"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 6, Number 10, October 2003
“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.
For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;
Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.
I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.
I will show partiality to no one. Nor will I flatter any man.”
["As I See It" is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek. Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God. The editor's perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.
AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com. You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address. Back issues sent on request. All back issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org
All articles are by the editor (unless otherwise noted) and are copyrighted but may be reproduced for distribution, provided the following conditions are met: 1. articles must be reproduced in unedited, unabridged form; 2. the writer must be properly credited; and, 3. such reproduction must be for free distribution only. Permission to distribute in any other form must be secured in writing beforehand. Permission for reproduction in Christian print periodicals will generally be given.]
The Ten Commandments:
Protestant, Catholic and Jewish Perspectives
The recent controversy over the presence (and subsequent forced removal) of “The Ten Commandments” from display in a public building in the state of Alabama has generated some collateral attention focused on other controversies, controversies not of recent vintage but of long standing concerning the famous “Ten Words” (as they are literally designated in the Hebrew at Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; 10:4; the Greek translation in Exodus 34:28 is deka logoi, whence the alternate name “Decalogue”).
As for the shape and size of the tablets on which God wrote the commands (and, as an aside, as one who prefers economy in words, I wonder why we continue to use the long word commandments, when the shorter word commands expresses precisely the same sense with a third fewer letters), the traditional representation is surely much in error. First, that the stone plaques (to use an Anglicized form of the Greek word used in Hebrews 9:4) were immense--and with rounded tops-- is highly unlikely. Moses, an eighty-year-old man was able to carry them by himself while descending a mountain, suggesting that they were fairly light and easy to manage, perhaps even small enough to fit in the hand, say something 5” by 8” more or less (see Exodus 32:15). Documents this size--and many much smaller--are common from the ancient Near East.
Second, we can say with absolute certainty that the commands were not numbered with Roman numerals (has anyone besides myself thought about the utter incongruity of that?). The Law was given circa 1445 B.C., while Rome was not even founded, according to the traditional date, until nearly 700 years later, and the use of Roman numerals came well after that.
Third, the typical representation of the writing as being entirely contained on the front of the plaques is expressly discredited by the Biblical account (Exodus 32:15). Commonly, both sides of smoothed and shaped pieces of pliable clay were used in writing documents in Akkadian and other ancient Middle Eastern languages. Such documents exist in the tens of thousands, and suggest that the plaques containing the ten commands would have been similar in external appearance. True, for the commands, the writing material was stone, not clay, the language was Hebrew, not Akkadian, Hittite or some other tongue, and the script was alphabetic, not cuneiform. But these are chiefly incidental matters; we should expect that the Hebrews would employ standard contemporary external forms for their documents--do not our Bibles today follow in general size, shape and format other books manufactured today, rather than being in the ancient form of scrolls made of papyrus or leather?
Then there is the standard representation as the commands divided between the two plaques--some assume that numbers 1 through 5 are on the first, and 6 through 10 on the second. Others suppose that the commands God-ward (1 through 4) are on the first, and those man-ward (5 through 10) are on the second. This latter division does divide them up more evenly by length. However, it is quite possible (probable, I think) that both of these views are in error. Actually, since the commands constitute a covenant, a pact, a binding treaty between God and Israel, it is more reasonable that the two plaques are in fact duplicate copies, each containing the whole of the commands. Naturally, in any legal agreement--and the covenant at Sinai is indeed a legal agreement--both parties would want their own copies of the contract between them. We have examples from the ancient world of treaties between nations, in some cases possessing both copies of the treaty agreement. It would be entirely in cultural and historical context if the two plaques were in fact duplicate copies of the covenant--God’s copy and Israel’s copy, both stored away in the covenant archive box (“ark of the covenant”; see Hebrews 9:4).
Beyond questions of size, shape and format, a minor question exists over the order of the commands. In the prohibitions against murder, adultery, and theft (traditionally numbered as the 6th, 7th, and 8th commands--more on this below), the Pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint (LXX) has them, in Exodus 20, in the order 7-8-6, while in Deuteronomy 5, it has them in the order 7-6-8. Interestingly enough, the order of these three commands, as listed by Christ in Luke 18:20 and also Paul in Romans 13:9, follows that of the LXX in Deuteronomy 5 (in Luke 18, the Old Latin, Latin Vulgate, and Sinaitic, Curetonian and Peshitta Syriac versions all modify the order so as to conform to the pattern of the Hebrew text in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5). That Jesus and Paul both follow the Deuteronomy-LXX order suggests that they were both familiar with that Greek version of Deuteronomy. Of course neither gave--nor intended to give--a complete list of all the Sinaitic commands.
