Paul’s most “theological” book in the New Testament, the Book of Romans, is in many ways an extended commentary on one single verse from the Old Testament, Habakkuk 2:4:
Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith (ESV).
That last phrase, “the righteous shall live by (his) faith,” stands in the main thesis statement of Paul’s letter, at the end of Romans 1:16-17. The problem is that this brief little phrase is not entirely self-explanatory.
My late pastor emeritus, Dick Woodward, would teach that the Book of Romans at a high level could be broken down into the different themes emphasized in different parts of the book (Note: “righteous” can also be translated as “just“, from Woodward’s MiniBible College, New Testament Handbook, p. 268):
The just shall live by faith (Romans 1-4).
The just shall live by faith (Romans 5-8).
The just shall live by faith (Romans 12-16).
So, how does one go about unpacking this verse? The great Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, puzzled over how to understand this Bible verse, as quoted by the Apostle Paul in the Book of Romans, for at least two years, as a young teacher of theology in the early sixteenth century. Luther’s main problem, at first, was that he considered the idea of righteous as being something that one had to work for, a type of status that one would have to earn before a Holy God. As a person of faith, Luther was convinced that he had to modify his own behavior, such that if he were to become truly righteous, only then could he truly live. But his quest to live a righteous life led him into depression. No matter how righteous he tried to be, he never felt like he was ever good enough to meet God’s rigorous demands. In his own understanding at the time, he actually hated the Gospel message:
I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God (Luther’s account of his own conversion).
Eventually, Martin Luther came to see that he had the logic of the verse all wrong. Instead, he finally learned that a person becomes righteous only by having faith, an implicit trust in God. It was through this faith, and through faith alone, that Luther learned that he was “declared” to be righteous by God, and that, as a result, enabled him to live, to live an eternal life. In a total reversal of thought, Luther had now become born again, loving that which he had hated before:
I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word “righteousness of God.” Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.
Luther’s personal, theological breakthrough kickstarted the whole Protestant Reformation. The stumbling block of trying to understand Habakkuk 2:4 as presented in the Book of Romans was not unique to Luther. In fact, the debate over how the New Testament uses Habakkuk 2:4 for the sake of the Gospel remains a topic of considerable theological debate.
The Story of Habakkuk
Habakkuk is a rather neglected figure in the Bible. His book is only a few chapters long, and we really do not know much about him. What we do know is that Habakkuk was a contemporary of some other prophets, namely Jeremiah and Zephaniah. After the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians, the Babylonians (sometimes called the Chaldeans), became the dominant world power and threatened the remaining Jews, the Southern Kingdom of Judah. But as with the northern Jews, the people of Judah began to forsake the worship of the one True God. God raised up prophets, like Jeremiah, to warn the people to repent, to turn away from false Gods, and to remember the God who rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, and that this God had given them a Promised Land to inherit. Otherwise, God would send the Babylonians to come and destroy Judah, and take many of the people into captivity during the Exile (which is what eventually happened).
But contrary to the apostasy around him, Habakkuk’s message is a little different. Habakkuk had been faithful to the worship of the one True God. So he registers a complaint to God:
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?…Why do you make me see iniquity and why do you idly look at wrong? (Habakkuk 1:2a,3a).
Remarkably, the Lord hears Habakkuk’s complaint and answers him:
“Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith (Habakkuk 2:2b-4).
In this original context, the message of the prophet is that even though the Babylonians appear to be gaining the upper hand, acting as an instrument of God’s judgment, God reminds Habakkuk that the days of the Babylonians’ crushing rule are numbered. Though it would appear that the soul of the Babylonian is puffed up, and that it is not upright within him, the arrogance of the Babylonian nation would be short-lived. The righteous, presumably Habakkuk, and those like him, as a remnant people of God’s covenant with the Jews, would outlive their oppressors. Sure enough, the Jews of Judah were brought into judgment by the Babylonians in 597 BCE, and then Babylon itself was conquered in 539 BCE by the Persian empire. This providential event enabled the Jews to return to their Promised Land and rebuild their nation. Habakkuk’s prophecy rang true!
