Did Jesus and the Apostles Rely on the Corrupt Septuagint?

Prabhudas Koshy

The Septuagint (aka LXX) or Greek translation of the OT is an unreliable version both yesterday and today. We cannot be certain of the authenticity of its readings. Its textual purity was questioned by Thackeray who said, “We are much more certain of the ipsissima verba of the NT writers than of the original Alexandrian version of the OT” (ISBE, s.v. “Septuagint”).

It has been claimed that Jesus and the Apostles quoted the Greek translation of the Old Testament, namely the Septuagint, even though they knew that it was corrupt. Why this claim? This claim is made to support the use of corrupted modern English versions of the Bible. It is argued that since Jesus and the Apostles used a corrupt Greek translation of the Old Testament, we today can also use corrupt modern versions of the Bible. Some even allege that those who say that it is wrong to use a corrupt version of the Bible are in danger of accusing our Lord and His Apostles of sin. This allegation is inaccurate on two counts: (1) the assumption that Jesus and the Apostles quoted from the Septuagint is false, and (2) the promotion or support of the use of corrupt versions certainly dishonours Christ.

The claim that Jesus and the New Testament writers always used the Septuagint to quote from the Old Testament is without biblical evidence. It has been said that in the New Testament there are about 263 direct quotations from the Old. However, many of these Old Testament quotations in the New are significantly different from the Septuagint. If Jesus and the Apostles relied on the Septuagint for all their Old Testament quotations, such a difference would not have resulted.

There was no need for Jesus and the New Testament writers to rely on the Septuagint to quote the Old Testament. Jesus Himself was the Author of the Holy Scriptures. He could quote Hebrew Scriptures and translate them infallibly into Greek. As far as the Apostles were concerned, the Holy Spirit was their Chief Aide who supervised their writing of the Scriptures. There is nothing against them citing the Old Testament and translating the words into Greek themselves. Let us be mindful that both Testaments were inspired of the Holy Spirit; and that the Spirit was their infallible Author.

The New Testament’s translations and interpretations of the Old Testament are not taken from any corrupt human work. Whatever the New Testament says about the Old Testament, whether it is a translation into Greek or an interpretation, it must be viewed as the infallible and inerrant work of the Holy Spirit. Every word of the New Testament, including quotations, interpretations and applications of the Old Testament, is not from any corrupt human translation but from the Holy Spirit Himself. As such it is highly unlikely that Jesus and the New Testament writers quoted from the corrupt Septuagint as some allege.

Moreover, Jesus made no mention of the Greek Septuagint. Neither did He assert that His quotations were taken from the Septuagint, nor mention the Septuagint. However, He did speak about the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. In Matthew 5:18, He referred to the Hebrew text of the Old Testament when He said, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” The jot (or yodh) is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet; and the tittle is a portion of a letter that distinguishes two similarly written letters. Here Jesus spoke authoritatively about the accuracy of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Jesus also declared His commitment to every letter of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament (Matt 5:17–18). It is impossible to think that Jesus who affirmed His absolute commitment to every letter of the Hebrew Text of the Old Testament would quote or endorse its corrupt translation. If Jesus used the Greek Septuagint, His scriptures would not have contained the jots and the tittles. He obviously used the Hebrew Scriptures and not its corrupt Greek version!

In addition, the descriptive designation of the Old Testament used by Jesus in the New Testament reveals that He used the Hebrew Scriptures instead of the Greek Septuagint. He often referred to the Old Testament as (1) “The Law and the Prophets” and (2) “The Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” In Luke 24:44 we read, “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” The reason for such a reference to the Old Testament was because the Hebrew Bible was then divided into three parts: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. The Septuagint contained no such division. Not only that, the Septuagint contained the spurious Apocryphal books that have been mixed together with the canonical Old Testament. How could Jesus have possibly referred to the corrupt Septuagint if the order of the biblical books had already been hopelessly mixed up with the non-inspired Apocryphal books?

If Jesus had spoken only of His commitment to the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, how can one claim that Jesus relied on the corrupt Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures? Certainly such a statement is a misrepresentation of Christ.

Certainly the conduct of our Lord and the Apostles was very different from some of the modern day ministers who accept versions produced by men who deny the inspiration, infallibility and inerrancy of the Scriptures. Does it not dishonour Christ to allege that He and His Apostles quoted a version that was calculated to diminish the clarity and glory of true doctrines? It is startling that some would dare to attribute such a heinous act to Him and His Apostles! It is impossible to think that Christ who is holy, just and truthful would endorse a translation that disregards the truth and the glory of the Almighty. The very nature of God would tell us that Christ would never have sanctioned the use of a corrupt Greek version of His Word. It is those who want to use inferior or corrupt modern versions, who say that Christ endorsed the corrupt Septuagint. Certainly we want to have no part in such an erroneous view of Christ.

In the pattern of Christ and His Apostles, we accept no inferior or corrupt translation, but the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures behind the KJV. As far as English translations go, the KJV is the best—the most faithful and most reliable.

Rev Prabhudas Koshy is the pastor of Gethsemane Bible-Presbyterian Church, and lecturer in Hebrew at the Far Eastern Bible College.

Published in The Burning Bush, Volume 10 Number 2, July 2004.