The LXX variation in the order of the commands could have arisen from at least three possible causes--first, those translators may have been working from Hebrew manuscripts that had the commands in the orders noted. Either this was the original order in the Hebrew (unlikely, I think), or some scribe in making the copy of the Hebrew text ultimately used by the LXX translators had transposed the commands, writing (in Exodus) the 7th and 8th commands, before realizing that he had omitted the 6th, which he simply then added next. In Deuteronomy, the scribe involved simply inverted the order of the 6th and 7th commands (such unintentional re-ordering of words and phrases in Bible manuscripts is a very common phenomenon).
Or, the translators of the LXX, having Hebrew manuscripts with the commands in the usual order, made an inadvertent (less likely, deliberate) transposition of order when they translated.
Or, the original LXX may have had the commands in the usual Hebrew order, but scribes making copies of the Law in Greek not long after the original translation, wittingly or unwittingly, made the change in order then.
No malicious intent or treachery is apparent in this variation in order, but merely a testimony to human fallibility in the Bible copying and translating process. Certainly all the commands are included, and the most that could be said of the LXX order (in comparison to the Hebrew order) is a very slight change in emphasis, if the position of a command in the list is thought to indicate the importance of the command (if assumed, we must counter--is honoring parents, the 5th, more important than prohibiting murder, the 6th?).
But just how are the commands to be counted? The typical list of the Ten Commands (short version, Kutilek’s translation) as understood by most Protestants and others is:
1. “There shall not be for you any other gods besides me.”
2. “You shall not make any idol.”
3. “Do not misuse God’s name.”
4. “Remember the Sabbath day.”
5. “Honor your father and your mother.”
6. “Do not murder.”
7. “Do not commit adultery”
8. “Do not steal.”
9. “Do not lie.”
10. “Do not covet you neighbor’s estate.”
Since the designation “commands” implies verbs in the imperative (though strictly speaking, the Hebrew designation is “ten words,” that is, ten utterances or sayings or statements), we note that there are more than 10 “imperatives” (16, to be precise) in Exodus 20:1-17:
a. “There shall not be” (v. 3; in Hebrew, an imperfect verb preceded by the word “not” is the way negative commands are expressed).
b. “Do not make” (v. 4).
c. “Do not bow down” (v. 5).
d. “Do not serve” (v. 5).
e. “Do not take up” (v. 7)
f. “Remember” (v. 8; in Hebrew, an infinitive absolute, which is one way to express commands)
g. “You shall work” (v. 9; in Hebrew an imperfect form of the verb, with imperatival force, so also the next example)
h. “You shall do” (v. 9)
i. “Do not do” (v. 10)
j. “Honor” (v. 12; in Hebrew, either an infinitive absolute, or an imperative--the forms are identical, as is the imperatival force)
k. “Do not murder” (v. 13)
l. “Do not commit adultery” (v. 14)
m. “Do not steal” (v. 15)
n. “Do not lie” (v. 16)
o. “Do not covet your neighbor’s house” (v. 17)
p. “Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, “ etc. (v. 17)
C. “do not bow down” and d. “do not serve” are a hendiadys, referring to the same thing, and both are clearly subordinate to b. “you shall not make,” consolidating 16 imperatives into 14. Then obviously, g., h. and i. above are subordinate to and explanatory of f., reducing the number to 11.
This leaves two possibilities for reducing the 11 to 10: either, a., “there shall not be” and b., “you shall not make” are separate commands and we must look for the final reduction in the number elsewhere, or b. is a sub-heading under a., meaning the last two imperatives, o. and p., both regarding coveting, are to be divided. This is actually the standard Roman Catholic explanation (also followed, one source said, by Lutherans and Anglicans) with the command to not make idols “buried” in the body of the first command and not mentioned in the standard catechism (see New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism, p. 100), thereby requiring less “spin” to explain how the gross idolatry of the Catholic Church is not a clear violation of the Ten Commands.
However, to thus divide the prohibition of coveting into two is unnatural in view of the fact that “house” is a general term that can indicate the whole of a man’s household or estate. What follows, that is, the specific mention of the wife, servants, livestock, etc. is merely a further specification of the general prohibition. (It should be noted, though, that in Deuteronomy 5:21, “wife” precedes “house” in the Hebrew text, the prohibition there going perhaps from specific to general and then back to specific).
