Abstract:This article addresses the question: How does the LXX relate to the Christian Old Testament, and more specifically, what role does the LXX play in Christian biblical theology? The first part of the article is a brief overview of five different approaches to the role of the LXX in a whole-Bible biblical theology. The five approaches are: (1) LXX Priority and Canon, (2) LXX Priority, Hebrew Canon, (3) Hebrew Priority and Canon, LXX Bridge, (4) Hebrew and Greek Are Sanctified by the Spirit, and finally (5) Hebrew Priority and Canon, LXX Commentary. Building on the different perspectives surveyed in this study, it is suggested that that the importance and function of the LXX in Christian biblical theology is at least fourfold: (1) The LXX can function as the source of Christian biblical theology; (2) The LXX is valuable for biblical theology in its role as a commentary on the biblical text; (3) The LXX is a bridge or link between the Christian OT and NT; and (4) The LXX complements the Hebrew Scriptures.
This is a great time for the study of the Septuagint (LXX), and there is an ever-increasing number of resources available for studying it.1 Septuagint scholars are publishing monographs and dissertations,2 new lexicons,3 commentaries,4 a new grammar,5
translations,6 and introductions,7 and work continues on a full critical edition called the Göttingen Septuagint.8 Also, important works have been translated into English,9 and, of special interest for this study, several works are being published emphasizing the role of the LXX in Christian biblical theology and the importance of the LXX for the study of the NT.10 Also, scholars are calling attention to the fact that the discipline involves more than the quest to determine the original text of the Hebrew Bible/OT and that the study of the LXX is no longer simply a subdivision of Hebrew Bible or OT studies.11 Increasingly, scholars are studying the LXX as a “free-standing Greek religious document” and attributing an independent voice to it.12 In this regard the LXX is especially important for understanding the NT and for the discipline of biblical theology.13
Before we can begin to discuss the Septuagint’s relationship to biblical theology we must define some terms. The term “Septuagint” (LXX) refers, strictly speaking, to the translation of the Pentateuch into Greek in the third century BCE, as allegedly described in the Letter of Aristeas. However, the term is often used generally to refer to the Greek Jewish Scriptures, consisting primarily of translations of the books of the Hebrew Bible,14 but also containing additions to some of the books of the Hebrew Bible and some other independent works.15 This more general use of the term “LXX” is much like we might refer to the “English Bible,” without having a particular English translation in mind.16 My use of the term “LXX” in this article, unless otherwise noted, is a general use of the term, referring to the Greek Jewish Scriptures, consisting primarily of the books of the Hebrew Bible.17 As a point of clarification, most specialists use the term Old Greek (OG) to designate a (critical) text that in their judgment represents the original translation of books other than the Pentateuch,18 and some use the abbreviation LXX/OG, when referring to the initial translations of the Hebrew Bible as a whole, as a reminder of the diversity that characterizes the corpus.19
By “Scripture” I mean the books that have authoritative status for a faith community, such as the Christian Church or Judaism, and a “canon” is the official list of books that have the status of inspired Scripture for a faith community.20 When I refer to biblical theology, I especially have in mind a “whole-Bible biblical theology,” which pulls together and attempts to make sense of the inductive, grammatical-historical exegesis of the individual passages of the Christian Scripture found in both testaments.21 It is an attempt to synthesize the content of the individual passages of Christian Scripture in a theology of the whole, and in this paper I would like to consider how the LXX might factor into such a theological enterprise. In J. Ross Wagner’s words, “Any attempt to elucidate how the two Testaments of the Christian Bible, individually and together, testify to the redeeming work of the Triune God must sooner or later address the question of the authority of the Septuagint as a witness to the biblical text and thus as a resource for doing Christian theology.”22
