ON THE MERITS OF THE SEPTUAGINT: A Response to Floyd Nolen Jones’ “The Chronology of the Old Testament”
© 2010, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.
There are Christians who believe that the King James Version is a divinely inspired translation and is the only true Word of God in the English language. They hold to this position by faith, though it is not faith in what the Word of God says, since nowhere in the Bible does God say that He will have a divinely inspired translation into any other language. Thus, this position seems to be based on faith in the traditions of men, rather than faith in what God has said.
Now, since the Old Testament of the KJV was translated from what is called the “Masoretic text” and the New Testament from the Textus Receptus, KJV-Only advocates insist that these are the perfect and true texts of the Bible in the original languages, as a corollary to their fideistic view of the KJV.
Therefore, when it comes to assessing the merits of the various original language texts of the Bible, KJV-Only advocates have already made up their minds as to which is the best text. In other words, they do not draw their conclusions from the evidence, but endeavour to make the evidence fit their preconceived conclusions. This leads to arguments that run the gamut from plausible though inconclusive to the risible.
It should also be noted, ere we begin, that the “Masoretic text” from which the KJV was translated was not, as may be assumed, a careful compilation of MT manuscripts. In fact, the Masoretic text is so named because it was compiled by different scribes beginning in the 6th century AD, about a thousand years after the close of the OT canon, in a variety of places, most prominently Palestine, Tiberias, and Babylonia. The work in these centres was not identical, and it was not until the 12th century AD that the Ben Asher text from Tiberias came to be considered the Masoretic text. The OT text used by the KJV translators was a printed rabbinic Bible prepared by Jacob ben Chayyim in the 16th century AD and published by Daniel Bomberg. This is now considered to be inferior to the Masoretic text based on Codex Leningradiensis (dated AD 1008). So the idea that the “Masoretic text” is one textual tradition copied without change from the time of Jesus is not even remotely true. The Masoretic manuscripts are very similar, but they are not identical.
It should also be noted that Nolen Jones posits a false dichotomy, between choosing either the Masoretic text (MT) in toto or the Septuagint (LXX), the ancient Greek translation of the OT, in toto. The real issue is whether, at those points at which the MT and the LXX disagree, whether the LXX may sometimes be the correct reading. Unless the MT is perfect (and it is manifestly not, since it does contain undeniable errors), this is a possibility that must be considered.
Finally, when one wishes to establish a view, he must engage his opponents’ strongest arguments and refute them if his view is to be accepted. It is regrettable that Nolen Jones remains nearly silent on the strongest arguments for the value of the LXX for OT textual criticism as we shall see.
We will first assess Nolen Jones’ arguments for the MT and against the LXX, and then we will look at the case for the LXX.
An Assessment of Floyd Nolen Jones’ Arguments for the MT and against the LXX
Floyd Nolen Jones’ (FNJ) case for the MT and against the LXX as made in his book The Chronology of the Old Testament (15th edition, Master Books, 2005), in the chapter entitled “Establishing the Correct Foundation”, section H “The Text”, subsections 2 “The Septuagint” and 3 “The Faithfulness of the Hebrew Text” (pp. 10-19) will herein be examined.
First, FNJ claims that those who resort to textual criticism “will be left with maximum uncertainty as to the precision of his final product.” On the other hand,
That person who simply puts his/her faith in God’s promise to preserve His word (Jer. 1.12; Ps. 12:6-7; Isa. 40.8; Mark 13:31) concludes that God has done so and that it is to be found where He originally deposited it, namely, in the Hebrew Masoretic Text. It is likewise faithfully preserved in the English translation of the 1611 King James Bible. This person is left with maximum certainty, with peace of heart and peace of mind. Such is a true Biblicist. (p. 10) (Bolding his.)
First, it should be noted that not one of the verses adduced by FNJ actually say what he implies, i.e. that the written text will be preserved inerrant in any one manuscript. They are about the information content of God’s Word and about Him doing what He said He will do. It is never a good sign when a contestant adduces “proof texts” that do not prove his contention, for one would suggest that if there are texts that do prove his contention, he would bring these forth instead. But if one is arguing for a fideistic view that is not in the Bible, then he will not be able to adduce verses that do teach it. This is not the only time that FNJ will do this.
