Why you need the Septuagint

I recently had somebody ask me, in so many words, why the Septuagint?  Why bother with the Greek Septuagint when we have the Old Testament in Hebrew, in which it was first written? English translations of the Bible in most churches use the Hebrew text as a base, anyway.

Before giving my top 10 reasons why, here are a couple ways to access the Septuagint (often abbreviated LXX after the tradition of the 70(+2) who were said to have translated it). This site has the whole Septuagint in Greek with an English translation. And here‘s a good, up-to-date English translation of the whole thing. (For hard copies, the standard Greek text is the Rahlfs Septuagint, and a recent English translation is the NETS.)

Here are 10 good reasons to pay attention to the Septuagint:

10. It helps us read Scripture in new, fresh ways.

9. You get to use fun words like Septuagint, intertextuality, and urtext.

8. It’s the Bible the New Testament writers used and quoted. (See here for more about this.)

7. For students of Greek, the LXX is a good way to challenge oneself in Greek beyond the New Testament. There is a fuller and deeper vocabulary in the Septuagint that helps Greek students grow in their knowledge of the language.

6. The Septuagint was translated from a set of Hebrew texts that are centuries earlier than the Hebrew text underlying most English Old Testaments. This helps us get closer to the “original” text.

5. There are books that, while additional to the Protestant canon, still shed light on life. (I’m looking at you, Wisdom of Solomon!)

4. The Odes. This is a collection of texts appended to the end of the Psalms. It compiles some beautiful prayers found in the Old Testament (and apocryphal books). A few of these are in the Book of Common Prayer’s Morning Prayer canticles.

3. It connects us to the broad sweep of history in the Church. This was not only the Bible of the New Testament writers; it was the Bible of the Greek-speaking early church.

2. Books like 1 Maccabees, especially, fill out the intertestamental gap between Malachi and Matthew. I’ve been working my way through 1 Maccabees lately, and it’s really helping me better understand Jewish expectation of a conquering Messiah who would expel oppressive Roman rule.

1. Jesus used it. I’m intrigued by this, and want to explore it more. [UPDATE: This is a complex issue, especially since Jesus spoke Aramaic and knew and used the Hebrew Bible. I am reading this now.] But it does seem to me that his use of the Septuagint constitutes at least an implicit endorsement of it. If it was good enough for Jesus….
        [UPDATE 2: Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the Gospel writers quote Jesus sometimes using a Septuagint text that differs from the Hebrew/proto-Masoretic Text. Many say this means only that the Gospel writers–not Jesus himself–used the Septuagint. Did Jesus himself not “use” the Septuagint, then? I will research this more and blog about it at a future date.]

13 thoughts on “Why you need the Septuagint

  1. I would add that it is a sort of Mini commentary on the OT. How the Jews translated certain passages shows how they interpreted them.

    1. Great point, pocketscholar. If we say (as I do) that all translation is interpretation (at least on some level), this is true of the Septuagint, too. This is one thing that makes it so fascinating to me!

  2. Reblogged this on Thoughts in the Dark and commented:
    Here are some great thoughts on the importance of the LXX. As my Greek is a bit weaker than I’d like, I tend to pass over looking at the LXX more than I should. Thanks for the good insights!

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