However, in looking more closely at the verse, one begins to see some difficulties. According to the notes of the English Standard Version, the word for “faith” could also be rendered as “faithfulness.” The root word in Hebrew is the same, but the meaning is still somewhat ambiguous. Is this referring to faith, or belief in God, or faithfulness, in terms of keeping one’s promises, whether in terms of attitude or actions? The concepts of faith and faithfulness are related, but reading the verse from this simple vantage point is not altogether clear.
Habakkuk 2:4 in the Septuagint, The Greek Bible of the Early Church
Things get even more complicated when we get to how this verse was understood by Jews in the New Testament era. The Septuagint was mostly a collection of Greek translations of the Hebrew Old Testament, used by Greek-speaking Jews as well as Christians in the early era of the church. There are actually several possible translations found in the Septuagint of Habakkuk 2:4b. Here is one, noted by New Testament scholar, Ben Witherington:
The righteous (just) shall live on the basis of my faithfulness (Brenton translation).
Notice how the Septuagint translator effectively takes the possessive pronoun “his,” as found in the ESV’s translation, which is directly from the standard Hebrew Masoretic text, and changes it to be “my.” This “my faithfulness” helps to clarify, in some way, the meaning of “faithfulness,” in the sense of it being God’s faithfulness. In other words, the righteous shall live on the basis of God’s faithfulness, as God is the ultimate speaker in Habakkuk’s prophecy. From this translation, which was surely known by Paul, we see an attempt to clarify the meaning of the verse.
But there is yet another Septuagint translation possible of this verse:
My righteous one shall live by his faithfulness.
Well, that changes things up a bit. Now the emphasis is on my righteous one, and that person’s faithfulness. But who is this “my righteous one?” This could be the righteous believer. However, there is also a third possibility. Could it be the Messiah? Could Habakkuk be understood, in some sense, as speaking about the coming of the Messiah? Does Habakkuk prophecy the coming of Jesus as the Messiah?
In my research on this verse, I came across one of the two other explicit references to Habakkuk 2:4 in the New Testament, aside from Romans 1:17. In Hebrews 10:32-39, the New Testament writer is trying to encourage his readers to “keep the faith” in the face of relentless persecution and suffering. The writer closes the argument with an appeal to this other Septuagint translation of Habakkuk 2:3-4:
“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.” (Hebrews 10:37-39 ESV)
It might appear that both verses 37 and 38, corresponding to verses 3 and 4 of Habakkuk, refer to the coming of the Messiah, “the coming one” and “my righteous one,” respectively. But how do you know for sure? So, I did what any seminary graduate would do when they were stumped. I decided to ask my ole’ New Testament professor about it. It just so happens that Donald Hagner is a world-class expert in the Book of Hebrews, having written several splendid commentaries on the book, including his highly regarded Encountering the Book of Hebrews.
Professor Hagner responded that while the first part of the passage, verse 37, does speak of the “coming one” as the Messiah, there is a break with the “but” at the beginning of verse 38, such that that it is “but my righteous one shall live by faith.” The “my righteous one” can not be the Messiah, at least for the writer of the Book of Hebrews. It would be foolish to disagree, so it would be best to conclude that the “my righteous one” is really the struggling believer, faced with suffering and persecution, who is encouraged to live by faith, trusting the promises of God that He will indeed be faithful over the long haul. Nevertheless, that little tipoff to the Messiah in verse 37 (or Habakkuk 2:3), still brings out at least some connection to the Messiah that was not evident to Habakkuk himself, at least from our modern vantage point, some several hundreds of years before this Septuagint translation was made.
Which Door: Number One, Number Two, Number Three….?
It is worth pausing here for a moment. Some believers might feel a bit bothered by all of this. After all, this is God’s Word here we are talking about. Should not the meaning of the words in God’s Word be clear, especially when something is so important as the righteous shall live by (???) faith/faithfulness?? Is this not the most central Old Testament reference in the Book of Romans? Why would Paul select a verse that was so clouded in controversy and ambiguity? What was God thinking as He inspired Paul in the first place?
