The Septuagint and the Canon

Septuagint History & Purpose

The Septuagint is generally thought of as a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. Yet, as professor Peter Gentry writes, this is imprecise.

What is meant by the term Septuagint? A lack of precision is common in both popular and scholarly use of the word. Mainly responsible for this lack of precision are uncertainties about the history of the process of translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek.[1]

The Pentateuch (also known as the five books of Moses), was translated sometime between 285-240 BC. Alfred Edersheim says the Septuagint contained only the Pentateuch,[2] but scholars differ on this point. The Letter of Aristeas describes the supposed miraculous origins of the Septuagint, but only mentions the Pentateuch.[3] We do not know whether translating the Pentateuch alone was the original intent, but nonetheless, the translation work continued. Alfred Edersheim cites evidence from the prologue to the Wisdom of Solomon and argues the Septuagint was completed by 221 BC. In 2009, Peter J. Gentry claims the Septuagint was completed by 130 B.C.E.; just five years later he claims it was completed by 100 B.C.E.[4] Scholars differ in their dating in part due to their differing assumptions about where the task of translation ends and recension (editing) begins, and in part due to differing assumptions about the extent of the canon. Alfred Edersheim, for example, is arguing for the truncated Protestant canon and therefore claims an earlier date.

There are differences of opinion as to why the Septuagint was created. As described by Peter Gentry, there are five reasons given for the translation.

Five major hypotheses have been advanced: (1) a generation of Greek-speaking Jews in the Hellenistic period begun by the conquest of Alexander the Great (333-323 B.C.E.) required Greek scriptures for their liturgy, or (2) for the education of their young; (3) the translation was required as a legal document or (4) as cultural heritage for the royal library being assembled in Alexandria; (5) Aristarchus’ new edition of Homer around 150 B.C.E. employed textual criticism to produce an authoritative text and served as a model to produce an authoritative text of the Bible for Alexandrian Jews (hence early revisions and The Letter of Aristeas).[5]

It should be clear that these five reasons are not mutually exclusive. Like all human endeavors, there were likely many reasons for the translation. What is clear is that the Jewish diaspora needed the translation, as many of them no longer spoke Hebrew. Even in Palestine, where Hebrew was the sacred language,[6] the “diaspora synagogues”[7] used the Septuagint and considered it authoritative.[8] One side effect of the Septuagint was that Jewish religion and culture became part of the mainstream and available to anyone who spoke Greek. Of the period prior to the existence of the Septuagint, the scholar Jaroslav Pelikan writes:

The Jewish religion was enshrined, but therefore was also locked, in a sacred book, in a code of conduct, and in a liturgical ritual that were purposely being kept hidden from the outside world in one of the most esoteric of all those exotic languages and therefore virtually unavailable, except in bits and pieces, to anyone who did not know Hebrew.[9]

From an obscure religion of a backwater country, Judaism became well known and respected, even gaining a special legal status in the Roman Empire.[10] This rise to respectability came about because the Septuagint made the Jewish faith accessible to the Gentiles. Jaroslav Pelikan observed:

It had long been part of the hope of Israel, voiced by the prophets, that peoples “far and remote” would finally come to Mount Zion and learn the Torah, which was intended and revealed by the One True God for all peoples, not only for the people of Israel. Yet without their learning to read Hebrew, that hope was largely beyond realization. But when we read the account of Pentecost in the New Testament, we hear of “devout Jews drawn from every nation under heaven, Parthians, Medes, Elamites; inhabitants of Mesopotamia, of Judaea and Cappadocia, of Pontus and Asia, of Phrygia and Pamphylia, of Egypt and the districts of Lybia around Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.” Many of the “Jews” in this mouth-filling catalog must have been Gentiles by birth but were now converted Jews, “proselytes,” by faith and observance. From an obscure sect turned inward, huddled around its Torah and reciting its Shema, Judaism had now become a world religion, a significant force in the civilization of the Mediterranean world.[11]

The Septuagint was a boon for the Jewish people, as the Septuagint resulted in large numbers of Gentile adherents known as the God-Fearers. The sociologist Rodney Stark describes the God-Fearers as gentiles who admired “the moral teachings and monotheism of the Jews, but who would not take the final step of fulfilling the law [circumcision, dietary restrictions, and the like].”[12] The Septuagint was used by Jews for 250 years, and only became a problem for Jews after Christians adopted it as scripture.[13] The Septuagint used by the New Testament authors and the church fathers contained the books Protestants now call the Apocrypha.[14] J.N.D. Kelly writes:

It should be observed that the Old Testament thus admitted as authoritative in the Church was somewhat bulkier and more comprehensive [than the Protestant Bible]. …It always included, though with varying degrees of recognition, the so-called apocrypha or deuterocanonical books. The reason for this is that the Old Testament which passed in the first instance into the hands of Christians was not the original Hebrew version, but the Greek translation known as the Septuagint.[15]

The Evolutionary History of the Hebrew Text

Robert Alter notes: “It is an old and in some ways unfair cliché to say that translation is always a betrayal.”[16] This is because the translator is presented with a text that contains shades of meaning, and has to choose one of those shades to represent in the translated text. In some cases, the translation actually changes the meaning of the text. Robert Alter notes:

The unacknowledged heresy underlying most modern English versions of the Bible is the use of translation as a vehicle for ‘explaining’ the Bible instead of representing it in another language, and in the most egregious instances this amounts to explaining away the Bible. This impulse may be attributed not only to a rather reduced sense of the philological enterprise but also to a feeling that the Bible, because of its canonical status, has to be made accessible — indeed, transparent — to all.[17]

This is not the case with the Septuagint, as the modern concept of canonicity did not exist, nor the modern preoccupation with understandability. The translation of the Septuagint was not meant for the illiterate masses, but for educated people who would read and explain the scriptures. As scholars know, today’s Hebrew Scriptures are edited versions of the original texts. Even the alphabet has changed from the original Paleo-Hebrew to the so-called Square Script used today. The Jewish Virtual Library notes:

The square script belongs to the Aramaic branch of Semitic writing. …[By] the second century C.E. it is already possible to speak of the square script proper (figure 7). By the seventh century (figure 8) almost every letter of the alphabet had either a top bar or a head, while many had a base as well.[18]

The Babylonian Talmud mentions there being different scripts: Paleo-Hebrew is called “Ivri,” and the script brought back from Babylon by Ezra is called “Ashuri.” The Talmud states:

Mar Zutra or, some say, Mar Ukba said: Originally the Torah was given to Israel in Ivri (Paleo-Hebrew) letters and in the sacred Hebrew language. Later, in the times of Ezra, the Torah was given in Ashuri script and Aramaic language. Finally, they selected for Israel the Ashuri script and Hebrew language, leaving the original Hebrew characters and Aramaic language for the ignorant people. Rebbe Yose said: Why is it called Ashuri (Assyrian) script? Because they brought it with them from Assyria.[19]

Robert Alter cites the Israeli linguist Abba ben David (in a text available only in Hebrew) as saying that a “new kind of Hebrew” emerged in the “pre-Christian” (or Second Temple) period.

It is widely recognized that this new Hebrew reflected the influence of the Aramaic vernacular in morphology, in grammar, and in some of its vocabulary, and that, understandably, it also incorporated a vast number of Greek and Latin loanwords. …Ben David, observing, as have others before him, that there are incipient signs of an emergent rabbinic Hebrew in late biblical books like Jonah and the Song of Songs, makes the bold and, to my mind, convincing proposal that rabbinic Hebrew was built upon an ancient vernacular that for the most part had been excluded from the literary language used for the canonical texts.[20]

The alphabet changed, the spelling changed, the language changed, and in some cases, the meaning changed. This is important to an understanding of the Septuagint and provides the basis for understanding the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scholar Martin Hengel notes some Dead Sea Scrolls are manuscripts written in the “paleo-Hebrew script” which dates from the early third century BC and seems to be the earliest biblical manuscript in existence. Hengel also notes the Masoretic text is “significantly inferior …to the LXX exemplar.”[21]

The Masoretic text is written in a different script than was used during the time of the Old Testament; if Moses were alive today, he would be unable to read the Pentateuch. Not only did the alphabet change, but the texts were altered. First, the spelling changed; second, the manuscripts slowly began using consonants to represent vowels; third, the meaning itself changed.[22] And let us not forget about the textual variants; one of the more noticeable examples is Psalm 14:3. In the King James Version, this verse reads: “They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” The Septuagint, by contrast, is much longer.

They are all gone out of the way, they are together become good for nothing, there is none that does good, no not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes.[23] (Ps 14:3) [English translation by L.C.L. Brenton]

Deacon Joseph Gleason writes: “In Romans 3:10, St. Paul writes, ‘It is written,’ a common indicator in the biblical literature that the Scriptures are being referenced. Then, in verses ten through eighteen, he offers an extended quotation from the Psalm.”[24] This extended quotation, which the apostle Paul cites as Scripture, is quoting the longer passage from the Septuagint, rather than the shorter passage found in the Masoretic text.

Fundamentalists and Evangelicals find this shocking and problematic. Because they read modern notions of literacy, authorship, and textual authority back into the ancient world, they are unable to comprehend a world in which an author was merely an authority under which a text was written (and edited). They fail to realize the primacy of oral transmission of knowledge and the inferiority of the written text. They fail to understand a religion where sacred rituals took precedence over sacred text.

People often notice the New Testament quotations usually don’t match the Old Testament source texts, as we made clear in the examples cited above. What they don’t know is the manuscripts used to create the English translations did not exist; the Masoretic Text was created later. Scholars trace portions of the Masoretic Text back to textual variants within the Dead Sea Scrolls,[25] but the Masoretic Text is an edited version of those texts.

One of the more curious differences between the Septuagint and the Masoretic text is in the ages of the patriarchs. The Oxford scholar James Barr notes the ages of the patriarchs, “at the time when the first son was born …were different, and in most cases 100 years higher at each birth.” Barr goes on to say that the generations of the patriarchs are about 1,000 years longer in the Septuagint than in the Hebrew text. [26]

The version of Ezra in the Masoretic text begins with the last two verses of 2 Chronicles. By contrast, the Septuagint version of 1 Esdras begins with the last two chapters of 2 Chronicles. 1 Esdras also contains the story of the three youths (1 Esdras 3:4 to 4:4), which turns the core of 1 Esdras into literary chiasmus.[27] Since chiastic structures were a common feature of ancient literature, this suggests the Masoretic text has been artificially truncated.

