The Septuagint--B.C. or A.D.?

by Doug Kutilek

 

[reprinted from “As I See It” 7:7, 7:8]

 

 

One of the strangest “givens” of the KJV Only movement is the widespread--almost ubiquitous--denial of the existence of the Septuagint Greek version of the Old Testament (often identified by the short title, “LXX,” the Roman numeral representation of “Seventy,” which is the meaning of “septuagint” in Latin) before the 3rd century A.D, with the accompanying claim that this Greek translation had its origin at the hands of the Alexandria-born church father Origen [b. 185, d. 254 A.D.].  And since Origen had some strange, even heretical theological views, and since his quotations from the NT are regularly Alexandrian or non-textus receptus in form, it is easy and convenient for Peter Ruckman and other “founding fathers” or “leading lights” of the KJVO movement to make him the universal ancient  “bogey-man” in all matters relating to the text of the NT, as they have similarly done with Messrs. Westcott and Hort in the modern era.

 

Typical of this remarkably uninformed opinion is Pastor Kent Brandenburg, who in all seriousness actually affirmed--“All of the speculation about a pre-Christian LXX comes from one letter purported to be written by a certain Aristeas to his brother Philocrates during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285 - 246 BC), in which he relates how Philadelphus, persuaded by his librarian to get a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures for his royal library, appealed to the high priest at Jerusalem, who sent seventy-two elders (six from each of the twelve tribes) to Alexandria with an official copy of the Law.  Many of the details of the Aristeas letter are exaggerated and even legendary.  No one has produced a Greek copy of the Old Testament written before 300 AD.  The nearest thing to an Old Testament Greek Bible anyone has found was the Ryland Papyrus (No. 458), which had a few portions of Deuteronomy 23 - 28 on it.  And even this piece of papyrus was dated 150 BC, fifty to one hundred years later than the writing of the so-called Septuagint.  What scholars refer to as "Septuagint papyri" are 24 pieces of papyrus, written 200 years after the death of Christ.” (Quoted from a book advertisement).

 

The creation of this “no LXX until Origen” fable can be traced with certainty to Peter Ruckman.  He freely acknowledged to Gary Hudson that he originated this view.  Typical statements from Ruckman’s published writings include: "This 'LXX' [Ruckman here refers to the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus Greek Manuscripts which included the OT in Greek, and date from about 350 A.D.--ed.] was written more than 250 years after the completion of the New Testament canon and it is the only 'LXX' anyone knows anything about" (The Christian’s Handbook of Manuscript Evidence, p. 54); and again, "This is the so-called 'LXX' which the young minister sees referred to in the commentaries. It was written well over 100 years after the New Testament was complete" (ibid, p, 60).  And once more--“until Origen picked up his pen . . . there wasn’t a Greek Old Testament in sight.” (ibid., p. 61)

 

Ruckman in fact even admits that there are fragmentary pre-Christian and pre-Origen manuscripts of portions of the LXX (The Christian’s Handbook of Manuscript Evidence, pp. 50, 51; his presentation is both quite incomplete and inaccurate) but refuses to admit that such evidence--or a hundred times more of such evidence,--would be sufficient to prove that the LXX did exist before Origen: “If a thousand pieces of papyrus were recovered with Old Testament Greek on them, written before 100 B.C., nothing could bolster that sagging testimony of the LXX,” (p. 51).  In short, he is not open to consider evidence, undeniable evidence, overwhelming evidence, which contradicts his views.   By his own admission, then, truth, evidence and facts are not sufficient to persuade him.  Such willful blindness is utter folly, both in Ruckman and in all who follow him.

 

Actually, Ruckman’s view arose either as a misrepresentation or misunderstanding (Ruckman is a master at both) of the writings of Paul Kahle (1875-1964), expert in the text of the OT, who had a distinctive theory regarding the purpose of the Aristeas letter.  Kahle believed the purpose of that letter was not to give the history of how the Torah first came to be translated into Greek, but as a propaganda piece to gain favor for a particular Greek version over other rival Greek versions extant in the centuries before Christ (see Paul Kahle, The Cairo Geniza.  Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1959, 2nd ed., pp. 209-264, where the LXX is discussed at length; very few scholars have adopted Kahle’s theory).  Kahle nowhere therein denies the existence of a pre-Christian Greek version of the OT, but even notes pre-Christian--and certainly pre-Origen--Greek manuscripts of the LXX.  Ruckman’s claim regarding Kahle’s views is footnoted as from a secondary source (The Christian’s Handbook of Manuscript Evidence, p. 41).

 

And we would challenge those who accept “by faith” what Ruckman has groundlessly affirmed, to present evidence, any evidence whatsoever, that positively supports your claim.  It is, after all, a standard principle of argumentation and debate: “They who affirm must also prove.”  And since KJVOism’s assertion that there was no pre-Origen LXX is diametrically opposed to the whole of ancient and modern opinion on the matter, the burden of proof (not just bold assertion) rests on them.