I can imagine that some might say that having all of these choices and ambiguity diminishes our confidence in Holy Scripture. But this would be the most terribly wrong way to look at it. In fact, the opposite is indeed true. The question over how the New Testament uses passages like Habakkuk 2:4 gives us critical insight into how God has structured His Word for us as readers of Scripture today. Here is why I say that:
- First, one must consider the concept of progressive revelation. The idea of progressive revelation is that there are certain things we find in the Bible where you do not get the full picture until you see everything within the light of the full message of Scripture. In other words, we must accept the possibility that Old Testament writers are only writing from their vantage point within history. They simply do not have the full scope of God’s revelation available to them. For example, no one in the Old Testament could have known the type of things that were eventually known by the writers of the New Testament, such as Paul. The Messiah had not yet come in the days of Habakkuk, so it would not be fair to criticize Habakkuk for not having all of God’s Word imparted through him all “figured out.”
- In a related matter, there is a concept associated with biblical prophecy called “typology.” Typology refers to an approach to the Bible, where it is possible that there is a deeper meaning implied within the text, that was not consciously known by the original Old Testament writer. It is only after further reflection, and further revelation, where the nature of the deeper meaning within the text becomes known. For example, Habakkuk may not have had any anticipation that his prophecy, in any definite way, was concerning the coming of the Messiah. But from the perspective of the New Testament writer in the Book of Hebrews, at least in verse 10:37, there is a “type” associated with the “vision” found in the Hebrew language version we read in most Bibles today of Habakkuk 2:3. “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end– it will not lie.” When quoting from the Septuagint, the writer of Hebrews notes in Hebrews 10:37 that “Yet a little while the coming one will come and will not delay,” where the “vision” is now representing a “type” of reference to the “coming one,” the Messiah. (Coming back to Paul and Romans: A more explicit example of New Testament typology of Old Testament themes is found in Romans 5:14, where Adam is considered to be “a type of the one who was to come,” namely Jesus as the Christ).
- Because of their position as apostles, or those serving in the immediate circle of the apostles, the writers of the New Testament writers bear a certain authority given to them by the Holy Spirit to offer a proper interpretation of Old Testaments texts. I know that critics may dismiss this idea as a form of special pleading, but if biblical inspiration is to have any real substance to it, it is reasonable to imply that a New Testament author can be given special insight into the meaning of an Old Testament text that was not available to the original author. The caution for the student of the Bible today is that while such special, Spirit-inspired insight was available to the Apostle Paul in the New Testament, it would be rather foolish, if not just plain arrogant, to think that someone today, living thousands of years later, could have that exact same type of revelatory insight.
- To this last point, it is important to bear in mind that the classic doctrine of biblical inerrancy applies specifically to the original autographs of Holy Scripture, the actual parchments or papers written by the sacred writers in history. The challenge here is that we simply do not have those original autographs available to us. Those parchments, etc. have long since turned to dust. We must therefore rely on copies of those original documents, and copies of those copies, using the discipline of textual criticism to gain access to the original autographs as close as possible (a reasonable task). Differences in ancient translations and Hebrew copies of texts actually enable scholars to find ways of getting closer back those earlier autographs. Textual criticism does not give us 100% accuracy of getting to the “original text,” but it gets us pretty close… at least close enough. See this great post by my Veracity blogging colleague, John Paine for more on textual criticism.
How Does Paul Handle Habakkuk 2:4?
Oh, yeah. Were we not originally going to look at how Paul understood Habakkuk 2:4 in the Book of Romans? Let us get back on task!
Well, thankfully, Paul has given us a big clue in Galatians 3:11 (ESV), which is the other explicit reference to the Habakkuk verse in the New Testament:
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Here, Paul is referencing directly the all important phrase in Habakkuk 2:4. But the context of the rest of the verse helps us to understand, at the very least, how we are not to interpret Habakkuk 2:4. In Galatians, Paul makes it clear that strict obedience to the Law, namely the Law of Moses, does not make anyone just, justified or righteous. In other words, we should not as Christians understand that we can be righteous simply by working harder and harder to be obedient to the Law of Moses. This is the terrible mistake first made by Martin Luther. Paul’s message is that we are to live by trusting in God, not through better “law keeping.”
So then, how can this help us to properly understand the meaning of Habakkuk 2:4 in Paul’s letter to Romans? Let us look at Romans 1:16-17:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (ESV).
Here again, we can draw on what we know so far, that Paul is teaching against any notion of “works righteousness” that can lead us to life. There is no suggestion of a reference to the Messiah. Unlike the writer of Hebrews, Paul is not addressing the question of how a believer responds to suffering. Rather here, Paul is most concerned about the revelation of the righteousness of God. What is this righteousness, and what does this have to do with the Christian? Whatever it means, it has something to do with faith.