The Jewish understanding of what constitute “the ten words” varies by sources consulted. The earliest available source, Philo of Alexandria (d. ca. 45 A.D.), in his study “The Decalogue” (The Works of Philo, translated by C. D. Yonge. Hendrickson, 1993, pp. 518-533) divides the ten commands exactly as does the standard Protestant analysis. So, too, Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (d. ca. 100 A.D.), in his Jewish Antiquities (Book III, paragraphs 90-91 in the Loeb Classic Library edition; Book III, chapter 5, paragraphs 4-5 in the Whiston translation) numbers the commands exactly as do Protestants generally. Some later Jewish sources have a different scheme, counting Exodus 20:2, “I am the Lord your God,” etc. as the first command, with the prohibitions of other gods, and the making of idols counted as one, in a manner akin to the Catholic practice at this point. Still other Jewish writers divide the statements into balanced groups of five statements that are positive and five negative (not having immediate access to sources detailing these, I will not speculate as to the precise form of such a list). Somewhat surprisingly, the ten commands do not seem to have as prominent a place in Jewish theology as they do in Christianity.
Taken all in all, the standard Protestant enumeration of the ten commands seems by a considerable margin the most natural and obvious, rather than the Catholic or later Jewish practice. It certainly has the earliest attestation.
Other matters relating to the ten commands are worthy of attention, but must be neglected here for now. There are, for example, some differences in the precise wording of the commands as originally given in Exodus 20 and recapitulated nearly 40 years later by Moses in Deuteronomy 5. An examination and explanation of these would be instructive but will of necessity be left for another day, as must an evaluation of the precise meaning of the commands, and the New Testament references to them.
But amidst questions of numbering and order--and public displays of the commands--, let us not lose sight of the fact that it is not the knowers of the law but the doers that bring glory to God.
Dealing with the King James Only Movement
in the Local Church
More than one pastor has said something to the effect, “When it comes to the KJV Only business, I just plan to ignore it in my church and hope it never shows up.” I respectfully declare that this is a most unrealistic perspective.
First of all, the pastor must recognize that the KJV Bible controversy almost certainly already exists in his congregation. If by some amazing concurrence of events its does not exist at present, it will all but inevitably arise in the future. Someone will get a book from a co-worker, or read an article in a periodical, or be influenced by some tape ministry, perhaps becoming alarmed by inflammatory rhetoric, and begin to spread the “infection” in the church. Wishful thinking will not make it not so. It will be an issue. To ignore the issue will simply not do. If the matter is not addressed by design from the pulpit and in the literature rack with sound and solid information, it will be addressed from the pew with information of a most dubious sort.
The “average layman” in the typical church is scarcely familiar in even the most general way with the contents of the Bible, and is almost wholly ignorant of the history of the transmission of the Bible from God to us (and is thereby by easily led astray). Therefore, the most basic of information is what he needs. Two excellent booklets exist that introduce to the unsophisticated reader the translation controversy. Not unlikely, many a pastor would benefit from a careful reading of these two as well. The first is “Bible Translations” by Evangelist Robert L. Sumner. In its 30 pages, it quotes trusted Christian scholars regarding the text and translation of the Bible, showing that KJVOism is not the historic view of conservative Christianity. It can be ordered from The Biblical Evangelist for $1.00 by writing firstname.lastname@example.org. The second booklet, compiled by Pastor Mark Minnick, “Trusted Voices on Translations” also gives numerous quotations from respected Christian leaders of the past, and includes an excellent policy statement adopted by the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship on the text and translation issue. It may be ordered for 85 cents (if I recall correctly) by writing email@example.com. If these two booklets were readily available in the church literature rack, the extremes of KJVOism could be nipped in the bud.
Secondly, the fact that the controversy is surely destined to appear, if it has not done so already, makes it imperative that pastor labor to inform his own mind well on the issue before assuming a dogmatic position. In short, make sure you know what you are talking about before you try and lead others. More than one zealous pastor, having read an alarmist book or perhaps two, has rushed his church into altering their constitution and by-laws to declare a particular English Bible version infallible and perfect.
