The Authenticity of the Septuagint

In Doctrine of Scripture, Francis Turretin, Turretin's 21 Questions by Chris ThomasLeave a Comment

QUESTION 14: Is the Septuagint version of the Old Testament authoritative? Negative.

I. Among the Greek versions of the Old Testament, that of the seventy-two translators rightly holds first
place among us. It held this honor both among Jews and among Christians, both in the East and in the
West, so that Jews in their synagogues and Christians in their churches used to read in public only from it
or from versions made from it. All other translations approved by the church in ancient times, with the
sole exception of the Syriac, were made from it; that is, the Arabic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Illyrian, Gothic,
and the Latin before Jerome. The Greek and many Eastern churches accept it to this day, satisfied with it
alone.

II. We are not concerned with such questions as the time and manner of the composition of this version:
whether it was done under the auspices of Ptolemy Philadelphus and at his expense, or, as Scaliger
believes (epistle14), by Jews who were convinced of its value; whether the seventy-two in separate cells
completed their work in exactly seventy-two days, and in the same harmony as if everyone, separate
from the others, had begun and completed the whole work, and other stories of this kind that are told
concerning these translators, whether by Aristeas, who began the detailed reporting of this work in a
special pamphlet, or by Josephus and the Christians, who, because the version was in use, easily held
such accounts before them, eagerly seizing any help toward establishing its authority. These are
questions of history and therefore do not affect our present purpose, although, if we may speak our mind,
we readily agree with those by whom all these accounts are held greatly suspect and of doubtful
trustworthiness. Jerome had already, in his time, begun to expose their emptiness (vanitas) and to refute
them, which more recent scholars have done more clearly and strongly: Vives, in his note on Augustine’s
City of God 18.42, Scaliger in his commentary on Eusebius, Drusius, Casaubon, Wouverius, Ussher, Rivet,
Heinsius, and others. Here we are discussing the authority

[of the Septuagint]: whether such is to be
attributed to it, that it be regarded as inspired and authentic.

III. Although not all Roman Catholics speak in the same way, many agree that this version was produced
under divine guidance (factum divinitus), and rightly holds divine authority, and therefore the translators
are to be regarded not as interpreters but as prophets, who, that they might not err, had the help of the
Holy Spirit in a special way, as Bellarmine says (De Verba Dei 2.6), with whom Baylis, Stapleton,
Carthusius, and D’Espeires all agree, and so especially does John Morinus, who tries hard to establish the
authenticity of this version. Among our scholars, that most learned man Isaac Voss tries to uphold the
same idea, by a number of arguments, in a special treatise.

IV. We, although we do not deny that it is of great authority in the church, yet regard this authority as
human, not divine, since what was done by the translators was by human effort only, not by prophets and
men who were “God-breathed” by the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

V. It is not, therefore, to be asked whether it should have any authority in the church. We concede that it
is of great weight, and rightly to be preferred to other translations. (1) It is the oldest of all, made two
thousand years ago, and so to be honored for its hoary hair. (2) It was read both in public and in private
by the Jews wherever they were dispersed. (3) The apostles and evangelists used it in quoting many Old
Testament passages, and consecrated it, so to speak, by their writings. (4) The apostles gave it to the
church, when through it they conquered the world for Christ, and so the Gentile church was born through
it, and nourished by this milk. (5) The church, both Greek and Latin, used it as the common version (pro
vulgata) for six hundred years. (6) The old fathers and ecclesiastical writers explained it in commentaries,
taught it to the people in homilies, and strangled the rising heresies with it, and drew from it, in councils,
canons for the direction of faith and conduct. But it must be asked whether this authority is such that it
ought be regarded as authentic and on a par with the sources, which our adversaries teach and we deny.

VI. The reasons are (1) it was composed by human effort, not by inspired men; its authors were interpreters, not prophets, who lived after Malachi, who is called by the Jews the seal of the prophets.
This is clear from Aristeas’s testimony that the translators conferred with one another, and discussed
everything among themselves until they were all in agreement. But if they conferred among themselves,
they did not prophesy, for the sacred writers never conferred with others, but put everything into writing
without discussion or delay. (2) If they wrote by the breath of the Holy Spirit, their number was
excessive, when one would have been enough, nor was there any need of learned men, familiar with the
Hebrew and Greek tongues, if the work was done without study and without human effort. (3) In many
ways it does not agree with the sources, but contains a number of discrepancies, as is shown by those
who have discussed this argument, so that Morinus is forced to admit, “No more authority can be ascribed
to this version than to others made by human endeavor.” (4) Because it does not now exist in a pure
state, but with corruption and interpolation to a great degree, we have only its debris and remnants, and
today it can hardly be called the Septuagint version; it is like the ship Argo which was so often rebuilt that
it was no longer either the same or something other, as Jerome often remarked (epistle 69, to Augustine;
prefaces to Ezra and Chronicles). So today it is confidently maintained among the learned that it is from
the koinh version that may be called “Lucianic,” on the authority of Jerome (epistle to Sunias and
Fretellas).

VII. If the apostles often made use of this version, they did not do so because they believed that it was
authentic and of divine quality, but because at that time it was most widely used and accepted, and
because, where the meaning and truth are plain, they did not wish to stir up controversy or arouse
scruples among the weak, but they left unchanged by a holy economy whatever, if changed, would have
offended, especially when no change of meaning was involved. They did not [make changes] except
where there was a reason. When the Septuagint is not only awkward, but also out of harmony with the
truth, they used the sources in preference to it, as Jerome notes (Contra Ruffinan, book 2) and as can
easily be seen by comparing Matthew 2:15 with Hosea 11:1; John 19:37 with Zechariah 12:10; Jeremiah
31:15 with Matthew 2:18; Isaiah 25:8 with I Corinthians 15:54, and many other passages.

VIII. The evidences (testimonia) which are brought forward in the New Testament from the Septuagint
are authentic, not in themselves, or because they were translated by the seventy from Hebrew into
Greek; but in their situation (per accidens) as approved and sanctified by the Holy Spirit by means of his
inbreathing (afflatus), they were employed by the evangelists in the sacred narrative.

IX. If many of the patristic writers gave high honor to this version, and asserted its authenticity, as it
cannot be denied that Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, and others were inclined to do, this
was from feeling (affectus) rather than from reflection (studium). They were unlearned in the Hebrew
language; nor were they obliged to judge the words [of the seventy], since no less than the seventy were
they subject to human errors and feelings. But the more learned among them, such as Origen and
Jerome, were of very different opinion, and taught that [the seventy] were translators, not prophets.

X. Although the church used this version for many years, it does not follow that it used it as authentic and
of divine quality, but only that it was held in great esteem. This common usage ought not to weaken the –
freedom of consulting the sources when there is reason to do so.

XI. The great discrepancies in chronology which occur between the Hebrew text and the Septuagint do not
suggest the authenticity of the latter but its corruption. . . .

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