When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint in the New Testament & the New Old Testament

Happy Monday everyone! I’m extremely excited to be participating in a blog tour of T. Michael Law’s new book ‘When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible’ organized by Brian LePort over at Near Emmaus. I received a copy for review from Oxford University Press and will be reviewing chapters 9 & 10.

When God Spoke Greek is a narrative history of the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament.  Law’s goal in writing this book is to make the Septuagint more accessible to both laity and academics, while highlighting its important role in the development of the Christian Bible.  To read more about the preceding chapters (1-8), see the links below.

Chapter 9, The Septuagint in the New Testament

Following his discussion in chapter 8 over the Septuagint available to the New Testament authors, Law next takes a more in depth look at some specific citations found in the NT as well as the method and manner in which they are used by the NT authors. Beginning with the Gospels and Acts, Law provides several examples of OT quotations that demonstrate dependence on the Septuagint text or a Septuagint revision.  Indeed Law concludes that “most if not all of the citations in the New Testament are not in any way strictly dependent on the Hebrew,” (115).

There area several instances in which the Septuagint translation emphasizes a different theological point than the Hebrew text. Although it is impossible to know for sure whether an author intentionally chose one text over the other, Law suggests the Greek translation was often more favorable to the NT authors theological emphases. One such example is Luke’s use of the Septuagint text of Amos 9:11-12 in Acts 15:16-18.

“In the context of the Hebrew version, the prophecy is centered on the benefit to the people of Israel: the people are to inherit the remnant of Edom and all the other nations. In the Septuagint, the focus has shifted, and the Gentiles are seeking out the Lord, which becomes very useful in Luke’s hands since he wants to legitimize the Gentile mission,” (104).

Law then moves on to Paul who “most often, perhaps always, preferred the Greek” when quoting the OT as “Paul finds the Greek forms of scripture more suitable for his intention to announce God’s message to the Gentiles,” (105). On more than one occasion it appears that the Septuagint reading of a text is crucial to Paul’s argument. After spending some time on Paul, Law briefly looks at the Septuagint in the remaining NT books, the most interesting example coming from Revelation (2:26-27, 12:5, and 19:15) in which the author quotes the Septuagint text of Psalm 2:9 “where the Greek translator has misunderstood the Hebrew verb or read a different Hebrew text,” (114). As Law points out,

“This example is particularly important since it contains an obviously erroneous reading of an Old Testament passage that was left uncorrected by the New Testament writer,” (115).

That’s definitely something to chew on for a while. Chapter 9 ends with a brief discussion on why the use of the Septuagint in the NT is important. Law concludes,

“It would be worth the modern reader’s time to ponder the significance of the New Testament author’s use of the Septuagint, to consider what theological emphases would not have been possible if the authors were using the Hebrew Bible alone,” (116).

I agree… and I am pondering.  Would the New Testament be any different if the authors had not had the Septuagint as a source?

My only issue with this chapter was the lack of Greek and Hebrew text.  Law provides several examples in which the NT reflects the Septuagint Greek over the Hebrew MT and yet he only provides English translations for comparison.  While this is a non-issue for many reading on the popular level, Greek and Hebrew readers will likely find this frustrating.

Chapter 10, The New Old Testament

In chapter 10 Law describes the development of the New Old Testament noting that the early Christian “Bible” was not a fixed collection of books as we now have it, but rather “a loose collection of texts” (117). When early Christians who viewed themselves as the “New Israel” soon realized the Greek Jewish texts they were using were different from the Hebrew scriptures used by their Jewish contemporaries, the problem was easily resolved. It was obvious to most early Christians that as the New Israel, God had provided a new word in the form of the Septuagint.

“Most early Christian scholars… argued or at least assumed that the Greek Septuagint was the new word of God for the church, a divinely inspired text that God had delivered for the sake of bringing the message of Christianity to the world…” (118).

How did this new word become the New Old Testament?  The process of delineating a fixed set of books came about for practical reasons. In addition to the invention of the codex (or book), the church gave priority to some books over others based on apologetic reasons. Early Christians were concerned with settling disputes with Jews as well as pointing to messianic prophecies in the Greek Jewish scriptures.  Law makes an important distinction here between “canon” and “scripture”:

“Scripture signifies only an ‘authoritative writing in a religious community.’ Canon, on the other hand, is a catalog, a list of scriptural writings. To put it simply: there can be no canon without scripture, but scripture can exist without a canon,” (121).

Thus we shouldn’t automatically assume that if a text was not included within a canon that it was not considered to be scripture. The process of canonization would continue for several centuries during which different groups and the early theologians would advocate for different sets of books, including those that now make up the Apocrypha.  These books eventually fell out of favor among the western church and Law ultimately pits the fault with Jerome who is discussed in more detail in chapter 13.