 

On the point at issue here--the date for the Greek translation of the OT commonly called the Septuagint/ LXX--the view expressed by Methodist scholar Adam Clarke (1762-1832) in his Bible commentary may be cited as typical of Christian scholars generally, with minor differences in details:

 

“The SEPTUAGINT translation of all the versions of the sacred writings has ever been deemed of the greatest importance by competent judges.  I do not, however, design to enter into the controversy concerning this venerable version; the history of it by Aristeas I consider in the main to be a mere fable, worthy to be classed with the tale of Bel and the Dragon, and the stupid story of Tobit and his Dog.  Nor do I believe, with many of the fathers, that “seventy or seventy-two elders, six out of each of the twelve tribes, were employed in the work that each of these translated the whole of the sacred books from Hebrew into Greek while confined in separate cells in the island of Pharos;” or that they were so particularly inspired by God that every species of error was prevented, and that the seventy-two copies, when compared together, were found to be precisely the same, verbatim et literatim.” 

 

“My own opinion, on the controversial part of the subject, may be given in a few words: I believe that the five books of Moses, the most correct and accurate part of the whole work, were translated from the Hebrew into Greek in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, about 285 years before the Christian era; that this was done, not by seventy-two, but probably by five learned and judicious men, and that when completed it was examined, approved, and allowed as a faithful version, by the seventy or seventy-two elders who constituted the Alexandrian Sanhedrim; and that the other books of the Old Testament were done at different times by different hands, as the necessity of the case demanded, or the providence of GOD appointed.  It is pretty certain, from the quotations of the evangelists, the apostles, and the primitive fathers, that a complete version into Greek of the whole Old Testament, probably called by the name of the Septuagint, was made and in use before the Christian era; but it is likely that some of the books of that ancient version are now lost, and that some others, which now go under the name of Septuagint, were the production of times posterior to the incarnation.”  (vol. 1, General preface, p. 22.  All italics in original; the OT books for which later versions were substituted, or were suspected of being substituted, for the corresponding LXX version, are Daniel, Ecclesiastes, and Ezra.  Of course, substitution requires the prior existence of LXX versions of these books.--editor).

 

The Evidence

 

JEWISH WRITERS

 

The Letter of Aristeas

 

The Letter of Aristeas--which we recommend that the reader actually read; sources are given in the concluding bibliography--though claiming to date from the mid-3rd century B.C., is generally recognized by experts in the matter to date some time in the half century between 150 and 100 B.C., but not later (Ruckman absurdly, and without a shred of supporting evidence, claims Philo of Alexandria, who lived approximately 20 B.C.--50 A.D., 100 years too late, as the probable author of this letter; see The Christian’s Handbook of Manuscript Evidence, p. 54).  As for its contents, they are admittedly largely legendary, like stories of Washington chopping down a cherry tree or tossing a dollar across the Potomac River.  But just as the legendary nature of some of the stories about Washington do not disprove his existence as a real person, so the fact that many details in the Letter of Aristeas are fabrications does not disprove the existence of the Greek translation of the Law, made in Egypt, in the mid-third century B.C.

 

Ben-Sirach Prologue

 

One of the books of the Apocrypha is The Wisdom of Ben-Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus.  The book was originally written in Hebrew about 185 B.C. by Jesus Ben Sirach, a man deeply steeped in the OT and the wisdom of the Jews.  His style is quite similar to that of Proverbs and the proverbial portions of Ecclesiastes.  His grandson, also named Jesus (Greek form of Joshua), translated the book from Hebrew into Greek around 132 B.C.  The grandson in his prologue to the translation in essence apologizes for the inadequacy of his own translation work, and in the process takes note of the same problem encountered by those who had made a translation of the OT Scriptures: “Wherefore, let me entreat you to read it with favor and attention, and to pardon us, wherein we may seem to come short of some words which we have labored to interpret.  For the same things uttered in Hebrew, and translated into another tongue, have not the same force in them: and not only these things, but the Law itself, and the Prophets, and the rest of the books, have no small difference, when they are spoken in their own language.” (quoted from the AV 1611)

 

The plain implication of the grandson’s words is that the Hebrew OT--all of it (“the Law, the Prophets, and the rest of the Books”--reflecting the three-fold Jewish classification of the OT canon into Law, Prophets and Writings)--had been translated from Hebrew into some other language.  On three grounds, we conclude that the particular language into which the Hebrew Scriptures had been translated was Greek, namely: 1. the language in which the readers were reading of these things was Greek, the language of the prologue; 2. the language the grandson had rendered his grandfather’s Hebrew book into was Greek, to which a Hebrew-to-Greek translation of the OT would make a perfect parallel; 3. the grandson was in northern Egypt where he did his translating--where Greek was the language used by the common people, and if they were familiar with any translation of the OT at all, it would almost certainly be a Greek one.  Indeed, there is no evidence of any translation of the OT at that time into any language except Greek.  So, the grandson of Ben Sirach writes to his readers as though they would of course be familiar with a translation--of the whole OT--into Greek.  Therefore, we deduce that a complete version of the OT in Greek existed in northern Egypt by 132 B.C.  This one source alone would be sufficient to refute Ruckman’s fraudulent claim, but there are many other witnesses.

