All Scripture Is Inspired by God: The Faith Faithful to the Septuagint23 January 2015
Joel Kalvesmaki is Editor in Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, overseeing the production of Dumbarton Oaks’ flagship Byzantine publications, print and digital. He is active in the digital humanities and his research covers intellectual history in Late Antiquity, with a focus on ancient number symbolism and the writings of Evagrius Ponticus.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
(II Tim 3:16)
The Eastern Orthodox Church has been most faithful to the Apostles’ Old Testament. They still use the LXX and usually base their translations of the Old Testament on it. Without needing objective proof for the veracity of this translation, they have simply held to what the Apostles gave them. Their approach to the canon has not been philosophical or deductive, but spiritual, trusting that God established and is now watching over the Church He established.
In the West we have tended to mock this kind of childish faith, preferring that which is more concrete and objective. Yet there has been a striking vindication of Eastern simplicity this century. The Dead Sea Scrolls testify to the general reliability of the LXX. As the various passages of the Bible have been translated and published, scholars have realized that previous dismissal of the LXX has been premature. Qumran passages from the Law and historical books have uncovered evidence for a separate Hebrew textual recension that underlies the translation of the LXX. More times than not the ancient manuscripts of Qumran disagree with the Masoretic Text, and often support the LXX.
It seems now that, to scholars engaged on this work in the future, Qumran has offered a new basis for a confidence in the LXX in at least the historical books, which should allow them to accept the better readings of that version almost as readily as if they were found in the Hebrew MT. In other words, each reading must in future be judged on its merits, not on any preconceived notion of the superiority of the Hebrew version, simply because it is Hebrew. (Allegro, 81)
Qumranic scholars have not exalted one textual tradition over another, but have reopened the question of translation of the Old Testament. The answer to the direction of future translations, now, could be pivotally determined by theologians rather than textual scholars. Allegro, and others, argue for an eclectic translation of the Old Testament that might provoke all and satisfy none. However, in the future, we may find ourselves asking not, “Which version seems best?” but, “Which version best reflects Christ?” For the answer to the latter the LXX has been long in waiting.
Rethinking the Old Testament
Most Evangelical arguments for the Old Testament canon are, at best, ad hoc. Our leaders and teachers paint a simple, pristine picture of the transmission of Scripture, as if the canon was all but leather-bound and cross-referenced. “This canon is true because it is self-evident, internally consistent, and all sensible early testimony agrees with us,” goes the typical argument. And when, in opening the record of history, we find this to be not the case, we add a long string of exceptions to our original claim. This cannot not go very far. With such an approach to the Scriptures, trying to take them out of their place in history, is it any wonder why so many Bible-believing Christians have lost their faith to liberals, who are willing to deal more thoroughly, and oftentimes more honestly, with the historical record?
What Can We Learn?
- We Evangelicals need a strong dose of theological humility. When we examine history it does not always match our expectations or our experience. We often preach on the importance of confessing our personal sins and errors, but rarely apply this principle to our corporate spiritual walk with other churches and other communions. Does humility only apply to the individual, or also to entire bodies?
- Some of us, myself included, have denied the name Christian to churches that have beliefs and practices which are closer to the Fathers who helped give us the canon. Possibly it is time to begin to treat with greater respect those churches that have retained the Apocrypha in order to be faithful to what the Apostles handed to them.
- Silence and quietness is in order. As Evangelicals we often act from excessive and ignorant zeal. Might it not be time to stop, pause, and learn? It would do us no harm to prayerfully read the Fathers, some of whom were closer to Jesus and the Apostles in time, language, culture, and doctrine.
- Possibly we need to listen to what the Catholics and Orthodox say to us before we judge them. Most of what we learn about these ancient bodies come from Protestant sources. We should trust them to tell their own story.
As Jesus says, “Recognize what is in your sight, and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you.” (Gospel of Thomas 5)
What? Jesus never said that!
How do you know? Who says the Gospel of Thomas should not be in the New Testament? We will look at the answer to this, and examine the canon of the New Testament in our next essay, “Do Not Add to His Words“.
- John Allegro. The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Reappraisal. 2d ed. London: Penguin, 1980.
- The Book of Common Prayer. London: Cambridge University Press, n.d.
- Lancelot C. L. Brenton, ed. The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English. 1851; reprinted, Peabody: Hendrickson, 1992.
- Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix. From God to Us: How we Got our Bible. Chicago: Moody Press, 1974.
- Edgar J. Goodspeed. The Story of the Apocrypha. Chicago: University of Chicago 1939.
- Roberts, Alexander and James Donaldson, eds. Ante-Nicene Fathers. 1885; reprinted, Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994.
May 1996, rev. 2003