Tuesday, October 1, 2013

When God Spoke Greek - By Timothy Michael Law

What Bible did the Apostles use to teach and evangelize the Gentiles and Hellenized Jews who spoke Greek?  What did they use when they wrote their epistles?  Many of them(if not all) used a Greek translation of the Hebrew, commonly called The Septuagint.  In this book the author, Timothy Michael Law,  explains the Septuagint's possible origins and talks about the significant differences that are found between this translation and the text of Hebrew manuscripts that we can reference.   This part of the book was what I was most looking forward to, where he would deal with the Apostles quotations from this version against what our Hebrew text says.  One of the most significant examples is found in the book of Hebrews, chapter 10 verse 5, where the writer is proving the sufficiency and necessity of Christ's sacrifice by quoting a portion of Psalm 40:  "Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, But a BODY didst thou prepare for me…"(Heb 10:5 ASV emphasis added) But if you turn to Psalm 40:6 in basically any Old Testament of a Christian Bible, or any Tanakh(vs. 7 in the JPS), It will read something along these lines:  "Sacrifice and offering thou hast no delight in; MINE EARS HAST THOU OPENED: Burnt-offering and sin-offering hast thou not required."(Psa 40:6 ASV emphasis added) This rendition takes away the prophetic statement about the Messiah's coming in the flesh.  So either the translators of the Septuagint mistranslated this verse or someone miscopied the Hebrew, and I believe it to be the latter case. As Law explains, "The Hebrew Bible in the editions we now use is often not the oldest form of the Hebrew text…in many cases the Septuagint provides the only access we have to the oldest form." 

Timothy Law is pushing for a greater knowledge of the Septuagint amongst Christians, it being the Bible of the Apostles and of the early Church.   As Law states, "The prejudice in the contemporary Church in favor of the rabbinic Hebrew Bible is startling, but not unexpected given that Christian educational institutions teach future scholars and clergy the Old Testament exclusively from the Hebrew Bible, relegating the Septuagint to the sidelines of an upper-level elective course.  Students thus graduate from schools that teach Christian history and theology without ever considering that the scriptures used by the New Testament writers and the first Old Testament of the Church is not the Hebrew Bible they spent time and money to study."  I completely concur with him in this, but our assumptions move on from that belief in contradictory ways. Having been looking into the Apostles' use of the Septuagint for a year or two now, I was very excited about this book, but have been disappointed to a degree that I did not expect.  This may sound odd, but I was extremely disappointed that Timothy Law turned out to be unbiased towards the Apostle's(I thought he was a professing Christian).  From the beginning of the book and on the reader will  find statements like this, "We can also see that the New testament authors sometimes use Septuagint readings we know to be mistranslations of the Hebrew, an unsettling reality but a reality nonetheless." and again, "….it is not insignificant that the apostle Paul and his later interpreters in the early church will employ these mistranslations in the reformation of Christian theology." 

Mr. Law contradicts himself by those statements. He talks about how there was a plurality of variant readings in the Biblical texts in the days of the Apostles and so they could "choose whichever reading best suited their purposes to open up new avenues for biblical interpretation" but makes statements like "We also sometimes see the New Testament authors quoting what is unquestionably the Septuagint's mistranslation of the Hebrew, which is not to say they are 'wrong' by doing so…"  These statements are quite confusing…the Apostles were right to use an 'unquestionably wrong' translation from a random manuscript among an alleged plurality of texts, any one of which could be right?  And yet, despite not knowing what Hebrew manuscript the LXX translators used, and apparently ignoring the fact of the admitted antiquity of these translators' manuscripts,  Mr. Law makes a judgment call and says they were wrong.  I don't buy it.  And also  his statements about Matthew's use of the prophecy of the virgin birth are shocking(Matt 1:23, Isa. 7:14):  "The Greek Septuagint and not the Hebrew Bible gives Matthew the textual 'proof' to connect Jesus to the prophecy."  And this conclusion is apparently reached because the Hebrew word in our Hebrew texts allegedly does not mean 'virgin' but 'young girl', and since WE don't know of any ancient Hebrew manuscripts that read 'virgin' then the LXX translators didn't have one either.  Again, this reasoning is absurd.  Law states, "they were told in Greek that Jesus fulfilled the Greek Jewish scriptures, the Septuagint."  And we are just supposed to assume that the majority of Hebrew texts(or all of them) in the days of Christ and the Apostles did not support Christianity. 

Mr. Law seems to be okay with the idea that Christ and the Apostles fabricated Christianity, but I am not.  And therefore, I cannot recommend this book.   

I am very grateful to Oxford University Press for the review copy of this book(my review did not have to be favorable), and am very disappointed that I could not give it a good review. 

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