Sunday, December 19, 2010

Acts 29 - What Bible Did The Early Church Use?

300 years before Christ was born, the Hebrew bible was translated into Koine Greek, and called the Septuagint. It is the translation used by the Paul, the Apostles, the early church, and is still in use by the Orthodox Church today, however, sadly, it is rejected by most of the Protestant world.

Origin of the Septuagint
After Alexander the Great defeated the Persians in 331 BC, Greeks settled in the lands of Israel, Jew settled in Greek lands, and Greek became one of the most common languages in the entire Mediterranean world. Over time Jews outside of Jerusalem ceased to understand Hebrew, but only Greek. Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285–246 BC) commissioned a Greek translation of the Hebrew bible. It was translated by 72 scribes in 72 days called the Septuagint, which means "70" in Latin. It was an official document approved by the High Priest and the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.

By the time of Christ, the Septuagint was the translation used throughout the Mediterranean. Both Jews in and out of Jerusalem were familiar with it as the Hebrew bible. It is evident that Jesus and the Apostles were very familiar with the Septuagint because of the 350 (approx) quotes of the Old Testament contained in the New Testament, 300 are from the Septuagint. The Apostles used the Septuagint on their missionary journeys. Greek speaking Jews were converting to Christianity because, in part, of what they were reading in the Septuagint.

The Masoretic Text
What was to be done? The Jewish faithful essentially, "went back to the drawing board", and reestablished the canon. They removed all the books that they thought were not first written in Hebrew (though modern scholarship shows that Sirach and 1 Maccabees were actually first written in Greek) and they intentionally changed verses that were in agreement with Christian doctrine.

Most of us have had the experience of reading a verse in the New Testament, looking at the footnote, and comparing it to the Old Testament verse it references. When we compare the OT verse to the NT verse, they seem barely related. That is because the footnote is referencing the right verse, but the wrong translation. Here is an example:

Psalm 40:6 (Masoretic) Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened:

Psalm 40:6 (Septuagint) Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; but thou has prepared a body for me

Isaiah 7:14 (Masoretic) The young woman will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (This is corrected to in most Protestant bibles)

Isaiah 7:14 (Septuaint) The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Psalm 151 was omitted entirely and is missing in almost all Protestant bibles! There are hundreds of these differences that don't make a lot of sense till you read them from the Septuagint.

This new form of the Hebrew canon was accepted widely by the 2nd century. Between the 6th to 11th century a group called the Masoretes would become the predominant copiest of this Hebrew canon. Out of this group would eventually become the fixed form that we now know today as the Masoretic Text. The Masoretic text would provide the basis for the majority of Old Testament translations in Protestant bibles.

Why did Protestants choose to base their translation of the Old Testament off of a form that the Jewish faithful created to counteract Christians spreading the Gospel message? Martin Luther. He thought, correctly, that the bible should be in the language of the people, so he had the bible translated to German. He thought, incorrectly, the best way to get a true understanding of the Old Testament was to translate the Hebrew bible that the Jews in his community read. However, the Jews in his community were not reading the same Old Testament that Paul and the Apostles had read.

Besides, literally adding the word, "alone", to Romans 3:28, he moved what he called the Apocrypha to the back of the bible. The heading of the section read, "APOCRYPHA, that is, Books which are not to be esteemed like the Holy Scriptures, and yet which are useful and good to read." Why did Luther designate the Apocrypha as a lower form of Scripture? Because those books were not in the current Jewish canon.