 

Philo of Alexandria

 

Jewish author Philo of Alexandria (ca. 20 B.C.--ca. 45 A.D.) wrote extensively in Greek, chiefly seeking to harmonize the teachings of the Old Testament with Greek philosophy, a task he accomplished primarily by allegorizing away the obvious meaning of the Scriptures.  In his extensive works, Philo quotes from the Bible in Greek translation, and shows unmistakable familiarity with the Letter of Aristeas.  In The Life of Moses, book II, chapters V-VII (C. D. Yonge, translator, The Works of Philo, pp. 493, 494).  He summarizes Aristeas' account of the origin and work of making the Greek translation of the Law of Moses, apparently accepting the supernatural inspiration of the Greek translation.  First, he notes the seriousness with which the translators undertook their task--

 

“Considering among themselves how important the affair was to translate laws which had been divinely given by direct inspiration, since they were not able either to take away anything, or to add anything, or to alter anything, but were bound to preserve the original form and character of the whole composition, they looked out for the most completely purified place of all the spots on the outside of the city.”

 

Philo here echoes the hoped for inalterability of the LXX described in Aristeas, but applies it instead to the original Scriptures.  Philo then relates the actual work of translation--

 

“They, like men inspired, prophesied, not one saying one thing and another another, but every one of them employing the self-same nouns and verbs, as if some unseen prompter had suggested all their language to them.”

 

The result is thus described:

 

“If the Chaldeans were to learn the Greek language, and if the Greeks were to learn Chaldean [i.e., Hebrew], and if each were to meet with those scriptures in both languages, namely, the Chaldaic and the translated version, they would admire and reverence them both as sisters, or rather as one and the same both in their facts and in their language; considering these translators were not mere interpreters but hierophants and prophets to whom it had been granted [to] their honest and guileless minds to go along with the most pure spirit of Moses.”

 

Philo goes on to relate that even in his day--centuries after the event--there was an annual celebration of the making of the Greek version of the Law of Moses, a celebration thronged by both Jews and Gentiles, on the island of Pharos in Alexandria’s harbor, where the translation work was carried out.

 

Thus Philo, a resident of Alexandria where the LXX translation work reportedly took place, uncritically accepts the account of Aristeas, and goes beyond Aristeas in interpreting him to say that each of the translators, working independently, produced verbally identical translations.  Philo finds an explanation for this in ascribing to the translators more than mere human labors, crediting them with having the aid of the Spirit who originally moved Moses to write the Law.  It should also be noted that Philo limits the work of translation to the Law of Moses, and does not expand it to cover the whole Old Testament.

 

Josephus

 

Flavius Josephus (37 A.D.--c. 100 A.D.), like Philo, was aware of the account of Aristeas.  Indeed, in his Antiquities of the Jews, Book 12, chapter 2, he gives a close paraphrase of about a third of the Letter of Aristeas, mentioning Aristeas by name.  Because his account follows Aristeas closely, it does not, like Philo, make extravagant claims of perfection or inspiration of the Greek translation, though he does note the provision for the preservation of the translation from any and all corruption. (Josephus: Jewish Antiquities, Books XII-XIV, Ralph Marcus, translator, vol. VII, pp. 8, footnote “b”; 9; 55.  An older translation of Josephus' whole account can be found in William Whiston, translator, The Works of Josephus, vol. III, pp. 149-163).

 

Both Philo and Josephus, therefore, not later than the first century A. D., are aware of and do not dispute the account of the origin of a Greek translation of the law as related in the Letter of Aristeas.  This is unchallengeable proof that at least the Greek version of the Law known as the Septuagint existed in their day and would certainly have been available to the writers of the New Testament.  Those who yet claim a third century A. D. origin for the Septuagint not only have no basis in fact for their absurd claim, they fly in the face of this clear and irrefutable evidence of their error.

 

CHRISTIAN WRITERS

 

Apostolic Fathers

 

The earliest extra Biblical writers whose writings are preserved for us are collectively referred to as the “Apostolic fathers,” since their lives overlapped in part with the lives of the Apostles, and in some cases, they actually crossed paths with some of the Apostles.  Among these men are Clement of Rome, Papias, Polycarp and Ignatius.  In their extant writings--which date from 95 A.D. to a few decades into the second century A.D. (a century and more before the time of Origen), there are numerous quotations, allusions and references to the OT.  All these quotations are in Greek (none of these men had command of Hebrew), which necessarily and absolutely requires and guarantees that they had access to a Greek translation of the OT.  A comparison of these Greek quotations shows a close likeness to the LXX as know to us today.  For example, in the 16th chapter of his letter to the church at Corinth, Clement of Rome quotes the whole of Isaiah 53, in a form that differs in only minor details from the text as found in the great uncial manuscripts of the 4th century.  Obviously, a Greek version, corresponding to and therefore to be identified as the LXX did exist long before Origen, demonstrably at least as early as the first century A.D. when Clement wrote.  This one witness alone is sufficient to expose the lie of Ruckman.  (The writings of the Apostolic fathers are available in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I, The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson; and, with the Greek text, in The Apostolic Fathers by J. B. Lightfoot, edited by J. R. Harmer; to note but two sources)

