The LXX as a Commentary

lxxThe LXX is an Roman numeral abbreviation which means “70.” It’s a shorthand way to refer to the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible which Jesus and the apostles used and quoted from. Many of the Old Testament quotations the New Testament writers used did not come from the Hebrew translation. Many of them came from the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Verbatim. Exactly.

The LXX (also known as the “Septuagint”) is referred to this way because, allegedly, 70 translators worked on the translation from Hebrew into Greek. I recently picked up a copy of the LXX because I wanted a chance to study Greek a bit more, and because if this is the text Jesus and the apostles quoted from, then it would make sense to own a copy.

If you’ve done translation work, then you know it is difficult to resist putting a bit of interpretation into your translation. Sometimes this isn’t too bad an idea. For example, I’ve noticed that Mark often didn’t use Jesus’ actual name to refer to Him. He usually just wrote “he.” That means you’ll have an entire chapter (or two!) where Jesus’ name isn’t even mentioned. All you really have is “he . . . he . . . he . . . he.” Some translations clean this up a bit by throwing Jesus’ name into the mix occasionally. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

I noticed something interesting in Isaiah 42:1 from the LXX yesterday evening. Here is the English text:

Isaiah 42:1 “Here is my servant whom I support, my chosen one in whom I take pleasure. I have placed my spirit on him; he will make just decrees for the nations.

Christians understand Isaiah to be referring to Jesus of Nazareth. Got it. What does the LXX read? Behold the bit of commentary they tossed into their translation:

Ιακωβ ὁ παῖς μου ἀντιλήμψομαι αὐτοῦ Ισραηλ ὁ ἐκλεκτός μου

Jacob, my servant whom I will help; Israel, my chosen one . . .

How interesting! This gives us some insight into how the Israelites interpreted the Hebrew Bible during the inter-testamental period before Messiah came. They interpreted this Messianic passage to be referring to the nation of Israel. I haven’t done enough study in the LXX to know how much of a trend this is, but I’ve read elsewhere that it is very common.

It’s always a joy to stumble across something by accident and confirm something for yourself, rather than read about it in a book.

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