Why You Need the Septuagint
It’s not uncommon for people to ask: why the Septuagint? (That comes right after: What is it?) 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 complete 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, collate, tradent, and urtext. Though I cannot bring myself to use the academy-preferred pronunciation of SEP-twa-jent. Sep-TOO-a-jent, thank you.
8. The New Testament writers often used and quoted a version of Scripture that aligns with the Septuagint. (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 (in many though not all instances); 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. Reading Maccabees can help us better understand a Jewish expectation of a conquering Messiah who would expel oppressive Roman rule.
1. Jesus used it.*
*Note: this is perhaps an oversimplification. Jesus spoke Aramaic and knew and used the Hebrew Bible. But we can at least say that the Gospel writers sometimes quote Jesus (in Greek) using a Septuagint text that differs from the Hebrew/proto-Masoretic Text. Some say this means just the Gospel writers themselves–not Jesus–used the Septuagint in such cases. But there are at least a few cases where it seems clear that Jesus is using a text closer to the Septuagint than to the Hebrew Bible.
Stanley Porter defends (here) the idea that Jesus taught (at least at times) in Greek.
Saturday I’ll be posting my part of a book blog tour of Timothy Michael Law‘s When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible.
The above is adapted from (and more nuanced than) a post I wrote last summer.