Translation Styles and the Authoritative Text

R. H. Charles states that the Masoretic Text is the result of “conscious recension” and “unconscious change.” He writes:

Both before and after the Christian era the Hebrew text did not possess any hard and fast tradition. It will further be obvious that the Massoretic [sic] form of this text, which has so long been generally assumed as conservative of the most ancient tradition and as therefore final, is after all only one of the many phases through which the text passed in the process of over 1,000 years, i.e. 400 B. C. till A. D. 600, or thereabouts.[28]

What the Masoretes did is to select and establish a particular strain of Jewish interpretation, and is therefore what Adam Clarke describes as a “gloss” on the text.[29] A curious historical anomaly is that the manuscripts for the Septuagint are older than the manuscripts for the Hebrew Scriptures, and therefore represent the Old Testament text as it existed during the early Second Temple period. By contrast, the Hebrew Scriptures, being the product of the Masoretic tradition, represents the Old Testament as it existed for the Jews during the medieval period. This means the Septuagint represents the earlier text, making it of interest to anyone trying to discover an original or authoritative text.

The existence of earlier alternate texts presents a problem for those who claim the English language translations are accurate representations of the Scriptures. Bruce Metzger comments:

The importance of the Septuagint as a translation is obvious. Besides being the first translation ever made of the Hebrew Scriptures, it was the medium through which the religious ideas of the Hebrews were brought to the attention of the world. It was the Bible of the early Christian church, and when the Bible is quoted in the New Testament, it is almost always from the Septuagint version. Furthermore, even when not directly quoted in the New Testament, many of the terms used and partly created by the Septuagint translators became part and parcel of the language of the New Testament.[30]

As Bruce Metzger points out, the Septuagint was the Bible for the earliest Christians. The existence of an earlier and substantially different text pose problems for those who assume their Bible represents the original text. The existence of alternate texts is also a problem for scholars who prefer a literal, word for word English translation. The Septuagint is based on an earlier text and represents a grab bag of translation techniques. Bruce Metzger informs us the translators “avoided literalistic renderings of phrases congenial to another age and another language.”[31] Peter J. Gentry describes the translation styles as follows.

Individual books [of the Septuagint] vary in character and quality of translation and exhibit a full spectrum from extreme formal correspondence and literal translation to dynamic and functional translation and even paraphrase.[32]

Bruce Metzger gives us a list Septuagint books falling into the literal vs. paraphrastic translation styles.

The various books in the Septuagint vary as to literal and free translation. Examples of free (or even sometime paraphrastic) translations are Job, Proverbs, Isaiah, Daniel, and Esther; literal translations are the books of Judges (the B text), Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles.[33]

Oxford professor Jan Joosten writes concerning the conflicting exegetical tendencies in the Septuagint.

Even within each individual translation unit, a multiplicity of factors comes into play. While most Septuagint translators basically attempt to give a faithful rendering of their Hebrew source text in the target language, several other elements determine the outcome in the translation. To begin with the translators’ comprehension of the source text is in many places predetermined by existing interpretative traditions. In many instances, the traditions surfacing in the Septuagint later turn up in Rabbinic sources, which led Zecharia Frankel to speak of the influence of Palestinian exegesis on the hermeneutics of the Septuagint. Another factor influencing the work of the translators is their knowledge of the biblical context in the largest sense of the word. Many renderings reveal the more or less unconscious working of an enormous web of intertextuality, of which the harmonization of parallel passages is only the most prominent symptom. A third factor is the culture, world view and theology of the Diaspora Jews among whom the version came into being. Admittedly, little is known about the culture, world view and theology of Alexandrian Judaism – making it difficult to determine influences with any degree of certainty.

The multiplicity of factors – several others could be thought of – leads to a layering of meanings in the Septuagint as a whole. The plain meaning of a passage may stand in contrast to the vocabulary used; different meanings may emerge according to whether a phrase is read in light of the near or the larger context; a simple and straightforward passage may contain one puzzling expression throwing the meaning of the whole into doubt. [34]

It is not always clear why one translation style was chosen over another; within each category of styles, we find historical books and wisdom literature. Some of the Major Prophets (Isaiah and Daniel) are paraphrased while the Psalms are rendered literally. Christ, the apostles, and the early church used a bible that based on different texts and translated using various methods, methods that would not pass muster with most scholars today. Yet the New Testament authors referred to the Septuagint as Scripture, and the Septuagint was the Bible of the early church. The style of translation is not as important as we think it is, which suggests problems with the modern idea of verbal, plenary inspiration.[35]

Leaving aside the issue of translation style (or exegetical tendencies), the Septuagint is not a book in the modern sense, but instead an undefined collection of scrolls. Eventually, Christians began cutting the scrolls into sheets and sewing them together to form what we call a codex. Many examples of codices exist, but they are not books in the modern sense. As Fr. Stephen Freeman notes, these were liturgical items, intended for use in and by the “worshipping Church.”

The Orthodox still use the Scriptures in this form – the Gospels as a book (it rests on the altar), and the Epistles as a book (known as the Apostol). They are bound in such a manner for their use in the services of the Church, not as private “Bibles.” These are outstanding examples of the Scriptures organized in their liturgical format for their proper use: reading in the Church. They are Churchly items – not “The Book” of later Protestantism. They are the Scriptures of the worshipping Church.[36]

The Manuscript Problem

Since the manuscripts of the Septuagint were copied by hand and by people of differing abilities, there were differing versions of the Septuagint in existence. The translation of the book of Daniel was so poor that the 2nd-century translation attributed to Theodotion replaced it.[37]

By the 3rd century, the textual problem had become so bad that Origen collected all the existing versions of the Septuagint and created a six-column work called the Hexapla.[38] The Hexapla compares different Septuagint texts against the Hebrew texts and other Greek translations. Bruce Metzger (and others) claim the fifth column of the Hexapla was Origen’s “corrected” text of the Septuagint.[39] Martin Hengel writes:

Origen created the Hexapla to obtain an overview of the confusing chaos. But he too defended the LXX text as approved by the church since it represented the translation that had come into existence by God’s providence and was binding in the churches.[40]

In the early 4th century Pamphilus and Eusebius published Origen’s corrected text; there were other 4th century recensions of the Septuagint as well.[41] This is not the full story of the Origen’s Hexapla. Andrew Louth claims that Origen’s purpose was not to determine the correct text of the Septuagint. Instead, its purpose was: “to lay bare the richness of meaning contained in the Scriptures of the Old Testament.” As evidence, he points to the following:

Passages from the other columns of the Hexapla found their way into Christian copies of the Septuagint — so-called ‘Hexaplaric’ readings — and it is these readings that we often find in patristic commentaries on Scripture, as well as in the texts included in the services in the Byzantine liturgy.[42]

This means our bibles today are products of a manuscript tradition.[43] Not only that, but there is no single authoritative text of the Old Testament, at least not in the sense used by Evangelical Protestants. Instead, Andrew Louth indicates that part of the manuscript tradition is an exploration of everything contained in the various texts.[44] Constantine Siamakis writes:

The ancient manuscripts of a text, together with quotations from it in other texts of similarly ancient or later date, and any surviving ancient translations of it which are also in ancient manuscript form, constitute the manuscript tradition of that text. Every printed edition of an ancient text derives directly or indirectly from its manuscript tradition.[45]

While we can speak of the manuscript tradition as a whole, there are different ways of interpreting that tradition. These methods of interpreting the manuscript tradition use various criteria, leading to variant authoritative texts. Today there are three families of texts used to translate the New Testament: the Textus Receptus, the Critical Text, and the Majority Text.

The Textus Receptus was created by the 16th-century scholar Erasmus using the best texts available at the time,[46] and is the basis for most of the vernacular translations produced during the Reformation, including the King James Bible. Later manuscript discoveries and scholarship resulted in the Critical Text, which is used for nearly all modern translations and scholarship. The Critical Text is based upon Alexandrian manuscripts which constitute only about 10% of the manuscripts in existence. By contrast, the Majority Text, also known as the Byzantine Majority text, is supported by around 90% of the existing manuscripts.[47] The Textus Receptus is based on the Byzantine Majority family of texts but uses the Masoretic texts as opposed to the Septuagint.

There are two basic textual families within the Old Testament manuscript tradition. The Masoretic Text is the text produced by medieval Jewish scholars and is the basis for their Hebrew Scriptures as well as the Protestant Old Testament. The Septuagint, as we have been discussing, was the Greek Translation of earlier editions of the Hebrew Scriptures; this was the text used by most New Testament writers for their quotations from the Old Testament.

There are some Fundamentalists who dismiss the importance of the Septuagint. Samuel C. Gipp, Th. D. calls the Septuagint: “A figment of someone’s imagination.” Gipp considers the Letter of Aristeas to be: “the sole evidence for the existence of this mystical document. [emphasis in the original]” He dismisses the textual evidence for the Septuagint as follows: “There are absolutely NO Greek Old Testament manuscripts existent with a date of 250 BC or anywhere near it. Neither is there any record in Jewish history of such a work being contemplated or performed. [emphasis in the original]” He claims Origen’s Hexapla is the sole evidence for the existence of the Septuagint. Gipp’s arguments are widespread among the King James Only movement.[48] Beginning with the proposition that the King James Version is the only inspired translation, they must then discredit all others, including the biblical manuscripts used by other translations.

We need not address his issues point by point, as the contents of this chapter have already done that. However, we should note that the test of an ancient document’s authenticity is NOT the existence of manuscripts from the time of the document’s creation. If that were the case, we would have to dismiss the entire Old Testament.[49] The oldest manuscript evidence for the Masoretic text is from the 9th and 10th century AD, while the manuscript evidence for the Septuagint dates from 150 BC – 70 AD. When he says, there are no Greek manuscripts going back to the 3rd century BC, the same is true of Hebrew manuscripts. In effect, Samuel C. Gipp is arguing against his own bible.

Even Protestants who accept the importance of the Septuagint generally choose not to use it for their bible texts. When I was Lutheran, I raised the question of why we didn’t use the Septuagint instead of the Masoretic text as the basis for our new Lutheran Study Bible, to which one pastor replied: “Which Septuagint?” This is a reasonable question for a Protestant to ask, especially given what we now know about the translation and copying of the Septuagint during the first four centuries of the Christian era.[50] But we could just as well ask which Bible, as there are multiple canons in use among the different Christian communities. Moreover, there are differing textual families, each with seemingly valid arguments for their use. When confronted by multiple Old Testament canons, each authoritative for different Christian communities, the standard question is which canon is correct? But instead, what if we asked ourselves why the question of canon is so important? To answer this, it may help to examine the question of how the canon(s) were formed in the first place.


