LXX.org's Argument for An Authoritative Septuagint

Especially in the Eastern Orthodox community, there is a belief that the Setuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament written around 200 B.C., is an inspired text. I will be critiquing http://www.lxx.org/about/whatis_lxx.html. It is not a scholarly article, which suits me fine. I have not studied this issue in-depth as of yet. I am only just beginning. I want to get into the textual issues involved. From what I hear (rumors on the playground), there isn't THE Septuagint. If there is more than one version of the Septuagint, their argument falls fast and hard. There could be a number of Greek translations that were compiled into the Septuagint text after the time of Christ. That would have bearing on the article and my arguments if that is true, but I will let that go for now. I will be critiquing the article simply using logic and the little historical knowldege I know. Once again, the article I am critiquing is the acme of scholarship, just an introductory work. Given my level of knowledge on this subject, it is a fair fight. However, I feel my objections do carry weight and would be applicible to any level of scholarship.

I will mention at this point that this discussion is important to many for one reason. Septuagint copies contained the Apocrypha. If you can argue for the Septuagint being authoritative, that goes a long way in showing that the canon contained the Apocrypha. Once again, I'm not sure if there was a set Septuagint collection of books. But once again, I'll let that go for now.

Update: I would recommend reading the following article and other articles from that website. I am not an expert in this field and Glen Miller (the author) has many good things to say on many topics. Regarding the LXX, Mr. Miller points out that the New Testament quotes from other Old Testament sources than the LXX. It also quotes the LXX. That would indicate the LXX is an important source for textual criticism, but it shouldn't be the only source.


Critique


Primarily, the article contains one main argument. The Septuagint was used therefore it was considered authoritative. The Septuagint was considered authoritative (inspired), therefore it was authoritative. I find both links in these chains of arguments to be flawed. We will find that much of the early church thought the Septuagint was authoritative. However, I will argue that that is insufficient grounds for accepting the Septuagint as authoritative.

The article first wants to argue that the Septuagint was used primarily at the time of Jesus. The first evidence marshalled involves Josephus: "In about 94 A.D. the jewish historian Falvius Josephus put together his great work, Antiquities of the Jews, relying heavily on the Scriptures, which he drew from the Septuagint version." Next they turn to the New Testament quotations of Old Testament Scripture: "of the two hundred thirty-eight passages from the Old Testament quoted in the New Testament, only four are from the Hebrew and all the rest from the Septuagint."

The author(s) want to say that because the Septuagint was used it was considered the authoritative text, not the underlying Hebrew. The New Testament writers used it. Since authors of Scripture used the Septuagint, they thought of the Septuagint as inspired, not just the underlying text. This argument doesn't work for several reasons.


Use does not necessitate it was considered inspired.

Logically speaking, just because the authors quoted the Septuagint did not mean they considered it inspired. Paul quotes Greek philosophers in Acts 17. Likewise in Jude the Book of Enoch is quoted. This does not mean either is inspired.

Obviously, the authors of the New Testament believed that the Old Testament books were inspired. This does not mean that they thought the Septuagint itself was inspired. A modern example would help, and, fortunately, they abound. I quote the NIV or the New King James Versions of the Bible frequently. I quote them as having authority. And I quote them as being inspired Scripture. Despite this, I quote them only in so far as they are accurate translations of the underlying texts. If there is a confusion about meaning, I will go to the underlying text and to those who understand ancient languages better than I.

Is it not plausible that this was not also the case for Josephus and the New Testament writers? When they want to communicate to Gentiles who don't know Hebrew, maybe they used a translation that was in a language those outside of Israel were familiar with. Wouldn't it be a bit odd if I went around trying to speak to everyone today quoting the Septuagint? Wouldn't it make more sense if I used a common translation in modern English? Would that mean that I thought that the translators were inspired? No.

The article also mentions that at least four quotes were not from the Septuagint. Are they willing to concede that those other texts are also authoritative? If use in the New Testament means the authors considered the underlying text authoritative, then what do we make for these other four quotes? Even if the number was one, this is a huge monkey wrench. We could argue for the Septuagint, but we must allow for at least another authoritative translation of the Bible (if we are to agree with the article's line of reasoning).


Jerome, shedding some light

In his Lives of Illustrious Men, Jerome discusses different Christian authors, including the authors of the New Testament. When discussing Matthew he says concerning Matthew, "at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek though by what author is uncertain." Now, at this point in time it is unclear as to whether Matthew was first written in Hebrew or Greek. Obviously, Jerome was much closer to those events than I was. He saw Hebrew manuscripts of Matthew which are not extant anymore. But let's keep both possibilities open to us at the moment and see how it has bearing on our current discussion.

Jerome held a similar view to those who wrote the article regarding the Septuagint. That is why his comments show a sense of surprise. Jerome continues: "In this it is to be noted that wherever the Evangelist (Matthew), whether on his own account or in the person of our Lord the Saviour quotes the testimony of the Old Testament he does not follow the authority of the translators of the Septuagint but the Hebrew." This has much to say regarding our discussion.

If Matthew was written in Hebrew originally, the author felt no need to use the Septuagint. If it was originally in Greek and translated into Hebrew, the author felt no need to base the Old Testament quotes on the Septuagint. Instead he pulled them from the Hebrew Old Testament. This would back up my theory and my example. The New Testament writers used the Old Testament and its translations in a similar way that I would use the King James.

Let's Move On...

The article continues: "Clearly, the early Christian preachers and evangelists had in the Septuagint a Bible accepted as authoritative by the Jews and Christians alike." "Jews and Christians alike." The Jewish population in the diaspora used the Septuagint, that is true. They were Hellenstic Jews. Jewish converts who spoke Greek and came from a Greek heritage. This seems only natural.This is even admitted to in the article. Quoting Philo, "some people, thinking it would be a terrible thing for the laws of Moses to be known only to barbarians, with the Greek people completely ignorant of them, turned their attention to translation of them into the Greek language." Again the article says, "It was first a truly "popular" version among the Jews, having arisen in the first place from the needs of the people."

Later on the article argues for the inclusion of the Apocrypha in the canon of Scripture, because it was included in the Septuagint. (Again, I will question if there is one Septuagint or if there are many Septuagints.) Josephus, who is used as an example in the article as one who used the Septuagint, himself sets out what the Old Testament canon is. It does not contain the Apocrypha. So the claim "Jews and Christians alike" is off-base.


Conclusion

It is clear that the early church used the Septuagint and the majority of the early church thought it was authoritative. This does not mean the Septuagint was authoritative. Some in the church currently believe that the King James Version is authoritative. At one time, the Latin version was authoritative. This error is not in any way unique to the Eastern Orthodox. The Eastern Orthodox belief in the authority is derived from their ecclesiology. They believe that the church when it reaches a concensus is infallible. Since the early church used the Septuagint and a majority of the early church believed the Septuagint was infallible, it must have been so. This follows from the premise. The writers of Scripture were moved along by the Spirit, not the translators. Quite simply, like the followers of the Latin Vulgate or the King James Only people, the early church received their translation of Scripture and began to think of their translation as authoritative. I thank God for godly men who faithfully translate Scripture, but that does not mean the translations are God-breathed.