Rambling & musings of an Orthodox Deacon


The Christian Canon - pt 2

30th June 2015

So taking a slight detour in our journey into the Christian canon I started last week, I thought I’d write my random ponderings on the Christian Old Testament.  The conversation came up recently and a friend made reference to the "Catholic books of the OT" and talked about how they added to the Bible.  Unfortunately, in the many Evangelical circles, this is the view. So here is a little on the history of the Christian Old Testament.

Christian Canon & The Septuagint

About 200 years before the time of Christ, the need arose for Jews of the Diaspora (those who found themselves, for various reasons, outside of Jerusalem) to have the Scriptures translated into a language they understood and since Greek was lingua franca (the language of the people), it only made sense they would be translated into Greek.  This work was called the Septuagint, a name given based on the story that 70 scholars were called together to translate the Scriptures and as the story tells, they all had the same translation. What we do know for a fact is that the Septuagint came from Alexandria and, since Greek was the language used by the people, it quickly gained favor throughout the Greek empire (and later Roman) and was used by the Jews in synagogues.  This translation was in use by the Jews for centuries and, for the Jews of Christ’s time, was a well-used and highly-favored translation of the Scriptures.  Jewish writers like Philo of Alexandria and Josephus drew heavily upon the Septuagint.

Now I know I’m going to digress into random interesting info that I’m not really sure adds to the discussion, but that I find interesting.  So for obvious reasons, the Jews have never called the Old Testament “Old Testament” because that would imply a New Testament or an Older Testament or something, but since they don’t have these, they have what they call the Tanakh.  This word is derived from the divisions made which are the Torah (the first five books of the Bible, or the Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy),  the Nevi’im (the Prophets: Joshua, Judges, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and a book that consists of what we call the minor prophets known as the book of the Twelve Prophets- Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachai ), and the Ketuvim (the writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Ester, Daniel, Ezra/Nehemiah, and I & II Chronicles).

The Jewish leaders stopped using the Septuagint sometime during the second century CE, but that means it was a valid text for the Jewish faithful for 300-500 years. One of the reasons argued for the discontinued use of the Septuagint is because it had been used so heavily by the Christians and was used in dialogue and apologetics of the Christians against Judaism. During this time it was adopted by Christians and remained the near universal text for Christians until the Protestant reformation beginning around the 1500’s, 1500 years after the death of Christ, when protestant reformers began to prefer the Hebrew manuscripts.

The Official Christian Canon?

If we believe as some Protestant scholars have, that the “official” translation at the time of Christ was the Hebrew, then sadly, much of the New Testament is in error as the writers quoted from the Septuagint. One great example is the St. Matthew’s use of the word virgin when quoting Isaiah in 1:23 when he discusses the birth of Christ; while the Hebrew manuscripts use the term “young woman” the Septuagint manuscripts say “virgin. For more, check out this <a title=“Septuagint in the New Testament. When Jesus is quoted by the Gospel writers, they do so in Greek, implying that not only did the Apostles consider the Septuagint valid, but Christ did also.

The Hebrew manuscripts used are called the Masoretic texts since they were the texts of the Masoretes who added marks above and below the text to signify the vowels and accents since Hebrew had no vowels.  This standardization occurred between the 8th and 10th centuries CE, which means, these texts were interpreted and standardized nearly a millennia after the death of Christ.  With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we learned that in several cases of the textual differences between the more modern Hebrew manuscripts and the Septuagint, the ancient Hebrew manuscripts favored the Septuagint.

The New Testament writers and the Church Fathers almost unanimously used the Septuagint, yet for some reason, there exists a bias against the Septuagint, part of which comes from the fact that Septuagint contains some books called by some deuterocanonical (another canon -  I don’t like this term from a Christian perspective since this was part always of the OT canon of the Church) or apocrypha (literally meaning hidden or secret, again, I really do not like this term because these books were never hidden or secret).  The books in question are I & II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, I, II, III, & IV Maccabees, the Prayer of Manasseh, Wisdom of Solomon, the Letter of Jeremiah, Baruch, and Sirach as well as an additional Psalm, additions to Daniel (Song of the Three Holy Youths, Susanna, and Bel & the Dragon), and Esther.  Origen's Hexapla (the first known parallel Bible) included the Septuagint.  St. Lucien of Antioch published an addition of the Old Testament called the Loukianos which was in use in the fourth century in Constantinople and Antioch.  Hesychius included the books in his Old Testament used in Egypt. The Council of Hippo (393) & Carthage (397) confirmed the use of these books as Scripture. Yet, some books of the Septuagint were removed from the canon by Protestant reformers who decided the Jewish canon of the 10th century was more credible than the Christian canon in use.

The Christian Canon - The Orthodox Old Testament

The Orthodox Church fortunately wasn't confronted with Reformation movement.  To this day, the Orthodox Church uses the Septuagint as it's Old Testament source and Canon.  This is the compilation that has been used since the time of Christ (not to mention that Christ Himself quoted!).  We have not added or taken away any books from the Old Testament, but instead keep the Old Testament as it was throughout much of the world at the time of Christ.  Our canon has not been decided upon based on what was accepted by the Jewish community after the death of Christ, but instead what was used by the Apostles and their successors.   Fortunately for us, we have the Orthodox Study Bible, released by Thomas Nelson Publishers, which is an Orthodox translation of the Septuagint, giving us an English translation of the Septuagint to use.   The Septuagint has many great lessons and stories that do provide spiritually edification and have a great deal to offer to Christians today (I myself love the Book of Tobit]

For more info, here's a great intro video

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