But did you notice something, both here in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11? Paul left out the possessive pronoun. He simply writes about “faith,” not “his faith” nor “my faith.”
First, let us get something straight here. Just because we have quotation marks in our English bibles when it comes to New Testament writers referencing Old Testament passages, it does not always imply the literal “quoting” of a text. After all, there were NO quotation marks in the original New Testament writing. Quotation marks themselves are only relatively modern inventions, going back to the late medieval period. Instead, Paul is trying to get at the “gist” of what needs to be said about the text. He is not interested in always “quoting” things verbatim. So, we can easily dismiss the canard that Paul “misquoted” the Old Testament. That is just dumb. OK?
However, it does leave the bigger issue unresolved. Why does Paul omit the pronoun? This is my stab at it, as I have yet to find a biblical scholar who tackles this question in depth, but it would appear that Paul intentionally left out the pronoun for a reason. Paul’s understanding of faith/faithfulness covers a lot of ground, especially in the Book of Romans.
What about “Faith?”
From one angle, Paul is very much interested in the faith of the believer. The believer has faith by believing and trusting God. The Christian believer trusts that God’s Word is true. The Gospel of the coming of the Messiah is spoken of in God’s Word, and the believer accepts this message as completely true. The believer is willing to put their name, their reputation, and even their life on the line. It carries with it a sense of simple, implicit confidence in God, as well as a sense of hanging onto that faith over the long haul, which might be another way of speaking of faithfulness. So we must not get too hung up on the distinction between faith and faithfulness.
In Romans 4, one sees a great example of this faith in God, or faithfulness to the promises made by God, by looking at the character of Abraham. Abraham believed God, and through this faith Abraham was considered as being righteous. It was not something he necessarily had right away, if you know the story of Abraham in the Book of Genesis, but over the length of his life, Abraham grew in his faith. Over time, he was faithful to having faith in God. He continued to trust and believe that the promises of God, such as the promise of having a son, Isaac, who would carry on the mission and purpose of the future people of Israel, would prove to be true. This quite possibly is what Paul might mean in Romans 1:17 (NIV) where he talks about the righteousness of God “that is by faith from first to last.” In Paul’s mind, it would be reasonable to think that the essence of “faithfulness” is starting with faith and ending with faith, as opposed to any concept of “works righteousness,” or trying to earn the approval of God on the basis of religious works or willful efforts.
But Paul is also interested in the faithfulness of God. God is a God who keeps his promises. Paul speaks of it briefly in Romans 3:1-8, but then he discusses the faithfulness of God in detail in Romans 9-11, where Paul goes to great lengths to show that God is a God who is completely reliable and trustworthy; that is, having the quality of faithfulness, and that on that basis, we as believers can have faith ourselves in God, trusting in His promises.
So, it would appear that Paul does not need to include the pronoun in his recall of Habakkuk 2:4, whether “his” or “my,” because Paul wants to show his readers that Christians can faithfully have faith in the wonderful faithfulness of God. Therefore, Paul devotes a rather long, detailed letter to explaining what he means by all of this.
What about the “Righteous”?
What does Paul make of the righteous, those who live by faith? What does it mean to be righteous? A lot of ink has been spilled over the meaning of righteous and, specially, the righteousness of God, so I will keep this very brief for now (see this earlier Veracity post for more detail).
From Romans 1:18 until the end of Romans 3, Paul makes his extended argument that no matter who you are, Jew or Gentile, or what you have done, no one… repeat… no one can become righteousness simply on the basis of one’s own efforts. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). So, in the first few chapters of Romans, Paul is giving us his anti-thesis, specifically showing us what being righteous is NOT.
Positively speaking, it is through faith, and only through faith, that anyone can become righteous (Romans 3:22). The connection between faith and righteous(ness), or right standing before God, is a central theme to the Book of Romans. If you study Romans 5-8, Paul step by step walks through this theme of what it means to be righteous before God.
What about “Live”?
The righteous shall live by faith, but what is meant by to “live?” The verb “shall” is a kind of clue here, anticipating that this life that Paul is talking about has a future quality to it. But notice that Paul actually goes beyond Habakkuk at this point in the Book of Romans.
