Septuagint; or the LXX

Compiler's note: The Septuagint (LXX) was the first Greek translation made of the Old Testament by seventy two translators in Alexandria, Egypt during the third century B.C.. The word “Septuagint” comes from the Latin word for seventy. The Septuagint was the bible that Jesus, the apostles and the early Christians read and quoted from.

According to Justin Martyr, a believer of the second century, the unbelieving Jews were rejecting the Septuagint along with some of the books it contained because there were valuable prophecies of Christ to be found in them…

By the end of the first century AD the Septuagint had become such a threat to the Jewish leaders that they decided only to use a Hebrew text known today as the Masoretic text. They went so far as to declare that the Septuagint be discarded. By the end of the second century the Jews had two new Greek translations made to replace the Septuagint which they declared a faulty translation.

It wasn’t until the about year 400 AD that the Roman Catholic church, under Bishop Damisis, authorized a man named Jerome to make a Latin translation which became known as the Latin Vulgate. Everyone thought that Jerome would translate the Bible from the Septuagint. To do his translation, Jerome traveled to Bethlehem where he was influenced by the Jews. He was eventually persuaded by the Jews to use the Masoretic text for his Latin translation instead of the Septuagint. It is important to note however that the Latin Vulgate translated by Jerome did retain the works known as the Apocrypha in spite their being excluded by the unbelieving Jews.

The reformers and those who followed in their footsteps continued to use the Masoretic text which Jerome’s Latin Vulgate came from for their new translations. This is why Jerome’s error is reinforced today in popular translations such as the King James and others.

I. History and use of the Septuagint
II. Differences between The Septuagint and the Old Testament texts used by the unbelieving Jews III. Quotes of the Septuagint from the early church writers

I. History and use of the Septuagint (Top)

When Ptolemy king of Egypt formed a library, and endeavored to collect the writings of all men, he heard also of these prophets, and sent to Herod, who was at that time king of the Jews, requesting that the books of the prophets be sent to him. And Herod the king did indeed send them, written, as they were, in the foresaid Hebrew language. And when their contents were found to be unintelligible to the Egyptians, he again sent and requested that men be commissioned to translate them into the Greek language. And when this was done, the books remained with the Egyptians, where they are until now. They are also in the possession of all Jews throughout the world. Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.173

Ptolemy, king of Egypt, when he had built the library in Alexandria, and by gathering books from every quarter had filled it, then learnt that very ancient histories written in Hebrew happened to be carefully preserved; and wishing to know their contents, he sent for seventy wise men from Jerusalem, who were acquainted with both the Greek and Hebrew language, and appointed them to translate the books; and that in freedom from all disturbance they might the more speedily complete the translation, he ordered that there should be constructed, not in the city itself, but seven stadia off…and ordered those officers who were appointed to this duty, to afford them all attendance, but to prevent communication with one another, in order that the accuracy of the translation might be discernible even by their agreement. And when he ascertained that the seventy men had not only given the same meaning, but had employed the same words, and had failed in agreement with one another not even to the extent of one word; but had written the same things, and concerning the same things, he was struck with amazement, and believed that the translation had been written by divine power, and perceived that the men were worthy of all honor, as beloved of God; and with many gifts ordered them to return to their own country. And having, as was natural, marveled at the books, and concluded them to be divine, he consecrated them in that library. These things, you men of Greece, are no fable, nor do we narrate fictions; but we ourselves having been in Alexandria, saw the remains of the little cots at the Pharos still preserved, and having heard these things from the inhabitants, who had received them as part of their country's tradition, we now tell to you what you can also learn from others, and specially from those wise and esteemed men who have written of these things, Philo and Josephus. Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg. 279

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… For before the Romans possessed their kingdom, while as yet the Macedonians held Asia, Ptolemy the son of Lagus, being anxious to adorn the library which he had founded in Alexandria, with a collection of the writings of all men, which were [works] of merit, made request to the people of Jerusalem, that they should have their Scriptures translated into the Greek language. And they - for at that time they were still subject to the Macedonians - sent to Ptolemy seventy of their elders, who were thoroughly skilled in the Scriptures and in both the languages, to carry out what he had desired. But he, wishing to test them individually, and fearing lest they might perchance, by taking counsel together, conceal the truth in the Scriptures, by their interpretation, separated them from each other, and commanded them all to write the same translation. He did this with respect to all the books. But when they came together in the same place before Ptolemy, and each of them compared his own interpretation with that of every other, God was indeed glorified, and the Scriptures were acknowledged as truly divine. For all of them read out the common translation [which they had prepared] in the very same words and the very same names, from beginning to end, so that even the Gentiles present perceived that the Scriptures had been interpreted by the inspiration of God. Irenaeus (A.D. 180) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg. 451-452

For the apostles, since they are of more ancient date than all these [heretics], agree with this aforesaid translation [of the Septuagint]; 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 [announce-merits], just as the interpretation of the elders contains them. Irenaeus (A.D. 180) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg. 452

