The Septuagint Old Testament Translation versus The Jamnian-Palestinian and Masoretic Old Testament Translations
Is the Catholic Old Testament Accurate?
Why is it different from the Jewish Old Testament and Protestant translations?
All modern translations of the Bible, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish come from a collection of ancient texts. The three most important and reliable ancient versions of the Old Testament are known as:
Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls [DSS] in 1947 and the Old Testament Bible texts found among those ancient handwritten manuscripts [MSS], copies of these three translations were considered to be the oldest Bible texts in existence.
The Septuagint is the ancient Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures which pre-dates the Incarnation and the New Testament Bible by several centuries. The translation of Sacred Scripture from the Hebrew language to Greek became necessary following the conquests of Alexander the Great and the spread of Greek culture into Asia Minor, the Near East, and North Africa. As time past and Hellenistic culture became the dominant culture, more and more Jews adopted Greek as the international language and Jews, especially those living in the Diaspora, the land outside the Holy Land, became less fluent in Hebrew. By the third century BC so few Jews living outside the Holy Land spoke or read Hebrew that it became necessary to translate the Hebrew texts into Greek to allow Jews of the Diaspora living in the Gentile world to read and study Sacred Scripture. The decision was made by the Old Covenant hierarchy in Jerusalem that a Greek translation of the sacred texts was going to be necessary. It was the first time the inspired words of Yahweh would be translated into a foreign tongue.
Jewish [and Christian] tradition records that when the Greek-Egyptian king Ptolemy II [309-246BC] requested a copy of Jewish Law for his famous library in Alexandria, Egypt, the Jerusalem High Priest Eleazar decided this was the time for God's covenant people to produce the first foreign language translation of the sacred Hebrew Scriptures. According to the story, he sent 72 scholars'6 to represent each of the original 12 tribes of Israel, to Alexandria , Egypt to work on the translation. Using the oldest and most perfect scrolls of Sacred Scripture available the Hebrew scholars, working individually, came up with the same identical translation, producing the final Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures circa 250BC. It is unknown how many books of Scripture were included in the canon of inspired Scripture at the time the first Greek translation was completed. Many scholars believe only the Torah, the first 5 books written by Moses, also known by the Greek word "Pentateuch" meaning 5-part-book, was translated into the Greek at that time. Modern scholars do agree, however, that by the 1st century BC the Old Testament books which are included in our modern Bibles, as well as other Greek and Aramaic writings, were included in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Since 72 men in co-operation worked on the Greek version, Christians came to call this version of Sacred Scripture "the Septuagint" ; septuaginta is the Latin word for seventy. (Works of Philo, "On the Life of Moses II," VI.31-43; Antiquities of the Jews 12.2.10-12, Flavius Josephus; City of God chapter 42, St. Augustine).
The 1st century AD Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, recorded the burden which the scholars felt and the care with which they approached their work: ....they immediately began to fulfill the objects for which that honorable embassy had been sent; and considering among themselves how important the affair was, to translate laws which had been divinely given by direct inspiration, since they were not able either to take away anything, or add anything, or to alter anything, but were bound to preserve the original form and character of the whole composition...(Works of Philo, "On the Life of Moses, II, VI, 34). His reference to the burden the scholars felt not to alter any of the inspired text comes from the article of the Mosaic Law which stated: You must add nothing to what I command you, and take nothing from it, but keep the commandments of Yahweh your God just as I lay them down for you (Deuteronomy 4:2). This is a command that is repeated in the last book of the New Testament in the Book of Revelation with the addition of a curse for failure to observe the command: This is my solemn attestation to all, who hear the prophecies in this book: if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him every plague mentioned in the book; if anyone cuts anything out of the prophecies in this book, God will cut off his share of the tree of life and of the holy city, which are described in the book (Revelation 22:18-19).
According to Philo, the Jewish scholars succeeded in their mission to provide an accurate translation of the Hebrew under the guidance of God's spirit: [he calls them Chaldaic] Scriptures: ...they, like men inspired, prophesied, not one saying one thing and another another, but every one of them employed the self-same nouns and verbs, as if some unseen prompter had suggested all their language to them. And yet who is there who does not know that every language, and the Greek language above all others, is rich in a variety of words, and that it is possible to vary a sentence and to paraphrase the same idea, so as to set it forth in a great variety of manners, adopting many different forms of expression to it at different times. But this, they say, did not happen at all in the case of this translation of the law, but that, in every case, exactly corresponding Greek words were employed to translate literally the appropriate Chaldaic words, being adapted with exceeding propriety to the matters which were to be explained... (Works of Philo, "On the Life of Moses, II, 37-38). Early Fathers of the Church, like St. Cyril of Jerusalem [ca. 350AD] also saw the Divine hand of God at work in the process of the translation Sacred Scriptures from Hebrew to Greek. St. Cyril wrote: The process [of translating the Septuagint from the Hebrew text] was no invention of words and contrivance of human wisdom, On the contrary, the translation was effected by the Holy Spirit, by whom the Divine Scriptures were spoken (Catechetical Lectures 4.34). It was in this way that the first translation of the Hebrew Scriptures was introduced to the Gentile world.
Greek culture continued to dominate the region and by the 1st century AD Hebrew became almost exclusively the liturgical language of the Old Covenant clergy, just as Latin is the liturgical language of the Catholic Church but is understood by very few of the Catholic laity. At this time the Greek translation of the books of the Hebrew Bible, which had been created for Jews of the Diaspora, became the principle documents of Sacred Scripture studied in the local Synagogues in Judea and the Galilee. It was the translation Jesus probably heard growing up and attending Sabbath ceremonies in the Synagogue in Nazareth; probably along with the Aramaic Targums, footnotes in the common language of the 1st century Jews that were included in the margins of Hebrew sacred scrolls which paraphrased the Hebrew text that the common people could no longer read; the Greek translation offered a word for word translation. See endnote 1.
There is sufficient evidence that the Septuagint translation of Sacred Scripture was adopted universally by Jews at the time Jesus preached His message of salvation through the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. It was the principal Scriptural translation that the first century AD Old Covenant faithful, including Jesus and His Apostles, quoted when referring to passages of Sacred Scripture. When Jesus read from the scrolls of Scripture in the synagogue at Nazareth, it was the Greek Septuagint translation of the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1-2 that He read from in Luke 4:16-21 and applied to Himself. When Jesus was teaching in Jerusalem and said, "...search through Scripture" in John 5:39, He meant the Greek Septuagint translation. When Saint Peter quoted from the Old Testament in his first great homily on the Feast of Pentecost in Acts chapter two it was the Greek Septuagint that he quoted to prove the promise of the Messiah had been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, and when St. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16, All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for refuting error, for guiding people's lives and teaching them to be upright, he is speaking of the sacred text Christians must study and reflect upon in the Septuagint translation. Of the approximately 350 Old Testament quotations in the New Testament, it has been estimated that 300 are from the Septuagint; other passages agree with both the Masoretic and Septuagint versions (The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, James VanderKam and Peter Flint, Harper-San Francisco, 2002, page 101; see endnote 2). In addition to Septuagint passages quoted in the New Testament, Jewish authors like Philo of Alexandria [c. 20BC-50AD] and Flavius Josephus [37-100AD] who wrote in Greek quoted the Septuagint extensively and, the Old Testament passages quoted in the sermons and commentaries of all the Greek and Latin early Church Fathers like St. Irenaeus [c. 130-198/202AD] and St. John Chrysostom [c. 344-407AD] were from the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, volume 5; page 1102).