Despite what Luther felt about these books, Jesus seemed to know them very well:

  • Matt. 6:19-20 - Jesus' statement about laying up for yourselves treasure in heaven follows Sirach 29:11 - lay up your treasure.
  • Matt.. 7:12 - Jesus' golden rule "do unto others" is the converse of Tobit 4:15 - what you hate, do not do to others.
  • Matt. 7:16,20 - Jesus' statement "you will know them by their fruits" follows Sirach 27:6 - the fruit discloses the cultivation.
  • Matt. 9:36 - the people were "like sheep without a shepherd" is same as Judith 11:19 - sheep without a shepherd.
  • Matt. 11:25 - Jesus' description "Lord of heaven and earth" is the same as Tobit 7:18 - Lord of heaven and earth.
  • Matt. 16:18 - Jesus' reference to the "power of death" and "gates of Hades" references Wisdom 16:13.
  • Matt. 22:25; Mark 12:20; Luke 20:29 - Gospel writers refer to the canonicity of Tobit 3:8 and 7:11 regarding the seven brothers.
  • Matt. 24:15 - the "desolating sacrilege" Jesus refers to is also taken from 1 Macc. 1:54 and 2 Macc. 8:17.
  • Matt. 24:16 - let those "flee to the mountains" is taken from 1 Macc. 2:28.
  • Matt. 27:43 - if He is God's Son, let God deliver him from His adversaries follows Wisdom 2:18.
  • Mark 4:5,16-17 - Jesus' description of seeds falling on rocky ground and having no root follows Sirach 40:15.

Here is a longer list including all the epistles

Luther would also have this prophecy left out of the canon, which I can only imagine was used frequently by the Apostles in the Book of Wisdom 2:12-24:
Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, Reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training. He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the LORD. To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us, Because his life is not like other men's, and different are his ways. He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure. He calls blest the destiny of the just and boasts that God is his Father. Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him. For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. With revilement and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him." These were their thoughts, but they erred; for their wickedness blinded them, And they knew not the hidden counsels of God; neither did they count on a recompense of holiness nor discern the innocent souls' reward. For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are in his possession experience it.

Bible translations would come out increasing frequently as the years passed and the state of the Apocrypha would get lower and lower. Occasionally, unscrupulous printers would print bibles that had the Apocrypha section in the table of contents but not in the bible itself. They knew that people would buy the bible whether they had the Apocrypha or not! This leads to our modern state where there are study bibles for every type of person or mood, claiming to present the full counsel of God, while actually missing books that the Apostles considered Holy Scripture.

When Paul is writing to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15-17, and he refers to Scripture being "given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness", he would have had the Septuagint in mind, with all the books that Luther called Apocrypha included.

Protestants call these books the Apocrypha, Catholics call them Deuterocanonical (meaning second law), the Orthodox church calls them (with the rest of the Septuagint) what the early church did: Scripture.

A short video on the subject (Check out this guy's other videos. He puts out great stuff!)


  1. Yes, the Apocrypha is biblical. I have recently taught may congregation as much as a Lutheran pastor. The Lutheran Confessions also call the Apocrypha "Scripture."

    For an historical Lutheran take, you can go here:

    Pr Rich Futrell

  2. St. Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 as “virgin.” Thus, for Christians that is the proper understanding--case closed. And as video says, the LXX has “virgin.”

    We do know, however, the Great Isaiah Scroll from the Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran, (written circa 100 BC), has the Hebrew word almah, which has a semantic range of "virgin" but also includes the meaning "young woman."

    Perhaps, a similar example could be German. The word for virgin in German is jungfrau, which if literally translated would be "young woman," missing in a significant way the meaning of "virgin."

    So I would re-verify the history just to make sure that the Hebrew OT had “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 until the mid-100s AD.

  3. Catholics may use the term deuterocanonical for these books typically removed by protestants but the author errs in implying that Catholics do not consider these books fully and properly scripture. Deuterocanonical books ARE part of the holy scriptures found in the Bible.

  4. You're entitled to your view but you've made many errors. The LXX was not translated before Christ there's no substantial evidence of this. There are not 350 quotes of the OT in the NT, there are 263 direct quotes. Of those 263, 85 correspond better to LXX and the rest correspond to the Hebrew (or at least equally to the Hebrew). Many of the quotes agree verbatim with the Hebrew against the LXX proving the usage of the Hebrew by the early Church. The Masorites most certainly did not modify their Holy scripture, and Isaiah 7:14 reads the same in the MT as it does in the Dead Sea Isaiah Scroll which is complete and extant and dates to 100BC which makes it older than the LXX.