The Septuagint (LXX) Compared to the Masoretic Text

Judaism was in a crisis after the Temple was destroyed in AD 70. The basis of its religion had been rituals performed in the Temple that could only be performed there by their law. The Priests were gone. The Sanhedrin was gone. So were the Sadducees. Only the Pharisees survived the Roman-Jewish War of 67-73. Within three decades, they transformed themselves into the sages, aka rabbis. The rabbis would become central to an extensively reshaped faith. The Oral Law is at its heart – the Mishnah and the Talmud. The Old Testament (as we refer to it) would lose its preeminence. This was partly the reason for the rabbis to “remanufacture” the Old Testament (the Tanach) and ensure that it told the story they wanted. This process was led by Rabbi Akiba at their school at Jamnia at the beginning of the second century AD. Job one was to alter those verses in the Tanach used by Christian evangelists to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ. This would have worked if not for the ancient Septuagint (created 400 years before Akiba, whose Pentateuch was translated by 282 BC). The Septuagint (LXX) had become “the Christian Bible.” It was the Bible of the Church for the first five centuries of its existence. But does the Septuagint show malfeasance by the second-century rabbis?  Was the Tanach changed to stop Jews from converting to Christianity?

In this article, I briefly compare the Messianic passages presented in the Septuagint, in contrast with those in the proto-Masoretic Text. By proto-Masoretic Text, we mean that this text would eventually become what we know today as the Masoretic Text. There was a different textual tradition before the birth of Jesus and before the rabbis adopted it in the second-century AD to form the basis of their “updated” Bible. And it unquestionably became a different text after they adapted it to their new Judaic religion based on Mishnah and Talmud.  Over the centuries, the Masoretic text would become the basis for the Latin Vulgate, Tyndale’s Bible, Wycliffe’s Bible, Luther’s Bible, Calvin/Knox’s Geneva Bible, and ultimately, the King James Bible.  This means the changes that R. Akiba made, which diminished the place and mission of the Messiah, would be adopted by Roman Catholicism and the Protestant Churches to the detriment of our Christian faith. Nevertheless, the Septuagint survived thanks to the Orthodox Church (the Eastern Catholic Church), which never stopped using it. And its witness is quite different from the Masoretic Text.

The Messiah’s Mission and Means of Salvation

We begin with how the Messiah would come to us, his mission, and the means of salvation he would provide. Isaiah spoke of how the Gentiles would hope and trust in Christ. In the LXX, Isaiah 11:12 reads: “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse and he that shall rise to rule over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust, and his rest shall be glorious.” The Masoretic Text (MT), as translated in the King James Version and all other Protestant Bibles, reduced the appetite and acclaim of the Gentiles for the Messiah. The Gentile’s objective was merely something they sought as a sign or symbol. The MT impersonally says, “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.” When Paul the Apostle quotes the OT, it’s obvious he cites the LXX instead: “And again Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.’” (Romans 15:12) Paul quotes from the Septuagint something that the Masoretic Text did not or would not contain after the end of the second century A.D.

A page from P46, a collection of Pauline Collection epistles from the early 3rd Century

We see the same treatment of Isaiah 42:4 when comparing the LXX with the Masoretic: “He shall shine out and shall not be discouraged until he has set judgment on the earth: and in his name shall the Gentiles trust.” On the other hand, the Masoretic Text (KJV) states, “He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he has set judgment in the earth; and the isles (in Hebrew, ey, also translated “coastlands”) shall wait for his law.” Therefore, in the Masoretic Text, not only do the Gentiles equate to little more than an idiom, equivalent to “faraway places,” the MT alters their relationship from one of faith and grace to one focused on the Mosaic Law. Consequently, it is easy to see that Matthew 12:20-21 references the LXX when quoting Isaiah 42:4, for its reading is, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench until he brings justice to victory; and in this name, the Gentiles will hope.” Throughout these passages in the Septuagint, we should note that the Gentiles are not told they must follow the Torah as the means to obtain salvation. Instead, they are to trust in Him. A fundamental reason for Messiah is to bring the Gentiles into the fold.

The Incarnation of Yahweh in the Messiah

As to the incarnation of the Messiah – being both God and man – the LXX says one thing and the MT another. In the LXX, we see his deity stressed as not only superior to the law but even to the heavenly angels; for we read the following (in the LXX) from Psalm 40:6, “Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body thou hast prepared me: whole-burnt-offering and sacrifice for sin thou didst not require.” Once again, we see a radical difference regarding the same passage in the Masoretic: “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire, mine ears hast thou opened; burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.” Given the contrast, isn’t it undeniable which version the New Testament cites? “For when Christ came into the world, He said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.’” (Hebrews 10:5) The Messiah was divine, and yet he would also be human. That human body would become the perfect sacrifice. Psalm 40:6 provides us with a clear-cut case of foreshadowing the incarnation and, less obvious but intimated, a vicarious atonement of the Messiah’s death in exchange for our own.