It cannot be disputed that the vast majority of the Old Testament quotations in the New Testament are from this pre-Incarnation Greek translation. Copies of the Septuagint have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date prior to the Roman destruction of the site in 68AD, and among the documents discovered at the cave of Nahal Hever, dating to prior to 134AD. The oldest surviving copies of the Septuagint, which are complete or almost complete manuscripts like the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus, date to the fourth century AD, while the Codex Alexandrinus dates to the fifth century AD. These three oldest complete or nearly complete copies of the Septuagint are uncials, handwritten manuscripts written in all capital letters:
In addition to the uncials there are hundreds of manuscripts of the Septuagint written in minuscule, a cursive script which dates these copies to the Middle Ages. These editions contain all or parts of the Greek translation. There are also existing parts of translations of this Greek translation of the Old Testament which are the Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, Arabic, Ethiopic, and Old Latin versions, and there are many quotations of the Septuagint found in the writings of the earliest Fathers of the Church dating from the 2nd century AD. These other texts or fragments of texts which are translations of the Septuagint in the Coptic script, in Armenian, Old Latin, Ethiopian, and Georgian, as well as the Church Father quotations from the 2nd century AD, would have been made from handwritten manuscripts that predate the oldest complete existing Greek manuscripts of the Septuagint like the Codex Vaticanus, copied in the 4th century AD. Septuagint translations of the Coptic and Old Latin are known to have been prepared in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5: "Septuagint," pages 1093-1104).
The arrangement of the divisions of the Old Testament Bible books of the Septuagint is reflected in the Catholic Bible and has also been adopted by the Protestants in their translations (The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, James VanderKam and Peter Flint, Harper-San Francisco, 2002, page 161). The arrangement of books, however, is different in the Jewish Tanach. All the canons of the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish Bibles begin with the five Books of Moses, also called the Pentateuch or Torah, but the Jewish Bible lists Joshua and the books of the Twelve Prophets in a second division called the Nebi'im or Prophets [listed as the Former and Later Prophets], followed by the Psalms through Chronicles in a third division known as the Ketubim, or Writings. In contrast Christian Bibles begin their canon with the Pentateuch followed by the Historical Books, the Poetry and Wisdom Books, and finally the Books of the Prophets.
Comparing the Order of the Old Testament Canons
|HEBREW TANACH||CATHOLIC OLD TESTAMENT|
|TORAH (Law)||PENTATEUCH (5 part Book)|
|PROPHETS (NEBI'IM)||HISTORICAL BOOKS|
|1 & 2 Samuel||1 & 2 Samuel|
|1 & 2 Kings||1 & 2 Kings|
|Latter Prophets: (Major prophets)||1 & 2 Chronicles|
|Isaiah||Ezra & Nehemiah|
|(Twelve Minor Prophets)||Esther|
|Hosea||1 & 2 Maccabees*|
|Habakkuk||Song of Songs|
|Zephaniah||Book of Wisdom*|
|Haggai||Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sira)*|
|The Five Megillot (Scrolls)||Daniel|
|Song of Songs||Hosea|
|Ezra and Nehemiah||Nahum|
|1 & 2 Chronicles||Habakkuk|
* missing from Jewish Tanach along with parts of Daniel and Esther
The Septuagint translation is important to Scripture study for several reasons:
The events and teachings recorded in the Old Testament Bible books of the Septuagint, St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo and Doctor of the Church [354-430AD] explained, were events and teachings "That were observed and celebrated in obedience to the Law." He went on to write that the Old Testament Bible books "were by the way of prior announcement of Christ who was to come." This is a teaching consistent with Jesus' declaration to the Apostles in Luke 24:44 when He said: This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms, was destined to be fulfilled. The early Christians understood the necessity of reading and studying what we call the Old Testament books in the light of Jesus Christ, as St. Paul explained to the Church at Corinth concerning the importance of the sacred Scripture which predated the coming of the Messiah in 1 Corinthians 10:6 and 11: Now these happenings were examples, for our benefit, so that we should never set our hearts, as they did, on evil things; nor are you to worship false gods, as some of them did... [..]. Now all these things happen to them by way of example, and they were described in writing to be a lesson for us, to whom it has fallen to live in the last days of the ages. The New Covenant Church naturally adopted the Septuagint as the inspired testament to Christ's nature and mission as promised by the Old Covenant. To this day, the Septuagint is the official text of the Catholic Church's Old Testament, and when the Septuagint is compared with other Old Testament translations against the Old Testament Hebrew manuscripts discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest of which dates to circa 250 BC, when the Septuagint translation was believed to have been produced, it is amazing to discover that the Septuagint is more faithful to those ancient Hebrew Old Testament texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls than any other translations including the Protestant translations and the modern Jewish Old Testament translation, the Tanach ["The Most Original Bible Text", Bible Review, August 2000, pages 28-49; The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, James VanderKam and Peter Flint, Harper-San Francisco, 2002, pages 100-101].
The Jamnian-Palestinian Translation
Thirty-six years after Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension, the long fermenting tensions between the pagan Roman occupation force and the citizens of Judea boiled over into a full revolt. The Jews, without any real leadership, attempted to overthrow the power of Roman oppression in 66AD. The Roman Empire responded with characteristic ferocity, crushing the revolting Jews in the savage and bloody embrace of four of Rome's most seasoned Legions. In 70AD the Roman army conquered Jerusalem and the holy Temple was devastated by a fire that melted the golden ornamentation on the walls and roof into the cracks of the building's stone. In order to collect the gold, the Roman soldiers poured water on the hot stones, cracking them apart to collect the gold. The Temple was utterly destroyed, fulfilling Jesus' prophecy in Matthew 24:2: You see all these? In truth I tell you, not a single stone here will be left on another: everything will be pulled down.
The New Covenant Church was spared the massacres and mass enslavement that resulted from the revolt. Simeon, kinsman of Jesus of Nazareth and second Christian Bishop of Jerusalem, recognizing the signs Jesus preached concerning the destruction of Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37-24:25 led the faithful out of Judea, across the Jordan into the Roman province of Perea [Ecclesial History, Eusebius, chapter XI.1-2; XXII.1; V.3]. The New Covenant Church of Jesus the Messiah taught that the Old Law and the Temple were good and necessary for their time but the New Covenant people of God no longer needed a Temple to offer animal sacrifice in atonement for sins [Hebrews 9:8-9-10] and the necessity of the imperfect blood sacrifice of animals had been only a temporary remedy which foreshadowed the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The New Covenant Church of Jesus Christ now had immediate access to God through the atoning work of Jesus Christ as Redeemer, Davidic Messiah, sacrificial Lamb, and New Covenant mediator and High Priest of the heavenly Sanctuary [Hebrews 9:14-15]. This refusal of Jewish-Christians to join in the first Jewish revolt against the Romans, and 66 years later their refusal to join in the second Jewish revolt resulted in the final break between the Jews of the Old and New Covenants. See endnote 3.
In the first century AD Christians were effectively using the Septuagint Old Testament translation to prove that Jesus Christ was the promised Davidic Messiah who fulfilled the covenant God made with King David in the 10th century BC; a promised repeated ever since that time in the books of the holy prophets. For this reason the Septuagint Greek translation became an anathema to the Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Before the first Jewish revolt against Rome thousands of devout Jews had converted to Christianity [Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7; 21:20], and during the 7 years of the revolt more than a million Jews had been killed by the Romans, with most of the survivors sold into slavery (see Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 6.9.3 where he records that 97 thousand survivors were taken captive while 11 hundred thousand perished in the siege of Jerusalem alone). See endnote 4.