The circumstances demand that the pastor do more than simply read the latest book that comes to his attention. There are writers on this subject who are characteristically careless, sloppy, inaccurate and misleading. To base one’s views on such--and then to spread the same misinformation to one’s hearers--exposes the messenger to the sterner judgement that James warned about (James 3:1). I do not suggest nor believe that this is a subject in which the average pastor can be well-grounded by reading a single book or two, even if they are the best available; he certainly will not be able to enlighten others if he has fed his own mind the popular “twinkies” and “ding-dongs” that masquerade as sound and serious discussions of the issue.
Beyond what the average layman knows, the pastor needs to have a more detailed and in-depth understanding of how we got the Bible. To that end, he needs to be familiar with the academic discipline known as “general Bible introduction,” which encompasses such topics as revelation, inspiration, the canon, Bible manuscripts, printed texts and translations. Three books (among many) that cover this general field are:
--Geisler, Norman L., and Nix, William E., A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986. Revised and expanded edition). I consider this the FIRST book to get on the subject.
--Miller, H. S., General Biblical Introduction (Houghton, NY: Word-Bearer Press, 1937). Though out of print, used copies are not scarce. The “Geisler and Nix” of an earlier generation and the textbook used at Baptist Bible College in my student days. It is still worth reading.
--Bruce, F. F., The Books and the Parchments (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1963. Revised edition). Not as full as the previous volumes, but more “popularly” written. It recommends at least one English version I cannot (NEB).
These books all have extensive bibliographies to direct the interested reader to further sources of information.
Since the controversy centers on English Bible translations, a couple of titles focusing expressly on this area would prove helpful. Among a great many works are:
--Moulton, William F., The History of the English Bible. Revised and enlarged by James Hope Moulton and W. Fiddian Moulton. London: Charles H. Kelly, 1911. 5th edition. This is the best general history of the English Bible among those I have read, though naturally it is out-of-date with regard to translations made in the past 100 years.
--Bruce, F. F., The English Bible: A History of Translations. London: Lutterworth Press, 1961. Third edition, retitled History of the Bible in English, New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. This is readily accessible and generally reliable.
More focused, but not overly technical works directly aimed at the “King James Only” issue are:
--Carson, D. A., The King James Version Debate. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979. This was the first book-length refutation of the KJVO point of view to be published. It is well-written and accurate, without rancor or venom. I’ve read it four times (reviewed in AISI 1:8).
--White, James A., The King James Bible Controversy. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1995.
--Williams, James B., From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man: A Layman's Guide to How We Got Our Bible. Greenville, S.C.: Ambassador-Emerald International, 1999. 3rd edition. Written by nearly a dozen pastors associated with the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, it opposes KJVOism, and is on the whole, very well done (reviewed in AISI 2:11).
--Beacham, Roy, & Kevin T. Bauder, edd., One Bible Only? Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001. Written by faculty and graduates of Central Baptist Seminary (Plymouth, Minnesota), it was my privilege to contribute chapter one, on the history of the KJV Only movement.
All of these are worthwhile books. The pastor who has read none of these is guilty of “dereliction of duty.” I would urge the reading of them all, over a period of a year or two.
For specialized articles on the controversy, I recommend the reader check www.kjvonly.org where many worthwhile articles by numerous authors are posted. If you cannot find an article there on the KJV Only topic you are interested in, it may not exist anywhere!
Beyond these, there is an immense volume of literature--books, articles, tracts, and more--on various aspects of this topic, some of it excellent, much of it mediocre and far too much of it abominably bad. Discernment is essential.
Having prepared his own mind, then, with extended study of trustworthy sources, the pastor would do well to teach a basic course on “general Bible introduction” to his church, either as a corrective to error, or as a pre-emptive strike, an inoculation if you will, with suitable literature made available.
Or, he could have a week-end conference on the subject, with a qualified guest speaker. As much caution is warranted here as in the selection of literature, perhaps more. There are some conference speakers making the rounds who have very impressive collections of historic English Bible versions. But let it be noted: the quality of a man’s Bible collection bears no necessary relationship to his knowledge or understanding of the truth. Indeed some of the finest Bible collections are owned by the most abysmally ignorant of men. I would be glad to make some recommendations along these lines.
In summary: the KJVOnly issue either currently does or will affect virtually every fundamental congregation in America, and unfortunately, it shows no signs of fading away. The best approach, therefore, is to face the issue squarely and address it with the weaponry of sound, reliable information. This requires first the personal acquisition of the truth by much study. So be it.
