The Bible that you have in your home or in your pocket has been censored. The Bible that you own has had verses and entire books taken out of it. The Bible you know has extra content added to it. The Bible that you have read for as long as you’ve read the Bible is not the Bible that Jesus, the Apostles, or the early Church would have read. Many prophesies that pointed to Jesus have been altered or removed. No matter how long you have been a Christian you likely have never considered that your Bible has been censored—but it has.
Religious tradition can be a good thing and sometimes it can be a very bad thing. When it comes to which version of the Bible we read from, religious tradition can hold us back from having the most accurate and reliable version. Archaeological discoveries and studies in textual criticism have allowed us to discover that Jesus, the Apostles, the writers of the New Testament, and the early Church read from a different version of the Bible than we read from today.
This earlier version of the Bible that the New Testament authors had in their possession has largely faded from use, but it can still be found if you look for it. Read on to discover in what ways your Bible has been censored and why it matters.
There seems to be a prevailing belief in Christianity that the Bible as we know it today has always been that way as if it was perfectly preserved and copied throughout the centuries. While this has certainly been true for the past few hundred years, for the majority of the Bible’s existence it has had many different versions and textual traditions. Books of the Bible have been added, removed, and modified.
While the New Testament writings were largely decided upon by the 4th century, what we call the Old Testament today was not found in the exact same form for more than fifteen hundred years of Christian history. The boundaries of the church’s Old Testament remained loose and open well into the medieval period, at which time the diversity of the grouping of these books becomes mind-boggling. There was no unanimously recognized Old Testament in the early Church, and indeed the diversity of canons and scriptural collections persisted right down to the Reformation (16th century).
During the time of Jesus, there was no New Testament yet and the Hebrew Scriptures were not yet fully canonized. All of our available evidence insists that before the second century AD the biblical text was still extraordinarily fluid and that there were multiple divergent textual traditions of many of the books. The time of Jesus and the early Church was characterized by textual plurality, not uniformity.
The Old Testament that we use today is based on the Hebrew manuscripts called the Masoretic Text of the 10th century AD, which is around a thousand years after the time of Jesus. If the Bible is inerrant as some Christians claim, then our Old Testament should be the exact same Old Testament that Jesus and the New Testament writers used—but it isn’t. Your Bible has been censored.
The Bible of Jesus, the Apostles, and the Early Church
Biblical scholars have known for a very long time that Jesus and the writers of the New Testament didn’t read or study the same Old Testament we use today. You actually have proof of this right in your Bible. All you have to do is read how the New Testament authors quoted their Old Testament and see that their quote almost always doesn’t match what you have in your Old Testament. There are around 300 Old Testament quotes in the New Testament. Most of them don’t align with your Old Testament, instead, they align more closely with an earlier version of the Old Testament called the Septuagint.
There are actually three families of Old Testament manuscripts: the Samaritan, the Septuagint, and the Masoretic. The Samaritans only accepted the first five books, the Torah, and are the oldest, from around the 400’s BC. The Septuagint was translated into Greek around 250-100 BC and contains 62 books. The Masoretic is from the medieval period, around the 900’s AD, and contains 39 books.
The world that Jesus, the Apostles, and the early Church lived in spoke Greek. The Bible that they read from was written in Greek, some translated from Hebrew and some written originally in Greek. The Septuagint, though texturally varied, as was typical of the time period, best represents the Bible that Jesus, the Apostles, and the early Church used.
Why Should I Care?
You may be asking yourself why any of this matters. Many Christians assume that other more knowledgable people have made sure that we have the most accurate version of the Bible that is possible. But like it was stated earlier, tradition can prevent this from actually happening.
You should care because the Old Testament you have isn’t the same one that the New Testament authors had. This sometimes isn’t a big deal, other times there are major theological implications. Your Old Testament and Jesus’ Old Testament have numerous, often significant, differences.
You should care about the Septuagint because it was unanimously used by the early Christians. It was the Bible that Jesus and his Apostles read, studied, and quoted. You don’t have the Bible that Jesus and Paul considered to be the Bible. This should be alarming.