Table 1: The American KJV and the Septuagint

King James Bible Septuagint
Genesis Genesis
Exodus Exodus
Leviticus Leviticus
Numbers Numbers
Deuteronomy Deuteronomy
Joshua Joshua
Judges Judges
Ruth Ruth
1 Samuel 1st Kingdoms
2 Samuel 2nd Kingdoms
1 Kings 3rd Kingdoms
2 Kings 4th Kingdoms
1 Chronicles 1 Chronicles
2 Chronicles 2 Chronicles
– Prayer of Manasseh
1 Esdras (the Greek Ezra)
Ezra 2 Esdras
Esther Esther with additional material
1 Maccabees
2 Maccabees
3 Maccabees
Job Job
Psalms Psalms
Psalm 151
Proverbs Proverbs
Ecclesiastes Ecclesiastes
Song of Solomon Song of Solomon or Canticles
Wisdom, or Wisdom of Solomon
Sirach or Ecclesiasticus
Psalms of Solomon[51]
Isaiah Isaiah
Jeremiah Jeremiah
Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremy
Lamentations Lamentations
Ezekiel Ezekiel
Daniel Daniel with additions
– Susanna
– Prayer of Azariah
– Song of the Three Holy Youths
– Bel and the Dragon
Minor Prophets (The Twelve)
Hosea – Hosea
Joel – Joel
Amos – Amos
Obadiah – Obadiah
Jonah – Jonah
Micah – Micah
Nahum – Nahum
Habakkuk – Habakkuk
Zephaniah Zephaniah
Haggai Haggai
Zechariah Zechariah
Malachi Malachi

Table 2 Chiastic Structure of 1 Esdras

Masoretic Text Septuagint Summary
(II Chr. 35) (I Esd. 1:1-33) Continuation ofParalipomenon

(i.e., “Things Set Off” from Esdras)

(II Chr. 36) (I Esd. 1:34-58)
Begin Ezra
Ezr. 1 I Esd. 2:1-14 Cyrus’s edict to rebuild the Temple
Ezr. 4:7-24 I Esd. 2:15-30a Flash forward to Artaxerxes’ reign (prolepsis)
Core: Chiasm of Celebration
I Esd. 2:30b Inclusio: Work hindered until second year of Darius’s reign
I Esd. 3 AFeast in the court of Darius with Darius contest
I Esd. 4 BDarius vows to repatriate the exiles
I Esd. 5:1-6 XThe feast of those who returned to Jerusalem
Ezr. 2 I Esd. 5:7-46 B’List of former exiles who returned
Ezr. 3 I Esd. 5:47-65 A’Feast of Tabernacles
Ezr. 4:1-5 I Esd. 5:66-73 Inclusio: Work hindered until second year of Darius’s reign
Ezr. 5 I Esd. 6:1-22 In the second year of Darius’s reign
Ezr. 6 I Esd. 6:23 — 7 The temple is finished
Ezr. 7 I Esd. 8:1-27 In Artaxerxes’ reign
Ezr. 8 I Esd. 8:28-67 List of latter exiles who returned
Ezr. 9 I Esd. 8:68-90 Repentance from miscegenation
Ezr. 10 I Esd. 8:91-9:36 Putting away of foreign wives and children
(Neh. 7:73-8:12) (I Esd. 9:37-55)


Alter, R. (2019). The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (First Edition ed., Vol. 1). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Askowith, D. (1915). The Toleration and Persecution of the Jews in the Roman Empire (Part I). New York: Columbia University.

Barr, J. (1985). Why the World Was Created In 4004 B.C.: Archbishop Ussher And biblical Chronology. Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 67(2), 575-608.

Barrera, J. T. (1998). The Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible; An Introduction to the History of the Text. (W. G. Watson, Trans.) Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Bivin, D., & Blizzard Jr., R. (1994). Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus: New Insights From a Hebrew Perspective (Revised Edition ed.). Shippensburg: Destiny Image Publishers.

Brenton, L. (n.d.). Psalms 13. Retrieved October 12, 2014, from Elpenor’s Bilingual (Greek / English) Old Testament:

Charles, R. H. (1913). The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English; Volume II, Pseudopedigrapha. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Clarke, A. (1833). The Holy Bible: containing the Old and New Testaments, with a commentary and critical notes (Royal Octavo Stereotype Edition ed., Vol. I). New York: B. Waugh and T. Maxon.

Edersheim, A. (1993). The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah: New Updated Edition. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

Epstein, I. (Ed.). (n.d.). Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin. Retrieved January 27, 2015, from Come and Hear:

Fores, V. (1996, December 9). The Majority Text vs. The Critical Text. Retrieved January 25, 2015, from Teoria Universitat de València Press:

Freeman, S. (2014, October 10). The Church and the Scriptures. Retrieved October 13, 2014, from Glory to God for All Things:

Gentry, P. J. (2009). The Text of the Old Testament. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 52(1), 19-45.

Gentry, P. J. (2014). The Great Code: Greek Bible and the Humanities. Midwestern Journal of Theology, 13(1), 50-80.

Gipp, S. C. (2016). What is the Septuagint? Retrieved October 28, 2016, from

Gleason, J. (2014, October 1). The Apostle Paul’s Reading of Psalm 14. Retrieved October 12, 2014, from On Behalf of All:

Hengel, M. (1989). The ‘Hellenization’ of Judea in the First Century after Christ. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Hengel, M. (2002). The Septuagint as Christian Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Joosten, J. (2008). To See God: Conflicting Exegetical Tendencies in the Septuagint. Retrieved February 6, 2018, from

Kelly, J. N. (1976). Early Christian Doctrines (5th Edition ed.). San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers.

Louth, A. (2013). Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Metzger, B. M. (2001). The Bible in Translation (Kindle Edition ed.). Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group.

Pelikan, J. (2005). Whose Bible Is It: A Short History of the Scriptures (Kindle Edition ed.). New York: Penguin Group US.

Samworth, H. (n.d.). What is the Textus Receptus? Retrieved January 25, 2015, from Sola Scriptura:

Siamakis, C. (1997). Transmission of the Test of the Holy Bible. (A. Gerostergios, Ed., & A. Hendry, Trans.) Belmont: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies.

Stark, R. (1996). The Rise of Christianity. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

The Gale Group. (2008). Hebrew: History of the Aleph-Bet. Retrieved January 27, 2015, from Jewish Virtual Library:


  1. (Gentry, The Great Code: Greek Bible and the Humanities, 2014, p. 51)
  2. Edersheim 1993, 17-18. Martin Hengel describes Septuagint studies as a “realm [for] Old Testament and Patristics scholars.” He also says it is “one of the most exclusive — because it is so complicated — specialties of theology of philologia sacra.” (Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture 2002, 19) We will not be delving that deeply into the subject.
  3. (Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture, 2002, p. 76) Although a number of church fathers from Justin Martyr held to the miraculous origins of the Septuagint, the historical evidence suggests the translation of the obscure Hebrew text into Greek was a product of the Jewish diaspora.
  4. (Gentry, The Text of the Old Testament, 2009, p. 24) (Gentry, The Great Code: Greek Bible and the Humanities, 2014, p. 51)
  5. (Gentry, The Great Code: Greek Bible and the Humanities, 2014, p. 52)
  6. The scriptures clearly state that Jesus spoke Hebrew (Acts 26:14), and Paul spoke Hebrew (Acts 21:40). The charge against Jesus, which Pilate had affixed to Jesus’ cross, was written in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew (Lu 23:38). While Aramaic was the language spoken immediately after the Jews returned from Babylon, the Hasmonean dynasty appear to have changed the language back to Hebrew. (Bivin & Blizzard Jr., 1994, p. Chapter 2) Alfred Edersheim explicitly states of Jesus: “He spoke Hebrew, and used and quoted the Scriptures in the original.” (Edersheim, 1993, p. 175)
  7. (Hengel, The ‘Hellenization’ of Judea in the First Century after Christ, 1989, p. 13)
  8. (Edersheim, 1993, p. 20)
  9. (Pelikan, 2005, p. 46)
  10. The term religio licita is a term attributed to Tertullian but is not a term derived from Roman law. The equivalent Roman term is collegia licita, which designated religious groups authorized to organize and hold services. The Jews were collegia licita, and Christians were not. (Askowith, 1915, p. 173)
  11. (Pelikan, 2005, p. 54)
  12. (Stark, 1996, p. 58); “The finance minister of the Ethiopian kingdom of Napata-Meroe (Acts 8.27), presumably a godfearer, was one example.” (Hengel, The ‘Hellenization’ of Judea in the First Century after Christ 1989, 13-14) We may also presume Cornelius the Centurian (Acts 10) was a Godfearer. Even today, one may be an adherent of Judaism without being a convert. Stories abound of rabbis who attempt to dissuade converts on the grounds that adherents have to keep the 10 commandments, but converts have to keep the entire 613 commandments of the Law.
  13. There were multiple textual variants (or traditions) circulating in the time of Christ. After the rise of Christianity and the fall of Jerusalem, everything changed. Dempster writes:

    After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE changes within Judaism led to the ascendancy of one tradition—what has come to be known as rabbinic Judaism. …One of the accompanying results was the ascendancy of the form of the Jewish Scriptures used by that group. In the second century CE, revisions of the older [Greek] texts were made by Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, and others. Their goal was apparently to bring the translations into line with the authoritative textual stream of their day, the rabbinic text. (Dempster 2008, Kindle Locations 2599-2602; 2628-2633)

  14. (Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture, 2002, pp. 22-23)
  15. (Kelly, 1976, p. 53) We now know the Septuagint better represents the original text of the Hebrew Scriptures, as demonstrated by the existence of texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls which match the Septuagint version.
  16. (Alter, 2019, p. xiii)
  17. (pp. Ibid, xv)
  18. (The Gale Group, 2008)
  19. (Epstein)
  20. (Alter, 2019, p. xxv)
  21. (Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture, 2002, pp. 84-85)
  22. (Barrera, 1998, pp. 60-64)
  23. (Brenton)
  24. (Gleason, 2014)
  25. (Barrera, 1998, p. 284)
  26. (Barr, 1985, p. 582)
  27. 1 Esdras 3:4 to 4:4. A chiasm (or chiasmus) is a symmetric literary structure whereby a series of ideas are presented (A and B), with variant ideas (A’ and B’) being presented in reverse order (A, B, B’, A’). Sometimes you might have a central idea (X) around which the other ideas are arranged (A, B, X, B’, A’).
  28. (Charles, 1913, p. 5)
  29. (Clarke, 1833, p. iii) A “gloss,” in this context, is an interpretation or explanation. We will examine this contention further in Part III of this book.
  30. (Metzger, 2001, pp. Kindle Locations 302-306)
  31. (pp. Ibid, Kindle Locations 266-267)
  32. (Gentry, The Text of the Old Testament, 2009, p. 24)
  33. (Metzger, 2001, pp. Kindle Locations 285-287)
  34. (Joosten, 2008)
  35. Plenary is a term that means unqualified and absolute.
  36. (Freeman, 2014) The formal name for the Apostol is the Apostolos, and it contains the New Testament with markings indicating the lectionary readings — the readings appointed for that day. The Old Testament lectionary readings, which includes what Protestants call the Apocrypha, are contained in a third volume called the Prophetologion. The Psalter contains the text of the Psalms, along with other texts appropriate to their use both in Church and in prayer.
  37. (Metzger, 2001, p. Kindle Location 298) For a variety of reasons, scholars now doubt that Theodotion was the actual source of the translation of Daniel we find in the later versions of the Septuagint.
  38. The Hexapla was such a massive work that it seems unlikely the entire work was ever copied. The original was maintained in the library of Pamphilus at Caesarea of Palestine, where it existed until 638 when the city was conquered by the Muslims (Saracens). (Metzger, 2001, pp. Kindle Locations 326-330)
  39. (Metzger, 2001, pp. Kindle Locations 311-323)
  40. (Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture, 2002, p. 36)
  41. (Barrera, 1998, pp. 330-334)
  42. (Louth, 2013, p. 12)
  43. Some, like Martin Hengel, draw different conclusions from the Hexapla, conclusions that are unsupported by the evidence, and are based on a preexisting bias.

