Inspiration and Ancient Texts

(Posted by Paige)

Here is another question along the theme of speaking to curious laypeople about inspiration and ancient texts: How would you go about describing the differences between certain passages in the LXX and MT in terms of the doctrine of inspiration? Again, the complexity of the process of inspiration is certainly in view, here involving multiple Hebrew versions and the work of translators. I am wondering what we can fairly say about diversity among OT texts that is in keeping with an orthodox doctrine of inspiration?

Is it fair to say, for example, that if I am reading the Septuagint I am reading the inspired text of the OT? Or is it just to be considered a translation, with editorial changes (i.e., redactions that do not come under the umbrella of inspiration)? — But if the latter, were the NT writers not reading the inspired OT? (Not to mention us, since we read translations too!)

What of the different versions of the Hebrew Bible that apparently existed before the LXX was made, and which may account for some of the differences between LXX and MT? Must we assume or posit that any one version, Hebrew or Greek, was “more inspired” than another? Or might we use the analogy of multiple Gospels, and the unity-in-diversity that we see between scenes in the Synoptics, to make sense of the differences?

For those of you with some knowledge in this area, how often and to what degree do the LXX and MT vary? I am entering into these questions via one particular portal, the book of Hebrews, so I do not yet have a sense of the big textual picture.

I would love recommended resources on this subject, too, if you have any to suggest. My “curious laypeople” will probably not want to venture much past their study Bible notes, but I can be a bridge to them for some of these more complicated ideas.



  1. JWDS said,

    November 29, 2012 at 11:36 am

    It might be necessary to talk about inspiration overall first. Some folks do not have a very nuanced view of that process. Some time ago, I was teaching a SS class on Matthew, and was discussing his genealogy, speaking in terms of “Matthew’s intent” in shaping the text. A longtime member of our church was so offended by this way of speaking, claiming that I was denying the HS authorship of the text, that she never returned to SS while I was teaching that class.

    So, if even talking about a human author causes problems for someone, the challenge of multiple versions (e.g., of Jeremiah) or of the use of non-inspired sources might be too much for them at that point.

    Question: how do some of the systematics discuss inspiration? Is it a subset of the doctrine of Providence? That might be a good way to go about it, since the Doctrine of Scripture focuses more on the nature of the product, i.e. the authoritative book, while Providence is all about process, about how God’s plan unfolds in history.

  2. John Harutunian said,

    November 29, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Page, here’s an observation by someone who’s very much a lay person (and an Anglican at that!), but it might prove useful.

    As everyone knows, the account of Jesus’ healing the lame man by the pool in John 5 has a non-canonical insertion. When I was growing up, the passage always bothered me; I’d be thinking, “Why should the pushiest person always be the one to get healing?” Subsequently I of course learned that the part about the angel coming down to stir the water periodically (and the first person to then step in being healed) is a later addition.
    So, while I’m big on church tradition, there’s obviously a line which must be drawn between it and the sacred text. One possible approach would be to consider the former to have persuasive authority, and the latter compelling authority.

  3. JeffB said,

    November 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    I would recommend reading Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho in which he discusses the many problems with the Hebrew version as compared with the Septuagint, which was the text used by the church. He makes numerous specific claims about the Jews deliberately altering texts or making them vague in order to combat Christian ideas.

    Incidentally, this also connects with the earlier post on the Apocrypha. It was part of the Septuagint, it was used by rabbis and many NT passages reference it so it seems that Jewish rejection of the Apocrypha was more about making a separation with Christians. The early church fathers referred to it as inspired in the same way they refer to Protestant canonical books as inspired. My point is simply to say that I think the LXX/MT differences question is related to Jewish vs Early church views on the Apocrypha.


  4. CD-Host said,

    November 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm


    I don’t really have opinions on the issues related to inspiration that are relevant. First a few facts:

    1) In general when the MT and the LXX differ substantially and the NT quotes it leans on the LXX much more often. For many books 100% of the time. Though it should be noted that sometimes the NT is agreeing with neither the LXX as it exists today nor the MT.