You should care because the Septuagint is 1,000 years older than the oldest manuscripts used in the Old Testament in your Bible. Because the Septuagint is so much older we should expect it to be more accurate and that is exactly what we see is the case.
You should care that several early Christian leaders accused Jewish scribes of maliciously editing their versions, the same versions that would one day become the version you have in your Bible. As you’ll see later, many verses that refer to Jesus have been changed or removed.
The bottom line is: we are not utilizing the most accurate and reliable version of the Old Testament Scriptures. If this is something you care about, you should continue reading.
The Septuagint’s Origins
Alexander the Great spread the Greek language and culture all across the Mediterranean. Even though the Greecian empire eventually fell, the legacy of Greek thought never met the same end. There was now finally a language that united multiple nations, cultures, and peoples in a way never before. Since Hebrew ceased to be a spoken language as early as the exilic or post-exilic period, so the scriptures had to evolve as well. The Hebrew scriptures would be translated into Greek, and as a result, it would become the defacto version of the Torah, Prophets, and Wisdom literature of the Jewish people.
For it was the counsel of God carried out for the benefit of Grecian ears. It was not alien to the inspiration of God, who gave the prophecy, also to produce the translation, and make it as it were Greek prophecy. Since the Scriptures having perished in the captivity of Nebuchadnezzar, Ezra the Levite, the priest, in the time of Artaxerxes king of the Persians, having become inspired in the exercise of prophecy restored again the whole of the ancient Scriptures.1
Clement of Alexandria 195AD
Legend has it that it was Ptolemy II (285–247 BC) who wrote a letter to Eleazar, the High Priest to translate the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. Eleazar appointed 72 Hebrew scholars who traveled to the Lighthouse of Alexandria for the translation. Further details of this legend point to the thought that it was divine providence that these scriptures would be translated into the common language, a sentiment that many early Church leaders would share. Legends aside, we know that the Septuagint was a collection of translations spanning from 200BC to 50AD and was in wide use during the time of Jesus.
In the first century, almost all Christians could not speak or read Hebrew, including the authors of Mark and Luke. All of their theology and scripture references would come from the Greek Septuagint. Ironically, for a book named Hebrews, the author doesn’t quote the Hebrew version of the Old Testament even once.2 The Bible of the time of Jesus was the Greek Septuagint.
The Contents of the Septuagint
The Old Testament of Jesus, the Apostles, the early Church, and the New Testament writers contained books that have been removed from your Bible, such as Esdras, Tobit, 1-4 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Prayer of Manasseh, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Judith, and Psalms of Solomon. There are also some books that are longer than in the Masoretic, such as Daniel and Esther. Many of these books were part of Scripture for centuries with different traditions at different times including or excluding books and eventually calling them “deuterocanonical” or “apocrypha”. Many are considered sacred scripture by more than a billion Christians, members of the Catholic, Orthodox, and Coptic churches.
During the time of Jesus, the Biblical texts were in a state of flux. Numerous texts were held to various degrees of esteem by different Jewish communities throughout the ancient world. From the perspective of an ancient Jewish or Christian reader there was no certainty about which of the traditions would eventually become the dominant scriptural tradition. It was simply not a question that would have entered their minds. The numerous ancient manuscripts discovered offer proof that the Hebrew Bible was not fixed before the second century AD and, perhaps more surprisingly, that many readers and users of these scriptural texts before then were not bothered about it.