SPURGEON: PRINCE OF PREACHERS, by Lewis Drummond. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999. 895 pp., paperback.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), the famous London Baptist preacher, has been the subject of more biographies than any other Baptist preacher in history, with the possible exception of John Bunyan (1628-1688). Spurgeon’s labors were remarkably abundant in the Lord’s vineyard--in preaching sermons, writing books, training preachers, supporting orphans, distributing literature, and very much more. His activities would have wearied ten ordinary men, but then he was no ordinary man, nor indeed did he survive to three score and ten, but was worn out and in his grave by age 57. With no college training and never ordained (in the usual American sense of that word), he exerted a worldwide influence that continues to the present hour, more than 110 years after his death.
The author Lewis Drummond was for a time the only theological conservative on the faculty of Southern Baptist Seminary, and was the first conservative president of Southeastern Baptist Seminary after the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. Consequently, he writes from a perspective sympathetic to Spurgeon’s conservative Baptist theology. This is a decided plus.
Drummond’s book is by far the longest single-volume biography of Spurgeon written in the last 50 years. While it does an adequate job of presenting Spurgeon’s life, I must characterize it as merely adequate but not excellent. He does reproduce numerous documents from Spurgeon’s life, though in most cases these are only things copied (usually) out of the 4-volume autobiography or the 6-volume treatment by G. Holden Pike from the 1890s--so why not just get those two sets, since both are still in print? The book as published was quite inadequately edited, being marred in its present form by far too many repetitions, numerous stylistic problems, and a surprisingly large number of errors of fact, among them being:
--John Henry Newman’s book Apologia Pro Vita Sua is given in the mongrel jumble of Latin and English as Apology of pro vita sua (p. 47);
--an incident from 1844 was mentioned by Spurgeon in an 1871 sermon, which is said by the author to be “40 years later” (p. 92) though it is actually just 27;
--a letter from Spurgeon (p. 127) to his mother reads in part “I feel as if I could say with Paul, ‘would that even I were called so that my brethren according to the father might be saved.’ [italics added]. Anyone with the slimmest familiarity with the NT would recognize that the two words I have italicized in the quote should be accursed and flesh, respectively, and are from Romans 9:3. And the letter is incorrectly numbered as footnote “20”; it should in fact be “23.” Did the proofreader/editor sleep through this part of the book?
--John Gill’s (1697-1771) home town, Kettering, is incorrectly given as Cantering (p. 181);
--Robert Hall’s (1764-1831) famous description of John Gill’s writings as “a continent of mud” is wrongly ascribed to Spurgeon (p. 182), and further, the remark is wrongly limited as having reference to Gill’s systematic theology, instead of his whole corpus of writings;
--the author can’t seem to settle on what year Spurgeon’s twin sons were born. He gives both 1856 and 1857 on the same page! ( p. 230 ) The question arises from the fact that Spurgeon was married on January 8, 1856, and the twins were born some 8 and a half months later on September 20, 1856 (the correct year), suggesting to some minds that something is “amiss.” There should not be the least suspicion of impropriety or immorality in this. Rather, twins are commonly delivered short of full term, as was obviously the case with the Spurgeon twins, no doubt conceived during their parents’ honeymoon. (By the way, Drummond also says on that page that the Spurgeons ”christened” their sons. Spurgeon the Baptist would most certainly NOT have done that!)
--the Religious Herald, a Baptist denominational paper in Virginia, is apparently incorrectly called the Richmond Herald (p. 329);
--a government inspection of the orphanage Spurgeon started during his London pastorate was reportedly made in “1837” (p. 427), at which date Spurgeon was three years old and living with his grandparents!;
--a date given in the text, i.e., 1860 (p. 480) disagrees with the date in the footnoted documentation, i.e. 1859;
--a reference to “David Grainer” (p. 573) must surely be rather “David Brainerd”;
--Spurgeon is misquoted as saying with regard to his books “I have read them all” (p. 612) though in the original source, where he is speaking about his collection of Puritan authors, he actually said, “I have preached them all” [emphasis added];
--an incorrect Scripture reference is made to “Hebrews 2:22-23” (p. 632)--no such verses exist--while the correct reference is Hebrews 12:22-23;
--L. Gaussen’s name is misspelled “Goussen” (p. 741);
--the Bible text that led to Spurgeon’s conversion is inaccurately identified as “Isaiah 14:22 (p. 753), the correct reference being 45:22.
