The Septuagint and Modern Bible Versions, Part 4

Jan 22, 2011

Author unknown; edited by Dr. James W. Bruggeman. All underlining is emphasis by JWB. Also, all comments in [brackets] is by JWB, except author’s source references are also in brackets.

Some years after Origen died, Eusebius and Pamphilus began to publish Origen’s fifth column as the correct text of the Septuagint, with the critical marks and other Greek texts in the margins. However it became apparent that, removed from the Hebrew text, the marks caused confusion and hence scribes once more were attempting to rectify the confusion, but made a mess of things again, until finally the marks were dropped entirely.

This is the work by Eusebius that the Emperor Constantine ordered fifty copies of for his churches. Unfortunately, variant readings of the Septuagint either disappeared or were confused at this time for other works, and scholars have been having a difficult time understanding what is what from this period ever since.

At the same time another Christian in Asia Minor by the name of Lucien was busy doing a similar task. He too made a revision of the Septuagint, having the great advantage of possessing a different Hebrew text from the Hebrew text known to Origen. Lucien introduced variant readings, embedded expressions, and corrected the translation. [The Ancestry of Our English Bible, page 79]

These variants were often previously unknown in the Christian world and quite often they provided superior readings, especially from the books of Samuel through Kings, which were very poor in the Septuagint. The Lucien Recension, as this text is known, remains today a highly valuable resource for textual critics. Pamphilus was killed in 309 A.D. while Lucien was eventually martyred under the persecutions of Maximus in 311 A.D.

Since this paper is about the Septuagint, it is expected that many readers will have a copy of it in their Bible library. The copy I have is the Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton translation, with Apocrypha, in Greek and English. What many people overlook are the Preface comments, which I shall quote in part here, because many are under the misperception that what they have is the original Septuagint of the period 250 B.C., and that isn’t so. Let’s see what the preface says about this rendering of the Septuagint.

It has been preserved in a large number of manuscript copies of the original, and the Greek text in Brenton’s edition is based on Vaticanus, an early fourth century manuscript, with some reliance on other texts, particularly Alexandrinus, a fifth century manuscript. [The Septuagint With Apocrypha: Greek and English, originally published by Samuel Bagster & Sons, Ltd., London 1851, reprinted by Hendrickson Publishers, 1986, eighth printing 1999]

Do you believe that this is the original Septuagint, knowing as we ought to by now, that the Septuagint as we really have it is largely the interpretative readings of Origen and his helpers, done almost five centuries after it was purportedly first made? Since the statement and thoughts by those of just 150 years ago is subject to possibly being misinterpreted, let’s examine something written much closer to our time to see if what we think is so, is still hurting us in our understanding of the facts.

It is the oldest Greek translation of the Old Testament, its witness being significantly older than that of the Masoretic Text. …The exact date of translation is not known, but evidence indicates that the Septuagint Pentateuch was completed in the third century B.C. The rest of the Old Testament was probably translated over a long period of time, as it clearly represents the work of many different scholars.

The value of the Septuagint to textual criticism varies widely from book to book. It might be said that the Septuagint is not a single version but a collection of versions made by various authors, who differed widely in their methods and their knowledge of Hebrew. The translations of the individual books are in no way uniform. Many books are translated almost literally, while others like Job and Daniel are quite dynamic. So the value of each book to textual criticism must be assessed on a book-by-book basis. The books translated literally are clearly more helpful in making comparisons with the Masoretic Text than the more dynamic ones.
[The Origin of the Bible , Edited by Phillip Wesley Comfort, from the section Texts and Manuscripts of the Old Testament by Mark R. Norton, page 168, © 1992, Tyndale Publishing, reprinted 2004]

I have saved a good resource for the latter part of this first section on the Septuagint, and some comments the author makes may prove helpful. The author notes that traditions take time to develop, and as we know, traditions die hard. The many fanciful tales told about how the Septuagint was written by 72 Hebrew scholars who all wrote one copy of the Old Testament in 72 days and they all matched perfectly, proving divine providence upon their labors, was taken to heart by many in the early Church.

This author also notes that the bond between the Septuagint and people of early Christian churches is similar to the broad support and bond seen today by people who hold to the King James Version (KJV), against modem interpretations and translations. [The King James Only Controversy- Can You Trust the Modern Translations?, by James R. White, B.A., M.A., page 11, © 1995, Bethany House Publishers] I recommend his book for a more balanced look from the other side of the “KJV-only” controversy in that he makes valid observations and raises serious questions for reflection and further consideration. [The reader should not make the mistake of assuming that we who favor the King James Version over the Westcott and Hort-based versions are “KJV-only.” While there are those who hold to the “KJV-only” position, we certainly do not. We have also critically considered White’s work in our 20-lecture series, Which Bible? Which Version?—JWB]

What eventually displaced the Septuagint from use in many early churches was the Latin translation Vulgate Bible made by Jerome, translating directly afresh from Hebrew and Greek texts. The differences in style and content almost caused riots when it was read in churches during the fifth century, also ushering in the Dark Ages, yet once accepted it endured in the Roman Catholic church for a thousand years. Church protests when the Septuagint was replaced fifteen hundred years ago were basically over unfamiliarity with the style and language that corrected some errors, while the KJV controversy today primarily revolves around the accuracy of the modern translations, more so than their style.

We have concluded the first portion of this paper in relative favor of the Septuagint. Now we shall examine viewpoints against the supremacy claim for the Septuagint, and also, for the preservation and usage of the King James Version (KJV), as many who promote the Septuagint are coincidentally also attacking the King James Version. The Holy Bible notes that a man cannot serve two masters, for he will serve one and hate the other. As the Holy Bible is the living Word of God, we need to honor Him and His Word. (End of part 4. To be continued.)

Category: Teaching