    Nevertheless, he never mentions the [Septuagint] translation or even the inspiration legend. For him, the Hebrew original gained a certain importance once again. Indeed, the first two columns of his magnum opus were devoted to it. Thereby the church was continually reminded that the LXX is only a translation that can never exceed the Hebrew original in dignity, but must, rather, always succeed it.” (Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture, 2002, p. 34)

  44. (Louth, 2013, p. 12)
  45. (Siamakis, 1997, p. 8)
  46. (Samworth)
  47. (Fores, 1996)
  48. (Gipp, 2016) Our KJV is not the original 1611 version. Benjamin Blayney’s Oxford edition of 1769 is a reworking of Francis Sawyer Parris’ Cambridge edition. The King James Only movement praises the King James Version of 1611 as being inspired but uses the Oxford edition of 1769. They claim the Oxford edition merely corrected errors, but never address how an inspired text can be edited to correct errors.
  49. If we dismissed the Septuagint because we have no examples dating to the time of their writing, we would also have to dismiss most of the Bible. The Hebrew Scriptures are among the best-attested ancient documents, with more than ten thousand manuscripts. However, because the Jews destroy worn out scrolls, few manuscripts exist earlier than the 13th century, and most of those exist in fragments. By way of contrast, Homer’s Iliad is preserved in 647 manuscripts; the history of Rome composed by Velleius Paterculus survived in a single incomplete copy which was lost after being copied; the only manuscript of the Epistle to Diognetus was destroyed in a library fire.
  50. The answer, which no right-thinking Protestant would accept, is to use the version of the Septuagint delivered to us by the Church. This is, however, the basis upon which Protestants accept their canon — it is the canon delivered to them.
  51. The Psalms of Solomon are contained in the Septuagint but are not generally considered to be Jewish or Christian Scripture. There are some Orthodox clergy who consider them to be Scripture, but the wider Orthodox community does not.

The Trouble with Commodity-backed Currency.

For most of my life, I’ve supported a commodity-backed currency, and in particular, gold. The gold standard seems reasonable. Why back money with a commodity? Basically, it has to do with limitations on supply, which prevent governments from printing more money than the commodity backing it. Thus, governments have to restrain spending, and they can’t just stamp out more coins to pay their bills. Hence, it would seem, there is limited opportunity for inflation.

Gold in particular is a good commodity to base money on. It’s dense, holding a lot of value in a small space. Even though it is dense, it is still light enough to move around. Gold is stable, and not subject to corrosion. Gold is malleable, which makes it easy to work. This means it is easy to divide into smaller pieces, and it is easy to stamp with an image. Gold is hard to counterfeit. And gold is plentiful enough to use as currency, but rare enough to make it valuable.

So why not back a currency with gold? It seems better than a fiat currency, which is backed by nothing more than faith in the government. However, a commodity-based currency has some drawbacks. Trevor Kiviat writes: “The move away from gold was brought on by the realization that commodity money ties a country’s economy to a scarce natural resource, and this can have destabilizing effects. In other words, when Mother Nature controls the supply, shocks can occur that are beyond control.” (Kiviat, 2015, p. 582)

What sort of shocks are these? Well, suppose a large supply of gold is discovered, such that the supply is dramatically increased. This actually happened between the 15th and 17th century, when Spain flooded the market with gold and silver coins created with mineral wealth mined from the new world. The result was inflation, with prices rising 600% over 150 years. While the annual rate of inflation was only 1 – 1.5% per years, this was incredibly high given a commodity-based currency. In the United States, the Panic of 1857 was the result of a cooling international economy and an overheated domestic economy. This exacerbated by the sinking of the SS Central America, carrying 30,000 lbs of gold destined for the banks in New York, and the banks didn’t recover until the end of the Civil War.

The problem with the gold standard is that the supply is limited, making it inherently deflationary. It is better to save money than to spend it, which makes it difficult to invest money in a new business or open a factory. You couldn’t buy a house with the expectation that inflation would make it worth more money in the coming years, or at least enough to pay for the costs of the selling the house. In addition, you could be taxed on your assets, but it’s hard to tax a hoard of coins buried in the ground.

Interestingly, virtual currencies such as Bitcoin have similar problems to commodity-backed currencies, in that the supply is limited, making them inherently deflationary. The fact that early investors are rewarded when they sell currency to late investors makes them appear, in the eyes of some pundits, like Ponzi schemes. The reality is that the people who created these virtual currencies are Crypto Anarchists and technology mavens with little understanding of economics, monetary policy, or even basic accounting (e.g. they call the blockchain a ledger instead of a journal; a ledger is a summary analysis, whereas a journal is a record of individual transactions.)

The very things the gold bugs decry about fiat currency turns out to be the things that make it a more useful type of money. First (and this is huge), it is recognized as legal tender, which means it serves as payment for all debts, public and private. You can’t pay your taxes with gold or Bitcoin. Second, the central bank has control of the money supply, which prevents the economy from heading into a deflationary spiral. Imagine what would happen if the value of money rose and prices dropped over a long term. Wages would drop, which means it would be increasingly difficult to pay mortgages. Third, fiat currencies are backed by indirect collateral, which means a system of interbank loans designed to maintain market liquidity. Fourth, fiat currencies are often insured (for example, U.S. bank accounts are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).) The net result is that there are a variety of mechanisms available to control the money supply, which effectively stabilizes prices.


Kiviat, T. I. (2015). Beyond Bitcoin: Issues in Regulating Blockchain Transactions. Duke Law Journal, 65(3/4), 569-608. Retrieved from

The Sign of the Cross: An Exploration of the Tav and the Sphragis


Ancient Semitic Alphabets

Ancient Semitic Alphabets

Some time ago I was asked by a Protestant relation what the sign of the cross was all about. I gave the usual answers I had been given, but wasn’t satisfied with my response. I recently came across some interesting information in Oskar Skarsaune’s book called “In the Shadow of the Temple”, which is about the connections between Judaism and Christianity. The particular information comes in a passage about post-baptismal anointing, which we Orthodox call the sacrament of chrismation.

The new element in Hippolytus’s description of the anointing is that the bishop—presumably with his finger in the oil on the candidate’s oiled forehead—‘seals’ the baptized (‘sealing him on the forehead’). All later evidence indicates that this means that the bishop signed him with the sign of the cross. Now, the letter tav in old Hebrew script [paleo Hebrew script(?)] was a simple cross, and this reminds us of Ezekiel 9:4: ‘Go throughout the city, Jerusalem, and put a mark [tav] on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament’ (NIV). We do not have evidence that allows us to conclude with any certainty that signing with the cross/tav on the forehead was an old baptismal rite, deriving from Judeo-Christians familiar with the original meaning of Ezekiel 9:4. But the following notice in Origen (A.D. 230s) is of considerable interest. When a Jewish believer in Jesus was asked about the meaning of Ezekiel 9:4, the man gave the following answer: “The old way of writing the Taw was in the form of the cross, so here [Ezek 9:4] we have a prophecy of the sign that later was to be signed on the forehead of Christians; and also of what believers now do, when they sign themselves whenever they begin a work, and especially before prayers and the holy readings.” (Skarsaune 2002, 370-371)

In the ancient Semitic alphabets, from which modern Hebrew derives, the letter “tau” was written as a cross in the Proto-Canaanite script. In the early Phoenician script it was written as a diagonal cross, a.k.a. St. Andrew’s Cross. Over the course of the centuries, the ancient Hebrew language changed its shape until the Babylonian alphabet replaced the ancient Hebrew script following the Babylonian exile.

Adam Clarke’s “Commentary on the Bible”, circa 1831, provides the following information; as an early Methodist, Clarke disagrees with the conclusion but is at least intellectually honest enough to present the information.

Set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh – This is in allusion to the ancient every-where-used custom of setting marks on servants and slaves, to distinguish them from others. It was also common for the worshippers of particular idols to have their idol’s mark upon their foreheads, arms, etc. These are called sectarian marks to the present day among the Hindoos and others in India. Hence by this mark we can easily know who is a follower of Vishnoo, who of Siva, who of Bramah, etc. The original words, והתוית תו vehithvitha tau, have been translated by the Vulgate, et signa thau, “and mark thou tau on the foreheads,” etc. St. Jerome and many others have thought that the letter tau was that which was ordered to be placed on the foreheads of those mourners; and Jerome says, that this Hebrew letter ת tau was formerly written like a cross. So then the people were to be signed with the sign of the cross! It is certain that on the ancient Samaritan coins, which are yet extant, the letter ת tau is in the form +, which is what we term St. Andrew’s cross. The sense derived from this by many commentators is, that God, having ordered those penitents to be marked with this figure, which is the sign of the cross, intimated that there is no redemption nor saving of life but by the cross of Christ, and that this will avail none but the real penitent. (Clarke 1831)

It should be noted that, as Clarke alludes to above, it was customary to put a mark or seal upon slaves, and sectarian markings upon various Hindu sects so as to differentiate them one from another. It is not a great leap from that to God’s setting a mark upon “those who grieve and lament” to what Jean Daniélou describes as the sphragis, or the seal placed upon the forehead of the candidate at baptism.

The word sphragis in ancient times designated the object with which a mark was stamped, or else the mark made by this object. So sphragis was the word for the seal used to impress a mark on wax. These seals often have precious stones placed in the bezel or setting that holds them. So Clement of Alexandria recommends that Christians should have for seals (sphragides) a dove or a fish or a ship with sails unfurled, but not mythological figures or swords (Ped II, 11; Steahlin, 270). These seals were used especially to seal official documents and wills. So St. Paul uses the symbol when he tells the Corinthians that the ‘are the seal of his apostolate in the Lord’ (I Cor. 9:2), that is to say, that they are the authentic sign of it. But more particularly—and here we come to the baptismal symbolism—the word sphragis was used for the mark with which an owner marked his possessions. (Daniélou 1956, 55)

Daniélou proceeds to develop this idea of the mark placed by an owner upon his possessions as indicative that henceforth the candidate belongs to Christ—both as a member of Christ’s flock and as one of the army of Christ. But the mark, the tav, the sphragis, the sign of the Cross, is not simply a sign of ownership but confers protection. On this point, Daniélou quotes from Gregory of Nazianzen.