For the apostles, since they are of more ancient date than all these heretics, agree with this aforesaid translation; and the translation harmonizes with the tradition of the apostles. For Peter, and John, and Matthew, and Paul, and the rest successively, as well as their followers, did set forth all prophetical announcements, just as the interpretation of the seventy two elders [Septuagint] contains them.3
Around 90 AD after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jews were faced with the movement of Christianity which was growing rapidly and no longer being viewed as just a Jewish sect. While the early Church used the Septuagint to argue for the deity and messiahship of Jesus, the Jews started to claim that the Septuagint that they used for around 400 years was inferior and they abandoned it. The Hebrew manuscripts in the first century had various differences and so the Jews began to let manuscripts that supported Jesus’ deity die off while they let the manuscripts that minimized the prophecy about Jesus survive. Several early Church fathers even believed that the Jews began altering their Scriptures around this time. Either way, the sudden rejection of the Septuagint by the Jews was so clear that by the second century they had introduced three new Greek translations of their scriptures to replace it, translated by Theodotion, Aquila of Sinope, and Symmachus.
Jewish Corruption of the Scriptures
By the second century, the prevailing belief of the early Church fathers was that the Jews were censoring the Old Testament to deny that Jesus was the Messiah. Since the case for Jesus as Messiah was so strong, the Jews had to reject the Scriptures they once regarded. Among a vast multitude of altered scripture verses, one stands out above the rest.
But I am far from putting reliance in your teachers, who refuse to admit that the interpretation made by the seventy elders who were with Ptolemy of the Egyptians is a correct one; and they attempt to frame another. And I wish you to observe, that they have altogether taken away many Scriptures from the translations effected by those seventy elders… For you assent to those which I have brought before your attention, except that you contradict the statement, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive,’ and say it ought to be read, ‘Behold, the young woman shall conceive.’ And I promised to prove that the prophecy referred, not, as you were taught, to Hezekiah, but to this Christ of mine: and now I shall go to the proof.4
Justin Martyr 160AD
Matthew 1:22-25 quotes a famous passage in Isaiah that prophesies that the Messiah will be born of a virgin. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel'”. Matthew is quoting Isaiah 7:14 which says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” It seems fine so far, except if you turn in your Bible to that verse in Isaiah you may have a footnote that explains that the word “virgin” wasn’t there. Instead, the word there in Hebrew was “almah” which means “young woman”. There is a separate Hebrew word for virgin and it is “bethulah” but that word has been censored by being changed into “almah”. So the manuscripts your Bible is based on says, “the young woman will conceive…” This is a case of Jewish scribes altering the Scriptures to remove proofs of Christ’s deity.
The earlier Septuagint uses the Greek word “parthenos” which means virgin and is the reason why your Bible likely just says “virgin” instead of “young woman”. This is an example of Biblical scholars favoring the Septuagint in an attempt stay true to the version of Scripture that the New Testament authors used. Ironically when the Revised Standard Version translation came out and used “young woman” they were accused of removing the word “virgin” even though they were technically just being more faithful to the Masoretic Text.
God, then, was made man, and the Lord did Himself save us, giving us the token of the Virgin. But not as some allege, among those now presuming to expound the Scripture, thus: “Behold, a young woman shall conceive, and bring forth a son,” as Theodotion the Ephesian has interpreted, and Aquila of Pontus, both Jewish proselytes. …But the Septuagent was interpreted into Greek by the Jews themselves, much before the period of our Lord’s coming… the Jews did put this interpretation upon these words [that is, translating it “virgin”]. They indeed, had they been cognizant of our future existence, and that we should use these proofs from the Scriptures, would themselves never have hesitated to burn their own Scriptures [that is, copies of the Septuagint].5
The previous example of denying the prophecy of the virgin birth is just one of many. When Jesus started his public ministry he started by going to a synagogue in Nazareth and reads from Isaiah claiming that he is fulfilling prophesy (Luke 4:18-19). His quote is from Isaiah 61:1-2 but if you compare Jesus’ quote to your Old Testament you’ll see that something has been censored from your Bible. The one miracle mentioned in Isaiah’s prophesy has been removed from your Old Testament: that Jesus came to “recover sight for the blind.” While the later Hebrew scriptures removed this line, the older Greek Septuagint still has it.