 

In the second century A.D., there were numerous Greek-speaking Christian writers.  They had extensively studied the Bible, and knew well its teaching.  They often quoted and made reference to the OT, and did so in Greek.  The fact that these Greek speakers, who had no command of Hebrew knew thoroughly the OT and quoted it with great frequency in Greek in their writings, necessarily demands that there was a complete Greek translation of the OT.  We are not left in the dark as to which translation it was; by their own admission and references, it was the Greek version known as the Septuagint, whose long existence and origin more than 3 centuries earlier is abundantly testified to by them.

 

Justin Martyr

 

Born of pagan parents in Samaria around A.D. 100, Justin Martyr became a Christian in his early thirties, and thereafter spent his life as a propagator of and apologist for Christianity, until he was martyred for his faith in A.D. 165 (see “Justin Martyr,” by G. L. Carey, The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 558)

 

In an apologetic commonly ascribed to him, "A Hortatory Address to the Greeks," Justin shows full familiarity with the Aristeas legend of the origin of the Greek translation of the Old Testament, including Philo's embellishment of the story regarding the precise verbal agreement of all the separate translations of the seventy individual translators, noting that Ptolemy "was struck with amazement and believed that the translation had been written by divine power." Ptolemy had reportedly required that there be no collusion between the translators so that he could be assured of the accuracy of their version.  Justin further notes that he had personally been to Alexandria, had seen the place of translation and had spoken with local inhabitants about the events surrounding the making of the LXX translation.  He appeals by name to the accounts of these things in the writings of Philo of Alexandria and Josephus as proof that he has given an accurate account.  Justin also declares, "that the books relating to our religion [viz., the Old Testament] are to this day preserved among the Jews, has been a work of Divine Providence on our behalf."  (Quoted from "Justin's Hortatory Address to the Greeks," translated by Marcus Dods, in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, pp. 278, 279.  Some, including Johannes Quasten, Patrology, vol. I, p. 205, believe this work to be pseudonymous and therefore falsely ascribed to Justin.  The alleged third century date of writing--if pseudonymous--still makes it an early testimony regarding the view of the LXX current among early Christians).

 

 

 

Irenaeus

 

A native of Smyrna in Asia Minor, but having Lyons in Southern Gaul (France) as the chief scene of his ministerial labors, Irenaeus was among the most prominent of Christian leaders in the second half of the second century A. D. In his book "Against Heresies," chapter 21, he defends the accuracy of the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 7:14, particularly the translation of the Hebrew word almah by the Greek word parthenos, which means "virgin."  He particularly defends the LXX against the revisions made in the verse (namely, making the Hebrew word mean "young woman") by the Greek versions of Theodotion and Aquila, Jewish proselytes, and that of the Ebionites (that is, the translation of Symmachus).  We will say more about these three versions shortly.

 

Irenaeus defends the LXX on several grounds, first of all its pre-Christian Jewish origin, which precludes any pro-Christian bias on the part of the translators.  At this point, he relates the Aristeas legend, but with certain expansions.  First, it is the Scriptures, that is, the whole Hebrew Old Testament, not just the Law which is said to have been translated (a necessity, since Isaiah, which is under discussion, is not a part of the Law).  Second, he inserts into the account--as does Justin's "Hortatory Address to the Greeks"--that Ptolemy, as a test of the translators, compelled them to work each man separately:

 

“But he, wishing to test them individually, and fearing lest they might perchance, by taking counsel together, conceal the truth in the Scriptures, by their interpretation, separated them from each other, and commanded them all to write the same translation.  He did this with respect to all the books.”

 

The amazing result of their separate labors is then noted:

 

“But when they came together in the same place before Ptolemy, and each of them compared his own interpretation with that of every other, God was indeed glorified, and the Scriptures were acknowledged as truly divine.  For all of them read out the common translation [which they had prepared] in the very same words and the very same names, from beginning to end, so that even the Gentiles present perceived that the Scriptures had been interpreted by the inspiration of God.”

 

Irenaeus defends the ability of God to inspire a translation by appeal to the event (reported in the apocryphal book II Esdras 14) after the Babylonian exile, when God "inspired Esdras the priest of the tribe of Levi, to recast all the words of the former prophets," or so Irenaeus tells it.