Second, certainty is only as good as the object in which it is placed. Feeling certain on the basis of an erroneous doctrine is not helpful. The Mormon has “maximum certainty” based on the “burning in his bosom”; the Muslim has “maximum certainty” because the Qur’an, he believes, has been perfectly preserved. So this argument of FNJ is without merit. Furthermore, it is not true that OT textual critics need have “maximum” uncertainty. Is that 100% uncertainty? 90%? I think that the judicious of textual criticism can yield essential certainty as to the text.
I also note in passing that it seems that, in FNJ’s opinion, if one is not a KJV-Only advocate, he is not a “true Biblicist.”
FNJ moves on to a more substantive argument next, the “Discordant Ages of the Patriarchs in the LXX.” Now, the ages of the Patriarchs in the MT and LXX do differ, but that does not prove that the LXX is wrong. However, FNJ does point to a couple of issues. First, according to the ages given in the LXX,
if Methuselah were 167 at the birth of Lamech … the LXX becomes entangled in the absurdity of making Methuselah survive the flood by 14 years! (p. 11)
This would indeed be a problem, and the LXX text in Codex Vaticanus (the primary manuscript used by Brenton, the translator of the standard English version) does have Methuselah 167 years old at the birth of Lamech. However, Codex Alexandrinus, in my opinion a more reliable manuscript, has his age at 188 at Lamech’s birth, the same as the MT, and thus has Methuselah dying before the flood.
Under this same rubric, FNJ, having claimed “That the variations in the Septuagint are due to contrivance or design, and not due to accident, is plain from the systematic way in which the alterations are made,” offers the following:
the translators of the [LXX] desired to lengthen the chronology and to graduate the length of the lives of those who lived after the Flood so as to make the shortening of the life spans gradual and continuous, instead of sudden and abrupt. This fit into their philosophic concept of gradual and uniform change … they were primeval evolutionists. (p. 11)
He goes on to say that
The curious result is that with the three exceptions of Enoch, Cainan (whose life exceeds that of his father by only five years) and Reu (whose age at death is the same as that of his father), every one of the patriarchs from Adam to Abraham is made to die a few years younger than his father. Could anything be more manifestly artificial? (p. 11)
Leaving aside the attempted to smear the LXX through “guilt by association” with evolution, let’s look more closely at these claims. What follows are the lifespans of the patriarchs, as given in the MT and the LXX:
MT Adam 930; Seth 912; Enosh 905; Cainan 910; Mahalalel 895; Jared 962; Enoch 365;
LXX Adam 930; Seth 912; Enosh 905; Cainan 910; Mahalalel 895; Jared 962; Enoch 365;
MT Methuselah 969; Lamech 777; Noah 950; Shem 600; Arphaxad 438; —— ;
LXX Methuselah 969; Lamech 753; Noah 950; Shem 600; Arphaxad 535; Cainan 460; or 565?
MT Salah 433; Eber 464; Peleg 239; Reu 239; Nahor 148; Serug 230; Terah 205; Abraham 175
LXX Salah 460; Eber 404; Peleg 339; Reu 339; Nahor 204; Serug 230; Terah 205; Abraham 175 or 504? or 154?
The first thing we notice is that 13 of the 20 lifespans are identical in the two texts. Both have the precipitous drop from 950 to 600 right after the flood. The only significant differences are with Arphaxad, Peleg, and Reu. Both show a steady decline with the occasional reversal.
As far as FNJ’s “curious result” that “with the three exceptions of Enoch, Cainan (whose life exceeds that of his father by only five years) and Reu (whose age at death is the same as that of his father), every one of the patriarchs from Adam to Abraham is made to die a few years younger than his father.” “Could anything be more manifestly artificial?”, he asks. Yet, using the numbers from Codex Vaticanus, there are six exceptions, not three. Using the probably more reliable Codex Alexandrinus numbers, there are seven.
How about the MT? It also has six exceptions (all the ones in Codex Alexandrinus except Salah)! Now, since we see virtually the same phenomenon in both texts (in fact, the has one fewer exception than Codex Alexandrinus), how is this “manifestly artificial” for the LXX, but not for the MT? We have to conclude that FNJ’s arguments against the LXX on the basis of “the discordant ages of the patriarchs in the LXX” do not succeed.