Another example is in Hebrews where the author is making a case for Jesus being the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. The author quotes the book of Psalm, “sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me” (Hebrews 10:5-6). You may even have a footnote in your Bible referencing the Septuagint because “a body you prepared for me” isn’t in your Old Testament. Go ahead and turn to Psalm 40:6 and see. Instead, it says “but my ears you have opened.” The author of Hebrews is quoting an earlier version of the Old Testament that hasn’t been censored to remove prophetic statements about Jesus.
Paul in his letter to the Romans quotes another messianic prophecy in Isaiah that claims that the Gentiles (non-Jews) will put their hope in Jesus, saying, “in him the Gentiles will hope” (Romans 15:12). If you turn in your Bible to where Paul is quoting from in Isaiah 11:10 you’ll see that this claim is missing, instead, it reads, “his resting place will be glorious”. Paul is quoting the Septuagint that retains the prophecy of the nations putting their hope in the Messiah that has since been removed.
At this point, we have an asterisk. The words are found in the Hebrew, but do not occur in the Septuagint.6
Sometimes the censorship isn’t something the New Testament authors quote. Psalm 22:16 is a great example. The Septuagint says, in reference to Jesus, “they pierced my hands and feet.” While your Old Testament might say the same thing, a footnote should say that this is from the Septuagint and the younger Hebrew version (Masoretic) says, “like a lion [they are at] my hands and feet.”7 A few verses later Psalm 22:20 is another example. In the censored version you have in your Bible it says, “deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs” while the Septuagint says, “deliver my soul from the sword; my only-begotten one from the power of the dogs.” The censored version of the Old Testament you have removes the word “monogenēs” that gets translated “only-begotten”, the same word used in reference to Jesus in the famous verse, John 3:16.
These are just a sample of many examples where the New Testament authors are quoting a version of the Old Testament that you don’t have. In these cases, like many others, the later Jewish scribes censored prophecies that came true in Jesus Christ.
Babies Having Babies & David the Non-Giant Slayer
The Old Testament in your Bible is based on the Masoretic Text (which we will discuss later). From evidence found in the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls, we know that the Masoretic Text contains many errors introduced since the time of Jesus. Knowing this, English translators will draw from the Septuagint when the problems with the Masoretic Text are too obvious to overlook. One such case is in 2 Chronicles 21:20, 22:2. In the Masoretic Text, it is claimed that Jehoram fathered his son, Ahaziah, at the age of 2, which is obviously impossible. The Septuagint has a more reasonable age for Jehoram having his son at the age of twenty. In your Bible, you may have a footnote for 2 Chronicles 22:2 telling you that the age of Ahaziah was taken from the Septuagint to correct this obvious error.
The famous story of David and Goliath offers several examples of how the text was modified after the time of Jesus. An easy example to start off with is the height of Goliath. The Masoretic Text says that Goliath was six cubits and a span tall, which is 9 feet 9 inches (1 Samuel 17:4). That is quite tall! Consider though, in modern times, the verified tallest person ever recorded is Robert Wadlow (1918-1940) who stood an impressive 8 feet 11 inches, still shorter than the biblical Goliath. Of course, Goliath was a giant right? Well, actually, the Bible never directly refers to Goliath as a giant other than giving us his height. Even though giants are mentioned in other places (2 Samuel 21:16, 18, 20, 22; 1 Chronicles 20:4, 6, 8), there’s no direct connection in those passages to Goliath. Textual evidence shows us though, that Goliath being a giant is just a tall tale. The Septuagint (and the Dead Sea Scrolls) say that Goliath was four cubits and a span tall, which is 6 feet 9 inches, a much more reasonable height.8 Since there’s no claim to Goliath being a giant, but rather just a “Philistine champion”, this lesser height would make much more sense. This is a simple example of stories being exaggerated and modified over the centuries.
