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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Septuagint

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SEPTUAGINT.—The Version ‘according to the Seventy.’ 1. This name for the Greek translation of the OT has its origin in the legend that Ptolemy ii. Philadelphus was advised by his librarian Demetrius Phalereus to procure from Jerusalem copies of the Hebrew Scriptures, and men learned in the Hebrew and Greek languages to translate them. Ptolemy accordingly sent ambassadors to Eleazar the high priest, who sent back to Alexandria seventy-two elders, six from each tribe, with magnificent copies of the Hebrew Scriptures. They were treated with the highest honour; they were assigned a quiet and convenient building on the island of Pharos, removed from the distractions of the city; and there, in seventy-two days, they translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek, for the enrichment of Ptolemy’s library; and the translation was received with delight by king and people.

This legend is related in a pseudonymous letter purporting to be written by Aristeas (an Alexandrian, and one of Ptolemy’s ambassadors to Jerusalem) to his brother Philocrates. The text, edited by St. J. Thackeray, is printed at the end of Swete’s Introduction to the OT in Greek, and a translation by Mr. Thackeray appeared in the JQR [Note: QR Jewish Quarterly Review.] , April 1903. Other forms of the tradition are given by the Alexandrian writers Aristobulus and Philo, and by Josephus. And the early Fathers or the Christian Church from the 2nd century onwards received the story without suspicion, and amplified it. What amount of truth underlies the legend it is difficult to decide; but the following facts are probable: (1) that the translation was begun at Alexandria; (2) that it was not undertaken officially, by order of the king (though he probably encouraged it), but resulted from the needs of the Alexandrian Jews, who knew no Hebrew and probably little or no Aramaic; (3) it may be true that Hebrew rolls were brought from Jerusalem; (4) the translation was, as might be expected, cordially received by Hellenistic Jews, who would be glad to have a Greek account of the origins of the Hebrew people.

The Alexandrian version embraced only the Pentateuch; and the letter of Aristeas professes no more. Josephus and Jerome recognized this, but Christian writers, generally, failed to notice the limitation. It could not, indeed, have embraced more in the reign of Ptolemy ii., for the Torah alone was complete by that time, secure in its position as a collection of sacred books and ready for translation (Ryle, Canon of the OT, p. 113). But other books would be translated from time to time when they reached Egypt with Palestinian recognition of their canonicity. And before the Christian era Alexandria probably possessed the whole of the Hebrew Bible in a Greek translation, with the possible exception of Ecclesiastes.

2. The importance of the LXX Septuagint version to the student of Hebrew literature and philology can scarcely be overestimated (see Swete, Introduction, Pt. iii. c. 4). And it is hardly less essential to the student of early Christian writings. Patristic writers for the most part accepted it not merely as the best version of the Hebrew OT, but as no less inspired than the original. Even Augustine could say: ‘Spiritus qui in prophetis erat quando illa dixerunt, idem ipse erat in LXX Septuagint viris quando illa interpretati sunt’ (de Civ. Dei, xviii. 43). Being entirely dependent on it, and unable to appeal to or form comparisons with any other version, ‘they adopted without suspicion and with tenacity its least defensible renderings, and pressed them into the service of controversy, dogma, and devotion.’ ‘It was argued that the errors of the Greek text were due to accidents of transmission, or that they were not actual errors, but Divine adaptations of the original to the use of the future Church’ (Swete, Pt. iii. c. 5).

But the present article is concerned with that which is the chiefest importance of the LXX Septuagint —its relation to (a) the beginnings and the growth of Christianity, (b) the expression of Christian doctrines and ideas.