The Septuagint is indirectly influential in the study of biblical theology because of its contribution to the determination of the texts of the OT and the NT. More importantly, perhaps, the LXX is significant for biblical theology because of its influence on the language of the NT and the use of the LXX in the OT references in the NT. McLay notes that most who have studied the influence of the LXX on the NT have focused on determining the sources of citations from the OT in the NT. Therefore, “few have ventured to examine possible allusions in the NT to the Greek Jewish Scriptures, and even fewer have sought to illuminate how presupposing the Greek Jewish Scriptures as the Scriptures of the NT writers may have influenced their theology.”23
Probably the main and certainly the most foundational issue concerning the role of the LXX in biblical theology is the place of the Septuagint in the development of the Christian canon. Should the LXX be recognized as the OT of the church? And if it should, then what form of the LXX is the OT of the church: the fourfold form that contains the so-called apocryphal and deutero-canonical books (sometimes called the Alexandrian canon) or the threefold form that corresponds to the Hebrew Scriptures (Law/Prophets/Writings)? And furthermore, what historical stage of that form’s development is best? Or, is the LXX a derivative and secondary form of the Christian OT that should be understood and read in relation to, but not instead of, a Hebrew original? If it is secondary and derivative, then what place does it have in relation to the Christian Scriptures?24 These questions are important because they have implications not only concerning the books contained in the OT, but also concerning the text of the OT, and the order of the books of the OT. And the implications of these questions are important for biblical theology, since biblical theology works from the text of an agreed upon canon of Scripture.25
The question that I will begin to address in this article is How does the LXX relate to the Christian Old Testament, and more specifically, how does the LXX fit into Christian biblical theology? Or to say it another way, what role should the LXX play in determining a whole-Bible biblical theology? Some of the issues related to this question are far too complex to address adequately here, and I need to warn the reader at the beginning that this essay is introductory in nature and there are many related issues that will not be addressed in it. My goal in this essay is to summarize some of the present discussion on the question of the role of the LXX in biblical theology and attempt to show how the different positions on this issue relate to one another. Then, I will present a tentative and initial conclusion.
1. Different Views of the Role of the LXX in Christian Biblical Theology
I will consider and evaluate briefly five different approaches to the role of the LXX in a Christian’s attempt to construct a whole-Bible biblical theology (gesamtbiblische Theologie).
1.1. LXX Priority and Canon
The first approach to the role of the Septuagint in biblical theology is that of Peter Stühlmacher, Hartmut Gese, and their colleague at Tübingen, Martin Hengel. Stühlmacher and Gese, whose writings are more oriented to biblical theology than Hengel’s historical works, adopt a tradition-history approach to Scripture as the foundation for biblical theology and for bridging the period between the OT and the NT.
For these scholars the OT consists of a stream of diverse traditions speaking over the head of any final literary statement that, once it begins, cannot stop developing. This developing stream of traditions finds its fulfillment and completion finally in the NT. For Gese, revelation is a human-oriented disclosure of God that can only unfold in a process, as proceeding toward a goal; that goal is that God appears, in the deepest depth of the human, in the human’s uttermost distance from God. “Biblical theology is the comprehending reality of this revelation history, which leads through all stages of human existence in the historical process.”26 The task of biblical theology is to teach us to comprehend this whole tradition or path through Israel to the inclusion of the whole world.27 The task of determining the theology of the whole tradition “confronts (a) the individual text with its preliterary antecedents, (b) the development of the text as literature with its own literary classification, and (c) the growth of the text tradition into a corpus embracing the whole.”28