The changes to the story of David and Goliath don’t stop with Goliath’s height being increased. The Masoretic Text version of the book of Samuel displays numerous instances of scribal corruption, but it is not always censorship that sets it apart. In this case, like Goliath’s height, there are other additions. The story of David and Goliath takes up 88 verses in the Masoretic, but in the Septuagint, the story spans only 49. This means that the older version of the story is shorter by almost half. Careful readers of the English Bible (based on the Masoretic) may have already noticed certain confusing aspects of the David and Goliath story. For example, both the Septuagint and the Masoretic tell how David is introduced to Saul in 16:17-23 as a harpist whom Saul loved so much that he made him his armor-bearer. But, in 17:55-58, which is found only in the later Masoretic, Saul oddly has no clue who David is. This problem did not exist in the Septuagint version. The interesting story of the love shared between David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1-4) and Saul’s attempt to kill David when God put an evil spirit upon him (1 Samuel 18:10-11) were also later additions not found in the earlier version.
Changing God’s Character
While some differences between the earlier Septuagint and the later Masoretic involve additions and subtractions, sometimes there can be significant theological implications. Take for instance the theological belief called “Penal Substitution Theory,” a worrying Reformed tradition idea that postulates that it was the Father that vented his wrath on the Son as a punishment. A major proof-text for this view is found in the Masoretic version of Isaiah but the earlier Septuagint version says something quite the opposite.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though you make his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
Isaiah 53:10 ESV (from the Masoretic Text)
The Lord is willing to cleanse him of the injury. If you make a sin offering, our soul will see long-lived offspring, and the Lord is willing to remove him from the difficulty of his soul.
Isaiah 53:10 LES (from the Septuagint)
Instead of God crushing Jesus, we see that the earlier, uncensored text says that it is God’s will to heal Jesus. This is a striking difference. If that isn’t enough, just a few verses earlier in Isaiah 53:4 it says, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” But that is the corrupted Masoretic, in the Septuagint, it says, “This one carries our sins and suffers pain for us, and we regarded him as one who is in difficulty, misfortune, and affliction.“ This idea that “God kills Jesus” is not in the version of the Old Testament that Jesus and the New Testament writers read from.
Next, we take a look at a verse that claims that God will fill people with fear.
Strike them with terror, Lord; let the nations know they are only mortal.
Psalm 9:20 NIV (from the Masoretic Text)
Appoint a lawgiver over them, Lord. Let the nations know that they are mere humans.
Psalm 9:20 LXX (from the Septuagint)
Instead of the Psalmist claiming that God will instill fear in people, in the earlier Septuagint, it says that God will put a ruler over people. While one could argue that these are similar things, the later modified Masoretic text you find in your Bible characterizes God as a more evil entity that doesn’t resemble Jesus.
The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.
Exodus 15:3 NIV (from the Masoretic Text)
The Lord who shatters wars, the Lord is his name.
Exodus 15:3 LES (from the Septuagint)
While the text once said that God puts an end to wars (as we see manifested in Jesus), the corrupted and censored text in your Bible claims that God is a warrior. How could these two texts be any more opposite?
A God who kills his Son or a God who heals his Son? A God who strikes fear in people or a God who appoints rulers? A God who is a warrior or a God who stops wars? These are just a few examples of how the Old Testament was corrupted to make God look less like Jesus and more like the violent, punitive God that the Jews wanted.
Switching From the Septuagint
By this point, by using just a handful of examples, we’ve established that the Septuagint is the older, more accurate version of the Old Testament. It is the version of the Old Testament that Jesus, the Apostles, the New Testament writers, and the early Church used. So then why don’t we use it today?
The reason why starts back in the fourth century, when Emperor Constantine co-opted the Christian religion into Roman culture. Christianity soon became a religious justification for the exercise of power and a tool in the expansion and maintenance of empire. Unfortunately, efforts to dominate Scripture and control religious narratives started to begin.
The apprentice of Pope Damasus I, Jerome (347-420AD), a Latin priest, is responsible for the Church’s eventual abandonment of the Old Testament that the New Testament writers used. Born to wealthy parents, Jerome was known for being an egotistical maniac yearning to leave his mark on the world. After being forced out of Rome for clerical misconduct, sexual indecencies, and legacy hunting9 Jerome made his way to Bethlehem where he lived in a Jewish community. His hopes were to learn Hebrew and create a new translation of the Old Testament to supplant the Vetus Latina, which was the Latin translation of the Septuagint that the Western church was using at the time.