After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70AD, worship of Yahweh under the Law of the old Sinai Covenant was no longer possible. Worship expressed as sacrifice in atonement for sins and reestablishment of communion with God could only be offered at one site, the Temple in Jerusalem. With the destruction of the Temple, in order to keep their religion from being completely absorbed by the Christians, a new expression of the Jewish faith had to be formulated. The Jewish rabbis were desperate to save their Old Covenant faith but with the death of almost all the priestly families and the destruction of the Temple [the only place where sacrifice to Yahweh could be offered] they would have to re-invent the Jewish faith. Yohanan ben Zakkai, a disciple of the great rabbinic scholar Hillel, and recognized as one of the great surviving Jewish scholars, took the few surviving priests, rabbis and scribes with him to the village of Jamnia where they settled and began to assess the situation. The rabbis were determined to fight Christianity and to preserve the "sacred trust", as they understood it. The surviving Jewish scholars needed to develop a new form of Judaism that would unite all Jews, at least until the Temple could be rebuilt and the purification rites, rituals, and feasts associated with animal sacrifice under the Mosaic Law could be reinstituted. They also needed to somehow undercut Christianity's claims of the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth and His identity as the long awaited Davidic Messiah.
And so the surviving rabbis and Jewish scholars responded to the need for a new expression of Jewish beliefs and to Christian scholars and priest's use of the prophetic passages in Septuagint to prove Jesus was indeed the Messiah by withdrawing to the Holy Land towns of Jamnia/ Yabneh [circa 90-100AD] and later in the 3rd century AD to the city of Tiberius, establishing their own Sanhedrin, but without the representative character and national authority of the former legislative civil/religious body (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, "Jamnia", ed. by F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingston, Oxford University Press, page 861) . Both sites had become non-authoritative centers to reformulate a religion without a Temple and the result was that Rabbinic Judaism became the replacement for the Law of Moses and the Sinai Covenant. Some refer to this assembly as "the Council of Jamnia", which Dr. Frank Moore Cross describes as a common and somewhat misleading designation of a particular session of the rabbinic academy (or court) at Yabneh at which it was asserted that Ecclesiastes and Songs of Songs "defile the hands": i.e., are holy Scriptures. The session in question was held about 90AD, although even this date is far from certain. The academy was founded by Yohanan ben Zakkai, a disciple of Hillel. It was presided over by Gamaliel II, a descendant of Hillel, during much of the era between the two Jewish Revolts against Rome. The academy, in effect, resurrected the institution of the Sanhedrin, which exercised religious authority over the Jewish community before the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. (Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, "The Text Behind the Text of the Hebrew Bible," page 152-53).
The goal of Rabbinic Judaism was to first record the oral traditions not contained in Sacred Scripture [see endnote 5] and second, to produce a new Greek translation of Sacred Scripture which could not be used so effectively by Christians to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Davidic Messiah. A new Greek translation was produced by Jewish rabbis of Jamnia beginning circa 100AD which manipulated the Old Testament prophecies to change the wording and make the text less likely to be used as a proof of Jesus' fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. You may recall the words of St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem to St. Paul in Acts 21:20 concerning the success of proselytizing Jews: You see, brother, how thousands of Jews have now become believers, all of them staunch upholders of the Law... Those Jews well verse in the prophecies of the Messiah would be the first to recognize the fulfillment of those prophecies in Jesus of Nazareth.
The Jewish scholars who assembled in Jamnia [Yabneh] were heavily influenced by rabbis who were particularly zealous enemies of Christianity [Acts 5:17-19]. In order to undermine the Christian claim that Jesus was the Messiah they rewrote the prophetic texts that Christians used as proof of the Messiahship and divinity of Christ. One of them, for example, a scholar named Aquila [circa 123AD] who was a Jewish proselyte and a student of the great Rabbi Zakkai, contributed to the revised Greek version by removing from Isaiah 7:14 the significant word parthenos, the Greek word for "virgin," which is the word used in the Septuagint Greek translation by the Hebrew scholars centuries earlier as the translation for the Hebrew word ha alma. In rewriting the passage Aquila deleted the word parthenos and replaced it with the word neanis, the Greek word for "young woman", so that the passage now read "...a young woman shall conceive" instead of "the virgin shall conceive." This action completely changed the prophetic impact of the passage.
When the Hebrew word almah is used in the Old Testament it is never used for a woman who is sexually experienced and is only used to describe a young woman of marriageable age [Queen Mother: A Biblical Theology of Mary's Queenship, page 54-55; 140-41. The first Hebrew translators of the Book of Isaiah into the Greek clearly believed the intent of the inspired writer of the Book of Isaiah was to convey that the "sign" the house of David would receive was that a virgin, descended from the great King David, would bring forth a son. For a married woman to bring forth a son is hardly a divine "sign" but for the virgin to be "with child" is clearly a divine "sign" which points to a particular virgin. The deception of changing the Greek word parthenos, which in the Greek clearly means "virgin," to the Greek word neanis, meaning "young woman" allowed the Jews opposed to Christianity to assert that the prophecy in Isaiah didn't fulfill what the Christians were teaching about the very nature of Christ in Matthew 1:23 when the Apostle Matthew quoted this passage from the Greek Septuagint version and applied it to Jesus' virgin birth in Bethlehem. This second Greek translation is known as the Jamnian-Palestinian version [see This Rock, September 2004, "The Council That Wasn't", Steve Ray, page 26]. It was easy for the Jewish scholars and rabbis to orchestrate this rewriting of sacred scripture because the Romans had been so thorough in their destruction of sacred texts that very few Hebrew scrolls survived, and those that did survive were in the hands of the Jamnian and Tiberian scholars.
It has been argued that the Jewish scholars at Jamnia set the Jewish canon of the Old Testament but Dr. Frank M. Cross disagrees: Until recently there has been a scholarly consensus that the acts of inclusion and exclusion that fixed the canon were completed only at the "Council of Jamnia (Yabneh)" meeting about the end of the first century of the Common Era. However, recent sifting of the rabbinic evidence makes clear that in the proceedings of the academy of Yabneh the Rabbis did not fix the canon, but at most discussed marginal books... [..]. Moreover, it must be insisted that the proceedings at Yabneh were not a "council," certainly not in the late ecclesiastical sense. Whatever decisions were taken at Yabneh, they were based on earlier opinions, and they failed to halt continued disputes concerning marginal books: Son of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Esther of the "included": books, Ben Sira among the "excluded" or apocryphal. [Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, "The Text Behind the Text of the Hebrew Bible," page 152-53]. See endnote 6.
While the Jamnian Palestinian version [still written in the Greek language] may have been composed in good faith in an attempt to save Judaism, it was a fabrication in the sense of being a set of texts purposefully changed and then presented as if it was the genuine ancient version. This Jamnian-Greek version as well as a possible Hebrew version re-translated later by Aquila and others from the revised Greek version was eventually used to produce an authorized Hebrew Bible text by the Masoretic scholars in the Middle Ages, composed of textual variations which are different from the original text of the Greek Septuagint. See endnote 7.
