“It is written” – Quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament (3)
I wrote earlier that ‘there is a popular misconception that the earliest Christians used the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible as their Scriptures, and that all the quotations from the ‘Old Testament’ in the New Testament are from this Greek translation, commonly known as “The Septuagint”.’ Before moving on to look at some New Testament quotes that are likely to be direct translations from a Hebrew manuscript I’d like to comment further about the use of the “Septuagint”. I put “Septuagint” in quotation marks because this term is somewhat of a misnomer because there are in fact several quite different Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible which are all identified as “Septuagint”. It would be more accurate to label these texts as “Septuagints” (plural), as many scholars do, rather than identifying any one text as “the Septuagint”. This multiplicity of Greek translations may account for why the New Testament quotations differ quite markedly from the popular Septuagint texts (such as the translation by Sir Lancelot Brenton: The Septuagint version of the Old Testament, according to the Vatican text: translated into English; with the principal various readings of the Alexandrine copy, and a table of comparative chronology, London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1844.)
But the differences between the New Testament quotations and the Septuagints could be explained on other grounds as well. The NT writer may have been making his own translation of a Hebrew text (or an Aramaic translation – a targum – for that matter), quoting or paraphrasing from memory, or making a deliberate change for his own theological reasons. I’d like to explore these possibilities with a few examples.
Mark 7:6-7 and Matthew 15:8-9 are parallel accounts which include a quotation from Isaiah 29:13.
This people honours me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
In Beale and Carson’s “Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament” on Mark 7:6-7 the author (R.E. Watts) notes that Mark’s quotation “generally follows the tradition in the LXX” but is actually closer to the Masoretic Text than the Septuagint (p. 163). This suggests that Mark either used a different Greek manuscript which was closer to the MT, or he was translating directly from the MT. To illustrate this, if we compare the NT quotation with the LXX we see that the NT has the same words for the latter part of the verse but in a different order and omitting καὶ, demonstrating that Mark and Matthew were not dependent on the LXX.
διδάσκοντες ἐντάλματα ἀνθρώπων καὶ διδασκαλίας (LXX)
διδάσκοντες διδασκαλίας ἐντάλματα ἀνθρώπων (NT)
A careful analysis of the NT quotations of the OT reveals that practically every quotation has at least minor variants from the Septuagints (or major ones) and is never verbatim. That is significant. Either the NT writers were using different Greek manuscripts to the extant versions of the Septuagints or something else was happening. If the Greek Jewish Scriptures were regarded so highly by the NT writers why do they appear to be so careless in quoting it (if they were indeed quoting it) so as to have so many variants? There isn’t a single quote in the entire New Testament which quotes verbatim from any Septuagint manuscripts that we have. I think the current scholarly consensus is that for at least the first two centuries of Christianity the church used a variety of Greek translations as well as Hebrew manuscripts. Some New Testament quotations of the Old Testament appear to be translations directly from a Hebrew text, while others are paraphrases, possibly from memory.
From this one example I think we could conclude that the NT writers were either using a different Greek text to our Septuagints, they were making their own translation from the Hebrew, or they were using a Septuagint but changing it or improving it as they went, but more examples will follow.