This was not a picture of Messiah compatible with the Jewish mindset. The LXX prophesies the incarnation; the MT doesn’t.

Deuteronomy 32:43 provides us another distinctive affirmation of the deity of the Messiah – remarkable, that is, if you are reading the LXX’s account: “Rejoice, ye heavens with him, and let all the angels of God worship him; rejoice ye Gentiles, with his people, and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him; for he will avenge the blood of his sons, and he will render vengeance, and recompense justice to his enemies, and will reward them that hate him, and the Lord shall purge the land of his people.” The writer to the Hebrews celebrates the mention of the angels, aka the sons of God, who not only worship the Messiah but strengthen themselves through the Messiah’s power. Once again, we see that the Gentiles are specifically called out. We read in the NT, “And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’” (Hebrews 1:6) Neither Abraham nor Moses merited angelic worship. But the Messiah does. Angels worship Him and draw strength from His power. Such worship remains something that any good Jew knows God alone deserves. So why did the Messiah merit worship?

When we encounter the Masoretic Text, we don’t enjoy this explanation in its witness. It omits the same astonishment regarding Messiah’s essence and mission. Instead, we find the Masoretic Text’s plain words: “Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people; for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people.” We see that there is no mention of the Gentiles. And there is no mention of worshipping angels or the sons of God drawing strength from the supernatural power of the Messiah. What is present in the LXX is missing in the MT.

Was this just a case of misquoting the Hebrew text? Or was the author of the Letter to the Hebrews reciting and expositing words that were present in the Septuagint but had been removed from the proto-Masoretic text by the rabbis at Jamnia in Judah?  If it was accidental, happening only once, we could be satisfied that the fault lies in our understanding, not the composition. But it happens again and again.

The Accompanying Signs Authenticating His Identity

Next, we observe how the miracles and signs that accompany and authenticate the identity of the Messiah are also described differently. We see an important distinction between the LXX and the MT in Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me; he has sent me to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken in heart, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind…” In contrast, there is no mention of the miracle of restoring the sight of a blind man in the Masoretic Text as translated by the King James Old Testament, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” The Messiah of the Masoretic Text can’t heal the blind or raise the dead. Social justice? Apparently, yes. But miracles? Not so much.

The reader might reply, “Surely Jesus read just Hebrew in the synagogue.” I’m relatively sure he did read a Hebrew scroll. But one thing is rather obvious. This wasn’t the same Hebrew reading as what became the Masoretic Text. Listen to what Jesus spoke forth according to Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and to recover sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed….”

Suppose we agree that the rabbis altered this passage as part of their cover-up. In that case, we might conjecture that the story of “the man born blind,” as recorded in chapter nine of John’s gospel, continued to be a topic of discussion, setting Jesus apart from all other messianic claimants roaming about in Judea. As the man born blind said directly (and without fear of the Pharisees who would throw him out of the synagogue), “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:32,33)

And, of course, there is the matter of how Jesus came into the world. The LXX said one thing, but as recorded in the Biblia Hebraica, the Masoretic Text tells a different story. We read there, “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14). This is certainly not how the LXX read. Its prophecy stated, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb and shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Emmanuel.” Once again, Luke confirms what the LXX predicts. The Masoretic Text doesn’t. The King James translators couldn’t help themselves with this verse. They had to go with the Septuagint and translate the Hebrew word almah, virgin. “There is no instance where it can be proved that ‘almâ’ designates a young woman who is not a virgin. The fact of virginity is evident in Gen 24:43, where ‘almâ’ is used for one who was being sought as a bride for Isaac.” (R. Laird Harris et al. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p. 672.)

Many argue that the Masoretic Text is correct. But if one compares the passages of the New Testament with the Old Testament in the King James Bible, the verdict is clear and concise: The two Testaments do not agree with one another. Therefore, logically, one of them must be wrong.

Therefore, we have a genuine dilemma: (1) Either the New Testament twisted the words of the Jewish Old Testament to make them fit the Christian view of who the Messiah is, or (2) the New Testament wasn’t quoting the Masoretic Text at all.

But this begs the question: “If Christians wish to prove the truthfulness of our faith, is it wise to admit we have misled the world by showing how we misquoted the Scripture concerning the nature, mission, and manner of our salvation? Shouldn’t we mention that our New Testament quoted a different Bible?” Shouldn’t we pay more attention to it?


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