Was Luke Quoting The Septuagint?

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The New Testament has a problem. Quite often when it “quotes” Tanakh, it changes the language of the Hebrew Scriptures. Although some of these changes can be attributed to translation into Greek, many cannot. However, Christian apologists have an explanation. They tell us that New Testament authors are using the Septuagint, or LXX. Moreover, they are quick to provide us with the LXX translation with the exact text of the New Testament to back up their claim. Thus, the case is closed. Right? Not exactly.

The first thing to note is that there really is no such thing as “the” Septuagint. However, I’m neither an expert nor a textual critic. Thus, you shouldn’t accept that explanation from me. So take it from Logos Bible Software. They are experts on the topic. Furthermore, they are Christians. Here is what they have to say on the topic.

The best way to begin an essay on the Septuagint is with the statement that “there is really no such thing as the Septuagint.”

They go on to explain…

The term “Septuagint” originally referred to the number of translators, not to any of the Greek translation(s). To further complicate things, the seventy (two) translators only produced the Pentateuch in Greek, as far as we know, while the rest of the Hebrew Bible was edited and revised anonymously over at least the next 300. Hence, titles meant to distinguish between the various stages in translation include, “Pentateuch-only, Old Greek, Ur-Septuagint, Original Septuagint, Proto-Septuagint, Codex Alexandrinus (A) and Codex Vaticanus (B) LXXA, LXXB, LXXAB,” so scholars are divided if not uncertain about a working definition. 

Here we see several of the problems with claiming that they Biblical authors are quoting the LXX. Which one? But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are the problems that this argument presents.

  1. New Testament authors never claim to be quoting the Septuagint.
  2. The Septuagint translated by 72 rabbis is Torah only, and no longer exists.
  3. The only surviving Septuagint fragments dating to the 1st century are only from the Torah.
  4. The Septuagint that has quotes matching the New Testament is Codex Vaticanus, a product of the Church dating to the 4th century.
  5. Some of the quotes in question do not match up with the Septuagint either.

Thus, this is an argument of convenience for Christians. It is not dictated by the facts. Rather, it is a product of necessity for an argument and the lack of a better one. But it gets worse. In the book of Luke we have a passage where Jesus is said to be reading from a scroll. However, the quotation in Luke doesn’t match the source in Isaiah. Thus, the argument presumes that there must have been a Hebrew scroll that contains the extra line. Why? Well, of course, because the Septuagint contains the extra line. Here’s the argument laid out by Dr. Michael Heiser on the same website quoted above that already debunked this line of thinking.

Most of the time when a divergence occurs between a New Testament quotation and the Old Testament, the answer is the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. It often does not match the Hebrew text from which most Old Testaments were translated. Jesus apparently either read from a Hebrew text that reflected the Septuagint, or Luke fills in the quoted passage with the Septuagint. (And since Luke was not Jewish and spoke Greek, the Septuagint would have been his Bible.)

Dr. Michael S. Heiser

I can prove Luke wasn’t quoting the LXX.

As you can see by comparing the passages above, the line in green is in all three translations. The line in blue does indeed match the Septuagint translation. However, the line in pink corresponds the Hebrew text of Isaiah, but is completely missing from the Septuagint. If Luke is indeed quoting the LXX, how did he end up with this line found in the Hebrew but absent from the Greek?

Now, allow me to explain a couple of things about the above image. First, in 2 places I shortened out the text of all 3 translations by removing “he sent me to” to make it fit in the graphic. Second, the numbers are clearly not verse numbers, so what are they? In order to understand what happened here, we first need to understand Hebrew poetry.

Hebrew poetry rhymes ideas, not words. So as we see here, “The spirit is upon me” rhymes ideologically with “the Lord has anointed me”. In the Hebrew, these rhymes continue perfectly. However, in Luke’s version, the poetry gets choppy, and then breaks. Notice how a line 1 begins with the word “and”? That doesn’t really work for synonymous parallelism. Plus, we end up with an extra line at the end.

We could solve both of these problems by adding the “and” line to the line above it. However, this is also incompatible with synonymous parallelism. Basically, what we have here is a broken poem in desperate need of fixing. And that’s precisely what the Septuagint does. Notice, in the LXX version the synonymous parallelism works. Not quite as well as the original, but they fix Luke’s error and restore the poetic flow.

My Conclusion:

First, full disclosure. I’m neither a textual critic nor an expert in the field. I’m just a guy with a Bible. However, I don’t think we need an expert here. It’s quite obvious what happened. In Isaiah 61 we have a poem written by and about the prophet Isaiah. Luke wanted to make this poem seem like it was written as a prophecy about Jesus. Thus, he added in the line that is true about Jesus but is not true about Isaiah. Only Jesus healed the blind. Luke rounded it all off by saying that Jesus said that the scripture had been fulfilled that day.

The Septuagint claim has always been a specious argument. While most who use it aren’t aware of it’s flaws, Dr. Michael Heiser definitely should be. He’s an expert in this field. Moreover, in his article he pointed out the following.

The Septuagint also contains a line from the traditional Old Testament that isn’t in Luke’s record!

This is true. However, he leaves out the very important detail that Luke’s record includes a line from the traditional Old Testament that isn’t in the Septuagint. This leaves only one potential argument for the LXX. Typically. apologists say that there must be a Hebrew text that says it because the Septuagint agrees with the NT author. This time, they must argue that there must be a Septuagint translation that matches a Hebrew text that matches the New Testament author while differing from the Septuagint translation we currently have. If you couldn’t follow that, don’t blame me. That’s how convoluted the argument has become. Alternatively, we could just admit that the most likely explanation is probably true. Luke simply inserted a line where one previously didn’t exist, and Christian translators interpolated the line into the LXX translation of Isaiah to cover his tracks.

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I was raised a Christian, turned atheist as a teenager, and became a Noahide in my 40's. Here I will share what I have learned, and look forward to what you can teach me. Thank you for stopping by Biblical Anarchy. Feel free to leave a comment.

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