But the sphragis is not only a sign of ownership, it is also a protection. Gregory of Nazianzen unites the two ideas. The sphragis is “a guarantee of preservation and a sign of ownership” (XXXVI, 364 A). He develops this idea at greater length: ‘If you fortify yourself with the sphragis, marking your souls and your body with the oil (chrism) and with the Spirit, what can happen to you? This is, even in this life, the greatest security you can have. The sheep that has been branded (ephragismenon) is not easily taken by a trick, but the sheep that bears no mark is the prey of thieves. And after this life, you can die in peace, without fear of being deprived by God of the helps that He has given you for your salvation’ (XXXVI, 377 A). The sphragis, the mark that enables the Master to recognize His Own, is also a pledge of salvation. (Daniélou 1956, 56-57)

And so we see that the Sign of the Cross is not simply a Christian invention, nor a mere human tradition, but has a basis in both Old and New Testaments, in the writings of the church fathers, and in ancient historical practice. Thus when we make the sign of the cross, it is as a reminder of our baptism into Christ and of the seal of the Holy Spirit. And not only a reminder, but it is a performative act, in that it does what it implies—confers actual protection upon the one so sealed.

Works Cited

Clarke, Adam. “Commentary on the Bible by Adam Clarke: Ezekiel: Ezekiel Chapter 9.” Internet Sacred Text Archive. 1831. (accessed June 13, 2010).

Daniélou, Jean. The Bible and the Liturgy. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1956.

Skarsaune, Oskar. In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2002.

Prayer for the Dead

Stained Glass representation of the Sword of the Spirit

The Sword of the Spirit

He shall take to him his jealousy for complete armour, and make the creature his weapon for the revenge of his enemies. He shall put on righteousness as a breastplate, and true judgment instead of an helmet. He shall take holiness for an invincible shield. His severe wrath shall he sharpen for a sword, and the world shall fight with him against the unwise. (Wis 5:17-20)

This passage is a bit complicated, as the subject seems to switch between the Lord and the righteous. Nevertheless, this passage (and the following passage from Wisdom 18) is the source for the metaphor used by the apostle’s Paul and John, and the anonymous author of Hebrews — that of putting on the armor of God, and arming oneself with God’s own weaponry.

Thine Almighty word leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war into the midst of a land of destruction, And brought thine unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword, and standing up filled all things with death; and it touched the heaven, but it stood upon the earth. (Wis 18:15-16)

This passage makes the connection between the New Testament and Wisdom even more clear. The sword in this case is the “unfeigned commandment”, which is another way of saying the law of the Lord (Ps 119:1). The connection between the sword of the “unfeigned commandment”, the “word of God” as sharper than any two-edged sword is clear.

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

The apostle Paul borrows this metaphor in his famous passage regarding putting on the “whole armor of God.” This martial metaphor is often preached as representing the Christian life, which is indeed true. But only rarely does anyone speak about what it means to “withstand in the evil day”, which is an apocalyptic statement. In other words, Paul is not primarily talking about the daily life of the Christian, although that is part of it. But the putting on of the “whole armor of God”, which includes being armed with the “sword of the Spirit”, is something we do every day so that we may be ready for the day of the Lord, the day of judgment.

Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6:13-17)

The passages from Wisdom are also connected to the passage from John’s Revelation where Christ is seen with a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth, which is the same metaphor used for the word of God in the book of Hebrews.

And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. … And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. (Rev 1:13, 16)

The book of Revelation is not yet finished with the metaphor of the sword. In the letter to the church of Pergamos, we see repeated the details of the image of Christ used in the first chapter.

And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges. (Rev 2:12)

We have already spoken of the Sword of the Spirit, and connected this with the “whole armor of God” spoken of by Paul, and the sword proceeding from the mouth of the Son of God spoken of by St. John the Theologian. What we have not done is discuss this in its apocalyptic dimension in any detail.

The Revelation of St. John is written in the apocalyptic style, a literary form that was popular in Second Temple Judaism (the form of Judaism that existed after the return of the exiles from Babylon.) While Wisdom is not part of the apocalyptic genre, the passage in Wisdom where the “unfeigned commandment” is described as a “sharp sword” is clearly apocalyptic in nature. The description of the “almighty Word” who leapt from the heavens to earth and brought death to the Egyptians not only has reference to the exile in and exodus from Egypt, but looks forward to a future deliverance.

When Paul and John borrow the metaphor of the “sharp sword” from Wisdom, we are meant to understand its apocalyptic context. While this is clear in John’s Revelation, it adds another dimension to the book of Romans. You see, the apocalyptic is not only a description of the end of days, but is meant to give us comfort in our afflictions. When Paul uses imagery borrowed from apocalyptic literature, he is letting us know that no matter what trials we are going through, there is a purpose, that God is in control, and that evil will not have its way forever.


Theological issues resolved in the Deuterocanonical Books

Icon of Job the Patriarch

Job the Patriarch

If God is all-powerful, why does evil exist? This is a question that is never directly addressed in the Protestant scriptures. Closely related to the problem of evil is the existence of suffering. On this lesser question the Protestant scriptures do have something to say, although the answer must be teased out. Yet on the larger and more important question of the existence of evil, the Protestant scriptures are silent.

So why do the righteous suffer? The entire book of Job has this as its theme, but does not have a completely satisfactory answer (from our perspective, of course). Ultimately the answer of God to Job comes down to this: “Then the Lord answered Job …Who is this…? Where wast thou…? Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days…? Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? …Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all” (Job 38 2-3, 12, 17-18). What God is saying through Job to us is this: Who do you think you are to even ask that question? After which Job abhors himself and repents (Job 42:6). But God does not leave the question there, as we shall see.

The story of Joseph is instructive on this question. Joseph was the then youngest and most beloved son of his father, who because of the jealousy of his brothers was sold into slavery in Egypt. There he suffered greatly before rising to a position of great power and authority. Many years later, during a famine where his brothers came to Egypt to buy grain, Joseph revealed himself to them and said: ” But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen 50:20). And so we see that God allowed Joseph to suffer evil and brought good from it. This is not a situation of God using evil to do good, or even requiring the existence of evil to do good, but rather that although evil exists, God works in the midst of it. Ultimately, however, this does not resolve the main question of why evil exists in the first place.

The corollary to the question of why the righteous suffer is this: Why do the wicked prosper? (Jer 12:1). This question, asked of Jeremiah, finds a partial answer when God pronounces judgment upon those who “touch the inheritance which I have caused my people Israel to inherit. Behold, I will pluck them out of their land…” Jer 12:14. The issue for Jeremiah is the prosperity of wicked Judah, and the prosperity of those who would soon take them into captivity for their many sins.

Because of their sins the prophet Habakkuk cries out to God to judge His people (Hab 1:2-4). When the impending captivity by the Babylonians is revealed to the prophet, he is distraught because the Chaldeans are worse. How can a holy God use that evil nation to punish His chosen people? (Hab 1:13). Interestingly, God does not answer Habakkuk’s question at all. Instead, God pronounces five woes—not only upon the Babylonians, and not only upon Judah, but upon all sinners—for usury & greed (Hab 2:6); coveteousness & pride (Hab 2:9); wrath & murder (Hab 2:12); drunkenness and lust (Hab 2:15); and idolatry (Hab 2:19). Connected to these woes are three pronouncements about God and His people.

The first pronouncement is that the just shall live by his faith (Hab 2:4). That this comes first, even before any of the woes, is significant. It suggests the just live by faith even when evil proliferates, when evil men prosper, and when the righteous suffer. When God pronounces the second woe upon those who build a town by blood and iniquity, He then suggests that the people weary themselves in vain, “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (Hab 2:14). This brings us out of the consideration of our own troubles. It suggests the apocalyptic end of all evil and the eschatological hope. But God does not suggest all judgment is reserved until the end of time; no, for we finally come to the third woe: “the cup of the Lord’s right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory” (Hab 2:16). But finally the answer to Habakkuk is the same as that given to Job: “[T]he Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab 2:20).

Asaph too asked this question. In Psalm 73 he says he “was envious at the foolish when he saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psa 73:3). He describes their strength, their prosperity, their pride and violence, their corruption and oppression, and the way they speak out against God and abuse His people. He is so cast down that he begins to think he has “cleansed his heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning” (Psa 73:13-14). In great pain and turmoil of soil he comes into the sanctuary, where he finally understands. In light of eternity, the wicked have been set “in slippery places”. This indicates they are about to slip; but then Asaph notes that God has already cast them down into destruction (Psa 73:18). In temporal terms they are about to slip; but in light of eternity they have already been condemned, and “brought into desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors” (Psa 73:19). In light of eternity, Asaph sees he has been ignorant, and his doubts have been foolish. “I am continually with thee: thou has holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Psa 73:23-24).

Regarding the existence of evil, what in the Protestant scriptures must be painstakingly drawn out is made clear in the Deuterocanonical books. “For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are in his possession experience it” (Wis 2:23-24). And again: “It was the wicked who with hands and words invited death, considered it a friend, and pined for it, and made a covenant with it, Because they deserve to be in its possession” (Wis 1:16). And so the problem of evil is clearly explained: sin entered into the world, and death by sin, by means of the devil. Moreover those who are in the grips of the devil are subject to death, deserve death, choose death, pined for death, and made a covenant with death. Thus, although the devil is the source of sin and death, of evil and suffering, mankind chooses death and suffering over life and righteousness.

Now regarding the suffering of the righteous, once again the Apocrypha have an answer. It is the same answer that can be teased out of the Protestant scriptures, but is here made clear and plain, as seen in this excerpt from a much longer dissertation on the hidden counsels of God, regarding suffering, childlessness, and early death.

But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. (Wis 3:1-5)

Without what the Protestants call the Apocrypha, and what Catholics call the Deuterocanonical books, the scriptures are veiled.

The Closed Canon?