As Christianity exploded out of Palestine and into Syria and Asia Minor it was difficult for the Church to produce enough scholarly authorized copies of the Septuagint translated into the various common spoken languages of the new Christian peoples. As a result, errors crept into the Old and New Testament manuscripts by the late fourth century. I am not so ignorant as to suppose that any of the Lord's words are in need of correction, St. Jerome complained, but the Latin books are proved to be faulty by the discrepancies that they all exhibit among themselves. To solve this problem, in the late 4th century AD, Pope St. Damasus sent St. Jerome [died 420AD] out into the desert near Bethlehem to live in a cave near what was traditionally identified as the birth cave of Jesus. Pope Damasus assigned Jerome the task of making a complete standardized translation of sacred Scripture in common Latin. Refusing to follow the practice of previous Bible scholars and translators who relied almost entirely on the Greek Septuagint translation, Jerome plunged into a through study of ancient Hebrew and secured for himself all the Hebrews Biblical manuscripts available to him, many of which, unfortunately, were those corrupted Hebrew texts which had been translated post-Temple destruction by the Jewish scholar Aquila and others.
The discrepancies between the Septuagint and Jewish translations were noted by a number of the early Church Fathers. Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon [120-198/202AD], writing as early as the mid 2nd century complained in Against Heresies chapter XXI. 3, that the Jews were altering Sacred Scripture in order to refute the Messiahship of Jesus Christ. Affirming the truth of the Septuagint translation he condemned the other versions and their translators, testifying that the quotations of the Old Testament found in the New Testament are from the Septuagint: ...truly these men are proved to be impudent and presumptuous, who would now show a desire to make different translations, when we refute them out of these Scriptures, and shut them up to a belief in the advent of the Son of God. But our faith is steadfast, unfeigned, and the only true one, having clear proof from these Scriptures, which were interpreted in the way I have related; and the preaching of the Church is without interpolation. [..]. For Peter, and John, and Matthew, and Paul, and the rest successively, as well as their followers, did set forth all prophetical [announcements], just as the interpretation of the elders contains them (Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume I: Irenaeus Against Heresies, chapter XXI.3; page452).
In the early 3rd century the great theologian and Biblical scholar, Origen [circa 185-martyred 230/54], director of the School of Theology in Alexandria, Egypt, made a study of the discrepancies between the Septuagint Old Testament translation and the other translations used by the Jews to which he had access, including translations he attributed to Aquila. He often discussed these variations with Jewish scholars and had access to several Jewish translations of Sacred Scripture. Knowing the esteemed reputation Aquila enjoyed among the Jews, Origen was disturbed by the differences between the Greek Septuagint version used by the Church and the other Jewish translations and was at a loss as to how to explain these variations. Although in cases where the text is substantially different, Origen counseled to accept the Septuagint over the other translation. In a letter to a friend he responds to his friend's inquiry as to why the stories of Susannah and Bel and the Dragon, found in the Book of Daniel in the Christian Old Testament, are missing from the Jewish Book of Daniel: In answer to this, I have to tell you what it behooves us to do in the cases not only of the History of Susanna, which is found in every Church of Christ in that Greek copy which the Greeks use, but is not in the Hebrew, or of the two other passages you mention at the end of the book containing the history of Bel and the Dragon which likewise are not in the Hebrew copy of Daniel; but of thousands of other passages also which I found in many places when with my little strength I was collating the Hebrew copies with ours. [..]. For so Aquila, following the Hebrew reading gives it, who has obtained the credit among the Jews of having interpreted the Scriptures with no ordinary care, and whose version is most commonly used by those who do not know Hebrew, as the one which has been most successful. ["A Letter from Origen to Africanus paragraph 2]. See endnote 8.
Saint Jerome's Latin Vulgate Translation of the Bible
Jerome was one of the most learned Biblical scholars of his time. He knew more about Hebrew Scriptures than any of his contemporaries. Even the Jewish scholars, who had begun working on another Hebrew translation of the Old Testament from the Greek, visited Jerome in Bethlehem and consult with him when they had difficulty reaching agreement on difficult passages. However, several contemporaries of St. Jerome, among them the great theologian and Biblical scholar St. Augustine Bishop of Hippo [who also understood and translated Hebrew; see Letters of St. Augustine, chapter V.19], expressed concern over Jerome's use of what he feared were corrupted texts which varied from the Septuagint translation. Writing about the authority of the Greek Septuagint translation in City of God, chapter 43 Augustine wrote: For while there were other interpreters who translated these sacred oracles out of the Hebrew tongue into Greek, as Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, and also that translation which, as the name of the author is unknown, is quoted as the fifth edition, yet the Church has received this Septuagint translation just as it were the only one; and it has been used by the Greek Christian people most of whom are not aware that there is any other. For this translation there has also been made a translation in the Latin tongue, which the Latin churches use. Our times, however, have enjoyed the advantage of the presbyter Jerome, a man most learned, and skilled in all three languages, who translated theses same Scriptures into Latin speech, not from the Greek, but from the Hebrew. But although the Jews acknowledge this very learned labor of his to be faithful, while they contend that the Septuagint translators have erred in many places, still the churches of Christ judge that no one should be preferred to the authority of some many men, chosen for this very great work by Eleazar [Jewish High Priest who authorized the Septuagint in c. 250BC], who was then high priest; for even if there had not appeared in them one spirit, without doubt divine, and the seventy learned men had, after the manner of men, compared together the words of their translation, that what pleased them all might stand, no single translator ought to be preferred to them; but since so great a sign of divinity has appeared in them, certainly, of any other translator of their Scripture from the Hebrew into any other tongue is faithful, he agrees with these seventy translators, and if he is not found to agree with them, then we ought to believe that the prophetic gift is with them [meaning the Septuagint translators]. (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series: Augustine, City of God, chapter 43, Hendrickson, 1995, pages 386-7). Augustine also thought Origen was too influenced by post-Temple Hebrew translations [see Letters of St. Augustine, chapter V.19, 20]. See endnote 9.
St. Jerome is still regarded as an authority among Jewish scholars today because he alone preserved the few surviving fragmented pre-Jamnian texts that could have been destroyed had it not been for his intervention, preserving these precious documents at the bishop's library in Caesarea [later deliberately destroyed by the Moslems in their conquest of the Holy Land in the 7th century AD]. He completed his work during a period of 35 years, presenting the Latin Vulgate Bible to the world in 426AD. His translation is called the Vulgate because it is written in the "vulgar" or common language, the non-classical Latin that the common people spoke, Latin having replaced Greek as the international language of the Western Roman Empire. For more than a thousand years the Latin Vulgate was the only Bible translation that Christians used.
The Masoretic (Massoretic) Texts
In the succeeding centuries Christianity continued to gain ground and to spread from Jerusalem, to Rome, to every province of the old Roman Empire, and into the newly established states of Europe, the result of the Church working to fulfill the "Great Commission" Jesus gave His Church in Matthew 28:19-20 to spread the Gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth. During this time rabbinic scholars from the established schools in Jamnia and Tiberius sought to standardize the text of the Hebrew Bible. In the eighth century AD, a group of German Jewish scholars who saw themselves as the successors of the Tiberian school of rabbis, using a number of Hebrew and Greek texts, including the revised Jamnian Greek version and other manuscripts of the Tiberian rabbis, began to put together a standardized Hebrew translation of Sacred Scripture. Their purpose was to maintain traditions for copying the Biblical text for liturgical or scholarly purposed. Scholars during the time of the Temple in Jerusalem who had maintained the accuracy of the sacred text were called scribes, these Jewish scholars also saw themselves as the continuation of that tradition. Known as the Masorites, a title derived from the word "masorah" meaning "tradition, " these German Jewish scholars set out to establish a standardized Hebrew translation drawing on much of the work accomplished by rabbis of the Tiberian school [The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, page 493-5].