 

He then continues with the claims of the inalterability of the LXX:

 

“Since, therefore, the Scriptures have been interpreted with such fidelity, and by the grace of God, since from these God has prepared and formed again our faith towards His Son, and has preserved to us the unadulterated Scriptures in Egypt, . . . truly these men are proved to be impudent and presumptuous, who would now show a desire to make different translations, when we refute them out of these Scriptures, . . .”  (See "Irenaeus Against Heresies," in Roberts and Donaldson, op. cit., p. 451-2)

 

Clement of Alexandria

 

This Clement (ca. 150-ca. 215 A.D.), wrote of the translation of the OT Scriptures as a past historic fact:  “Wherefore also the Scriptures were translated into the language of the Greeks, so that they might never be able to allege the excuse of ignorance.”  (“Stromata” in Roberts and Donaldson, op. cit., vol. II, p. 308) The translation meant by Clement is that described in the famous “Letter of Aristeas,” though Clement understands the work to encompass the whole OT, not just the Law--

 

“It is said that the Scriptures, both of the law and of the prophets were translated

from the dialect of the Hebrews into the Greek language in the reign of Ptolemy the son of Lagos, or, according to others, of Ptolemy surnamed Philadelphus; Demetrius Phalereus bringing to the task the greatest earnestness and employing painstaking accuracy on the materials for the translation.  For the Macedonians being still in possession of Asia, and the king being ambitious of adorning the library he had at Alexandria with all writings, desired the people of Jerusalem to translate the prophecies they possessed into the Greek dialect.  And they being the subjects of the Macedonians, selected from those of the highest character among them seventy elders, versed in the Scriptures, and skilled in the Greek dialect, and sent them to him with the divine books.  And each having severally translated each prophetic book, and all the translations being compared together, they agreed both in meaning and expression.  For it was the counsel of God carried out for the benefit of Grecian ears.  It was not alien to the inspiration of God, who gave the prophecy, also to produce the translation, and make it as it were Greek prophecy.” (ibid, p. 334). 

 

It is immediately evident that Clement knows and accepts, with embellishments, the account given of the LXX in “the Letter of Aristeas.”  He lives in the city where this work is reported to have occurred, where the facts are most likely to be known, and he does not deny that a complete Greek translation of the OT has long existed.  Indeed, he employed this very Greek version in his own Bible study, for his writings--all in Greek--have many OT quotes and references.

 

These and other pre-Origen Christian fathers knew of and accepted the Aristeas account of production the Greek OT, a translation which they had long known and used in their Bible study.  In the face of their evidence by itself, to deny that there was a pre-Origen, indeed, pre-Christian, Greek translation of the whole OT is insanity.

 

ANCIENT VERSIONS AND MANUSCRIPTS

 

Jewish revisions of LXX

 

The use by early Christians of the LXX as their OT text provoked a strong response from the contemporary Jews.  They objected to some of the LXX renderings, chief among them Isaiah 7:14, where the LXX read parthenos (“virgin”), supporting the NT doctrine of the virgin birth of the Messiah, a doctrine the unbelieving Jews could not abide.  Desiring some alternative to the continued use of the LXX, three Greek translations of the OT were produced either by Jews or Jewish proselytes in the second century A.D.  Two of these were new translations, intended as substitutes for the LXX, namely the version of Aquila, a very unliterary, often slavishly, unintelligibly literal version, and that of Symmachus, a highly polished, literary version.  The third translation, a revision of the LXX, designed to correct its errors and make it more accurate, was that of Theodotion of Ephesus.  (Some account of these versions is found in most of the standard works on the Septuagint listed in the bibliography below).  Without describing these versions in greater detail, let it simply be noted--you cannot prepare a version as a substitute for another, nor can you revise or correct a translation that doesn’t exist.  In short, the very production and existence of these three Jewish-made Greek versions of the OT which were by design intended to supplant and supercede the LXX are proof that the LXX did really exist, and was the OT of the second century Christians.

 

The Old Latin Version

 

A further witness to the existence of a pre-Origen Greek translation of the OT--the whole OT--is the Old Latin version of the Old Testament.  In this context, let us quote Edward F. Hills, a scholar favorably viewed by the KJVO camp: “The earliest Latin version of the Old Testament was a translation of the Septuagint.  Scholars think that this translating was probably done at Carthage during the 2nd century [A.D.]” (The King James Version Defended, 1973, p. 95).  Obviously, Hills accepts without question the existence in the 2nd century A.D., well before Origen’s time, of the Septuagint Greek version, for a Latin version was made from it in North Africa!  And here Hills is expressing the broad consensus: a Latin version of the OT was made in North Africa in the 2nd Christian century, and its base text was the Septuagint Greek version.  (See, as typical of this consensus, Ernst Wuerthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, translated by Erroll F. Rhodes [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979; pp. 87-8]).  Obviously you cannot translate “nothing” from Greek into Latin; a Greek version necessarily had to exist at that time.

