTITUTE for the real thing, no matter how “diehard” a KJV fan you might have been.)

    3. Read and work through a second-year grammar – either an easy one like Black’s IT’S STILL GREEK TO ME or a more comprehensive one like Daniel B. Wallace’s GREEK GRAMMAR BEYOND THE BASICS (or the abbreviated version of it) – which is soon to have an accompanying workbook.

    In less than 2 years you won’t need to depend on translations (of course, you’ll want to check them, as their translators have had years and decades of working with New Testament Greek).

    Instead of trying to defend and promote a johnny-come-lately (i.e., 1500+ years lately) translation like the KJV, go straight to the source and promote the reading of the Bible AS IT WAS WRITTEN.

    STUDY TO SHOW YOURSELF APPROVED, and after you have done so, encourage others to do likewise! ;^)

    Still not convinced? Read this:

    The Importance of the Biblical Languages

  8. EYTYXOC

    Typo in my last comment. The book by Story & Story is GREEK TO ME (not “GREEK TO MY”). But you knew that, didn’t you? ;^)

  9. Leo Peter O'Filon

    Luther thought the prophets were scholars? Maybe that’s why academics occupy such a high place in Protestantism to this day! Some prophets were scholars, but that didn’t make them prophets. Some prophets were shepherds, or tenders of sycamores, or fishermen. What made them all prophets was the vision of the Almighty God in His Uncreated Energies, and their writing out of that experience.

    (Orthodox) Fathers of the Church, too. (Non-Christian) Jews argued over “the original Hebrew” of OT texts, but either didn’t know, or didn’t care, that the Septuagint was closer in time to the original Hebrew than their later Hebrew texts. In any case, give me the wisdom of God in one Orthodox Father over all the writings of Luther who, despite his dabbling and “dialogue,” never found his way to Orthodoxy, God be good to him.

    Nevertheless, most of what he says in your linked passage seems OK by me. Though see my disclaimer at right! 🙂

  10. EYTYXOC

    Yeah, maybe I should have just cut-and-pasted the relevant parts. What I was focusing on was Luther’s argument for the studying of the original languages to support my contention that if one is serious about preserving and protecting the Scriptures, one should perhaps spend time learning New Testament Greek in lieu of defending English translations like the KJV which, while useful, are not the way God gave us the Scriptures.




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