In 391 Jerome began a new project to produce a Latin Bible, based not on the Septuagint but on the (now corrupted and censored) Hebrew scriptures. While arguing for the use of the Hebrew text, Jerome would undermine the authority of the Septuagint by denying its use in the New Testament, a claim we now know is patently false. Jerome also argued that the Hebrew texts that his Jewish contemporaries were using were more accurate after discovering the differences between them and the Septuagint. His attempts to put an end to over four centuries of use of the Septuagint would result in himself having nearly the only key to understanding the texts, as barely any Christians could read Hebrew. The average Christian would now need Jerome to unlock the true meaning of the scriptures with his translation.
It Wasn’t Without Protest
At the end of the fourth century, Saint Augustine of Hippo attempted to engage Jerome in public debate through a series of letters. Augustine argued that no Christian would be able to object to a translation from the Hebrew on linguistic grounds. Perhaps by Jerome’s design, this would make him the gatekeeper of truth for the church. As progress with the translation continued, Augustine implored Jerome to use the Septuagint rather than the present-day Hebrew sources which had already begun to lose Messianic prophecies related to Jesus.
I beseech you not to devote your labour to the work of translating into Latin the sacred canonical books, unless you… let it be seen plainly what differences there are between this version of yours and that of the Septuagint, whose authority is worthy of highest esteem.10
Augustine to Jerome 394AD
Jerome would often wait years before writing Augustine back. Undeterred, in 405 AD his translation of the Hebrew texts into Latin was complete. Modern scholarship, however, has cast doubts on the actual quality of Jerome’s Hebrew knowledge. In his final comment on the matter in City of God, written between 413 and 426, Augustine continued to insist that the Septuagint should never be corrected toward the Hebrew texts since the Septuagint is ultimately a prophetic message for the church.11 And of 1-2 Maccabees, Augustine writes, “these are held as canonical, not by the Jews, but by the Church…”12 also referring to Tobit as scripture and defending the Wisdom of Solomon. Augustine reveals no embarrassment for having a different canon than his Jewish contemporaries.
Though he did not have the nerve to remove them, Jerome was the one to categorize the books that were cut out of the later Hebrew scriptures as “apocrypha” by being the first to place them in their own section.13 Although Jerome was once suspicious of the “apocrypha,” he later in his old age viewed them again as Scripture.14 Eventually, aided by the Pope’s political clout, Jerome’s Latin Vulgate became the predominant Bible version used throughout the western world until the Reformation. Although the Eastern churches continued using the Septuagint, as their influence declined, the Septuagint mostly faded from memory.
Adopting the Masoretic Flaws
While our earliest complete Greek Bible manuscripts are dated to the fourth century AD (non-complete manuscripts date to the 2nd century BC), our earliest Hebrew manuscripts are from the tenth AD (non-complete manuscripts date to the 9th century AD). In the medieval period, between the 7th and 11th centuries AD, scribes known as the Masoretes became seen as authoritative scribes due to their reputation for care and reliability. Their texts, besides the Dead Sea Scrolls, are the oldest Hebrew manuscripts in Jewish tradition.
|Masoretic Manuscripts||Septuagint Manuscripts|
|252 – Complete||Complete – 2263|
|75 – Law||Law – 217|
|25 – History||History – 277|
|100 – Wisdom||Wisdom – 1686|
|25 – Prophets||Prophets – 211|
|15 – Minor Prophets||Minor Prophets – 72|
At the Reformation in the 16th century Christians once again had a chance to get back to a more accurate Old Testament. Unfortunately due to ignorance, the Reformers went to the Masoretic Text because it was the text contemporarily used by the Jews and because it was written in Hebrew, believing it was more accurate. But what the Reformers failed to understand was that the Septuagint was the Old Testament for Jesus, the Apostles, the New Testament writers, and the early Church. The Reformers failed to understand that the Septuagint was once translated and accepted by the Jews before Christianity and is more than 1,000 years older than the Masoretic. Martin Luther went astray by choosing the Masoretic Text as the standard for the Old Testament, as he went astray on many other things. His serious errors were only copied and compounded for the successive Reformers such as John Calvin. The mistake of the Reformers wouldn’t be fully understood until the 1940’s when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, an event that would make shockwaves throughout all of Biblical scholarship.
