Thursday, December 20, 2007

Is the Septuagint Inspired?

Image courtesy of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. Gregory-Aland 676: Minuscule. 13th Century. A Gospels, Acts, and Epistles manuscript. 344 leaves of parchment. Single column, 28 lines per column. Muenster. 2 Timothy 3:16 begins with the first word in the first line on the page (click to enlarge).


2 Timothy 3:16 states that "all Scripture is inspired by God" (θεοπνευστος, lit. "God-breathed"):
πασα γραφη θεοπνευστος και ωφελιμος προς διδασκαλιαν, προς ελεγμον, προς επανορθωσιν, προς παιδειαν την εν δικαιοσυνη,
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; (NASB)
Most agree that by "Scripture," Paul (or the author of 2 Timothy, if one questions Pauline authorship) means the Old Testament Scriptures (though the statement that "all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable," etc., is applied by Christians to the New Testament, including 2 Timothy, as well). E.g.:
First, to what did Paul refer by his use of "Scripture"? The term "Scripture" (graphē) is usually a reference to the Old Testament (just as is "holy Scriptures" in the preceding verse).48 Paul’s reference to the "holy Scriptures" in 3:15 is clearly a statement about the Old Testament. He continued to refer to the Old Testament in 3:16.

48 Peter used the term γραφάς in reference to the writings of Paul in 2 Pet 3:16. The evidence seems to suggest that he was putting Paul’s writing on the level of OT Scripture although not all evangelicals follow this interpretation. For a discussion of the issue, see M. Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, TNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 147–49.

Lea, T. D., & Griffin, H. P. (2001, c1992). Vol. 34: 1, 2 Timothy, Titus The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
And for the author of 2 Timothy, as well as for his readers, the Old Testament Scriptures would most likely have been the Septuagint (LXX) - i.e., the Greek translation begun in the mid-third century B.C. As Lee Martin McDonald, Professor of New Testament Studies and President of Acadia Divinity College, Nova Scotia, Canada, writes:
"The importance of the LXX from a canonical perspective is not only that it was the Bible of the early Christian church and cited more than 90 percent of the time by the NT writers when quoting the OT, but that it also differs considerably from the Hebrew text in several important passages...."

McDonald, Lee Martin (2007). The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority (p. 123). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.
This raises a couple questions:
  • When the Masoretic (Hebrew) and LXX (Greek) Old Testament texts differ (see, e.g., my previous post on Hebrews 10:5), why do most Christians almost uniformly prefer the Hebrew readings in their Bibles and translations instead of the text used by the early Christians and the authors of the New Testament?
  • Why do the authors of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, contra the New Testament authors' use and view of the LXX, apply the term "inspiration" only to the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament?
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

II. Articles of Affirmation and Denial

Article X.

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.

III. Exposition

E. Transmission and Translation

Since God has nowhere promised an inerrant transmission of Scripture, it is necessary to affirm that only the autographic text of the original documents was inspired and to maintain the need of textual criticism as a means of detecting any slips that may have crept into the text in the course of its transmission. The verdict of this science, however, is that the Hebrew and Greek text* appears to be amazingly well preserved, so that we are amply justified in affirming, with the Westminster Confession, a singular providence of God in this matter and in declaring that the authority of Scripture is in no way jeopardized by the fact that the copies we possess are not entirely error-free.

Similarly, no translation is or can be perfect, and all translations are an additional step away from the autograph. Yet the verdict of linguistic science is that English-speaking Christians, at least, are exceedingly well served in these days with a host of excellent translations and have no cause for hesitating to conclude that the true Word of God is within their reach. Indeed, in view of the frequent repetition in Scripture of the main matters with which it deals and also of the Holy Spirit's constant witness to and through the Word, no serious translation of Holy Scripture will so destroy its meaning as to render it unable to make its reader "wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15).
* Note: "Greek text" in "Hebrew and Greek text" is a reference to the New Testament text, not to the LXX text.
Also, since it appears that the LXX in the first century included the so-called "Apocryphal" books, why do most Protestants exclude these "God-breathed" writings from their collection and canon and definition of "Scripture" when it is quite likely that the author of 2 Timothy did not?

I suppose one could argue that even if the author of 2 Timothy was errant in his assumptions and beliefs about the LXX and the Apocrypha, he was inerrant in writing that "all Scripture is inspired by God," etc. Such an argument, however, raises the issue of authorial intent and seems to be at variance with the historical-grammatical method ("The aim of the historical-grammatical method is to discover the meaning of the passage as the original author would have intended and what the original hearers would have understood." - from the Wikipedia link), and hence in conflict with Article XVIII. of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which states:
"We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture."
Is 2 Timothy 3:16 God-breathed and inerrant and infallible in what it says and means and asserts? If so (or even if not so), what are the implications of this verse for the LXX and the Apocrypha?

Image courtesy of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. Gregory-Aland 676: Minuscule. 13th Century. A Gospels, Acts, and Epistles manuscript. 344 leaves of parchment. Single column, 28 lines per column. Muenster. 2 Timothy 2:19 begins in the middle of the 6th line from the top (click to enlarge).

Per the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece (Edition 27), the author of 2 Timothy uses direct quotations from the Old Testament as follows (all in 2:19): Numbers 16:5, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus - i.e., the Apocrypha) 17:26, and Isaiah 26:13.

The text of 2 Timothy 2:19 reads:
ο μεντοι στερεος θεμελιος του θεου εστηκεν, εχων την σφραγιδα ταυτην: εγνω κυριος τους οντας αυτου, και, αποστητω απο αδικιας πας ο ονομαζων το ονομα κυριου.
Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are his," and, "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness." (NIV)
The LXX passages are:
Numbers 16:5: και ελαλησεν προς Κορε και προς πασαν αυτου την συναγωγην λεγων Επεσκεπται και εγνω ο θεος τους οντας αυτου και τους αγιους και προσηγαγετο προς εαυτον, και ους εξελεξατο εαυτω, προσηγαγετο προς εαυτον.
And he spoke to Korah and all his assembly, saying, God has visited and known those that are his and who are holy, and has brought them to himself; and whom he has chosen for himself, he has brought to himself.

Sirach 17:26: επαναγε επι υψιστον και αποστρεφε απο αδικιας και σφοδρα μισησον βδελυγμα.
Turn again to the most High, and turn away from iniquity, and hate thou abomination vehemently.

Isaiah 26:13: κυριε ο θεος ημων, κτησαι ημας· κυριε, εκτος σου αλλον ουκ οιδαμεν, το ονομα σου ονομαζομεν.
O Lord our God, take possession of us: O Lord, we know not any other beside thee: we name thy name.
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I realize that this is a complex and complicated subect. E.g., an essay in The Canon Debate (Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders, Editors) by a Jesuit/Catholic scholar (i.e., a person whose Church has canonized the Deuterocanonicals) examines and questions the evidence or assertion that the Gospels and Epistles quoted from the Apocrypha as Scripture.

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