--the title of a book is given as Social British of British Election, 1885-1910 (p. 860, note 26), which must surely be something else, perhaps, Social Geography in British Elections, 1885-1910.
--a reference is made (p. 862, note 25) to vol. V of Spurgeon’s Autobiography, though that is a four-volume work, unless this is an incorrect reference to Pike’s biography.
These are by no means all the errors I located, and there are numerous facts and figures given of which I have serious doubts but did not take the trouble to investigate further.
The documentation given, though including well beyond 1,000 end-notes, and a bibliography listing much past 100 titles, is often inadequate or inaccurate. Direct quotations from Spurgeon and others are quite frequently not documented at all. In other places, e.g., pp. 127-132, the note numbers don’t jive with the documentation at the end of the book. And footnotes 72-87, p. 854 have nothing corresponding to them in chapter 7. While we appreciate the difficulties involved in getting everything “just right” in so long a book, nevertheless the lack of care in editing is a glaring defect and detracts much from the book--without confidence in the accuracy and completeness of citation, how can the book be trusted?
Frankly, the book became tedious to read and I had to set it aside for nearly a month before I could muster courage to finish it, but I am glad I did for near the end, I found the single most valuable part of the book--the treatment of the “Down Grade” controversy (pp. 661-716). This presentation is the best treatment to be found in any Spurgeon biography known to me of this important series of events that led to Spurgeon’s withdrawal from the Baptist Union. The value of this section is enough to make the book a recommended buy, in spite of deficiencies in several other areas. Happily, Drummond declares his belief that Spurgeon did the right thing in withdrawing from the Union over matters of fundamental doctrine; even some of the most sympathetic biographies by Spurgeon’s contemporaries and associates declared Spurgeon to be in the wrong. But the facts of history, especially the subsequent moribund state of British Baptists, vindicate Spurgeon’s insistence that departure from fundamental doctrine would be the death of Baptist churches. Appendices reproduce the articles from Spurgeon’s monthly magazine, The Sword and the Trowel relating to the Down Grade controversy.
For accounts of Spurgeon’s life, I suggest that the reader get instead of Drummond the single-volume biographies by Fullerton, Dallimore, Williams and Carlile, or in a pinch, those by Day and Bacon; for multi-volume works both the 4-volume Autobiography and Pike in 6 volumes are worthy of your attention. But for the best account of the “Down Grade,” get and read Drummond.
INVITATION TO THE SEPTUAGINT by Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silva. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001. 351 pp, hardback. $29.99
In his conquests of the Middle East, Alexander the Great initiated a policy of planting Greek colonies and Greek culture in every country he subdued. When he conquered Egypt in 332 B.C., he chose a site on the western extremity of the Nile delta to create a Greek city; he called it “Alexandria,” naming it after himself (conquest has its privileges!). Within 2 generations, the city had become a major seaport and cultural center, and most importantly for our discussion here, home to tens of thousands of Jews in exile. Now speaking Greek rather than Hebrew or Aramaic, these Jews were cut off from the Hebrew Scriptures. Hence, the circumstances demanded that the Holy Scriptures of the Jews be translated into Greek for the sake of these exiles, and therefore, it was done.
Beginning about 250 B.C. and starting with the Law of Moses, the entire OT was translated from Hebrew into Greek over the period of about a century, the task being completed by about 150 B.C. (certainly by 135 B.C. when the grandson of Ben-Sirach expressly refers to such a translation). The Greek translation of the OT was historically the first major work of any kind translated from one language to another. This translation collectively over time became know as the “Septuagint” (Latin for “seventy”), a name derived from a legendary account called “The Letter of Aristeas.” This highly imaginative account, dating to about 100 B.C., claims to give the history of how the Greek version of the Law was translated in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (r. 285-246 B.C.); the translators were reported to be 6 elders from each of the 12 tribes, for a total of 72 (which became shortened in popular speech to simply “the 70,” or in Roman numerals, LXX). That “The Letter of Aristeas” contains a great deal of fiction, no one denies; but that there was a translation of the Law of Moses into Greek made in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus is likewise affirmed by those acquainted with the facts of the case (that there was no Greek translation of the complete OT until after the time of Christ, indeed not till the third century A.D. is an absurdity embraced by the KJVOnly camp but supported by no evidence and expressly contradicted by a mound of evidence and facts).