Because of the many differences in the Septuagint from the Masoretic, it was widely believed that the Septuagint was inaccurate and that these differences were due to poor translation or scribal errors. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered (1946-1956) that perception was forced to radically change.15 The scrolls discovered in the caves of Qumran were written between 400BC-100AD, the same time period of the Septuagint, and in many places line up more closely with it than the Masoretic Text, which only does 45% of the time.16 What the Dead Sea Scrolls did, along with the Septuagint, was force us to adopt a new perspective: while the medieval Masoretic scribes preserved an ancient tradition, they transmitted only one scriptural tradition out of a number of divergent possibilities that existed before the second century AD. The earlier period was characterized by plurality, not uniformity.
I make it my endeavor not to be ignorant of their various readings, so that in my controversies with the Jews I may not quote to them what is not found in their copies and that I may make some use of what they accept, even if it is not found in our Scriptures.17
When the Reformers and their predecessors talked about returning to the original Hebrew, and when modern Christians talk about studying the Hebrew because it is the “original text,” they are perpetuating in those statements several mistaken assumptions. The Hebrew Bible in the editions we now use is often not the oldest form of the Hebrew text, and in fact, it is not a singular text at all but an amalgamation of similar though not identical sources. In many cases, the Septuagint provides the only access we have to the oldest form, and for this reason, it is monumentally important.
Why We Use a Censored Old Testament
The Masoretic Text was the Old Testament source for the 1611 King James Version and nearly every English translation since. It wasn’t until the 20th century that Biblical scholars truly understood the importance of the Septuagint and by that point, tradition could not be undone.
We are right in believing that the translators of the Septuagint had received the spirit of prophecy; and so if, with its authority, they altered anything and used expressions in their translation different from those of the original, we should not doubt that these expressions also were divinely inspired.18
Augustine of Hippo 426AD
The prejudice in the contemporary Church in favor of the rabbinic Masoretic is upsetting, but not unexpected given that Christian educational institutions teach future scholars and pastors the Old Testament exclusively from the younger Masoretic Text, pushing the Septuagint to the sidelines of an upper-level elective course. Especially in conservative institutions students hope that by studying the Hebrew they will come closer to reading the original words of God, which are thought to be those found in the Hebrew Bible. This though is not the case, as we have seen, the Hebrew Bible very often contains late material added long after the translation of the Septuagint. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint are often thought of as mere variants of the “authoritative”, almost “orthodox”, Hebrew Bible. Students, therefore, graduate from schools that teach Christian history and theology without ever considering that the scriptures used by Jesus and the New Testament writers were not the Masoretic but rather the Septuagint. This oversight is then unfortunately passed on through the pulpit and secured with fearful tradition.
What To Do
Ironically, most Christians who try to argue for the inerrancy of the Bible don’t take into account that the Old Testament they are trying to defend isn’t even the one that Jesus, the Apostles, the New Testament writers, and the early Church used. It demonstrates an ignorance of the many textual traditions of the ancient Jews and the early Church, including the Septuagint.
Often when the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls agree together against the 10th century Masoretic Text, the older reading is understood to be more original. Sometimes the differences between the two can have radical theological implications. Thus, clearly, no study of the Old Testament can be considered truly comprehensive unless the Septuagint is taken into consideration. After all, why would Christians trust a text produced by pagans after the time of Jesus, in reaction to him, rather than a text produced by God’s people hundreds of years before Jesus?19
When Paul claims that all Scripture is God-breathed he has the Septuagint, not the Masoretic, in view (2 Timothy 3:16).