Next, FNJ appeals to errors in the LXX which, he claims “are not the result of scribal errors, but constitute editorial changes made with the object of correcting what were considered ‘errors’ in the original Hebrew Text.” (p. 12)
He cites the problem of 1 Kings 22:41 and 1 Kings 16:28. The former states that Jehoshaphat began to reign in Judah in the fourth year of Ahab king of Israel, whereas the latter, in the LXX, has Jehoshaphat beginning to reign in the 11th year of Omri, Ahab’s father.
Now, prima facie, this is an error in the LXX (It should be noted, though, that the Greek simply says that Jehoshaphat reigned at these points in time, not that he began to reign then). However, that does not settle the issue, for, if there are errors in the LXX, there are certainly errors in the MT.
For example, who killed Goliath? David, of course (1 Samuel 17). But notice the following:
2 Samuel 21:19b (MT) “Elhanan the son of Jaare-Oreginm the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weavers’ beam.”
1 Chronicles 20:5b (MT) “Elhanan the son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.”
So according to the MT, Elhanan killed both Goliath and his brother Lahmi, although the MT has already described David’s killing of Goliath. This is a clear error. (The LXX also has this error.)
1 Chronicles 21:11-12a (MT) “So Gad came to David and said to him, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Choose for yourself, either THREE years of famine …”’”
2 Samuel 24:13 (MT) “So Gad came to David and told him; and he said to him, ‘Shall SEVEN years of famine come to you …’”
The contradiction is obvious. But the LXX reads in 2 Samuel 24:13 “three years of famine,” so that there is no contradiction in the LXX where there is one in the MT. The same holds at, for example, the contradiction between “40,000” in 1 Kings 4:26 and “4,000” in 2 Chronicles 9:25 in the MT. LXX reads “4,000” in both passages.
The upshot of this is that neither the MT nor the LXX is perfect. Each contains errors, which is why textual criticism of the OT is necessary.
Next, FNJ appeals to Josephus, claiming that
none of Josephus’ variations is the same as any found in the Septuagint. We submit this indicates that:
- Josephus did not consider the LXX reliable, or
- The LXX did not exist in his day!
Either is devastating to the position to which the LXX has somehow ascended in the minds of most scholars. (p. 13)
This claim of FNJ’s, however, is wrong in every way. First, there is actually a third option, that Josephus simply chose to use the Hebrew text and make his own translations as a Jew. Second, we do not believe in the divine inspiration of Josephus, so that even if “1.” were true, it would certainly not be “devastating” to the LXX. Third, no less an expert than Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton, who translated the standard English version of the LXX, wrote that the Jews venerated the LXX, “as shown in the case of Philo and Josephus” and that Josephus did indeed quote the LXX. This seems to be the consensus view of scholars. Fourth, it is shocking that FNJ would suggest “2.”, given that (a) we have manuscripts of the LXX dating as far back as the mid 2nd century BC; and (b) Josephus himself discusses the origin of the LXX in his Antiquities of the Jews, 12.2.1-4!
FNJ then goes on to “Irrefutable Internal Evidence,” but his “evidence” is highly refutable, indeed. In fact, FNJ here argues against a straw man. He claims that
there are various references in the New Testament which clearly demonstrate that the Lord Jesus referred to the Hebrew Old Testament rather than the Greek LXX or any other version. (p. 13)
Yet no one I know who suggests that the LXX has text-critical value thinks that Jesus used it. He was an Aramaic-speaking Jew (though He probably did speak Greek as well) so He would naturally have used the Hebrew text. The real issue, though, is what was in the Hebrew text that He used. Where the MT and the LXX disagree, which preserves the reading that was in the Hebrew text that Jesus used in the 1st century AD? FNJ seems to think that proving Jesus used a Hebrew text instead of a Greek text proves that the current MT is flawless; it does nothing of the sort.
By the way, FNJ’s “irrefutable internal evidence” is, as I’ve said, refutable. He cites Matthew 5:17-18 (“one jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the law”) and asserts that:
our Lord’s reference to ‘jot’ and ‘tittle’ could only refer to the Hebrew and not the Greek Old Testament! The Greek alphabet has neither jot nor tittle. Only the Hebrew alphabet contains ‘jots’ (the letter ‘yod,’ i.e. which is about one-third normal height of the other Hebrew letters) … (p. 13) (Bolding his.)