The Masorites began a translation of the revised Jamnian Greek translation and other post-Temple Hebrew translation back into standardized Hebrew translation. The work of the Masoretic scholars extended from the late 8th century until the end of the Middle Ages. Originally the Hebrew language was written only in consonants, as were most ancient languages. These Jewish scholars established the translation of the words in the Hebrew text by adding vowel signs for the first time to the Hebrew words in the 9th and 10th centuries AD (The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, page 451). Their standardized text included the vowel signs, accents, and most manuscripts also included marginal notes to aid in interpretation of passages. These were helps that were missing in the original Hebrew [although some of the first century BC Old Testament Hebrew texts discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls contained Aramaic commentaries in the margins, known as "Targums"]. The translation of these Jewish-German scholars of the Bible books of what we call the Old Testament became known as the Masoretic version, and when this version was completed at the end of the Middle Ages it was known as the Masoretic Old Testament translation [MT].
The authorized Jewish version of the Masoretic text is known as the textus receptus. It is a text compiled from medieval manuscripts by Jewish scholar Jacob ben Chayim. Known in Hebrew as the Mikra'ot Gedolot, this version of the Old Testament was published in Venice, Italy in 1524-25 by the Christian printer Daniel Bomberg, and became the model for all future Jewish Bible editions. This re-instituted Hebrew translation was, however, a corrupted text. The alterations and adjustments made to the Jamnian-Palestinian Greek translation were reflected in the textus receptus. The interpretation of Isaiah 7:14 from the Jamnian translation that God would give a "sign" and "a young woman" and not "the virgin" would conceive a son was interwoven into the text with the explanation that the Hebrew words ha alma did not mean "the virgin" but instead the Hebrew word alma really meant "young woman" as translated in the Jamnian text; the definite article "the" was restored in some translations but the significant meaning of the text was changed. The Stone edition of the modern Hebrew Tanach, published by Mesorah Publications, Ltd. in 1998 has rendered the Isaiah 7:14 passage: Behold, the maiden will become pregnant and bear a son, and she will name him Immanuel" (page 965). See endnote 10.
With the exception of those older Catholic Bible translations which use the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, most modern Christian English translations of the Old Testament make use the Masoretic translation for their Old Testament Bible texts. The New Jerusalem Bible editors explain: This translation follows the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. For the Old Testament the Massoretic Text is used, that is the text established in the eight/ninth centuries AD by Jewish scholars...... Only when this text presents insuperable difficulties have the emendations or the versions of other Hebrew manuscripts or the ancient versions (notably the LXX and Syriac) been used ("LXX" refers to the Septuagint). The majority of these Hebrew translations are based upon a single Masoretic manuscript, the text of the Leningrad [St. Petersburg] Codex copied which most scholars date to 1008 or 1010 AD [the JPS Guide dates this text to 916AD]. The Leningrad Codex is the earliest most complete surviving copy of the Masoretic Text. Another important manuscript is the Aleppo Codex, which is the principle text used in the most recent edition of the Hebrew Tanach (Hebrew Old Testament). This document was the basis of the Hebrew University Bible Project at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; however, this copy of the Masoretic Text, copied circa 925AD (no date given in the JPS Guide), a century before the Leningrad Codex, has a substantial section missing from the document. [The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, James VanderKam and Peter Flint, Harper-San Francisco, 2002, page 87].
The Hebrew translation of the Masorites omitted 7 books included in the Christian Old Testament and parts of Daniel and Esther, books that were included in both the Septuagint and the later version of the Jewish-Jamnian Greek Old Testament translation. This re-translation back into the original tongue of the Old Covenant people who produced the Hebrew text reset the Hebrew Old Testament canon. It was decided at that time that only those books whose copies were available in the Hebrew language would be accepted into the Jewish canon'setting the canon back to the time of Ezra in the 6th century BC and rejecting any books written in either Greek or Aramaic [the common tongue at the time of Jesus]. The result changed Judaism forever. In the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 a Hebrew text of Tobit was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, a text which was previously believe to only exist in the Greek and which for that reason had been excluded from the Jewish canon. Most scholars now believe that the Catholic additions of Esther, and the texts of Baruch, I Maccabees and Tobit were probably originally written in Hebrew, that Judith was written originally in Aramaic or perhaps Hebrew, while Wisdom and II Maccabees were probably composed in Greek [The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, James VanderKam and Peter Flint, Harper-San Francisco, 2002, page 184]. See endnote 11.
The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century spawned many translations of sacred Scripture in the common language of western European nations, but the Protestant scholars did not use the Septuagint nor Jerome's translation. Instead, for their Old Testament translations, they consulted the reworked and corrupted Jewish Masoretic text published in 1525. Of course, in many ways it fitted their theology better than the Catholic texts. Most Protestants rejected the existence of Purgatory so they disposed of Maccabees I and II like the Masoretic scholars [which is quite amazing when you consider that the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah celebrates an event only recorded in the books of I & 2 Maccabees]. Protestant scholars disposed of Tobit as well because it didn't agree with their doctrine of salvation by "faith alone." Like the Masoretic translation, the Protestants would drop 7 Old Testament books as well as parts of Esther and Daniel that could only be found in the Greek. That is why the Old Testament of a Protestant Bible is so different from that of the Catholic Church's authorized Bible translations; whole books have been taken out of the Protestant versions, and the texts that remains have many textual variations. The Protestants have 66 books in their Bible while Catholics have 73 Bible books. Both Protestants and Catholics have the same 27 New Testament books.
The 7 Deuterocanonical ["second canon"] Texts no longer found in Protestant translations or in the Jewish Tanach but which are included in Catholic Bibles:
The three most ancient complete or near complete copies of the Septuagint contain the 7 Old Testament Bible books missing from the Jewish and Protestant Old Testaments but included in the Catholic Old Testament with the exception Codex Vaticanus which is missing 1 and 2 Maccabees [Maccabees 3 & 4 are not accepted as inspired writings by the Roman Catholic Church].
The copies of these 7 books and the missing parts of Daniel and Esther were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and were dated to:
(Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, chart on page 100-101; list of deuterocanonical texts 182-83).
These disputed 7 books were among the last additions to the Greek Septuagint in the 1st century BC. They were accepted into the Catholic canon, but with some hesitancy among certain 5th century Church Fathers like St. Jerome. However, these deuterocanonical books have been quoted in the letters of the Church Fathers from the earliest centuries of the Church and appeared in the official canonical lists in the West from the time of the Roman Synod of 382 AD. Even Protestant reformer Martin Luther did not discard these texts from his first German language Old Testament translation, even though he disliked them and spoke against them along with the New Testament letters of St. James, the Letter to the Hebrews, and the Book of Revelation. He did, however, not dare to discard these books which had been included in the holy canon of the Church since the 4th century AD, but placed the 7 deuterocanonical books between the Old and New Testaments. Later Protestant translations, however, rejected these 7 Old Testament books.
In addition to the 7 disputed deuterocanonical books included in the 3 oldest copies of the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, some later versions contained books and additions that are no longer included in the canon of the Catholic Church. During the Council of Trent in the 16th century AD the Catholic Church affirmed her adherence to the deuterocanonical texts included in earlier versions of the Septuagint but rejected "other books" as non-canonical. Since the canon was not "set" from the 3 century BC into the earliest Christian centuries, books written in Greek and Aramaic continued to be written and to be accepted by the religious communities of Jews and Christians. These designated "Apocryphal" books were dropped as not Holy Spirit inspired. A few of these books which were popular in the 1st century AD include:
Certain books written by
early Church Fathers were also excluded as not inspired but worthy of study and
reflection like the Proto-Evangelium or Gospel of St. James, the Epistles
of St. Clement, the Shepherd of Hermes, and others. For a complete
list of the canonical books of the Roman Catholic Church see Dogmatic Canons
and Decrees: Of the Council of Trent and Vatican Council I, pages 8-9 and The
Catechism of the Catholic Church # 120.