It is the fulfillment in the NT that identifies the canonical direction and course of the tradition stream from its beginning to that point and finally stops the stream. Thus the NT relates not to a closed literary canon (of the OT) with a given form but rather to traditions in motion, which develop through the continual actualizing of the text.29 As a result, these scholars include the apocryphal or deutero-canonical books, which are in the Septuagint, in the OT canon that was still developing in NT times. In this regard, they give the LXX priority for what they would consider to be a genuinely Christian biblical theology. They believe that for Christians this tradition-history approach points to the LXX as the stream through which the tradition flows, since the LXX is necessary to connect the tradition from the OT to the NT and since the LXX is the tradition most often cited in the NT. Furthermore, for these scholars, in the NT period the third division of the canon was under negotiation,30 and thus their tradition-history approach is connected to their conviction that the form of the canon of the Jewish Scriptures (Christian OT) was not fixed until the Christians (or Jews) gave it a fixed form.31
Martin Hengel’s book, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture, clearly demonstrates the implications of such a tradition-history approach for the discussion of the OT canon and the place of the Septuagint in the Christian canon. Hengel amasses a vast amount of detail and historical information concerning the Septuagint and the canon in the pre-Christian and early church periods. His argument (for the priority of the LXX) is built on the fact that the important codices of the 4th and 5th centuries (Vaticanus and Alexandrinus) contained the fuller LXX or Alexandrian canon in them.32 He explains that this phenomenon is evidence that Christians held to a fuller OT canon than the traditional Hebrew canon, although it is not always clear that the evidence supports his cause.33 He develops the thesis that for the early church the center of Scripture was the fulfillment in the gospel, i.e., the truth of the gospel, and for the early church Scripture was not limited by a defined collection. Their primary Scripture was, of course, the Greek Bible, which, judging from their use of it, must have been for them a “bipartite reality.”34 On the one hand, at the center of this body of literature was a “relatively tight circle of frequently cited scriptures in which ‘the Scriptures’ were primarily seen from the perspective of the fulfilled prophetic promise.” On the other hand, other texts including individual apocrypha and pseudepigrapha could also be used as “Scripture” in a quite free inspired treatment of those texts.35 The main supports for Hengel’s thesis concerning a bipartite canon are (1) the use of these apocryphal and pseudepigraphal texts in the NT and early writings of the Church, (2) the presence of these same works in the early codices, and (3) the fact that the LXX, the OT of the Eastern Church and the OT text primarily quoted in the NT, contains many of these works.
Hengel argues that the rabbis with their pharisaic Jewish canon broke off history and historiography with the end of prophecy in the OT at the time of Artaxerxes I.36 However, Christians continue the history of the developing tradition on to Christ. This continuation of the tradition involves the so-called apocryphal and deutero-canonical books in the Septuagint, as well as a wider dimension of other writings from around the first century CE like Josephus, Philo, and the Pseudepigrapha.37 Hengel argues further that for Christians, since the NT is the conclusion, goal, and fulfillment of the OT, the OT must remain open until the NT fulfillment in Christ. Hengel questions whether the NT authors would share the same preoccupation with the concept of an OT canon that is found in the later church.38 He asks, “Does the church still need a clearly demarcated, strictly closed Old Testament canon, since the New Testament is, after all, the ‘conclusion,’ the goal and the fulfillment of the Old?”39 He follows this statement with what he feels is the most important example in the NT itself for the openness of the OT for the NT, the final. That example is John the Baptist, since Jesus says, “The Law and the Prophets are until John” (Luke 16:16; cf. Matt 11:13). For Hengel this passage proves that we “cannot go any farther back” than John to find the closing of the Old Testament canon.40 Whether these words of Jesus have anything to do with the openness of the OT canon until John is most questionable. The context is one of fulfillment that suggests instead the point is that the OT prophesies until its fulfillment begins in John, the forerunner of the one who ultimately fulfills the Law and the Prophets.41
He concludes his book with a long quotation from his colleague Gese, some of which is worth repeating here.
A Christian theologian may never approve of the masoretic canon. The continuity with the New Testament is in significant measure broken here. . . .