Some Final Thoughts

When God Spoke Greek is an easy and enjoyable read. Law’s passion and proficiency are evident as he skillfully narrates the rich history behind the Septuagint and the complex text we now call the Bible. He provides definitions and clarifications on terms when needed which is sure to be appreciated by those new to the Septuagint and/or biblical studies, as well as those already aware of the complexities involved in discussing the Septuagint… I mean the LXX… I mean the Old Greek… and so on.

Law addresses the common misconceptions many of us have or have had at one point in our reading of the Bible.  Moreover, this book offers a thoughtful correction to the western church’s centuries of neglect of the Septuagint, a correction that is sorely needed.

I appreciated Law’s use of the feminine pronoun instead of the usual masculine pronoun when discussing hypothetical or generic persons, such as here in the beginning of chapter 4:

“In biblical translation, for example, the richness of Hebrew poetry cannot be communicated in ancient Greek or in modern English, so even when the meaning may not be too different, if at all, the color and depth usually is. Inevitably, however, the translator will be faced with an obscure expression in the source language; assuming she understands it she may nonetheless find no acceptable counterpart in her language,” (33).

I rarely see the use of feminine pronouns by male authors; it was a refreshing change. If you are familiar with me and/or my blog you know that language and gender are two of my favorite topics so I couldn’t not mention this minor detail.

I think the greatest benefit of this book is the questions that it provokes its readers to ask. What does it mean for us today that the Septuagint was seen by many in the early church as inspired? What does it mean for Paul to have ‘misinterpreted’ an Old Testament passage, whether intentionally or unintentionally? If the NT authors were reading some of the apocryphal books, which in turn played some role in shaping their theology, why aren’t we reading these texts as well? Why is finding the so-called ‘original text’ such a priority for many of us today if it was not a priority for the NT authors (86)?

For those interested in learning more about the Christian Bible When God Spoke Greek is a great place to start. It would also be a great accompaniment to a more thorough introduction for students of biblical studies.

A huge thank you to Brian LePort at Near Emmaus for organizing this blog tour. Thank you again to Oxford University Press for the review copy. Here are the links to the other blogs in the tour:

JOEL WATTS (Sunday, July 21st, http://unsettledchristianity.com/)
1 Why this Book?
2 When the World Became Greek

ANDREW KING (Tuesday, July 23rd, http://blogofthetwelve.wordpress.com/)
3 Was There a Bible before the Bible?
4 The First Bible Translators

KRISTA DALTON (Thursday, July 25th, http://kristadalton.com/blog/)
5 Gog and his Not-so-Merry Grasshoppers
6 Bird Droppings, Stoned Elephants, and Exploding Dragons

ABRAM K-J (Saturday, July 27th, http://abramkj.com/)
7 E Pluribus Unum
8 The Septuagint behind the New Testament

Coming soon…

AMANDA MacINNIS (Wednesday, July 31st, http://cheesewearingtheology.com/)
11 God’s Word for the Church
12 The Man of Steel and the Man who Worshipped the Sun

JAMES McGRATH (Friday, August 2nd, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/)
13 The Man with the Burning Hand vs. the Man with the Honeyed Sword
14 A Postscript

Why You Need the Septuagint

This is a great post from Abram K-J on the benefits of knowing and studying the Septuagint. He provides 10 reasons why we should know the Septuagint, my favorite being reason number three:

“It connects us to the broad sweep of history in the Church. This was not only the Bible of the New Testament writers (in many though not all instances); it was the Bible of the Greek-speaking early church.”

There are two classes from my graduate studies that radically transformed the way I thought about the Bible. The first was general linguistics which has, and continues, to shape my understanding of how and why language(s) work. The second class was a Greek reading class and introduction to the Septuagint that I took last fall. I had some knowledge about the Septuagint from my undergraduate studies, having read Jobes and Silva and done a little bit of translation work in Deuteronomy for another Greek reading class. But it was in this Septuagint class last fall that I really fell in love with the LXX.

I look forward to sharing more on Monday when I post my 2-chapter review of T. Michael Law’s ‘When God Spoke Greek’ as a part of the blog tour.

Words on the Word

It’s not uncommon for people to ask: why the Septuagint? (That comes right after: What is it?)  Why bother with the Greek Septuagint when we have the Old Testament in Hebrew, in which it was first written? English translations of the Bible in most churches use the Hebrew text as a base, anyway.

