Last week, we further examined the differences between the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text, and concluded that the MT is at least as good as the LXX. So, if this the case, should we bother with the LXX at all?
This is a somewhat prickly question, because each text has such strong points in its favor. The MT has repeatedly proven to reflect a better interpretation of the underlying original, and has the advantage of preserving the original language. It also has the most sensible collection of books, and a well-defined manuscript (MS) tradition. On the other hand, it is simply too recent for us to accept it as a perfect replica of the ancient tanakh, and on occasion it falls short of establishing cherished points in theology or christology—even points made by the apostles!
In contrast, the LXX has the authority of the apostles, and even Jesus himself, to recommend it. It is widely quoted in the NT, and in some cases it establishes the apostles’ teachings where the MT does not lend its support. On top of this, its MSS date back more than a millennium before our oldest MT MSS. But, on the other hand, the LXX’s reading is often excluded by the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in any case it is a translation, necessarily taking sides in cases where the Hebrew was ambiguous, and worse, failing to disclose these alternatives. Its MS tradition is less well-defined than that of the MT, so that it is not always clear what ought to fall under the LXX umbrella—oh, and the typical collection includes several books that are surely spurious, and not attested anywhere else in the Scriptures.
There are many who hold fast to one or the other, whether for reasons listed above, or tradition, or any number of additional (albeit less consequential) factors, but by now I hope a better solution is obvious: use both. Along with every other resource available to us.
But wait a second, that’s a pretty big job! Now we’ve got to not only read the Scriptures and work to understand them, but also to compare alternatives in every case of disagreement, and try to reconcile, or pass judgment on which is right? Most of us simply aren’t equipped to do this, and many who think they are equipped have caused nothing but trouble by their ham-fisted efforts! Can we really expect to do better?
Well, probably not. But don’t despair—several groups of reputable scholars have undertaken this task as a joint effort, and then collated their findings into readable, well-annotated publications, readily available in both print and digital forms. “Where might I find these?” you ask. The answer may surprise you (or it may not—what do I know?): any store that sells bibles. And no, I’m not going to tell you about a secret doorway that leads to all the hidden shelves of this priceless information. It’s all contained in those bibles themselves.
Every modern, mainstream Bible has dealt with the issues we’ve discussed concerning the LXX (and more!), but they do it behind the scenes. The work of translation is only part of these productions—first, they need to choose a textual basis and pass judgment in cases of disagreement. The scholars bring their own biases and faults to the table when making these choices, just as they do when translating the chosen text, but it is hoped that the multiplicity of guiding hands may keep the whole venture on course, because no one hand has the strength to cause a major deviation.
When it comes to a textual basis for the Old Testament, these scholars do as we have done, but in far greater detail, and in many more cases. They use logic and evidence to determine which reading is best in every case, and include alternatives where the stakes are high or the judgment highly contested. Sometimes, they even give explanations of their choices.
Should we trust all this work implicitly, and refuse to listen to any deviant notion? No—that would be foolish. But it is also foolish to distrust all this work without cause, or to cling bitterly to one version of the text, excluding all others.
Our modern, mainstream English Bibles, while perhaps imperfect, are very, very good. Thank God for them, and don’t waste your time on fringe skepticism.