The New Testament brought the formation of the Old Testament tradition to an end, a final conclusion. The formation of biblical tradition is thus, for the first time, in a deeper sense, canonical.42
In summary, proponents of this first view, such as Gese, Stuhlmacher, and Hengel, believe that the LXX should be the Bible of the church.43 Furthermore, they believe that if the LXX is the Bible of the church, it follows that the OT canon of the church should be the fuller canon of the LXX, not the Jewish canon. I call this view “LXX Priority and Canon.”44
1.2. LXX Priority, Hebrew Canon
Mogens Müller, Professor of NT at the University of Copenhagen, espouses a second view of the role of the LXX in biblical theology that differs slightly from the position of Hengel, Stuhlmacher, and Gese. In his book, The First Bible of the Church, Müller argues that for Christians “in a biblical theological context we must insist that the Septuagint is at least part of a canon.”45 Müller, like the proponents of the previous view, suggests that the OT had a fluid tradition history, and the OT texts were rewritten and redacted to make them applicable to later times and situations. Thus, following Julius Wellhausen, he theorizes that the prophets were not calling their recipients back to Moses, but rather “founding a new religion.”46 He posits that the “date of the origin of the Law and Prophets and the Writings in their present shape and with their present religious concepts is to be found in the post-exilic period.”47 The OT books were created over a short period of time, and the time when the misnamed “original” came into existence approaches the time when the LXX translation was made. Therefore, “the Greek translation may reasonably be seen as evidence of a process reflecting changing traditions”48 that only gradually ended after the choice of a particular Hebrew text as the normative text. The LXX is “a witness of this process of transmitting traditions”; it is not just “a source for the underlying Hebrew Ur-text.”49 In this regard the LXX is more than a word-for-word translation; it is a key witness of the handing on of traditions in the Hebrew Scriptures. Following Robert Hanhart on this point, Müller suggests that “the Septuagint is in many respects a theologically outstanding version of the Old Testament, amplifying the religious traditions of Judaism” and thus defining the meaning of the Jewish Bible “in the centuries around the birth of Jesus.”50 For Müller, decisive differences between the so-called original and the translated text are only important in contexts where the goal is to reveal the “original intention of the original authors.”51 This goal, however, does not make sense when studying texts that in their present or final shape are the result of an editing process, like the OT. For such texts the focus of attention is the final form or the end of the tradition.
Another main point in Müller’s thesis is his belief that the meaning of the OT is determined by the Church’s interpretation of the events of Christ’s life or the NT. There are two levels of meaning in the OT text, and it is the Christ events and beliefs of the church which are read back into the church’s OT that determine its distinctive meaning for the church. For Christians, Jesus had given the correct meaning to their OT, and that meaning “was not immediately apparent from the text alone.”52 The correct understanding of the OT for the church, therefore was determined by two poles, on the one hand, God’s words as handed down in those holy writings and, on the other hand, the early church’s “faith in and confession to Jesus Christ who has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets.”53 True understanding of the meaning of the OT in the NT context only comes when these two poles are activated. And since the OT text form that predominates in the NT is the LXX, then that is the text that determines the meaning for the last step of Christian tradition and is therefore a necessary part of the Christian canon. Müller writes,
In this way the wording of the Old Testament, in the shape it has in the New Testament, gains independent significance, and the Septuagint can be viewed as a true expression of the Bible which is called to witness. Moreover, the Septuagint has largely replaced Biblia Hebraica in the New Testament. For the New Testament authors this translation had tremendous impact. It influenced their wording of the Bible text decisively, and, to a varying degree, left its stamp on their language.54
For Müller, to abandon the LXX is, therefore, to abandon the harmony and continuity of the two testaments.55 He writes, “In a biblical and theological context the Septuagint does in fact convey, more convincingly than Biblia Hebraica, what the New Testament authors understood as their holy writ.”56
Also, he argues that the LXX is the Bible of the church, on the basis of textual evidence. He believes that the Hebrew text was still fluid in NT times, not being stabilized until 70–135 CE, and at that time the NT authors were primarily using the LXX instead of the Hebrew text.57 Furthermore, the LXX may reflect an early Hebrew Ur-text that “had not been emended in line with a gradually emerging textual ‘norm,’”58 and thus represent an earlier stage of the OT text than the MT. He maintains that the evidence from Qumran suggests it is unrealistic to think that there was one Hebrew Ur-text, as if one can be sorted out which is the original upon which all further text transmission was based.59 This clearly applies to the masoretic text tradition, which he believes has no claim to superiority.60