The earliest official lists of the canon of the Catholic Church were compiled in Church councils in the 4th century AD:
Council of Laodicea (c. 360)A local council of the church in union with Rome. This council produced a list of books of the Bible. This was one of the Church's earliest decisions on a canon. This local church council under the authority of Pope Damasus, (366-384) gave a complete list of canonical books of the Old and New Testaments which is identical with the list the Council of Trent reaffirmed in the 16th century.
Council of Hippo (393)
This local North African Church council in union with and under the authority of the Bishop of Rome approved a list of Old Testament and New Testament canon (same as was later approved by the Council of Trent).
Council of Carthage (397)
This local North African Church council in union with and under the authority of the Bishop of Rome approved the list of Old Testament and New Testament canon of the two previous councils (which were the same as later approved by the Council of Trent)
The Discovery of the Samaritan Pentateuch
The third of the most ancient Old Testament texts [in addition to the Septuagint and Masoretic Texts] is known as the Samaritan Pentateuch. In 1616 an Italian nobleman named Pietro della Valle acquired in his travels to the ancient Near East a copy of the Samaritan Pentateuch. Pietro della Valle was an adventuresome and eclectic collector who is also credited with introducing the Persian cat breed into Europe. The Samaritan Pentateuch only includes in its canon the first 5 books of the Old Testament which are attributed to Moses. It is the sacred book of the Samaritans, a group of forced immigrants to the Levant in the 8th century BC who intermarried with the remnants of Israelites who had not been exiled by the Assyrians [2 Kings 17:5-6, 24-41]. The original collection of five different tribal peoples adopted their own unique version of the worship of Yahweh sometime between the late 8th and 6th century BC and, with the permission of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, built a Temple on Mt. Gerizim, near Shechem [modern Nablus] in Samaria, a city which had been one of the early capitals of the Kingdom of Northern Israel.
Della Valle's ancient re-discovered copy of the Samaritan Pentateuch is believed to date to the pre-Christian era. His discovery renewed interest among scholars in this ancient version of the Pentateuch and in the study of its similarities and variances with the Masoretic text and the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. This version of the first 5 books of Moses is used by the small but still existing branch of Samaritans who worshiped Yahweh in what is today known as the "West Bank" of Palestine. The Samaritan Pentateuch has passages that differ from the Masoretic translation. Some of these differences reflect theological disputes; for example, the Hebrew Old Testament indicates that Jerusalem is the place chosen by God as a home for his name, and the Samaritan Pentateuch identifies Mt. Gerizim as the place God has chosen. Jesus rebuked the Samaritan woman in the Gospel of St. John 4:19-22 when He told her that she [and her people] worshiped what she did not understand.
However, there are other variants found in the Samaritan Pentateuch which are at odds with the Masoretic text but which are in agreement with the Greek Septuagint translation [LXX]. To further complicate the issue of which are the most reliable ancient texts of the Old Testament, the discovery and translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contains every book of the Old Testament in part or whole, with the exception of the Book of Esther, revealed that these texts of sacred Scripture, dating from 250BC to 68AD, are in some cases in more agreement with the Septuagint translation and the Samaritan Pentateuch than with the Masoretic version.
Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls [DSS], Biblical scholars regarded the Masoretic Text as the most reliable Old Testament text but evidence from the agreement between the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the DSS indicate that not only was the Greek Septuagint translation based on much earlier pre-Incarnation Hebrew texts but that the Masoretic texts were indeed in some instances altered. Often the variants between different Bible book versions concern the interpretation of Hebrew idioms into the Greek or other such changes that reflect the changed meaning of words over time, but there are also significant differences between the Masoretic texts and the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible texts where a whole phrase or the concept of passages reflect differences, as in Psalm 40 for example [in the Septuagint this is Psalms 39:7-9]. Still these incidents are few and are mostly those in which vowel placement can change the meaning of a word but others are like the variant in Psalm 40, which in the Septuagint clearly points to the Incarnation of Christ. On the whole, all the various translations show remarkable uniformity in content and in the concept of the One True God. The editors of the New American Catholic Study Bible commented on the Bible texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating between the 3rd century BC and the 1st century AD and other translations from a later date: The discovery of biblical texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls rolled back the age of extant biblical manuscripts several centuries. Surprisingly, although some variants exist, there is still remarkable correspondence between the state of the biblical text in the first century BC and the third or fourth century AD, testimony to the accuracy and care with which ancient peoples handed on the biblical tradition [The Catholic Study Bible: New American Bible, Oxford University Press, 1990, page RG6].
Concerning the role of the Samaritan Pentateuch, most biblical scholars see this translation as an invaluable link in determining the evolution of the biblical text, while most Jewish rabbis reject the Samaritan Pentateuch because it is written not in Greek or even in Aramaic but in an obscure paleo-Hebrew script. Of the three most ancient Old Testament texts, the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch pre-date the advent of Christ; the Masoretic text cannot make that claim. Prior to the discovery of the Samaritan Pentateuch the Septuagint was considered by many Protestant Bible scholars to be less reliable than the Masoretic Old Testament translation because there were so many Septuagint passages that did not agree with the Hebrew Masoretic version Bible translation. However, as soon as copies of the Samaritan Pentateuch were made available to Bible scholars it was discovered that there were variants found in the Samaritan Pentateuch which were at odds with the Masoretic text but which agreed with the Septuagint. To further complicate the issue concerning which were the best ancient texts of the Old Testament, the discovery and translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of ancient scrolls written on leather [there are some fragments on papyrus] and which contains every book of the Old Testament in part or whole and in multiple copies with the exception of the Book of Esther, revealed that these texts of sacred Scripture dating from 250BC to 68AD agree more with the Septuagint translation and the Samaritan Pentateuch than with the Masoretic translation. In the 17th century a monumental multi-volume work on the Samaritan Pentateuch was published to which Biblical scholar Cassellus appended in volume #6 a collation of 6,000 variants between the Masoretic text of the Old Testament and the Samaritan Pentateuch. He found that 1,900 agreed with the Septuagint translation [The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5: "Samaritan Pentateuch", "Samaritans," pages 932-947; "Septuagint," pages 1093-1104].
Until the discovery of the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Dead Sea Scrolls [DSS], Biblical scholars accepted the Masoretic Text as the most reliable Old Testament translation. However, evidence from the agreement between the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Old Testament texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls has convinced many scholars that not only was the Septuagint based on earlier Hebrew texts but that the Masoretic texts were indeed altered; a claim which Catholic scholars had made for centuries. To Biblical scholars this issue has challenged the perception that the Masoretic text was the hebraica veritas, the unchanging "Hebrew truth" it was believed to be. Scholars began to consider that some of the variations in the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch may preserve a more ancient and a more original Old Testament text [see "The Most Original Bible Text", Ronald Hendel, Bible Review, August 2000, page 30].
The Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls
In 1947 cashes of ancient manuscripts were discovered in 11 caves along the cliffs of the northern end of the Dead Sea. This collection of what will probably prove to be 1,000 volumes of text when they are finally all transcribed, are known as The Dead Sea Scrolls [DSS]. Discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls, which included all books in part or whole copies of the Old Testament books, commentaries on Sacred Scripture, and secular documents relating to the community located near the caves, there were also Greek Septuagint translations which included copies of the books of the Old Testament included in Catholic Bibles today. Several copies of the Septuagint found among the Dead Sea Scrolls on leather scrolls date from the 2nd century BC to the early 1st century AD, while other earlier copies were found on fragments of papyri which date to the 2nd or early 3rd century BC. The seven deuterocanonical books which are included in Catholic Bibles but which are missing from Jewish and Protestant Bibles are included among the scrolls discovered [The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, James VanderKam and Peter Flint, Harper-San Francisco, 2002, page 97]. These precious scrolls were hidden in caves near a settlement close to the Dead Sea which scholars and archaeologists refer to as "Qumran". The settlement was abandoned circa 68AD during second year of the First Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire, which began in 66AD [see endnote # 2]. With the discovery of the DSS and the copies of the deuterocanonical texts found among them, a number of prominent Protestant biblical scholars have conceded that these texts should no longer be excluded from the Protestant and Jewish Old Testament canons. Among this minority of evangelical Protestant scholars who have called for a reassessment of the place of these books in the canon is Hartmut Gese, who boldly asserts the deuterocanonical texts are essential to understanding the New Testament documents: "One simply cannot, to name only one example, understand John 1 without Sir [Ecclesiasticus] 24." [ Alttestamentliche Studien, H. Gese (Tübingcn, 1991) p. 27, quoted by Martin Hengel in The Septuagint as Christian Scripture. Its Prehistory and the Problem of its Canon, transl. Mark E. Biddle (Edinburgh & New York: T &T Clark, 2002), page 110 and Henri Blocher, "Helpful or Harmful? The Apocrypha and Evangelical Theology," European Journal of Theology 13.2 (2004): 81-90].
Some Examples of the Variations between the Masoretic and
In Hebrews 10:5b-7 the inspired writer quotes directly from the Septuagint translation of Psalms 39:7-9 [Psalm 40:7-9a in modern English translations; verses 6-8 in some translations]. If you read Psalm 40:7-9a [40:6-8] in most modern Bibles you will find that the Old Testament translation may be different from the quotation of the same passage in Hebrews chapter 10: 5b-7; a quotation which is taken from the Septuagint. Most modern Bible translations of the Old Testament are taken from the Jewish Masoretic text of 1525AD [textus receptus]'unfortunately, even some Catholic Bible translations make use of this translation. Significant differences are found in the phrase "but a body you prepared (fashioned) for me" between the Septuagint and Masoretic translations of Psalm 40:6-8 [39:7-9 in the Septuagint] and in the same passage quoted from the Septuagint in Hebrews 10:5-7 in the New Testament which is in agreement with the Septuagint version. Please notice that in the Masoretic version the reference alluding to the Messiah is completely missing. It is because of the prophetic reference to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ that the inspired writer of Hebrews quotes from this Old Testament passage:
Masoretic from the Jewish Tanach
Quoted in The Letter to the Hebrews (New American Catholic Bible translation)
|Sacrifice and offering you did not want, but you dug ears for me; whole burnt offerings (holocausts) and sin offerings you did not request. Then I said, "Behold, I have come, it is written about me, in the scroll of the book. To do your will, O my God, I delight."||Sacrifice and offering you did not want, but you fashioned a body for me; whole burnt offerings (holocausts) and sin offerings you did not request. Then I said, "Behold, I have come, it is written about me in the head of the book. I desire to do your will, O my God.||Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocausts (whole burnt offerings) and sin offerings you took no delight in. Then I said, "As it written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do you will, O God...'"|
(The Anchor Bible Commentary: Hebrews, Craig R. Koester, Doubleday, New York, 2001; page 432).
The second type of textual variation in translation is found when certain Hebrew words are interpreted differently according to vowel placement. The inspired writer quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 from the Septuagint in Hebrews 12:5-6:
Masoretic from Jewish Tanach
Quoted in The Letter to the Hebrews (New American Catholic Bible translation)
My child (literally = son),
do not despise (distain)
the Lord's discipline,
and do not despise
(lose heart) His reproof, for the Lord admonishes (instructs) the one whom he loves as a father the son in whom he delights.
|My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for the Lord instructs the one whom he loves and chastises every son whom he receives.||My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges [chastises] every son he acknowledges [receives].|
(The Anchor Bible Commentary: Hebrews, Craig R. Koester, Doubleday, New York, 2001; page 526).
The slight differences between the Septuagint and New Testament passages are not in the Greek but in the interpretation of the English translation; likewise the slight word differences in the opening phrase of the Masoretic text are due to the translator's choice of words. However, there is a significant difference between the Greek Septuagint version and Jewish Masoretic translation in Proverbs 3 verse12 [seen in bold print]. In this case, however, the differences stem from a difference in interpreting the placement of the vowels in the Hebrew text. Vowels were not included in the original Hebrew, which was written only in consonants. The Masoretic scholars added the vowels to the Hebrew text, which in some cases changed the meaning of the word from the Greek translation.
The difference occurs in the Hebrew word k'b. The Jewish scholars who translated the Hebrew into Greek circa the 3rd century BC took the consonants k'b as a form of the Hebrew verb ka'eb, which has to do with inflicting pain or punishment while the Massoretic scholars of the 8th century AD interpreted the consonants to be indicating the word ke, which means "as" and 'ab, which is the Hebrew word for "father." In this case, unlike the Hebrews 10:5-7 quote of Psalm 40:6-8 (38:7-9 in the Septuagint), the meaning of the passage has not been significantly altered. Because He loves us, He disciplines us. His chastisements are meant to be a lesson so that we will reform our lives before the Day of Judgment: Deuteronomy 8:5-6: So you must realize that the LORD, your God, disciplines you even as a man disciplines his son. Therefore, keep the commandments of the LORD, your God, by walking in his ways and fearing him. [see The Anchor Bible Commentary: Hebrews, Craig R. Koester, Doubleday, New York, 2001, chapters 10 and 12; pages 432-526].
Why do these texts have these major variations? Is it because the Massoretic text, which has proved to be younger than the more ancient Septuagint translation transcribed from older pre-Incarnation Hebrew texts, has altered the original translation which is a clear reference to the Incarnation of the Christ and His submission to the will of God in His self-sacrifice?
The Septuagint manuscripts found near Qumran as well as the Septuagint manuscript discovered at the cave of Nahal Hever [dated to the period of the Second Jewish Revolt in 132AD] are the oldest discovered copies of the Septuagint. Compared to the 4th and 5th century Septuagint copies and compared with the Hebrew texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as to the modern Jewish and Protestants Old Testament translations, the Dead Sea Scrolls have revealed that in many cases the Catholic version of the Old Testament is more accurate than the Jewish or Protestant versions (The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, James VanderKam and Peter Flint, Harper-San Francisco, 2002pages 100-101; see endnote 12). Many Protestant Bibles publishers, whose Old Testament text was taken from the Masoretic text, have made changes in their recent editions that reflects the older variations in the Dead Sea Scrolls Old Testament Bible texts, or at least lists the variants in the footnotes [the exception is the publications of the 17th century King James versions which some Protestants regard as an inspired translation]. Jewish publishing companies, however, have failed to make the changes to reflect the variations at odds between the Masoretic text and ancient Bible texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls [DSS] 'regarding the 1525AD textus receptus as an inspired translation. The refusal to accept as more accurate the Bible texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls is astonishing. This is a collection which has multiple Old Testament texts which can be compared for accuracy, dating from texts as ancient as 250BC to texts no later than 68AD. The oldest copies of the Dead Sea Scrolls Old Testament texts predate the oldest copies of the Massoretic texts by almost 1000 years!