 

Early Manuscripts

 

All of these lines of evidence, indeed, any one of them standing alone, is sufficient proof, even without any actual manuscripts of the LXX dating to before Origen.  But we have some of those as well.  Melvin K. H. Peters, e.g., in his article “Septuagint” (Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. V, p. 1094), lists 10 papyrii manuscripts of the OT in Greek which date from the 2nd century B.C. to the early 1st century A.D.  Most are from the Torah, but one is the important Minor Prophets scroll from the Judean desert.  He notes the existence of other slightly later manuscripts.  Sidney Jellicoe (The Septuagint and Modern Study, pp. 224-242) lists and describes the papyrus witnesses to the LXX, some of which are pre-Christian, some from the first century A.D., and others pre-Origenic (as well as others post-Origenic).  These all testify to the existence of a Greek version of the OT before the imagined mid-3rd century A.D. date of origin for the LXX.  They cannot be explained away or simply rejected out of hand, as Ruckman (and Brandenburg) does.

 

HEROES OF KJVO-ISM SPEAK

 

Edward F. Hills

 

Edward F. Hills, the “father” of the “providential restoration” view of the Greek text of the NT (namely, that though some of the original wording of the Greek NT was lost during the centuries of copying, God used Erasmus and the Latin Vulgate to restore the text to its original condition) speaks to the matter of the Septuagint’s date in both his Believing Bible Study (1967; pp. 15-16) and The King James Version Defended (1973; pp. 93-94) in words that are largely verbatim the same.  Hills plainly accepts a pre-Christian (and certainly pre-Origenic) date for the entire Greek OT translation (the quote below is taken from The King James Version Defended; clauses in brackets are inserted from the parallel text in Believing Bible Study)--

 

“Although the unbelief of the Jews and their consequent hostility deprived the Church for a time of the Hebrew Old Testament and of the benefits of Hebrew scholarship, still the providence of God did not permit that the Old Testament Scriptures should ever be taken away wholly from His believing people.  Even before the coming of Christ [[emphasis added--ed.]] God had brought into being the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament translation which was to serve the Church as a temporary substitute until such a time as the ancient Hebrew Bible could be restored to her.  According to tradition, this translation was made at Alexandria for the library of Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, by a delegation of seventy Jewish elders, hence the name Septuagint (Seventy).  According to Irwin (1949), the Septuagint was not produced in any such official way but arose out of the needs of the Alexandrian Jews.  The Pentateuch, it is said, was translated first in the 3rd century B.C., the other Old Testament books following later.  [In the opinion of Swete (1902), ‘It is probable that before the Christian era Alexandria possessed the whole, or nearly the whole, of the Hebrew Scriptures in a Greek translation’].  From Alexandria the use of the Septuagint rapidly spread until in the days of the Apostles it was read everywhere in the synagogues of the Greek-speaking Jews outside of Palestine.  Then, at length, converts from these Greek-speaking synagogues brought their Septuagint with them into the Christian Church.” (pp. 93-4)

 

Hills goes on to explain how the Apostles made use of the Septuagint version, a de facto acceptance on Hills’ part of its existence and wide acceptance in Apostolic times--

 

“When one studies the Old Testament quotations in the New Testament, one is struck by the inspired wisdom which the Apostles exhibited in their attitude toward the Septuagint.  On the one hand, they did not invariably set this version aside and make new translations from the Hebrew.  Such an emphasis on the Hebrew would have been harmful to the gentile churches which had just been formed.  It would have brought these gentile Christians into a position of dependence upon the unbelieving Jewish rabbis on whose learning they would have been obligated to rely for an understanding of the Hebrew Old Testament.  But on the other hand, the Apostles did not quote from the Septuagint invariably and thus encourage the notion that this Greek translation was equal to the Hebrew Old Testament in authority.  Instead, they walked the middle way between these two extremes.  Sometimes they cited the Septuagint verbatim, even when it departed from the Hebrew in non-essential ways, and sometimes they made their own translation directly from the Hebrew or used their knowledge of Hebrew to improve the rendering of the Septuagint.  [Moreover, although the Apostles sometimes quoted the Septuagint in passages in which it departed from the Hebrew text, they never gave their approval to the errors of the Septuagint].”

 

All very sound and sensible this, and in concert with the facts.  And wholly ignored by extremist KJVO radicals for the pure moonshine fabrications of Ruckman.

 

Dean Burgon

 

Dean John William Burgon (1813-1888), darling of the KJVOites, also clearly accepted a pre-Christian date for the Septuagint, for he declares with regard to the Greek wording of Luke 1:37, “The Greek of that place has been fashioned on the Septuagintal rendering of Genesis 18:14.” (The Revision Revised.  London: John Murray, 1883; p. 183).  Burgon, then, recognized, that the Septuagint Greek version preceded the writing of the Gospel of Luke, and in fact, influenced its wording in this particular passage.