Again, this would seem to be a questionable argument, as Jesus seems to be referring to the information content of the law, and not to particular texts. However, if one wishes to make this argument against the LXX, it conspicuously fails. The actual text of what Jesus says here is
ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ, ἰῶτα ἓν, ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ …
The word translated as “yod” in English in the original text (underlined) is ἰῶτα (“iota,”) which is a Greek letter (ι), not a Hebrew one. By FNJ’s logic, we should conclude that Jesus was referring to the LXX.
FNJ also appeals to the three-fold division of the Hebrew OT of Law, Prophets, and Writings (though, it should be noted, none of the passages he adduces actually mentions these three. Three refer only to the “law and the prophets,” and the fourth refers to the “law … prophets, and … Psalms.”). FNJ writes “Here is a very clear indication of the threefold division of the Hebrew Canon into Law, Prophets and Psalms,” (p. 14) redefining the third element of the OT canon in what amounts to a Deus ex machina.
Again, this is a pointless argument. No one doubts that Jesus used the Hebrew OT; the debate is about the variants between the MT and LXX, and that is not settled by which language text Jesus used.
Now FNJ moves on to “Final Considerations.” Herein lie some very questionable arguments. There is copious “petition principii” (“begging the question” aka circular reasoning), as FNJ asserts that the LXX we have today must be “a very corrupted form … for it flagrantly contradicts the Hebrew” (p. 15) and again that the LXX manuscripts “disagree with the Hebrew Masoretic Text in many places. Both cannot be correct. As the Hebrew Masoretic Text is the inerrant, infallible Word of God, the Septuagint should be seen as spurious and rejected.” (p. 15, italics added.)
It is hard not to think at this point that FNJ’s conclusions were reached a priori on fideistic grounds and not on the basis of evidence. As we have seen, the MT is emphatically not inerrant.
FNJ also says that references to the LXX nearly always are to Codex Sinaiticus and especially Codex Vaticanus, so that
the LXX which is cited almost 90 percent of the time is actually the LXX that was written more than 250 years after the completion of the New Testament canon. (p. 15) (Bolding his.)
Here there is both error and a double standard. The error is that the date of copying of a manuscript is not the date of its writing, so it is not true to say that the LXX we reference was “written” more than 250 years after the completion of the NT. (There are, in fact, more than 1,500 known manuscripts of the LXX, the earliest dating back to the 2nd century BC, that could be used for textual criticism.)
The double standard lies in the fact that virtually all references to the MT are to one manuscript, Codex Leningradiensis, which dates from AD 1008. Yet FNJ would never suggest that the MT we use was “written” more than 900 years after the completion of NT simply because it was “copied” at that time.
The arguments become more risible. FNJ next claims that
The irrefutable fact is that the divine oracles of the Old Testament were given to the Jews and the Jews only to both write and preserve (Rom. 3:1-3), never to the Greeks. It is therefore the Hebrew writing that is the true infallible Word of the Living God. (p. 15)
As a corollary to this, he claims that Luke was not a Gentile:
Contrary to nearly all modern scholarship, Luke was not a Gentile. The Romans 3:1-2 citation is in itself absolutely conclusive and serves to correct any and all who instruct otherwise … Were Luke indeed not Jewish, the Lord … failed to honor His testimony in Romans 3. (p. 15)
The exegesis here is, frankly, embarrassing. In the early chapters of Romans, Paul outlines the problem of the human condition, viz. that all are guilty of sin before God and therefore doomed. The Gentiles, he explains, have only natural revelation to guide them, but it is enough for them to know enough to respond to God, so they are without excuse. The Jews have special revelation, but, since they don’t keep the law, they are also condemned. Nevertheless, it is an advantage to have special revelation (the “Oracles of God” = λόγια τοῦ θεοῦ (logia tou Theou) = words of God, not γραφη (graphe) = writings, Scripture) to know explicitly what God has to say. This is what Romans 3:1-2 is about, in context. It says nothing about who writes Scripture.
It is particularly galling that FNJ uses this passage to claim that Luke could not have been a Gentile, for “were Luke indeed not Jewish, the Lord … failed to honor His testimony in Romans 3” after he himself said that Romans 3 is about the divine oracles of the OLD Testament, and Luke is writing NEW Testament books.