In the days of Habakkuk, Jewish thought really had no concept of what the New Testament calls “eternal life.” This may come as a shock to many Christians, who simply assume that concepts like “heaven” and “hell” are universal throughout the whole Bible. But in the Old Testament, what many Jews refer to as the “Hebrew Bible,” the idea of a life after this life, is rarely discussed. By the time of Jesus, Jewish thought had taken a greater interest in the themes of resurrection, but in the hundreds of years prior to that, when Habakkuk made his protest before the Lord, the concept of to “live” had a much more “this-worldly” meaning.
To “live” in the time of Habakkuk referred to enjoying the promises of God, namely the idea that God’s people would inherit the Promised Land of Israel perpetually. Deuteronomy 30:15-20 makes this understanding of “to live” quite clear. Obey God’s Law through Moses and the people will then continue to live in the land. If the people forget God’s Law, they will be destroyed. Consider verses 17-20 (NIV):
But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
We have no talk about living on clouds after death, in some faintly disembodied state, as is so often the case with popular imaginations about what it means to spiritually “live.” Nevertheless, the emphasis on “life” and to “live” points towards the New Testament teaching about “eternal life,” which is more about an embodied, resurrection state, anticipated by the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Habakkuk most probably saw that the life that the righteous would have by faith, was actually a promise by God that the Jewish people would continue to dwell in and inhabit the Promised Land, despite the threat of annihilation by the Babylonians.
Habakkuk turned out to be right, but it would take years before the promise to “live” would become realized. The Babylonians did destroy the southern kingdom of Judah as a nation, tearing down its temple, and leading untold thousands of Jews into exile. But eventually, the Jewish people made their way back to that Promised Land of Israel. Over time, the temple would be rebuilt, but the Jews still struggled under the constant threat of foreign powers ruling over them (see this timeline for Second Temple Judaism). Nevertheless, the Jews were able to “live” in that Promised Land, thus fulfilling the words of Habakkuk’s prophecy. However, this was not the end of the story!
By the time of the New Testament era, we see the process of progressive revelation fully at work. The Apostle Paul has in mind the impact of the Gospel, revealed to humanity through the resurrection of the Messiah (Romans 1:1-4). For Paul, prophets like Habakkuk, though they did not see the full meaning of their revelation at the time, nevertheless were able to anticipate in some sense that God had more in plan for His people that simply enabling their physical descendants to occupy a chunk of real estate in the Middle East. Rather, Paul saw that “to live” is to have the quality of Christ’s resurrection, which is the basis for “eternal life.”
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23 ESV).
Far from inventing the concept of “resurrection” or “eternal life,” we find that the Apostle Paul is specifically appealing to certain disjointed strands of thought from the Old Testament, and then he weaves them together into a coherent whole. This is why some assertions, such as this surprisingly unqualified one from Reza Aslan, the skeptical author of Jesus the Zealot, that the idea of resurrection “has no basis in five thousand years of Jewish history, scripture or thought,” is completely without foundation. While we must be aware that the idea of a crucified and resurrected Messiah would have been completely foreign to a first century Jew, and certainly to the prophet Habakkuk centuries before (!), we should still be able to identify bits and pieces of ideas, such as Habakkuk’s exclamation that “the righteous shall live by (his) faith,” to be looking forward to a far deeper and profound truth eventually articulated in the New Testament.
Paul spends a great deal of energy in the Book of Romans, discussing exactly what it means to have this kind of life. What does this eternal life look like, even in the here and now? Paul tells you, mainly in chapters 12-16.
The Righteous Shall Live By Faith
So there you have it. The great message of the Book of Romans is primarily an extended meditation and commentary on what this one verse in the Book of Habakkuk is trying to get at. As part of God’s progressive revelation in Holy Scripture, when exercising his apostolic authority, Paul resolves the textual criticism debate over this long-debated and key verse for the purposes of his letter to the Romans, by showing us the typological meaning of the very pregnant words within Habakkuk’s phrasing. Once you are able to master Habakkuk 2:4, if that is even possible to do, given the great depth of its message, then you pretty much have a solid handle on the fundamental message throughout Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.
