Tuesday, August 06, 2013

When God Spoke Greek

Timothy Michael Law is a scholar interested in history, theology, and religion. Last month Oxford University Press published his book on the Septuagint, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible. I recently got the chance to talk with Law about his new book and the importance of the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament to contemporary churches.

Where did your interest in the Septuagint begin?

One night in 2002, I was sitting with one of my best friends from college and seminary, Kyle McDaniel, and he threw (literally!) a big blue book at me from across the room. The book was Alfred Rahlfs’ handbook edition of the Greek Septuagint. We started talking about it, and both of us were uncertain whether we wanted to pursue more Hebrew or Greek, or more early Judaism or early Christianity in our graduate work. We loved all of it. We decided that one way to marry those interests was to study the Septuagint.

Why should today’s churches care about the Septuagint?

There are several reasons I think modern Christians should care about the Septuagint.

First, when a modern reader sees Paul quoting Isaiah, and then turns to Isaiah in an English translation, she notices the citation is different. Why? The Old Testament translation of almost every modern English version of the Bible is based on the Hebrew Bible, but the New Testament authors and the early Church most often used the Septuagint. Augustine and others throughout history even argued that if the New Testament authors used the Septuagint, the Church ought to affirm its authority as well. I unpack this in several chapters in the book.

Second, the Septuagint, and not the Hebrew Bible, explicitly shaped some early Christian theology. For example, it was the Septuagint version of Isaiah, not the Hebrew Bible’s version, that shaped the most theologically profound book in the history of Christianity, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. The primacy of the Septuagint continues after the first century, and one could not imagine the development of orthodoxy without it. None of this would be terribly significant if the Septuagint were merely a translation of the Hebrew; however, the Septuagint in many places contains a different message. Sometimes the translators of the Septuagint created new meanings in their translations, but there is also another reason the Septuagint is often different.

An alternative, sometimes older, form of the Hebrew text often lies behind the Greek. When the Reformers and their predecessors talked about returning to the original Hebrew (ad fontes!), and when modern Christians talk about studying the Hebrew because it is the “original text,” they are making several mistaken assumptions. The Hebrew Bible we now use is often not the oldest form of the Hebrew text, and sometimes the Septuagint provides the only access we have to that older form.
Read the rest here.
HT: Dr. Tighe

1 comment:

Jason said...

Interesting article. Mirrors a lot of what Fr. Hopko has said in his podcasts.