It’s Greek to Me!

Art_Septuagint_bookA couple of nights ago, I came across a passage in scripture that rocked my world — and not in a good way.

Once again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he caused David to harm them by taking a census. “Go and count the people of Israel and Judah,” the Lord told him. (2 Samuel 24:1)

The chapter goes on to detail the census and how it took over nine months to complete. Afterwards, David’s conscience bothered him.  So through his seer, Gad, God gave David a choice of three consequences for his sin — sin that apparently God led him to do!  The choices weren’t pretty: seven (or three) years of famine, three years of fleeing from his enemies, or three days of a severe plague.

I just couldn’t fathom how the God I’ve loved since I was nine years old would cause any of His children to sin.  Reading the Old Testament has been so difficult for me throughout the years as I encountered verses like the one above.

Usually, I just push the doubts aside.  Shove them under the “Bible is inerrant” carpet and quickly skip over to the parts I understand better.

But this time, I did something different.  I paused, and I prayed, and I openly questioned.  If my iPhone had God in my Contacts, I would have called Him up.

“Lord, I know you are Sovereign, and you can do anything you want to do.  But this verse just seems so out of character with everything I’ve learned about You through the years. Can you show me what I’m supposed to do with these verses?”

Or, in text message:

Lrd, pls hlp me undrstnd!

A couple of days later, I mentioned this conundrum to my writer/lawyer-in-training/debater/uber-intelligent daughter.  Come to find out, she had stumbled upon some research of Old Testament “canon” and learned that the writers of the Jewish canon had done some tweaking.

I didn’t believe her.

So I looked it up….

…and come to find out, the majority of Scriptures that Jesus quoted in the New Testament came from the Greek Septuagint. The New Testament writers wrote their gospels and letters in Greek — at the time of Jesus, Greek was the local language.

As my mamma would say, ‘Stepped in WHAT?’

The Septuagint was a translation of Hebrew Scriptures to Greek. It was written in the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC and contains the earliest known complete scriptures.  The early Christian Church used the Septuagint.  Fast forward five hundred years after Christ, and you find Jewish scribes (called Masoretes) updating the scrolls.  The original Hebrew Scriptures contained no vowels.  Reading the scrolls required readers to remember the omitted vowels. Sort of like today’s teenagers reading text messages:

Dg t m hm wrk

Depending on the vowels, what did I just write?

“Dog/dig/dug     ate/at/it/to      my/me/am      home/ham/him/ahem   work.”

There are also indications that some of these Masoretes unknowingly or knowingly slanted their words so as to take some prophesies of Jesus out of the picture.  I highly recommend reading this blog for more information about the changes these Masoretes made as they updated their scrolls — five hundred years after Christ.

So what does YOUR Bible say?  Unless it’s an Orthodox Bible, you probably have a translation whose Old Testament is based on the King James Version…which was translated NOT from the early, 250 BC Septuagint, but on the Masoretic, 500AD-ish texts.

Hmm.  So, I found an online Septuagint of the verse in question, 2 Samuel 24 (called Kings II in the Septuagint).  I list it here with the King James Version, for comparison:

24:1 And the Lord caused his anger to burn forth again in Israel, and Satan stirred up David against them, saying, Go, number Israel and Juda. (Septuagint Kings II 24:1)

And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah. (2 Samuel 24:1, KJV)

Eureka!  I feel like running down the streets naked, shouting, “I’ve seen the light! Satan is the subject of that sentence, not God!”  Well, not the naked part.  Or the running part.  But I am feeling much better about my “shove-it-under-the-carpet-itis.”  The verse translation in the Septuagint matches up with what other verses teach about the character of God.  It seemed contrived to me for the verse to say, as it does in the KJV, that the Lord caused (moved) David to sin.  Perhaps it was.  The Jewish Masoretes were not friends of the Christians. Maybe they had an agenda.  I don’t know.

But my “discovery” of the Septuagint certainly matches up with other scriptures, like this one from James:

13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong,[c] and he never tempts anyone else. (James 1:13)

What “brand” of Scripture did Jesus learn and teach us from?  Well, he probably had all of it stored up in his perfect mind.  (He probably used 100% of his brain, don’t you think, being the Son of God?)  But he quoted directly from the Septuagint.  I don’t know if he spoke in Greek or in Aramaic, but the words he used line up with the Greek translation in the Septuagint. In Matthew 15, Jesus said these words about the people who followed man-made laws and ignored the law of love:

Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And[e] 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.’ ”[f]

The verse he’s referring to is Isaiah 29:13.  Here’s the translation from the Septuagint:

13 And the Lord has said, This people draw nigh to me with their mouth, and they honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me: but in vain do they worship me, teaching the commandments and doctrines of men. (Isaiah 29:13, Septuagint)

As you can see, Jesus and the Septuagint are pretty much word for word.  But look at the KJV for those same verses:

13 Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:

These are two completely different concepts.  Jesus’ quote from Isaiah said that these people worshipped Him in vain because they were teaching man’s laws.  Yet the KJV reference for this same quote says that these people’s fear of him was the result of man’s teachings. Fear…worship.  Not really the same thing.

So…is this rocking your world like it’s rocking mine?  This is just one of many examples. I used to believe in the inerrancy of Scripture.  Now…I’m rethinking…which Scripture?  I need to get a copy of an English translation of the Septuagint.  There are also books in the Septuagint, referred to in the New Testament, that are absent in our KJV Protestant Bibles.

So what have I been missing? It’s all Greek to me (and I’m excited about that!)

4 thoughts on “It’s Greek to Me!

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