Apropos to this, FNJ’s attempt to prove that Luke was not a Gentile does despite to the very Word of God. Contra FNJ, the Romans 3:1-2 citation is NOT “absolutely conclusive”; it doesn’t even say what FNJ says it does. What is “absolutely conclusive” is Colossians 4:7-15, where Paul lists a number of his fellow workers, sums up that list with “these are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision” (i.e. Jews) (v. 11) after which he lists others, including Luke (v. 14). It is, then, beyond any dispute that Luke was a Gentile, and FNJ should not be surprised. The Jew/Gentile division has disappeared with the New Covenant (e.g. Ephesians 2:11-22); this is basic theology that any Christian ought to know.
Furthermore, FNJ’s special pleading to get around what is said in Colossians 4:7-15, viz.
Clearly then from the context, Aristarchus, Marcus, and Justus are grouped and introduced next, not because they are Jews, but rather because they are the only three with Paul (other than Tychicus whom they now behold) that the church at Colosse does not already know. Their nationality is thereby not given for the purpose of ethnic grouping, but for the purpose of identification and information concerning the three. (p. 19)
This would be a stretch under any circumstances; if Paul wants to introduce these three men to the Colossian church, would he be likely to give only one piece of identifying information about them, and that that piece would be their “ethnic grouping”? More importantly, this unlikely scenario would only be possible if Paul had written about them that they were “fellow workers … who are of the circumcision.” But since he wrote that they are his “ONLY fellow workers,” FNJ’s explanation is impossible. It is hard to understand, therefore, why he would say this.
Finally, even if FNJ were right about this, the fact that Jews wrote the Bible says nothing about whether today’s MT is inerrant or not.
Next, FNJ writes
The devastating and unanswerable question for the supporters of today’s LXX is: if the Savior, the apostles and the early church used the Septuagint for their Bible, why would the true believers have ever left it and why did they return to the Hebrew Text? The answer is obvious – they would never have done so. (p. 15)
The question is neither devastating nor unanswerable. It is beyond any question that the early church used the LXX as their Bible, and it seems far more difficult to explain why they did so if it is unreliable, than to explain why “the true believers” later left it. As to whether Jesus and the Apostles used it, which is far more pertinent, we will consider that presently.
FNJ also asks why the early translators of other versions did not use the LXX (p. 15). Actually, the Old Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Slavonic, Old Georgian, and Old Armenian translations (in other words, all the major ones) all used the LXX.
FNJ’s final arguments are under the rubric “The Faithfulness of the Hebrew Text.” First, he claims that
In Old Testament times, the Levitical priests copied and preserved the Living Words of God. Throughout Scripture, all the scribes were of the tribe of Levi (Mal.2:7; Deut. 31:25; Deut. 17:18). This method of preserving the text was extremely successful as our Lord bore witness that not ‘one jot or tittle’ had been altered in the 1,500 years from Moses to His day. (p. 16)
Yet again we see FNJ adducing proof texts that do not say what he says they are saying, nor do they support his contention. Let’s show this:
“For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge,
And people should seek the law from his mouth;
For he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 2:7)
Not only does this say nothing about priests copying written Scripture, let alone saying they are the only ones to do so, the use of the term “lips” undeniably means that this passage is referring to oral teaching, not copying Scripture.
So it was, when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book, when they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying: “Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there as a witness against you; for I know your rebellion and your stiff neck. If today, while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD, then how much more after my death?” (Deuteronomy 31:24-27)
After Moses has finished writing the law at God’s direction, he here commands the Levites to put the book in the ark of the covenant. Again, nothing is said about copying the law, nor who should do it. By the way, Moses’ comment on the rebelliousness of the Levites does not augur well for those who insist that they would faithfully do what God commanded them to do.
“Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites.” (Deuteronomy 17:18)
Here again, nothing is said about the Levites copying Scripture, let alone them being the only ones to do so. On the contrary, the king is commanded to “write for himself” a copy. The first king was of the tribe of Benjamin, the rest from the tribe of Judah.
I must say it is indeed troubling to see FNJ asserting something that Scripture does not teach, and then adducing proof texts as if they supported his contention, when they do nothing of the kind.