The Four Evangelists, by Rubens

The Four Evangelists, by Rubens

F. F. Bruce, in his book “The Canon of Scripture”, writes approvingly of the canon of Sacred Scripture being closed.

The words ‘to which nothing can be added … and from which nothing can be taken away’, whatever they precisely meant in this context, seem certainly to imply the principle of a closed canon. There are some scholars who maintain that the word ‘canon’ should be used only where the list of specially authoritative books has been closed; and there is much to be said in favour of this restrictive use of the word (a more flexible word might be used for the collection in process of formation), although it would be pedantic to insist on it invariably. (F. Bruce 2010, 22)

The idea of nothing can be added and nothing taken away comes from a variety of sources. F. F. Bruce cites from the Old Testament (Deut 4:2; cf 12:32), the New Testament (Rev 22:18 f.), the Didache, and Josephus. Of all these citations, Bruce says: “This language can scarcely signify anything other than a closed canon.” (F. Bruce 2010, 23) The impression is given that these citations apply to the Word of God as text, rather than the doctrinal substance of the books. Certainly in the case of Josephus this is a reasonable interpretation, but the other citations are more problematic.

In Deuteronomy we read: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deut 4:2). If this implies a closed canon, how are we to account for the remainder of the Old Testament since, apart from the book of Job, none of it had been written yet? Equally important for we Christians, how are we to account for the New Testament, given that it not only speaks of the fulfillment of the law of Moses in the person of Jesus Christ, but also reveals the Triune God, something never made explicit in the Old Testament, and not even made implicit apart from the reading of Christ back into the Old Testament

Historically, the canon of the Old Testament was accepted by the Christian Church up until time of the Reformation. Henry Wace, in his commentary on the King James Version, admits as much when he writes:

“When the Reformers denied the inspired authority of the books of the Apocrypha, it was by no means their intention to exclude them from use either in public or in private reading. The Articles of the Church of England quote with approbation the ruling of St. Jerome, that though the Church does not use these books for establishment of doctrine, it reads them for example of life and instruction of manners.” [emphasis added] (Wace 1811, xxxvi)

There were individuals who devised lists of books approved for use in the church (such as the “ruling of St. Jerome), lists similar to that used by Protestants today, but these were not authoritative in the wider church. It should be noted that the Bible texts created prior to the Protestant Reformation included what Protestants call the Apocrypha. The Geneva Bible of 1560 and the original King James Version (KJV) of 1611 both contained the Apocrypha, and versions of the KJV with the Apocrypha are available today (although printed versions are quite rare in the United States).

But the situation is more complicated when we discuss the lectionaries, the appointed Scripture readings for the Church year. The King James Bible with Commentary contains, in its introduction, a history of the gradual elimination of the Apocrypha from the Common Lectionary of the Anglican Church. Originally the Lectionary included the Apocrypha with the exception of the books of the Maccabees. Henry Wace notes: “Among the Puritan complaints in the reign of Elizabeth, objections to the public reading of the Apocrypha had no prominent part.” (Wace 1811, xxxvi) Various redactions were made over the years, and while the revised lectionary of 1867 contained readings from the Apocrypha only on weekdays, readings from the Apocrypha were reduced from two months to only three weeks. Of the Anglican Lectionary of 1867, Wace writes:

So small a portion of the apocryphal books has been retained in the present Lectionary that the retention of any would seem intended for little more than an assertion of the Church’s right to use these books if she pleases in public reading. This is still more true of the American Church, which entirely discontinued the use of lessons from the Apocrypha on ordinary week-days ; but still uses such lessons on two or three holy days. The Irish Church on its last revision of the Lectionary has not even retained so much as this. (Wace 1811, xxxviii)

The complete elimination of the Apocrypha from the life of the Protestant Church turns out to be a relatively recent innovation, one which would not have been acceptable to the Reformers.


Bruce, F.F. The Canon of Scripture. Kindle Edition. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Wace, Henry. Holy Bible According to the Authorized Version (A.D. 1611). Edited by Henry Wace. Vol. 1. 2 vols. London: John Murray, 1811.



Idolatry as the Beginning of Perversions

Christian Idol Worship

Christian Idol Worship?[1]

A Comparison of Rom 1:24-32 and Wisdom 14:12, 24-27

For the devising of idols was the beginning of spiritual fornication, and the invention of them the corruption of life. … They kept neither lives nor marriages any longer undefiled: but either one slew another traiterously, or grieved him by adultery. So that there reigned in all men without exception blood, manslaughter, theft, and dissimulation, corruption, unfaithfulness, tumults, perjury, Disquieting of good men, forgetfulness of good turns, defiling of souls, changing of kind, disorder in marriages, adultery, and shameless uncleanness. For the worshipping of idols not to be named is the beginning, the cause, and the end, of all evil. (Wisdom 14:12, 24-27)

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Rom 1:24-32)

The apostle Paul begins with a description of idolatry (Rom 1:21-23), and the immorality arising from it. In this Paul is saying nothing new, but is simply repeating the ideas found in Wisdom. This is not a direct quotation, but Paul is definitely copying his thematic material from Wisdom, and is simply more graphic in his depiction.

In Wisdom we read that idolatry is the beginning of spiritual fornication; in Romans we read that after becoming idolaters, God “gave them up” to immorality. In Wisdom we read that idolatry is the source of defiled marriages; in Romans we read that because men worshipped the “creature more than the Creator”, they dishonored their own bodies. In Wisdom we see idolatry as the source of murders, manslaughter, theft, dishonesty, corruption, unfaithfulness, tumults, perjury, etc.; Paul describes idolaters as filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, etc. In Wisdom we read of “disorder in marriages, adultery, and shameless uncleanness; in Romans we read of fornication and “vile affections”, which Paul goes on to explain as male and female homosexual acts — which is an explication of Wisdom’s “shameless uncleanness”.[2] Everything we see in Paul we first read in the book of Wisdom, which was Paul’s source material — his bible, if you will.

[1] We must not think that we are above reproach, while condemning others. If the idolatry is the beginning of immorality, than we sinners are all idolaters to one degree or another. We are all compromised. We are all guilty, whether Jew or Gentile, whether Christian or pagan, whether agnostic, atheist, or theist. Perhaps the test should be this. Does the other’s idolatry lead them towards sin, or away from it?

[2] I do not intend to get into the culture wars over the acceptance of homosexuality, except to say this. The one side fails to differentiate between the person who is loved by God, and the homosexual acts that person commits, or the homosexual impulses endemic to that person. The other side states that homosexuality is not a choice, which may be true. After all, no one chooses as a young child a sexual orientation that puts them at odds with society at large. And since (they say) homosexuality is not a choice, then it must be a valid expression of human sexuality.

I simply state that we must deal with the homosexual as a person loved by God, while recognizing the scriptures class homosexuality as “vile affections” and “shameless uncleanness.” We must also recognize that in vilifying the homosexual (while allowing other sins such as gluttony), we drive them away from the Gospel.

Who has Ascended into Heaven (Joh 3:13)

The Prophet Baruch

The Prophet Baruch

Who hath gone up into heaven, and taken her, and brought her down from the clouds? (Baruch 3:29)

And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. (Joh 3:13)[1]

Baruch is speaking here of Wisdom, which dwells in the heavens, and which is therefore unobtainable to humanity (in an ultimate sense, of course.) Wisdom is often personified in the Old Testament, and Christians understand Wisdom to be an adumbration of Christ — that is to say, Wisdom is an allegory of Christ. John is drawing our attention to the connection between the passage in Baruch, which then makes the allegorical connection between Wisdom and Christ plain. Thus while no one could ascend into heaven and bring Wisdom down to earth, the Son of God could come to earth, become one with us, and then ascend into heaven, thereby opening the pathway for us to attain Wisdom, which is Christ Himself.



[1] Scholars disagree as to whether Jesus answer to Nicodemus, which begins at verse ten, continues through to verse 21. Some hold that it does, while others believe that the majority of this passage is John’s commentary on Jesus’ words. The use of the conjunction “and” to begin sentences is consistent with the way Hebrew uses “and” to connect clauses, suggesting verse 10-21 may well be a single unbroken speech.

Punctuation, Vowel Pointing, and Lower Criticism

The Divine Name in unpointed Hebrew

The Divine Name in unpointed Hebrew

Punctuation can change the entire meaning of a text. We tend to think of the punctuation of our English texts as part of the text, rather than a commentary or gloss on the text. However, the original texts had no punctuation, no separation between words, and (in the case of Hebrew) no vowels. The problem of punctuating scripture is well known, as illustrated by Lynn Truss in her book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

For example, as Cecil Hartley pointed out in his 1818 ‘Principles of Punctuation: or, The Art of Pointing’, consider the following:

                “Verily, I say unto thee, This day Thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”


                “Verily I say unto thee this day, Thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”

Now, huge doctrinal differences hang on the placing of this comma. The first version, which is how Protestants interpret this passage, (Luke xxiii, 43), lightly skips over the whole unpleasant business of Purgatory and takes the crucified thief straight to heaven with Our Lord. The second promises Paradise at some later date (to be confirmed, as it were), and leaves Purgatory nicely in the picture for the Catholics, who believe in it. Similarly, it is argued that the Authorised Version of the Bible (and by extension Handel’s Messiah), misleads on the true interpretation of Isaiah xl, 3. Again, consider the difference:

                “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”


                “The voice of him that crieth: in the wilderness prepare ye the way of the Lord.”


                “Comfort ye my people”
                (please go out and comfort my people)


                “Comfort ye, my people”
                (just cheer up, you lot: it might never happen)

Of course, if Hebrew or any of the other ancient languages had included punctuation (in the case of Hebrew, a few vowels might have been nice as well), two thousand years of scriptural exegesis need never have happened, and a lot of clever, dandruffy people could definitely have spent more time in the fresh air. (Truss 2006, 74-75)

It should be noted that our English punctuation may be based upon a best approximation of the mood or case of the original language. The meaning can also be determined from the context. For example:

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isa 40:1-5)

From the context alone it should be clear that the second of Lynne Truss’ suggested punctuations is incorrect. The passage is not telling people to cheer up because something bad might not happen, but is stating that the people should be comforted, that their iniquity has been pardoned, that the Lord is coming, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. Moreover, none of the Catholic bibles I’ve read (Douay-Rheims and the New American Bible) punctuate the Luke 23:43 passage the way Lynne Truss suggests it can be punctuated.

Nevertheless, the point is valid; the punctuation is not in the original. Likewise, the chapter and verse divisions are also not in the original text. They are artificial devices, serving in some manner as a gloss or commentary on the text. (“Verse” Article, Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature 1880) The same argument can and has been made regarding the separation of the text into individual words, and the addition of vowel points to the Hebrew. The 18th Century Anglican Scholar Adam Clarke, in the Preface to Volume 1 of his Commentary on the Whole Bible, writes the following:

The Mazoretes were the most extensive Jewish Commentators which that nation could ever boast. The system of punctuation, probably invented by them, is a continual gloss on the Law and the Prophets; their vowel points, and prosaic and metrical accents, give every word to which they are affixed a peculiar kind of meaning, which in their simple state, multitudes of them can by no means bear. The vowel points alone, add whole conjugations to the language. This system is one of the most artificial, particular, and extensive comments ever written on the Word of God; for there is not one word in the Bible that is not the subject of a particular gloss, through its influence. (Clarke 1853, iii)

It should be noted that the Hebrew word mesorah (מסורה, alt. מסורת) is a reference to tradition; specifically, the transmission of a tradition. Therefore, the Masoretic text should be understood as fixing a particular understanding of scripture, a particular strain of Jewish thought.