THE TOP 10 OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE BOOKS FOUND AMONG THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS:
|BIBLE BOOK||NUMBERS OF COPIES|
|8. Minor Prophets||8|
List provided by Professor James of Yale University, Dead Sea Scroll Conference, 2000. This list differs slightly with the list provided by Drs. VanderKam and Flint on page 148 in The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, James VanderKam and Peter Flint, Harper-San Francisco, 2002. Each of their numbers for the DSS books are slightly higher by one or two copies, which may reflect additional books being identified from among the scroll fragments. See endnote 13.
The Catholic Church Identifies the Inspired Tests of the Biblical Canon
When the persecution of Christians ended with the 313AD Edict of Milan and the Roman Empire's recognition of Christianity as an official religion protected by the law of the Empire, Catholic scholars began to concentrate on the question of an established canon of Sacred Scripture. By 367AD St. Athanasius of Alexandria published for the first time the definitive list, including the 27 books that we know today as the New Testament. These are the ones, he said; let no one add to them or take anything away from them. St. Athanasius's canon was greeted with enthusiasm and was accepted with the approval of the Church. It was adopted by Pope St. Damasus I in the "Decretal of Gelasius" in 382AD, and it was confirmed by every subsequent council that took up the question of the official canon. In 419AD, Christian scholars from all over the world came together at the Second Council of Carthage and again confirmed the canon we have today which consists of 46 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books that form the official canon of the Catholic Church. Pope Boniface adopted this approved canon officially by Papal decree. As for the churches of the East, in 692 AD in the Council of Trullo set the Eastern rite cannon [which included the 7 books dropped by the Jewish and Protestant canons]. Finally, in the great council which was the response to the heresies promoted in the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent in 1546 reaffirmed the Catholic canon of the 73 books found in Catholic Bibles today (see Documents of the Council of Trent: Session IV, Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures).
The Catholic Church has updated the language of her Old Testament and New Testament translations when necessary but has never changed its substance. The Old Testament texts of the New Jerusalem Bible, the New American Bible, and other Catholic translations are materially the same as they were when Christ read them Himself and the Church's attitude toward them is the same as that stated by Pope St. Leo the Great fifteen centuries ago: In the area of moral precepts, no decrees of the earlier Testament are rejected; rather, in the Gospel teaching many of them are augmented, so that the things that give salvation might be more perfectly and more lucid than those that promise a Savior.
Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls many Biblical scholars believed that the text of the Hebrew Bible was not fixed until the 10th century AD by the Masoretic scholars working in Germany. It was believed that texts which varied with the Masoretic version were due to scribal error. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has caused Biblical scholars to reassess that theory. Most scholars now consider there to have been more that one textual "family." For example most Biblical scholars now reason that the variations in the Masoretic text must have come from a pre-Masoretic family of texts, which the Septuagint family of texts came from another tradition and the Samaritan Pentateuch from a pre-Samaritan family of texts for the Pentateuch. This theory ignores the possibility of deliberate tampering with the Biblical text. Any change in the text of Sacred Scripture would have to be a deliberate act, unless it was an accidental dropping of a passage by an under vigilant scribe or a disputed translation of the Hebrews consonants into another language. Deuteronomy 4:2 clearly declares it a violation of the covenant to either add to or to take away from the Sacred words of God [a warning repeated in Revelation 22:18-19] and the Dead Sea Scrolls show Biblical texts which carry in the margins the corrections made by the scribal supervisors which bear silent witness to the care given to faithfully transcribe the "sacred words of God". To support the theory of variants in textual families gives validity to all the 3 major variations and is political correct, but is it the truth? The Samaritans had a clear political and religious motivation for changing their Biblical text of the Pentateuch to support the creation of a Temple on Mt. Gerizim as opposed to the Temple in Jerusalem. This is more than a simply variation. This is a definitive break with the other text. Also, how does one establish a pre-Masoretic tradition since the DSS Hebrew manuscripts are all written only in consonants without vowels or vowel points? The majority of the variations between the Masoretic text and the Septuagint occur with the addition of the vowel points to the Hebrew which changes the meaning of certain words as they are translated in the Greek Septuagint. Wouldn't the Hebrew scholars from the 3rd century BC to the 1 century AD who transcribed the sacred text into Greek have a better understanding of the literal meaning of the Hebrew text than Jews in the 2nd century AD to the end of the Middle Ages?
It is true that the Dead Sea Scrolls show that there was no fixed canon in the first century AD. A core of authoritative books was accepted by all Jews as Sacred Scripture which include the Torah [Pentateuch], the Prophets and the Psalms [although a 151 Psalms was found among the DSS]. After these books, however, the books of the accepted canon are not clear. The books of Enoch and Jubilees seem to have had Scriptural authority at Qumran while it is not clear that the historical books of 1 & 2 Chronicles may not have had such authority. The Book of Esther was not found at Qumran and therefore it seems reasonable to assume that it did not have Scriptural authority, nor did the community celebrate the festival of Purim which is associated with the Book of Esther (Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2007, page 50). It would seem, Dead Sea Scroll scholars tell us, that the current books of the Old Testament canon did not have authority until at least the late first century AD.
Dead Sea Scroll scholars believe they have discovered many ancient Hebrew texts among the DSS manuscripts which are the base text for the Greek Septuagint translations, including a text of 1st and 2nd Samuel knows as 4QSama. In Hershel Shank's article 4QSama'The Difficult Life of a Dead Sea Scroll, a review of Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, Volume XVII, Qumran Cave 4'XII, 1-2 Samuel, in Biblical Archaeological Review, May/June 2007, he writes: Texts like 4QSama show is that the Septuagintal translations are really quite reliable. This gives new authority to the Greek translations against the Masoretic text. As Cross* has written, "We could scarcely hope to find closer agreement between the Old Greek [Septuagintal] tradition and 4QSama than actually is found in our fragments." [*Shank quoting Biblical scholar Frank Moore Cross].
Both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism emerged out of the chaos of the first century AD, the one planted in the blood of Jesus of Nazareth circa 30AD and the other rising from the blood of the million Jews killed during the Jewish revolt against Rome. Both movements came from the same ethnic people and emerged out of the same holy soil under the same Judean sun but with very different visions of God's ultimate plan of salvation for mankind. The sacred books with which the Jewish and Christian Bibles end the Old Testament reflect this significant theological difference. The Hebrew Bible ends with the books of the histories of Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles, thus culminating with the message of the return to the Promise Land of Israel after the Babylonian Exile in remembrance of God's covenant promises to Abraham. The Christian Old Testament, however, ends with the book of the post-exile prophet Malachi. Malachi's message is not of the fulfillment of a promised return from exile but is filled with accusations of a broken covenant, with prophecies of judgment, and promises of the coming Messianic Age. And how does the New Testament end? The Christian New Testament ends with the return of Jesus Christ, the climax of human history, the de-creation of the earth and the establishment of the heavenly New Jerusalem and the eternal Kingdom of Jesus Christ, in essence the Christian New Testament ends with the fulfillment of the promises God made in both the Old and New Testaments.
Michal Hunt, October 1998
Revised August 2001;
Revised June 2004;
Revised March 2005;
Revised June 2007
Also see the document The Catholic Church and the Bible in the Documents/ Scripture Study section of Agape Bible Study.