Question: Recently I heard someone argue for the use of the Septuagint on the basis that the early church, apostles and Jesus himself used it. I discovered that the early church did in fact use the LXX, but they they also considered the deuterocanonical books which are a part of the Septuagint to be scripture as well.
The whole issue of the Scriptures is much more complicated than just "we ought to use the Septuagint."
First, a definition ...
It is a translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek done in Alexandria between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD. Tradition has it that seventy Jewish elders were appointed by Ptolemy of Egypt to make the translation.
The term Septuagint means "seventy" and is a reference to the seventy elders. It is also called the LXX for the same reason.
Early Christians believed that the seventy elders were put in seventy different rooms, yet they all produced exactly the same translation of the entire Old Testament, word for word (e.g., Justin Martyr, Hortatory Address to the Greeks 13). This is ridiculous, of course, and did not happen.
The fact is, a lot of quotes in the New Testament line up with the Septuagint, but not all of them. I've heard estimates from 50% to two-thirds. It is very hard to come up with an exact figure because so many passages are loosely quoted. For example ...
In the first century, a large percentage of the church was Jewish. The apostles who stayed in the Roman Empire—which are the ones who wrote most of the New Testament—would have had need for the LXX, but they also would have been familiar with the original Jewish text from their days in Israel.
Thus, the New Testament is a mix of quotes, some of which match the Septuagint, some of which match our Masoretic text, and some of which match neither.
Further, without a Bible like ours—simple to leaf through and marked with chapters and verses—early Christians had difficulty finding verses in their scrolls. Or worse, they had difficulty finding a scroll of a particular book of Scripture at all!
Thus, many passages are likely quoted from memory. A scholar like Paul, who would have seen both Hebrew and Greek versions of the Scripture, may have had great difficulty being consistent in quoting from the same version every time.
The story with 2nd and 3rd century Christians is much different. They almost exclusively used the Septuagint.
The reason for that is simple. They almost exclusively spoke Greek.
The 2nd century church was largely Gentile, and it was largely found outside of Israel because Israel is a small country. The church had spread throughout the known world even in the 1st century. Thomas had gone as far as India, and tradition has it that Paul made it even to the British Isles.
Further, all the writings we have from the 2nd century come from Greek-speaking parts of the Empire. The exceptions are some possible writings made in Syriac.
Greek speakers used a Greek translation. This cannot be used as evidence that we all should be using the LXX as our base text today.
The early churches used books that are not in our 66-book Protestant Bible; however, since they didn't have a Christian bookstore with a Catholic Bible, a Protestant Bible, and a couple different versions of Orthodox Bibles, you can't really pin down "the" deuterocanonical books.
To this day, Orthodox churches have a varying canon. Most will include all 4 books of the Maccabees, while the Roman Catholics include only 2. They also include 1 Esdras, which the Roman Catholics do not. The same with the Wisdom of Solomon.
Even as late as A.D. 395 or so, Augustine was saying that a good student of the Scriptures emphasizes the books that are accepted by all churches, then those that are accepted by major churches [i.e., those established in the 1st century by apostles, like Ephesus, Rome, Corinth, etc.], and lastly those that are accepted by more minor churches.
Books like Judith, Tobit, and the Wisdom of Sirach are quoted by lots of early Christians, a sign that they were accepted by many churches. Augustine accepts all three. His contemporary, Jerome, rejects all three.
It appears as well that most early Christians were familiar with the Book of Enoch. That book is directly quoted—and attributed to Enoch—in Jude in our Bible (vv. 14-15).
I personally recommend Ecclesiasticus [The Wisdom of Sirach]. It's an awesome book with an awesome prophecy of Christ in chapter two. You'll find it in all Catholic Bibles or in any copy of the Apocrypha.
The fact is, no one can pin down exactly when the canon was set.
The Roman Catholics didn't officially decide the canon until the Council of Trent in the 16th century!!! Martin Luther objected to the canon, and he wanted to remove Hebrews, James, and the Book of Revelation.
Internet rumors abound that the synod of Hippo (often falsely called the council of Hippo) decided the canon in 393.
True, they did. But they were simply a local synod with no authority. No one listened to them (Catholic Encyclopedia).