Before giving my top 10 reasons why, here are a couple ways to access the Septuagint (often abbreviated LXX after the tradition of the 70(+2) who were said to have translated it). This site has the whole Septuagint in Greek with an English translation. And here‘s a good, up-to-date English translation of the whole thing. (For hard copies, the standard complete Greek text is the Rahlfs Septuagint, and a recent English translation is the NETS.)

Here are 10 good reasons to pay attention to the Septuagint:

10. It helps us read Scripture in…

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The War Outside Our Doors & Walking Through Conquered Halls…

I couldn’t sleep. Tossing and turning was all I did after my afternoon on an Elijah Rising van tour of Houston.  Where do I begin?Elijah Rising

In 2011, Elijah Rising (a ministry committed to ending human trafficking) began offering van tours throughout the city in order to promote awareness of the impact and prominence of sex trafficking in the city of Houston.

“Part of our mandate is to drive the reality of modern day slavery into the consciousness of our society. To do this we offer approximately 2 hour tours of high probability trafficking areas. These tours are essentially a rolling Human Trafficking 101 class with visuals.”

Human trafficking is a 32 billion dollar per year industry with over 27 million people currently living as slaves.*  Eighty-percent of human trafficking is commercial sex trade.  Out of the 27 million victims, eighty-percent are women and of these eighty, fifty-percent are minors.  Houston is at the top of the list of offenders.

I was aware of these statistics before I went on the van tour and I will admit that, at first, the numbers are just numbers; there are no faces, just statistics.  But within minutes of taking your seat in that van it all changes.

The van tour takes you through three areas around Houston that are heavily populated with brothels disguised as massage parlors, spas, adult studios, strip clubs, and cantinas.  The first real shock is the proximity of these places to other businesses, restaurants, and neighborhoods.  One of the highly populated areas of the cantina-style brothels was just across the freeway from where I once lived.  I couldn’t believe it.  You start the recognize the tell-tale signs of a brothel: dark or boarded windows; high walls and gated parking lots; a series of houses or buildings connected together; some really weird statues.

Once you see the buildings, you begin to hear the stories.  The stories help to put faces to the numbers and that’s when the sick and the dread and the anger and the sorrow start to set in.  This is a reality.  Right outside my door.

And you weep.

You weep because it all seems impossible.  You weep because you wonder “Why?” and “How?”  You weep because you wonder why you sat by idly for so long.photo-8

Elijah Rising is ending human trafficking in our city by equipping a generation of justic warriors for prayer, awareness and intervention in the spirit of Isaiah 1:17 which says ‘Learn to do good, seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, plead the cause of the widow, defend the orphan.’

But there is hope.  I soon learned that Elijah rising has started leasing a building that was formerly a brothel.  We had a chance to walk through the building where they are currently remodeling; the building will serve as one of its offices.  This was by far the worst and best part of the tour.  Being inside that building and walking past shower after shower, room after room, made imagining the women and children trapped in this life of slavery far too easy.  There was a real sense of sadness and darkness that remained in those rooms.

But hope was breaking through.  With each pound of the sledgehammer you could feel the walls of injustice slowly crumbling down.  Many of us cried as we walked those halls.

The Elijah Rising team has been praying over those rooms, the evidence of their faith in a God who saves written on the walls in crayola markers.

This place is a victory.  God is pushing back the darkness.  Jesus’ kingdom is coming.  The Spirit is moving…

And you realize that there is a battle happening right outside your doors. 

If you live in Houston or will be visiting anytime in the future, I suggest you do three things:

  1. Go on an Elijah Rising van tour. It will change you.
  2. Pray. Pray for the end of human trafficking in our city, and across the globe.
  3. Attend the Justice Summit this September 19th-21st here in Houston.

 

*These are the statistics I was presented with during the van tour.

Strangers To The Desire For Domination…

Desert Mothers

“The same Amma [Theodora] said that a teacher ought to be a stranger to the desire for domination, vainglory, and pride.  A teacher should not be fooled by flattery, nor be blinded by gifts, conquered by the stomach, nor dominated by anger.  A teacher should be patient, gentle and humble as far as possible; successfully tested and without partisanship, full of concern, and a lover of souls.”

– Theodora 5, in Laura Swan, The Forgotten Desert Mothers

Is Gender A Part of Being Created Imago Dei?

