Friday, November 09, 2007

Hebrews 10:5: An Interesting Case for Hermeneutics, Canonicity and Inerrancy

(At some point I'll lay out or develop my thoughts about the following. Or maybe they'll just appear in the comments in response to what others may say.)

Hebrews 10:5 reads:
διο εισερχομενος εις τον κοσμον λεγει, θυσιαν και προσφοραν ουκ ηθελησας, σωμα δε κατηρτισω μοι

"Therefore when he comes into the world he says: 'Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.'"
  1. What does it mean for the "historical-grammatical method" (or "hermeneutic") that the author of Hebrews makes Jesus the speaker of these words?
  2. What does it mean for Evangelical Protestant beliefs about canonicity and inerrancy that the author of Hebrews used and quoted the Septuagint (LXX) reading of Psalm 39:7?*

    * Psalm 40:6 according to the Hebrew/Masoretic Text numbering. SEPTUAGINTA (Rahlfs) agrees with the Masoretic Text in adopting ωτια ("ears") [Ga (Psalterium Gallicanum)] here, rather than σωμα ("body") [B (Vaticanus), S (Sinaiticus), A (Alexandrinus)].
Feel free to comment!


  1. Joel Kalvesmaki, a convert who's written some very eloquent apologies for the LXX and NT and one heck of a good (and long!) conversion story (see here for the site) has this to say about this idea you've brought up:

    " some cases the claims of the New Testament theologically depend on the peculiarities of the LXX.

    "For instance, Hebrews 10:5 quotes Psalm 40:6 as a messianic prophecy:

    "'Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, "sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but a body Thou hast prepared for Me."'

    "The author has directly quoted from the LXX Psalter. A quick turn to our modern Bibles will confirm that the Hebrew text reads:

    "'Sacrifice and meal offering Thou hast not desired; My ears Thou hast opened.'

    "Based on the Hebrew text, the author of Hebrews has not only misquoted the passage, but has made his mistaken citation a central part of his argument. Only the rendering of the LXX justifies this as a Messianic passage. Did the author of Hebrews get it wrong? Was it an inspired mistake?

    "In Acts 7:14 St. Stephen relates the story of the Israelite nation, and refers to seventy-five people who traveled from Canaan to Egypt in the emigration of Jacob's family. This is not what Genesis 46 states in our Bibles, where it catalogues seventy sojourners. But the LXX lists seventy-five people, confirming St. Stephen's account, with the differences accounted for by the grand- and great- grandchildren of Joseph (Gen 46:20-22).

    "Most importantly, it is only in the LXX that Isaiah's prophecy of the Virgin Birth makes its bold appearance (Is 7:14). The Hebrew text uses the word 'woman' ('marah') instead of 'virgin' ('parthenos'). In their earliest confrontations with Christians, Jews objected most strongly to this verse being used to support Jesus' Messiahship. The Jews claimed that Isaiah was prophesying of King Hezekiah and he knew nothing of a miraculous virgin birth. The Septuagint, they said, had been tampered with. The early Christians responded by claiming that it was not they, but the Jews who had cut passages out of the Hebrew text out of envy. (Justin Martyr, Trypho, 71-73)

    "If we agree with the ancient Jews that the LXX translation was a faulty translation, then why is such a substandard text part of Holy, Inspired Scripture? Doesn't the New Testament suggest that the LXX was considered not just trustworthy, but even preferred by the Apostles? This is not out of harmony with the testimony of the Early Church, which regarded it as a sound and inspired translation.

    "...All Scripture is inspired and, in both St. Paul and St. Timothy's mind, that meant the LXX. So much is clear. But the LXX included the books we know today as the Apocrypha..."

    And we go from there.

  2. David Bryan said: "And we go from there."


    This verse has to be a can-of-worms-opener for some people.

    Also, the fact that the author of Hebrews has Jesus saying this verse/Psalm suggests that the hermeneutic of looking for Christ in the Old Testament was an acceptable, if not THE acceptable, way for Christians to read and interpret the Old Testament.

    I think that is problematic for the grammatico-historical method. I have actually read or heard it argued by those who hold to this hermeneutic that what was okay for St. Paul (e.g., the "allegory" in Galatians) and the author of Hebrews is not okay for us today, and that interpreting or interpolating Christ into OT passages is to be limited only to those that are included in the New Testament.

    I felt the author of the New International Greek Testament Commentary on Hebrews, Paul Ellingworth, gave a weak treatment of Hebrews 10:5. Regarding my first point, Ellingworth writes:

    "It is probable that this Christ-centered understanding of scripture was generally accepted in the community to which Hebrews was originally addressed. This in turn suggests a predominantly Jewish Christian community in which the OT was well known."

    Regarding the use of the LXX, Ellingworth writes:

    "(1) Where the LXX has 'body,' the MT has 'ears' (VLG Ga has ὠτία in the psalm, as does Syrp mg in Hebrews, all by assimilation to the MT; though the Göttingen LXX adopts ὠτία, presumably as the harder reading). It is probable that σῶμα stood in the LXX manuscript used by the author of Hebrews. The most likely explanation of the discrepancy is that, within the LXX tradition, ΗΘΕΛΗΣΑΣΩΤΙΑ was misread as ΗΘΕΛΗΣΑΣ(Σ)ΩΜΑ (so already Bos). Alternatively, σῶμα may be a free translation or 'interpretive paraphrase of the MT' (Lane 255), based perhaps on the idea of the listening ear as pars pro toto, the whole being the obedient person (cf. Is. 40:4f.)."

    Maybe Ellingworth only wants to comment on the text, and not on the ramifications.

    I wish you were still in the class so we could discuss and examine things like this together. Maybe when you buy me that lunch.... :^)

  3. I say: they reap what they sow; so let'em have it. >:)