(a) The LXX Septuagint was an important factor in preparing the way for the reception of the Christian religion. In our Lord’s time the Jews were scattered throughout the known world. And though they preserved their religious connexion with Jerusalem by payments of money and by frequent attendance at the three annual festivals (see art. Dispersion), yet one and all had lost the knowledge of the classical Hebrew of the Scriptures, with the exception of the learned—the priests and Rabbis—of whom the original language of the OT was almost the exclusive property. It may be realized, therefore, what a blessing was conferred upon the Jewish race by Alexandria when she gave them their own Scriptures in the universal language of the day. They were provided with a valuable controversial weapon, whereby they could prove to their heathen neighbours the real importance and the hoary antiquity of the Hebrew nation. An army of apologists was raised up, of whom Josephus and Philo are, for us, the chief, because so much of their work is extant; but they must have been well-nigh equalled in weight and influence by such writers as the historians Alexander Cornelius (‘Polyhistor’), Demetrius, Eupolemus, Artapanus, and Aristeas, the poets Philo, Theodotus, and Ezekiel, the philosopher Aristobulus, and Cleodemus or Malchas, small fragments of whose writings are preserved in Clem. Alex. [Note: Alexandrian.] Stromateis, i. 22, 141, 153 ff., and Euseb. Praep. Evang. viii. 10, ix. 6, 17–34, 37, 39, xiii. 12.

But though she knew it not, Alexandria provided them with something greater. Christianity, by the power of God and by the coming of Christ, sprang out of Judaism. ‘Novum Testamentum in Vetere latet; Vetus in Novo patet’ (Aug.). By enabling Jews and Gentiles to read the OT Scriptures, the Greek version, in spite of all its mistakes and grotesque mistranslations, revealed the guiding providence of God in Hebrew history, and the gradual development of religious ideas of which the OT is the record; and above all it gave a lasting impetus to the growth of Messianic expectations. A train was laid which only needed the Divine spark to burst into flame. Christ came ‘to send fire upon the earth,’ and the LXX Septuagint had been instrumental in supplying fuel.

The quotations from the OT in the NT are seldom mere literary adornments, such as a modern writer might introduce from Shakespeare or other classical authors; they are for the most part used as a definite foundation for Christian teaching, or at least weighty illustrations of the writers’ statements and arguments. Our Lord’s teaching struck His hearers with amazement, because it did not blindly follow the footsteps of the scribes. Against the Jews He used their own Scriptures with conclusive force; and with His loving but fainthearted and ignorant disciples He adopted the same course; ‘beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself’ (Luke 24:27). And His disciples afterwards followed His example both in their speeches and in their writings (Acts 8:35).

(b) The LXX Septuagint played a large part in the moulding of Christian terminology. It is difficult to gauge the extent to which religious conceptions were affected by the results which ensued from the wedding of the Greek language to Hebrew thought. Their offspring the LXX Septuagint was the parent of a yet nobler heir. There are few more interesting lines of study than to trace the debt which Christianity owed to the LXX Septuagint in the matter of words and terms, and to see how the borrowed terminology was consecrated and adapted to higher uses.

3. The LXX Septuagint must now be studied in two aspects, so far as it affected the four Gospels and the Apostolic conceptions of Christ’s Person and work.

A. Direct quotations.—It will be convenient to give a list of the direct quotations from the OT in the Gospels, taken from Swete’s Introduction, pp. 386 ff.

Mt.

Mk.

Lk.

OT

Matthew 1:23

 

 

Isaiah 7:14*

 

 

Luke 2:23

Exodus 13:12

Matthew 2:6

 

 

Micah 5:2*

Matthew 2; Matthew 15

 

 

Hosea 11:1*

Matthew 2:18

 

 

Jeremiah 38:15

Matthew 3:3

Mark 1:3

Luke 3:4-6

Isaiah 40:3-5*

Matthew 4:4

 

Luke 4:4

Deuteronomy 8:3

Matthew 4:6

 

Luke 4:10 f.

Psalms 90:11 f.

Matthew 4:7

 

Luke 4:12

Deuteronomy 6:16

Matthew 4:10

 

Luke 4:8

13

Matthew 4:15 f.

 

 

Isaiah 9:1 f.*

Matthew 5:21

 

 

Exodus 20:13

Matthew 5:27

 

 

14

Matthew 5:31

 

 

Deuteronomy 24:1

Matthew 5:31

 

 

Numbers 30:3 (cf. Deuteronomy 23:21)

Matthew 5:38

 

 

Exodus 21:24

Matthew 5:43

 

 

Leviticus 19:18

Matthew 8:17

 

 

Isaiah 53:4*

Matthew 9:13 (Matthew 12:7)

 

 

Hosea 6:6

Matthew 11:10

Mark 1:2

Luke 7:27

Malachi 3:1*

Matthew 12:7

 

 

Hosea 6:6

Matthew 12:18-21

 

 

Isaiah 42:1*

Matthew 13:14 f.