    2) The MT is much later than the LXX. We have strong evidence of excellent preservation of the Hebrew, but we do see changes when we compare older Hebrew versions to modern ones. We do not have prefect preservation. Moreover there are verses like 1 Samuel 13:1 where we can be reasonable sure the only versions we have are corrupted and this corruption goes back as far as the textual record.


    In terms of the question of the quality. I’d say the LXX is a high quality dynamic translation. The authors had their theological biases and Hebrew and Greek aren’t a perfect fit. It varies as much as say the NLT and the Hebrew vary which is quite good by ancient standards. The LXX authors had access to a great deal more direct knowledge of a culture that was less distant so I think their opinion is always worth taking under advisement.


    In terms of the doctrine of translation, these are the 5 I’m most familiar with:

    All translation is a commentary on the original. The purpose of a translation is to help someone understand the original in line with how one would read a commentary (call this the Jewish / Muslim position).

    Translation is an attempt to capture the ideas of the original. Because ideas don’t exist in a vacuum one needs to quite often make the translation less accurate so as to avoid “misunderstandings” which are a result of the new host language and / or come from lack of context (call this the Lutheran position).

    Translation is an attempt to capture the ideas and/or the wording of the original as understood by the church historically. Word level accuracy is to be considered preferable to phrasal accuracy but not at the expense of creating ambiguity regarding ancient heresies (call this the Conservative Protestant position).

    Translation should aim for the most accurate rendering possible at some predetermined unchanging level, be it word, phrase or paragraph. While church history can influence between otherwise equal choices the original should be held as superior to the understanding of the church (call this the Liberal Protestant position).

    Translation should aim to capture as best as possible the original intent of the writer as it would have been understood by contemporaneous readers. Word level accuracy should only give way to phrase level when absolutely needed to avoid problems in the new host language. Church history is likely to distort the original understanding and we need to deconstruct the translational tradition to find where “Orthodox corruption” in meaning has occurred. (call this the New school position).

  5. Michael said,

    November 29, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    I most likely will be forced to the back of the class to sit on a stool wearing a dunce cap face facing tight into the corner nose touching, by the following, but I’ll take the risk!

    8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?
    9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
    10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome,
    11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

    I read something recently that made sense to me. The writer wrote that reading the Bible is like reading no other book in that it is the only book one can read with the Author always present when reading it!

    This truism it seems is captured in this verse: Acts 20:32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

    What seems important to me I suppose then is that the person reading whichever translation is full of His Faith when reading it praying to God who is very able to impart what needs to be imparted so His intent is understood when or after reading His Word.

    I’m sure this is way too simplistic and nuanced to boot? In any event what strikes out at me by the verses cited from Acts two in that ESV translation is that phrase “8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?”

    Who only could such a thing as that but the Spirit of God?

    As we know there is a sure reason historically for the Scriptures being written in Greek from Genesis to the Revelation to John.

    Today some native languages have fewer words than others. But the Word of God is still translated in native language and the Spirit of Grace is still imparting His understanding and people are still being elected and tranformed!

    I certainly am not one to tell God who He enlightens and gives understanding to especially in light of these two passages:

    Phil 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
    21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

    10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
    11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

  6. JWDS said,

    November 29, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    It’s actually something of a misnomer to talk about “the” LXX. Unless we hold to the tradition laid out in the Letter to Aristarchus, it doesn’t look like the Greek translations of the OT were made at the same time, or by the same translators. It’s certainly an oversimplification to make one monolithic evaluation of the quality of “the” LXX translation. Some books are more wooden in their translation, some are more dynamic, some are better, some are worse (e.g., in Judges, the term for “womb” is translated as “mercy,” since the Hebrew three-letter root is the same, but this results in near-nonsense in the passage).