As I was preparing to present an argument for Egalitarianism at my church’s Elephant in the Room series (last night’s topic was gender roles in the Church and home), I came across this quote from N.T. Wright’s paper Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis from CBE’s conference in 2004:

Many people have said, and I have often enough said it myself, that the creation of man and woman in their two genders is a vital part of what it means that humans are created in God’s image. I now regard that as a mistake. After all, not only the animal kingdom, as noted in Genesis itself, but also the plant kingdom, as noted by the reference to seed, have their male and female. The two-gender factor is not at all specific to human beings, but runs right through a fair amount of the rest of creation. This doesn’t mean it’s unimportant, indeed it means if anything it’s all the more important; being male and being female, and working out what that means, is something most of creation is called to do and be, and unless we are to collapse into a kind of gnosticism, where the way things are in creation is regarded as secondary and shabby over against what we are now to do with it, we have to recognise, respect and respond to this call of God to live in the world he has made and as the people he has made us. It’s just that we can’t use the argument that being male-plus-female is somehow what being God’s imagebearers actually means.

Now, I had read this paper before but somehow I missed this point.  It really stuck out to me when reading over it again this past weekend.  So, what do you think?  Does Genesis 1:28 demonstrate that male and female are part of what it means to be created in the image of God?  Or is Wright right (ha!) in his observation that (from this passage at least) one cannot argue that maleness and femaleness are specifically unique for God’s imagebearers?

Further along in his paper, Wright states:

When humans are renewed in the Messiah and raised from the dead, they will be set in authority over the angels (6.3). In worship, the church anticipates how things are going to be in that new day. When a woman is praying or prophesying (perhaps in the language of angels, as in 13.1), she needs to be truly what she is, since it is to male and female alike, in their mutual interdependence as God’s image-bearing creatures, that the world, including the angels, is to be subject. God’s creation needs humans to be fully, gloriously and truly human, which means fully and truly male and female. This, and of course much else besides, is to be glimpsed in worship.

This is something I am still working through as I attempt to solidify my understanding of gender roles.  While I agree that men and women are different, and that being female is different from being male, I also recognize that some women are different from other women, and some men are different from other men.  This is in large part because of my own personal experience.  Surprise, surprise, I do not always easily identify with what is typically characterized as ‘Biblical womanhood’.  Nothing aggravates me more than being told that men want most to be respected and honored while women want most to be loved and cherished.  I, along with Aretha Franklin, heartily disagree.  And isn’t Don Draper’s big life question “Am I loved?”  It’s frustrating to be told women are more emotional (with the implication that this is a weakness) and social than men while men are more goal-oriented.  Have you ever met a female introvert? We aren’t really that social. I also know lots of women that are goal-oriented and very good at achieving said goals. Sorry to burst your stereo-typical gender bubble!

I think qualities like bravery and the desire to protect are not masculine traits, nor is nurturing a feminine trait.  They are human traits that humans naturally have to a varying degree, both male and female, and that all Spirit-filled people should work to develop in themselves as the Spirit works in them.

What do you think?

Here’s a video with highlights from Wright’s lecture:

Feminism Isn’t A Bad Word…

As a part of Rachel Held Evans’ A Week of Mutuality, blogger Julie Clawson over at One Hand Clapping has been writing on her journey to Discovering Christian Feminism, a worth-wile read for all I think.

Today Clawson focuses on why the label “feminism” need not be a bad word:

“Patriarchy continues to encourage fear of feminism by spreading the lie that it is about dominance and not equality.”

Clawson has provided an informative and eye-opening look at the rich history of feminism.  Whatever your position on feminism, I heartily encourage you to read through her series of posts to help inform your understanding of what feminism is/can be/should be, and perhaps you might even change the way you think about some things.  I know I did!

Let’s not be afraid of the word “feminism,” rather let’s talk about what it really means.  In an earlier post where I officially out myself as a feminist (as if it were a surprise), I linked to a pretty clear-cut and basic definition of the word feminism.  Here it is again from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary: feminism – the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.

Please! Someone!! Tell me how that contradictions our Christian story?

I appreciate Clawson’s comments on our tendency as Christian’s to want to shy away from this label:

“Wanting to release women from oppression, to allow her to be who God made her to be does not mean that others must be hurt in the process. These are fears and misunderstanding that are sadly encouraged in our culture, ensuring that feminism remains generally reviled. But as a Christ-follower who cares about truth (not to mention justice), I believe it is necessary to oppose these lies and dismantle misunderstandings with the light of reality. That’s why I no longer fear being called names like feminazi, I would just rather help others see that the message of freedom feminism offers is the exact opposite of Nazi Totalitarianism…

Some Christians believe that the negative connotations surrounding feminism are reason enough to shun the label… There are some labels I want to claim even if they have negative connotations for some. Like the label “Christian,” for instance.

This is just a glimpse at some of Clawson’s thoughtful remarks.  Hop over to her blog. Read. Learn. Discuss. Let me know what you think.