The LXX came to be THE Bible of Greek-speaking Jews throughout the Roman world, and no doubt it was the Bible read each sabbath in the synagogues of the diaspora during the missionary travels of Paul. The LXX acquainted those exilic Jews--and attending Greeks--with the knowledge of the one true God and the OT messianic prophecies, so they were prepared thereby to receive the message of the Gospel. It has well been said that the rapid spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire would have been severely hindered if not made nearly impossible without the prior translation of the OT into Greek, the lingua franca of the day.
The LXX became the standard OT of Christians. In the NT, Christ and the apostles commonly though not universally quoted the OT in accordance with the translation of the LXX, and the Greek and Latin church fathers (the latter until the 5th century) were almost entirely dependent on the LXX, either directly or in Latin translation, for their knowledge of the OT.
After the LXX became the Bible of choice among Greek-speaking Christians did the Greek-speaking Jews seek for replacement versions that were not so suitable in proving that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Law and the Prophets. These 2nd century A.D. Greek versions, ascribed respectively to Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion, were accepted by the Jews as replacements for the LXX, which had been co-opted by the Christians. Ultimately, the Jews abandoned the use of all Greek versions of the OT, preferring the Hebrew text or Aramaic translations.
The LXX has been the object of varying degrees of intensity of study by scholars since the time of the Reformation. It is valuable in the textual criticism of the OT, being made from Hebrew manuscripts at least 1,000 years older than the oldest complete Hebrew Bible. It is valuable for the study of the language of the NT, since the NT writers commonly adopt LXX vocabulary in their books, and both are written in the koine dialect of Greek. The student of NT Greek can greatly broaden his grasp of NT Greek by studying the LXX Greek.
Invitation to the Septuagint by Jobes and Silva is a valuable introductory work, basic enough for the raw beginner (an appendix has a thorough glossary of terms), but with enough detail, especially in the latter part of the book, to challenge the specialist. Since both authors are theological conservatives, the book is not tainted by gratuitous destructive higher critical, anti-supernaturalist assumptions and assertions.
While not replacing, nor aiming to replace, standard introductory guides to the LXX from previous generations (those by Swete and Jellicoe are readily acknowledged as being still of immense value because of the detailed information they contain), the book effectively supplements the work of those that went before. There are helpful discussions of major LXX editions of the past 2 centuries, and good accounts of the major scholars in the field, their accomplishments and their limitations (they do, however, fail to say much about the editors of the first major LXX edition, namely Robert Holmes and James Parsons).
Current issues in LXX research are presented--the various recensions of Origen, Lucian, Hesychius, etc. are addressed, along with the relationship of the Greek versions Theodotion, Aquila, and Symmachus to the LXX and to each other, the use of the LXX in the textual criticism of the Hebrew OT (a area of study given great impetus by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947ff.), etc. This volume will bring the reader “up to speed” in what the current state of LXX studies is. The book contains an excellent bibliography of the latest research in the field.
There are a couple of factual errors worthy of noting. First, it is claimed (pp. 78-83) that the LXX originally contained the apocryphal books and that at the end of the first century A.D., Christians accepted these as part of the OT. In his extraordinary book, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Eerdmans, 1985), Roger Beckwith gives solid evidence that both these assumptions are false--that the LXX most assuredly did not originally contain the apocrypha, and second that the 1st century Christians did recognize an OT canon identical to the Hebrew OT of the Jews. Beckwith’s book, by the way, is not mentioned anywhere in this volume.
Second, the time that elapsed from the beginning of the translation of the Law ca. 250 B.C., until the completion of the whole Hebrew OT, is allowed to have covered 2, or even 3 centuries (pp. 29, 30). This is simply impossible. In the prologue to his Greek translation of his grandfather’s originally Hebrew book Ecclesiasticus, the grandson of Jesus ben-Sirach expressly alludes to the existence in translation of the three-fold OT canon. With a date of ca. 135 B.C., this prologue gives a terminus ad quem for the completion of LXX version of the OT. Later revisions, supplementations, etc.? sure, but the first translation was finished within just over a century at most from the time of its beginning. (And, as an aside, the fact that ben-Sirach’s grandson refers to the three-fold canon in translation as something distinct and apart from his grandfather’s book, shows that at least this book of the apocrypha was certainly NOT an original part of the LXX).
All in all, an excellent work. If the LXX interests you at all, you should get and study this volume.