As to his claim that, “This method of preserving the text was extremely successful as our Lord bore witness that not ‘one jot or tittle’ had been altered in the 1,500 years from Moses to His day,” we have already shown that this was not in reference to the written Scripture. We can also note, in passing, that Jesus actually said “one jot or tittle will be no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled,” which is a reference to the future, not the past as FNJ would have it. By the way, the fulfillment did come (Luke 24:44), which was Christ’s stated purpose in the very passage FNJ adduces cf. Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but TO FULFILL.” If Christ did not fulfill, then He failed. But He did fulfill all, and the Law is indeed gone (see, inter alia, Hebrews 8:13). (This is basic theology that every Christian should know.) But the written Scriptures are not gone, so they are not what Christ was referring to in Matthew 5:18).
FNJ next points out that there is remarkable uniformity among the Masoretic text manuscripts, and this is true. From the 9th century AD onwards, there was extreme care in copying and preserving the manuscripts. How far back this went, however, is an open question, for the oldest Hebrew manuscripts we have do often side with the LXX.
FNJ next tries to discredit the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS); we shall deal with this presently. Then he quotes Keil attacking the LXX on the supposed basis that its differences from the MT are “‘intentional changes, based upon chronological theories or cycles’”, as proof for which he offers “the improbability of the statement, that whereas the average duration of life after the flood was about half the length that it was before, the time of life at which the fathers begot their first-born after the flood was as late … [as] it had been before. No such intention is discernible in the numbers of the Hebrew text.” (p. 16)
This is wrong on many counts. First, the age at which the listed son is born (there is no indication that it is the first-born, and probably in many cases isn’t; this is a very common erroneous assumption) differs between the LXX and the MT by exactly 100 years in almost every case, so if there is a pattern in the LXX, there is a pattern in the MT by definition. Second, it is not true that the “time of life at which the fathers begot their first-born [sic] after the flood was as late … [as] it had been before.” Before the flood, these ages range from 162 to 205 years; after the flood, they are around 130 years. Third, the sudden and precipitous drop down to ±30 years immediately after the flood, while overall lifespans are decreasing gradually, which is what the MT has, should be considered at least as improbable as the LXX’s ages. So there is no validity to Keil’s suggestion.
FNJ finishes by stating that his view of the MT leads him to view the MT as “sui generis” based on his “heretofore stated world view.” (p. 16) It does indeed seem that this was more influential on him than the actual facts of the case.
Let us summarize what we have seen from FNJ’s arguments.
- FNJ argued that the LXX has Methuselah dying after the flood, which is impossible. This only happens, though, if we accept Codex Vaticanus’ number of 167 for Methuselah’s age when he had Lamech; it is not a problem in Codex Alexandrinus, which lists that age as 188.
- FNJ claimed that the LXX translators altered the ages of the postdiluvian patriarchs because they were “primeval evolutionists,” and this resulted in the “curious” phenomenon that all but three sons died younger than their fathers. Yet it was shown that this same phenomenon is found in the MT.
- FNJ showed that there are errors in the LXX. There are, but there are also errors in the MT.
- FNJ argued that either the LXX didn’t exist in Josephus’ day or he considered it unreliable. Yet manuscripts of the LXX predate Josephus, and he quoted it in his works.
- FNJ tried to show from “irrefutable internal evidence” that Jesus used a Hebrew text rather than the LXX, but this is not in dispute. The question is whether the MT we have today is inerrant or not.
- FNJ wrongly tried to show that all writers of Scripture were Jews (and he has to do despite to the Word of God to dispute that Luke was a Gentile), but this, too, is irrelevant to the question of whether today’s MT is inerrant.
- FNJ argues, again wrongly, that only Levitical priests copied the Scriptures. This, too, is irrelevant.
- FNJ returns to the argument that patriarchal ages in the LXX show a pattern that betrays editing. Yet there is no more a pattern in the LXX than there is in the MT.
Now, let us move on the other side, the strongest arguments for the LXX, which FNJ has failed to address properly.
The Case for the Septuagint
One strong argument for the value of the LXX for OT textual criticism, and a blow to the idea of MT inerrancy, came with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), the first of which were found in 1947. Prior to this time, it had been always been assumed that, wherever the MT and LXX differed, the LXX must be in error.
After the DSS were discovered, in fact, It was announced that the great Isaiah Scroll, 1QIsaa, was virtually identical to the MT and thus vindicated the careful copying of the OT through the centuries by the Masoretes. (Actually, however, there are hundreds of differences between 1QIsaa and the MT, and in many cases the LXX agrees with 1QIsaa where the MT differs. See Abegg et al. The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible for the actual texts and flags of differences.)