Wherefore also the Scriptures were translated into the language of the Greeks, in order that they might never be able to allege the excuse of ignorance, inasmuch as they are able to hear also what we have in our hands, if they only wish. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.308

It is said that the Scriptures both of the law and of the prophets were translated from the dialect of the Hebrews into the Greek language in the reign of Ptolemy the son of Lagos, or, according to others, of Ptolemy surnamed Philadelphus… For the Macedonians being still in possession of Asia, and the king being ambitious of adorning the library he had at Alexandria with all writings, desired the people of Jerusalem to translate the prophecies they possessed into the Greek dialect. And they being the subjects of the Macedonians, selected from those of highest character among them seventy elders, versed in the Scriptures, and skilled in the Greek dialect, and sent them to him with the divine books. And each having severally translated each prophetic book, and all the translations being compared together, they agreed both in meaning and expression. 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. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.334

But that the understanding of their books might not be wanting, this also the Jews supplied to Ptolemy; for they gave him seventy-two interpreters…The same account is given by Aristaeus. So the king left these works unlocked to all, in the Greek language. To this day, at the temple of Serapis, the libraries of Ptolemy are to be seen, with the identical Hebrew originals in them. The Jews, too, read them publicly. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 32

II. Differences between The Septuagint and the Old Testament texts used by the unbelieving Jews (Top)

Have you ever noticed when you compare the passages in the New Testament where Jesus or the apostles quote from the Old Testament, you find in many places that it differs from the way our Old Testament reads? That’s because they were quoting from a different Old Testament text than the one our English bibles were translated from. When we read our Old Testament we are not reading the exact words Christ was reading when he read his. Following the example of Jesus and the apostles the early Christians as well read and quoted from the Septuagint. For the most part their quotes match exactly the way the Septuagint reads.

The following New Testament verses prove that their writers were using the Septuagint rather than our Old Testament.

Matthew 3:3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’” vs…
Isaiah 40:3 (KJV) The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Stephen was “full of faith and power…” and “…Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke, and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council… (Then we read Steven’s discourse where he goes through the whole Old Testament wherein he quotes in Acts 7:14 - Then Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five people.
Genesis 46:27 (KJV) And the sons of Joseph who were born to him in Egypt were two persons. All the persons of the house of Jacob who went to Egypt were seventy.
Exodus 1:5 (KJV) All those who were descendants of Jacob were seventy persons…

Hebrews 10:5-6 Therefore, when He came into the world, He said “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.” vs…
Psalm 40:6 (KJV) Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require ..

Also explore: Romans 15:12/Isaiah 11:10, Gal3:13/Deut21:23, Heb13:6/Psalm118:6, James4:6/Proverbs 3:34, IPeter2:22/Is53:9, IPeter4:18/ Proverbs 11:31

{Important note: The following quote by Justin Martyr in his discussion with an unbelieving Jew shows a fundamental difference between two different texts being used at the time. That is, the Septuagint, used by the Apostles and the early Christians, and the Masoretic Hebrew text, being used by the unbelieving Jews}

But since you [the Jews] and your teachers venture to affirm that in the prophecy of Isaiah it is not said, 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive,' but, 'Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son;' … I shall endeavor to [discuss shortly this point in opposition to you, and to show that reference is made to Him who is acknowledged by us as Christ (pg.216)…And I, resuming the discourse where I had left off at a previous stage, when proving that He was born of a virgin, and that His birth of a virgin had been predicted by Isaiah, quoted again the same prophecy. .. And Isaiah said, Hear then, O house of David; Is it no small thing for you to contend with men? And how do you contend with the Lord? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign; Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel. (Isa.7:14) …And Trypho answered, "The Scripture has not, 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,' but, 'Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son,' and so on, as you quoted.' Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.216 &231

"But I am far from putting reliance in your (Jewish) teachers, who refuse to admit that the interpretation made by the seventy elders who were with Ptolemy [king] 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 who were with Ptolemy, and by which this very man who was crucified is proved to have been set forth expressly as God, and man, and as being crucified, and as dying; but since I am aware that this is denied by all of your nation, I do not address myself to these points, but I proceed to carry on my discussions by means of those passages which are still admitted by you. 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." Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.234

Here Trypho (an unbelieving Jew) remarked, "We ask you first of all to tell us some of the Scriptures which you allege have been completely cancelled."

And I said, "I shall do as you please. From the statements, then, which Esdras made in reference to the law of the Passover, they have taken away the following: 'And Esdras said to the people, This Passover is our Savior and our refuge. And if you have understood, and your heart has taken it in, that we shall humble Him on a standard, and thereafter hope in Him, then this place shall not be forsaken for ever, says the God of hosts. But if you will not believe Him, and will not listen to His declaration, you shall be a laughing-stock to the nations.'

And from the sayings of Jeremiah they have cut out the following: 'I [was] like a lamb that is brought to the slaughter: they devised a device against me, saying, Come, let us lay on wood on His bread, and let us blot Him out from the land of the living; and His name shall no more be remembered.' And since this passage from the sayings of Jeremiah is still written in some copies [of the Scriptures] in the synagogues of the Jews (for it is only a short time since they were cut out), and since from these words it is demonstrated that the Jews deliberated about the Christ Himself, to crucify and put Him to death, He Himself is both declared to be led as a sheep to the slaughter, as was predicted by Isaiah, and is here represented as a harmless lamb; but being in a difficulty about them, they give themselves over to blasphemy.

