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Throughout the New Testament, authors often quoted or referenced the Septuagint (LXX) - a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, but there are several notable differences between the Hebrew text that we now have and Greek translations.

This becomes relevant in at least two quoted/referenced passages in the New Testament - the genealogies of Jesus (included in all 4 Gospels) which would have used the geneaology in Genesis 5 and the translation of "young woman" in the Hebrew text as "virgin" in the Greek Septuagint which is responsible for the notability of Mary, Jesus' mother being a virgin.

This brings me to the question: Is there any reason to believe that any or all of the Author's of the New Testament were aware of these differences between the two texts?

  • See comments on my edit for details of changes. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Aug 1 '17 at 22:14
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    At the time of the events depicted in the NT there were multiple versions of both the Hebrew and Greek OT in circulation. Only the Pentateuch was a "controlled" text in that there were three "master" copies in the Temple, each differing by a letter or two. As scrolls were rare and the polemics were mostly in the oral tradition, the characters depicted in the NT might not have cared much about the differences in the actual texts in the way that we can, having the means to compare texts and being after the masorete canonization. Each sage then had the text that he received from his teachers. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Aug 1 '17 at 22:50
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    @AbuMunirIbnIbrahim - That sounds like the start of a fantastic answer... – James Shewey Aug 2 '17 at 1:56
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The Masoretic Text (MT) did not come into existence until some 700 years after the New Testament was written. As such, there is no possible way the New Testament writers could have anticipated differences between the Septuagint, which was available during their lifetime, and the Masoretic Text, which appeared long after they died.

Even considering the proto-Hebrew text from which the Masoretic Text is derived, I still do not think that we can assume that particular proto-text is the one that was extant during the time of the New Testament writers.

There are thousands of verses, for example, where the text in the Dead Sea Scrolls differs from that found in the Masoretic Text.1 In some cases it agrees with the Septuagint (LXX) and/or the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP), but not the MT; in other cases it agrees with the MT, but disagrees with the LXX and/or SP; in other cases it disagrees or agrees with all three. In still other cases, different Dead Sea scrolls disagree with each other. Thus, we cannot even be certain which particular Hebrew text would have served as a basis of comparison with the Septuagint. Given the vast number of differences between the MT and other Hebrew texts and the late origin of the MT manuscripts we have (11th century)2, however, it seems unlikely that the MT proto-text would have been the one against any such comparison would have been based.


1. See, e.g., apparatus of Abegg, Flint, and Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (Harper Collins, 1999).
2. The oldest complete manuscript we have of the Masoretic Text is the Leningrad Codex, which dates to 1008-09 (AD). The oldest incomplete manuscript we have is the Aleppo Codex, which is a few decades older.

  • That's true in one sense - if we understand MT as the formalised Hebrew text that modern editions are based on. But in the more important sense it's clearly wrong. The OT was originally written in Hebrew/Aramaic, then translated into Greek prior to the NT writers. So the essence of the OP is still a good and valid question: to what extent did the NT writers know both texts and the potential differences between them. – Peter Kirkpatrick Dec 11 '17 at 5:05
  • Peter - I expanded my answer to address the points you raise. – user33515 Dec 11 '17 at 14:45

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