    As for sources to read, Silva & Jobes is very good. Martin Hengel’s work is highly recommended, but I haven’t read it yet…

    And I find CD’s classification unhelpful. It might be better to give names from widely-used translations (NIV, RSV, ESV, etc.), rather than just somewhat prejudicial names vaguely related to different sects or religions. I would consider myself a conservative protestant (or, better, historic protestant), but I do not consider the translation position labeled “Conservative Protestant” to be the best summary of my own view, nor the view of the more conservative Presbyterian churches. Actually, except for the gratuitous, fallacious assumption of the last sentence, I would consider the so-called “New School position” closest to mine and to the Presbyterian churches. That’s if I had to choose. I actually encourage students or other to read several different types of translations in parallel, if they aren’t going to learn the original language. So, I’d recommend reading the AV for one reason, the Message or TNIV for another, an Amplified version for another, and a literal translation for another.

  7. CD-Host said,

    November 29, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    JWDS —

    I’m not saying anything terrible controversial here.

    Jewish / Muslim position = most Jewish bibles. From an Orthodox Chumash to the JPS study bible

    Lutheran = NIV, NLT2e, NET…
    Cons Prot = ESV.
    Lib Prot = GNB, NEB, REB, CEB

    New School = Andy Gaus. Robert Price. Pagel’s translations i her various books. Schmithals (student of Bultmann), Taylor.

  8. November 29, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    You might find this useful:

  9. November 29, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    Since only the original Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the Old Testament books were written under divine inspiration – no, the LXX is not to be considered inspired, any more than the ESV (or any other English translation) is to be considered inspired. The same principle applies to the New Testament, of course.

  10. paigebritton said,

    November 29, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Richard —
    Okay, so do the quotations from the LXX “become” inspired as soon as they are penned by the NT writers? I don’t mean to be facetious with this question, just trying to reconcile what you’ve said with some of the intro phrases of Hebrews (e.g., “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,” before quoting Ps. 94 of LXX in 3:7ff; or the doozy in 1:6, the quotation from Deut. 32:43 LXX, prefaced by “he says”). This writer is pretty clearly treating that text as God-breathed.

  11. paigebritton said,

    November 29, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    JWDS —
    great point, about the variety and diverse sources of “the” LXX translation(s). But what else could we call it? It was apparently a known literary entity by NT times, anyway, yes?

  12. Stephen said,

    November 30, 2012 at 8:50 am

    Richard (9),

    So, what do you do in the case of a book like Jeremiah? In that case we have evidence that the MT (our Hebrew version from which most English translations are based upon) is a deliberate reworking and re-arranging of an earlier and shorter Hebrew text that “the LXX” of Jeremiah is based upon. In other words, what we frequently call “the LXX” of Jeremiah is not a translation of the MT, but a different and earlier Hebrew text. We have also found parts of this other Hebrew text at Qumran.

  13. Andrew McCallum said,

    November 30, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Okay, so do the quotations from the LXX “become” inspired as soon as they are penned by the NT writers?

    Hi Paige,

    Hope it’s OK if I interject sometime here. In our church and no doubt in yours too, the pastor will often preface a reading from the Scriptures by telling the congregation that this is the very Word of God, is without error, etc. And this is true, but strictly speaking it is only the original autographs that are inspired. Every translation has some issue with it, there is no absolutely flawless translation. This is true of the LXX or the KJV or any other translation.

    When the NT quotes something it is absolutely true, but it does not matter where the quote came from. In the NT there are quotes from the different translations of the Bible, but also from pagan and apocryphal sources as well. The fact that the NT quotes a work or text does not make that work correct in its entirety. The fact that the LXX is quoted in the NT does not mean that the LXX is inspired anymore than the fact that Book of Enoch is quoted in Jude mean that Enoch is inspired.

