Recently I had an email exchange with someone working their way through the version debate and the merits or demerits of the Standard Sacred Text position. My interlocutors position was that NT writers and NT accounts quote from the Septuagint/ LXX and also seem to paraphrase passages from the OT therefore the Bible can remain inerrant even if we choose words that are not exactly God’s words. My response to him is the following:
Yes, this is an old approach to issues of inerrancy and infallibility. The point that the NT penmen led by the Holy Spirit might have used the LXX or paraphrased OT texts as a defense for inerrancy may not be as robust as many think it is. In large part because it ignores the fact that it is the Holy Spirit bearing these men along as they quoted from the LXX or paraphrased the OT. As such, every word was inspired by God both in the original giving of the OT and in the paraphrase as it appears in the NT. Certainly the Holy Spirit can “paraphrase” His own words because they are His words. We on the other hand cannot paraphrase His words. There is no place in Scripture where the Christian is commanded to or encouraged to paraphrase God’s words or use words different than those God has chosen. But there are plenty of places where the prophet is commanded to say, “Thus saith the Lord…”
In fact, the idea that a prophet would hear God and then be like, “Well I think my version sounds better and furthermore, I think it means the same thing” seems ridiculous and if true, is an act of will-worship or idolatry. In sum, the issue with the “Jesus used the LXX” or “Paul paraphrased the OT” is to almost entirely sideline the fact that the words of Scripture are God’s words and God can quote the LXX and paraphrase His prior words and when He does, those specific words become just as inspired and authoritative as the words upon which the LXX/paraphrase is based. We can certainly paraphrase our own words or the words of another man because they are for all intents and purposes our equals. God on the other hand is infinitely above us and we infinitely below Him in being, wisdom, and holiness and as such we have no moral ground upon which to paraphrase His words and then claim that paraphrase equals God’s words. We must know and believe His words and His only.
I liken it to the time when Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, offered strange fire before God. It was certainly fire and fire that could burn. It definitely would burn incense or the flesh of an animal. It was being offered by priests, the sons of Aaron, the rightful offerers. It was being offered in the tabernacle, the appropriate place for such an offering. It appears that Aaron’s sons intended to carry out God’s ordained priestly duties, so their hearts seemed to be in the right place. There is no indication that they thought their sacrifice to be anything other than pleasing to God. And yet after all that, God kills those two young men with divine fire and commanded that Aaron not uncover his head in mourning because his sons simply as a practical matter got fire from the wrong place.
God gave specific instructions about where to get correct fire and a kind of paraphrase on the part of two men led them to believe that fire from the brazen altar and fire from somewhere else were the same kind of fire and they had plenty of reason to believe that as I mentioned above. But in the end God struck those men down in a fashion similar to that of Sodom and Gomorrah. The same goes for Uzzah trying to steady the Ark on the cart when the cart hit a pothole. God struck Uzzah dead. Then there is the example of Eve who added “neither shall ye touch it” to God’s command not to eat of the tree. This was her paraphrase and it led to the fall of all of humanity. Then there was Cain’s paraphrase that God accepted fruits from the field rather than a blood sacrifice which ultimately led to the first murder. Examples abound throughout Scripture that man is in no place to paraphrase God’s word or to assert some other words which God has not said and then claim those words to be God’s words (e.g., every false prophet).
In the end I find this argument only superficially Scriptural and largely at odds with the biblical narrative from the OT to the NT about God’s relationship to His own words vs. man’s relationship to God’s words.
That said, I know we can only believe the things we think are true and you are working your way through these things. I hope the above can be a help to you. May the Lord continue to grant you wisdom and grace that the Spirit of God may guide you into all truth.
2 thoughts on “A Recent Discussion on Paraphrasing God’s Words and the Use of the LXX in the NT”
James White takes the assertion that Jesus and the apostles quoted from the LXX a step further, even alleging they quote verses containing textual variants—then concluding that Scripture texts containing textual variants and even errors should still be considered the Word of God. I find this kind of reasoning to be humanistic rather than Biblical. On the issue of the LXX, I continue to think there is a strong case that it is largely a post-NT production, with OT verses back-filled in Greek from the NT, as suggested by numerous places where they clearly pasted NT verses into the wrong place (Ps. 14 and Rom. 3 being probably the most egregious example). The fact that what we know as the LXX today comes from Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus, arguably some of the most corrupt manuscripts extant, should give us pause relative the credibility of the LXX. What’s your take on this issue?
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Thanks again for the insightful comment. In my study, it seems that the LXX is viewed almost universally as a bad translation fraught will all kinds of textual and translational problems a couple of which you have mentioned. Whether it is in part a document that is post-NT I do not know but I have not doubt that such a possibility and commensurate assertion very well may be the truth. To White’s conclusion, it seems he has flattened the act of inspiration to favor human agency rather than divine/human coaction where the Holy Spirit is the agent and the penmen are willful obedient subjects acting in submission to that divine agency.