The Bible of the Early Church

300 years before Christ was born, the Hebrew bible, which Christians consider the Old Testament, was translated into Koine Greek. The title of this translation was called the Septuagint. It is this translation that was used by the Paul, the Apostles, and the early church. It is still in use by the Orthodox Church today, however, sadly, it is rejected by most modern Christians in favor of the Masoretic text.

Brief History of the Septuagint

After Alexander the Great conquered much of the know world, the Greek language become the common language in the Mediterranean. Over time Jews outside of Jerusalem ceased to understand Hebrew, but only Greek. Soon a Greek translation of the Hebrew bible was commissioned. It was translated by 72 scribes in 72 days called the Septuagint, which means “70” in Latin or LXX for short. The Septuagint was approved by the High Priest and the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem as an accurate translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.

By the time of Christ, the Septuagint was the translation used throughout the Mediterranean. Both Jews in and out of Jerusalem were familiar with it and considered it Holy Scripture. It is evident that Jesus and the Apostles were very familiar with the Septuagint because of the 350 (approx) quotes of the Old Testament contained in the New Testament, 300 are from the Septuagint. The Apostles used the Septuagint on their missionary journeys. Greek speaking Jews were converting to Christianity because, in part, of what they were reading in the Septuagint.

Brief History of the Masoretic Text

The Jewish faithful did not like Christians using their Scriptures to convert Jews to Christianity. So, in response, the Jews essentially reestablished the canon of the Old Testament. They disavowed the Septuagint and declared the only true Scriptures to be written in Hebrew. They removed all the books that they thought were not first written in Hebrew and they intentionally changed verses that were in agreement with Christian doctrine. This created an enviroment where Jews considered the Septuagint to be the “Christian” Old Testament and full of lies. After all, due to all these changes, the Hebrew Scriptures didn’t look exactly the same as the Septuagint anymore.

Most of us have had the experience of reading a verse in the New Testament, looking at the footnote, and comparing it to the Old Testament verse it references. When we compare the OT verse to the NT verse, they seem barely related. That is because the footnote is referencing the right verse, but the wrong translation. Here is an example:

PSALM 40:6

Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened (Masoretic)Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; but thou has prepared a body for me (Septuagint)

ISAIAH 7:14

 The young woman will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Masoretic) (This is corrected to in most Protestant bibles)The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Septuagint)

There are hundreds of these differences that don’t make a lot of sense till you read them from the Septuagint.

This new form of the Hebrew canon was accepted widely by the 2nd century. Between the 6th to 11th century a group called the Masoretes would become the predominant copiest of this Hebrew canon. Out of this group would eventually become what we now know today as the Masoretic Text. The Masoretic text is the basis for the majority of modern Old Testament translations since the 1500’s.

The Blunder of Luther

Why do many modern Christians use the Masoretic text for the Old Testament when it was specifically created to counteract Christians spreading the Gospel message? The answer can be found in a blunder by Martin Luther in the 1500’s.

He desired to create a translation of the Scripture into his native language of German. However, he assumed the best way to get an accurate translation of the Old Testament was to use the Hebrew bible that the Jews in his community read. He did not know that the Old Testament they were familiar with was not the same that Paul and the Apostles read. He did not know the Septuagint had been in existence more than 1,000 years before the altered Masoretic Text.

This current version of the Hebrew Scriptures also did not contain all the books of the Old Testament. The books they did not contain would be called the Apocrypha. To both early Christians and the Jews in the time of Jesus they were just called Scripture. Though he did not remove the so-called Apocrypha from his translation, he did move them to the back of his bible. Later the apocrypha would go from being in the back to being removed completely.

This blunder of Luther has affected bible translation for the last 500 years. The Orthodox church has held to the Septuagint as the faithful translation of the Hebrew scriptures since the times of Paul and the Apostles.