  14. Andrew McCallum said,

    November 30, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    But I should add that the LXX is a translation of the Word of God (minus Apocrypha of course) and should be treated as the Word of God. In that looser sense the LXX is inspired. But God did not inspire the translating work of the Jews who translated the Hebrew into Greek for a Greek speaking world anymore than he inspired the translating work of the KJV translation committees when they translated the Hebrew/Greek for an English speaking world.

  15. John Harutunian said,

    November 30, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Andrew, I agree with most of what you say. But Paige still has a point: Was the original assertion of propositional truth uniquely inspired by God -even in the context of its uninspired source?

    It’s hard to see how a statement can “become” inspired over a period of time.

  16. JWDS said,

    November 30, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Paige, I don’t know that there was one set literary work. As is being discussed in the Apocrypha & Canon thread, the Scriptures were cited by section (Moses/Law, Prophets, Writings) or by book. I don’t see any distinction in the NT between a Hebrew original and a Greek translation, so I don’t know that what we mean by “the LXX” was an existing concept in the day.

  17. Andrew McCallum said,

    November 30, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    John – Why couldn’t statement become inspired, so as to speak? That is, what of the fact that God can pull in propositions from even pagan sources and declare them to be true via inspiring someone to quote the proposition? It seems to me that the proposition would “become” inspired.

  18. Cris Dickason said,

    November 30, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Hey Paige… I’m going to jump right into a couple of thoughts, as I saw this topic Thursday; then found myself thinking about as I perused some random pages in a book I just received (Paul and Scripture by Steve Moyise)…

    “The Septuagint” is something of an anachronism or modern construct when we (including me) loosely toss it around, as in “Paul’s use of/familiarity with the LXX,” etc.

    What do I mean: well, the various Greek translations of the various Israelite/Jewish literature (Scripture and other documents) did not exist and circulate as a single, unified collection until sometime in the Christian era. “The LXX” was most likely not a single codex (single bound collection) during the days of the Apostles.

    Jewish literature of all varieties was translated into Greek because (Alexander the Great…) Greek was the language of literature of the “western world.” Look at our factor of the NT Canon: Greek was the dominant language of the Roman Empire.

    So when pressured (constantly) by external forces (Hellenistic and Imperial Roman culture & politics), Jews sought to put their literature into a language that might foster understanding and tolerance at the least for unique Jewish identity and existence. Recall that the Macabbean (sp?) wars were fought to resist Hellenization and assimilation.

    So Jewish documents and Israel’s Scripture were alike translated into Greek at various times. Eventually one or two recensions of families of Greek writings coalesced into “The LXX” – a collection of Jewish writings in translation.

    It was all a pragmatic thing, in a good sense. The Greco-Roman empire was not going to learn classic Hebrew/Imperial Aramaic in order to read the Jewish/Israelite religious writings. It was pragmatic & strategic in good sense. Just as we have English, Dutch, French, Korean, Arabic, etc, etc, translations today.

    “The LXX” – which, as I stated, did not really exist in our usual sense before Jamnia for instance – was not favored above the Hebrew/Aramaic originals of Law/Prophets/Writings or considered more authoritative, it was just the handy-dandy rendering into a more widely used language.

    So the whole question of how to approach it is as a translation. In so far as “The LXX” matches the Hebrew original it is good and has spiritual authority from God to compel our thoughts and deeds to submit to the Lord speaking in His word. No different from the NASB, the ESV, the NIV, etc.

    Just some quick thoughts from a linguistics student/M.Div. guy who also majored in History back when there was less of it to master, and used to play Hebrew Scrabble in the WTS Bookstore office: Hey there, lurking in South Carolina!

    Have a great weekend. My youngest is getting married tomorrow and I better get back to chores!


  19. Cris Dickason said,

    November 30, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    By “jump right in” mean that I haven’t read everyone’s comments on this post. If I’ve repeated someone’s points – it is independent testimony of similar ideas.

  20. John Harutunian said,

    November 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Andrew -Yes God could pull in a proposition from a pagan source and declare it to be true. He indeed does so with two such sources in Acts 17:28. But I wouldn’t say that He “inspired” Paul to quote the sources, but simply assured him that the propositions were true.