With the study of others of the scrolls, however, it was realized that the DSS often sided with the LXX in places where it differed from the MT, which meant it could no longer be considered axiomatic that the MT was always right and the LXX always wrong when they differed.
The following three points must be remembered:
- There is no prima facie reason to consider manuscripts from the 9th century AD superior to manuscripts going back to the 3rd century BC.
- Since many of the DSS predate Jesus, they were written at a time when there were no Christians to alter the text to support Christianity, nor was there any reason for Jews to alter the text to obscure references to Christianity which did not then exist. The possibility of such action in later times cannot be summarily discounted.
- FNJ claims that Jesus testified to the inerrancy of the OT text in His days. It was the DSS that was the Bible text of His days, not the much later Codex Leningradiensis et al.
How does FNJ try to deal with the DSS? He argues
Actually, the Masoretic Text is the true text, not the Dead Sea Scrolls, even though the Scrolls are more than a thousand years older. The Dead Sea material was not written by Jews who were given charge by God to oversee and protect them. They were not of the tribe of Levi. They were Essenes, a Jewish cult of ascetics whose teachings were rife with heresies. (p. 16)
Here, FNJ assumes that the DSS were copied by the Essenes at the Qumran site, a popular idea that is actually based only on the fact that the DSS were found along the Dead Sea, and Pliny mentions a group called the Essenes living at that time. On such a tenuous basis, scholars assumed that the Essenes had produced the DSS, and that idea remained unchallenged for a long time. However, that consensus is now disintegrating.
Some have suggested that the site was a fortified manor house or villa, an agricultural community or a commercial site or a pottery factory. The evidence against it being an Essene monastery is now all but overwhelming; in fact, there is evidence to suggest it was a bogus claim from the beginning.
Two Israeli archaeologists, Itzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg, spent ten seasons digging at Qumran. In 2004, they announced that
the evidence they found all but proves that the Essenes didn’t live there and didn’t write the Dead Sea Scrolls.
They found jewellery and imported Italian pottery, which monks committed to poverty would not have had.
Also, if Qumran had been a site of manuscript production, there should have been some evidence found of that, yet
not one scroll nor one scrap of writing has been found at Qumran … nothing at Qumran – from its architecture to the archaeologists’ finds – suggest it was different from other non-religious communities in the vicinity.
Furthermore, Josephus records that the Essenes lived in every town in Israel, not in a desert community.
Furthermore, another archaeologist, Yizhar Hirschfield, found remains with a much better fit at Ein Gedi, a different location. And, perhaps most telling, there was no synagogue at Qumran. In addition, there is now evidence that the Essene sect didn’t exist until after Jesus time.
Apropos to all this, it should be mentioned that the Essene hypothesis was first floated in the 1800s by liberal critics who hoped to use it to undermine Christianity, by claiming this sect was based on the teachings of Judaism and the philosophy of Zeno, that Jesus and John the Baptist were Essenes, and that nothing in Christianity is original or transcendent. The theory was soundly refuted but then revived after the discovery of the DSS;
In fact, the Essene theory had become a scholarly attack upon Jesus, the uniqueness of his teaching, his Jewishness, his early years, and his divinity.
(All references in this section from Altman, Neil. “Who wrote Dead Sea Scrolls?” Toronto Star. Posted on February 19, 2005, pp. L10-11.)
For years, Dr. [Norman] Golb has argued that the multiplicity of Jewish religious ideas and practices recorded in the scrolls made it unlikely that they were the work of a single sect like the Essenes. He noted that few of the texts dealt with specific Essene traditions. Not one, he said, espoused celibacy, which the sect practiced. The scrolls in the caves were probably written by many different groups, Dr. Golb surmised, and were removed from Jerusalem libraries by the refugees in the Roman war. Fleeing to the east, the refugees may well have deposited the scrolls for safekeeping in the many caves near Qumran.