How do I know? Because Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, gives directions for picking which books a good student of Scripture will emphasize, and he mentions books accepted by only some churches. He wrote that during the same decade that the synod of Hippo convened, but in 397, four years later.
To this day, if you ask an Orthodox believer which books belong in the canon, most won't be certain. Orthodox churches, even though they're organized into much bigger organizations than they were in Augustine's day, still vary in their canons.
For example ...
There is a reason this is not true among western Christians, and it is not because the canon was decided upon by a council.
In the early 5th century, Jerome translated the Scriptures into Latin.
In Roman-ruled Europe, Jerome's "Vulgate" soon became the only translation in use.
Sadly, the product of the rule of the Roman bishop was ignorance and superstition [thus fully establishing that the Pope cannot be God's representative on earth since good trees produce good fruit]. Latin became the only intellectual language of Europe, and the Roman Catholic Church forbad its translation into common languages for fear of misinterpretation by the ignorant masses.
In this way, Jerome's Vulgate became the standard for canonicity without there ever being an official decision on it at any general council until Trent in the mid-1500's.
The worst problem of all, I think, is the wrong emphasis we put on Scripture. Scripture is important. All Scripture is inspired by God, makes wise for salvation (2 Tim. 3:15), and equips the man of God for good works (2 Tim. 3:17; Note: not good systematic theology, but good works).
Nonetheless, the sons of God are those who are led by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:14). As Jesus told the Pharisees, "You search the Scriptures because you think that you have life from them. But these are they which testify of me; yet you refuse to come to me so that you might have life" (Jn. 5:39-40).
What I'm saying on this page is very controversial, so here's my apologetic for my position, which is nothing more than the position of all early churches ...
In the early churches, they were given a rule of faith. That rule of faith contained the basics that each Christian had to believe. Each Christian learned and confessed it at their baptism.
Their teachers taught from the Scriptures. They, like us, were willing to be corrected by the Scriptures. But they knew what the Scriptures teach—which is that the Christian life is about obeying Christ, not analyzing doctrines to extremes.
Of course, they didn't have to worry about some of the things that we have to deal with. No one then believed in eternal security. All of them had hands laid on them to receive the Spirit immediately after baptism. Only some spoke in tongues, and there were no movements to get everyone to speak in tongues.
If there had been, it would have been shut down.
Churches could answer any such questions by consulting the churches started by apostles or just looking at what they did.
Irenaeus (c. A.D. 185) said it this way ...
Thus, while the Scriptures are important due to their being inspired by God, they were never meant to create systematic theologies. Instead, they provided encouragement, insight into the will of God, and guidance for living righteously. Paul sums up their purpose by saying, "... so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Once you focus on systematic theologies and the doctrinal arguments go with systematic theologies, then all the exactitudes concerning the Septuagint or the Masoretic text do not matter much. You have lost your focus, and you are probably sinning (1 Tim. 1:5-7).
It may be nice to research things like how Matthew 1:23 came to be quoting Isaiah 7:14 as "virgin" rather than "young maiden." It may be nice to know why Jesus quotes words in Matthew 4:10 that aren't in our version of the verse. However, your knowing the answer to those questions will have no effect on your obedience to God, and obedience, after all, is the purpose of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:17).
Whether exact wording is important affects whether our use of the Septuagint is important.
The fact is, God hasn't given much effort to preserving exact wording for us. There are thousands of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. While this helps establish that the general wording of our New Testament is accurate, it also has made it impossible to determine the exact wording of hundreds and perhaps thousands of verses.
King James only adherents, for example, like to say that modern versions have "corrupted" over 5,000 verses.
We will never be able to decide on many of those extremely minor differences in wording. That is because God doesn't want us to focus on words!
Words were Old Testament. The New Testament is written on our hearts! (1 Cor. 4:20; 2 Cor. 3:6)
This doesn't mean we ignore Scripture, but it does mean that if we spend time trying to nail down words and letters, we will be distracted from our real purpose.
Finally, please consider signing up for our monthly Early Church History Newsletter.
Google Search Privacy Statement
Christian-history.org does not receive any personally identifiable information from the Google search bar below. Google does run ads on the result page, which are the only ads on our site. If you click on those ads, we get a small commission, but we do not get any identifiable information.