    I think the question is: Were they “God-breathed” in their original pagan contexts?

  21. November 30, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    Paige: Let me echo what Andrew said (#13 and #14). Is it also possible that the OT and NT writers had a “looser” or more informal view of inspiration than we have? For example, in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul makes distinctions between God’s Word and his own opinion. I imagine that his original readers might, in fact, have taken Paul’s personal view (1 Corinthians 7.6-7, 12-16) as being, in fact, his personal view, and felt free to either accept it or discard it. On the other hand, when Paul says that what he writes is the Lord’s Word (1 Corinthians 7.10-11), that makes it “set in stone.”

    However, for us today, with our official, formulated doctrine of inspiration, everything in 1 Corinthians 7 is regarded as the Word of God written and as being inerrant and infallible in the originals. Or are we also free, as they were long ago (apparently), to accept those verses expressing Paul’s personal opinion as just his personal opinion on a take-it-or-leave-it basis?

  22. John Harutunian said,

    November 30, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    Richard, I agree. But I’d point out verse 25 (of I Corinthians 7), where Paul writes that concerning virgins, he has “no command of the Lord.” Which I think says something about his teachings elsewhere! (Except for the two passages you mentioned, where he explicitly acknowledges that he’s just giving his own perspective.)

    But I will say this to qualify my post #20: It’s possible that God
    “breathes” more forcefully at some times than at others. And I’d just invite everyone to construe this in whatever sense may be felt most legitimate.

  23. michael said,

    November 30, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    Cris D,

    I personally like where you are going with your comments on when the LXX was written and why. That intertestimonial period is fascinating to me in that one can see the Gracious Hand of The Lord preserving His own Seed through that period in history as it unfolded after the death of Alexander and the way the four generals influenced their particular “realms”; with the Ptolemies and their thirst for knowledge and the rise of the Synagogue gatherings, the development of the Tulmud and traditions, keeping the Hebrew language alive among the scribes while the Aramaic language became the predominant language among the Jews? Besides Rome Antioch became the next center of learning and we see how well the Scriptures play into the diversity of life styles that came into play in the book of Acts and the Hellenists with koine Greek being the common link between the diverse nature of the time?

    Today American English seems to be the common tongue people around the world can use to get by like koine Greek then?

    Anyway these things Paige has brought in here have excited me more!

    My question is: what next in here?

  24. Andrew McCallum said,

    December 1, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    John (re: 20),

    I think the question is: Were they “God-breathed” in their original pagan contexts?

    I think the answer to that question is “no.”

  25. CD-Host said,

    December 2, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Cris @18 —

    The LXX was the bible among the Hellenistic Jews. That’s the side of accommodation that lost the Maccabean war. Hellenistic Judaism wasn’t about gentiles who didn’t speak Aramaic / Hebrew it was about Jews who didn’t. The alternative to Hellenistic Judaism would have been for them to quit the Jewish religion entirely and find some sort of non-Jewish hybrid religion which didn’t have strong ties to Hebrew, i.e. something like Christianity.

  26. John Harutunian said,

    December 2, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Andrew, you may well be right. The problem is that one must then say that they became “God-breathed” by virtue of their new [Biblical] context.

    And context is certainly important. But to claim that it determines whether a statement is a purely human assertion or whether it’s “God-breathed” -this does seem like things are being taken awfully far.
    (Like “context” is everything.)

    I don’t claim any final answers here. Just something to think about.

  27. Cris Dickason said,

    December 3, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    #25 – You miss the point: “The LXX” wasn’t the LXX until sometime into the Christian period. Also, Hellenistic Judaism was about accommodation and adoption of pagan, Greek philosophical concepts. Dropping Jewish/Israelite supernaturalism for Hellenistic skepticism and rationalism.

    I absolutely reject whatever it is you are saying with:

    some sort of non-Jewish hybrid religion which didn’t have strong ties to Hebrew, i.e. something like Christianity.