If all of this is new to you and you find it unsettling, thankfully, the Old Testament is not truly needed to follow Jesus and participate in his Kingdom. Nevertheless, the Old Testament is a valuable resource for understanding the history of God’s relationship with humanity and efforts should be made to read from the most accurate version we have. If you are interested in reading the closest version of the Old Testament we have to the one that Jesus, the Apostles, the New Testament writers, and the early Church read from, get yourself a copy of the Septuagint.20
Why then is the “History” not in their Daniel, if, as you say, their wise men hand down by tradition such stories? The answer is, that they hid from the knowledge of the people as many of the passages which contained any scandal against the elders, rulers, and judges, as they could, some of which have been preserved… which probably the Jews have purposely tampered with, introducing some phrases manifestly incorrect, that discredit might be thrown on the whole. …while the Saviour gives a true account of them, none of the Scriptures which could prove what He tells are to be found. Wherefore I think no other supposition is possible, than that they who had the reputation of wisdom, and the rulers and elders, took away from the people every passage which might bring them into discredit among the people. We need not wonder, then, if this history of the evil device of the licentious elders against Susanna [portion of Daniel removed in the Masoretic] is true, but was concealed and removed from the Scriptures by men themselves not very far removed from the counsel of these elders. …written down by the wisdom of the Spirit, but removed by these rulers of Sodom, as the Spirit would call them.21
- Clement of Alexandria, “The Stromata, or Miscellanies,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 334.
- M. Karrer, “The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Septuagint,” in Kraus and Wooden, Septuagint Research, 339.
- Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 452.
- Justin Martyr, “Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, a Jew,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 234.
- Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 451.
- Hippolytus of Rome, “Fragments from Commentaries on Various Books of Scripture,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. S. D. F. Salmond, vol. 5, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 163.
- The Jewish version of this Psalm, of course, retains “like a lion.” Jewish Publication Society, Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1985).
- This is also verified by the Lucian Recension (3rd cent.), Codex Vaticanus (4th cent.), Codex Alexandrinus (5th cent.), and records from Josephus (the first-century Jewish historian).
- Cain, Letters of Jerome, 114–124, 131, for the irony of Jerome targeting other clerics for legacy hunting.
- Augustine of Hippo, “Letters of St. Augustin,” in The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustin with a Sketch of His Life and Work, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. G. Cunningham, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 251.
- Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books VIII–XVI, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Grace Monahan, vol. 18.42, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1952).
- “These are held as canonical, not by the Jews, but by the Church, on account of the extreme and wonderful sufferings of certain martyrs, who, before Christ had come in the flesh, contended for the law of God even unto death, and endured most grievous and horrible evils.” – Augustine of Hippo, “The City of God,” in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Marcus Dods, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 382.
- See E. Gallagher, “The Old Testament ‘Apocrypha’ in Jerome’s Canonical Theory,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 20 (2012): 313–333.
- Jerome, To Paulinus, Epistle 58 (A.D. 395), in NPNF2, VI:119. Jerome, To Oceanus, Epistle 77:4 (A.D. 399), in NPNF2, VI:159. Jerome, Letter 51, 6, 7, NPNF2, VI:87-8
- The story of their discovery is told in G. Vermes, The Story of the Scrolls: The Miraculous Discovery and True Significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls (London: Penguin, 2010).
- Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, Fortress Press.
- J. Robert Wright, ed., Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 142.
- Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books VIII–XVI, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Grace Monahan, vol. 14, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1952), 474.
- As Tertullian argues, post-Jesus Jews are no less opponents than pagans; neither embrace the gospel of Christ. Tertullian, “The Apology,” 19.2 in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. S. Thelwall, vol. 3, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885).
- Some English translations are available online, some for free, such as the 1851 Brenton (http://ecmarsh.com/lxx/), the 2009 NETS (http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/), or the 2020 Lexham 2nd Ed (https://lexhampress.com/product/188040/the-lexham-english-septuagint-2nd-ed).
- Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., “A Letter from Origen to Africanus,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, trans. Frederick Crombie, vol. 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 388.