As I said I would do yesterday, I want to share the last two paragraphs from T. Michael Law’s When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible (p. 171):
“What would modern Christian theology look like if its theologians returned the Septuagint to the place it occupied at the foundation of the church, or at least began to read it alongside the Hebrew Bible, as a witness to the story of the Bible and in acknowledgment of its role in shaping Christianity? The Septuagint has already affected some of Christian theology, but mostly only where New Testament writers mediate its readings. We saw earlier that the Septuagint, almost exclusively, molds Paul’s theology in Romans, and the same can be said for the author of Hebrews. There may be further ideas still, but because the Septuagint has not attracted significant attention from theologians its value for modern Christian thought it yet unknown.
“A full-scale exploration awaits an energetic thinker, but for now it is interesting that even while interest in the theological interpretation of the Bible is increasing the Septuagint has not been given the part it deserves in the drama of the church’s reception and use of scripture. For those who wish to pursue such questions as a ‘Search for the Christian Bible’ entails, who wish to consider the theological implications of the Septuagint’s role in the history of the church, I have tried to do the work of the historian, and perhaps now the door is open wide enough for the theologians to walk through it.”
Now, I know readers of this blog may wonder if the broader context of Law’s book gives more meaning to these paragraphs, and it does, so I recommend reading it because in some sense it is impossible to respond to Law’s comments here without understanding his fuller argument, but that being said, Law’s questions remain worth pondering. If the Septuagint was influential about early Christianity, and the formation of the Christian Bible, then how does this impact modern theology regarding the Christian Bible. I’ve seen many evangelical types advocate theological and/or canonical readings of the Bible, but as Law mentions earlier in the chapter, most follow the model of Brevard Childs using the Hebrew Bible as the Christian Old Testament. Is this the best way to do Christian biblical/canonical theology? Or does biblical/canonical theology need to be done from the same Bible from which the early Church brought forth doctrines such as the virgin birth, or used to formulate their understanding of Christ’s deity or the nature of the Trinity?
Joel Watts shared some of his thoughts on this topic here.
This is quite an interesting topic from my perspective in that I have been thinking much about taking my studies along the lines of the canon of Scripture and developing a theology of Scripture for the 21st century. For example, one issue that I believe should cause us pause is that the concept of inerrancy is usually centred in the ‘original manuscripts’. However, the first apostles and other NT writers regularly used the Septuagint in quoting & forming theology, and the Septuagint was not an ‘original’. I believe we many times create tighter bounds than God, Christ and the first apostles did.
It isn’t that theology needs to be done from the same bible the early church used, since doing so, doesn’t necessarily guarantee that modern perspectives grasp the same things ancient ones did. Rather what needs to be grasped are ancient presuppositions from which their syllogisms were founded. Their presuppositions were closer to Christ so tended to reflect Israelite perspectives on the old become new-covenant.
Now certainly the LXX reveals some of these presuppositions, but the focus should be on how this Hebrew thought is revealed in Greek translation rather than a simple fascination with the book itself. The difference is whether or not we focus on the book or the thinking behind the book. This isn’t splitting hairs since simply focusing on the book doesn’t guarantee one grasps the thinking behind the book (which is really what drove Paul and the apostles at least).
The LXX is a hugely useful lense for understanding new covenant texts, which were also written in Greek. Most people approach new covenant text through a framework of later theologians as though the texts themselves were the objects of interest God wanted us to see (and later theologians – the hermeneutic tool for us to use to understand these objects), except this gets it all wrong. In fact God’s covenant (the marriage supper of the lamb) is what God wanted us to see, and Jesus is the hermeneutic tool he gave us to use to understand this object. Our thinking has replaced a covenant relationship with texts, and Jesus our lense, with mere humans who study Jesus. The LXX, of course, helps to expose this baggage in NT translation.
I wholeheartedly agree.
I wonder if we used LXX primarily, would we have any different theology? I’m not well read in OT theology, the only major debate I am aware of is the almah/parthenos /virgin Isaiah 7:14 debate and the Massoretes scribed the word “Israel” for the original word “elohim”(in the DSS and LXX) in Deuteronmy 32:8 for whatever reason.
I first encountered these questions when I began attending a Greek Orthodox Church (solely because half of the service was in Greek and I am attempting a pseudo-immersion of Koine). I didn’t know that the Septuagint shaped Paul’s arguments within Romans to the extent that Law seems to say. But I do know that much of the LXX extrapolates, sometimes extensively, on (or away from) the MT. These are fascinating questions though- and this makes me want to start a LXX action plan!
That is a good question. I’ve seen it said by some that overall we wouldn’t see a huge difference. Others disagree. Obviously, if we saw the Greek Old Testament as authoritative some of our discussions would change. We wouldn’t have to debate whether Is. 7:14 is a “accurate translation” used or misused by Matthew. Instead, like the Greek Orthodox it could be claimed that Greek Isaiah is itself an inspired work and therefore God “updated” his message to prepare the world for Jesus and the spread of the Gospel.
Good idea. While I am no LXX expert, Law is, and I think his book does challenge us to think of the Greek Old Testament as more than a translation. FWIW, when discussing Paul he (Law) alludes often to J. Ross Wagner’s Heralds of the Good News which is the best book written on Paul’s use of Isaiah in Romans.
As far as I understand, the Apocrypha was part of the Septuagint as well – so would revisiting the Septuagint as scripture also mean reconsidering the place of those books?
Not necessarily. Athanasius’ Festal Letter of 367 lists those books as helpful, but non-canonical. So it would be possible to separate the question of canon from that of whether the Greek OT is standard, IMHO.
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