Karel Van Der Toorn, in his book Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible, writes:

Biblical scholars have long been aware of the fact that the Greek translation of Jeremiah as extant in the Septuagint is shorter by one-seventh than the text in the Hebrew Bible. Its arrangement of the material, moreover, differs at some points from that in the Hebrew text. The most striking instance is the position of the Oracles against the Nations. Whereas the Septuagin places them right after 25:13 (“ And I will bring upon that land all that I have decreed against it, all that is recorded in this book — that which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations”), the Hebrew Bible has them at the end of the book (Chapters 46-51). The discoveries in the Judean Desert have yielded a fragment of a Hebrew version of Jeremiah (4QJerb) that agrees with the Septuagint (henceforth JerLXX) against the Hebrew text known from the Masoretic tradition (Henceforth JerMT). Based on this fragment, scholars have concluded that the Greek translation goes back to a Hebrew test of Jeremiah that differs in important respects from the Hebrew Bible. The differences between JerMT and JerLXX are such that they cannot be attributed to scribal errors in the process of transmission. Nor can the Hebrew vorlage[i] of the Septuagint be interpreted as an abbreviated version of the book. In view of their different placement of the Oracles against the Nations, JerMT and JerLXX represent two different editions of the same book. Chronologicall, the edition reflected in JerLXX  precedes the one extant in JerMT. (Toorn 2007, 199-200)

Lawrence Boadt, in his book Reading the Old Testament, confirms this. He writes:

There were quite a variety of copies of the Hebrew Old Testament available by the time of Jesus. Since copying had gone on for a long time already, many different editions circulated, some longer with sections added in, some shorter with sections omitted. All had some change or error in them. Since a scribe in one area often copied from a local text, the same error or change often appeared regularly in one place, say, Babylon, but not in text copied in Egypt. Thus, at the time of Christ, three major “families” or groupings of text types could be found: The Babylonian, the Palestinian, and the Egyptian. …Only at the end of the first century A.D. did the rabbis decide to end the confusion and select one text, the best they could find, for each part of the Bible. In the Pentateuch they chose the Babylonian tradition, but in other books, such as the prophets  Jeremiah and Isaiah, they followed the Palestinian-type text.

These first century rabbis also inaugurated a method of guaranteeing the text from any more glosses and additions, though not completely from copying errors. They counted words, syllables, and sections, and wrote the totals at the end of each book of the Old Testament. …The standard Hebrew text that resulted from the decisions of these early rabbis has become known as the “Masoretic text,” named after a later group of Jewish scholars of the eighth to eleventh centuries A.D., the masoretes, or “interpreters,” who put vowels into the text, and thus “Fixed the words in a definitive form. No longer could a reader be confused by whether the word qtl in the text meant qotel, “the killer,” or qatal, “he killed.”

The problem is this. The 1st century rabbis fixed the text in a form significantly different than that used by the Jewish diaspora for several hundred years. This was a radical emendation of the text which, when coupled by the Masoretic vowel pointing, fixed the interpretation of the text. Thus it is clear that as Judaism underwent substantial changes subsequent to the destruction of the temple, so too did the text used as the basis for their faith.

From this description of Masoretic textual development, you may well argue that any translation would be an interpretation of the text, and you would be correct. Hebrew is a very different language than Greek, reflecting a very different mindset. Hebrew is a language of actions, a language of concrete things. By contrast, Greek is a language that allows for and indeed almost requires a degree of abstraction. Thus when the 70 (or so) Jewish scholars in Alexandria translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (thereby creating the Septuagint), they were converting one mindset and worldview into a language best suited for a very different mindset and worldview, thereby fixing a particular reading and interpretation of the text. It is important to note that the Septuagint was the text used by the Jewish diaspora until the 2nd century A.D. (or CE, for the scholarly inclined); thus this interpretation and text was widely accepted as representing Judaic thought.

The Septuagint was initially completed in the 3rd century B.C. (or BCE), and initially consisted of only the first five books of Moses (the Torah, or Pentateuch.) Further books were added to the Septuagint over the next three centuries; most of them are translations from the Hebrew Scriptures, containing the books in the Protestant Old Testament. Other books were written during what Protestants call the intertestamental period and added to the Septuagint; some of these books were originally written in Hebrew and translated into Greek, while others appear to have been written in Greek. The Septuagint (which is best understood as a loose collection of scrolls rather than a single book) was the authoritative text of the Hebrew Scriptures for several hundred years, well into the Christian era, reflecting a post-exilic, pre-Christian interpretation of Scripture. By contrast, the Masoretic text reflects the rabbinic interpretation of scripture, one hostile to Christianity, and which is at least partially derived from the traditions of the Pharisees.

The growth of Christianity after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ caused a great problem for the Jews. As Oskar Skarsaune notes, “while Judaism was a religio licita, a recognized religion, Christianity was not.” (Skarsaune 2002, 265) The status of the Jews was “vulnerable and fragile”, but nevertheless secured by imperial decree. At first Christianity was viewed as just one of many Jewish sects, covered under imperial decree. It could be argued that Jewish objections to sharing their status led to the persecution of Christians. One notable and early example of this is found in the account of The Martyrdom of Polycarp, where “the multitude both of the heathen and Jews, who dwelt at Smyrna, cried out with uncontrollable fury, and in a loud voice, “This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, and the overthrower of our gods, he who has been teaching many not to sacrifice, or to worship the gods.” (P. Schaff, ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus 1884, 70-71) The careful reader will note the resemblance between this account and of Jesus before Pontius Pilate (Luke 23).

One difficulty for the Jews was the new and radically different interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Oskar Skarsaune describes it this way.

In this battle, the Christians were by all objective standards the underdogs. One should keep this in mind when one reads the many harsh and derogatory remarks about the rabbis and rabbinic theology and exegesis in the Christian writers of the second century. Many of the church fathers betray an awareness that the rabbis far excelled them in biblical scholarship; and in later centuries Origin and Jerome were to seek Jewish instructors in order to read the Old Testament in the original text and to understand it better. In the eyes of the Christians, Judaism was not only the elder brother, Judaism was also the mightier and the more learned brother — which no doubt corresponded to the objective facts.

The only thing the Christians had to set against this scholarly superiority was their basic conviction that the rabbis had nevertheless failed to recognize the Messiah when he came, and that therefore their scholarship was combined with a fundamental blindness with regard to the meaning of the Scriptures. What a man like Justin Martyr has to set against rabbinic scholarship is not superior scholarship, but something Justin calls “the grace to understand”. (Skarsaune 2002, 266)

The rabbis held the Christians in disdain because they failed to recognize and acknowledge their superior scholarship and accept their interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures; the Christians held the rabbis in disdain because they had failed to recognize the Christ when He came, thereby calling their scholastic interpretive tradition into question.

After the Masorites completed their work, the Masorites made the decision to destroy the older, alternative, non-Masoretic texts. This fixed the Masoretic interpretation of scripture, ensuring that it alone would survive. This was aided by the Jewish insistence that old and worn out scriptures be destroyed (while Christians, having no such tradition, maintained their older texts.) Thus we have little manuscript evidence of the Hebrew scriptures predating the Masoretic texts, while we have a wealth of textual evidence for the Septuagint. What textual evidence we do have supports the idea that the Septuagint represents the older and more accurate text.

The history of the Masoretic text, combined with its known and relatively obvious gloss on the Hebrew text makes it curious that this text is the preferred text for Protestant translations.


Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press, 1984.

Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Vol. 1. 6 vols. New York: Ezra Sargeant, 1853.

Schaff, Philip. ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Vol. 1. 10 vols. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1884.

Skarsaune, Oskar. In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2002.

Toorn, Karel van der. Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham Books, 2006.

[i] Vorlage: a prior version of a text under consideration.

Inspiration and Canonicity

A scroll of the Book of Esther

A scroll of the Book of Esther

Inspiration and Canonicity

The typical Protestant, if he or she were asked, would likely tell you the scriptures contained 66 books. They might even be able to name them. However, the Latins would tell you Sacred Scripture consisted of 77 books, while the Orthodox would say 81. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church would also say 81, but includes a New Testament canon of 35 books and adds additional books to the Old Testament, while numbering them according to the Hebrew scriptures instead of the Septuagint. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is also unusual in having both a narrow canon and a broader canon, although the difference escapes me. (Cowley 1994) And there are other groups, like the Syriac churches and the Coptic Orthodox Church, which have different canonical criteria. (Halnon n.d.) The group Islamic Awareness has an interesting take on problem, entitled “To Every Church a Canon”. Under that heading they produce eight different canons of scripture: the Anglican Church, the Armenian Church, the Coptic Church, the Ethiopian (Abyssinian) Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Protestant Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Syriac Church. (Islamic Awareness n.d.) How curious that it takes the Muslims to inform us the canon of Scripture is not as settled as we like to think.

Canonicity and the Self-Authenticating Scripture

Protestants are told the scriptures are self-authenticating; because the scriptures are God’s word, they have the power to convince us of their truth. This idea is promoted as a means of determining whether a particular book is canonical or not. However plausible this may sound, this is not a useful principle for determining canonicity. The self-authenticating principle can draw one astray into all manner of enthusiasms, allowing an individual or group to determine their own canon of scripture. This was the error of Marcion, who is the first one to devise a Christian canon that “self-authenticated” his preexisting heresies.

The problem is in the nature of canonicity, which is the principle (or principles) by which the scope of the canon is determined. Scholars debate two different approaches: the Community-Canon approach, and the Intrinsic-Canon approach. John C. Peckham defines the Community-Canon as “a collection of books deemed authoritative by a given community”, and the Intrinsic-Canon as “a collection of authoritative books that are authoritative because God commissioned [inspired] them.” (Peckham 2011) Peckham’s explanation of the Intrinsic-Canon approach allows for the community’s recognition of certain texts as authoritative.

Objections to the pure Community-Canon approach include the hostile reaction of the community of faith to the prophets. Even Jeremiah’s writings were not immediately recognized as scripture. John C. Peckham writes: “The biblical concept of a true prophet refers to one divinely authorized to speak for God (Jer 15:19; Acts 3:18, 21).28 There is then, by definition, a divinely appointed authority belonging to true prophets that is thereby inconsistent with the epistemological primacy of the community.” Peckham raises another interesting question: “What Constitutes a Legitimate and/or Adequate Community?” (Peckham 2011) There were various canons circulating in the early church; seemingly each Bishop had his own opinion. And there were different communities of faith which considered themselves Christian, and considered themselves to have the authority to determine canonical issues. Among these was the heretic Marcion, whose canon did not include the Old Testament, and included only some of the New Testament. The Gnostics had a variety of texts that were rejected by the surviving Christian Community.