    Christianity is not some kind of non-Jewish hybrid. Christianity Most Certainly has “Hebrew” ties. Note that there must of necessity be a distinction between Israel/OT and “Judaism” in the following…

    Christianity is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Canon/Covenant/Promises.

    Christianity, with its Crucified, Risen, Ascended Lord, fully God and fully man, the Last Man and Second Adam who is the believer’s Life, Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification and Redemption, is all that the OT and its saints oped for and then some, as none had a full grasp of God’s provisions in advance. Christian and its NT is the fullness of the OT and of the Israel of God, come unto its own…With the understanding that all that is “Already” is also match by a “Not Yet” that awaits His Second Coming, when the comes the end, and Christ, submits the Kingdom to his God & Father; and every knee bows and acknowledges Christ’s Lordship.

    If you don’t or won’t get this, then you must be Marcion Redivivus (said with a slight grin).


  28. hashavyahu said,

    December 5, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    It’s a shame no one has answered Stephen’s point. The problem is not simply that corrupted or mistranslated Greek versions of the OT are sometimes cited, but also that Qumran demonstrates that many of the most significant variants between greek translations and the MT are attested in Hebrew manuscripts. In other words, the Greek versions that some of the NT writers use are based on different Hebrew versions of OT books. Stephen mentioned Jeremiah. I would add Samuel as another book with significant variants in Hebrew manuscripts. The question then becomes, which version(s) are inspired? The oldest? Then say goodbye to almost half of the David and Goliath story as well as a good chunk of Jeremiah. The latest? Then why not Psalm 151 (attested in LXX and in Hebrew at Qumran), and a greatly expanded book of Esther? All versions? Then why don’t we keep multiple versions handy like they did at Qumran?

  29. CD-Host said,

    December 9, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    @Cris —

    Sorry for the delayed response. I thought I had notify on and I didn’t.

    If you don’t or won’t get this, then you must be Marcion Redivivus (said with a slight grin).

    Well thank you! (also with a slight grin). In terms of the text that preceded it. No I’m sticking with my guns, Christianity is a hybrid religion which takes aspects of Jewish myth and reworks them in ways alien to Temple or Pharisaic Judaism. Concepts like “fulfilled in ways not previously understood” are just prettification for “changed / altered”.

    So while I agree that Christianity is an evolution of Judaism a successful hybrid that accomplished what Hellenistic Judaism aimed to accomplish and then some. I have a slightly revised version of this I should post but sects from ancient judaism to evangelicals

    Also, Hellenistic Judaism was about accommodation and adoption of pagan, Greek philosophical concepts. Dropping Jewish/Israelite supernaturalism for Hellenistic skepticism and rationalism.

    I think I mostly agree with that, other than I wouldn’t phrase it that way. I would phrase it more like Hellenistic Judaism was an attempt to create a form of Judaism which was viable as a minority religion outside the territory of Judea and was believable for people infused with Greek / Roman culture. But I’d agree that’s mostly the same thing just in more positive terms.

    You miss the point: “The LXX” wasn’t the LXX until sometime into the Christian period.

    No I didn’t miss the point. You were righting in #18 about the LXX as a book for gentiles, it wasn’t. It was a book for a sect of Judaism, the majority sect of Judaism at the time. It was also a book for God fearers. The LXX (or proto-LXX if you like) existed as a Jewish work for Jewish purposes before it existed as a Christian work for Christian purposes. The LXX wasn’t merely a translation it was a positive affirmation of Hellenistic Judaism. In the same way that Luther’s bible wasn’t just a new translation or Jerome’s bible wasn’t just a new translation. Each of them represented a crucial theological turning point. The translational choices made by Jerome represent infusing the NT with Catholic theology. The translational choices made by Luther infuse the bible with Protestant theology. And in the same way the translational choices made by the LXX authors infused the bible with Hellenistic theology.

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