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  • Kevin D. Johnson 9:52 am on May 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    On the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text 

    LXXThe Dead Sea Scrolls don’t prove that some books of the Hebrew Bible were still being edited/supplemented/reduced well past the writing of the New Testament. That’s an assertion and an unproven one provided by modern scholarship. We know from New Testament textual criticism that just because a text is older or agrees with other manuscripts–that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily the original readings. Ironically, what the Dead Sea Scrolls actually do overall is provide us with extreme confidence as to the nature of the Masoretic text and its reliability.

    The truth of the matter is that the Dead Sea Scrolls revealed very minor differences for the most part between the Masoretic text and some of the manuscripts provided by the Dead Sea Scrolls. Timothy Michael Law’s book on the Septuagint suffers from modern critical assumptions in approaching the text and his diagnosis is by no means certain.  Instead of Law’s book, I’d recommend getting your hands on the Jobes/Silva introduction to the Septuagint since it seems to avoid the sort of unnecessary speculation provided by Law in calling the Hebrew text of the Old Testament into question.

    However, if for the sake of argument we grant the highly speculative assumption made by Law and others that the Masoretic text is unreliable and that the Hebrew text continued to develop through the “Common Era” we have to be willing to admit that the situation is even worse–much worse–for the Septuagint.  This creates huge problems for those who want to retain dogmatic faith in the Septuagint as the “official” version of the Old Testament as we find in the Orthodox communions.  Wurthwein makes it quite clear that the Septuagint can’t really be used this way if we’re going to call the Masoretic text in doubt (66).

    Historically speaking, several versions of the Septuagint existed, revisions were made over its life even well after the New Testament was written, and this is so much more so given its history than what we could ever propose about the Hebrew Bible via the Dead Sea Scrolls. We’d also have to admit that not all copies of the Septuagint contained the same material nor can we really say that any book in its varied collection was considered Scripture by the church except those actually a part of what we now call the Old Testament. Just take a look at the section on the Septuagint in Wurthwein’s work noted above and you’ll see what I mean.

    The Additions to Esther

    As for Esther, Jerome was quite clear in providing evidence to us that the Greek versions–what we typically refer to as the Additions to Esther–didn’t reconcile with the existing Hebrew versions in his day. That’s part of the reason why they’re thrown in doubt and not really received by Protestants or Jews as a legitimate part of the original Esther that we find in the Masoretic text. Furthermore, as Law notes, at least two of the additions appear to be Greek originals and likely didn’t have a Hebrew version underlying their origin.

    So, while the Septuagint was a useful tool of the early church to provide Greek readers of the Bible access to the Hebrew Old Testament in advancing Christianity, claiming more than that for it is extremely problematic.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 2:48 pm on March 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    I Second the Motion 

    There are a lot of websites out there that deal in moving Christians from one communion to another.  We used to call that proselytizing but today many term it differently to avoid the negative connotation such a term undoubtedly retains.  Many times, this sort of activity is done with the guise that what’s really being offered is fresh dialog and conversation between differing Christian parties toward mutual understanding. But, these sites aren’t really interested in mutual understanding. Rather, they’re interested in making converts for their communion out of people who are already Christian.

    In that vein, one such site is called Orthodox Bridge where the author and several others purportedly want to offer “a better understanding of Orthodoxy” in order for people to make the move from Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy.

    Of course, these sites follow a familiar pattern and Orthodox Bridge is no exception.  First, they are typically authored by folks who claim to have studied all sides of a debate and now have a better and more informed opinion than they did in the past.  Whether that’s actually true or not, we don’t really know since it seems that many of the former beliefs they carried and talk about don’t always seem to match up to confessional Reformed orthodoxy or even a fair assessment of evangelical religion.  Second, these sites also put up posts that put forward a Protestant, Reformed, or evangelical opinion and then proceed to knock it down with their own particular ecclesial point of view.  Then, all you ever find on the site are posts like this that continue ad infinitum  with the same strategy. Here’s the Protestant view on this issue, they say, now let’s look at the truth of Eastern Orthodoxy.  And, on it goes.

    What these sites and their lengthy posts often fail to do, however, is get anywhere beyond the sort of straw man that makes one opinion look horrible and its alternative–their version of the gospel truth of the matter–look strong and clean.  Yet, what are they really opposing?

    Realdialektik makes it quite clear–these critics are busy criticizing something but typically stay away from the best and the brightest representatives that the Protestant tradition provides for us with only a few exceptions.  In other words, these sort of sites aren’t really dealing so much with the classical Protestant tradition as they are the bogeyman of their own failed appropriation of it prior to making the jump across to Eastern Orthodoxy.  And, that’s what makes them dangerous.  Welcome to the plague of convertitis where your belief of whatever you knew before your “conversion” to XYZ group just doesn’t measure up to what you now consider the truth of the matter.

    So, I second Realdialektik’s challenge to the guys over at Orthodox Bridge.  Get your facts straight.  Deal with the best and brightest of Protestantism and quit cherry-picking your material just to make Orthodoxy look good.  If you do that, maybe then we can have a real conversation about the theology and history of the Church.  Until then, readers should know that the content they provide simply isn’t convincing to people who are aware of the fuller evangelical/Protestant commentary on the relevant issues.

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