 

 

Isaiah 6:9 f.

Matthew 13:35

 

 

Psalms 77:2*

 

 

Luke 4:18 f.

Isaiah 61:1 ff. + Isaiah 58:6*

Matthew 15:4

Mark 7:10

 

Exodus 20:12; Exodus 21:17

Matthew 15:8 f.

Mark 7:6

 

Isaiah 29:13

 

Mark 9:48

 

Isaiah 66:24

Matthew 19:5 f.

Mark 10:6-8

 

Genesis 1:27 + Genesis 2:24

Matthew 19:18 f.

Mark 10:19

Luke 18:20 f.

Exodus 20:12-17

Matthew 21:5

 

 

Zechariah 9:9 + Isaiah 62:11*

Matthew 21:13

Mark 11:17

Luke 19:46

Isaiah 56:7 + Jeremiah 7:11

Matthew 21:16

 

 

Psalms 8:2

Matthew 21:42

Mark 12:10

Luke 20:17

Psalms 118:22 f.

Matthew 22:24

Mark 12:19

Luke 20:28

Deuteronomy 25:5 (cf. Genesis 38:8)

Matthew 22:32

Mark 12:26

Luke 20:37

Exodus 3:6

Matthew 22:37

Mark 12:29 f.

Luke 10:27 a

Deuteronomy 6:4 f.

Matthew 22:39

Mark 12:31

Luke 10:27 b

Leviticus 19:18

Matthew 22:44

Mark 12:36

Luke 20:42 f.

Psalms 109:1*

 

Mark 12:32 f.

 

Deuteronomy 4:35

Matthew 24:15

Mark 13:14

 

Daniel 12:11

 

 

Luke 22:37

Isaiah 53:12*

Matthew 26:31

Mark 14:27

 

Zechariah 13:7*

Matthew 27:9 f.

 

 

Zechariah 11:13*

Matthew 27:46

Mark 15:34

 

Psalms 21:1*

John 1:23

Isaiah 40:3

John 2:17

Psalms 68:10*

John 6:31

Exodus 16:4; Exodus 16:15 (Ps 77:24 f.)

John 6:45

Isaiah 54:13

John 10:34

Psalms 81:6

John 12:15

Zechariah 9:9*

John 12:38

Isaiah 53:1*

John 12:40

Isaiah 6:10

John 13:18

Psalms 40:10 (Psalms 41:10)

John 15:25

Psalms 34:19 (Psalms 68:5)*

John 19:34

Psa 21:19*

John 19:36

Exodus 12:46 (Numbers 9:12, Psalms 33:21)*

John 19:37

Zechariah 12:10*

(i.) As regards the matter and purpose of these quotations, it is noticeable that of the 46 in the Synoptic Gospels 17 (marked with*) are ‘Messianic,’ i.e. they are quoted as being predictions of facts connected with the life and work of Christ; and of these, 6 (Matthew 21:42; Matthew 22:44; Matthew 26:31; Matthew 27:46, Luke 4:18 f., Luke 22:37) are cited by our Lord Himself. With these may be reckoned Matthew 22:32, quoted as a proof of the resurrection of the dead. 6 (Matthew 2:18; Matthew 13:14 f., Matthew 15:8 f., Matthew 21:13; Matthew 21:16, Matthew 24:15) are quoted as predictions which have found—or, in the last passage, will find—fulfilment in the lives and characters of persons other than Christ, all except the first occurring in His own discourses. 19 of the remainder are quoted by our Lord (except Mark 12:32 f.), and consist of legal and moral precepts, mostly from the Pentateuch, which should guide men’s actions (with the exception of those in Matthew 5, which He quotes in order to contrast with them His own higher moral law). 3 which come under none of these heads are Luke 2:23, Matthew 4:6; Matthew 22:24. Of the 13 in the Fourth Gospel, 7 (marked with*) are ‘Messianic,’ all being quoted by the writer (except John 15:25, which is by our Lord). In the rest of the NT, ‘Messianic’ quotations occur chiefly in the Apostolic speeches in the Acts (Acts 2:17-21; Acts 2:25-28; Acts 2:34 f., Acts 3:22 f. (= Acts 7:37), Acts 4:25 f., Acts 8:32 f., Acts 13:33-35), and in Hebrews (Hebrews 1:5, (= Hebrews 5:5) Hebrews 1:6; Hebrews 1:8 f., Hebrews 1:10-13, Hebrews 2:6-8; Hebrews 2:12-13, Hebrews 5:6 (= Hebrews 7:17; Hebrews 7:21) Hebrews 9:20, Hebrews 10:5-9), in the other Epistles see Romans 9:33; Romans 10:11; Romans 15:3, 1 Corinthians 15:45, Galatians 3:13, Ephesians 4:8, 1 Peter 2:6.