 

The Translators of the KJV

 

Not only did Burgon accept the pre-Christian date of the LXX, so expressly did the King James Version’s own translators.  On the unnumbered 7th and 8th pages of “The Translators to the Readers” of the original edition of the KJV we read:

 

“The translation of the Seventy dissenteth from the Original in many places, neither doth it come near it, for perspicuity, gravity, majesty; yet which of the Apostles did condemn it?  Condemn it?  Nay, they used it, (as it is apparent, and as Saint Jerome and most learned men do confess) which they would not have done, nor by their example of using it, so grace and commend it to the Church,

if it had been unworthy of the appellation and name of the word of God.” 

 

The KJVOers who venerate and exalt the KJV translators as the most learned of men--ever--to undertake the translation of the Bible (a false claim, by the way), nevertheless de facto condemn them as abjectly ignorant on so basic a matter as the date, origin and value of the LXX translation, a version those translators often consulted and sometimes followed against the Masoretic Hebrew text in making the KJV.  These KJV translators accepted as fact that the LXX pre-dated the NT era, was often quoted and thereby de facto commended by the Apostles, and though less than perfect was nevertheless both useful and worthy of the appellation “the Word of God.”  The whole weight of the evidence and of Christian opinion for two millennia agrees with the KJV men here, against the KJVO radicals of today.

 

So, then, Edward F. Hills, whose doctrine of infallible restoration is part and parcel of KJVOism, Dean John W. Burgon, who has become the virtual patron saint of KJVOism and whose name is invoked as virtually the final authority, and the very translators of the KJV itself all assent readily to the standard view of the LXX--that it pre-dates the time of Christ, and was in fact used by Christ, the Apostles and the writers of the NT.  These respected and revered sources are cast aside so that the unsupported, unsubstantiated, indeed demonstrably false claims of Peter S. Ruckman, Sr. can be unquestioningly embraced.

 

Further ancient evidence from sources Jewish and Christian could be marshaled, but if the above is insufficient to persuade the reader, he cannot be persuaded by evidence of whatever sort.  Or, to quote Samuel Johnson, “I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find you an understanding.”

 

Conclusion

 

As I have once again examined the evidence regarding the date and provenance of the LXX (for at least the third, perhaps the fourth, time over the past 30 years), I have been struck by the complete absence of ANY corroborating evidence to support the claim of a 3rd century A.D. date for this Greek translation of the OT, with the whole mass of evidence, without exception, supporting a B.C. date for a complete Greek translation of the OT.  The complete absence of supporting evidence on one side, and the presence of all evidence on the other compels the conclusion that all those who adhere to the 3rd century A.D. date for the LXX Greek OT translation must do so with complete reliance on the specious claims of Ruckman and with absolutely no independent investigation of the facts.  I am fully persuaded that no one who has taken the least trouble to make the barest investigation could possibly deny that a Greek translation of the whole OT existed well before the time of Christ.  I urge the gullible swallowers of Ruckman’s fabrications to openly and honestly re-examine this issue, to study some of the standard works below, and see if they have not been grossly deceived in this matter.

 

And the very existence of a Greek translation--any Greek translation, whether pre-Christian or post-Origen--compels KJVO advocates to do some explaining.  Assuming it is true that verbal preservation of the Bible in translation is a necessary corollary of verbal inspiration (for so they interpret--wrest, really,--certain Bible verses, including Psalm 12:6-7 and Matthew 24:35; we expressly deny the premise), we must ask: where is the perfectly preserved Greek version?  Surely God must have--assuming your premise--given Greek-speaking Christians the same kind of OT, a verbally preserved one, that you claim He has given you in the KJV.  First, second and third century Christians were overwhelmingly Greek-speaking.  Did they not need the oracles of God in their own tongue?  Did they not need it in just as pure a form as you claim for the KJV?  Must not God have provided them with a verbally preserved translation?  If so, which is it?  The LXX?  You’ve already jettisoned that, even though some Christian writers of the second and later centuries began to claim for it perfect inspiration and preservation of the sort you now claim for the KJV (see One Bible Only? edited by Roy E. Beacham and Kevin T. Bauder [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001] pp. 27-42, where I trace this phenomenon of claims of infallible translations through many centuries, languages and versions).  If not the LXX, then perhaps that of Aquila, or Theodotion, or Symmachus?  But these were all unbelieving adherents of Christ-rejecting Judaism, and are, besides, extant in only fragmentary--defectively preserved--form.  Where then is the ostensibly necessary preserved Greek version?  Anywhere?  If none such Greek version exists or ever existed, then the alleged promise of God is not kept (or, what is actually the truth, the interpretation which finds such a promise is exposed as defective).  Before you can begin to claim that your 17th century KJV is verbally preserved, you must tell us where the verbally preserved Greek OT is, since the need for it (if there is such a need) came a millennium and a half before the need for the KJV arose.  If God did not provide a verbally preserved perfect Greek version for the earliest Christians, why would you think that He would do it for you, simply because you speak English?