(Wilford, John Noble. “Archaeologists Challenge Link Between Dead Sea Scrolls and Ancient Sect.” The New York Times. Posted on August 15, 2005, p. D3)
In “Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?” by Andrew Lawler (Smithsonian, Vol.40 No.10, January 2010), a fact that should have been obvious from nearly the beginning is pointed out:
One assumption that is now widely accepted is that the majority of the scrolls did not originate at Qumran. The earliest texts date to 300 B.C. – a century before Qumran even existed as a settlement (p.44)
The upshot of all this for our discussion is that FNJ’s attempt to discredit the DSS by linking them to the Essenes, “whose teachings were rife with heresies,” (p. 16) is a signal failure. Apropos to that, the Masoretes denied the deity of Christ, His resurrection, and His role as Saviour; what are these if not heresies? Why, as Christians, should we consider them more reliable than the Essenes?
FNJ makes much of the claim that the Jews “were given the charge by God to oversee and protect” the Scriptures (p. 16), that
the divine oracles of the Old Testament were given to the Jews and the Jews only to both write and preserve. (p. 15)
Even if FNJ were correct about this, it is difficult to read the Jewish OT and conclude that the Jews carried out the tasks God gave them to do faithfully. Perhaps FNJ needs to ponder this word from Jeremiah 8:8:
“How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us?’ Look, the false pen of the scribe certainly works falsehood.”
And now at last we come to the final piece of the puzzle, the elephant in the room, “where the dog is buried” as Hungarians put it: the strongest evidence for the value of the LXX. If the MT is inerrant, then the LXX is always wrong when it disagrees with the MT. But if the LXX is wrong, then so is the New Testament and Jesus Himself!
Consider the following examples for a start:
Psalm 8:2 (MT) “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength.”
Psalm 8:2 (LXX) ”Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise.”
JESUS (Matthew 21:16b “And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes. Have you never read, “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise”?'”
Here the MT and the LXX disagree (see the underlined text). Jesus’ quotation matches the LXX, not the MT. So if the MT is correct and the LXX is wrong, then Jesus Himself is wrong.
Matthew 15:7-9 “’Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”’”
Isaiah 29:13 (LXX) “And the Lord has said, This people draw near to Me with their mouth, and they honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worhisp me, teaching the commandments and doctrines of men.”
Isaiah 29:13 (MT) “Therefore the LORD said: ‘Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.’”
Who is right? Jesus or the MT?
It is thus throughout the entire NT. Consider just a couple of examples:
1 Peter 2:21-22 “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who did no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth.’”
Isaiah 53:9b (LXX) “Who did no sin, nor deceit in his mouth”
Isaiah 53:9b (MT) “Because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.”
Can it be that the Masoretes didn’t like the idea of a sinless saviour? (Was that too Christian an idea for them?)
Hebrews 10:5 “Therefore, when He came into the world, He said, ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me.’”
Psalm 40:6 (LXX) “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body You have prepared for me.”
Psalm 40:6 (MT) “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire; my ears You have opened.”
If the MT is correct here, then both the LXX and the New Testament are wrong. But the New Testament is not wrong. Can it be that the Masoretes did not like the idea of the Incarnation? In fact, both Jewish and Muslim critics have broadly attack the NT on the basis that it lies about the OT, changing the quotes to suit its purposes.
These are but a few examples. This phenomenon holds throughout the NT. The OT quotations show an overall agreement with the LXX 93% of the times, but only agree with the MT 68% of the times. Matthew, the most Jewish of the Gospel books, shows 83.3% agreement with the LXX but only 70.4% with the MT. For John, it’s 92.9% LXX, 71.4% MT. For 1 Peter, it’s 91.7% LXX and only 41.7% MT!
FNJ is aware of these differences and passes on an assertion from KJV-Only advocate Terence Brown, that the differences between the MT and NT are because “the Apostles were guided to restate [sic] the revealed truth more fully or explicitly.” (p. 18)
This bizarre suggestion must be rejected. While the NT does reveal more truth fully, when it explicitly states that it is quoting the OT (e.g. “Have you never read …”?) it is quoting it, not “restating” it.
Here, then, is the bottom line. We must choose between the inerrancy of Jesus and the inerrancy of the MT. This is no choice at all, for if Jesus is not inerrant, then He is not Who He claimed to be and we ought not to follow Him, in which case there is no reason to care what the Bible has to say, anyway.
Thus, the only possible conclusion is that the MT is errant and that we do have to practise textual criticism of the OT (and the first principle should be that the NT stands in judgment of the OT). The fervent and singleminded defence of the MT, in order to defend the KJV, to the extent that the integrity of the NT and therefore the Gospel itself is compromised, is something that I find both deplorable and unacceptable.