(ii.) As regards the form of the quotations, the dependence upon the LXX Septuagint shown by the NT writers may be seen by the following facts, which are summarized from Swete’s Introduction, pp. 391–398.

Every part of the NT affords evidence of a knowledge of the LXX Septuagint , and a great majority of the passages cited from the OT are in general agreement with the Greek version. In the Synoptic Gospels there is a marked contrast between (α) quotations belonging to the common narrative or to the sayings reported by all three or by two of them, and (β) quotations which are peculiar to one of them. (α) The former (with the exception of Matthew 15:8 f., Matthew 26:31) adhere closely to LXX Septuagint . (β) Of the 16 in Mt. which are not found in Mk. or Luke , 4 (Luke 5:38; Luke 9:13; Luke 13:14 f., Luke 21:16) are in the words of the LXX Septuagint with slight variants; 4 exhibit important variants; and the remaining 7 bear little or no resemblance to the Alexandrian Greek. Neither Mk. nor Lk. has any series of independent quotations; Mark 9:48; Mark 12:32 are from the LXX Septuagint , but show affinities to the text of A; Luke 4:18 f. differs from the LXX Septuagint in important particulars.

The causes which have produced variation are manifold: (1) loose citation, (2) the substitution of a gloss for the precise words which the writer professes to quote, (3) a desire to adapt a prophetic context to the circumstances under which it was thought to have been fulfilled, (4) the fusing together of passages from different contexts. Further, (5) some variations are recensional. The Evangelists appear to have employed a recension of the LXX Septuagint which came nearer to the text of A than to that of our oldest uncial B. In some cases it may be argued that the text of the LXX Septuagint Manuscripts was influenced by the NT; but this objection is greatly minimized by the fact that Josephus, and to a less extent Philo, show the same tendency. And there are occasional signs that NT writers used a recension to which the version of the later translator Theodotion shows some affinities. (6) Some variations are translational, and imply an independent use of the original, whether by the Evangelist or by the author of some collection of excerpts which he employed. Prof. Swete (pp. 396 ff.) prints in full, and annotates, five of these passages from Mt (Matthew 2:6; Matthew 4:15 f., Matthew 8:17; Matthew 13:35; Matthew 27:9 f.), together with the corresponding passages in the LXX Septuagint ; and he comes to the conclusion that while ‘the compiler of the First Gospel has more or less distinctly thrown off the yoke of the Alexandrian version, and substituted for it a paraphrase, or an independent rendering of the Hebrew,’ ‘our evidence does not encourage the belief that the Evangelist used or knew another complete Greek version of the OT or of any particular book.’

The writer of the Fourth Gospel quotes from the LXX Septuagint , with varying degrees of exactness. The citations in John 2:17; John 10:34; John 12:38; John 19:24-36 are verbatim or nearly so; those in John 6:31; John 6:45, John 13:18, John 15:25 are freer; in John 1:23, John 12:15; John 12:40 he paraphrased loosely, with a general reminiscence of the LXX Septuagint wording; in John 19:37, ὄψονται εἰς ὃν ἐξεκέντησαν is a non-Septuagintal rendering of Zechariah 12:10, which was perhaps current in Palestine, since εἰς ὃν ἐξεκέντησαν appears also in Theod. [Note: Theodotion.] (Aq. [Note: Aquila.] ἐξεκέντησαν, cf. Revelation 1:7; Symm. [Note: Symmachus.] ἐπεξεκέντησαν).