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Additional Resources: Only For the Brave
I hope you enjoyed the above blog article, though it might have been a “mind stretcher.” In doing some research for this post, I bumped into a few, very helpful blog posts by other bloggers that touch on various topics that are addressed above, but I did not want to reference them directly for the sake of keeping the line of thought reasonably clear of distractions. The question of how New Testament writers use the Old Testament continues to fascinate me, and I tend to go down a number of rabbit trails of thought, so I was trying to avoid that and stay on target with the central themes as much as possible. But just in case you want to explore this even further, and if you are brave enough, well…here we go!
Paul’s reference to Habukkuk 2:4 in his letter to the Romans was very influential in the mind of Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, but how did it influence the thought of other Reformation theologians? This excerpt from John Calvin’s commentary on this verse highlights both some of the interpretation challenges noted in this blog post, while also commenting on the clash between medieval Catholic views of faith and works with the Reformer at Geneva, Switzerland’s Protestant view.
For a great example of how textual criticism can make a difference in how we read the Old Testament, you should investigate this blog post by Michael S. Heisner, a textual critic…. Michael Heisner is a scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software, and he specializes also in debunking UFO claims. Kind of weird, I know, but I was once a devotee to the UFO madness. I stumbled on Heisner’s website a few months ago after Presidential candidate Ben Carson made the rather bizarre claim that the pyramids of Egypt were built by Joseph as storehouses for keeping grain during the famine, according to Carson’s understanding of the Bible (Heisner demonstrates why the Bible does NOT teach this). … Anyway, back to the topic at hand…Heisner also does work in textual criticism, and in this example, he looks at a different passage, other than Habakkuk 2:4 I explored above, but Heisner’s example is really interesting to me: Do you know who really killed Goliath? One textual tradition says David killed Goliath, but another textual tradition says it was somebody else who killed Goliath. Heisner helps you do some detective work to figure out the answer. Heisner also has a very informative article regarding the role of the Septuagint in the transmission of the Scriptures at Biblearchaeology.org. I found a video of Heisner for my recent post on Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14 that I thought was very good (scroll to the bottom of that post).
Does the Septuagint really make any difference when trying to understand what the original Old Testament looked like? One of the books I read in seminary, by Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman, helped me to understand that the Masoretic/Hebrew text of 1 Samuel, that serves as the basis for most Protestant Bibles, is actually 45% longer than the Septuagint/Greek text. This creates an interesting problem for Bible scholars: Is the shorter, Septuagint version of 1 Samuel the “original” version of the book, with other features added in later to the Masoretic text? Or was the longer, Masoretic text actually first, whereby the Septuagint translator cut out a lot of the pieces in the Masoretic narrative? Most of the other books of the Old Testament do not have a problem this unique, but it does demonstrate some of the challenges we have in trying to nail down what was the “original” Old Testament text. This need not throw a curve ball to your faith, but it does make you think a bit.
Eric Jobe is a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern studies at the University of Chicago, and an adherent to Eastern Orthodoxy. In biblical scholarship, there is currently an ongoing debate concerning the place of the Septuagint in biblical studies: Western Protestant evangelicals tend to favor the Hebrew Masoretic text as the basis for the proper translation of the Old Testament, whereas the Easter Orthodox tend to favor the Septuagint. Eric has a number of helpful thoughts that dive a bit more technically into what I discuss above, offering a different perspective at his Departing Horeb blog, sponsored by AncientFaith, a ministry of the Orthodox Church in America. If you read my previous post on Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14, you might also enjoy Eric’s last two posts on the same subject (#1 and #2). Eric knows his stuff… a lot better than me, that is for sure!! Eric finished the second post on the Matthew/Isaiah7:14 connection just a few days before I posted my current post here on Veracity, which is really kind of cool!:
- A commentary on Romans 1:16-17.
- The Masoretic Hebrew vs. The Septuagint (Part 1).
- The Masoretic Hebrew vs. The Septuagint (Part 2)
- The MT vs. LXX: A Clarification (Eric apparently bothered some of his Eastern Orthodox readers by suggesting that the Septuagint tradition might learn something from the Masoretic/Hebrews tradition. Protestant readers would probably have the exact opposite problem… For some reason, I tend to notice quirky things like this).
- The Masoretic Hebrew vs. The Septuagint Part 3: Variations and How they Happened