Therefore, for Müller, one cannot maintain that the LXX is merely a translation and a secondary witness as compared to the Hebrew Bible. If the Christian Bible includes both the OT and the NT, and the OT version most often referred to in the NT is the LXX, then in the “biblical theological context” of Scripture, the LXX cannot be ignored and must at least be considered part of the Christian canon. In fact, in a historical perspective, Müller argues that the LXX became the OT of the NT for the early church to an even greater extent than the Biblia Hebraica.61 He concludes, “For the New Testament authors, the original text, that is, the text they drew on, was primarily the Septuagint.”62 For these reasons Müller believes it was a fatal mistake for the Church to put aside the LXX in favor of the Hebrew-Aramaic text.63
It should be noted that Müller disagrees with Gese and his colleague Peter Stühlmacher on several important points. First, Müller believes that the boundaries of the Hebrew canon were firmly established before the beginning of the Christian era.64 Second, and related to the previous point, he affirms that “the Septuagint’s part in the Christian reception of the Old Testament did not imply the inclusion of the Old Testament Apocrypha in line with the books contained in the Biblia Hebraica.”65 Third, Müller sees the OT and the NT as two poles and seems to emphasize the meaning in both contexts and the fulfillment of the OT in the NT more than Gese and Stühlmacher, who to a greater degree than Müller see Scripture as a developing tradition and emphasize the endless pressure of the tradition to change and adapt.66
In these regards Müller’s position seems to be similar to Robert Hanhart, whom he quotes several times in his work. Hanhart disagrees with Hengel’s “open canon” view that is discussed above in this article, and he argues convincingly on the basis of the evidence from the prologue of Jesus Ben Sirach, Josephus, Qumran, and the NT that there was a relatively well-defined Hebrew canon in Alexandria in the second century BCE. He believes “in the realm of pre-Christian Judaism of the Hellenistic period that all the writings of the ‘Palestinian canon’ transmitted in the Masoretic tradition already possessed the canonical status of ‘Holy Scripture.’”67
In summary Müller proposes that the LXX should be the OT of the church, like proponents of the previous view. However, unlike proponents of the “LXX Priority and Canon” view, Müller and Hanhart do not believe that the canon of the Christian OT should be the larger LXX canon, but rather the Hebrew canon. I call this position “LXX Priority, Hebrew Canon.”
1.3. Hebrew Priority and Canon, LXX Bridge
A third group of scholars believes that the LXX is something like a bridge between the authoritative, original OT Ur-text and the NT. They believe that the LXX was the Bible of the early church, by virtue of it being in a language that they could read, but they would not agree with the proponents of the previous two views that it also should be the main form of the authoritative Bible for the contemporary church. They recognize that the early Christian communities promoted the translation of the Bible into vernacular languages, and these communities give no evidence of being chained to the Hebrew Bible; for these early Christian communities the new versions of the Bible were “not merely an aid to understanding the text but they replaced the original with authority.”68 They argue that the LXX was very influential and important in the early church’s interpretation of the OT and acknowledge that it was in a very real sense the Bible of the Early Church, but they still acknowledge that the authority of the LXX is ultimately derived from the underlying Hebrew original of which it is a translation and reflection. They would agree with James Barr’s warning that biblical theologians dare not “pass without substantial temporal interval from the main body of the Old Testament into the New. There is . . . a time of ripening, as it were, in which the Old Testament is able to develop its effects historically within the life, history and thought of a historical people.”69 For these biblical theologians the LXX would be a part of that development and could at some points reflect the developing theology of Judaism between the OT and the NT. Furthermore, in contexts where the LXX differs from the Hebrew the LXX reading may be an interpretive or theological rendering of the original, which the NT authors could employ, believing the LXX rendering is consistent with the intent of the original context (or at least the theology of the Hebrew Scriptures) and thus approving the theological content of the translation. For these scholars the LXX was the OT of the early church, and yet at the same time it is a translation of the Hebrew original and provides a link or bridge for Christians between the NT and the Hebrew original. This seems to be the position of Jobes and Silva, in their book, Invitation to the Septuagint. They write
One must appreciate that the continuity and development of thought between the Old and New Testaments is of particular concern for biblical theology. The Septuagint provides essential, but often overlooked, theological links that would have been familiar to Christians of the first century, but are not so obvious in the Hebrew version. . . .