And again, from the sayings of the same Jeremiah these have been cut out: 'The Lord God remembered His dead people of Israel who lay in the graves; and He descended to preach to them His own salvation.'

"And from the ninety-fifth (ninety-sixth) Psalm they have taken away this short saying of the words of David: 'From the wood.' For when the passage said, 'Tell you among the nations, the Lord has reigned from the wood,' they have left, 'Tell you among the nations, the Lord has reigned.' Now no one of your people has ever been said to have reigned as God and Lord among the nations, with the exception of Him only who was crucified, of whom also the Holy Spirit affirms in the same Psalm that He was raised again, and freed from [the grave], declaring that there is none like Him among the gods of the nations.

Here Trypho remarked, "Whether [or not] the rulers of the people have erased any portion of the Scriptures, as you affirm, God knows; but it seems incredible."

"Assuredly," said I, "it does seem incredible. For it is more horrible than the calf which they made, when satisfied with manna on the earth; or than the sacrifice of children to demons; or than the slaying of the prophets. But," said I, "you appear to me not to have heard the Scriptures which I said they had stolen away. For such as have been quoted are more than enough to prove the points in dispute, besides those which are retained by us, and shall yet be brought forward." Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.234,235

But you in these matters venture to pervert the expositions which your elders that were with Ptolemy king of Egypt gave forth, since you assert that the Scripture is not so as they have expounded it… Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.241

I do not proceed to have a mere verbal controversy with you, as I have not attempted to establish proof about Christ from the passages of Scripture which are not admitted by you, which I quoted from the words of Jeremiah the prophet, and Esdras, and David; but from those which are even now admitted by you, which had your teachers comprehended, be well assured they would have deleted them, as they did those about the death of Isaiah, whom you sawed asunder with a wooden saw. Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.259

And in many other of the sacred books I found sometimes more in our copies (i.e. the LXX) than in the Hebrew, sometimes less. I shall adduce a few examples, since it is impossible to give them all. Of the Book of Esther neither the prayer of Mardochaios nor that of Esther, both fitted to edify the reader, is found in the Hebrew. Neither are the letters; nor the one written to Amman about the rooting up of the Jewish nation, nor that of Mardochaios in the name of Artaxerxes delivering the nation from death. Then in Job, the words from "It is written, that he shall rise again with those whom the Lord raises," to the end, are not in the Hebrew, and so not in Aquila's edition; while they are found in the Septuagint and in Theodotion's version, agreeing with each other at least in sense. And many other places I found in Job where our copies have more than the Hebrew ones, sometimes a little more, and sometimes a great deal more… while I paid particular attention to the interpretation of the Seventy, lest I might be found to accredit any forgery to the Churches which are under heaven, and give an occasion to those who seek such a starting-point for gratifying their desire to slander the common brethren, and to bring some accusation against those who shine forth in our community. And I make it my endeavour not to be ignorant of their various readings, lest in my controversies with the Jews I should quote to them what is not found in their copies, and that I may make some use of what is found there, even although it should not be in our Scriptures. Origen (A.D. 248) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg. 386-387

Now at this point we have an asterisk. The words are found in the Hebrew, but do not occur in the Septuagint. Hippolytus (A.D. 225) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.5 pg. 163

II. Early Christian quotes from the Septuagint (Top)

My friends, I now refer to the Scriptures as the Seventy have interpreted them; for when I quoted them formerly as you possess them, I made proof of you [to ascertain] how you were disposed. For, mentioning the Scripture which says, 'Woe unto them! for they have devised evil counsel against themselves, saying (as the Seventy have translated, I continued): 'Let us take away the righteous, for he is distasteful to us;' Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.268

Daniel the prophet, when Cyrus king of the Persians said to him, "Why do you not worship Bel?" did proclaim, saying, "Because I do not worship idols made with hands, but the living God, who established the heaven and the earth and has dominion over all flesh." Irenaeus (A.D. 180) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg. 467

For of this tree likewise it is that God hints, through Jeremiah, that you would say, "Come, let us put wood into his bread, and let us wear him away out of the land of the living; and his name shall no more be remembered." (Jer. 11:19) Of course on His body that "wood" was put; for so Christ has revealed, calling His body "bread," whose body the prophet in bygone days announced under the term "bread." Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 166

For in the times of the Maccabees, too, they did bravely in fighting on the Sabbaths, and routed their foreign foes, and recalled the law of their fathers to the primitive style of life by fighting on the Sabbaths. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg.156

Who is this but Christ? "Come, say they, let us take away the righteous, because He is not for our turn, (and He is clean contrary to our doings)." (Wisdom 2:12) Premising, therefore, and likewise subjoining the fact that Christ suffered, He foretold that His just ones should suffer equally with Him - both the apostles and all the faithful in succession. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 340