 

The motive behind the “no LXX before Origen” madness may be this: if the LXX existed in the days of Christ and the Apostles, and if Christ and the Apostles often quoted from it as authoritative (as the Bible quotations in the NT demonstrate was in fact the case--see our article on “Quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament,” in AISI 3:8), and if the LXX is demonstrably a less-than-perfect translation of the Hebrew text (as it admittedly is), then we have a clear case of Jesus and the Apostles making good use of and deriving spiritual profit from an uninspired, imperfectly preserved translation.  In short, the example of Christ and the Apostles in their use of the LXX version of the OT demonstrates that it was not necessary that they--or we--have an “infallible and inspired, perfectly preserved” translation before they could know or serve God.  It is therefore not a corollary of perfect verbal inspiration that there must be perfect verbal preservation in translation.  Rather, a translation that is generally good though imperfect in details can be entirely adequate.  It then follows that the very foundational premise of KJVOism--that we must have, and therefore do have such an inspired and infallible Bible translation in the KJV--is exposed as entirely bogus, a sham, a fraud.

---Doug Kutilek

---

 

Sources

 

[Note: this is a much abbreviated, selective bibliography.  Additional authoritative sources of information--all of a similar nature--could be added, increasing the list fivefold at least.  The reader will find these typical of the literature on the subject and most if not all include extensive bibliographies of their own.  The honest reader, interested in knowing the truth instead of merely adopting an unfounded dogma would do well to consult some of these sources and thereby emerge from the self-delusion and willing ignorance of the KJVOnly camp into the light of evidence, facts and truth]

 

The Letter of Aristeas in English translation can be found in:

 

Charlesworth, James H., ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol . 2 (New York: Doubleday, 1985), pp. 7-34, with an informative introduction.

 

Platt, Rutherford H., Jr., ed., The Forgotten Books of Eden (Alpha House, 1927; World Bible Publishers, Inc. reprint, bound with Lost Books of the Bible), pp. 140-176.

 

For those who wish to consult the Greek text of the letter, this is provided in Swete’s Introduction (see below), pp. 551-606.

 

The Text of the LXX

 

Breton, Lancelot, The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, reprint of Samuel Bagster & Sons, London, 1851 edition).  This gives the text of the LXX according to the state of knowledge in the early 19th century, accompanied by a good English translation.  It also includes the Apocryphal books.  The “Introduction,” pp. i-vi, gives an adequate treatment, consistent with the state of knowledge at the time, of the origin of the LXX, its content, subsequent history and importance.

 

Rahlfs, Alfred, Septuaginta. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1935).  This is the standard one-volume (originally 2-volume) edition met with today.  Pp. 56-65 contain “History of the Septuagint Text.”

 

The Origin and History of the LXX (sources listed chronologically)

 

Selwyn, William, “Septuagint,” in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint of 1870 edition), vol. IV, pp. 2912-2926.

 

Pick, Bernard, “Septuagint,” in Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, edited by John McLintock and James Strong (Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint of 1867-1887 edition), vol. IX, pp. 538-554.

 

Nestle, Eberhard, “Septuagint” in Dictionary of the Bible, edited by James Hastings (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1902), vol. IV, pp. 437-454.

 

Conybeare, F. C., and Stock, St. George, Grammar of Septuagint Greek (n. l.: Hendrickson, 1995 reprint with additions of Boston: Ginn and Co., 1905 edition).  The “Introduction,” pp. 1-24 examines in detail the origin and nature of the LXX.

 

Nestle, Eberhard, “Bible Versions: Septuagint,” in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, edited by Samuel A. Jackson (Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint), vol. II, pp. 115-121.

 

Swete, Henry B., An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, revised by Richard R. Ottley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914, 2nd ed.) was long the standard treatment of the Septuagint, and though out-of-date in some regards, it is still an indispensable detailed trove of information about all aspects of the Septuagint.  Pp. 1-28 discuss the origin and date of the LXX version.

 

Thackeray, Henry St. John, “Septuagint” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, edited by James Orr (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Co., 1929), vol. IV, pp. 2722-2732

 

Jellicoe, Sidney, The Septuagint and Modern Study (Oxford: University Press, 1968).  Supplements and up-dates Swete, with a discussion of Aristeas as well as modern theories of the LXX’s origin, including Paul Kahle’s, on pp. 29-73.

 

Gooding, D. W., “Texts and Versions: The Septuagint,” in New Bible Dictionary, edited by J. D. Douglas (Leicester, England: Inter-varsity Press, 1982, second edition), pp. 1181-1184.

 

Peters, Melvin K. H., “Septuagint,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), vol. V, pp. 1093-1104.  A very thorough, up-to-date article with extensive bibliography.

 

Jobes, Karen H., and Moises Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000).  The most recent general treatment of the Septuagint.  Matters of its origin are treated on pp. 29ff. (reviewed in AISI, 6:10)

 

 

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