Hebrews 10 and the LXX

(Posted by Paige)

So, who is up on recent developments in manuscript studies of the LXX?

I encountered an intriguing difference as I read through Hebrews commentaries in chronological order, focusing on the use of Ps. 40:6-8 in Heb. 10:5-7, specifically the line, “But a body you have prepared for me.” This rendering of Ps. 40:6 differs from what our MT-based OT says, whether “But ears you have pierced for me” (NIV) or “But you have given me an open ear” (ESV), each a paraphrase of the literal Hebrew “But ears you have dug for me.” Sure enough, when I checked my copy of the Septuagint, I found that it matches with what is written in Hebrews 10:5, “But a body you have prepared for me.”

Now, commentators from Calvin through F. F. Bruce (1990) and Peter O’Brien (2010) have been concerned to harmonize the difference between the MT and the LXX in some way, explaining the diversity by way of paraphrase. Ears, after all, are body parts; ears being “dug” certainly suggests listening or paying attention, but it could also refer to the formation of the ears in the first place – so, “Body parts you have created (or prepared) for me.” One more step gets to, “A body you have prepared for me,” which became the version happily appropriated by the author to the Hebrews, who wanted to present the obedient, bodily sacrifice of Christ as superior to all the animal sacrifices prescribed by the Mosaic Law.

And maybe it happened just so. But in Beale & Carson’s splendid tome on the NT’s use of the OT (Baker Academic, 2007), I encountered a different explanation, offered by George Guthrie in his chapter on Hebrews. On the textual background of Heb. 10:5-7 (Ps. 40:6-8) Guthrie writes:

“In 10:5c we find sōma (“body”) rather than the LXX’s ōtia (“ears” [also in LXX La(G) Ga]). Although it is true that LXX B S A have sōma, these probably should be read as corrections by scribes wishing to bring the manuscripts in line with Hebrews’ quotation.” (p.977)

In other words, according to this explanation the variation originated with the author of Hebrews, NOT the LXX, and was subsequently absorbed into later copies of the LXX.

Is anyone aware of which of the above explanations is current scholarly consensus? Do you find Guthrie’s suggestion compelling, based on the dates of the different LXX manuscripts, or are you satisfied with the harmonization approach?

Thanks in advance for any thoughts you have on this.


  1. greenbaggins said,

    January 15, 2014 at 8:49 am

    I have understood the original Psalm to be a reference to the practice of making a servant permanent by piercing his ear with an awl on the doorpost (with hints of the passover blood on the doorpost), via the instructions in Exodus. Hebrews would then be broadening the reference to Christ’s being pierced on the cross, and thereby becoming the permanent servant (though of course, also the permanent king) of the church, having offered up Himself. So, I agree with the commentators who argue that the change is deliberate on the part of the author of Hebrews. But the reference to the permanent servant is something that Hebrews picked up on and changed the reference to the body in order to fit it to the crucifixion.

  2. paigebritton said,

    January 15, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Lane, in my reading I found that the “piercing” of the servant’s earlobe is actually thought to be a less likely paraphrase, though it’s reflected in the NIV. Don Carson points out that in the law it was only ever one ear pierced, not both, so “dug” rather than “pierced” is a preferable translation. Though the connection with servanthood is compelling, it’s true.

  3. greenbaggins said,

    January 15, 2014 at 10:14 am

    I hear you, Paige (ha, ha). The difficulty I have with “dug” is that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when the object of the verb is “ears.” How does one dig ears, exactly? I highly doubt that the modern slang meaning of “dig” (as in, “I really dig these wings”) is in view. This leads me to believe that the expression is at least idiomatic for something else, like “open,” which puts piercing right back on the table, since piercing is one form of opening. As to the one ear versus two, while Carson’s comment is true, that doesn’t mean that the Psalmist couldn’t have been thinking of “double servitude,” by having both his ears pierced instead of just one. Given the broadening of the Hebrews quote to the entire body, one could see a redemptive-historical progression here claiming the entire body eventually.

  4. Paul W said,

    January 15, 2014 at 10:22 am

    I recently ran across this in Matthew 2:6/Micah 5:2 where R.T. France comments in the NICNT, “…the Lucianic revision of the LXX (which here as often is best explained by the the influence of the NT text)…” I’m not adept enough with dates and influences to understand if or how that might have occurred, but in this case a noted scholar says this NT influence on the Lucianic LXX revision is “often.”

  5. paigebritton said,

    January 15, 2014 at 10:29 am

    Lane — well, the unprecedented “double servitude” idea seems more of a stretch to me than digging — hollowing out! — ear canals! Carson says that when his Cockney mother was exasperated with him and his siblings, she would tell them to “Dig out your ears!!!” So whether it’s clearing the wax so someone can pay attention, or preparing the ears in the first place (as per Ps. 139), digging still makes a lot of sense to me.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    January 15, 2014 at 10:51 am

    Ok, Paige, that could work, too. Commentators on the Exodus passage about the servant regularly reference the Psalm, though. They both work, I think. One other point about the plural versus singular (by way of another possibility) is that Hebrew is often not all that concerned about the difference between singular and plural. Or, alternately, the plural can be merely an intensification.

  7. January 15, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    I’ve taken “my ears you have dug” as a statement of a part for a whole which the LXX paraphrases by a statement of the whole.

  8. Martin said,

    January 15, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    Rowland’s explanation makes sense to me, and fits with how we view other parts of Scripture, such as the Ten Commandments. “Honor your father and mother” is a synecdoche for honoring all those in authority over us. It’s apparently a Hebrew way of thinking and therefore makes sense in Hebrews. :-)

  9. paigebritton said,

    January 16, 2014 at 6:47 am

    Yes, the identification of a synecdoche here has apparently been the direction that the harmonization of the MT/LXX versions has been taken by commentators in the past (with the “piercing” metaphor coming in second in popularity, as far as I have read).

    But Guthrie suggests something different — at least, he sees the source of any synecdoche as possibly being the author to the Hebrews, not the translator of the Hebrew. His observation about the LXX manuscripts listed above is his basis for this theory. I really know nothing about the making of the LXX or its various MSS, and haven’t seen this idea corroborated anywhere else yet. Does it seem a worthy one to any of you?

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