Does the New Testament always quote from the Septuagint?

“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.

4 comments on “Does the New Testament always quote from the Septuagint?

  1. The apostles knew very well the Torah and did not need the Greek translation of it as such because they probably not only knew Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, the language of Jeshua (Jesus) they got themselves inspired by the Holy Spirit to understand His Words and to write them down.

    As you say we also think those NT writers may have been making their 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 their own theological reasons.

    • Liz says:

      Hi Steven I was talking with a friend recently on the subject of Baptism…If we were to consider that Baptism is the New Testament form of circumcision,should the children of Christians be allowed to and encouraged to receive the sign of the covenant by being baptized even as young children?Are there any quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament which supports this? I would really value your views on this topic.Thank You…
      Liz

      • Stephen Cook says:

        Liz,
        I can’t think of any quotations from the OT in the NT offhand which speak specifically to this question, although there are certainly allusions which may may be relevant. Here are just a few quick off-the-cuff ideas which you might want to think about:

        1. Paul says “our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2). The term “fathers” here covered all Israel, men, women and children.
        2. The Hebrew Bible uses the terms “saved/salvation/delivered/deliverance” in the sense of national rather than personal salvation. All Israel was baptised. All Israel was saved. There may very well be a change of emphasis to the personal and individual in the NT, but perhaps not always.
        3. The classic case of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:25ff) says “he was baptized at once, he and all his family“. Could “all his family” include young children? If so it would be no different to whole families converting to the worship of the God of Israel, where even slaves would convert, not by their own choice but through their master’s decision. The repentance of Nineveh was similar – the whole city ‘repented’ (including the animals!) at the king’s direction.
        4. Matthew 3:4 says of John the Baptist “all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him”. Could “all the region” include children along with their parents?
        5. John’s baptism was almost certainly a continuation of an existing practice which included full-immersion as part of the process of conversion or ritual purification (still practiced in Judaism). It was not a once-in-a-lifetime event like most Christian baptisms.
        6. Some ancient churches practiced multiple baptisms. I think the Ethiopian church has practiced annual baptism of all members since antiquity. The Pauline expression “one baptism” does not necessarily mean “baptised only once”. Some people are baptised more than once, when switching denominations for example. If someone was baptised as a child and they wanted to be baptised again later in life as a symbol of conversion, rededication or confirmation of vows made on their behalf by parents, would that be a problem?

        I would be interested to hear your own ideas about this.

        • Liz says:

          I think we all need continually to be restored and renewed as we continue to grow and evolve including spiritually.We think and act according to the level of awareness that we have at the time or at particular age so i like the idea of finding God by looking within and getting to know ourselves and i suppose this is in itself a type of rebirths or continual Baptism.In this process we
          aim to live life with Christ in our hearts…
          Liz

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