[T]he Greek versions contain textual links not found in the Hebrew text that provide historical and literary continuity for the important task of biblical theology and for accurately understanding the exegetical debates of the early church fathers [since they were based on the LXX].70
Indications of their differences from Hengel and the proponents of the first view discussed in this paper are found in Jobes’s review of Hengel’s book, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture.71 Jobes disagrees with Hengel’s conclusion that the basis for the acceptance of the LXX as the OT of the early church was the legend of its miraculous translation. Instead she believes the basis for its acceptance as the OT of the early church was its use by the NT apostles. She concludes her summary of Hengel’s book by questioning his proposals that there was no clearly demarcated and strictly closed OT canon for the NT writers and that the church does not need such an OT canon. She is of the opinion that neither the evidence presented by the LXX itself nor the Jewish and early Christian use of the apocryphal books demands that Hengel’s proposals be adopted. However, she does recommend careful consideration of the issues that Hengel raises and their implications.72
In a footnote in their book, Jobes and Silva also clearly distinguish their position on the LXX from Müller’s position, the second view summarized in this essay. They write that he “goes so far as to argue that the Christian church in the West was quite wrong to follow Jerome’s preference for the Hebrew text over that of the Septuagint.” They note further that while the arguments of Müller “are not persuasive, they are helpful for showing the great importance of the Greek text for early Christianity.”73 Thus, even though they acknowledge that because it was accessible in their language the LXX became the OT of the early Christian church, they are of the opinion that it is right to prefer the Hebrew over the LXX when translating the OT. In this regard they write,
Today’s English translations of the OT are rightly based, not on the Greek or Latin versions, but on the best available Hebrew text, known as the Masoretic Text (MT). While the Hebrew is the best textual base for modern translations, we cannot forget that the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament was nevertheless the Bible of the earliest Christian writers.74
Hence, Jobes and Silva emphasize that the LXX is a translation of the Hebrew original and they speak often about its role as a link or bridge between the Testaments.75 However, these authors do not emphasize that the LXX should be for contemporary Christians the OT of their NT, instead of the Hebrew. For them the best text to use as a basis for modern versions is the Hebrew text, known as the Masoretic Text.76 Thus, they distance themselves from the positions of Müller and Hengel. I will call this position “Hebrew Priority and Canon, LXX Bridge.” By “bridge” I mean that the LXX is an important bridge (or link) between the testaments and it is also a bridge back to the original text, the autographa.
1.4. Hebrew and Greek Are Sanctified as Scripture by the Spirit
This is the view of J. Ross Wagner in his article “The Septuagint and the ‘Search for the Christian Bible.’”77 In this essay Wagner “raises the question of how the two-testament nature of the Bible exercises its influence on Christian doctrine, given that the New Testament authors, most of the church fathers, and the Eastern Orthodox churches to this day have read the Greek rather than the Hebrew as the normative Old Testament of their Christian Bible.”78 By means of interaction with Brevard Childs, Wagner “argues that the Septuagint highlights for theology the importance of the unfinished ‘search’ for the Christian Bible, not least because it extends key canonical trajectories that arise from the final form of the canonical text.”79 Wagner employs John Webster’s dogmatic category of the “sanctification” of Holy Scripture to specify how the LXX “may, within the church’s ongoing search for the Christian Bible, legitimately be recognized as a norm for Christian faith and practice.”80 For Webster the Christian Scriptures are human artifacts that are sanctified by the Spirit’s “election and overseeing of the entire historical course of the creaturely reality so that it becomes a creature which may serve the purposes of God.”81 The texts, though sanctified, remain creatures, and they continue to function in the divine economy as well as in the realm of human processes. As creaturely realities, the texts serve God’s purposes of “redemptive self-communication.”82 God’s Holy Spirit sovereignly superintends their function from pre-textual tradition to interpretation, and “because of the sanctifying work of the Spirit in the translation, canonization, and reception of the Christian Bible . . . we are able to hear in the Septuagint, too, ‘the terrifying mercy of God’s address.’”83 Thus, Wagner’s understanding of the LXX is that it stands alongside the Hebrew Scriptures to serve God’s purposes to communicate his “merciful self-manifestation to the obedient hearing of the community of faith.”84 The application of the Spirit’s sanctification to the LXX is, of course, similar to the manner in which Origen and Augustine justified its role as a “norm for Christian practice and belief.”85 Thus, the LXX complements the Hebrew Bible and together with it extends God’s continuing self-revelation as the Spirit illuminates people through them.
