Jonah 1:1-3 Καὶ ἐγένετο λόγος κυρίου πρὸς Ιωναν τὸν τοῦ Αμαθι λέγων 2᾿Ανάστηθι καὶ πορεύθητι εἰς Νινευη τὴν πόλιν τὴν μεγάλην καὶ κήρυξον ἐν αὐτῇ, ὅτι ἀνέβη ἡ κραυγὴ τῆς κακίας αὐτῆς πρός με. 3καὶ ἀνέστη Ιωνας τοῦ φυγεῖν εἰς Θαρσις ἐκ προσώπου κυρίου καὶ κατέβη εἰς Ιοππην καὶ εὗρεν πλοῖον βαδίζον εἰς Θαρσις καὶ ἔδωκεν τὸ ναῦλον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐνέβη εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦ πλεῦσαι μετ᾽ αὐτῶν εἰς Θαρσις ἐκ προσώπου κυρίου. (Septuagint, Greek Old Testament)
Jonah 1:1 “NOW the word of the Lord came to Jonas the son of Amathi, saying, Rise, and go to Nineve, the great city, and preach in it; for the cry of its wickedness is come up to me. But Jonas rose up to flee to Tharsis from the presence of the Lord. And he went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tharsis: and he paid his fare, and went up into it, to sail with them to Tharsis from the presence of the Lord.” (Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton’s English Translation of the Septuagint)
Jonah 1:1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 3 But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.(NASB)
Today’s post will aim to aquaint the reader with the Greek translation of the Old Testament – the Septuagint, and its significance for studying the scriptures. Over the years I have found acquaintance with the Septuagint to be helpful in the study of both Old and New Testament scriptures. Thankfully, one does not have to know Greek to study the Septuagint. English translations such as the one quoted above from Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton are available for free online here: https://archive.org/details/septuagintversio1879bren
Whenever the New Testament authors quote the Old Testament, the vast majority of those quotations derive from the Greek Old Testament. Knowing such a feature of the New Testament ought to prompt at least a peek into the Septuagint. What makes the Greek Old Testament a fascinating study is in how it came to be used in both the ancient Jews and later Christian congregations spawning from the days of Christ and the Apostles. Pictured below is a page from a 5th century A.D. Greek manuscript known as Codex Siniaticus, which contains both the Old and New Testament in Greek:
Before we get to the Septuagint, we need to first understand the original language text of the Old Testament – the Hebrew Bible. Additionally, the Dead Sea Scrolls and their relevance to the Septuagint in studying the text of scripture will also be briefly considered. The following overview will be but a quick fly-over, with the goal to arrive at noting a couple of significant reasons for gaining further familiarity with the Greek translation of the Old Testament – The Septuagint.
A quick overview of the Hebrew Bible and its relationship to our English Bible
Whenever we study the Old Testament, we typically will begin with whichever English translation we have in our possession. The King James, New King James and the Modern English Version have their Old Testaments based upon the 16th century Hebrew Bible edited by Jacob ben Hayyim ibn Adonijah (called the “Ben Chayyim Text” or “Bomberg Bible”). Virtually every modern English translation on the market has for its underlying text in the Old Testament the Hebrew text of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgarnsia. The reason why English translations of the Old Testament rely upon the Hebrew text is due to it being the original language in which God revealed the Old Testament (with 2-3% accounting for Aramaic portions in Daniel and Ezra and a couple verses in Genesis and Jeremiah).
The Hebrew Bible as we have it today in the academic critical editions of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgarnsia is based upon high quality Hebrew manuscripts from the Middle Ages, chiefly of which is found in what is believed to be the best representative of the Hebrew textual tradition, the Lenningrad Codex manuscript from the 11th century A.D (pictured below):
The Hebrew text of these manuscripts derives from copyists and scribes called the “Masoretes”. The Masoretes spent centuries developing a system of vowel points and textual markings to preserve the pronunciation and sentence structure of the Hebrew text for purposes of public reading and study. Although the manuscripts of the Masoretic text derive from the earlier part of the Middle Ages, the origins of the text go back much further and represents the most important resource for recovering the original text of the Hebrew Bible.
A quick overview of the Dead Sea scrolls and their relevance to bridging us from the Hebrew Masoretic Text to the Greek Old Testament
Many readers will undoubtedly recognize reference to the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls – hundreds of scrolls discovered in the late 1940’s in 11 caves around the Dead Sea area. We won’t focus too much on the Dead Sea Scrolls, only to say that their dating takes us back to a full 1,000 years before the Masoretic Hebrew manuscripts mentioned above. Below is a picture of one of the Dead Sea Scrolls – the so-called “Isaiah Scroll” from Cave 4 (image from Benchmark Books):
What makes the Dead Sea Scrolls interesting as a collection is that over 50% or more of the wording in those manuscripts supports readings we find the Masoretic text. The majority of the remaining wording and sentence structure of the Dead Sea Scrolls matches what we find in the first translation ever made of the Hebrew Old Testament – The Greek translation of the Septuagint. Below is pictured what scholars believe to be the current possible relationship between the Hebrew Moseretic text, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Greek Septuagint (at least to the King James Version, but roughly speaking, we can trace a similar lineage to other English translations).
The Value of the Greek Old Testament – The Septuagint – To The Study Of The Biblical Text
Having surveyed both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Dead Sea Scrolls, we now turn to the intended focal point of this post – the Septuagint. When we say “Septuagint”, the Greek Septuagint was the first translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, beginning with the Pentateuch or first five books of Moses in 275 b.c. Throughout the centuries leading up to within a century before Christ,the remainder of the Septuagint translation project would eventually get completed. This fact of the Septuagint being the first translation makes it invaluable and fascinating for studying the Old Testament text. As seen in the opening quotation of Jonah 1:1-3, reliable English translations of the Greek Septuagint are available in print and electronic form.
A second significant reason to include the Greek Old Testament in one’s study of the Biblical text is not only for Old Testament, but New Testament studies. The presence of the Greek Old Testament among the Jews of Jesus’ day is demonstrated by the amount of times the Apostles quote it when referring to the Old Testament in the Gospels, Acts, Epistles and Revelation. Bible Scholar Michael S. Heiser writes in the 2010 volume of the periodical “Bible and Spade”, Volume 23:1, in an article: “The Role Of The Septuagint In The Transmission Of The Scriptures” on how the Septuagint related to the ministry of Jesus, the Apostles and the early church:
“The real lesson that we learn from the transmission and use of the LXX is that the apostles—and Jesus himself— had no qualms about considering that translation the true Word of God. There is no evidence that Jesus or Paul or any other NT writer preferred a personal text over the texts available in synagogues, or that the hand-copied texts in synagogues had no variation. The fact that there were several non-identical Hebrew OT texts and Greek translations of those texts in circulation at the time generated no interest from Jesus and the apostles. What Providence had supplied and preserved was deemed completely sufficient. The early Church had the same attitude. Most Christians in the first four centuries of the Church could read only Greek. The LXX was their complete Bible.”
Today we began considering the importance of the Septuagint in the study of the Bible. We noted its history and relationship to the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea scrolls and the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles. We also saw its importance in being a major witness to the history of the Old Testament by virtue of it being the world’s first translation of the Hebrew text. Finally, we noted briefly how good English translations of the Septuagint are available today, making access to the Septuagint a feasible endeavor for those desiring to study it.