The quotations in the Acts are exclusively from the LXX Septuagint , but sometimes they are inclined to be free and paraphrastic.

In St. Paul’s quotations the same phenomena appear: the majority are verbally exact, but many contain important variants; sometimes the Apostle appears to quote from memory; in some cases he freely conflates two or more passages. In Hebrews, in which the argument is carried on largely by a catena of quotations from the LXX Septuagint , ‘the text of the quotations agrees in the main with some form of the present text of the LXX Septuagint ’ (Westcott, Hebrews, p. 476). On 1 Peter 2:6 see Hort, St. Peter, in loc.

In this short summary of Prof. Swete’s results enough has been said to show the large extent to which the Alexandrian Greek version influenced the direct quotations made by the NT writers. But direct citation formed only a fraction of the immense use which they made of the LXX Septuagint . Their writings, and the utterances of our Lord, abound in expressions and phrases from the LXX Septuagint which are not formal quotations, but which were due to their intimate knowledge of the OT. These are conveniently marked by uncial type in WH [Note: H Westcott and Hort’s text.] ’s text of the NT. In many cases the force and meaning of the NT passage are multiplied when the OT context is taken into consideration. [N.B.—There are no quotations from the Apocryphal books which were included in the Greek Bible. There are, however, in the Epistles some half-dozen reminiscences; see Wisdom of Solomon 7:26; Wisdom of Solomon 9:15; Wisdom of Solomon 13:1; Wisdom of Solomon 15:7, Sirach 5:11; Sirach 7:34; Sirach 15:11].

B. Borrowed terminology.—It must not be forgotten that the LXX Septuagint was but a very small part of a large Greek literature whose ideas and vocabulary and grammar differed materially from those of the old classical writers. New philosophical and theological conceptions, changes political and social, developments in the arts of life, increased opportunities of intercourse with foreign nations, all combined to alter the language. The κοινή or Ελληνικὴ διάλεκτος ‘was based on Attic Greek, but embraced elements drawn from all Hellenic dialects. It was the literary language of the cosmopolitan Hellas created by the genius of Alexander’ (Swete, Intr. p. 294). ‘The language used by the writers of the Greek Diaspora may be regarded as a subsection of an early stage of the κοινή’ (ib.), and of this subsection the LXX Septuagint and the NT are the best representatives in Egypt and Palestine respectively. Though a change began to appear as early as Xenophon, the era of the κοινή may be said to have opened in the latter half of the 4th cent. b.c.; and its golden age extends from c. [Note: circa, about.] b.c. 145 (Polybius) to c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 160 (Pausanias). The NT vocabulary, then, was derived not only from the LXX Septuagint but from the current language of the day. See the Appendix in Grimm-Thayer’s Gr.-English Lexicon of the NT (pp. 691–696), in which are collected a large number of non-classical words which find parallels in Greek writings (including LXX Septuagint ) from b.c. 322 to a.d. 100.

For our present purpose, however, a supreme interest attaches to the NT words which, though found in classical Greek, have acquired a new moral or theological meaning. Many words as used in the NT are exclusively Christian, and their special significance is not derived from any literary source (e.g. ἀνακεφαλαιοῦμαι, ἀντίτυπον, ἀντίχριστος, δύναμις (miracle), πρωτότοκος, σταυρόςὁω, χάρις). But many others have gained, or at least advanced towards, their new meaning by contact with Hebrew thought. The following are among the more important, and will repay careful investigation with the help of Thayer’s Lexicon and the NT commentaries. The short notes here attached to each word are not intended to be in any way exhaustive of their meanings or applications, but may be helpful in suggesting lines for study. Words which do not


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Septuagint'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/s/septuagint.html. 1906-1918.

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