1.5. Hebrew Priority and Canon, LXX Commentary
There is a fifth position that is worth mentioning. As we have seen in our survey of the four previous views, some scholars and surely many other Christians understand the LXX to be something like a commentary on the OT or on the NT. A modern day representative of this understanding of the relationship of the LXX to biblical theology might be J. Julius Scott Jr., who argues that the literature of Second Commonwealth Judaism must play a significant role in understanding NT biblical theology by its illumination and clarification of the socio-historical-cultural background of the NT. Interestingly, he includes the LXX in this literature along with the “apocrypha, the so-called pseudepigrapha, the Qumran literature, inscriptions, official and private documents, the writings of Philo and Josephus, and parts of the rabbinic literature as well as the NT itself.”86 Thus, although he probably would not want to limit the importance of the LXX for biblical theology to this function, he emphasizes its role in providing background information for understanding the NT “as first given” and for doing NT biblical theology.87 I call this position “Hebrew Priority and Canon, LXX Commentary.” Such a view is clearly not sufficient to explain the role of the LXX in Christian biblical theology, and Scott would very likely agree with this conclusion.
2. Summary and Implications
In this essay I have surveyed various views that scholars have suggested concerning the place of the LXX in Christian biblical theology and grouped them in five categories. The five categories I have suggested for the views I surveyed are: (1) LXX Priority and Canon, (2) LXX Priority, Hebrew Canon, (3) Hebrew Priority and Canon, LXX Bridge, (4) Hebrew and Greek Are Sanctified by the Spirit, and finally (5) Hebrew Priority and Canon, LXX Commentary. Several complicated and interrelated factors affect the place of the LXX in Christian biblical theology. These factors include OT textual history, historical evidence concerning the OT canon, one’s understanding of inspiration and its relationship to the autographs, OT textual updating, and revelation and history and their relationship to or compatibility with a tradition-historical understanding of OT history. Furthermore, the very nature of the LXX complicates this issue. How does this diverse translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek,88 which we call the LXX and which was in large part the OT of the early church at the time the NT was written, relate to the Christian Bible, OT and NT, which is in itself believed to be true, cohesive, and complementary?
Building on the different perspectives surveyed in this study, I suggest that the importance and function of the LXX in Christian biblical theology is at least fourfold, and these four functions overlap.
First, the LXX can function as the source of Christian biblical theology. Textual scholars are convinced that although the LXX is primarily a translation and, in some of its forms, a revision of the original Greek text, in some of the instances where the LXX disagrees with the MT it preserves an earlier form of the Hebrew than the MT.89 This is especially the case where details reflected in the text of the LXX that differ from the MT are also attested in manuscripts from Qumran or the Samaritan Pentateuch. Having said this, it is important to emphasize that although the LXX was in many ways the Bible of the early church and does at times bear witness to the earliest form of the Hebrew text that is available to us, it was with few exceptions understood to be a translation of the Hebrew, and revisions of it were invariably made toward an authoritative Hebrew text.
Second, the LXX is valuable for biblical theology in its role as a commentary on the biblical text. Here I am referring to situations where the LXX provides socio-political-cultural-historical background that sheds light on our understanding of the biblical text.90 It is especially valuable for its role in providing background for the NT, but it is conceivable that it could function in this manner in the interpretation of the OT. In this role it joins with other ancient literature that provides background for the understanding of the Bible. It is also important to add that as all translations are the LXX is an interpretation of its Vorlagen, which are for the most part the books we call the Hebrew Scriptures, and thus it provides some of the earliest evidence of how Jews in the Second Temple period understood the OT. In this regard it is a commentary on the OT.
