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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 9:42 am on February 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    On the Apocrypha 

    I happened upon a postLXX defending the inspired nature of the Apocrypha this morning by Timothy Matkin, an Anglican priest.  The post contained a number of inaccuracies, so I responded on a friend’s FB feed.  Here’s that response with a few extra details and links.

    The author’s information on the Septuagint (LXX) is not exactly accurate and is somewhat outdated. There is some evidence that the Septuagint was not quite the static set of books people pretend and modern research is bearing out more in that light (see Jobes/Silva’s book here, as well as Law’s). The LXX was more like a convenient biblical currency of sorts used by the Jews and the early church to enable Greek speakers access to the Old Testament and other important documents but it is doubtful that it had a static form sufficient to consider its contents inspired simply because a manuscript was a part of the collection. We have different copies of the Septuagint and it’s very difficult to prove the exact nature of the Septuagint as used by the church originally (except what gets quoted in the NT) and even more difficult to prove that all such manuscripts in the collection were seen as inspired.

    There’s a hidden assumption here in treating the LXX the way Matkin does and it’s a bit like inferring that Paul and his mention of “books, and above all the parchments” in 2 Timothy 4:13 meant that he only wanted Scripture passed to him rather than including other important works he might refer to in his studies and preaching.  In truth, we don’t know which works Paul required.  To infer Paul meant include only Scripture in the parchments is an assumption and perhaps a dubious one given that we know Paul quoted from other works in the NT (even pagan ones, cf. Acts 17:28) and the terms for books and parchments could mean anything from a book of the Old Testament to a notebook that Paul used to record his thoughts (cf. Towner, NICNT, pp. 629-630).  Furthermore, when Paul is talking about the Scriptures he generally uses other technical terms (1 Tim. 5:18).

    When it comes to the Septuagint, the same sort of assumption has historically been a part of how some scholars have looked at the Septuagint until more critical studies came along like the ones offered by Jobes/Silva and Law (linked above).  We have to remember that the use of a set of books–really manuscripts or parchments–isn’t quite the same historically as it would be for us today.  So, we can’t look at the LXX and infer that any book in the collection was Scripture simply because it was included with the other books.

    But, there are more problems with this post than a dated understanding of the Septuagint.

    The Jews never “decided” that the Masoretic text had a canon and haven’t approached the Scriptures the way Christians later did in recognizing one. There’s no evidence post-70AD that rabbis codified any sort of canon by council or other means.  It simply wasn’t necessary.

    Why wasn’t it necessary?  Because, there was already a recognition among God’s people that these books were the word of God regardless as to any issues about a formal canon per se. As a result, there is no evidence the Jewish community as a whole ever held the apocryphal books as Scripture. Jesus wasn’t referring to a canon if by that we mean a rule the Jewish community consciously put in place to determine the contents of the Old Testament.  Such a contention would be anachronistic; however, from his statement in Matthew 23 Jesus was most certainly referring to the historical contents of the Tanakh as he did in other statements in the gospels.  The dispute about which Zechariah that Matkins mentions is irrelevant once we take all of Jesus’ statements about the Tanakh together in the gospels.  Clearly, Jesus saw the Tanakh as Scripture and this division of the OT was always the 39 books of the OT in Jewish studies and never included the Apocrypha.

    Jesus didn’t endorse a formal canon but he definitely endorsed the threefold division of the Tanakh that later became the Old Testament for Protestants and much of the early church.  So, when Protestants cite Jesus in defending the Protestant canon of the Old Testament, they speak in shorthand and it’s an entirely valid point to make.

    Additionally, it’s quite clear that the English Church via the 39 Articles never saw the Apocrypha as Scripture since they were ratified.  It’s always curious when an Anglican writes something like this and neglects to mention the doctrinal standard of his church as it has been received for some 500 years.

    Last, the Councils were not always united on the question of the Apocrypha and differences existed historically between East and West as to which books should be included. The West’s appraisal of the Apocrypha has not always been consistent in the Councils. Rome herself didn’t really define the canon–as Rome–officially until Trent.  So, it’s not exactly true to say the Councils have unanimously endorsed the Apocrypha without any sort of qualification as to the actual history of the matter.

    The Reformers were on very good grounds to doubt the canonical status of the Apocrypha and did so for additional reasons as well that the post does not even mention (such as problems with its inherent theology and its inconsistencies).

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