Perhaps the greatest problem with the Community-Canon approach is that it uses an epistemological[1] criterion (one determined by propositional knowledge) to determine the suitability of a book for inclusion into the canon. If the Biblical canon is a list of authoritative and inspired books compiled by the Christian community, then only the Christian community can recognize and define that list. If, however, canonicity is an epistemic criterion, then individuals and groups can reason their way towards producing different lists. William Abraham describes the key difference between these two views.

The older way was prepared to leave scripture as both a gift of the Holy Spirit and as subject to the ongoing activity of the Spirit without worrying overmuch about epistemology. In my terms, the older way was content to leave scripture as a means of grace. The new fashion was to give primacy to ideas of revelation and inspiration as applying in some unique fashion to the Bible, and to limit scripture to the Bible. (Abraham 1998)

For us to understand this argument, we must discuss the development of an epistemological role in theology — the foundation, source, and validity of revelatory truth. Richard Foley comments: “For the medievals, religious authority and tradition were seen as repositories of wisdom”. According to Foley, it was the enlightenment views of men like Descartes and Locke who “regarded tradition and authority as potential sources of error and took reason to be the corrective”. (Foley 2001, 13) But interestingly, this view did not originate with Locke and Descartes, but has its roots in the writings of Aquinas. William Abraham develops this thesis following this quote from the French theologian Yves Marie Joseph Cardinal Congar, who claims Thomas Aquinas inherited the following crucial assumption from the Middle Ages:

[T]he practice of including the Fathers, the conciliar canons and even the pontifical decrees and (more rarely) the more outstanding treatises of the theologians, in the Scriptura Sacra, or again, without distinguishing, in the divina pagina [interpretation of scripture].[2] This is a practice of long standing; there seems no doubt but that it arises from the Decretum Gelasianum [Gelasian Decree ][3], which …had passed into canonical collections, and into those chapters which dealt with sources and rules. (Abraham 1998, ix)

For William Abraham, and likely with Protestants in general, the implications are quite startling. “‘Scripture’ was not originally confined to the Bible; it had a much wider frame of reference. …What we see emerging in what follows is a quite different range of sense and reference. Over time, Scripture was cut back to apply materially to the Bible; and its primary function lay in that of operating as an authority.” (Abraham 1998, ix) According to Abraham, via Yves Marie Joseph Cardinal Congar, Aquinas was the first to distinguish the authority of the Bible from that of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. (Abraham 1998, x) Thus it was Thomas Aquinas that laid the foundations for the Reformation’s rejection of the Bible as interpreted by the Father’s and the Councils, and in favor of the Bible as interpreted by Reason and Conscience.

As we have spoken unfavorably of the Community-Canon approach, and particularly with its reliance upon human reason and epistemological criteria, we must now consider the Intrinsic Canon approach. If we deal with the two views atomistically, they seem like alternate and opposing approaches. However, we have already noted that the Intrinsic-Canon approach does not preclude the community’s involvement in recognizing that a particular book is authoritative and inspired. Therefore, in practical terms, the two approaches are much the same.

John C. Peckam’s arguments against the Community-Approach apply to the Intrinsic-Canon approach as well. As previously mentioned, Peckham defines the Intrinsic-Canon approach as “a collection of authoritative books that are authoritative because God commissioned [inspired] them.” There is something important missing here: is a book inspired apart from its being part of a collection of authoritative books? Historically speaking, the answer is yes, because we know that it took time after a book was written before the community began to be use and refer to it as Scripture. Moreover, there is a difference between a book’s being useful within a community and a book’s being viewed as inspired Scripture. In nearly every case (with the possible exception of 1 Tim 5:18 and 2 Pet 3:15-16)[4], what the New Testament authors speak of as Scripture is the Old Testament; only rarely do the New Testament books imply the creation of new Scripture, and the implications are unclear.

Moreover, the inclusion of the community into the recognition of an authoritative collection of documents creates another problem: which community, using which criteria? John C. Peckam writes:

If each community is authoritative to determine their own canon, then since mutually exclusive canons of sacred writings are posited by various communities, the “Christian canon” is not authoritative over and against the canon of any other community but is authoritative only within the community or communities that determine and/or recognize it. This amounts to a canonical relativism that is mutually exclusive to a universally authoritative biblical canon (cf. Matt 24:14; 28:19–20; Acts 17:30; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 3:16). (Peckham 2011)

The question of Community-Canon vs. Intrinsic-Canon is an example of Systematic Theology (or Dogmatics) run amock. The church has a long history of organizing its dogma around various themes, but the Western Church has taken this to extremes. The Western way of doing theology, going back further than Aquinas, has been to reason one’s way to the truth. This tendency increased with the onset of the Protestant Reformation which promoted the primacy of reason and the individual conscience as a means of interpreting Scripture. What began as organization around simple themes has developed into uncountable definitions of terms and increasingly complex theological taxonomies. The question of canonicity is part of that pattern.

Canonicity and the Holy Spirit

One thing that is left out of the previous definitions and discussions regarding canonicity is the role of the Holy Spirit in determining and preserving the canon of Scripture. The concept of the self-authenticating role of the Scripture provides no room for God to act. Apart from providing His authority and power to the canon, God appears to have no role in the canonical process.

If we desire to describe the role of the Holy Spirit in the canonical process, how might we begin? With the idea of Inspiration, as described in the Bible. The apostle Peter writes: “Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet 1:21). The Holy Ghost is described in the Old Testament as the breath of God; thus comes the idea of inspiration, or “God-breathed”.[5] Of the inspiration of Scripture, the apostle Paul writes:

But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Pet 3:14-17)

All scripture is “given by inspiration of God.” It is the spiration or breath of God, the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The function of scripture is to “make us wise unto salvation”, which salvation comes “through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” This aligns well with Christ’s description of the role of the Holy Spirit: “When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (Joh 15:26). Just as Jesus reveals the Father to us, the Holy Spirit reveals to us the person and work of Christ Jesus.

Jesus calls the Comforter “the Spirit of Truth” (Joh 14:17) To the Father, Jesus prays: “Thy word is truth” (Joh 17:17). Of the Holy Spirit, Jesus says: “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (Joh 14:26).

We see from the New Testament that Holy Spirit who inspired the Hebrew Scriptures is the same as the Holy Spirit who works in and through the Church. Jude writes: “These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit. But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 19-21). From this we understand that those who separate themselves from the Church separate themselves from the Holy Spirit. As they have not the Spirit, they are unable to pray in the Holy Spirit. Thus the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, works in and through the Church, which is Christ’s body, just as He works in and through the Scriptures.

The apostle Paul writes to Timothy of the Church: “These things write I unto thee, …that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 14-15). The “church of the living God” is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” We need to unpack this a bit. The pillar and ground both refer to the metaphor of the church as a building made up of living stones, with Christ as the cornerstone and the apostles as the foundation (1 Pet 2:5-7; Eph 2:20). The ground should be understood as providing stability; it does not shift, causing the edifice to collapse (Mat 7:24-27). The ground also refers to the “good ground” that brings forth much fruit (Mat 13:23). (The role of a pillar is to hold up and support the roof, and refers to God’s “upholding all things by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3).

Returning to the subject of canonicity, we see the Holy Spirit working in and through the Scripture (the Intrinsic-Canon), just as we see the Holy Spirit working in and through the Church (the Community-Canon). These two explanations of canonicity are not mutually exclusive, but neither makes any sense apart from the Holy Spirit. And how does the Holy Spirit work through Scripture and the Church to produce and maintain the canon? It’s a mystery.

The work of the Holy Spirit is a mystery. We can’t define it, we can’t categorize it, and we can’t explain it. As Jesus said to Nicodemus: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit (Joh 3:8). When we try to define, categorize, and explain canonicity apart from the person and work of the Holy Spirit, we are raising human reason to a place of primacy. We are telling God how to do His job. If the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth, our job is simply to plug into the truth and let the Holy Spirit do His work without interference from us.



Abraham, William J. Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Cowley, R. W. “The Biblical Canon Of The Ethiopian Orthodox Church Today.” Islamic Awareness. 1994. (accessed December 23, 2008).

Foley, Richard. Intellectual Trust in Oneself and Others. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Halnon, Dennis. “Early Christian History.” The Reality of the Biblical Canon. n.d. (accessed December 23, 2008).

Islamic Awareness. “Canon of the Bible.” Islamic Awareness. n.d. (accessed December 23, 2008).

Peckham, John C. “Intrinsic Canonicity and the Inadequacy of the Community Approach to Canon-Determination.” Themelios 36, no. 2 (August 2011): 203-215.




[1] Epistomology is a philosophical concept having to do with the foundation, scope, and validity of knowledge.

[2] Divina pagina refers to the interpretation of Scripture, (McGinn 1998, 127) and is one of the three early medieval terms used for theology, the other two being sacra doctrina and sacra scriptura (Fiorenza 1991)

[3] Tradition attributes the Decretum Gelasianum [Gelasian Decree ] to Pope Gelasius I, who was Pope from 492-496. The second part of the Decretum Gelasianum is a list of canonical scriptures. The list includes the Old Testament Scriptures which the Protestants consider to be Apocryphal, and the entire New Testament with the exception of 2 Corinthians. The third part discusses the authority of the Bishop of Rome. The fourth part makes the ecumenical councils authoritative and receives the works of a number of the church fathers. Finally, the fifth part contains a list of books compiled or recognized by heretics and schismatics, works which are not received by the church. It is possible that the list of Apocryphal books represents a tradition that can be traced back to Pope Gelasius, but was not actually written by him.

[4] What Peter refers to as “other scriptures” clearly refers to the Old Testament. It is not certain that Peter intends to place Paul’s writings into that category, although this is implied. Nor does Peter say which of Paul’s many epistles were to be considered as Scripture; we know that Paul wrote more letters than just the ones preserved in the New Testament. And just because Peter may have considered Paul’s writings to be Scripture does not mean they were part of the community’s “collection of authoritative books”. Nevertheless, Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield makes a cogent argument that Peter was indeed declaring Paul’s epistles to be Scripture. It should be noted that Warfield is in error when he says Paul authenticates Luke’s Gospel; he could just as easily have been authenticating Matthew’s Gospel. Compare Matthew 10:10, Luke 10:7, & 1 Timothy 5:18. Also Paul could have been referring only to his first quote from Proverbs as Scripture, as the second quote is little more than the explanation of the first. (Warfield 1882)

[5] Ruach Elohim (Spirit or Breath of God)