Third, and perhaps most important, the LXX is a bridge or link between the Christian OT and NT. The LXX’s role as a bridge between the testaments is not as a part of a continuing tradition but as a unique literary connection that, as a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, reflects and interprets them, thus forming a link back to them. Then as the writers of the NT refer to and quote those Hebrew Scriptures, often in their Greek translation, the LXX provides the form of the OT promise that Christ fulfills in the NT, providing a link between the Hebrew Scriptures and the NT. The influence of the LXX on the NT is not limited to the citations from it in the NT; the vocabulary, grammar, syntax, style, and even theology of the LXX has influenced the NT.91 The Septuagint and the NT are also useful for doing textual-critical work on each other.92 Thus, for Christians the theological connection between their OT and NT is made in great part via the LXX, but the links between the LXX and the Christian OT and NT also extend beyond theology to many other areas.
This leads to a fourth role the LXX plays in a Christian biblical theology, the role of a complement to the Hebrew Scriptures. The LXX differs from the Hebrew in many ways, including its quantity, its order of books, verses within books, and words, and its meaning. Especially important for this discussion are contexts in the NT where a LXX text is used to support the argument of the NT text, and the meaning of the LXX passage employed in the NT differs from the meaning of the corresponding passage in the Hebrew. One example is the use of Amos 9:11–12 in Acts 15:16–18. I have argued elsewhere that the LXX rendering was a “theological” rendering and that the quotation in Acts, which comes primarily from the LXX of Amos 9:11–12, is composite, also including references to other OT passages.93 In this passage the LXX reflects and repackages the theology of several passages in the Hebrew Bible in a unique way, and the LXX form is fitting for the argument of James at the Jerusalem Council, as described in Acts 15. Thus, I contend that Christian biblical theologians should understand theological statements that are unique to the LXX to complement and extend the understanding of the Hebrew Bible, as far as they reflect and repackage the theology found in the Hebrew Bible or as far as that reflected and repackaged theology of the LXX is picked up and used in the NT.94 When the NT authors employ the LXX, the OT text in its Greek translation is Spirit-breathed Scripture in the NT context where it is employed. I would not argue that it replaces the corresponding Hebrew OT text as Scripture in the OT context, but by virtue of its inclusion in NT Scripture it functions as Scripture in that context and in that regard it complements the Hebrew Scriptures.
The LXX should be considered in doing Christian biblical theology. And in that regard, it would be helpful to have some works on the biblical theology of the LXX, primarily on the individual translations, but also on the whole, as far as that is possible.95 Septuagint scholars debate the degree of possibility of writing a biblical theology of the LXX, but it seems there could be some progress, at least to begin with on the individual translation units of the LXX. One other way that biblical theologians could profit from the LXX is by consulting the growing number of commentaries on the LXX to study LXX quotations and references in the NT in their LXX context. As mentioned above, often the meaning of OT references in the NT that are taken from the LXX differ from their counterparts in the Hebrew Bible, and often the context of the LXX references in the NT differs from the context of such passages in the Hebrew Bible. A commentary on the LXX is an efficient means of checking the OT context of LXX references in the NT, and it could provide insight into the texts of the LXX and the NT.96
The Septuagint scholar Sidney Jellicoe wrote, “He who would read the New Testament must know Koiné; but he who would understand the New Testament must know the LXX.”97 And if knowledge of the LXX is necessary for understanding the NT, it is also certainly imperative for the practice of Christian biblical theology. Therefore, all biblical theologians should take to heart the words with which the nineteenth century German biblical scholar Ferdinand Hitzig is said to have begun his class in Septuagint: “Gentlemen, have you a Septuagint? If not, sell all you have, and buy a Septuagint.”98comments powered by Disqus